A reflection on the disputas of Einar Sneve Martinussen from a beginning PhD candidate perspective – by Bruce Snaddon

The term disputas entered my discussions with Andrew Morrison and Henry Mainsah very early on when exploring the possibility of my doing a PhD at AHO. I think it was one of the distinguishing factors that defined the Norwegian PhD experience from others and Andrew always had a glint in his eye when talking about it. I wasn’t sure exactly why until this last week when I attended the PhD defence by Einar Sneve Martinussen, Pockets and Cities: Investigating and revealing the networked city through interaction design (06 October 2015).

What I witnessed on the day was a rather enthralling display of academic prowess coupled with a moving and respectful celebration of excellent work very well done. As someone whose field is far from close to Einar’s I let myself be guided and informed by the first part of the day, the public lecture. This was done with some elegant efficiency and my interest was drawn through to the end – not least by the fact that Andrew (in supervisor mode) had privately tasked me with the job of evaluating the lecture.

By the time we’d arrived at the opposition from Guy Julier and Aylish Wood I felt as though I’d been given a very priviledged whirlwind tour of many years work and was exteremly curious about the challenge that was to come. Not knowing what to expect I was struck by how genial and generous Guy was and how he created a space for Einar to elaborate on certain points that he felt needed more explanation. Guy in closing thanked Einar for his compelling and expansive PhD, and I quietly agreed on his choice of words. I do hope that my PhD will also one day be called compelling, because without this kind of work being compelling to identified audiences (and to bystanders such as I) I can’t see much lasting value in these huge academic efforts. Aylish came with some intriguing questions for Einar and I could sense approval from the audience – she probed around his use of the word meaningful and how he’d decided which meaning mattered and to whom, and the paradox of boundary objects being both porous and robust. Einar deftly fielded the questions and elegantly used the podium to further articulate and expound on his work and its very interesting reach beyond academe.

I also witnessed the special moment at the end of the day when supervisor and PhD fellow (now Dr?) quietly acknowledged the huge task they’d accomplished and spoke of exciting next steps. This generative nature of research work laying a path forward was very good to see and hugely encouraging for me as a beginnig PhD candidate. I also appreciated the inclusion of family and I speculated on the possibility (prompted by Andrew’s suggestion of a digital link-up with Cape Town) of mine being virtually here when I finally arrive at my own disputas.