Theses in progress
The economic and political theorist, Albert O. Hirschman, is today recognized as one of the great interdisciplinary social scientists of the postwar era. It is in this tradition that the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy has launched a series of activities for the Institute’s PhD community.
While much interdisciplinary training for early career scholars entails teaching them how assimilate different disciplines into their projects, the Hirschman Centre’s program focuses on showing students how to build an interdisciplinary community. Inspired by the belief that interdisciplinary work for tomorrow’s scholars will involve collaboratively generating ideas and commenting on work across disciplines, the Centre’s PhD program consists of a bi-annual colloquium series, a regular reading group, and a methods café. Each event is designed to facilitate cross-disciplinary conversation on issues that are substantially related to democratic theory and practices.
The bi-annual colloquium series provides a regular opportunity for post-MPT doctoral candidates to share their work with faculty and colleagues. At each colloquium, several PhD candidates share an in-progress chapter of their dissertation. Each author is assigned a discussant from a different discipline with substantive, disciplinary, or methodological familiarity of their topic. For example, at last year’s colloquia, a PhD candidate in political science exploring how local communities use courts to seek environmental protections was paired with a PhD candidate from International Law. Each chapter is also discussed by a visiting professor or a faculty affiliated with the Centre. Formers guests included Professors Till van Rahden from University of Montreal, Michael Woolcock from the Harvard Kennedy School and Grégoire Mallard from the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy. The chapter is then discussed by colloquium participants, who come from each of the Institute’s faculties.
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The PhD student reading group meets two or more times per term. Student participants, supported by the Albert Hirschman Centre team, select short methodological texts that exemplify and tackle the challenges of thinking in an interdisciplinary fashion about politics. Attended by four to eight students, the group meetings focus on close readings of these texts, and discuss how the author’s approach to method, style, and theory could inform our own research, writing, and reading. Last year’s readings included Marx, On the Jewish Question; Foucault, The Order of Discourse; and Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations. The reading group is open to new participants, and new suggestions for readings.
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The methods café is a new initiative that provides a structured opportunity to explore how to develop interdisciplinary research agendas as an early career researcher. It currently has two parts. The first is designed for PhD candidates and post-doctoral researchers at any point in their studies. It offers the opportunity to discuss a work-in-progress by a visiting professor at the Centre, and interrogate the professor’s methodological strategies, as well as how they might tackle similar questions from a range of disciplinary perspectives. The second is designed specifically for late-stage PhD and postdoctoral scholars at the Institute. It seeks to catalyze interdisciplinary research foci on democracy, and support researchers in the early stages of developing one of their first postdoctoral research projects. In the café, participants present short abstracts of potential new projects. Fellow early career researchers, as well as faculty affiliated to the Centre, discuss the relationship between the question, the methods, the scholar's broader research agenda, and the scholar's scholarly or intellectual "brand".
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