Rushkoff Thesis Pub - 2005
Session Two: Context and Description
Context flows naturally from your statement of purpose. Most simply, it is the landscape onto which you are stepping. Who has worked in this area, before? Has someone already done it? If so, why are you doing it again? What did they do wrong?
What are your inspirations? What has been done - either in this area or in analogous areas - that led you to think about doing this? Friendster is cool...how could it be put on a cell phone?
Negative contexts count, too! If you want to develop a new system to make people aware of how long it will take before a train pulls in, you'll have the positive context of the London Metro (find out how it works) and the negative inspiration of those stupid signs in New York's subway system that say nothing more than "train approaching" about 30 seconds before the train arrives. Both positive and negative examples form the context in which you are working.
Context is also research. The hard part of context is the scholarship. Since you are doing a thesis in this area, you are responsible to know the state of development of your area. You can't study the benefits of gestural music controllers without seeing what else has been built and what was learned. Remember: you're not just building something, you are proving something. So see what has already been found out!
(Too many theses ask questions that have already been answered! "I want to develop a device that allows a person to change the channels on the TV set without actually walking up and turning the knob." You need to explore the existing technology to find out that the remote control has been around for a while.)
An art thesis has a context, too. If Mona Lisa were a thesis, then the context would be a landscape of religious paintings with unhappy and unfertile images of the Madonna. It would also include the modern folk landscape, evidence in the Bible that Madonna should be represented in a happy fashion, matriarchs from other religions and their representations. Further research would involve finding out why the Madonna has been represented this way. What does the Church say about religious icons? What do art critics say? Has anyone else tried to do this? Were they burned at the stake?
Context consists of all your readings, visits, web links, interviews, and more. This is your area of expertise, now, so you better know the line of thought you are following, up to the present moment.
Before the end of the semester, you need to come up with FOUR examples of context to bring with you to your Spring Advisement Meeting. An example of context is a book, a document, a program, any form of media, or any real world example that you can study in preparation for your own work.
Look how late in the list this comes. This is the actual "thing" you are going to do, build, or demonstrate. In the written thesis, this section consists of the description of the project. As far as the thesis is concerned, the methodology is the process or project through which you will test and prove or disprove your thesis.
It is the building of the atomic bomb. It is the creation of an interactive pop-up book. It is the design and prototyping of a gestural musical instrument.
You don't necessarily have to finish the project itself to prove or disprove your thesis.
As your work on the thesis continues, the "methodology" expands from a few sentences to a timeline documenting the entirety of your process and progress. This is the bulk of your thesis.
The easiest way to document your methodology is to do it chronologically, with a blog/journal like the one you used in several classes in your first year. Then, you can simply transfer the bulk of this writing into your Thesis Document.
Most importantly, Methodology is a lasting description of what you did. The platform may not exist to demonstrate your thesis a few years from now. The description of what you did and how you did can last, in text, forever. Too much great work has been lost forever because it was never documented. This documentation - in pictures, movies, and text - will get you more jobs into the future than a demonstration of the project. It also becomes part of the body of knowledge and work of this institution.
Before the end of the semester, you need to write a one-paragraph to one-page description of the project you plan to complete for your thesis and bring it with you to your Spring Advisement Meeting.
This is where you explain what happened. Was your thesis proved true, false, or somewhere in-between? What did you learn? What have you contributed to this line of inquiry that none of your predecessors did? Whether you succeeded or failed, what would be your next steps? What would you need to continue? What are you going to do, now?
This is really just a bibliography. You need to list the resources you used, which should comprise a comprehensive list of pretty much everything of value to those who want to pursue your line of study. Annotate each resource - do you agree or disagree with the author, is it a good example of what you're talking about, is it clear, contradictory, smart, or foolish? Why?
Bobst Library has online tools for formatting footnotes and bibliographies. It is available at: http://library.nyu.edu/research/rg57.html#sect1
These are appendices that do not appear in the written document may include discs or other archival media. This might be your full, annotated source code, schematics, and other media that were too interruptive to the Methodology section to be included there.
Try to use file formats that you envision being accessible long into the future.