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Abstracts due: 27 April 2020

Special Issue

Working in the borderlands: critical perspectives on doctoral education

Co-editors: Karen Smith, Neil Harrison and Susan Carter

This special issue will look at doctoral education as a borderlands zone, where candidates undertake what is typically called a ‘journey’. We start from the premise that borderlands theory, trail-blazed by Gloria Andzaldúa (1987), works well for consideration of the ethics, practices and possibilities of pedagogy that support the doctoral journey. Borderlands theory addresses uncertainties, dislocation, and liminality.

Like other borderland crossers, doctoral candidates are motivated – by potential upward mobility or at least a rewarding career – to undertake risk, uncertainty and struggle. At the same time, they are challenged to slowly construct a new identity. Our assumption is that 21st century higher education has shifting values; rapid and therefore alarming change; outdated and thus empty rhetoric; and increasing numbers of borderland crossers seeking the promised land of doctoral graduation.

Border crossing is disturbingly political and social, yet borderlands offer a third space where we work:

in the half-life, half-light of foreign tongues, or in the uncanny fluency of another’s language; gathering the signs of approval and acceptance, degrees, discourses, disciplines; gathering the memories of underdevelopment, of other worlds lived retroactively; gathering the past in a ritual of revival; gathering the present (Bhabha, 1990, p. 291).

This special issue seeks such a gathering, in consideration of doctoral pedagogy and what the next phase holds.  We believe that the metaphor of the borderlands is generative in encouraging researchers to critically consider the various borderland journeys that different forms of doctoral education open up – novice growing into expert, professional combining practice with critical study, individual joining a team, supervisor reinventing themselves, student working within a new culture, discovery of the world of scholarly publication and so on.

The academic environment of the doctoral journey is a site of contestation. Commonly, senior management seeks to manage the quest for new knowledge as a high-profit and/or reputation-enhancing enterprise in a competitive neoliberal environment. Both supervisors and candidates often, perhaps usually, see the doctoral transition in terms of people and topic rather than as a production line. Meanwhile, increasing internationalisation means that cross-cultural negotiation is a critical supervisory skill. As academic educationalists, what critical perspectives can we bring to bear on supporting doctoral pedagogy within various borderlands?

We will consider contributions addressing the changing nature of doctoral study; newer forms of the doctorate; growing expectations of interdisciplinarity; the increasingly global marketplace for doctoral study; and what these mean for ‘doctorateness’ and the nature of supervision. The following questions aim to stimulate thinking but should not be seen as exhaustive:

  • What are the multiple understandings of ‘doctorateness’, how are these contested and by whom? Have expectations of doctorates between the sciences and humanities diverged to the point of separation?
  • How do the constraints of time pressure in funded research grants impact on doctoral students and their ability to develop as independent researchers; how are collaborative research projects managed; and what does this mean in terms of claims for originality?
  • How is the marketisation of academic output (e.g. through impact factors and similar metrics; intellectual property; translational research; or proof-of-concept) changing the expectations and realities of doctoral study?
  • To what extent are professional, creative, practice-based or publication-led doctorates changing traditional, monograph-focused, understandings of the doctorate and what are the ramifications for supervisory relationships?
  • How do doctoral students who also teach part-time or remain in professional practice navigate the practical, intellectual and/or emotional elements of their dual identities?
  • What challenges are posed by a globalised higher education market and the hegemonic status of English in academia?
  • How is doctoral education evolving in the ‘global south’? What do indigenous knowledges and methodologies offer to the mainstream in a neoliberal era?
  • What are the experiences of marginalised students (e.g. care-experienced; geographically isolated; people with disabilities; carers) on doctoral programmes and how can they be supported? More generally, what role is played by teachers in supporting students experiencing difficulties?
  • What responsibilities do higher education institutions bear for supporting the employability of doctoral students, either within academia or more broadly? Does this differ between the sciences and humanities?
  • Are doctoral examination systems transparent and fit-for-purpose? To what extent do practicalities and time constraints compromise academic rigour?
  • What new theoretical and critical lenses are being applied to investigate doctoral education?

Instructions for Submitting

Submission instructions

Potential authors are asked to submit abstracts of up to 500 words (excluding references) with a deadline of 5pm (BST) on Monday 27th April 2020.

Abstracts should provide an outline of the proposed paper, including its empirical, theoretical and/or philosophical basis.  We actively welcome abstracts from across the globe and across the disciplines. We will be happy to receive full papers (up to 7,000 words), as well as less-standard submissions in the format of, for example, provocations, critical reflections and polemics (in our ‘Points of Departure’ format, up to 3,000 words).

Abstracts should be submitted online here – please indicate whether it is a full or shorter paper. We expect to inform successful authors by Sunday 24th May 2020, with a submission date for full papers of Monday 16th November 2020.  The special issue will be published in April/May 2021.



Andzaldúa, G. (1987) Borderlands / La Frontera, San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute.

Bhabha, H. (1990) Nation and Narration, Abingdon: Routledge.

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