Session 1: Tuesday 10th May 2005 Room 739

See relevant presentations here and here.

In this series of seminars, we will address the following questions in relation to your own research topic.

Part 1

  1. What are your key concepts?

  2. What is your research question?

  3. What is the nature of the space that is being theorised in your research?

Part 2

  1. What are/might be the implications of the answers to your research question?

  2. What assumptions are you making about the relationship between the researcher and the researched?

  3. What assumptions are you making about the relationship between your research project and that which lies beyond it in time?

In this first session, we will run through at least Part 1 in an introduction to the various projects represented in the room. Most of the rest of the series will be concerned with more detailed attention to each project.

At the end of the first session we considered Yen-Hsin's research. Now MY interpretation of his theoretical space was that this is concerned with the differentiation of practice, firstly in terms of the reflective and non-reflective, secondly in terms of differentiation within reflective practices, and thirdly in terms of the relationship between the differentiations within each mode of practice—under what circumstances, for example, are the differentiations within reflexive and non-reflexive practice aligned? Yen-Hsin might consider the extent to which and ways in which this description is consistent/inconsistent with his own interpretation of his theoretical space.

Session 2: Tuesday 17th May 2005 Room 739

In preparation for this session I am asking everyone to prepare an introduction of their own project in terms of question 3 in part 1 above, 'what is the nature of the space that is being theorised in your research?'

Robert is interested in and action research exploration of the relationship between e-learning, creative thinking and problem-based learning. The key here is the category, creative thinking, which appears to be something of a contested concept. Whilst you may draw inspiration from the literature, it seems that your interests would be best served by allowing a more open approach to the analysis of your data so that a modality of action emerges more inductively; you may subsequently link this modality to a theoretical structure relating to thinking (clearly not directly observable) in dialogue with the literature. Your action research approach, then, would entail the design of an environment that, on the basis of existing research, seems likely to promote creativity, but without the need to define the latter at the outset. I also noted that a purely action research project would not necessarily entail generalisation as the intention is the development of a local practice. However, a doctoral thesis should aim to generate originality in a more general sense, that is, the thesis should potentially be of interest to an audience that is bigger than the participants in the project.

Elizabeth is interested in developing and evaluating, via an experimental method, approaches to the teaching of graphs that are designed to enhance students perceptions of their own abilities and hence their performance in this area. It seems plausible that we might postulate a range of dispositions (however generated) that may produce different and perhaps hierarchised performances in the production and interpretation etc of graphs. On the assumption that no one is likely to have optimised their performance, this would seem to suggest three useful competence concepts: potential, actual, and self-perceived. Potential competence may not be easily measured, but it may be possible to use clinical interviews to determine predispositions in terms of visualisation (I mentioned the different ways in which people visualise numbers as an example). Actual competence may be measured in terms of tests that operationalise curricular objectives. Perceived competence might be measured using, say, repertory grid or other suitable techniques. This would, in effect, provide measures for three dependent variables (on the assumption that potential competence is not an absolute, but also, at least possibly, relative to the environment). The independent variable would be the pedagogic environment, the design of which would presumably be informed by existing research.

Session 3: Tuesday 24th May 2005 Room 739

Last Tuesday participants introduced their projects to each other and there was time for two to introduce theirs to the whole group with particular reference to question 3 in part 1 above: What is the nature of the space that is being theorised in your research? I raised one or two theoretical points about these projects.

It is important to emphasise that these are simply my responses designed to encourage reflection on issues of theory and methodology. You must regard your supervisor as the principal and ultimate authority in respect of all issues relating to your thesis.

