We discussed a sample thesis and two sample prospectuses.
Here are some of the things we talked about.
First, as Spencer and Jennifer noted, there is a difference between having a bias and arguing for a conclusion. The line between these two things can be narrow but, generally speaking, authors should try to avoid seeming to have an axe to grind. It just makes your argument less persuasive than it would be if it seems to be the product of a dispassionate evaluation of the arguments.
Prof. Brown and I tended to emphasize the shift in the author’s thinking towards the end of the thesis. (She located the change on page 47, I thought it happened on page 38). Basically, what started out as a case for prohibition became more muted at the end. In a way, it’s what you want: the process of writing changes your mind. On the other hand, you can sometimes wind up in a position where, if you had to do it again, you would start with page 47 (or page 38) and go from there. Welcome to the wonderful world of independent research!
Jesse said what I wanted to say: the organization is outstanding. It ensures that the reader never feels lost even in the midst of very difficult material. He and I also singled out the extensive research. (Though some people wondered if too much work was being done by quotations.)
In discussing the prospectuses, Mikayla made a good point about the big project about the war in central Africa. She said that it is too much to expect a thesis to give the explanation of a phenomenon like that. We talked about ways of framing projects on big topics so that the thesis can reach some answers even if it does not settle everything.
There were more interesting remarks about the substance of the thesis than I managed to get down. One thing I wondered in reading it is whether it would have been to her rhetorical advantage simply to announce that she cares more about the interests of some people than others. She’s a kind of Rawlsian in that she is most concerned with the interests of the worst off (this will make sense later in the term), in particular, women who are poor or members of minority racial groups. As Maya said, you would not want this project to argue for that preference: that would take it off topic. But just stating it as an assumption might make it clear where the author is coming from. I’m not sure that’s a good idea; it’s just something I have been musing about.
If you’re wondering what has happened with surrogacy contracts since Ehler wrote her thesis, the New York Times published an interesting series of articles in 2014. The third article is about the state of the law in the US. (The first article dealt with international surrogacy contracts while the second article was about a bad agency that brokered surrogacy contracts.)
In a nutshell, according to these articles, feminists went from nearly unanimous opposition to the practice in the 1980s to mostly accepting it today. The law, meanwhile, is generally permissive but still unsettled.
Ehler, Rose. 2006. “Technology, Ethics, and Regulation: A Case Study of the Market for Gestational Surrogacy.”