Sunday, January 24, 2021
Thursday, January 21, 2021
I really enjoyed the Doing Data Differently project because it was a move out of my comfort zone and into the realms of educational data - an area that I'd always been extremely wary of. Cathy has written a great blogpost about the project, there are several journal publications out there and some examples of the postcards and discussions can be seen here. But just like all of the projects and initiatives that I've been involved in, there's so much more to that work that can't easily be told. I notice the same phenomenon with many doctoral students I work with - it's often as if the pulse that animates the work has grown faint, or it's essence has somehow evaporated. The skill in getting a successful outcome is rather like an alchemical process of bringing something meaningful into existence even as it threatens to disappear. Educational projects are nearly always greater than the sum of their parts. Like good teaching you can never be entirely sure about what has really happened. Of course you can have plans and objectives, you can predict some outcomes, and even measure them, but then there's always the particular atmosphere and the sense of being there. Those restless modulations and mutations of affect resist clear verbal description. The complexity and heterogeneity of entangled experience baffles us, and the unanticipated, unpredictable and sometimes unknowable effects slip through our fingers. When we try to include these in our writing what was always messy, as John Law observes, seems to become even messier - and quite a number of us have fallen into that particular trap! Despite these pitfalls I think it's still worth the effort of producing accounts that acknowledge the missing elements, of trying to capture the things that get lost, and of saying the unsayable - or at least gesturing towards it. After all it's very often those very things that should be returned to, and not necessarily the detail that gets written up (although that might be important in other ways, too).
Thursday, November 05, 2020
Sunday, October 25, 2020
The Topeka School'. I enjoyed reading 'Leaving the Atocha Station' but this is altogether a more complex, more ambitious work of auto-fiction. The theme that concerns me here is what he calls 'the spread'. Briefly, in Lerner's world of high school debating 'the spread' is an important tactic. The spread, in the narrator's words, is 'to make more arguments, marshal more evidence than the other team can respond to within the allotted time'. As the novel unfolds the spread becomes an important trope and it stands in for the way in which we can feel paralysed by torrents of information, complex demands on our attention and so on. The popular idea of 'overwhelm' is something similar. And it is rather different from the personal library and the notes on scraps of paper which are attempts - and only attempts - to select, simplify and perhaps to go deeper into things. The spread is wide, overwhelming, destabilising and, in Lerner's world at least, it characterises the times we live in.
Thursday, September 24, 2020
The Meaning Makers, first published in 1986, it was necessary to return to the work, and I was pleasantly surprised to find it as fresh, engaging and relevant today as it was thirty-four years ago when I first encountered it. Subtitled ‘children learning language and using language to learn’, The Meaning Makers is nothing short of a landmark text. It is based on fifteen years of longitudinal research, all rather diminutively referred to as the Bristol Study. Fifteen years is almost unthinkable under current funding regimes, but it certainly helps in getting some depth. And the work of Wells and his team certainly had depth. The research was rigorous and carefully theorized, providing detailed evidence of how children’s language and early literacy developed at home and at school. It also strongly suggested how such development might be effectively supported. In his work Wells referred to a wide range of child language research, building on the insights of Britton, Rosen and Barnes in seeing language and learning from a Vygotskian perspective. Alongside this he repeatedly turned to the work of Bruner, developing a social constructivist view of meaning which was vividly illustrated through carefully selected extracts from his extensive fieldwork. Transcripts are chosen with care and subjected to close analysis in Wells’ writing and this provides an important model for all who follow in his footsteps. For me the simple message that children are active meaning makers remains a powerful guiding principle. That principle, and the convincing evidence used to illustrate it underscores Wells’ significant contribution to language and literacy studies.
Friday, August 28, 2020
Saturday, July 25, 2020
read together I want to recommend pairing Marilyn Strathern's work on Relations with anything by Henry James (from Daisy Miller onwards). I've always been struck by the Jamesian use of the term 'vulgar' - in part because it resonates with a family joke, (which I won't go into) - but mostly because it's one of those words that surfaces repeatedly in The Awkward Age, The Golden Bowl, The Wings of the Dove and in some ways becomes James's signature theme. Relations, people and behaviours that are below the norms of an idea of respectability all fall into his category of the vulgar. For James the vulgar is a register of social distinction at a time in which it is being tested in New and Old World sociality as well as by shifting generational impulses and family tensions. Purdy's 1968 essay 'Henry James's use of vulgar' in the journal American Speech explores some of this and is particularly good at teasing out the different connotations of the word. Strathern, however, has an entirely different project in mind as she problematises the place of relations in and beyond anthroplogy. Charting the rise of relationality as a way of looking at and ordering the world she is optimistic about new ways of thinking about relations - a re-enchantment through language.