Obituary of a Master’s Thesis

Many of us (fortunate enough of being born into a relatively wealthy society and privileged enough to go through the university education system) will be familiar with the following experience: To finally receive a degree, we’re bound to ‘work’ relatively ‘hard’ on one single document, over an extended period of time, which eventually ends up being called ‘MA-Thesis_2015_FINAL!!!!!.docx’, or something on those lines. The efforts and pains and chunks of frustration put into this single document are, for the corresponding chapter in one’s life, often unparalleled – for month even, adding the _FINAL suffix to the doc is almost equal to the meaning of life itself – and all that, just to fulfill what is officially required to receive the longed-for academic title and then to subsequently forget about the document for the rest of our existence, banned straight out of our minds, never to be seen or noticed again? Doesn’t make much sense, does it?

Having gone through the above process twice, I thought it’d be time to share some thoughts. In thesis experience #1, I felt like described above, I had a mostly exciting and sometimes despairing (or was it the other way round?) time of writing my diploma thesis on a topic that dealt with something related to virtual project management tools, as I remember vaguely, mostly hiding away in a library in the middle of the most boring part of the United States of America. And then, that was pretty much it.1

In thesis experience #2, I decided to approach things a bit differently. Yet another Master’s thesis that no-one ever reads? Waste of time, or rather, waste of five month, that is. So how on earth, I asked myself, would it be possible to bundle all this time and energy towards somehow not only describing, but actually changing the world, at least a tiny, little bit? How can I write a thesis that will not only be a virtual and physical dust collector, but instead be interesting and possibly even relevant to some? The challenge was on: I decided to identify a topic that was relevant (and thus interesting) to me, personally, as well as to a whole community; on a topic where I thought thing’s weren’t exactly going the morally correct way; on a topic where the research could potentially give a voice to a minority; I decided to do research on hospitality exchange networks.

I’d like to quote some of the feedback from users of such sites that randomly contacted me regarding my thesis:

I’ve just read in Bewelcome that you have summited your Master’s thesis at the Uppsala University (Sweden) on the subject of Hospitality Exchange Networks. I am going to read it after this email, and I am so impressed just for the idea of doing a Master Degree on this subject. I am willing to begin my master in this path of yours, if given the chance.
Just to send my appreciation here!

or

Dear Simon,
I found a link to your Master’s Thesis on beWelcome and I just read the abstract. Your Master’s Thesis is the first Master’s Thesis I have genuinely felt like reading out of a personal interest.
Thank you for spending your time analyzing this important subject in your Master’s Thesis!

or

Very interesting your study thesis about CS

or

This is an issue of such concern as there is a risk that a beautiful initiative could be ruined. I’m glad you are doing this research and wish you the best of luck.

or

Thanks for the opportunity to participate in your survey. I’d be very interested to follow the outcome – and what feedback comes from the survey.
Good luck with your writing – and with your master. – Do let me know how it goes, and if there’s anything else I can do to help you.

Or, and this is possibly my favorite story thus far, I’ve gotten a message from a user stating that he just welcomed a guest who told the story that his father (!) had critically researched on safety issues of hospitality exchange platforms, found my thesis, and therefore guided his son to sign up for BeWelcome instead of Couchsurfing; therefore, the two could meet.

After finishing my degree in Uppsala, I decided to go through the additional effort of re-working and re-formatting the results of the research into a paper-format and submit it to a peer-reviewed journal, in my case, Triple-C. The paper 2 ended up being successfully published in January 2015. This is nice, for now the work can also be seen as a tiny contribution to the field of critical internet studies in particular and academia in general; it’s simply out there and not a sole dust-collector any longer. And as the journal subscribes to the values of Open Access publishing, it is freely available to everyone with an internet access, not only to those (fortunate enough?) sitting in an university library.

Additionally, what deserves to be told is the e-mail I received from one of those dubious companies offering “free publishing for academics” asking me, if, and this is quite worth the quote:

Is it correct that you authored the work entitled “The Commodification of the Couch: A Dialectical Analysis of Hospitality Exchange Networks”?
A short confirmation would be greatly appreciated. I believe this particular topic could be of interest to a wider audience and we would be glad to consider publishing it.
Should the commercialization of your work as printed book meet your interest, I will be glad to provide you with further details in an electronic brochure.

Asking me if I’d like to commercialize my work on commodification processes, already published under a Creative Commons license and in an Open Access journal. Well. What to say. I’ll interpret it as an affirmative example of how contemporary capitalism tries to ‘commodify everything‘, tellingly even academic works criticizing exactly that. At least they tried.

This is the obituary of my Master’s thesis. It felt important to me to show that, given a relevant, motivated supervisors, and a pressing topic, a thesis does not need to be a pointless document formulated with disinterest that no-one ever ready, anyway. Give it an exciting life, it’s worth the extra-effort. After all, it feels satisfying to know that all those hours spent in a library, this time during a (quite depressingly) grey Swedish winter, came to have an impact on someone, somewhere, no matter how small; and be it only be that the work changed the path of a sole lost traveler towards meeting someone and exchanging thoughts over a warm dinner. Now, MA thesis, you can R.I.P.

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  1. Except that a condensed summary ended up being published in a kind of ‘best-of-thesis’ collection from my old university, which can even be purchased on amazon, but I’d be keen to see stats on ‘number of people actually reading more than the index’ versus ‘number of people using the published volume as a personal reference in their cv’.
  2. Schöpf, Simon. 2015. “The Commodification of the Couch: a Dialectical Analysis of Hospitality Exchange Platforms.” tripleC—Communication, Capitalism & Critique. Open Access Journal for a Global Sustainable Information Society 13 (1) (January 25): 11–34.

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