6 Six Cultures of the PhD Around the World

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 [A longer version of this essay will appear in a volume edited by Schelte van Ruiten. After that volume appears, a revised version will be printed in the next edition of the book Artists with PhDs. If you have comments on individual institutions, please post them on the page with the worldwide lists to be sure I see them. Comments are welcome here on the very provisional proposition that there are six flavors of the PhD.]

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 2 Six Cultures of the PhD Around the World 

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 Because this is a brief essay, I would like to focus on just one question, which I think is especially pressing. The administrative structures of institutions that grant the PhD vary widely in different parts of the world, and there are even differently named degrees (DCA, DPhil, PhD, DFA). Institutions also have administrative differences, special strengths and weaknesses, differences in assessment, funding, international students, and of course individual faculty. All those differences can make it seem as if the studio-art PhD is widely different from one institution to the next, one place to the next. But that can obscure a deeper question: aside from those many differences, is the PhD for artists fundamentally the same idea worldwide? Is it growing as a single conversation, sharing a set of common concerns, a bibliography, a history? Or does the PhD have different cultures, styles, concepts, and purposes in different parts of the world?

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 In the past few years I have been traveling widely, collecting information on studio-art PhDs around the world; this year I will have been to China, Japan, Singapore (where they are planning a PhD), South Africa, Ghana (which has a PhD), Portugal, and Uganda. I think 2011 was the first year when it became impossible for any one person to read all the literature on the PhD: there are now at least 15 books on the subject, and on the order of 300 or 400 articles, and indeterminate numbers of blogs and listservs. There are about 280 institutions around the world that offer the PhD, and each of them also has its own administrative literature.

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 The fact that the literature is no longer available to any one researcher means that the studio-art PhD is no longer a single subject. No one, I think, has visited more than a fraction of the 280 institutions. As a result, there is no way to be sure how to know if the PhD is a coherent phenomenon worldwide. In this essay I want to risk some generalization and simplification, and propose there are different cultures of the PhD around the world. I’d also like to suggest that these sometimes subtle and elusive differences are important, and that as all conversations become more global we need to be careful not to inadvertently homogenize different practices.

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 0 Let me suggest, in the most provisional manner, six cultures of the PhD.

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 1. The Continental model is found in Continental Europe, especially Scandinavia, along with some institutions in the UK, in Central and South America, and in southeast Asia. Northwestern Europe, if I can use such an expression, is where most of the publishing about the PhD is taking place. It is also the center of a certain sense of research. In literature like Henk Slager’s The Pleasure of Research, the concept of research is aligned with a poststructural critique of institutions; research is partly a matter of mobile, oppositional spaces, and of intellectual freedom. Research is less the institutionalized, science-based practice of hypothesis, deduction, experiment, and falsification, and more the name for a set of strategies for reconceptualizing art in relation to existing academic structures.  This sense of research is becoming more widespread mainly because of the influence of publications from northwest Europe. (Exceptions include design academies and art universities, because design has its own tradition of PhDs, and its own more quantitative sense of research based on the social sciences.)

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 2. The Nordic model emphasizes what Henk Borgdorff calls a “sui generis perspective”: it stresses “artistic values when it comes to assessing research in the arts.” Programs in Norway and Sweden follow this model, which is based on the idea that what counts as “research” in the arts should proceed according to properties of visual art; in that sense it engages Christopher Frayling’s original “research for art,” which he described as not about  “communicable knowledge in the sense of verbal communication, but in the sense of visual or iconic or imagistic communication.”

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 3. The UK model is practiced in the UK, Australia, South Africa (Michaelis, in Cape Town), Uganda, Canada, and other Anglophone centers including Malaysia and Singapore. What might be called the “UK model” is widespread in countries that have English as their first language, and whose universities are influenced by the UK model. There are many overlaps with the first entry on this list, but there are also significant differences. The UK was one of two places in the world that developed the studio-art PhD in the 1970s, and the influence of UK administrative structures on assessment and outcomes is still visible in many institutions. Among other characteristics, the UK model involves sizable bureaucratic and administrative oversight, including sometimes elaborate structures for assessment, specification and quantification of learning outcomes. It remains closer to the scientific model of research than what I am calling the Continental model. Because of Herbert Read and Christopher Frayling, the UK is also the origin of the discussions about how research might be conducted “in,” “for,” “as,” and “through” art. (These terms are all discussed in the book What Do Artists Know?, co-edited with Frances Whitehead.)

