Movement of Ideas Project: Following trails

In ‘Reassembling the Social: an Introduction to Actor-Network Theory’, Bruno Latour (2005) described the acronym ANT as ‘perfectly fit for a blind, myopic, workaholic, trail-sniffing, and collective traveler’. Perhaps an apposite description for adopting a sociomaterial sensibility in the way I approach exploring how ideas move … although hopefully with a more perceptive sense of vision. I proposed in my thesis the notion of flânography which is conducted:

… at a casual leisurely pace involving strolling or wandering, though not aimlessly in the way of flâneurs of old, but with purpose. Careful scrolling through a timeline and following leads which arise, similar to the way a flâneur might turn down a side-street or into an arcade.

Adopting a sociomaterial sensibility conceives the field of study:

… as assemblage where the field becomes performed as I begin scrolling through my timeline, when I open Tweetdeck to monitor the search columns, when I join a #chat, follow a link to a blog site and ask a question, or capture a tweet exchange with Treeverse. Together they produce the field as a shifting, shimmering, expanding cloud in continual flux, where connections are continually made, broken and remade.

Read More »

Movement of Ideas Project: Approach

As a pilot project, the scope for a deep exploration is rather limited. In order to track and analyse how ideas about practice move and change, two approaches were chosen. The first involves exploring social media – mainly Twitter – in a similar way to how I conducted my PhD research. Secondly, any interesting lines of enquiry can be developed more fully by inviting primary school teachers to participate in semi-structured, in-depth interviews. Where the latter has a typical and well-understood format, the former is far from common and may need setting out in more detail. The reason for this post then is to make more explicit the steps I take when ‘exploring social media’.Read More »

Movement of Ideas Project: Introduction

I’ve been away from the blog for awhile. Perhaps that’s not surprising when my blogging was one of the ways I used to think, to reflect, to analyse, to experiment. Although I’ve been involved in a couple of research projects since graduating, I’ve not needed to expose myself to the mental turmoil required to come to better understanding in the same way I did whilst studying. One of the projects on which I’m currently engaged has changed that somewhat. It’s only a small project requiring about ten working days of my time spread over a couple of months and is a pilot to inform a much more significant grant application. And yet here I am back at the blog. I suspect that might be because this project has taken me back to Twitter.

The project – ‘The movement of ‘ideas for practice’ to literacy teachers in lockdown’.

This project will explore the ‘ideas for practice’ in literacy teaching that are gaining traction in the current crisis, and how these ideas move during a period of lockdown. We use ‘ideas for practice’ to refer to a broad range of inspiration and guidance. We are interested in: the literacy topics that surface (e.g. spelling, critical reading); the form support takes (e.g. tips, lesson plans, resources for children); and the assumptions about literacy that underpin the focus topic and/or recommended approaches.

My background and the methods and approach I brought to bear previously, position me to assist in:

  • Tracking and analysing how ideas about practice in literacy move to teachers, with a focus on social media.
  • Describing what happens to ideas as they move, e.g. (How) do meanings change when synthesised in blogs or summarised in tweets?
  • Identifying the topics, forms and assumptions that gain traction.
  • Identifying how/whether ideas build on research.

I’ve already made a start, but now need to start processing some of what has been emerging. Given my somewhat less conventional approach, I also need to think about how that might be better articulated for the audience who might need to engage with the research output. The next few posts will help me wrestle with some of those ideas.


Some time ago I was thinking about how Twitter’s character limitations for tweets imposed brevity and concision on tweet authors. Nonetheless, in spite of those restrictions, when you begin to disassemble a tweet, a rich and complex ensemble is revealed. More recently I’ve been revisiting those actors and trying to think about them in terms of what they ‘do’ when enacting different practices teachers associate with professional development. The thing which most struck me was that different actors play a more or less significant role depending on the practice in which they’re involved. For example, the ‘Follow’ button is clearly significant in the activity teachers call ‘connecting with others,’ but is (arguably) less important when ‘discussing issues.’ I then began to consider how it might be possible to map the significance of different tweet actors as participants in different professional development activities. These ponderings produced the following vis:

Read More »

Next steps

RAIDING Screenshot
Screenshot from the RAIDING Project game.

