Confirmation Q&A – #1

The Confirmation of Candidature process I mentioned in the last post is partly about monitoring your progress and strength of your work, but also about exposing your thoughts to academic scrutiny – another manifestation of the peer review process I guess. After presenting for half an hour, the remainder of the seminar was given over to Q and A and it is through these that you get a better sense of how your work and your ideas hold up. When added to the formal feedback provided  by the rapporteurs, the areas which are robust and those in need of further development become clearer. In this post then, I want to catalogue the feedback people were kind enough to provide through their observations and questions.


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Confirmation of PhD

I’ve been rather quiet on the blog recently; my energies have been focused towards writing the report and designing a seminar to fulfil the requirements for my Confirmation of Candidature (RF2 in local parlance). As I discussed earlier, this is the final hurdle to overcome before you can call yourself a PhD student. Essentially you are providing a panel of assessors with evidence of the progress you have made during your first year, and that your study is of a standard likely to lead to you being able to fulfil the requirements of a PhD.


I submitted the report just over a week ago and delivered my oral presentation yesterday (the slides are above, though may not mean a great deal without the commentary). Rather than the small panel that would usually be involved (your supervisory team plus two ‘rapporteurs’ – academics not associated with your research, but familiar with the field and PhD supervision), I agreed to present a seminar. As it happened, this was the first on this year’s programme of the Institute’s Research Seminar series, so rather than half a dozen people, there were over thirty – academics, PhD students and Masters students. I’m sure some would have found this intimidating, but for me, it seemed to have the opposite effect. Rather than speaking to a small, incredibly intelligent and necessarily critical panel, it felt more like talking to a class and helped me to relax. The audience was not solely those obliged to be there as part of their duties, but was mostly people who were sufficiently motivated  to give up some time to come and listen to me talk, based on the title and abstract I had provided.
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But it’s only 300 words”

flickr photo by Chrispl57 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

I’ve spent a substantial part of this weekend writing less than three hundred words … and I’m still not happy.

In addition to the report I need to produce as part of the Confirmation of Candidature process (more to come on that!), I also need to give a verbal report. Usually this is in the form of a presentation to a small group composed of your supervisory team and a rapporteur, followed by a Q&A. A mini viva in effect. My supervisor asked if I’d prefer to do a seminar; much the same format, but invitations would be extended more widely within the Institute. That seemed like a good opportunity to speak to a wider audience, perhaps people I’ve not met before, and possibly attract a wider range of feedback. So I went for it.

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Comfort zone . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .me!

flickr photo by Renaud Camus shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

One name which has been cropping up in the literature for a while now is Bourdieu. I don’t recall seeing his name as regularly when I did my first Masters, but more recently it’s tough to get away from. Wondering why he’s become so fashionable recently, when the Sheffield Institute of Education posted details of a seminar discussing research which used Bourdieu is used as the theoretical framework, I thought it might be a chance to find out ‘what all the fuss is about.’ Err ……. no!

My knowledge is distinctly limited, being aware only of the concept of habitus (but not knowing much more than it can be considered as one’s dispositions … rightly or wrongly) and that capital (cultural, economic etc) plays a part in the theorisation. I was clearly bringing a rubber knife to a gunfight.

In his talk “There’s no such thing as Bourdieu Lite,” Professor David James discussed the concept of ‘misrecognition’ that Bourdieu advanced. In the abstract I was struggling, but then he suggested a concrete example in the form of the store loyalty card, it began to make more sense. Although this is ostensibly about providing discounts for regular, loyal shoppers, in reality it’s to provide the store with masses of data on customer shopping habits – misrecognition. (Or is it misrepresentation?) He went on to explore how this concept could be used as a perspective with which to view different aspects of educational provision.

Andrew Morrison then summarised research he’d undertaken to explore undergraduates perceptions of barriers to employment in primary teaching in the UK. His theoretical framework of choice used habitus, capital and fields from Bourdieu, but also Sayer’s lay normativity and Fraser’s social injustice. As someone with no desire to hide his Yorkshire accent, I found the notion of linguistic capital and the perceived impact that a regional accent can have on one’s employability quite interesting.

What I took away from the sessions though was David’s exhortation to avoid a shallow, surface attempt when applying Bourdieu (or any theoretical framework) to one’s research. If I choose to go with actor-network theory (another fashionable framework?), then I need to become intimate with it. From Andrew’s talk I noted the judicious application of different theoretical frameworks to shed light on different aspects of his study; Bourdieu fails to address justice adequately, which is why Fraser was needed. Since I’m also considering whether different theoretical frameworks can be applied in order to illuminate different aspects of my study, it was somewhat reassuring to see a more experienced researcher doing just that. I wondered though whether these two messages conflicted somewhat? If you’re applying multiple theoretical frameworks, is it possible one might only be adopting a surface approach? i.e. precisely what the first talk cautioned against.

I’m left wondering though whether I was right to jump in at the deep end like I did here. I’m not a great deal further forward in my understanding of Bourdieu. Perhaps I should have prepared in some way; there are plenty of YouTube videos on Bourdieu. The opportunity to attend was there; I took it. When they come my way, I’m going to continue to snap them up, accepting the fact that occasionally I might get burned.