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Nice thesis! Here is your Smurf

You hand in your thesis, and the department wants to turn this into a real occasion. How do they do this? You guessed it [you didn't guess it, ed.] . They reward you with a commemorative ... Smurf

Considering it’s the culmination of five plus years of study, handing in your thesis is a surprisingly unmemorable event. Greasy hair, lack of sleep and a stack of papers fresh off the printer, you exchange hard work for a signature from your university. And maybe a smile.

Now at the Department of Scandinavian Studies and Linguistics (INSS) at the University of Copenhagen (UCPH), the days of the thesis-hand-in anti-climax are over. The occasion is to be marked in an appropriately festive manner. Graduates will have their picture taken, and INSS will host a leaving party at the end of each term.

And graduates will be given a ‘festive Smurf’ figurine when they hand in their thesis.

But why?

“How unconventional”, some might say. Others might say “WTF?”. For what does a tiny, blue, cartoon creature from Belgium have to do with handing in a thesis? Danish-language news site Uniavisen visited one of the people behind the initiative, Dorte Ostenfeld, to get the low-down:

… But why? Why Smurfs?
“We would like to have done more, but a bigger gift wasn’t an option, so rather than something anonymous like a keyring, we went for something more off-kilter and memorable,” she says. “Plus, Smurfs suit our generation of students, who remember them from their childhood.”

Did you consider other 80s and 90s toy relics like Power Rangers, Turtles, My Little Pony?

In your newsletter it was emphasised that you are using ‘festive Smurfs’. Aren’t all Smurfs festive?
“We have chosen some particularly festive figurines, suitable for the occasion. Smurfs with flowers, champagne and medals,” says Dorte Ostenfeld, pointing at a shelf containing a selection of Smurfs.

Have you considered giving students Smurfs suited to their character? Mature or late students could received either Old or Lazy Smurf figurines, for example.
“No, people get to pick their own Smurf. And we don’t have Old Smurf or Lazy Smurf in our selection.”

Belittling Smurfs

Not everyone is equally pleased with the initiative, however. Christina Yhman Kaarsberg is doing her Master’s in Danish, but isn’t looking forward to receiving a Smurf:

“Maybe a Finnish ‘Moomin’ figurine so a parallel could be drawn to our interest in Nordic languages, culture and media. But a Smurf?” says Christina, sighing. She says it gives the wrong idea: “Considering the Humanities is accused, time and time again, of not being serious enough, it seems a little unfortunate to hand a newly inaugurated ‘cang.mag.’ [=Master’s graduate,ed. ] a little toy figurine.”

“The intention is really sweet, and Smurfs may seem perfectly harmless, but I can’t help but see it as an unintentional belittling of five years worth of study and hard work.”

Patriarchal smurfs? No

Everyone has been happy with the gesture so far, says Dorte Ostenfeld.

“Our students are highly capable, and personally I think it’s important to acknowledge what a huge accomplishment it is to write a thesis.”

One last thing. Several students at the Faculty of Humanities, the majority of which are women, are interested in gender theory. Have you no qualms about choosing as patriarchal a phenomenon as the Smurfs, where all ‘men’ are characterised by their capabilities, whilst the ‘woman’, Smurfette, is defined by nothing but her gender?
“We don’t have a Smurfette figurine, who was actually a late arrival on the Smurf-scene. You could say that we subscribe to a pre-gender binary system view of the Smurfs, with no distinction between male and female – where everyone is just ‘Smurf’.”

“I would call that progressive, not patriarchal.”


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