A new tartan

“Sumo” flickr photo by Better Than Bacon https://flickr.com/photos/slurm/3989895242 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

As thesis drafting has increasingly occupied my time, posts on here have become noticeably less frequent. I must confess that I’ve been finding it realllly tough going! I can knock out a 1000 word blog post in three hours or so, but the same amount of time is often only delivering a tenth that towards my thesis. I suspect that’s because I’ve elected to start with (WARNING: the following terms will not survive through to the final thesis!) a discussion of the literature, the theoretical framing and the methodological approach. All sections draw heavily from the literature so when you’re constructing an argument, you need to pull together the ideas expressed by a number of authors. Although I (usually) know the arguments I want to make, finding the references within the literature is incredibly time consuming. Clearly the notes I made during the earlier stages of my research weren’t up to the job and I now begin to see why some doctoral programmes require you to produce literature reviews very early. I must confess though, that I was in no position 12 to 18 months ago to do that. I’ve only recently begun to feel capable of writing about actor-network theory, sociomaterial approaches and other poststructural and new materialist ways of thinking. For me, there was no shortcut to getting some sense of understanding; it simply needed time for me to grapple and wrestle, to chew and chomp, masticate and munch.Read More »

What do I share with Olympic heroes?

“BBC Documentary Super Saturday 2012 Olympic Heroes” flickr photo by IaninSheffield https://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/35577018174 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

Michael Johnson met Jess Ennis-Hill in a recent BBC documentary about the London Olympics 2012 ‘Super Saturday,’ as we in the UK came to call it. Michael came up to Sheffield to speak with Jess, so there were a few shots from around the city. In the programme, Jess, Mo and Greg spoke about their experiences of the day, and their lives subsequently. From here I could of course take this in the direction of the grit and determination these three folks showed. How they overcame adversity, fought back and earned the rewards they so richly deserved … and then of course relate that to studying for a PhD … but no.

Over a year ago now I wrote of a reading group I convened in which three profs were kind enough to discuss a reading of a book with me. We went out of the Uni to a coffee house just around the corner. It’s called ‘Tamper/Sellers Wheel’ and has a small, one-table room you can book. The one in the above shot. It’s a small world.

What this did get me thinking though was about fixity and flow. The table, the chairs, the room are all the same as when we used them; the materiality remained the same. The materiality served the same function for Michael and Jess that it did for us; the only difference was the point in time at which the activities took place. So we have two assemblages in which the materiality remains the same (perhaps apart from the drinks!), but the people are different. Initially this worried me somewhat; did the nonhumans in these events have the significance that I’m claiming they do in my research? One way to answer the question is to ask what would happen if each actor was not there, so take the chairs …literally! Could the event still have taken place? Well, yes, though perhaps less comfortably. We, Jess and Michael, could still have completed our exchanges whilst standing or walking around. If the drinks still had to play a part, we might have needed to change the cups for ones which fulfilled the act of ‘drink holding’ for something more appropriate to walking, but yes, the table, chairs and room could all be taken away without affecting the event unduly. Now imagine that Michael couldn’t come to Sheffield, or that the people with whom I discussed the book were in Australia. Distance or separation becomes an actor and has an affect, causing the conversation to need a mediator, like a telephone or Skype. Suddenly, the importance of the nonhumans becomes apparent. Furthermore, the technology is more than a mere tool to ‘be used,’ it becomes an actor which affects the nature and quality of the interaction. Take it away, or swap one technology for another, and the whole interaction changes; you’re obliged to do things differently and the outcome may also be different.

One other thought struck me. Jess and Michael weren’t just using a room, table and chairs like my reading group. They were using the room, table and chairs that we were. Of course we could all have been there at the same time, but things would quickly have become very messy and once more, the outcome would be different. Instead by sliding them apart in time, the two meetings can now take place, even though the nonhumans which participated are precisely the same. I guess what I’m rather clumsily or self evidently saying here is that I might need to think of time as an actor, perhaps in a slightly different way to that when I did so previously. In thinking about Tamper, my group and the Olympians are held apart in different timespaces, despite us participating with the same location and other nonhumans. It is time which enabled our two discussions to unfold as they did. An invisible, intangible, but crucial actor.

There’s a *new* materialism?

