The Doctoral Dissertation – A Consultation

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Guest blog by the Canadian Association for Graduate Studies (CAGS)

There was a time when a PhD dissertation in the Humanities or most Social Sciences was an early version of a single-authored scholarly manuscript. Things are changing. Today, the three-article thesis is accepted –  even the norm – in some disciplines. And dissertations comprised primarily of creative works are a basic requirement in other programs. 

In 2014, Eric Weissman’s (PhD Indi -Concordia) multi-media, interdisciplinary work “Spaces, Places and States of Mind: a Pragmatic Ethnography,” was given CAGS’s Distinguished Dissertation Award. Weissman’s approach recognized that the complexities of homelessness couldn’t be organized into a traditional manuscript. Another example is the recently published thesis on the presence of hip hop in community activism, school-based education and theatre.

There’s no going back.

Humanities and social science disciplines have led the way in contesting the boundaries of the dissertation. Concerns about the changing character of scholarly communication and the employment prospects of Humanities PhDs have been a significant driver. That has prompted the consultations and research done by the CAGS Working Group studying the “Purpose, Content, Structure, Assessment of the Doctoral Dissertation”.  The project is a work in progress and CAGS is partnering with the Federation of the Humanities and Social Sciences to hold its next consultation session Monday, May 29 between 1530 and 1730 at Congress 2017.

We encourage you to read the document and share your thoughts and observations. If you’re unable to attend this event but have comments you can send them to CAGS Executive Director Sally Rutherford at  The working group is also seeking further consultations. If you would like to organize one at your institution, contact CAGS. 


Congress of the Humanities and Social SciencesCongress 2017