PhD viva questionsI completed my PhD in 2004. My thesis was a media sociological study of the use ofthe internet as a political media in Croatia in the mid – late 1990s. I submitted inSeptember and had the viva in December. The result was that I made minorrevisions (typos, change the title, reword the abstract, add a few sentences and redothe bibliography) to be completed in 30 days.For me, the PhD viva was rather stressful and I dealt with this with endlesspreparation. One step I took was to think of all the possible questions that couldarise. Listed below are the non-thesis specific ones and the answers I prepared forthem.I also did many other things such as summarize every page into one sentence,summarize each paragraph and each chapter. I listed and defined all the majorconcepts and had a ‘quick-response’ prepared in case I was challenged on any ofthem. I eventually had a set of notes numbering over 10,000 words which I carriedaround with me all the time (like some kind of religious relic for protection). I re-readmy thesis about twenty times and knew it back to front.Then I went a bit mad and read everything my external examiner had ever written,and was able to defend most of the method and rationality of my work by directreference to his, there could be no attack that I could not defend.In the end my viva lasted less than 45 minutes, and it was only that long because Itold a couple of self-depreciating but amusing anecdotes I had prepared (as I said Iwent a bit weird towards the end). I was asked a couple of the questions coveredhere. It got through with minor amendments and a month later was conferred.This list has been circulated to people about to do their viva and the only paymentasked is that if you are asked any questions that don’t appear here please can youadd them and email me back this document to firstname.lastname@example.org.The questions that are included here at the end that do not have answers are thosethat have been asked of other people in their vivas who used this list. In a number ofcases the only questions asked had already been covered here, so maybe the list isgetting to the point of saturation.GOOD LUCK! Remember it only has to be good enough.Finally, if all else fails and it’s going wrong, punch them hard in the throat and run forthe door (I had a plan that if I failed NOBODY was leaving that room alive).
QuestionsWhat is the area in which you wish to be examined?Within the field of media studies. The structure of the thesis reflects this, it is not atraditional empirical sociological thesis that has a clearly discernable hypothesis andmethodology. Rather it reflects the cross disciplinarily of the field of media studies. Itis however concerned with adopting an approach that is sociological in nature.In one sentence, what is your thesis?That the internet is a contigent form of media; it may operate in a particular fashion insome circumstances but not in all, its ability to operate as expected is dependentupon the social form of the environment in which it is deployed and used, because ofthis researchers in the field need to adopt what I have termed a sociologicalconception, a view that prioritises social and cultural interpretations above others.What have you done that merits a PhD?Under most university regulations a phd is defined by being a significant contributionto the field of knowledge and by being original.The thesis makes a significant contribution to the field of knowledge by offeringcontributions towards a methodological position. This has been done by developinga new standpoint for the examination of the Internet where social phenomenon areaccorded as much significance as technological characteristics. This step ifseemingly small is significant as it orientates the field toward a more critical andsociological perspective and away from what may be termed naïve approaches thataccept terms and ideas uncritically.Furthermore, the thesis is original in that no existing piece of work has examined theInternet in Croatia, nor has there been an attempt to critically describe multipartcontemporary interpretation of the Internet.Summarise your key findings.That the contemporary interpretation of the Internet owes much to understandings oftechnology, politics and the media.That in Croatia the Internet did not operate as expected.And therefore that the Internet may not function in the same way where ever it isused.That ability of the Internet to operate in the expected fashion is tied to it being usedin societies of late modernity.What are you most proud of, and why?Developing critical distance on the Internet and the theorisation of why technologyshould not be seen singularly in instrumental terms.
