13 Responses to anyone for a theor-orgasm? academic work in practice and with a practice partner

  1. lizit says:

    Superb Pat. For years I worked in the voluntary and statutory social services, holding relatively senior positions, and was probably not dissimilar in my outlook to your friend. Like her, I was not really either anti-intellectual or anti-academic, but needed to engage at a level that communicated in the world I lived and worked in. I found too much ‘academic’ content obscurantist and, when taken apart, shallow or obvious!
    Now I’ve changed sides and am in process of writing my doctoral thesis – something I never dreamed I would ever want to do, let alone actually be doing! A key lesson I have brought forward is that of accessibility and communication. Yes, I want to explore my interests in depth, but also in a way which speaks to the other world that I remain part of.


  2. revmarion says:

    Lizit – that’s really interesting cos I’m in a very similar situation. I still work within a voluntary sector agency and am working part time on my doctoral thesis. I work within an agency that has umpteen requests to provide people as research fodder and have spent many years in rottweiler mode as I do my best to protect them. People can be seduced by academic language and end up being used and abused. I’m trying to work out how to tell people’s stories and to make them co-creators of my work without patronising or exploiting or getting off on my own ideas. Finding a practice partner might be one of the ways forward – or perhaps it’s about serial partnering?


    • pat thomson says:

      When I was a head teacher Marion, we developed a policy specifying the conditions under which we would allow researchers into the school. We generally insisted on a reference committee for projects that we approved, and we only approved those that we thought would have benefits for kids communities or schools. Now I’m on the other side of the research I’m always keen to try to sort out the reciprocal benefits of the relationship. My doc students often work as unpaid teaching assistants in schools as part of their research arrangements.


      • revmarion says:

        We’ve put protocols in place but that doesn’t always make the decisions easy – I work with people who live with HIV and so have access to a particular group of people who probably won’t benefit directly from the research although it may have its own value. I think that’s where the dilemmas lie – for instance I facilitate a support group for African women living with HIV (in Scotland) and that group is frequently targeted by researchers who want eg to compare experiences cross culturally or indeed cross continents. My own position is different in that I have existing relationships – which brings its own ethical challenges of course. But you’re absolutely right – reciprocity seems to me to be crucial if we are to practise with integrity.


      • pat thomson says:

        That must be difficult. My first headship was a school for kids who were school refusers, young offenders, homeless … I know the press for research access to them and the decision was always about the greater good rather than any benefit to the kids directly, and they had strong views about what they’d participate in too which had to be honoured.


  3. lizit says:

    My research is in the special needs area with a special focus on the Asperger’s/HFA domain. It’s an area I am deeply embedded in from personal experience, and what you are both saying resonates so much with me. A very real dilemma for me has been recognising the boundaries between what I do as a volunteer in this area and what I am doing as a researcher. There is something about the whole idea of co-creators – something I would love to explore further. One of the things that made me very sceptical of academia was the way accredited knowledge is privileged over other forms of expertise – now if there was a way of turning that on its head in a positive way through appropriate partnering….


  4. lizit says:

    I’ve emailed Marion – let’s keep in touch on this 🙂


  5. Simon Bailey says:

    There’s lots in this post and comments that resonates with me. I often feel frustrated by the sense in which I can feel myself prejudged, not just by work partners, with the assumption that as an academic I am necessarily going to be talking a different language and unable to engage with ‘real’ concerns and situations. I think it’s our duty to work at these assumptions through our research – to prove that we can communicate, and it is certainly one of the aspirations of up-close-and-personal research methods as I understand them. The ideal is guess is thinking about it as a conversation, one in which there may be several partners and everyone has a space in the dialogue. The other most difficult thing I have found with partnering is the critique. There’s never an easy way to go about developing a critical but supportive response to problematics. The comments above prompted me to think about the kind of dishonesty which I felt at times during my doctoral research. Reflecting on those first means of contact, perhaps the wording of a participant information sheet, or the manner in which I introduced myself and my interests, or the cagey moments during fieldwork when you’ve witnessed things that by various benchmarks could be considered inappropriate, hurtful, or oppressive, and a participant asks you ‘so, what do you think’. It was really quite surprising and almost disturbing to look back on those moments of self presentation and think about the effects they might have had in terms of shaping subsequent interactions. It was also one of the things that prompted me to share my fieldnotes with the teachers who’s classes I had been observing. Still one of the most unnerving experiences of my research career, both teachers were, quite understandably, pretty taken aback by the level of detail in the notes, and by the inclusion of things that seemed mundane or unimportant – fragments of conversations before classes, minute-by-minute accounts of their normal day-to-day routines. One teacher told me she felt ‘betrayed’ by what she read in some critical remarks I had made earlier on in the data collection when I was really just feeling my way around. Still I think it was an important thing to have done and learnt from, but it is something that rarely makes it into larger scale projects.


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