Covert conversations: disciplined improvisation and meaning-making in the masters (MA) supervisory relationship

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Moynihan, Thomas Joseph
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University College Cork
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This research asks the question: “What are the relational dynamics in Masters (MA) supervision?” It does so by focusing upon the supervisory relationship itself. It does this through dialoguing with the voices of both MA supervisors and supervisees in the Humanities using a Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) framework. In so doing, this research argues for a re-evaluation of how MA supervision is conceptualised and proposes a new theoretical framework for conceptualising MA supervision as a relational phenomenon. The research design was derived from an Activity Theory-influenced methodology. Data collection procedures included the administration of Activity Theory Logs, individual semi-structured interviews with both supervisors and supervisees and the completion of reflective journals. Grounded Theory was used to analyse the data. The sample for the study consists of three supervisor-supervisee dyads from three disciplines in the Humanities. Data was collected over the course of one academic year, 2010-2011. This research found that both individual and shared relational dynamics play an important role in MA supervision. Individual dynamics, such as supervisors’ iterative negotiation of ambiguity/clarity and supervisees’ boundary work, revealed that both parties attempt to negotiate a separation between their professional-academic identities and personal identities. However, an inherent paradox emerged when the shared relational dynamics of MA supervision were investigated. It was found that the shared space created by the supervisory relationship did not only exist in a physical setting, but was also psychoactive in nature and held strong emotional resonances for both parties involved. This served to undermine the separation between professional-academic and personal identities. As a result, this research argues that the interaction between the individual and shared relational dynamics in MA supervision enables, for both supervisors and supervisees, a disciplined improvisation of academic identity.
Masters , Supervision , Cultural historical activity theory , Postgraduate , Higher education
Moynihan, T. J. 2013. Covert conversations: disciplined improvisation and meaning-making in the masters (MA) supervisory relationship. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.
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