Pre-writing rituals, the importance of procrastination or …

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Preparing to write

In this post Mary Cryan outline her emerging academic practice. This has been reblogged from:

I write everyday, it is a part of the day job, however it is some time since I have prepared to write anything longer than a few hundred words. I’ve been refecting on what worked for me during my MA.

I always started with the reading – Recommended reading first followed by anything that leaped out at me from references and further reading lists.

I thought hard about how to get the most out of my limited available reading time. Firstly I always made notes as I go along , if a text in my ownership marking important passages with a highlighter. Reading time always ran out so this time I have decided to set myself a reading schedule, a journal article or a book chapter on a week day and two or three a day at weekends.

Thinking time between reading is, I find, essential so not reading huge amounts at once seems like a good plan.

During this reading time hopefully the plan will come together . The first stage of planning for me is always a very untidy Mind Map drawing relationships between ideas together. I then refine this by drawing this up on the computer. I hope to use the app Popplet for this purpose.

At this stage I should be ready to write but I used to find that I wasn’t . What I have learnt about myself over the years is that this is the stage I need to trust my brain. It may be counter intuitive but this was when I must not try to start or I found myself spending a great deal of time staring at a blank screen. This is when I must just give myself a couple of days and go for a swim or work on my allotment to give my brain the chance to work out what comes next. During this time I have to try NOT to think about the task just to trust that the words will come.

It has taken me many years of studying to come to this level of trust in myself.

Then the writing starts and given enough coffee the words I trust will flow. They usually do.


While reading Shahjahan (2011)

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If there is any ambiguity about the differences in meaning between the terms: anticolonial and postcolonial, Shahjahan takes time to explain and justify the language he uses. In doing so he positions himself within an important debate:

Towards an anticolonial framework

In this paper, ‘anticolonial theory’ refers to schools of thought in postcolonial studies that embrace materialist, psychoanalytical, culturalist, poststructuralist, and anticolonial formulations (Young 2001; McLeod 2007). This theory foregrounds the multiple incarnations of colonialism in the contemporary context and bridges epistemic and material realities to oppose, dismantle, and transform social relations stemming from the colonial past (Fanon 1963; Smith 1999; Dei 2000; Grande 2004; Kempf 2009).

I use the term ‘anticolonial’ rather than ‘postcolonial’ due to the questionable way the latter signifier has been dominantly represented and taken up in the Western academy, as well as the critical theory that it has excluded in its body of thought. In the Western academy  ‘postcolonial theory’ commonly refers to postructuralist and culturalist formulations of theorizing on colonial practices and histories (frequently identified with the works of Homi Bhabha, Gyatri Spivak, Edward Said, Robert Young, Stuart Hall, and Dipesh Chakrabarty; see Loomba 1998; McLeod 2007). Furthermore, the ‘postcolonial’ has been predominantly used as a signifier to replace the old label of ‘Third World’ or a descriptor to designate the end of formal colonial administrations around the globe (McLintock 1992; Shohat 1992).

An anticolonial framework moves beyond such labels and includes more. I use anticolonial theory to include decolonial theorists from Latin America (e.g. Dussel 1985; Mignolo 2003; Morana, Dussel, and Jauregui 2008; Quijano 2008) whose formulations of colonialism have been ignored or overlooked by mainstream postcolonial studies that have mostly focused on the experiences in British and French empires. In addition, by anticolonial thought, I incorporate perspectives of Indigenous scholars (e.g. Alfred 1999; Smith 1999; Grande 2004; Stewart-Harawira 2005) that are often overlooked in dominant formulations of postcolonial theory.

What struck me when reading this paper (I am still half-way through) is the care with which the writer explains his key concepts.  The words he uses, he uses with absolute clarity about what they mean, why he uses them and why he makes the choice between the most immediate alternatives.

The decision to use the word ‘anticolonial’ rather than ‘postcolonial’ is premised upon wanting to establish a position for himself and for the paper he writes within a particular debate. Anticolonial falls within postcolonial studies. So it is closely aligned. It is clear who the different writers are that think and work within a field of study that forms the basis his interest. He uses the dominant school of thought as a basis to carve out his own line of thinking. We are clear then that in using the term ‘anti’ colonial, he is not just being contrary. It’s a less frequently used term but this is not its attraction. He is deliberate in choosing to align himself, adopting a position that speak from the margins with those ‘whose formulations of colonialism have been ignored or overlooked by mainstream postcolonial studies’ and ‘Indigenous scholars [who] are often overlooked’.

In these few paragraphs explaining key terms, we have a good sense of the stance the writer takes in relation to his material.

Riyad Ahmed Shahjahan (2011) Decolonizing the evidence‐ based education and policy movement: revealing the colonial vestiges in educational policy, research, and neoliberal reform, Journal of Education Policy, 26:2, 181-206

A doctorate in multi-tasking

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In this post an EdD Researcher, Lee Fallin contemplates the dilemmas of playing many roles. 

Reblogged from here. 

We received our reading list for the first weekend a few days ago and I’ve spent today pouring over journal articles in preparation. The articles have been a fascinating introduction to both professional doctorates and the concept of ‘inside researchers’. It has really made me question the multiple roles I will have through the programme. I am a graduate of the University of Hull, thanks to the EdD I am also both a student and to some extent a ‘researcher’. I can’t overlook the fact that I am a staff member too.

