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Encounters of life and scholarship: Opening to transformations, inquiries and vulnerabilities

Picture of Mohamed Moustakim
Encounters of life and scholarship: Opening to transformations, inquiries and vulnerabilities
by Mohamed Moustakim - Wednesday, 22 November 2017, 11:24 PM

Close encounters with research participants and collaborators invariably involve more than formal meetings. We argue in this paper that for Living Educational Theory research to be enacted, vulnerability needs to be experienced, encountered and reflected upon as part of the research process. Our insights in this paper emerged from our work on equity and inclusion in higher education, and on the impacts of ‘aspiration-raising’ initiatives that have been promoted by universities and governments.  In the midst of this work, it became apparent that our inquiry into the experiences of these students touched our own lives. It drew attention to points of vulnerability in ourselves as well as our participants. Together, we came to recognise the importance of the ‘living ‘I’ (Whitehead, 1989; McNiff & Whitehead, 2002) in our research because ‘I’ am a part of each of the stories told by our participants. ‘I’ am a part of the research and ‘I’ am part of the learning. ‘I’ am therefore enmeshed in ‘my’ relationship to the experiences of each of our participants.  As researchers, each of us is also an ‘I’ who is culturally constructed, shaped by lived experience, and entangled in the contextually based stories and experiences of each other. Central to this was our desire to gain perspective on our embodied ontological values and commitments to living epistemological standards of critical judgment (Whitehead, 2005). Further, we sought to communicate this through explanations that account for transformations in our learning, the learning of others and the ‘education of social formations (Whitehead, 2005). Our involvement, in effect our learning in this process, encouraged us to map the learning inter-relationships and transformations we encountered.

We welcome your feedback on our paper.

Thank you

David Wright, Susanne Gannon, Mohamed Moustakim and Dorian Stoilescu

Picture of Moira Laidlaw
Re: Encounters of life and scholarship: Opening to transformations, inquiries and vulnerabilities
by Moira Laidlaw - Sunday, 3 December 2017, 9:51 AM

Hello David, Susanne, Mohamed and Dorian. Thanks for posting your paper. I am delighted, as one of your reviewers, to offer some feedback on your very interesting paper. I really enjoyed reading it. It's clearly a Living Theory paper and, I believe, will become a welcome addition to the literature. I am particularly struck by the notion of liminality which you focus on a great deal in terms of its educational benefits for yourselves and the students in your care.

There are a few points I'd like to raise that I believe to be crucial in terms of a recommendation from me for publication. Most of the issues I am raising are to do with the reader's needs in navigating your paper.

1) I think the paper needs extending in some areas. I have annotated the text very fully - see attachment - and hope that these suggestions make sense to you. I believe the issue of joint authorship needs taking on explicitly, as much of the Living Theory literature is single-authorship. This is for good reason in the sense that the process from I to we is a very complex one. You deal with it largely by embracing the notion of  i~we (Whitehead & Huxtable, 2006). I feel this needed to come earlier and be slightly extended in its explanation. I think the same goes for liminality too. I feel you would benefit from looking at multiple/joint authorship papers in the EJOLTS archive. Ben Cunningham and I, for example, published there recently, and we go into detail about the complexities of the process and writing up. You might find it a useful one for you to think about. I am asking you to account for yourselves in more nuanced detail, a pre-requisite for Living Theory publications.

2) There are some aspects that might work elsewhere in the paper, i.e. that placing them earlier, would make the paper more comprehensible to a reader. I have marked the text where I believe that to be the case. I think this fits in with a growing idea I had as I read the paper - that you were not always bearing the reader in mind. You are all the experts in what you know, but some of your expertise is, in my opinion, being hidden, because of the lack of detail in places, and sometimes a lack of logic in the organisation of the ideas.

3) Living Theory appears in your key words, but doesn't appear elsewhere. This is clearly a Living Theory paper, don't get me wrong, but I think you might write something about how and why your paper qualifies as such, rather than, again, leaving it up to the reader to deduce.

4) You need to define your terms at times - see paper for details. One example would be 'human ethics'. Living Theory sees values and standards of judgement as living and developmental. When you use a term like 'human ethics' you are overtly relegating it to a conceptual framework, rather than a Living Theory one.

5) On a lower level, but still significant, you need to deal with the rules for presentation in EJOLTS. I have annotated the text where you are not complying with the house style.

In conclusion, I think this is potentially an important paper for EJOLTS. It deals with crucial issues and the complexities within educational relationships, and reveals these to be seminal in the pursuit of improvements in the educational processes and social contexts in which they develop,

With attention to the above points, I will be very happy to recommend this paper for publication in EJOLTS.

