This post intends to outline important aspects of scholarly discourse in graduate studies— what is it, how do you do it, and how to survive it.
What It Is – Cannon, Creation, Critique
Scholarly discourse, generally and simply, is the communication and discussion of scholarly materials by scholarly individuals that works to build a genre and community of cannon texts, theories, and methodologies. This is already not a very simple definition and there are even more complexities to this concept because there are levels and layers to scholarly discourse, delineated by their modes, audiences, and contexts that shape who and how and what we engage with which in turn shapes the professional and academic identities of the individuals, fields, and genres involved. We are both engaging with and constructing the discourse community as we read, write, speak, and reply to each other. With all this comes the weight of immense past knowledge that creates cannon contexts – particularly in discussions surrounding literature or theories that are well-studied in the genre. Grad studies calls on students to not only understand this cannon of existing scholarly discourse but to also create context-conscious additions to the cannon with their capstone project –be it a traditional thesis, creative project, or portfolio. In creating a piece through this process and then receiving a formal critique of our contribution to the cannon, we get to experience full immersion in a scholarly community.
How To Do It – Practice, Performance, Progress
You’ll get guidance and practice in classrooms – creating essays and projects to engage with works usually entrenched in the field with well-established theories and methodologies for analyses. Moving beyond this, as scholars ourselves, we can start to build a web of discourse outside classrooms with peers, professors, and the public. This is both exciting and challenging as it involves taking risks and making mistakes. It also involves making decisions to align your work within a particular cannon and inserting yourself as a valid scholarly option through the selection of and work with your thesis committee, attendance at conferences, and possibly publishing. Entering the public sphere can be intimidating, but it is critical for many reasons including learning the hidden rules of performing scholarship as well as helping to shape the expectations for yourself and others in your field. Aligning your work with a certain area or genre will require you to take on (or refute) the mantle of cannon that moves through your work and understanding your position as either accepting a tradition, refuting it, or just acknowledging it as something outside what you are attempting to create can lead to progress in the scholarly community, discourse cannon, and of course your own professional identity.
How to Survive It – Maintaining Sanity and Relevance
The mechanics of enacting discourse can be intimidating –approaching potential chairs and members for your committee can be difficult, placing yourself before a conference audience can be uncomfortable, and seeking publication means accepting the possibility of rejection. All of this is further intertwined in the larger context of a society that makes us defend our stake in humanities at every turn (WVU staff, students, and faculty are currently striking after the President suggested massive cuts to the World Languages programs and faculty). With all this in mind, it can be difficult to complete a grad degree when you are undergoing a restructuring of your very identity as a professional (and perhaps personal as well, because we are human after all). As such, though it may sound counter-intuitive, recognizing your value as an individual outside the discourse community can be the first step in getting others to acknowledge the validity of your scholarly arguments.
Inspiration can come from unlikely sources. Finding or creating communities in which you can maintain a connection to the heartbeat of your studies as well as the flow of ideas and language in modern culture and personal interests is key to maintaining sanity and perspective for the place and importance of your grad studies.