The compilation thesis as a genre and as a method

What kind of thesis are you going to write? A monograph or a compilation thesis? My advice is that you write a compilation thesis, it gives you an ongoing evaluation of the progress of your work and gives you automatically a chance to publish articles in international journals. To write a monograph, get it published by a well known publisher, and on the same time write articles is a lot to “take on”. You will not be able to handle all this on the time that you have at your disposal, you won´t be finished in time.


These kinds of questions, and maybe even the advices, is increasingly becoming more common as PhD students are about to start working on their thesis. That is, within the social and cultural sciences. If we go the natural and medical sciences these kinds of remarks might very well be looked upon as somewhat odd since here, the compilation thesis is considered to be the natural format of your doctoral thesis. The issue at our hand is then the format that we in the social/cultural sciences are to adopt when we account for our work or, for those of you who have advanced far enough in the academic ranks, give advice to fresh PhD students. Based upon the fact that we within the social/cultural sciences at the present do have two formats at hand for our written ethnography, there is a growing need for a deeper discussion upon those aspects that surrounds the compilation thesis and the use of this format within ethnography. The following argument takes as its objective to investigate the external and internal logic of the compilation thesis. This means that we will investigate those external influences that form the backdrop of the compilation thesis, which are partly political and partly of a more epistemological origin. Moreover, in addition to this there will be an investigation of the internal rationale, or logic, of the compilation thesis, an argument that will be centered on the concept of emergence and the quality of knowledge that presents it self through the summary or general introduction of the thesis. This theoretical representation will then be linked with the epistemological/methodological paradigm of multi-sited ethnography, suggesting the employment of the compilation thesis in conjunction to a multi-sited research design. This text is then not about different ways of writing ethnographic texts, the following sections will not provide the reader with an elaboration of different strands and various styles etc. Naturally, the question of how to write ethnography is a well-known subject for anyone of those readers who is well established “within the field”, who will definitely know their way around all those debates and developments that have been occurring within anthropological/ethnological scene during the last decades.

The external logic of the compilation thesis

The objective of the next sections is then to discern the external logic of the compilation thesis. Doubtless, a number of you will already be familiar with such aspects as research evaluation systems, bibliometrics and the spread of so called “audit cultures”. But, nevertheless, these aspects deserves that our attention stays with them, not only because they implicate new strategies for writing, publishing etc, but also because they express certain political strategies and discourses which sheds light upon the role of both science and the academia in the 21: st century. However, in later sections, you will also find an argument that seeks to situate the external logic of the compilation thesis within the epistemological/methodological paradigm of multi-sited ethnography. We will however begin with the political aspects that surround the compilation thesis, starting with research evaluation and bibliometrics, which both illustrates a development towards an enlarged governmental steering of science.

Research evaluation and bibliometrics

Research evaluation systems can broadly be defined as a set of instruments employed to bring about an improvement of the scientific quality, a development that is associated with a more active steering of the scientific knowledge production by political authorities and the state (Benner 2008, Gläser 2007, Weingart & Maasen 2007). The background for this development is all to familiar, more or less explicated in depictions of science as a vital economical developmental resource, and the university as a centre for innovation and innovation policies (see next section). But, we can also trace this enlargement of control to the growth of science budgets, which encompass a significant share in the budgets of most advanced industrial societies. This absorption of significant economical and societal resources subsequently legitimatizes increased demands from the political realm on scientific performance and demonstrated responsibility (Gläser 2007). It is within this background that bibliometrics as a scientific evaluative instrument is becoming more common for assessing the quality of research preformed at various academic settings (Benner 2008). So, how is a quality assessment achieved through a bibliometric evaluation?

According to the logic employed by bibliometrics, quality can be stated as a function of the rate by which a scientific work by an individual (or group of individuals) is cited in other scientific works. Citation indicates use, and in extension to this assumption, citations are also an indication of whether the work has an impact upon the scientific community. Use and impact are then considered as, if not direct measurements of the quality of a scientific work, partial indicators of quality (Gläser & Laudel 2007:103). But, which is well-known fact for most of us, when it comes to matters of publication, assessment of quality etc., traditions do vary across different scientific disciplines.