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 A note on these first three models: I owe the idea of splitting the “Nordic model” from the “Continental model” to Henk Borgdorff, whose essay “A Brief Survey of the Current Debates on the Concepts and the Practices of Research in the Arts” draws these distinctions slightly differently. He associates what I am calling the “Continental model” with Vienna. This third model, the “UK model,” he calls “the academic model”; his description, “puts value on traditional academic criteria when it comes to differentiating art practice as research from art practice in itself,” fits the UK administrative growth very well. But these are early days: it’s not easy to see how the schools and styles of the PhD will separate.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 4. The Japanese model. One of the main surprises of this research, for me, was “discovering,” in 2010, that Japan has twenty-six universities that grant the PhD. Japan, along with the UK, were the first countries to develop the PhD in the 1970s. In terms of the length of their tradition and their independence (if not in terms of international influence or number of students), Japan and the UK are the co-founders of the studio-art PhD. Most Japanese institutions take their cues from Tokyo Geidai, the principal institution; but there is so far no history of the Japanese institutions. The Japanese model has been developed in isolation, and its dissertations are still largely studies of natural, technological, scientific, and  artistic precedents that are then applied to the students’ practices. In that sense the Japanese system is not yet participating in the debates about research “in,” “for,” “as,” and “through” art.

12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 5. The Chinese model. China has a much smaller, more recent tradition of PhDs. There are only three PhD-granting programs in China, in CAFA (Central Academy of Art), Beijing; CAA (China Academy of Arts), Hangzhou; and THU (Tsinghua University), Beijing. Part of the reason that the PhD is not expanding is administrative: the degree is given under an administrative research heading, which does not exist in other academies such as Chongqing and Nanjing. It will require a change at the level of the Department of Education to make it possible for other a academies to offer the degree.

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 The question at the moment is where China will get the models for its studio-art PhD offerings. Because the degree began in a university (Tsinghua), it was not based on other studio-art programs but on the concept of the PhD in the university in general. At the moment (spring 2013) delegations from CAFA and CAA are touring North America and Europe, gathering information; in the next few years Chinese institutions will probably choose the contacts they prefer.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 6. The lack of a North American model. I call this last entry a lack, rather than a model, because there is no consensus in North America about how the PhD should look. There are six institutions in the US that currently grant the PhD, and five in Canada. (See the listing chapter for their names.) Of the six American programs, several have distinct flavors. IDSVA has no rivals for what it does; it has a fixed curriculum of theoretical and philosophic texts that are intended to inform any artist’s practice. Because the Director, George Smith, has a background in literary criticism, the IDSVA has had a roster of prominent guest lecturers outside of the visual art world. Santa Cruz has a strong program in North American-style visual studies, which also involves gender theory, postcolonial studies, and anthropology. Rensselaer Polytechnic is one of the United States’s leading technical universities (alongside Georgia Tech), and the nearby State University of New York at Albany houses one of the world’s largest nanotechnology laboratories; so students at Rensselaer have a unique combination of political theory, activism, and science. The University of California San Diego is the home of Helen Mayer and Newton Harrison, who have been actively engaged in developing a new, environmentally focused PhD. (As of this writing, the program hasn’t been implemented.) In my experience, because of the unique cultural configuration in Canada, there is little communication between the Francophone and Anglophone institutions, to the point where several times my Canadian correspondents have been surprised to discover the existence of other institutions that grant, or are contemplating, the PhD.

15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 I mention all this to suggest that North America is the least formed of the PhD “cultures” around the world. That is also my source of interest in this subject: I am skeptical of a number of the concepts and administrative structures in existing institutions, so I think North America has an opportunity to rethink the fundamental conditions of the PhD. In some other parts of the world, particular understandings of “research,” “knowledge,” and other terms have become naturalized, and therefore not as accessible to foundational critique.

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17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 Conclusions

18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 One effect of the large literature and the proliferation of PhD-granting institutions is that many institutions are proposing changes that are already implemented in other places. Another consequence is that younger traditions, like China’s, are susceptible to influence by the more developed traditions, which can then come to appear as international norms. It can be very tempting, for example, to ask whether a dissertation at Tokyo Geidai might be made more reflective by engaging with Christopher Frayling’s idea of “research through art”; but that would risk overwriting the less theorized Japanese sense of what a dissertation might do for a student’s work.

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 I hope that as SHARE expands, it can make the field more interesting by highlighting differences, and allowing regional and national practices to find or develop their autonomy. The alternate, which I hope doesn’t happen, would be the spread of one of the predominant models of the PhD: a way to guard against that is to increase the awareness that certain understandings of words like “research,” “assessment,” and “knowledge” are not unproblematic or universal, but bound to particular cultural and historical settings.

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