The interesting thing about a professional doctorate is that it is focused on the context of your profession. That means you research on your own doorstep. Now I knew this – this was my main reason for choosing the programme. I could root my research into my profession – making it relevant to my daily work and to the service I work in. What I had not considered was the multiplicity of roles that I would assume through the process. I could be both tutor/adviser to a student – but also ‘researcher’. I had not even considered how I would be both a ‘colleague’ and a ‘researcher’.

This is an interesting dilemma. I had not even considered that my friends and coworkers could perceive me differently though undertaking the programme. Now that is probably a bit dramatic. I am sure it won’t be too big a deal – and I’m positive it will all work out. It is however going to be a whole additional dimension that I need to keep in mind. I’ve always loved the deep complexity of phenomenon. This is going to be an interesting five years

Should research be useful … and to whom?

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Lawrence Sternberg when taking about creativity (Sternberg, 1999) talks about the important of creativity in the personal, local and wider sphere in terms of who (or what community) this had impact on and I am veering towards thinking of the usefulness of research in the same way.

So I would stick my neck out a bit here and say that yes research (esp. practitioner research) ought to be useful and indeed intend to “do no harm” whilst accepting that if you are open and honest, and the people you are researching with and on (now there’s one to bite back on) are aware of what’s going on and the purpose, then the resultant findings might not be positive for all.

This post has been reblogged (with permissions) from:

These are a few of my favourite …. blogs

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You may use blogs to explore all sorts of idiosyncratic interests such as raindrops on roses, or whiskers on kittens if you wish.  This is a legitimate use. In this post I want to offer a few of my favourite blogs that I think might be of use for Doctoral researchers. I have tried to keep this as broad as possible – given that we all come from dramatically different educational contexts.

As well as providing conversational scholarship, a blog post is a perpetually open text, we can add, delete or change the history of the blog at will. With the blog time is always being re-written. If I note other useful blogs that I think colleagues may like, I shall edit them in … or write a new post.

So – for starters – these are my favourite blogs that I think you might enjoy:

This blog offers advice and guidance about academic writing. Anything from writing field notes, to writing on a day-to-day basis for your Doctoral Research. I quite like reading about the big themes of academic writing as well as the mundane details of academic practice. Pat’s blog gets the balance right in my view – between autobiography and analysis. Lots of really useful advice.

Mark’s blog might not be for everyone. But, although he has only just completed his PhD he has a very well established reputation in how academics can use social media. He is also a sociologist. This is my disciplinary home so I admit to being biased. He’s not for everyone and writes very little about education. But for everything else social theory – this is the go to blog for inspiration. He also offers an excellent account of academic blogging.

Eddie is the principal of a 6th form college, I include his blog as an example of an established professional with an institutional  reputation to defend. The blog offers more the PR and represents his broad view on the world. In this post, he is politely political without compromise to either is personal or professional integrity.

Andrew blogs about his research. He’s a prolific writer whose focus is on good governance in schools. This is his official blog that traces the unfolding of his ERSC funded research project School Accountability and Stakeholder Education (SASE) from its inception in 2012 to its conclusion on February 2015. He’s not a light read but for the school based researchers, he’s very interesting. This is a great example of blogging while researching.

While reading Fenge (2010)

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LeeAnn Fenge (2010) Sense and sensibility: making sense of a Professional Doctorate, Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 11:5, 645-656 

The frequent way of framing the professional doctorate – in contrast to a doctorate that does not carry a qualifier – is that it is more concerned with ‘practice development and change’ than with ‘pure’ research’. The indication being that research concerned with ‘practice and change’ introduces an impurity. There is surely more than a faint echo here of the academic vs vocational divide.

What troubles me most about this is that when this is used in reference to education, it is hard to see how the distinction holds. Unlike sociology, psychology or mathematics – education is an applied field of study. It draws on various disciplines but in itself is non-disciplnary. What then in a field like education might be considered as pure research and what night be considered as practice development?

In addition, it treats ‘practice development and change’ as something that is unproblematic. The EdD assumes those who participate in it are practitioners, professionals who are working as teachers, managers or college governors; this is its defining feature. But the insistence that their intellectual output has to be restricted to ‘practice development and change’ is to so severely narrow its purpose that the qualification becomes meaningless at doctoral level. ‘Practice development and change’ places the doctoral researcher in an untenable position. It treats the practice as something that needs to be developed; it treats change as something that is in the gift of the professional. It divorces the EdD researcher from educational research. Both stances implied by ‘practice development and change’ are derivative of policy assumptions.  The perpetual insistence that practitioners are better, bigger, improved, assured and inspected. That headline figures must inexorably rise until everybody participates in ubiquitously perfect practice. To place yourself ‘against perpetual practice development and change’ is to place yourself beyond a normative framework that confers a valued professional status. Who celebrates the mediocre. Who wants to be ‘ok’. Who gets the power of definition?

These are necessary questions for the doctoral researcher; they are nuisance questions for the professional seeking ‘practice development and change’.

Sociologist Howard Becker points out If you want to write about what’s going on – you have to really know what’s going on. This is good old fashioned sociology; people don’t live their lives according to a series of pre-defined variables. My suggestions that the EdD is uniquely positioned to make a contribution to knowledge about education, not just practice.  Becker based his sociology on his experience of being a musician. If you are going to write about art, it makes sense to know something about the doing of Art. If you want to write about education, it pays to know something about the doing of education.

Becker, H. S. (2008). Writing for social scientists: How to start and finish your thesis, book, or article. University of Chicago Press.