Saturday, August 12, 2006

Interacting with Stephen Kemmis

A few months ago I read an article by Kemmis, S. 2005, Searching for Saliences, Pedagogy, Culture and Society, 13, 3, 391-426. Having worked with Stephen twenty years ago, I dropped him an email renewing our acquaintance and registering my interest in his current research and writing. As a result, I arranged a trip to the Wagga campus of CSU to catch up and discuss what appeared to be a common interest in practice theory.

Given that practice—academic, professional, teaching and research—constitutes a priority within CEDAM, I subsequently organised for him to come across to ANU to conduct a workshop for staff, higher degree research students and couple of other individuals interested in his research on practice. Using the model employed for the visit of Etienne Wenger just over twelve months ago, I circulated pre-reading material and requested participants to register their interests and concerns about 'practice'.

As a result, a draft agenda was constructed and workshop held at CEDAM yesterday. It was a stimulating activity involving a dozen or so highly engaged participants. Rather than a formal presentation followed by questions, the group opted for a free-flowing dialogue to which Stephen actively contributed at strategic points. For example, he shared his thoughts regarding theoretical influences (e.g. Hegel, Marx, Wittgenstein, Bourdieu, Foucault, Habermas, Schatzki), as well as tabled a framework on the individual and extra-individual features of practice constructed as part of a forthcoming publication.

Various dualities and tensions emerged during the discussion (e.g. individual-social, categories-patterns, rational-irrational), along with a series of debates about what might be behind the current interest in practice (e.g. an assault on the professions and/or academia), and the nature and extent of the 'gravitational pull' towards the subjective (e.g. pressure to view practice through the eyes of the individual). I quickly drafted a one-page draft report of the workshop today with a view ascertaining the level of participant interest in extending this informed dialogue.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Contributing to an academic unit

A ‘conceptualising day’ was held in CEDAM yesterday—an opportunity to discuss a range of activities that are currently being conducted in the Centre with a view to developing ways of 'working smarter'.

I was asked to make a presentation with another staff member on academic practice. It comprised a ten-minute talk followed by twenty-minutes of discussion. With a reasonably good understanding of practice theory and doctoral practice, I was able to identify a number of issues and concepts (e.g. the practice 'site'). We were the first item on the agenda, followed by another five dynamic duos.

Like many in-house seminars, a host of ideas was raised and much lively discussion generated, but at the end of the day, many participants were left wondering what would become of it all. It was agreed that the outcomes would be synthesised further and we would meet to pursue them at a staff meeting in around 10 days time. From a personal perspective, however, a few points are worthy of note.

First, the work I have been doing as part of my PhD was given a level of formal recognition. This is not to say that it hadn't been before, but the fact that my research was seen to have value beyond the doctorate, seemed to bestow upon it a higher level of legitimacy. In other words, the knowledge was being used to address a practical problem beyond the ARC Linkage Grant project and my own PhD.

Second, there was a sense of participating in the discussion from a position that was approaching that of a staff member. As most candidates would attest, your status in the academic organisational unit in which you are enrolled can be problematic. It's more a case of determining what you are not than what you are. Not being student or staff member, you generally assume a curious position - someone with limited status of position who is in a perpetual state of transition (e.g. from novice to expert researcher).

Third, I felt that my own standing within the Centre may have gone up a notch. As a mature-age candidate, you can always claim a certain degree of authenticity on the basis of an established career (at least initially), but you also need to be able to demonstrate at some stage that you are building the capacity to contribute to debates that are wider than the narrow focus of your own research—and beyond the realms of your prior experience.