Monday, June 23, 2003

The Public Defense of the Present Dr. Klastrup
"We have wireless in this building, so you can blog the defense live," Lisbeth confided as we were putting up posters and moving tables preparing for the big event. "I didn't bring the lap-top," I confessed, regretfully. "Good!" she exclaimed.

Lisbeth was the first person I encountered at the it-university after a seven-hour trip from Volda, Norway to Copenhagen, Denmark. An elegant lady in moss green, the colour enhancing her gorgeous red hair, she was busily doing all the manual preparations. Much as I fear the formal Norwegian defense, the easy-going Danish approach tended a little far in the opposite direction. Lisbeth was putting up posters and setting things to order. Where was the herd of supporting staff at moments like this? What was The Candidate doing here, and not meditating on the opening remarks in her own office? Where were the drapes and flowers, designed to enhance the lecture into something extraordinary, something not happening every day? And most important, why had nobody set the stage, the chairs for the comittee, the tables for the speakers - really, they hadn't even cleaned the blackboard! Grey with layers of chalk, it was the most mundane of reminders. This was just an other examination in just an other classroom...

Then Lisbeth started to talk about her thesis, and there was nothing mundane about the occasion at all. This was intensely experienced and passionately explored material, presented to us in Lisbeth's pleasant, warm voice with its soft danish accent. She took us for a ride on the magic carpet of her childhood and out into her virtual worlds, into cyberspace; which she describes as an extension of our need for fictional creativity.

The board of assessors were waiting and watching, taking notes and nodding. Cynthia Haynes, a woman of most striking appearance and the added favour point she gets with me for marrying a boy from the next fjord, was first in questioning Lisbeth after a short break. Cynthia spread her questions to three areas: rhetorical, methodological and theoretical. Jon Dovey was next, still a fairly unknown quantity to me at the time. Later, through a very informal dinner at Espen's new home, I found that Dovey is a lecturer at UWE, part of the Cultural Studies program. To my surprise, he addressed the same topics as Cynthia. I am used to the questioning being more rigidly delegated among the members of the comittee, with one main opponent doing theory while the other does methodology and the third steps in with what ever they didn't manage to put in either of those categories. Another of those cultural things, I guess.

The third opponent was Klaus Bruhn Jensen, Danish media researcher with a particular affinity for methodologies in media research, and now I started to feel I was in familiar ground. Up until this point I had felt as if with the roles switched I'd have been totally unable to answer any questions or anything. Jensen's questions were more precise than the others, and particularly addressed definitions and methods, something which I had missed a little in the two former opponents. Some of these questions were deceptively simple, little wicked trick-questions invoking the outright sadism a Norwegian defense so often runs over with. Lisbeth dealt with that with the same cool soft demanour as all the others, no breaking out in tears, no fainting and no aggression. I was immensely proud of her - as were all in the hall, grinning widely and listening to that pleasant voice explaining the facts of her research.

To sum up the criticism:
Lisbeth's methodology was interdisciplinary to the point that it became a little imprecise and weak. Her use of concepts such as "case-study" was unorthodox - and we don't really want unorthodox understanding of methodological concepts, do we? The thesis is more descriptive than analytical, and she doesn't really connect her findings with her material, making several chapters seem superflous. I haven't read the thesis, but the way Lisbeth replied to some of the direct questions to methodology implies that these were justified comments.

The good part about the thesis was that all the opponents loved it! It was an important contribution to the understanding of a field which up until this point has had no monographies publicly available, and it was an engaged and engaging one. That sounds right from what I have seen from Lisbeth over the years. Brilliant and well-spoken, well-read and dedicated, how could her thesis be less than good? I was totally envious by the end of the praise for the thesis - after all I submitted a month before her, and although my thesis focuses a lot more on the player and a lot less on the world within which the character plays, we overlap, and there is another large work on multi-user games in existance, not just Lisbeths.... But all these petty thoughts were just the green monster within me reacting to the wonderful responses Lisbeth had to her work, to the way she had carried it out and presented it to the world. Because this was definitely a well-deserved triumph for Lisbeth: the end of her labour towards the doctorate, and a good outcome at that!

Afterwards there was a reception, there were speeches, there was the comittee testifying that she was accepted for the Doctorate, there was wine and cakes and strawberries and the pleasures of academic recognition mixed with an adoring crowd carrying masses of flowers and presents.

It definitely was Lisbeth's day, and it was a good one, worth the trip for several reasons, some of them quite selfish - some of them just warm and fuzzy and all related to the pride and delight I feel in knowing such a very nice and intelligent woman!

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