Sunday, 13 September 2015

Learning From The Ground Up


Just back from another tremendous weekend teaching at Ruskin, although this time it was made extra special as (a) the weekend uniquely brought together several BA ILTUS cohorts with MA ILTUS part-time students and (b) as well as bringing the cohorts together for teaching, there was a particularly valuable student version of the critical labour studies (CLS) symposium - the third such event, organised by my brilliant colleague , Caroline Holmes (BA ILTUS Programme Co-ordinator), pictured to my right below.

BA and MA ILTUS students show solidarity with the march for refugees in London yesterday 
As I have written in the past, the CLS network is a an original means to align issues of organised labour, changes in work and research/academic activity. Despite the labourist/pro-trade union orientation of the CLS network/symposium (and the overwhelming support for Ruskin's ILTUS programme from CLS academics), it is wholly valuable for Ruskin's 'scholar activists to meet independently also to discuss, for example, the challenges in engaging in research activity despite the workload pressures of frontline activism.

One of my most cherished books on activist/movement learning/knowledge production, Learning from the Ground Up, edited by Aziz Choudry and Dip Kapoor ( spends considerable time exploring/analysing how and why sites and processes of learning/knowledge production outside of conventional academic practice represents a considerable achievement.

As we argue elsewhere (Choudry, 2007, 2008; Kapoor, 2009a), the voices, ideas, perspectives and theories produced by those engaged in social struggles are often ignored, rendered invisible, or overwritten with accounts by professionalized or academic experts. In the realm of academic knowledge production, original, single authorship is valued, which inadvertently contributes to a tendency to fail to acknowledge the intellectual contributions of activism, or to recognize the lineages of ideas and theories that have been forged outside of academe, often incrementally, collectively, and informally. That said, we do not intend to imply that these various epistemologies
of knowledge (academic and activist) and processes of knowledge production and learning (formal, nonformal, and informal) necessarily exist in completely separate universes. 

Although BA/MA ILTUS students often select research topics distinctly separate from their experience of labour movement activism/employment - sometimes to provide essential distance from the often damaging consequences of the fight for workers' rights - it is not untypical for students to root their research topic in an issue of specific labour movement insight/experience. Here, sometimes, students seek to 'make meaning' of often inchoate change in work/employment and/or the trade union response to it - thus there is an explicit sense here of students constructing research design to unpick and explore what they have learnt, or are still learning as a result of this experience.

In his chapter Learning in Social Action: A Contribution to Understanding Informal Education Griff Foley helps us better appreciate what is involved as movement activists/staff are “developing an  understanding of learning in popular struggle”. In commenting on the relevance of this chapter to appreciating how knowledge is created from movement practice/experience Choudry/Kapoor write:

His attention to documenting, making explicit, and valuing incidental forms of learning and knowledge production in social action is in keeping with others who understand that critical consciousness, rigorous research, and theory can and do emerge from engagement in action and organizing contexts, rather than as ideas developed elsewhere by movement elites and dropped down from “above” to “the people”

Learning from the Ground Up is thoroughly recommended for all movement educators/teachers as a means to appreciate the intersection of their own practice with that of those they are working with, and how to gain an insight on how best to model learning to appreciate what movement activists/staff bring to their educational experience.

It is a text from which myself and colleagues at Ruskin have much to continue learn, in alliance with what we are constantly reaping from our experience of teaching and working alongside ILTUS students, such a rewarding experience.

MA ILTUS Scholars: Annie, Chilayi and Bryan
In Solidarity


Friday, 4 September 2015

Thinking of your DIssertation as a Story


This post is aimed at MA ILTUS students (an amazing bunch of trade unionists!) coming to Ruskin College 12-13 September for the additional weekend prior to the start of the 2015-16 academic year.

The image below is taken from Hart (2005), it is in chapter 4 (Imagining your dissertation) where a key theme that Hart is developing is the idea of the dissertation/research as a story.

As Hart states "Seeing the dissertation as a story has a number of useful advantages. In particular it can help you think about your topic as a story, what you intend to do, how you will do it and that you will need to have an ending, the conclusion"

As with any good story you also need to think about the interconnections between differing chapters. I will ask Matt and Paul to discuss this in detail when they attend the Oct and Jan workshops (you'll have a copy of their dissertation by then) as they will be able to relate the concept (again important to a good story) of 'narrative flow' i.e. how central focus, drive and direction is maintained throughout.

This sense of narrative flow is generated, in part at least, by the way in which you will shape and structure the assignment to achieve a form of interconnectedness. So, for example and as you can see below, a key influence on the way the introduction is written, is drawn from argument/theory in the literature review.

Similarly, your findings and analysis chapter must cohere with your core research aims/question and the literature review so that (a) you are seen to 'answer' the research questions, but also (b) you are seen to 'fill the gaps' in the literature.
From: Hart, C (2005) Doing your masters dissertation. Sage. London
Additionally, and particularly important, is that your methodology chapter is written so that it is seen as being informed by (a) your research aims/questions, (b) the literature review. The reason why the image below also connects the methodology chapter to the findings and analysis chapter is that in this chapter you are expected to discuss, for example, how/whether the research methods chosen enabled you to generate findings as anticipated or whether you gained more/less, and what you learned from this.
This latter point is particularly important as (you'll be bored of Fenella and I making this point during your second year) the dissertation is not just research, it is also evidence of being able to do research.

And, in the notion of the dissertation as a story, this focus on what you have learnt from undertaking the research. is such a valid component. It really does provide a sense of the highs/lows of getting the research done and getting the dissertation written.

So, please prepare for a discussion on Sat/Sun on (a) how you see the dissertation as a story, (b) approaches to maintaining narrative flow, (c) your thoughts on developing interconnectedness and (b) how you will manage all of this during what will be a challenging, but hopefully enjoyable second year of the MA.

See you on Saturday.

In Solidarity