Lesley is interested in tutors' feedback on students' work in the academic writing of learners of English. Her approach migt involve discourse analysis of the feedback and interviews with students, though there is also an interest in issues relating to culture and power. I suggested that the number of students involved (around 35) was such that any generalisations relating to, for example, cultural origin would have to be very speculative as individual differences might be supposed to overwhelm cultural ones. It might, therefore, be appropriate to determine, by interview, dispositions relating to writing (in general and in particular) and to tutor's comments. These might be conducted at regular intervals throughout the course alongside the discourse analysis of feedback. Analysis might be directed towards a classification of modes of disposition and its trajectories so as to identify critical points in students' careers, which might then be considered in relation to the results of the discourse analysis. The result may be capable of informing professional practice in terms of the development of matching feedback to disposition. Insofar as the theoretical language that is constructed on the basis of the interviews is likely to be at least partially detached from the linguistic apparatus employed in the discourse analysis, then the relationship between disposition careers and feedback will be correlational only (cf Hasan's analysis of mother's discourse by social class).

Yiota is researching the discourse of national identity in Greek literature education in Cyprus with specific reference to texts having a historical content. I felt, here, that there was perhaps too wide a range of general theoretical issues clouding the project itself—it didn't, for example, seem to me to be crucial that a definition of 'literature' etc be established up-front (or, perhaps, at all). I also wondered what it was in the research question that suggested that a fairly wide range of texts over a long timespan should be examined, and I questioned the assumption of perhaps too close a relationship between policy and what goes on in the classroom. It seemed to me that Greek literature education in Cyprus defined the empirical field rather than the theoretical field and that the latter was probably more concerned with history education (eg the production and reproduction of historical dispositions such as national identity) and that this might reasonably inform the search for relevant referential literature. An interesting approach might be to select a small number of cases (on the basis of a defensible (from the literature if possible) presumption of difference (eg rural/urban, socioeconomic class, etc)) of literature classrooms. Observation might focus on student and teacher discourse relating to texts differing in respect of their historical content ('hot' content closely related to recent/existing political tensions and events, 'cool' content being more distant in time and/or place). The starting question would be, how is national identity constituted and contested in teacher and student discourse in these contexts. Policy documents and ministerial statements might be included as another case.

Again, I remind you that these are simply my responses for you to consider or reject as you (and, more particularly, your supervisor) feel appropriate.

Session 4: Tuesday 31st May 2005 Room 739

We still have a number of projects to consider, but I would like everyone to return to the other questions (1 and 2) in part 1 above and well try to get on to these this week.

It has been suggested (and this seems like a good idea) that we might have some discussion of some 'difficult/fuzzy' terms, such as:




critical theory





Perhaps you would prepare your own list of such terms and bring this to the session—you might even email your list in advance.

See the resources page for a link to Robert Lau's weblinks on this topic.

Session 5: Tuesday 7th June 2005 Room 739

There may be items from last week that you would like to follow-up on; please let me know if so. Apart from this, we shall continue to explore the theoretical fields of those projects that we have yet to consider.

I was asked to give a list of 'heroes' of the recent intellectual field. I started and stopped almost straight away, but the beginning is on the resources page.

Session 6: Tuesday 14th June 2005 Room 739

This week we discussed the work of Michel Foucault (see the more complete list of references on the resources page) and, in particular, his archaeological and genealogical strategies in, respectively, the early and latter periods of his work. These are not incompatible approaches, but place emphasis differently. The early phase, illustrated by The Order of Things, entailed the uncovering of the conditions of existence of discursive formations or regimes of truth. We considered his paper, 'Governmentality' in which he explores the conditions of existence of regimes of truth relating to government in Europe from Machiavelli (sovereignty for its own sake) through the period from the mid-sixteenth to the late eighteenth centuries (the art of government as being concerned with the disposition of things for the convenience of the governed) to political economy (population management). We also considered the approach in Discipline and Punish which explored the ramification of power in respect of its enactment in and on the body from its expression of the overwhelming authority of the prince in the public execution. This form of power generated its own corresponding resistences that gave rise to its replacing with what Foucault described as the disciplinary society, iconised in Bentham's panopticon. This mode, however, also generates resistences that are realised in, for example, recidivism and, in the case of 'panoptic' speed cameras, successive speeding-up and slowing-down, camera-watching, and, ultimately, more dangerous driving. We noted that Foucault did not understand power as something that is held, but as dispositional: an apparatus constrains all who come under its purview, though not in an ultimately deterministic way because of the play of resistence inaugurated by the apparatus. For Foucault, historical strategies have no subjects precisely because there is no subject of power as such.