I never began the PhD with a particular career strategy in mind. Well, when one reaches a ‘certain age,’ having long-term plans becomes less pressing. Had I never begun the PhD and was still in work, my intention had been to retire on or before my sixtieth, but that path of course changed back in 2015. Renewed and reinvigorated, my aim became simply to remain open to interesting possibilities. It was surprising and rewarding how many potential avenues began to appear.Read More »

‘Tis done!

It’s now three days after my viva and I’ve almost managed to mentally process the outcome. I passed, with no corrections.

If you’re not familiar with how the doctoral examination process works, at least here in the UK, here’s a quick summary. An internal and external examiner are appointed; experienced academics who ideally work in the field in which your research is located, one from your own institution and a second from another university. They are invited to examine your thesis, but they are not paid and there is no obligation. You submit your thesis and a copy is sent to each of them to review. On the cover of thesis it is common to find a statement declaring that ‘This thesis is in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy,’ or something similar. The other main ‘requirement’ in the UK and some though not all HE systems, is an oral exam or viva voce. A date for the viva is set, often between four and six weeks after submission of the thesis; that was the case for me. I outlined in previous posts some of the preparation I undertook, but in short it involved re-reading my thesis in different ways, using the Internet to source typical (general) questions that are often asked, and preparing my responses to them.Read More »

Mock mock viva

It hasn’t proven possible to arrange a mock viva prior to my actual viva next week. However, several members of staff were kind enough to spare (more than) a few minutes to chat about my preparations. Some were already familiar with my research and could ask pertinent questions, but the programme leader on my last Master’s degree asked to see my thesis, and kindly offered to give feedback. I thought this would be another informal chat, but he suggested we conduct it in a similar way to a viva … albeit without the strict formality. That proved to be so important.Read More »

Can you summarise your ‘findings’ in *three* sentences?

In a comment on earlier post in this series discussing potential viva questions, Martina asked me the above question, prompting to me to go a step further than the original post. As you can see in my response and in that post, should the examiners ask me some variant of this, I’ll be as uncomfortable as I was when writing summary sections in my thesis. I can see why it’s necessary; there are a variety of audiences that need to be satisfied and it’s unlikely the space afforded by a thesis will always be available. Other than in a monograph, it’s inevitable that I’ll need to be more economical , whether for a journal article, conference presentation or poster session. So despite my reservations about reducing my findings to mere soundbites, I do need to take a stab at this.Read More »

Which theoretical framings did you consider and why did you settle on ANT?

Continuing my series of posts discussing potential viva questions, I want to take a look at the theoretical underpinnings for my study. I know there’s a bunch of questions which could delve into how actor-network theory (ANT) informs or sits alongside my study, but I think this is probably a better place to start. Asking me why I chose ANT and which other theories or conceptualisations I’d considered but rejected seems like a perfectly reasonable question.

I was introduced to ANT a little while before even thinking about PhD study. As a long time listener (and sometime contributor) to Radio Edutalk, I was fascinated by an episode in which PhD student Anna Beck was discussing her research tracing the implementation of the Donaldson Report. She briefly talked about using actor-network theory to help understand how change is brought about in education more generally, and specifically though the Report. Given the attention it drew on ‘things,’ I wondered whether ANT might be useful in helping me to better understand and/or explain the issues of integrating educational technologies within education; my job at the time involved such matters. As I searched around for more information on ANT, it soon became clear how fuzzy a concept it was for someone like me who at the time had a very different worldview.Read More »

In your flânography, how should we conceive the ‘field?’

Whilst discussing online ethnography in my thesis, I made reference to ‘the field’ on a number of occasions, and devoted a couple of paragraphs to outlining how it might be conceived. In this post from the series discussing potential viva questions, I want to return to that notion.

Ethnography offers the means through which to explore an interesting phenomenon or issue. For me, flânography was the approach which allowed me to explore teachers’ professional practices on Twitter. In classical anthropology, the field was the location you went to in order to learn about the ‘Other,’ by becoming immersed in their culture and practices. There was a sense of difference, of ‘us’ and ‘them,’ of ‘the field’ and home. Notionally the field was a tightly bounded geographic space, but more recently this has been called into question (Gupta and Ferguson, 1997). Researchers such as Marcus (2012) noted how studying aspects of life often involved being mobile and making connections across multiple sites as people and things move around. This multi-sited field did not precede the study, but emerged through ethnographic exploration; it is the outcome of ethnographic engagement, not some predetermined construct which preceded the research.Read More »