Transdisciplinary Dissertation Awards in SAH


2011 | 2010


2011 Awards

Photo of James GriffithJames Griffith, Philosophy

"Investigating Minds Want to Know: Science, Knowledge, and Value in An Age of Accountability"

One of the great challenges facing the discipline of philosophy is maintaining relevance outside the academy. A few fields of philosophy, such as ethics and cognitive science have made progress in this manner, but such a path has eluded most other areas in philosophy. I am currently working on research to build connections between contemporary epistemology and discussions about appropriate and sufficient evidence in program evaluation. The proposed dissertation project will examine how contemporary epistemology and evaluation theory and research can inform one another in developing methods and criteria for judging knowledge, actionable belief, or sufficiently justified decisions. Contemporary philosophical discussions of such ancient questions as ‘When can we be certain?’ ‘When is knowledge secure?’ ‘When do we have enough evidence?’ have obvious and meaningful application for contemporary evaluation practice and, indeed, for all forms of inquiry.

Especially in this current climate of accountability, a practical analysis of epistemological justification and scientific evidence that serve as grounds for action is of great use to the applied sciences. Further, efforts to apply philosophical theories of knowledge to the theoretical base of a decision-oriented profession re-raise questions about (1) why we want knowledge and (2) what is the best way to acquire knowledge. As for the latter, science is considered by many to be paradigmatic both in terms of its method of inquiry and of the results it delivers. Indeed the word “science” is derived from the Latin word for knowledge, scientia, and was popularized by natural philosophers like Francis Bacon and René Descartes. It is ironic then, that while science does not seek, and does not claim to deliver, certainty, the history of philosophical theories of knowledge is largely a history of attempts to explain knowledge in terms of certainty. Accordingly, this project examines not just what evaluation can learn from contemporary epistemology, but what epistemology can learn from this applied scientific practice.

Photo of Tyler ReebTyler Reeb, English

“A Philosophy of Narrative Synthesis: Uniting 21st Century Scholars Through Narrative”

Narrative Synthesis is three things: a philosophy, an act, and an event.

My philosophy of Narrative Synthesis is informed by a belief that if members of a particular discipline wholly understand a concept, they can forge narratives that bring “out the essence of a deep principle, without obscuring it in incidental or irrelevant details” (Goodsteain, Neugebauer xiv).

The act that is Narrative Synthesis is a function of our adaptive minds. In her Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Toni Morrison stated that: “Narrative has never been merely entertainment for me. It is, I believe, one of the principal ways in which we absorb knowledge.” Her insight expresses the essence of the act of Narrative Synthesis: We think and communicate in narratives. Moreover, narration is, in and of itself, an act of synthesis; it is how we make sense of, and adapt to, our realities. The act of Narrative Synthesis ensures that the event that is Narrative Synthesis happens.

The event that is Narrative Synthesis occurs when research from the sciences, social sciences, and humanities converge into meta-narratives that transcend the subvernaculars of particular disciplines to yield universal insights into the human experience.

Throughout my dissertation, I will interpret literary, political, and advertising narratives within a framework that synthesizes theoretical and pedagogical concepts from literary criticism, cognitive science, evolutionary psychology, narrative psychology, and neuroscience, among other fields. In triangulating the sciences, social sciences, and humanities at each phase of my interpretations and commentary, I seek to construct my dissertation into the embodiment of the events, actions, and abiding philosophy that comprise Narrative Synthesis. In conducting this research, I seek to present an expanded, transdisciplinary notion of what narrative means in the 21st century in relation to not only literature, politics, and advertising, but also what it means to be human. As Mark Turner wrote in The Literary Mind:

Narrative imagining—story—is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend upon it. It is our chief means of looking into the future, of predicting, of planning, and of explaining. It is a literary capacity indispensable to human cognition generally.