The debate within the Swedish context, and no doubt in other national settings as well, is still intense as to “how”, “when” and “where” your scientific work are to be published and validated (for an extract of the most recent turn in the Swedish debate on these issues: see Sverker Lenas: “Uträknad humaniora” Dagens Nyheter 2009-06-29, Jonas Nordin: “Fördelningsmodellen Web of science är principiellt ohederlig” Dagens Nyheter 2009-06-24, Ulf Sandström: “Varför vill humanister undvika vetenskaplig granskning?” Dagens Nyheter 2009-06-15). It might not come as a surprise that the compilation thesis with its collection of articles (preferably written in English and published in international scientific journals with a high citation quote), comes forward as the most strategic format for researchers to represent their written ethnography, a format that more or less harbors an intrinsic potential to be an answer to “new ways” to evaluate and assess the quality of our preformed research. Especially if we consider an increased importance of research evaluation within the academic setting (see next section). However, the academic setting is by no means to be seen as an isolated case of this extension of governmental control, instead we can situate the growth of these scientific evaluation systems within a general development that a number of commentators have come to denominate as “audit cultures” (see for example Shore 2008, Shore & Wright 2000, Strathern 2000)

“Audit Cultures”

According to Chris Shore (Shore 2008), the description of this development in terms of “audit cultures” is a way to describe, not so much a specific society, place or people, but rather a societal condition or cultural manifestation. The essential aspect of this cultural manifestation consists in a reassignment of audit to societal realms outside its original use in the systems of finance and economy. The roots of this reassignment can be traced to the UK, to the establishment in 1983 of the “The British Audit Commission” which was one of the first institutional manifestations in Western Europe of this emerging “culture of audit”. The commission´s self description on their official website as” an independent watchdog, driving economy, efficiency and effectiveness in local public services to deliver better outcomes for everyone” (, very much captures the “ethos” of the perceived role of audit within the public sector, not only within the UK but also throughout Europe ( See Strathern 2000 for additional examples).

One of the new areas were a large-scale practice of audit has been implemented is the health-care sector (Levay & Waks 2009), where quality assessments, performance indicators, rankings, clinical studies etc. illustrates this spread of audit as an instrument of control in the public sector. These governmental technologies (Rose 1996: 42) comes through by invoking such “rituals of verification” (Strathern 2000: 3) as “public inspection”, “submission to scrutiny”, “rendering visible”, “measures of performance”, or “benchmarking”. Obviously, we will not be far fetched to find additional examples within the Swedish academic setting; Uppsala University with its BASTU project (Besparingar Asvsedda för Strategisk Tillväxt av Uppsala Universitet) and the RQ08 project (Research Quality Assurance for the Future) at Lund University are only but two examples of such a large-scale reassignment of audit. Yet, there is an additional point to be made here, which brings forward another recognizable aspect of the contemporary academic (and public) setting, an aspect that we more than often can witness in conjunction to the practice of auditing in the public setting. The encompassing term that captures this aspect is of course “The Market”, as this concept is visualized within the neo-liberal discourse whose “ethos” is to extend the rationality of the market, its proposed schemes of analysis and its criteria for making decisions to areas that are not exclusively or not primarily economic (Shore 2008, Weingart & Maasen 2007, Foucault 1997: 78-79, Rose 1996). Following excerpt, taken from the RQ08 evaluation, illustrates this discourse neatly:

Research-intensive universities are amongst the great entrepreneurial centres of the modern world. They are important national assets that generate a wide diversity of social benefits: as vital sources of new knowledge and innovative thinking, as major components of the national research base, as providers of skilled personnel and credible credentials, as contributors to innovation, as attractors of international talent and business investment into a region, as agents of social justice and mobility, and as contributors to social and cultural vitality…(Lunds Universitet 2008:10).