We also gave some consideration to Michaela's project investigating the identities of childcare workers in the UK and in Germany; the childcare workers under investigation are all parents. It appeared to me that we might identify three broad categories of childcare workers in the UK sample. Firstly, the childcare worker who has had no professional training and who constructs a continuity between their professional and domestic identities as parents; in this case, there would appear to be limited alternative resources for the construction of identity, so that professional identity is established only by parenthood. Secondly, the childcare worker who has had limited training relating, mainly, to the law constitutes their professional identity as standing in some tension with their parental identity in that the former acts as a constraint upon their idealised role (there are things that they may not do etc). Thirdly, the childcare worker who has had more extensive professional training is now in a position to deploy that training in the objectification of the children in demarcating their own parental identities from those of the former carers of the children now under their care, essentially, by pathologising the latter via a diagnostic apparatus. We might consider the possibility of corresponding patterns of identity in the range of schooling professionals etc.

Session 7: Tuesday 21st June 2005 Room 739

This week we shall complete the discussion of individual projects (I think there are two to go) and, I hope, move on to Part 2 of the original set of questions introduced in Week 1. This is also your final chance to discuss in this forum any theoretical issues that may be of interest either in general or in respect of your own projects.

We discussed Wen-chu's project, which is concerned with teachers' responses to major curriculum change in Taiwan. The curriculum change involved the clustering of the traditional school subjects into areas. This change had implications for teachers and teaching that, at the moment, differed between schools. Wen-chu had interviewed teachers at two schools, one elementary and one high school. In particular, she is interested in describing responses in relation to the organisational arrangements and 'teacher culture' within schools and teachers' 'professional habitus'.

I pointed out that the recruitment of the term 'habitus' suggested a sociological form of analysis. This should (in my opinion and in my own language) entail the exploration of continuities and discontinuities in the availability of cultural (eg curricular) resources and environments in respect of the maintenance, de-stabilising and potential (or actual) reformulation of relations (in terms of oppositions and alliances). Now, this will involve looking for the sites of accountability that the teachers must respond to in order to maintain or, perhaps, improve their position in the social network. Most obviously, there is the position of teacher vis a vis students and colleagues and students' families in respect of student performances in their classes. I noted, for example, that one of the consequences of the clustering of biology, chemistry and physics as 'science' was that all three areas were now taught in the first year in high school, whilst, previously, only one would have been. I presented the following scenario (more or less consistent with your data). If students' positions are in part defined by age and also their position in relation to other subject areas (eg mathematics), then the physics teacher, for example, may well find themself having reduced resources in respect of the maintenance of the social relationships with students/teachers/parents. This is because they have no ready-at-hand pedagogic strategies for teaching the younger students because of the pedagogic significance of age and because of their comparatively low level of development in other relevant areas of the curriculum (eg mathematics). Potentially, then, we might expect to see variations in response to the initiative that have to do with the ease with which existing practices can be recruited in the maintenance of social relationships relating to the school. I suggested that a crucial site of accountability regarding teachers' performances was in the public examination. Unfortunately, you have no data relating to this; it might be advisable to address this lack in some way.

We also considered the recruitment of habitus. Essentially, you are constructing an analysis of each teacher on the basis of interview data and constituting this as a habitus, which is to say, as a socioculturally acquired set of dispositions (to be activated contextually and more or less transformatively in specific school contexts). Put another way, whilst the habitus is clearly the product of your data collection and analysis practices, you are projecting it behind-the-back, so to speak, of your subject and constituting it as the cause of what you yourself have constructed. Now, in order to perform such acts, we need a theoretical apparatus and the category, habitus, provides no such thing. Compare this with, for example, Freud's category, the unconscious, for which he provides a clearly delineated topography and so (in principle, anyway) principles of recognition within the discourse of his analysands. I am not suggesting that you use Freud, merely offering this as an illustration as you did raise the issue of the 'unconscious'). In my view, habitus does no theoretical work, but merely implies a specific kind of bias in analysis; commonly, however, it seems to serve as an alibi for inadequate analysis.