2010 Awards

Elaine McLemoreElaine McLemore, History

“Trauma, Photography and American Soldiers in Vietnam”

"My dissertation will bring together trauma studies, a sub-category of psychology, and cultural theory on photography and apply these lenses to a reading of a historical topic. By using this transdisciplinary approach, this dissertation will propose that photographs can depict and reveal the traumatic history of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. In doing so it rejects cultural theorist Susan Sontag’s argument in On Photography--that to look at the tragedy of others is always an act of voyeurism. However, it takes up Sontag’s later argument in Regarding the Pain of Others that to look at photographs can be a political act of bearing witness. My dissertation will build on Sontag’s work and in so doing argue that Americans consumed images of the Vietnam War through Life magazine as an attempt to understand and work through a national trauma."


Jenell NavarroJenell Navarro, Cultural Studies

“Battling Imperialism: Revolutionary Hip Hop in the Americas”

"In Battling Imperialism: Revolutionary Hip Hop in the Americas I examine how revolutionary hip hop in the Americas works as a transnational movement of cultural, national, and insurgent expression. I use the term revolutionary hip hop to point to hip hop music and culture that explicitly works to implement social and structural change. This is music that utilizes the four elements of hip hop in order to disseminate particular political messages about diverse struggles for equality. I argue that transnational movement(s) of revolutionary hip hop production and culture constantly emerge anew denying any assertion of cultural and national absolutism because as hip hop travels it is often adapted to fit a particular geopolitical context where national history, struggles of the present, and possibilities of differentiated futures work to challenge cultural imperialism. I extend this argument by showing how a range of different revolutionary hip hop productions--productions that speak to the everyday realities of the people--incite longings for social and political change because they are formed at the temporal and spatial convergences of the nation. In this project I specifically trace the transnational routes of revolutionary hip hop that traverse Puerto Rico, Native American communities in the U.S., Cuba, and Venezuela. The revolutionary productions of transnational hip hop I examine produce critiques regarding the production and consumption of U.S. cultural imperialism in addition to addressing issues of national citizenship and national politics. Moreover, I situate the complexities of revolutionary hip hop productions within a context of feminism that interrogates the possibilities for these productions to challenge heteropatriarchy, white supremacy, and imperialism; and, I propose that these cultural formations should not be understood as a privileged hegemonic model of resistance. Instead, I understand these revolutionary hip hop productions as varied forms of resistance fraught with layers of history and contingent struggle by wrestling with two driving questions: How do we form transnational communities of resistance to empire without reproducing cultural hegemony? And, while hip hop seems to translate as a viable medium of resistance across the Americas, why do many of the revolutionary hip hop productions that resist imperialism, racism, and economic inequity, often still rely on the reproduction of misogyny?"


Scott StrovasScott Strovas, Musicology

“Commonplaces: Literature and Rhetoric in the Orchestral Compositions of John Adams”

"As one of America's foremost contemporary composers, John Adams has proven himself an artist willing to make grand socio-political statements. His operas explore such controversial issues as atomic proliferation, immigration, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and U.S.-China relations. But while his operas have received the critical attention demanded of their cultural relevance, Adams’s orchestral compositions rarely inspire such dialogue. The orchestral works do not supply the narratives or libretti which make cultural critique of the operas readily accessible. Nonetheless, Adams does provide cultural backgrounds for his orchestral works, namely through the corollary of literature. The prose of Jack Kerouac, historical monographs of William Prescott, and Arnold Schoenberg’s treatise on harmony are but a sample of the various types of literature that Adams references in the titles and descriptions of his orchestral compositions. Such associations direct listeners toward intertextual interpretations yet to be investigated thoroughly by critics. Situated within the cultural scope of each text, Adams’s compositions communicate more than strictly musical substance; they perform as a type of rhetoric exemplifying his own intellectual and, at times, argumentative response to a text’s political or aesthetic concerns. This dissertation examines the relationship between literature and music in a number of Adams’s orchestral compositions, from Harmonielehre (1984-5) to City Noir (2009), as a critical aspect of his artistic persona."

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