So, through evaluation standards that scrutinize and reconceptualises the academic practice in terms of excellence, entrepreneurial and innovative potential, we can indeed distinguish an alignment between audit and the market which endorses government through the twin points of passage of economic efficiency and good practice (Strahern 2000:2). Moreover, these governmental technologies embody rationality and a morality that are designed to bring about, for example amongst the academic staff, new norms of conduct and professional behaviour. In short, these technologies are agents for the creation of new kinds of subjectivities: self-managing individuals who renders themselves auditable (Shore and Wright 2000: 57) There are important questions at hand here regarding the epistemological consequences of evaluation systems, bibliometric tools and, in general, the transformation of the university into a unit that emphasize entrepreneurial and economical factors as a base for future production of knowledge (Weingart & Maasen 2007). At hand is also the political aspect and the notions of power at play in these “Audit Cultures”, directed towards the “conduct of conducts” or the “management of possibilities” (for example the chosen format of our PhD thesis), as Foucault might have put it (Foucault 2000:341). Is the issue at hand then all about politics and the exercise power, dreary forecasts that spells the passing away of Humboldt´s vision and the academic freedom as we know it, in which case the compilation thesis becomes centred around whether to comply or resist? Not really, as the next section will try to show, mainly due to the other aspect of the external logic of the compilation thesis: The epistemological/methodological paradigm of multi-sited ethnography.

Ethnography in a contemporary global world

To invoke a term like the global, or globalisation, is to wander into a analytic “mine-field” as to how, when and where this development is taking place, or even whether it actually is taking place at all. Even so, the term has been almost unavoidable marker for a number of transformations within such diverse fields as technology, economy, politics and ethics that marks themselves as heterogeneous and often contradictory (Collier & Ong 2005). Paul Rabinow seems inclined to invoke another thematic for doing anthropology and ethnography in a field that marks itself by this heterogeneity, this by setting the stage for an anthropology of the contemporary (Rabinow 2008). According to Rabinow, the contemporary is to be understood as “a moving ratio of modernity, moving through the recent past and near future in a (nonlinear) space that gauges modernity as an ethos already becoming historical” (Rabinow 2008: 2). The contemporary, in Rabinow´s account, is a social and cultural space where we find the conflation of the new and the old being juxtapositioned along each other, where older and newer elements are given form and work together (Rabinow 2008: 2- 3). A few examples taken from medical anthropology will serve as illustrations: In her analysis of the emergence of new life forms in the wake of stem cell technology and “regenerative medicine”, Sarah Franklin observes how this biomedical development can be represented as a conflation between the “new” and “old”, where: “long held attitudes to “life itself” have been repositioned alongside a new enthusiasm for the potential of made-to-order recombinant outcomes” (Franklin 2005: 60).

In his investigations on the role of patient organisations within biomedical research, Carlos Novas shows how a juxtaposition between the present and near future “give material form and shape to a political economy that is organized around realizing the hope and potential of biomedical science to develop cures or therapies” (Novas 2006: 293). The murky phenomenon of organ trafficking provides another illustration. This transnational social and cultural phenomenon juxtaposes, in a social and geographical flow made possible by developments in modern transplantation medicine, individuals from the First world and sellers from the Third or Fourth that shares little except their contingent “bio availability for organs”, organized loosely around altruistic gift, commoditized sale or cover seizure ( Lundin 2008, Cohen 2005). Moreover, as medical anthropologist Nancy Scheper-Hughes points out, this phenomenon juxtaposes not only remote local and the global contexts with each other, but also, in line with the line of thought presented by Rabinow, it also aligns pre- and postmodernity along each other (Scheper-Hughes 2005: 151). However we decide to conjure up the present, in that ever present and ever debated epochal terminology of modernity/late modernity/post-modernity (to take a few, there are more at hands as you know), or in terms of what we might call the characteristics of the contemporary (contingency, complexity, juxtapositions), or even tries to capture these characteristics in such analytical and diffuse terms such as “global forms” or “global assemblages” (Collier & Ong 2005), the major message in all these more or less coherent accounts is that the task of ethnography has become more heterogeneous and less easily located in space and time (Van Maanen 2006).

