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  • The Perpetuation of Degree Ceremonies

    Sandra M. Wearden, M.A.

    July, 2017.

    This thesis is submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for

    the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

    Department of Educational Research,

    Lancaster University, UK.

  • The Perpetuation of Degree Ceremonies

    Sandra M. Wearden

    This thesis was completed as part of the

    PhD Doctoral Programme in Educational Research

    Declaration

    This thesis results entirely from my own work and has not been offered previously for

    any other degree or diploma.

    Signature ........................................................

  • i

    Abstract

    Despite being able to trace their heritage back over eight hundred years, degree

    ceremonies have been taken for granted in higher education which is evident when

    attempting to find previous studies about them, yet there are indications this may be

    changing. As significant numbers of new higher education institutions open around

    the world, and more institutional collaborative partnerships are forged, how degree

    ceremonies are prepared, maintained, and performed has become a matter of concern

    for those involved. At the moment, with few studies to draw from, organisers and

    leaders in institutions are having to resolve how they arrange degree ceremonies

    through previous experience, or by trial and error. Hence, the focus of this research is

    on how these remarkably resilient ceremonial occasions are assembled and

    perpetuated over time and particularly during a period of global growth in higher

    education.

    Degree ceremonies are important to institutions not just because they provide a

    celebratory experience and rite of passage for graduating students, but also because as

    this study shows, they provide them with opportunities to publically display, and

    transmit their reputation, credentials and heritage to a wide range of stakeholders.

    This makes them fertile territory for research but contemporary studies have been

    rare. Those that have been produced emanate from the USA, and focus on challenges

    and effects large, lengthy ceremonies produce. Few studies have considered how

    these ceremonial occasions are assembled outside the UK, USA and Europe, or how

    material artefacts contribute to the construction of meaning and extension of

    ceremonies. Similarly, scant attention has been paid to extensive preparation and

    maintenance work that goes on behind the scenes often hidden from view to most.

  • ii

    Resting on a constructionist theory of knowledge, this inductive comparative case

    study draws on basic theoretical devices used in actor-network theory to foreground

    these matters. A variety of qualitative methods were used to collect data and a three

    stage analysis applied to examine degree ceremonies at four higher education

    institutions in the UK, one of which has collaborative institutional partnerships in the

    UK, and overseas.

    The analysis provides insight into social and material actants involved in ceremonies,

    and how their relations with others intensify effects of institutional authority and

    hierarchy. Material actants are shown to be involved in the extension, stabilisation

    and adaptability of degree ceremonies over time and space. By making visible

    preparation and maintenance work that goes into degree ceremonies, this study

    highlights the culturally situated nature, fragility, dynamism, adaptability and

    vulnerability of these highly ordered events, which are so often viewed as consistent,

    fixed and stable.

    There is evidence too of how degree ceremonies are being increasingly used by

    institutions for marketing purposes as they are drawn into a global competitive

    ‘reputation race’. In this progressively competitive and fragmented global context the

    western model of degree ceremony being perpetuated helps to sustain and project a

    collective image of higher education. It does so by connecting higher education

    institutions with the rich heritage of the past, capturing the present, and alluding to

    future ceremonies to come. In doing so, degree ceremonies reinforce the heritage,

    authority and credentials of higher education as a sector, whilst at the same time

    provide individual institutions with opportunities and choices about how to build their

    own distinct institutional reputation.

  • iii

    Contents

    Abstract....................................................................................................................................i

    Contents ................................................................................................................................ iii

    Acknowledgements ......................................................................................................... vii

    Publications derived from work on the Doctoral Programme ...................... viii

    List of Terms and Abbreviations .................................................................................. ix

    List of Figures .................................................................................................................... xii

    List of Tables .................................................................................................................... xiii

    Chapter 1 Introduction ............................................................................................... 1

    1.1. A Changing Terrain in Higher Education .............................................................. 1

    1.2. Why Degree Ceremonies? ........................................................................................... 3

    1.3. Conceptual Clarification and Terminology .......................................................... 3

    1.4. The Paucity of Current Literature about Degree Ceremonies ...................... 5

    1.5. Theoretical Framework of Inquiry ......................................................................... 6

    1.6. Principal Questions and Aims ................................................................................... 7

    1.7. Methodological Approach .......................................................................................... 8

    1.8. Structure of Thesis ...................................................................................................... 10

    Chapter 2 What are Degree Ceremonies? .......................................................... 14

    2.1. The Origins of Degree Ceremonies ....................................................................... 14

    2.2. Inception Ceremonies at Medieval Universities in Europe .......................... 15

    2.3. Ceremonial Mace ......................................................................................................... 19

    2.4. Bedels .............................................................................................................................. 21

    2.5. Academical Dress ........................................................................................................ 23

    2.6. Contemporary Degree Ceremonies in Higher Education .............................. 27

    2.7. Overview......................................................................................................................... 31

    Chapter 3 Relationships between Growth, Marketing and Degree Ceremonies ............................................................................................... 35

    3.1. How is Higher Education Growing? ...................................................................... 35

    3.1.1. Institutional Growth ...................................................................................................... 36

    3.1.2. Growth in terms of Student Population ................................................................ 40

    3.1.3. Overseas Students and Student Mobility: The Return of the Travelling Scholar? .............................................................................................................................. 42

    3.2. What is Driving Current Growth in Higher Education? ................................. 44

    3.3. Establishing an Approach to Marketing .............................................................. 46

    3.4. Degree Ceremonies as Potential Sites for Marketing ..................................... 48

    3.5. Overview......................................................................................................................... 51

    Chapter 4 Framework of Inquiry and Methodological Route ..................... 53

    4.1. Position being taken in this Research.................................................................. 53

    4.2. Why Actor-Network Theory? .................................................................................. 56

  • iv

    4.3. How will Actor-Network Theory be applied in this Study? .......................... 63

    4.4. Sampling: Initial, Planned and Final .................................................................... 65

    4.4.1. How Growth in Higher Education is related to Sampling in

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