My EdD thesis plan

It suddenly dawned on me on Monday, during an early morning run in Victoria Park, what I wanted to do for my thesis. The idea had in fact been gestating from the moment the General Election exit poll was broadcast four days earlier, when I felt not crushing disappointment but genuine excitementRight, I thought. Now it is absolutely clear that we won’t get anywhere by talking to ourselves. We have to do something completely different. I could almost smell the revolution.

So, here it is… my idea fleshed out under the headings we were given in our workshop today with Deb and Annie:

What are the key professional issues relating to your study?

  • A loss or devaluing of our own sense of purpose as academics.
  • The insular nature of academic life and separation of academic thought from society at large.

What is your research focus?
Ultimately, the wider role of higher education in society (bearing in mind that we have chanced upon this existence on a temperate planet spinning through an infinite universe). What I am proposing here is the development and trial of a simple framework for starting Conversations [capitalised deliberately] in networks and communities outside the university, with the objective of improving our understanding of each other and the wider social context.

What are your research questions?
How can academics develop a sense of our place in society? Why is this important? How, and to what extent, can this help us to become more just and authentic in our professional practice and beyond?

What happens when you resurrect Kant’s ideal of peaceful conflict and realise his vision of taking it out of the university, but on a very local level? Can it become a wider (global?) movement?

What is your methodological stance?
I wish to take a participatory action research approach as I feel this resonates with the ideological underpinnings of the work; which is about working towards global change through collective, local action, and the mediation of peaceful conflict.

What is the context of your study?
An arts-specific university in London. There is the possibility – indeed the intention – to open this up to other universities, online networks and communities adjunct to the university, perhaps after the initial thesis project using resources produced from it.

Who are the participants in your project?
There are two levels of participation. Ten self-selecting primary participants will be recruited from a PG Cert HE teaching course in an arts-specific higher education institution (including myself). Secondary participants will be identified and recruited by primary participants from non-university contexts.

What data/evidence/observations will be collected? Why?

  • Recordings of focus group meetings with primary participants.
  • Journals of primary participants – to include reasons for taking part, expectations, etc.
  • Data from Conversations between primary and secondary participants. The exact nature of these will be decided collectively in the initial focus groups with primary participants, but may include for example:
    • Recordings of Conversations
    • Transcripts of Conversations
    • Recordings of final reflections/summary of Conversation
    • Photographs of participants before and after Conversations
    • Pre-reflective accounts of Conversations – either constructed by the primary participant and/or a third party using the recordings
    • Details/documentation of gifts-in-kind exchanged between participants (one possible extension of the Conversations)

How will the data/evidence/observations be collected? When?
Summer 2016 – through focus group meetings at UAL, through the participants’ journal-keeping over the course of the project (online journals), and through the Conversations themselves.

What do you anticipate will be the ethical issues?
Participants are likely to feel apprehensive about initiating a relationship with a person they wouldn’t usually talk to. The breaking down of these barriers will be emotionally challenging, and both participants may feel awkward. There is the possibility that participants (primary or secondary) may be vulnerable persons. The sharing of personal stories, passions and fears may raise strong emotions.

Photographs are a suggested form of data that may be appropriate; this raises the question of anonymity. I would like the project to be as open as possible and therefore will look to recruit primary participants who are comfortable with an open approach. However, it should be feasible for secondary participants to participate anonymously if they wish; or to withdraw their consent even after Conversations have taken place. Participants may find it difficult to bracket judgement and avoid imposition of views. As primary participants will be initiating the conversations with secondary participants, there will be a power relation of sorts. It is important that no-one feels they have been exploited.

What is your analytical framework (justifications)?
This will ultimately depend on the exact nature of the conversations and how they are captured, but at the moment I imagine drawing on frameworks such as discourse analysis (especially for the conversations themselves), and perhaps grounded theory.

What are your anticipated outcomes of your research?
I would like all participants to leave the project with a deeper understanding of their local community, and a stronger sense of their purpose as academics in society. I would like to see evidence of new relationships having been formed, and/or participants continuing with these kinds of conversations (or new kinds of conversations) after the project has finished. I would love to turn this into a collaborative art project and put on a multimedia exhibition with the other participants.

What do you anticipate you need to try out/pilot before the main study?
I should probably have a first ‘conversation’ with someone; see how it goes, what arises, what are the problems, how did it feel? I need to do this to get over my own initial fears and also have an example to share with the group of participants so that we are not starting from nothing.

Things to read this summer to prepare:

Books on research methods:

I already have Doing action research in your own organisation (Coghlan & Brannick), and Jean McNiff’s most recent AR handbook. Also Crotty’s Foundations of Social Research and Five Ways of Doing Qualitative Analysis (Wertz et al.)

The following are also relevant to the paper I’m currently writing for the Teaching & Learning unit:

Leslie Gonzales’ recent paper in BERJ on acts of agency in striving university contexts is already banked – I read it last week and loved it. Also Annie says I should check out the article before this in the same issue on the gendered effects of audit – Grant & Elizabeth:

Bronwen Davies: this paper looks interesting – on women and the seduction of neoliberalism:
Also this one – a critique of an ‘accidental/natural’ view of neoliberalism:

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