The name that comes to mind when we discuss the practice of ethnography in this world of heterogeneity, conflation, and juxtaposition is of course George Marcus and his epistemological/methodological paradigm of multi-site ethnography. Marcus´ prescription in Ethnography through Thick & Thin (1998) is for us to move “out from the single sites and local situations of conventional ethnographic research designs to examine the circulation of cultural meanings, objects, and identities in diffuse time-space” (Marcus 1998: 79). But, more importantly for matters at hand here, is that his epistemological/methodological prescription not only involves a move from single sites and local situations, but also an accentuation on an ethnography that make use of multiple levels and styles of analysis (Marcus 1998:37).

The aspect that lies at heart of this epistemological/methodological paradigm is naturally the development of a more flexible and even pragmatic ethnographic epistemology that makes us capable to conjure up and acknowledge a contemporary that is predominated by complexity, contingency and heterogeneity. Yet, as those of you who been part of this development are well aware of, there is some disciplinary tension (mainly in relationship to sociology) buried in Marcus´ approach as one important aspect for a “multi-sited” ethnographer is to practice an ethnography that also “acknowledges macrotheoretical concepts and narratives” (Marcus 1998: 82). This dimension comes at play as a way to handle a contemporary in which the former distinction between micro/macro becomes increasingly harder to withhold in its traditional sense. We will return to this issue in the section that follows. Now, to be frank, all this is “old news”, as Ethnography through Thick & Thin were published more than decade ago, and considering the amount multi-sited ethnography preformed today, George Marcus´ prescriptions has not gone unheard. In fact, as we see the development of a “multimodal ethnography” (Dicks et al. 2006), this observation might even be seen as “kicking in open doors”. However, the main thrust of this section is not to present you with any novelties when it comes to the internal development of anthropology and ethnology, but to argue for an external logic of the compilation thesis which is based on epistemological/methodological considerations. Moreover, if we consider the kind of heterogeneity that resides intrinsic within the multi-sited approach, we might ask ourselves whether this approach is, not “testing the limits of ethnography” as Marcus himself envisioned (Marcus 1998: 83), but testing the “limits of the monograph”? In fact, the last section of this text will argue for that the compilation thesis in certain cases grants us flexibility that makes it more suitable for a multi-site ethnography than the monograph is capable of. Before that though, we need to investigate the internal logic of the compilation thesis.

The internal logic of the compilation thesis

Whereas we in earlier sections have dealt with the external logic of the compilation thesis, this second part of the text turns upon the thesis itself and its internal logic. In this section we will look into the structure of the compilation thesis, how the different parts connect to each other, and how to characterise the knowledge provided by the thesis seen as a “whole”.

“The whole is more than the sum of its parts”

This section will propose an epistemological elaboration on the relation between the different parts of the compilation thesis, between the different articles and the general introduction (in Swedish: “kappan”). Basically, the compilation thesis is of course a collection of articles (accepted/submitted/manuscripts) and a general introduction that presents the knowledge provided by the thesis in its entirety. As we take this entirety into consideration, we obviously find ourselves facing a question of how to relate the knowledge provided by the individual articles, which might vary according to a number of factors, to the knowledge presented by the compilation of the included articles. The rest of this section will present an argument that suggests that the relation between “the whole and the parts” in the compilation thesis is a relation that can be understood as an example of emergence. What is then emergence, and what relation can we distinguish between this philosophical concept and the compilation thesis? The indications are already given above, but will be further illuminated in sections below.

