Monday, 30 May 2005

Comprehensive Exams - Feedback from the Committee

Again, this post was previously from my old web site in May 2005; this thread was one of the most viewed, so I thought I'd bring it back to life here.


Well, I passed the exam, and my oral component was waived :-)

So, hopefully, that means the examples I'm providing are good ones!!

For those interested in some of my committee's feedback, please see the following (again, "****" means that material has been excised for privacy and research considerations):

Comprehensive Examinations: Peter Ryan

This is an excellent overview of the field, particularly given the constraints of a half-course format. It touches on the main areas of research, as well as indicating the tensions and conflicts that have arisen historically between the different approaches to communications research. The contrast between American and Canadian research, as formulated by Babe (and despite its noted shortcomings), provides a useful starting point for students to recognise the ways in which formulations of communication are linked in many cases to specific conditions that mediate their development, and the inclusion of the Mattelarts provides a much-needed European perspective as well. This is excellent for overcoming the parochialism often associated with conceptions of the field’s development. ****

If there is one area that might be criticised, it would be Peter’s formulation of communication as message production. In following Babe in this respect there is no doubt that Peter is in good company, but we might argue that this conception is unduly restrictive, and tends to leave unquestioned the basic linear model formulated by Lasswell in politics and Shannon and Weaver in information theory. It is not at all clear why communication should be restricted to this particular formula (important as it is historically), and indeed many of the models Peter would include in the syllabus do not necessarily construe communication in terms of messages. This would be the case particularly with poststructuralist and recent post-hermeneutic media theories, as well as the political economy upon which much of the course leans. The course could be an opportunity to critique this notion.

Despite this issue, the course is well-formulated and well-grounded in a sophisticated and substantive understanding of the main lines of inquiry in the field and their historical and epistemological relationships, and thus demonstrates Peter’s excellent grasp of communications research.

A key aim of a comprehensive examination is to demonstrate that one is prepared to teach university survey and other courses in the field. Peter’s answer demonstrates a clear ability to do just this. His response shows that he has mastered the literature in communications studies and is capable of developing what would be an excellent course of study.

Peter does a good job of indicating what the key authors in this area define as a network society and its distinction from previous or other types of societies. It is clear that Peter has an excellent knowledge and understanding of a wide range of complex literature on this topic. The question itself is rather complicated, and Peter has managed to organise the material into a framework that treats its different facets in a reasonable manner. The answer appears to head off in several directions, but this can be attributed to the difficulty of addressing the number of issues raised by the question. In the end, Peter finds a way of commenting on the various points. In particular, there is a good balance between positive and negative critiques and formulations of current social configurations as they are mediated by new technologies, and there are excellent thumbnail sketches of different perspectives. It is noteworthy that Peter stakes out a position in the end, and does so with analytical tools that emerge from an author with whom he disagrees. This shows an interesting sophistication that can rework notions derived from opposing perspectives without dismissing them out of hand, as is often the case where political differences are at issue.

We would have wanted Peter to return to issues raised in the introduction with regard to the positions of both Kittler and Foucault, and their differences. With respect to notions of network and structuration (especially, say, in systems views like Luhmann), there are interesting questions raised regarding conceptions of subjectivity and agency. Peter gestures toward these at the beginning of his answer, but he fails to return to a discussion of the implications of his sketch for the role of humans in a technologically mediated world characterised as the network society. This perhaps takes the question beyond the parameters of political economy that it emphasises, but Peter’s answer shows that he has a superb understanding of the different and conflicting positions of these approaches.

Peter’s answer is comprehensive and highly articulate. It demonstrates a mastery of the relevant literature and presents a clear and defensible argument. Peter has a deep knowledge of network theory.


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