Best wishes, and thanks again for a really stimulating read.


Picture of Mark Potts
Re: Encounters of life and scholarship: Opening to transformations, inquiries and vulnerabilities
by Mark Potts - Saturday, 30 December 2017, 7:49 PM

David, Susanne, Mohamed and Doriane

I was attracted to review this article by the title. I wanted to read about other people's "Encounters of life and scholarship: Opening to transformations, inquiries and vulnerabilities", to see what encounters they had had and what they had learned from them. I liked the way that it seemed to suggest that life and scholarship were intertwined.

Further, the abstract emphasises the importance of vulnerability in personal development and in developing one's own living educational theory. This I can very much relate to having felt vulnerable throughout my life as a scholar.

I was not to be disappointed. From the opening section on "Radical Openness" which provides an explanation of what is a new term for me and a beautiful account of the sensation of transformative learning, I became enraptured in the accounts of Kerrie, Omar, Keshi and Douglas and in the response of the researchers to their narratives. The vulnerabilities really shone through in this section. I found myself wondering how the four students might have reflected on the process that they had been through with the researchers and whether it had had a transformative effect on them, as it clearly had on the researchers.

A very readable, soundly academically researched article. Highly recommended for publishing.

Minor edits:

P7 - Nurse's

P10 - omission

P12 - channeling

Picture of Stephen Bigger
Re: Encounters of life and scholarship: Opening to transformations, inquiries and vulnerabilities
by Stephen Bigger - Tuesday, 9 January 2018, 11:55 PM

Hi everybody, I think this is an interesting project in which evaluation is potentially important. I like the emphasis on the researchers realizing that their interviews spoke to issues and experience in their own lives,  and made this an outcome of the research report. I have a few issues to raise to help make the conclusions to be more soundly based. The reflection and reflexivity (see below) seems a bit woolly at the moment. I hope this helps.

Issue 1. How might I talk about ‘myself’ in research?

Is it I the 4 researchers? Or I the 4 participants? Or both (all 8)? How do these inter-relate? Who has the dominant voice – narrator or narrated? How do the four researchers inter-relate, a complex ‘I’. What is the place of dialogue with all these ‘I’s?  In these experiences described – where does criticality come from? I can reflect autobiography but there is the potential here for autobiography discussed within a critical community. How might this work? Written accounts discussed by the group? Accounts composed within group discussion. Whatever, there needs to be a sharpness. Frigga Haug did something similar in what she called 'memory work' (the topic there was feminist understanding, but it is generalisable


Issue 2. Reflective Practice and Reflexivity

Reflective is simple, the act of reflecting on what we are doing. Reflective practice, considering what we do. Comes from looking at ourselves as through a mirror (or a camera nowadays). Reflexivity is more tricky. Cambridge Uni Dictionary says: "Reflexive words show that the person who does the action is also the person who is affected by it:
In the sentence "She prides herself on doing a good job", "prides" is a reflexive verb and "herself" is a reflexive pronoun."
In a sense, what is done bounces or bends back on us. So the two words are not synonyms. Considering critically your practice is 'reflective'. Noting that your pedagogy affects your own state of mind in 'reflexive'. Where in your sample is reflection, and where reflexity?


Issue 3. Methodology.

In methodology – why the 8 and then why the 4? What attempts were made to contact a larger number as the basis of sample selection? Did all 4 authors interview each, or 1-1?

How did the 4 authors agree their critical agenda? There is anecdotal discussion but is anything more theoretical/philosophical possible? Did each writer and then share/discuss? Or sit around a table? Were there any emotional pressures/tensions in such sharings?

The Living Theory here uses evaluation through biographical interviews. There is a literature on biographical research and more recently auto-ethnography which is closely related. I recommend you look recent works on these up and relate them to your work, especially their justifications of this work being trustworthy. Try  Merill and West, Using Biographical Methods in Social Research. Defend the interplay between Living Theory and Biography.


Issue 4. Critical theory.

How are the biographical stories ‘read’, with what assumptions and bias? I recommend looking at Critical Theory – teasing out social assumptions under the surface leading to social critique, under the surface racism, sexism/gender issues, class and cultural assumptions. This makes bias less  ‘problem’ and more of a thing studied. It is an answer to the question How can our discussions be socially critical (and this be based on social justice

Further reading.

To  address issues of trustworthiness I recommend that the authors consult:

Jones, Adams and Ellis, Handbook of Autoethnography (Routledge)

Denzin, Lincoln and Smith, Handbook of Critical and Ingigenous Methodologies

Darder, Baltodano and Torres, The Critical Pedagogy Reader (latest edition)