If we are to delineate a number of claims from the vast array of works that have been employing the concept of emergency, and which are important for the matters at hand here, we can begin by distinguishing: (i) that an emergent entity (in this account, this emergent entity is of course meant to be the knowledge provided by general introduction of the compilation thesis) is capable of some kind of higher-order description; there is some kind of whole to be analyzed, and that this entity have the capability for an (ii) unpredictable novelty. That is, this higher-order whole could not have been predicted from an analysis of the parts (the individual articles) independently. Moreover, that (iii) the individual part(s) is necessary for the existence of the whole, but also that (iv) the parts are not sufficient for the whole (Peterson 2006: 692-694). So even though this higher-order whole is dependent on the parts for its existence, the fourth point tells us that “the sum of the whole is more than the sum of its parts”. Finally, emergent entities are sometimes declared to be multiply realizable (Peterson 2006: 694). In the case of ethnography, this a criteria gives a philosophical foundation which tells us that multiple investigations on the same subject, which on different grounds and with different means involves the concept of emergence, will yield new insights. In other words, the philosophy of science that underlines this internal logic more or less says, “business as usual”, every ethnography will yield something unique and specific every time it is preformed

Basically, these five points forms the theoretical underpinning of the compilation thesis´ internal logic; the base upon which its internal connectivity and the quality of its knowledge pretensions resides upon. It gives us a theoretical formalization on our present more intuitive awareness regarding the knowledge provided by the thesis as whole, knowledge that we, according to this theoretical formalization, can be seen as emerging from the individual articles. So, how do we connect all this philosophical reasoning presented above with the multi-sited paradigm presented in the above section? In what way do the internal logic of the compilation thesis answer to the epistemological/methodological prescriptions offered by George Marcus & Co? To answer these questions, we have to make a detour back into the epistemological/methodological aspects that surrounds multi-sited ethnography

The compilation thesis and multi-site ethnography

One of those who took up an early advocacy for multi-site ethnography in the Scandinavian context, Ulf Hannerz, describes a multi-sited ethnographic field as an entity that is constituted by a “network of localities”(Hannerz 2001: 11). One of the core aspects of this approach is, according to Hannerz, that our different sites are linked to each other in something of a coherent, or connected, structure. The multi-sited ethnographic study can therefore be regarded as a study of one (albeit heterogeneous) field that is comprised by a network of localities –many fields in one single field, accordingly. In addition to this outline, Hannerz stress the need for an investigation of the interdependency that exists between the different sites, to look at different connections and relationships, in addition to all those internal aspects that can be distinguished within the various sites (Hannerz 2001:11-12). How are we then to understand these connections and relations? The answer to this question provides us with a clear linkage to the internal logic of the compilation thesis. George Marcus elucidates:

…any ethnography of a cultural formation in the world is also an ethnography of the system, and therefore cannot be understood only in terms of the conventional single-site mise-en-scène of ethnographic research, assuming indeed it is the cultural formation, produced in several different locales, rather than the conditions of a particular set of subjects that is the object of study. For ethnography, then, there is no global in the local-global contrast now so frequently evoked. The global is an emergent dimension of arguing about the connection among sites in a multi-sited ethnography (Marcus 1998: 83).

So, a multi-sited ethnography means an approach whereby distinctions between the micro and the macro levels becomes conflated into an figure that takes on, like the power/knowledge figure in the “foucauldian” perspective, more of a micro/macro configuration. Moreover, the appearance of the macro level is something that comes up as an emergent dimension (see above) by doing ethnography upon the connections and associations between the different sites. George Marcus again:

…in multi-sited ethnography comparison emerges from putting questions to an emergent object of study whose contours, sites, and relationships are not known beforehand (Marcus 1998:86)

