Norwegian Disputas and Cuisine

Jan Rune Holmevik's dissertation defense left me fairly glad that I got my Ph.D. in the American system, where the defense is rigorous, but not confrontational. In the American system, your examiners are typically people who have been working with you on your dissertation well before your defense — your adviser and two other readers. In the Scandinavian system, your disputas is conducted by two “opponents” who both review your work with a sharp critical eye, and then debate its merits with you publicly. While Jan Rune's first opponent, Jay David Bolter, essentially offered him an American-style opposition, guiding the candidate through a discussion of the work he did and pointing out some places where the work could be refined, his second opponent, Oyvind Thomassen, a technology historian from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology at Trondheim, positioned himself in much more of an attack posture, assaulting the style and methodology of the dissertation's approach. At times his questioning seemed to me a bit much, as if he wanted the work to be a different book/work, serving a different purpose than that intended in Holmevik's dissertation, TraceBack: MOO, Open Source, and the Humanities. I'm not sure that I would have wanted to go through such a ritualized deconstruction after completing my own doctoral dissertation (not that there wasn't plenty of serious criticism and revision before the darn thing was completed). Nonetheless, I can see the advantage of the Norwegian system for candidates who are planning on reformulating their dissertations into their first published books. The comments of the opponents would be quite useful in that respect.

The dinner that followed the defense was one of the highlights of my trip to Norway. The menu included a trout gravet with smoked salmon, reindeer steaks, cloudberries in cream, and kransekake. I liked reindeer a lot more than I thought I would — it doesn't taste like venison, more a kind of gamey cross between lamb and beef. And the cloudberries, a slightly sweeter orange colored cousin of the raspberry, which grow only in small patches in the mountains, were mighty tasty. The meal gave me an appreciation for Norweigan cuisine.

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The dinner itself included many wonderful traditions, three songs, quite skillful bilingual toastmastering by Jill Walker, toasts in Norweigan and English, and great conversation followed by plenty of cognac and a bit of dancing. It was a wonderful welcome to Norway and I'm grateful to Cynthia and Jan Rune for inviting me to their celebration.

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