How to get a PhD in a year (without giving up the day job)

January 26, 2011

     By Duncan Green     

Oxford Brookes. Here’s how it works:

If you have amassed a ‘significant body of work’ in the shape of books, chapters, papers etc (sorry emails and tweets don’t count), you submit these as the body of your PhD and then (the interesting bit) write a supervised 15,000 word ‘critical review’ of your own work, comparing it to the academic literature on the relevant issues. If your writing wanders all over the place, as mine has, then you identify a theme within it – in my case the interaction between citizens and states.

It took a year – evenings, weekends, holidays and a bit of Oxfam time and combined elements of narcissism (going back, reading and summarizing your own work over the last 20 years) and masochism (critiquing it both by comparing it to the real experts, and finally acknowledging all your own doubts about your arguments, previously suppressed). Narcisso-masochism?

Here’s the abstract:
“This critical review explores a central thread in the ideas and publications generated by 25 years of writing and activism – the nature of and interaction between citizens and states in development.
It explores the evolution of these arguments in the works in question, and reviews the literature in separate sections on the validity of the state-citizen framework, the nature of citizenship, the role of the state in development, and state-citizen interaction.

The discussion identifies strengths in the works under review. Despite their overlaps and blurred boundaries, the basic framework of ‘active citizens and effective states’ has withstood scrutiny and the framework’s endogeneity has helped in understanding the internal dynamics and evolution of political, social and economic development.

The review highlights some apparent gaps and weaknesses in the literature, notably the reliance of much of the work on the history of citizenship on the particular experiences of Western Europe and North America; the flimsiness of the discussion of the ‘democratic developmental state’ and the lack of analysis of ‘peacetime’ active citizenship in non-democratic contexts, for example rural protest movements in China and Vietnam, or women’s rights movements in Islamic societies.

The review also identifies a number of weaknesses in the works under review that need to be addressed in my future research. These include the importance of economic power and structures, the internal structure and dynamics of citizens’ movements, the negative roles of some citizens’ movements in excluding or attacking other groups of poor people, and the interaction between national and global citizens’ movements.”

If you really want to read the full 40 page review, let me know (I recommend the bibliography, if nothing else).

I found the exercise incredibly useful – it’s hard for us old farts to find time to reflect and look back, but the exercise has given me a lot of ideas for future directions for research, especially on change models, which I intend to take forward both in Oxfam and with the Institute of Development Studies (where I became a visiting fellow this year).

At present PhDs by published work are usually confined to alumni and/or serving academics at the university in question. Brookes should be commended for opening that out to the rest of us late career development professionals (or whatever we call ourselves) – let’s hope more universities follow suit.

And of course, apologies to those friends and readers who are currently ploughing through real, 4 year+, existential-crisis type PhDs – my only defence is that I had previously suffered my fill of those in writing the books I submitted…….

By the way, I asked around PhD-carrying friends as to the benefits (other than personal enlightenment). So far I have had ‘being able to buy prescription drugs over the counter in Africa’ and ‘getting upgrades on flights, and hoping no-one gets sick’. Any other candidates?

January 26, 2011
Duncan Green