Conditions for Criticality in Doctoral Education: A Creative Concern

Eva M. Brodin

One of the supervisors said: "Yes, we're going to reshape you here." It seems as if that is what they do in doctoral education, they make us into researchers . . . I mean, make us think in another way. And you could say that they've succeeded with that in my case: I mean with the critical thinking. What you learn is that you need to be critical of everythingeverything you read. And I suppose that's the point with these seminars; it has to be, that you discuss the texts and critically reflect upon them. (Interview with doctoral student in pedagogical work, Pel)

The demand for developing profound critical thinking in doctoral education is a serious concern since today's doctoral students are the academics and societal leaders of tomorrow. Thus they need to be well prepared for handling the rapid changes of academia, and society at large, in deliberate, transformative, and responsible ways. Such a concern extends beyond the traditional understanding of critical thinking in terms of critical reasoning. It also involves critical self-reflection and critical action (Barnett 1997). Underpinned by a range of scholars who argue for a close relationship between critical and creative thinking (Baer and Kaufman 2006), I shall in this chapter argue that criticality of this all-embracing kind involves an ample amount of creativity.

Walters (1994, 11) states that the critical thinker recognizes when it is necessary for "creatively suspending strict rules of inference and evidence in order to envision new possibilities, innovative procedures, and fresh, potentially fecund, problems." Unfortunately, there seem to be many obstacles along the path of assisting doctoral students in their development toward becoming critical beings of this powerful and creative kind. Doctoral education is a practice with "actors, actions, settings, tools and artefacts, rules, roles and relationships" (Lee and Boud 2009 13), all of which have a pivotal impact on the students' development. Disciplinary traditions, controlling supervisors, gate-keeping senior researchers, funding stakeholders' interests, and limited time frames can therefore be confining factors for the critical and creative development of doctoral students.

Against this background, the educational conditions for developing doctoral students into critical and creative scholars will be discussed in relation to a composite theoretical framework based upon Barnett's (1997) notion of criticality in higher education and Arendt's (1958) political philosophy on the human condition. This picture reflects the sum of my own experiences from conducting research and developmental work in doctoral education across all faculties. Through the chapter, illustrative examples will be used from one of my interview studies with doctoral students from four disciplines (musical performance, pedagogical work, psychiatry, theoretical philosophy) at four universities in Sweden, which has been presented in detail elsewhere (Brodin 2014).

 
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