Writerly Aspirations and Doctoral Education: Beyond Neoliberal Orthodoxies (Re-imagining Doctoral Writing)

Mitchell / University Press of Colorado / August 2021

This chapter engages with the imaginings that students bring to the practice of doctoral writing and explores the ways in which neoliberal discourse configures student understandings about the purposes of and possibilities associated with doctoral education. Many scholars identify the dominance of neoliberalism in shaping contemporary higher education practices including within doctoral education. With this in mind, analysis of the data gathered for an empirical study of 15 first-generation students in doctoral education was undertaken to identify how neoliberal conceptions did, or did not, shape their university imaginings and their aspirations for higher degree studies. Within a constellation of hopes, the place of doctoral writing and the figure of the writer itself is identified as being deeply implicated in the formation of doctoral aspirations. It is also suggested that the influence of writers, storytellers, and writerly works informs particular university imaginaries that circulate in discourse and evince different ways of understanding the university beyond neoliberal orthodoxies. As such, this discussion draws attention to theways in which neither the discursive and imaginative space of doctoral education nor the university itself has been completely captured by neoliberalism. In sum, the findings of this study show that the university and doctoral education is imagined in rich ways and that, in spite of the impacts of neoliberalism, the identity of the scholar remains, for many, bound up with writing and with what it is to be a writer.