The main argument is of course that we have an alignment between the external logic provided by multi-sited ethnography, focused on emergent objects and phenomena that emerges through comparisons made between multiple ethnographic sites, and the quality of knowledge that are emphasized through the internal logic of the compilation thesis. But, as Paul Rabinow points out in relationship to investigations of these emergent social/cultural phenomena: “Such phenomena, it follows, require a distinctive mode of approach, an array of appropriate concepts, and almost certainly different modes of presentation” (Rabinow 2008:4). However, critics might raise their voices and remark that this internal logic is not only to be found within the compilation thesis, indeed the same kind of logic might as well be valid for the relationship between the conclusion and the individual chapters in a monograph. True, we do have the same internal logic at hand within the monograph, which raises the question of the limits of this format. So far, this argument has been firmly set in the more abstract realms though, more philosophical/theoretical in its scope, and less practical as to concrete illustrations on the conveyed arguments. The obvious question for the upcoming section is then: What does all this “multi-sitedness” means in real ethnographic investigations? What about this alleged practice of multi-sited ethnography as a hunt for the emergent? As a way to address this call for concrete examples, we will analyse a number of recent ethnographic investigations, all written in the format of a monograph, which will also give us the opportunity to address the question of a change of format in conjunction to multi-sited ethnographic investigations.

Discussion: a change of format?

Well, as mentioned in the previous section, no straight answers exist here, and no straight answers will be given in this discussion. Instead, nothing more than a “conversation” will be offered in these last pages.The relationship between the monograph, and a ethnography where we are in for pursuit of “the emergent” by traversing heterogenic, complex and multiple ethnographic fields, is naturally a relationship that are filled with a certain tension. It is natural and maybe even hard to avoid such tension, due the intrinsic propensities that resides within this epistemological/methodological paradigm. So, the key-word when it comes to the major benefits provided by the compilation thesis is flexibility. But on what foundations do this flexibility rests, then? The reason for this can be traced to the relation between the individual articles and their compilation, which we already has been specified as: The individual part(s) is necessary for the existence of the whole, but also that the parts are not sufficient for the whole. This formalisation tells us that the articles forms individual “cases” of their own, “cases” in which we can investigate separate ethnographic fields according to various objectives, reserach questions, themes, and methodologies. Through a compilation of these “cases”, in which we make comparisons as well as analyses the relationships between the individual articles, we find those emergent “wholes”, those higher-order descriptions that constitute the knowledge given by the entire thesis. Do we find the same relationship within the monograph? To a certain degree, we do find a similar relationship within a monograph (in this case between the individual chapters and the overall conclusion), but not with same clear boundaries which the above formalisation specifies for the compilation thesis. Instead, the monograph displays this relationship within a more holistic appearance, where the individual chapters do not stand on their own (neither in a theoretical or methodological sense) but forms intrinsic parts of a format that is more holistic and coherent than the compilation thesis.
To conclude: We have in this text accounted for the external and internal logic of the compilation thesis. It is obvious that this format is enmeshed within a power logic that is connected with politic developments, involving not only the academic sector, which requires further investigations on its own. But, we can also distinguish a growing need for empirical investigations upon the epistemological consequences of the development of “audit cultures” within the academic sector. This need naturally includes the use of the compilation thesis within our scientific discipline, but it also includes more general questions that concerns the impact of internet, digitalisation etc. upon the scientific methods. In addition to this external logic that is enmeshed with power and politics, later sections of this text suggests a use of the compilation thesis, based upon its internal logic, in conjunction to a practice of a multi-sited ethnography and its search for emergent phenomena. However, this account seek only to open up a more extensive discussion on all these aspects, but as an tentative approach to how to use this format within the social/cultural sciences, the conjunctions of the compilation thesis and the practice of multi-sited ethnography might be one way forward.


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Dagens Nyheter 2009-06-29: ”Sverker Lenas: Uträknad humaniora”. Accessed 2009-07-06 and available from

Dagens Nyheter 2009-06-2: ”Jonas Nordin: Fördelningsmodellen Web of science är principiellt ohederlig”. Accessed 2009-07-06 and available from

Dagens Nyheter 2009-06-15: “Ulf Sandström: Varför vill humanister undvika vetenskaplig granskning?”. Accessed 2009-07-06 and available from

Research Quality Assurance for the Future (RQ 08) 2008: Lund University

George Marcus

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