The research on Croatia, the new evidence, and the theorisation surrounding the useof the Internet.Whats original about your work? Where is the novelty?The history of the Internet in Croatia. It has not been systematically documentedelsewhere.Theorising about linkage between the effectiveness of the Internet and social form.What are the contributions (to knowledge) of your thesis?1. New evidence concerning the use of the Internet in Croatia – not publishedpreviously.2. Theoretical advances associated with methodology, to alert researchers tomethodological issues. This is detailed in the conclusion and consists of threearguments: Firstly, That technology is a sociological concern, particularly forresearchers of the Internet. Researchers should not accept technology at face valuebut should examine the way in which it is discussed. Secondly that the form ofidentity formation prevalent in high or late modernity and the Internet are deeplyinterrelated. Thirdly, that the Internet is a socially contingent media.Which topics overlap with your area?Philosophy of technology – Feenberg’s work.Social history of technology – particularly Internet technology.Who are the main `players in the field?In theories of technology Andrew Feenberg is producing interesting work, though notdirectly relevant to methodological concerns. Christine Hine’s book has proven verysignificant though I do not subscribe to her radical constructivism, though it is aninteresting area. James Slevin’s book on the internet and society was veryinteresting, he uses Giddens though in a different way to me. Miller and Slater’s bookis probably the closest though being Anthropologists they have a slightly differentapproach. Selwyn’s own work on the deconstruction of the digital divide is interestingand certainly a step in the right direction of problematising terms. Steve JonesMethodology work was also good. In studies of Croatia John Allcock’s work is by farthe most comprehensive and scholarly work.What did you do for your MPhil, and how does your PhD extend it? Did youmake any changes to the system you implemented for your MPhil?The thesis started out as an investigation into identity on the Internet. It followed thesame pattern as many other studies of this nature by focusing upon a number ofvirtual communities and exploring the construction of identity, I was particularlyinterested in how the technology of the internet contributed to the presentedpersona. However, with the help of a British Council grant I was able to go toCroatia, initially to give a couple of lectures, and conduct some research andestablish links with a university there. The more I studied the situation in Croatia
however the more I began to realise that perhaps there was something wrong withthe general model of the Internet I had been working with, that we didn’t actuallyapproach it sociologically. I therefore went back to my original ideas and began acritique of them.What are the strongest/weakest parts of your work?Strongest elements are: 1. the idea that we need to step back from a directacceptance of the nature of internet, that it will perform in a particular way: 2. theinvestigation into the Internet in Croatia and the theorising of it.Weakest or my least favourite elements would be the description of the idea of whatthe Internet can do, chapter 2. This is because it is a snapshot of what is going onand although I believe that the qualities associated are generally understood to bethe qualities of such new technology it seems in some ways a little arbitrary. It is alsoa hostage to fortune to some degree: new interpretations can and of course willcome out.Where did you go wrong?I should have learnt Serbo-Croat, this would have extended the amount of people Icould have interviewed, I should have come to the theoretical line initially.Why didnt you do it this way (the way everyone else does it)?The evidence I collected in Croatia just did not fit the existing model. The problemsof the model became more significant than trying to explain issues of identity.Strangely enough when I began to conceptualise the Internet differently theproblems of how identity operated in croatia seemingly became far more solvable.Looking back, what might you have done differently? I should have learnt moreSerbo –croat as this would have helped in extending the range of intervieweesHow have you evaluated your work?intrinsic evaluation: Data gathered for Croatia was triangulated with multiplerespondents, and sources. I usually used at least two – three sources for anyinformation in the thesis.extrinsic evaluation: Even if my approach is not adopted I feel that by bringing to thefore issues of methodology is of key import.How could you improve your work?It could be extended by looking at other case studies, Fellowship in Japan to do justthis.What are the motivations for your research?
Problems with the evidence from Croatia not fitting into contemporary models. Thisencouraged me to go back and re-examine the existing model and to criticallyevaluate it.Why is the problem you have tackled worth tackling?Existing methodological approaches just did not fit the situation in Croatia and thatas John Downing notes there is little research on the media (let alone the internet) inactual different societies, (not just diasporic communities using the internet).What is the relevance of your contributions?to other researchers – to decentre technology in accounts and to questionapproaches to technology. How is technology regarded by other societies.to industry? To challenge naïve assertions in technologies ability to fix problems,multiple ways of reading technology and multiple ways in which technology may beused. To raise awareness of methodological concerns.Have you solved the fields problem that you claim to have solved?I believe I have answered the three questions that I set myself: How do weunderstand the Internet – answered using the multipart model. How has the Internetbeen used in a society with a different social form – the examination of Croatia. Howshould the Internet be studied – the overall methodological contribution.Is your field going in the right direction?Gradual increase in research from outside of the Europe and the USA is good. As ina more critical engagement with the terms of study and with the ideas surroundingthe Internet and ICT.Where will you publish your work?Prime journals are New Media and Society and Convergence. There have alreadybeen a number of papers presented at conferences trailing ideas. For the theoreticalelements these were in Huddersfield at the Understanding Social WorldsConference, At the American Literature and Science Conference in Atlanta. At theInternet researchers Conference in Gottingen in Germany, and at the EuropeanSociological Association Conference in Helsinki. The Croatian elements werepresented at the Croatian Sociological Association Conference in Zagreb. All thesepapers were generally well received.Which aspects of your thesis could be published?Ideally I would like a book contract, to publish the entire thesis. I also expect toobtain a number of journal articles out of chapters 5-6 and possible chapter 1.
Chapter 1 has also been provisionally accepted as a book chapter to be publishedby Roldophi.What have you learned from the process of doing your PhD?Sometimes you study something for a long time without grasping its significance.Where did your research-project come from? How did your research-questionsemerge?The thesis started out as an investigation into identity on the Internet. It followed thesame pattern as many other studies of this nature by focusing upon a number ofvirtual communities and exploring the construction of identity, I was particularlyinterested in how the technology of the internet contributed to the presentedpersona. However, with the help of a British Council grant I was able to go toCroatia, initially to give a couple of lectures, and conduct some research andestablish links with a university there. The more I studied the situation in Croatiahowever the more I began to realise that perhaps there was something wrong withthe general model of the Internet I had been working with, that we didn’t actuallyapproach it sociologically. I therefore went back to my original ideas and began acritique of them.Has your view of your research topic changed during the course of theresearch?Why have you done it this way?What are the alternatives to your approach?What do you gain by your approach?What would you gain by approach X?What do your results mean?Who are your envisioned users?