ENGL 840 -Blog Post #4: Dissertation Summary

Unger, D. C. (2015). What peer-to-peer networks teach us about institutional service (Order No. 3734369). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1733665715).


In contrast to my analysis of the Smith dissertation, which dealt with a specific research process and use case for OSS applications in graduate student contexts, Donald C. Unger’s 2015 What peer-to-peer networks teach us about institutional service” is a deeply rhetorical and organizational analysis of academia discipline-wide, through the context of service relationships and responsibilities.

In his first chapter, Unger’s work studies the rhetorical and practical interpretations of the nature and role of service in the academy, and examines the conflict between post-structuralist liberal expectations of the academy against pragmatic, traditionalist questions of viability and productivity.  Through theoretical applications and institutional critiques in the second chapter, Unger hopes to resolve this opposition by considering service under peer-to-peer technological models which express service and support as relational rather than material or expertise-based, and through feminist care ethics which value the formation and growth of professional qualities through the lens of the interpersonal rather than the organizational context.

In the third and fourth chapters, the author applies these questions and the peer-to-peer resolution of liberal and pragmatic traditionalist approaches under specific disciplinary contexts – in Rhetoric and Composition, in Computers and Writing, and in Technical Communication (47-73).  Unger then provides a heuristic for considering how service does and does not function as a relationality, and how institutional critique serves to make visible the invisible “infrastructure” (37) of service and to blur the delineation between “critical thought” in the humanities and the “technical knowhow” of STEM disciplines (11).

Although this delineation is challenging, and the segregation between positivist and anti-/post-positivist notions still unclear (both in its presence and the necessity of its presence), the questions Unger raises are a necessary step in contextualizing my work on graduate research in the humanities – as the support of graduate research is inherently a form of (frequently informal) service, and the students’ practice itself is a form of service – as defined by Unger’s 8-point definition of service (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Unger's definition of institutional service
Figure 1: Unger’s definition of institutional service (101).

In exploring the “crisis narratives” of the humanities and their relationship to the current state of service and research in the field today (6-10), Unger’s work necessarily exists within ideological contexts which drive it toward specific solutions and conclusions about the nature of service and academic work in general.  However, this document may be useful to me because it recontextualizes and more carefully delineates service within the academy according to these ideologies and ethics of care and sharing, which reflect the use cases typical to the application of F/OSS within institutional contexts; as graduate students typically create research knowledge under mentorship, the questions which Unger asks about how we view service as inherently defined by relationships and networks provide a strong theoretical and ethical framework–which helps us to examine the ways in which research flows from service, service from research needs, and both from departmental, disciplinary, and institutional exigencies and contexts.


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