“Sociology and New Materialism” flickr photo by IaninSheffield https://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/35948554891 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA) license

At my last meeting, one of my supervisors suggested a book that he thought might inform my methodological chapter (whatever it ultimately gets called!): “Sociology and the New Materialism: Theory, Research, Action” by Fox and Alldred (2016). At the heart of the book is the notion that we might problematise the human as being central to the research endeavour. Someone must conduct the research, right? What Fox and Alldred offer however is a less anthropocentric view, where knowledge, rather than being revealed or constructed by a researcher, is produced by an “assemblage of things, people, ideas, social collectivities and institutions.” Here then I’ll try to summarise what I’ve learned from the book and what implications it might have for my research musings.Read More »

#80 Days … well, perhaps a little more

“Mark Beaumont (on the right) Joins the Countrywide Great Tour” flickr photo by Geraint Rowland Photography https://flickr.com/photos/geezaweezer/20098628390 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

I started my computer this morning and, as I have for the past couple of weeks, opened my browser and immediately checked up on the progress of Mark Beaumont. This Scot is currently involved in a world record attempt to cycle Around the World in 80 Days. As of today, 21st July, he’s on target.Read More »


Using the Treeverse application I mentioned in the last post, I’ve now gone back through my field notes to some of the exchanges I came across during my participant observation. Some were brief and some were longer, but Treeverse provided a rather different perspective, and in several cases brought in some tweets that DataMiner hadn’t captured. In addition to being able to get a better sense of how the exchanges unfolded with time and being able to quickly swap between different threads, the tree view provides an immediate snapshot which is informative in itself.Read More »

Treeverse: displaying a Twitter conversation … clearly!

During the past few months, I’ve participated in a number of exchanges on Twitter that have been part of my research. Sometimes this has been no more than a couple of tweets back and forth with one other person. At other times it’s been a more extended discussion involving several people; multiple voices, multiple tweets. What I’ve struggled with over the past year or so, is finding a tool which will display the exchange in a way that simplifies reading the thread(s). If you’ve ever tried reading and making sense from a string of replies to a tweet, you’ll know how tricky this can sometimes be.

When there are a number of responses to a tweet, Twitter lists them in chronological order with the most recent at the top. If someone replies to one of those initial responses though, Twitter begins to thread those discussions together by grouping them under one another. So in each group, tweets are arranged chronologically as before, and all groups are arranged chronologically too. Within a group then, things are fine, but it becomes difficult to appreciate the overall timeline, especially if new channels of conversation open up. Here, the vertical, linear display just gets in the way.Read More »

RoCur – Rotation Curation

I’m in the midst of ‘data walking’ and rereading the interviews, blog posts, tweets and observations I’ve made over the past year or so. One episode opened up when I was copied in on a tweet by Aaron:

The post referred to in the tweet was one in which Aaron was reflecting back after concluding a week occupying the ‘chair’ of a RoCur account, @EduTweetOz. RoCur is Rotation Curation and is where a different person each week takes the helm of social media account, usually Twitter. For @EduTweetOz:

“Each week a different educator will take responsibility for tweeting. We hope that people will use the space to share their experiences, pose questions, engage in dialogue about current educational issues and help each other out.
Guest tweeters and other educators will be showcased on this blog to share their passion for education with the wider community.”

This was a phenomenon that I was only peripherally aware of so Aaron’s post provided the incentive to dig a little deeper.Read More »

Not posthuman, postProPEL…

ProPEL 2017 has drawn to a close and I find myself writing this with my head still spinning from the volume of information to which I was exposed. Three keynotes, seventeen papers and a multitude of less formal conversations over coffee and meals. And of course I presented the paper I had submitted: “Professional learning(s) beyond the workplace; Teachers’ learnings with Twitter.” I have to confess to being slightly more unsettled than I normally would be when attending a conference and this doubtless partly due to putting my thoughts out there for the kind of scrutiny which I’ve never experienced before. That of peers and more experienced academics who are in most cases, much more experienced in the field than I. It was a simple matter of the unexpected; how would my work (and I) be received?Read More »

The PLDBot comes out…

The problem I faced was that Twitter changed the name from ‘Favourite’ to ‘Like.’

One of the things that prompted the focus of my study was the number of people who tweeted how important Twitter was in supporting their professional learning. So even before I began the PhD, I started ‘collecting’ tweets which illustrated this by ‘Favouriting’ them; favouriting rather than bookmarking them or archiving them elsewhere, simply because of the ease with which the ‘Favourite’ button could be clicked, whichever interface was being used to view the tweets. The idea of bookmarking tweets by favouriting is common practice and was found to be the dominant functional use of this feature (Meier et al, 2014). I was also aware that there was an IFTTT recipe which could automatically record your favourited tweets directly to a Google sheet; this meant that should I need to, I would have access to those tweets outside of Twitter. Then in late 2015, Twitter changed the Favourite to ‘Like’ and its icon, the star, to a heart.Read More »