Thesis Defense: A Board Game

With this workshop project, my friends and I sought to find a way to turn the codes of academia–often a source of stress for graduate students and faculty alike–into a space for play. We focused our efforts on the thesis defense, perhaps the most anxiety-inducing of academic rituals. Our hope was that we could create a new iteration of that ritual that would allow participants to play both with the textual layer of a defense–the thesis titles and theoretical concepts that mark it–and, importantly, with its emotional valences.  

Participants rotate between the roles of ‘thesis defendant’ and ‘committee member.’ In each round, the participant deemed the thesis defendant selects a fictional thesis title from a pile of title cards, designed to be absurd and open-ended (e.g. Food Chams: Competitive Eating in the Chameleon Disapora; Das Kapitalization: a case against Anglophone titular conventions; Stop Socra-teasing me: Pitfalls of the Socratic Method; Whence the Stapler?). Participants deemed the ‘committee members’ select a theoretical concept (e.g. Debord’s ‘spectacle,’ Foucault’s ‘governmentality,’ and Zuckerman’s ‘digital cosmopolitanism.’) Committee members remain committed to their theoretical orientations, thesis defendants try to please everyone, and all participants attempt to build their academic empires. Rather than putting forth a rigid set of rules, we wanted to offer up a variety of options for players to experiment within this frame.

If you would like to play yourself or just check out our concept, you can find all of the necessary materials here: