Au Revoir, Tristesse

It was hard to commit to Bootcamp today.  Although writing is rarely something that fills me with dread, in fact usually the opposite, I was half wishing that the few people who wanted the opportunity would find something else to do on a sunshiny Spring day.  After an emotional and very tense week, I was concerned that the experience would be too bittersweet to bear.  But tristesse has long been an effective muse and although the words came a little slower, come they did.

I’ve been focused on self-reflexive processes* which I find myself thinking of as tangential to the main event, but I’ve figured that this is the only way I’ll work through the finer detail of my research methodology.  Funnily enough, when I returned to it today it didn’t seem as dreadful as I’d been thinking.  Broad, yes, unthinking – and in need of much more work, but each of the five figurations stands up, albeit treading on each other’s toes.  I deliberately closed my eyes to the literature review (cartography) and Image of ancient mapscrolled through to the methodology, noting as I did so a slight feeling of impostorship when I tried to mentally explain the difference between ‘methodology’ and ‘method’. One for the homework list, there, and just when I’d tentatively grasped ‘epistemology’ too.  My mission was to grapple with the methodology, annotate and interrogate it.  I was switched on to nuances of language, after some of the conversations I’d had in class that week.  I found myself largely focused on ethics.

I’d got the proposal through with a tiny ethics section which more or less said, posthumanism requires a new ethics and I’ll figure it out as I go along.  I’m guessing the reason I wasn’t pulled up on this was because it was true; ethics are part of the self-reflexivity which seems to be playing an increasingly key part in the development of the methodology.  Makes sense.  Rosi Braidotti describes ethics as:

“…the effects of truth and power that his/her actions are likely to have upon others in the world.” (2011, p.300)

It feels important to question this.  Does it exclude anything that ethics is conventionally defined as, and which is important to keep?  BERA (2011) do not, interestingly, define what an ethic is, although many individual ethics are laid out in some detail.  A conventional dictionary definition of ‘ethics’ would be:

“…a set of moral issues and aspects (as rightness)” or “…a guiding philosophy” (Merriam-Webster, 2016).

BERA (2011) are clear that “deliberation on these guidelines” is essential, and “compliance [only] where appropriate” (p.4, my parentheses).  This leaves open the possibility of operating a new ethics, which may find points of tension with the BERA recommendations.  Those points can be fruitfully explored as part of the self-reflexive narrative invited by Braidotti’s definition (2011) and further informed by a reading of others’ work around posthuman ethics, notably Patricia MacCormack, who defines ethics in a dynamic way:

“Ethics is a practice of activist, adaptive and creative interaction which avoids claims to overarching moral structures.” (MacCormack, 2012, p.1).

This resonates and also gives me a little insight into my own thinking.  The BERA (2011) guidelines felt terrifying before I’d actually read them.  My fear of making a ‘mistake’ against them amplified existing feelings of impostorship, limiting assumptions about consequences.  This reflects contemporary happenings in my life, which cannot be written out of the narrative, as Sparkes (1995) would say, only acknowledged.  I have fear around anything that is ‘fixed’ and which I might get wrong, and this made me afraid to read the guidelines.  Now, with the wriggle-room in BERA (2011) and the invitation from MacCormack (2012) to be dynamic in my thinking, alongside a little help from Brene Brown (2013) to deal with my sense of ‘shame’ and fear, my mind is fizzing with possibilities.

What started all this today, when I had no clear idea of what I’d write, is the annotation process and it’s something I’d like to continue.  Revisiting my colleague @cherylren’s original Revision Bootcamp set-up helped me understand that there are two audiences for my writing – me, as I work it all out (with the help of my supervisors) and (ultimately) the reader.  This is going to ring alarm bells for version control, but maybe there could be two versions of the work:  one which is worked and reworked with annotations and a ‘clean’ copy for outward facing view.  And maybe the time for the cleaned-up version has not yet come.

I’m glad Bootcamp happened today.  It’s halfway through the day and, although the words are not quite flowing at the rate of previous Bootcamps, the demons in my head have had to step to the side and allow me to think.  Today I have only felt sadder when I’m not writing.  There’s an imperative that I would like to hold on to.

*At the moment I am very into I-Poems, having heard about them from Jim Reid and Jean Hatton at last week’s @HudCRES day.  Based on the work of Mauthner and Doucet, which I’m currently reading about in Edwards and Weller (2012) – why? – the I-Poem works when reflexive accounts are already written.  It mines the accounts for all statements beginning with ‘I’ and forms them, edited but not displaced, into lines of poetry.  I’ve done two of these from my earliest Steel Trap Mind entries and I’m looking forward to more because they are so evocative of time and even place.  It did make me wonder, however, whether now that I know I have a plan to use I-Poems, it would affect the way I wrote this blog, but it genuinely has not been in my head at all.

British Educational Research Association.  (2011).  Ethical Guidelines for Educational Research.  Online 

Brown, B. (2013).  Daring Greatly.  New York.  Vermilion.

Edwards, R. and Weller, S. (2012).  Shifting Analytic Ontology:  using I-Poems in qualitative longitudinal research.  Qualitative Research.  12(2) 202–217.

Merriam-Webster. (2016). Definition of ‘ethics’.  Online 

Sparkes, Andrew (1995) Writing People:  reflections on the dual crises of representation and legitimation in qualitative inquiry QUEST (National Association of Physical Education in Higher Education) 1995:47 158-195



Golden Threads

Yesterday I met my second supervisor for the first time.  I also bumped into my first supervisor, who reminded me by his gentle presence that it was time to focus.


That’s the issue.  My thinking has become very divergent, following a number of golden threads and letting go of other important ones.  Partly, I think, this is in response to a mental swerving of my research methodology; I got something very fuzzy through at research proposal stage but I was unhappy with it.  Following conventional wisdom I’ve read, read, read about research methodology but nothing has struck me as being what I want to do.

Colourful buttons
Colourful buttons. Source: Lou Mycroft #TDIndia16

It’s raining hard outside, the fire is on, the cat is in and I’m remembering similarly grey childhood days, when my mum took the opportunity to tidy up her (already phenomenally tidy) sewing basket, whilst I sorted out the button box.  Perhaps it’s time to gather up and  re-wind the golden threads.

My networks are currently alive with interestingly rhizomatic ideas and connections. Inevitably, that plays into my divergent mindset, connection excites me (not that I am afraid of being the solitary writer, despite appearances I have a quiet soul). It’s all pertinent but I’ve got to face the fact that some of it is peripheral to the main event.  I realised I’m beginning to assume that “the work” can only take place within the thesis, which is a dangerous path to tread.

The paradox is that it’s the practical empirical element of my research I’m not getting on with, yet my energies are dissipating into the practical praxis application of what I’m learning.  I was whooping at a @bengoldacre tweet earlier in the week, but the fact remains that I think I have a job to do in publishing my thinking. I wouldn’t be doing it otherwise.

These are the golden threads I’m currently not knitting up into something whole:

  1.  #whitecurriculum and how to interrogate privilege (of all kinds)
  2. What ‘posthuman’ means, in meaningful terms, including for research
  3. The global and personal implications of a Papal statement (random, yeah?)
  4. Digital activism, identity and wellbeing, individually and in groups
  5. Critical pedagogy, in the sense of how to teach critical thinking
  6. Dialogic approaches to complex and emotive stuff, such as #Prevent
  7. How structures maintain the status quo and keep power in place
  8. Affirmative mental health leadership

I’m also at a crossroads personally and professionally, which won’t come as news to anyone who has done postgraduate research.  Something about digging deep into your own thinking makes life feel raw.

[A note to myself to go back and put the links in, or else it will never get knitted].

Maybe (3) will float off somewhere, but (1) and (4-8) feel like they might have a place in my research. Is that too much ‘stuff’, given that I’m largely ignoring the other ‘half’ of my research question, which is broadly about what Independent Working Class Education (IWCE) might look like in the 21st century?  It feels like it probably is.

Plus, of course, I’m trying to work, live, balance the books, keep house (if only for myself), parent, cat-parent, maintain relationships, stay healthy mentally and physically (not going great).  And write.  That actually is going well, just not in the ‘correct’ spaces.

If this was a work task, I might consider doing a position statement, so I’m going to see if that helps.  I’m thinking it’s not good that I have to look up my research question right now…

How might posthuman approaches support “the development of an educated public” (Furedi, 2004, p.20) in the spirit of independent working-class education? (1)

#whitecurriculum and how to interrogate privilege (of all kinds)

This has got to be central to the posthuman lens.  The metaphor of Vitruvian Man is a powerful one to explore ‘othering’.  If I assume (for now) that IWCE operates from a ‘place of pain’ the Spinoza-influenced Braidottian notion of affirmative politics also comes into play.

What ‘posthuman’ means, in meaningful terms, including for research

So (1) and (2) combine, if #whitecurriculum can be seen to be the effect of Vitruvian thinking.  Other aspects of posthuman thinking, as well as affirmative politics, are explored here. In terms of research, my woolly ideas about ‘figurations’ are shaping up and I’m now thinking about linguistic narrative analysis, inspired by Kevin Orr’s direction at #HudCRES and the Bruno et al article he recommended (2).

The global and personal implications of a Papal statement

This is today’s rant and I will have forgotten what I meant next time I read this post, so I’m reminding myself that it was Pope Francis’ declaration about the family and how, reading about this on Twitter, I felt my son and I being ‘othered’.

Digital activism, identity and wellbeing, individually and in groups

This is huge, and central to posthuman ideas about rhizomatic learning, which is the pedagogy I want to explore.  I need to break it down:

  • digital activism, my own and the potential of IWCE to focus here.
  • identity, my current attempts to find my own voice (as well as my ‘Northern College’ voice, without losing congruency) and links to standpoint politics
  • digital wellbeing, something I read recently by Helen Beetham, and Frances Bell’s critique of ‘resilience’ (amongst other ideas), which leads to…
  • groups, Dave Cormier’s recent decision to leave what used to be the #rhizo15 space on Facebook and set up another group for his Learning Resilience course (what inspired that decision and my reaction to it)

Critical pedagogy, in the sense of how to teach critical thinking

I came back from India reinvigorated (after the parasite had passed through, anyway) by my life’s mission being to teach critical thinking.  I don’t think anyone has this nailed, and I’m hoping that my involvement in developing the Tutor Voices Critical Pedagogy COOC will help me figure out some stuff that will centrally inform the research, not least because I’m listening to other perspectives.  This has to be a key element if what I’m wanting to do is ‘develop an educated public’ (5).

Dialogic approaches to complex and emotive stuff, such as #Prevent

#Prevent is the key policy/ideological driver but will this still be the case in 2020? I do need to future-proof this work.  But, given that dialogic pedagogies were at the heart of IWCE (were they?) they have a place here in the critical pedagogy I’m trying to identify, part of the rhizome along with digital.

How structures maintain the status quo and keep power in place

How is this not Marxist? But do I have to reject Marxist thinking entirely, just because I have rejected the workers’ revolution? Braidotti bases her posthumanism on feminist thinking and is very open about that.  Perhaps Marxism is one of the histories I will trace in my cartography.  The work I’m trying to do feels like turning the Titanic around, possibly after the iceberg.  That work is impossible to do without understanding what is keeping the tanker steaming ahead.  Post-capitalist thinking may help here.

Affirmative mental health leadership

Maybe this is broader than ‘mental health’ leadership, though having embraced a neurodiversity approach to mental wellbeing there is certainly a place for it in any leadership approach.  I’m connecting here back to identities, back to the concept of the teacher also being a leader, connecting with the dismantling of #whitecurriculum structures and with those ‘folded arms brigade’ digital resisters whose powerful influence steers digital pedagogy towards the service of capitalism.  Is leadership – democratic, dialogic, digital – a different coloured thread?  Would that bring diversity to the warp and weft of what I’m trying to craft here?


I end on a question but this has been surprisingly helpful, given that I suspected I was embarking on the task rather than connect my new printer.  One thing strikes me, to use Ann Cunliffe’s term (3): already, some of the threads have the feel of being the ‘latest hit’; they may lack longevity.  Last summer, I knew even as I was obsessively listening to it that Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake it Out’ wouldn’t make it onto my funeral songs list, for example.

I’m also thinking about how to use this journal/blog.  I’m currently very temped by the idea of mining it for I-poems (4), perhaps formatively, as I pick my way self-reflexively through all of this.

(1) I gave this the working title ‘Strange Times’ when I unpacked it at #writingbootcamp

(2) “cognitive/emotive/volitive” in Bruno, A., Galuppo, L., and Gilardi, S. (2011).  Evaluating the Reflexive Practices in a Learning Experience.  European Journal of Psychology Education. 26, 527-543.

(3) Cunliffe, A. (2004).  On Becoming a Critically Reflexive Practitioner.  Journal of Management Education. 28, 407-229.

(4) Edwards, R. and Weller, S. (2012). Shifting Analytic Ontology:  using I-Poems in qualitative longitudinal research.  Qualitative Research.  12(2). 202-217.

(5) I know I have to take this quote out of the title.  And I don’t really like it anyway.  But why?



Un-thinking Vitruvian

Question 1:  So, what does a posthuman curriculum look like?

I’ve got to answer this question, however rough and ready that answer may be.  I’m learning that my commitment to praxis is more than tokenistic, that the interplay between theory and practice is essential in keeping me hooked into my academic thinking. Once I’ve figured out the answer to Question 2 (1), practice gets rolled up into my research, of course, but I’m not there yet. In the past seven months (really?) since I got home from the Human/Inhuman/Posthuman Summer School in Utrecht I’ve been figuring out how to teach some key aspects of posthuman thinking (learning them simply and deeply in the process), so this is my attempt to fit the pieces of the jigsaw together.

Human and Posthuman

For human, read Vitruvian Man, that famous Leonardo sketch that inspired a million Leonardo's Vitruvian Mandifferent takes (Vitruvian Cat anyone?) Vitruvian Man is buff, the David Beckham of his day (he might share Beckham’s philanthropy, but probably not his working-class origins). He’s white, he’s young, he’s European, he’s physically fit, he is fair-skinned, he’s probably pretty well off (with those abs, he’s not under-fed). Middle-class, if that’s not an anachronistic concept for the time. Difficult to guess at his sexuality, given his provenance; certainly by the time of The Enlightenment (2) there was probably an assumption that he’s straight. He might have a hidden disability, but I doubt it. He’s almost certainly Christian, despite the struggles some Enlightenment thinkers had with organised religion.

But he is ‘human’. And so it follows that any individuals that don’t fit the pattern are somehow less than human. Thus begins the intellectualising of difference as ‘other’; not the root of slavery and oppression, but in some quarters the justification of it. And he is culturally internalised, particularly in places of power and amongst people who are not cognisant of the privilege they carry. When we say ‘human’, somewhere in our thinking, we see him.

Vitruvian Man is at the heart of understanding the #whitecurriculum (4). Of course he is. Because it’s his power, his privilege and his structures that have constructed the world we live in. They have certainly constructed our education systems (5). Therefore it also follows that any posthuman curriculum is focused on dismantling and rebuilding these structures. The post in posthuman refers to the ending of the Vitruvian time.



Enlightenment thinking formally established the dominion of ‘human’ (see above) over other species and thus established ‘speciesism’, described by Peter Singer as, “…an attitude of prejudice towards beings who are not part of the same species as us.” The notion of dominion is very much part of the Christian tradition, a dominant choice to read Genesis in a certain way.

This human/nature divide (sometimes referred to, interestingly, as a culture/nature divide) explains much that has come later in terms of raping the earth’s natural resources and decimating its wildlife (not just hunting, but intensive, super-destructive factory farming methods, check out @cowspiracy to find out more). Some thinkers refer to the Stylised image of the Earthtimes we are living in as anthropocene – a new epoch where humans have themselves become a major (negative) geological force, as impactful as the Ice Age on the Earth itself. The claim is that the Earth cannot now repair itself from the damage humans have done. Politically, the term ‘anthropocene’ is being used to call for a recognition that dominion has gone too far. So posthuman thinking is fundamentally concerned with environmental and animal rights, as well as human welfare.

We see humanity as a positive concept, a value or belief even, in the fact of all the real hard evidence of what ‘humanity’ does:  Auschwitz, Vietnam, Hiroshima, Bhopal, Calais, the Killing Fields of Cambodia, Guantanamo, Chernobyl, the Atlantic Slave Trade, ISIS, Srebrenica, Syria, the Congo, the Gulags.  Enough already.


What posthumanism is not doing is to call for the end of the human race. Because some early posthuman thinkers (eg Donna Haraway and Katherine Hayles) have a focus on the more science-fiction (6) end of technology, it’s easy to overlook the fact that ‘technology’ can actually mean basic engineering, everyday affordances such as clocks and cars, printing presses, stuff we now take for Anime of androgynous superherogranted, as we are coming to take for granted computers and mobile phones. What about hearing aids, prosthetic legs, contact lenses? We are already technologically mediated (or, as posthuman thinkers like to say, embodied in a technological world). We are posthuman. We are already there.

If posthuman thinking seems very new, it’s because our #whitecurricula are so often based on the work of dead white men writing sixty years ago. In fact Robert Pepperell already had a solid grip on what posthumanism meant back in 2003, not about the “End of Man, but the end of a man-centred existence…”, where technology was an extension of the human. (Interestingly, Robert is a Professor of Fine Art. One aspect of posthuman thinking is that it crosses the boundaries of traditional academic disciplines. And who decided what those boundaries were, anyway?)

So a posthuman curriculum is already necessary, it can’t be pushed to one side because your workplace bans mobile phones, or you don’t have laptops in the classroom. It’s not about that, or not only about that. It’s about facing up to the here and now.

Which brings us to…


…sometimes called neo-liberalism (7). Put simplistically, with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 any real challenge to capitalism disappeared and it became one of those taken-for-granted things, the only system that works. In fact, it was simply the winner out of two greatCover of Frankie Goes to Hollywood's Two Tribes 12" meta-narratives:  Capitalism vs. Communism, Reagan vs. Chernenko, VHS vs. Betamax, Right vs. Left, Winner vs. Loser. Marxists would point to the hegemony of how we each collude in accepting capitalism as the only norm:  watch yourself doing it, it can get quite addictive.

Capitalism encourages us to think in binaries and it is even more addictive watching for these: Employer vs. Worker, People vs. Profit, Traditional vs. Progressive, Academy vs. State School. We take it for granted (that word hegemony again) that the structures of capitalism – hierarchies that always have someone at the top and someone at the bottom – are the way of the world, that they are unavoidable. Posthuman thinking shares with Marxism the imperative to deconstruct these structures, to imagine a world constructed differently (it doesn’t share with Marxism the conviction that this brave new world should be communist).

Which leads us to…


…because new futures need first of all to be imagined.

So that’s some of what posthumanism is. Thinking about imagining new futures brings us onto how.


Rosi Braidotti, with whom @kaysoclearn and I studied in Utrecht, draws on the (dead, white) French philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (with whom she studied) to explore how we might take affirmative posthuman political action. Discarding the binaries of capitalism, which they describe (unfortunately, but of their time) as Famous photo of Carlos the Jackal‘schizophrenic’, they use the metaphor of the rhizome to challenge traditional notions of leadership and campaign. A rhizome (ginger, iris, couch grass) spreads unseen and underground, forming nodes which emerge unexpectedly, possibly in the ‘wrong’ garden. It is persistent and subversive, hard to dig up, a guerrilla plant (if you can de-couple that word from negative images of the Baader-Meinhof gang and Carlos the Jackal).

Nomad War Machine

In rhizomatic political action (as in rhizomatic learning), people – and things, if we reject ‘dominion’ – form and reform in ‘affirmative assemblages’ to become a nomad war machine, popping up all over the place to weaken the foundations of the capitalist machine/sausage-factory education system. Within this model, leadership takes on different forms at different times, people assemble around an energy, disband when the work is done, re-assemble elsewhere to do ‘the work’, rather than constructing themselves tiredly into the same old hierarchical frameworks. Social media affords a transport system to move the nomad war machine around much more effectively than Gilles and Felix ever imagined and I believe this is at the heart of some of the affirmative politics we are beginning to see.

Affirmative Politics

All this sounds very testosterone-laden and it is. Rosi exhorts us to understand all the histories of our thinking (battling that #whitecurriculum again) and these metaphors from Gilles and Felix arise from their work with Michel Foucault and before him Jean-Paul Satre, who thought and smoked Gauloises while Simone de Beauvoir did the photocopying with a young and starstruck Rosi. But posthumanism also draws on Baruch Spinoza, one of the most Image of Simone de Beauvoircapricious of all the Enlightenment thinkers, and he finds the affirmative in the every day. Our work is above all to identify and carry out positive practices and if their cartography (another posthuman concept and the metaphor Rosi uses for knowing all the histories of your subject) is Vitruvian, then it’s our job to bring in the ‘other’ through what we read, the people we seek out and with whom we assemble, to challenge ourselves over #whitecurriculum thinking and to ensure that our nomad war machines are always meaningfully diverse.

Examples of this kind of approach abound, but only when you start looking for them. Do you follow Upworthy, or even Russell Howard’s Good News, gentle political satire with a smile not a sneer? Have you seen the knitted scarves around the trees in Sheffield threatened with felling because there isn’t the money (where?) to maintain them? What about Free Hugs? Spoken Word? Some of the Occupy activity was affirmative (though the leadership structures not always), as were the singing women at Greenham Common back in the day. How about the challenging, amazing examples of refugee Image of yarn-bombed treesartwork such as Za’atari in Jordan, shared every day on Twitter (if you are looking in the right place). Or Lady Gaga’s ‘Born this Way‘ (listen to the words), or Beyonce (8), Banksy? Witty internet memes engage ‘non-political’ people in political debate, which is sometimes more nuanced and less binary than in days gone by. Pitch these against so-called grown-ups shouting at one another across the House of Commons…and go figure.


‘Becoming’ is the final piece of the jigsaw (I hope. There might be some more which have fallen under the table). Remember those rhizomatic assemblages, which form the ebb and flow of the nomad war machine? They combine in the energy of their action to make something new; put simply they learn from one another, they learn to ‘become’ each other to some extent and that’s how we break down the impact of othering that we’ve all grown up with. You might term this ’empathy’ but it’s more than that, it’s about blending bits of yourselves and you go away with that mingling still in you. Apologies for going all Game of Thrones, but it’s a bit like the old idea of becoming blood brothers (or sisters) by each cutting your palm. Possibly less painful, but in the act of recognising your own privilege and sense of entitlement, maybe not.

Becoming impacts on your identity,  permanently. That’s why it’s useful to do this work alongside keeping a reflexive account of what’s happening with you, as I’m doing here. Writing this has been a bit like giving birth (I have given birth, so I feel it’s OK to say that). This is not my PhD, but it feels like blogging first is the only way my PhD is going to get written, at least in my own voice.

Why is all this theory important? 

If you drifted off at the talk of Spinoza and co, you may have drifted back in when that cheery bloke on the telly Russell Howard was mentioned. Why is that? You’re as bright as anyone else reading this but it could be that the culture around you is anti-intellectual; as Frank Furedi asks, “Where have all the intellectuals gone?” If you’re feeling impostorish about reading philosophy/theory, that’s possibly because you, too, are not quite Vitruvian. Believe me, if you’d gone to Eton, you would only not be reading it because it didn’t interest you, not because you thought you wouldn’t get it. You’d have a complete sense of entitlement about that.

The language of theory is also tricky, because it is often unfamiliar and that feels excluding. Sometimes it is meant to be, but why should that matter? You don’t have to be friends with a philosopher, just learn from their thinking, stand on their shoulders, as it were, so that you can see further than they could. New concepts demand new words – or Poster of Noam Chomsky redefining anarchynew definitions of existing words – given that the language we have is part of the structures we want to undermine (a bit of Chomsky there). So read with a dictionary metaphorically in your hand and get over it.

Theory is important because it’s what drives us on through those times when going against the norm seems too much like hard work, when everyone’s moaning and you’re trying to be positive, when the bitterness rises and when you feel infected by the politics of envy or identity. There are powerful forces working hard to keep the status quo in place (9) – the media, political structures, the arms trade, the education system – hierarchies all over the place which, if we tackled them head-on, would be impossible to beat. Sometimes it’s easier to give in and go work for The Man. But theory connects us to something bigger, it connects us to thinking differently and reminds us that we are not alone.

Not that posthuman theory is easy to read, and this is where we come in. The concepts are so dense, so multi-layered, nuanced and counter-cultural, that it’s difficult to absorb what they mean (and how to use them). It took me seven months to figure out the nomad war machine (thanks @geogphil) and I’m still not quite there, though I’ve learned to be more comfortable with explaining Vitruvian Man. More of us need to dig into this stuff and Image of ancient mapwrite our own posthuman stories; stories with global cartographies – one of the criticisms of posthuman thinking, which most posthumanists accept, is that it currently operates from within the narrow confines of white European philosophy. We are where we are, but we need to keep pushing to hear othered voices. Thinking posthuman involves us taking the hegemonic (remember?) fetters off our minds.

And keeping affirmative.  I’ll leave you with Rosi Braidotti from her lecture last year, Spinoza Against Negativity:

“Once a year have your dose of Spinoza’s champagne.  He just makes me rock.”


(1) Question 2:  So, what does a posthuman research methodology look like?

(2) A period of (largely male (3), white, European) thinking in the 17th and 18th centuries, the foundations of which proved so influential over the next 200 years that we are only just realising that they were basically just one way of looking at the world.  (The novel Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder is a great – if humanistic – introduction to continental philosophy of this time).

(3) Women were involved.  Men got published though.

(4) Not just about race, though NUS Black Students did kick-start the campaign, but about Vitruvian ‘human’.

(5) Enlightenment thinkers such as Rousseau and Kant insisted that one could achieve ‘human’ through education.  They did not explain how education could make you become white – or male.

(6) But not any more, not really.

(7) Political scientists will argue nuances of difference, but this will do for now.

(8) When the bloke under the table is introduced to the concept of intersectionality. That.

(9) Have you been watching The Night Manager?  Episode 5:  The Permanent Secretary, “…her job is to preserve the status quo, whatever it takes.”


Want to read/see/hear more? Follow the links within the narrative and have a look at the ideas below.  Some are tougher to get into than others, some I’ve not nailed yet, but you might easily.  We are all different, don’t let The Impostor in!

Rosi Braidotti Punk Women and Riot Girrls

Rosi Braidotti Nomadic Theory (book)

Rosi Braidotti The Posthuman (book)

Noam Chomsky’s Website

Dave Cormier Open Education and Rhizomatic Learning

John Weaver Educating the Posthuman and Posthumanism and Educational Research (both these books are quite expensive, so try libraries or Google Scholar)

Frank Furedi Where have all the Intellectuals Gone? (book)

BBC Radio 4 In Our Time – Baruch Spinoza (podcast)

Frankie Goes to Hollywood – Two Tribes






The Sick Rose*

It’s been nearly a week since I published ‘Apples of Gold‘, written over an euphoric weekend of Writing Bootcamp.  Much has happened since, as a direct result of the Bootcamp experience opening up my thinking, and not all of it good, since along the way my actions have caused some measure of hurt to others.  A private apology will be forthcoming; this post is about exploring balance.

To recap, a creative pathway was opened up by the collective discipline of two days writing using the Pomodoro method, in community.  This resulted in some very positive outcomes:

  • an ‘opened out’, more readable and less turgid EdD research proposal (the original purpose), plus:
    • the text for half an e-book
    • the creative introduction of Bootcamp to Northern College, including a ‘Couch to 5k’ version
    • two incredible, and radically reworked, teaching days exploring ‘A New Professionalism’
    • the start of a crowdsourced process, to continue the ‘new professionalism’ work, potentially influencing education
    • a renewed commitment to regular writing
    • a surge of energy which has also led to some of the detailed work of programme management being completed with economy
    • creative discussions with many colleagues, all seeding ideas

My work energy has been incredible; I’ve worked longer, got up earlier, stayed up later.  I’ve also been more active on social media and been more attentive to (some) colleagues (but not others) and students.  Mind you, my house looks like a crack den and I was blinded by a migraine halfway through the week.  I’ve done no yoga.  I’ve not been running.  I’ve craved food, particularly the sugar that has replaced alcohol in #dryjanuary for me.  imgres-3

But along the way, something in my humanity has been blunted by the creative process and I don’t like this about myself.  What’s more, I didn’t even realise this until it was pointed out to me.  I have lacked judgement at times this week and this has caused others to feel hurt.

I want to do something about this.  I don’t want to go back into my creative shell, and I even more urgently don’t want to go around falling out with people.

So I turn to Google, the universal therapist.  “How can I stop myself behaving like an a*se in creative flow?”  Nothing, even without the asterisk.  Try this:  “How can I stop myself behaving badly in creative flow?”  The hits tell me more about society than they do about myself.  Apparently what everyone’s after is to ‘unleash’ their creativity.  Well I just unleashed mine and I’m not happy with the fallout from it.  I can find nothing about any negative side to creativity, until I self-pathologise and add ‘ADHD’ to the search terms. But we’re not going there.  This is about collective humanity and respectful behaviour. Neurodiverse people are not the only ones capable of behaving badly.

(When I ask Siri, s/he tells me about God.  Go figure).

I have people I can ask, creative people I know; and there’s always Twitter.  I ask myself The Amy Question**:  what do I already know that I’m going to find out when I start looking?  I know the answers:  keep doing the yoga, eat properly, breathe deeply, run some of that energy off, get some perspective and some sleep.  But next time it happens, will I remember what I learned this time?  I also need a critical friend.

As the daughter of a creative person, I know that this is totally a thing.  My artist mom’s bursts of creative thinking brought with them collateral damage, usually of me. She didn’t raise me, some good people did, so I don’t think this is learned behaviour.  But I don’t like it or want it in myself.  As I begin work in earnest on my EdD (the turgid research proposal was somehow accepted), maybe I’ll meet you along the road.  Here’s hoping I retain enough insight and critical friendship in my life not to rough you up, but to walk along with you.

*Or, ‘How do I stop behaving like an a*se when I’m in creative flow?’

**Kline, N. (2009). More Time to Think.  Burley-in-Wharfedale. Fisher King.

Apples of Gold

OK so I’ve not blogged for a really long time and I could spend a while beating myself up about that OR I could write about todays writing Bootcamp, organised by my good friend @cherylren at The University of

Last week, I “handed in*” my PhD research proposal.  The best word I could use to describe it is ‘turgid’.  Honestly, there’s no false modesty here (I can feel friends splitting their sides laughing that anyone might think there would be).  I know when I produce good work and I know when I produce howlers and I have literally never written like this in my life.  This little darling was hard-boiled, when usually I err on the side of the undercooked in every way.  It literally had more citations than actual words (thank goodness I learned APA6th at the knee of the redoubtable Katy Henderson, so I could get at least one thing right).  This is going to sound precious, but the fact is, a bit like childbirth was in my case (sorry Fraser), this baby wasn’t ready to be born.

That’s totally not about me resisting deadlines.  I’ve not missed a (final) deadline yet on my EdD course and it’s been important to me to change the habits of a lifetime with regard to the old blag.  What’s happened is that I’ve taken on something I have high hopes for but don’t really understand, I’ve read a million things and I’ve half-digested about 10% of them.  So in an academic way it’s a bit like what I find at the top of the stairs when my cat’s eaten grass.  An intellectual furball.

When I first got the date for Bootcamp, I felt sad that it had fallen six days after the proposal was due.  “I won’t have anything to write,” I moaned, naively.  In fact, the timing could not be more apposite.  Because what I’ve done today is unpack that tightly laced corset and let the curves of my thinking come spilling out.  And it’s been brilliant.

Bootcamp is based on the Pomodoro method – write with the internal editor turned off for 25 minutes, followed by a 5 minute break when you must not write, which becomes a 25 minute break after four go-rounds.  I upped the stakes by promising myself a run round the campus every break-time, even if that meant I had to turn up to Uni with my shot-putter legs on show (and mirth-filled colleagues on their MA study day in the next block). In the event, that aspiration was slightly hindered by a groin strain (yep, fell asleep in Reclined Cobbler), but I did manage two runs, lots of walks and a bit of yoga to offset the Maltesers and Milky Way.

About a dozen of us pitched up to the George Buckley Lecture Theatre: staff, students, colleagues, friends.  The welcome was warm; tea, coffee, biscuits, little Lego figures (and even an apology for their non-diversity, much welcomed in an anti-Vitruvian sense). Cheryl set the scene beautifully, and we started writing…

…and it was beautiful.  In fact it was a privilege, to share this endeavour with others.  A true Thinking Environment; not giving each other attention, perhaps, but sharing presence – though, informally, the five minute breaks gave an opportunity for mini-thinking sessions as we shared our refreshed thinking.  I hadn’t thought for myself once during the writing of the research proposal and I’d imagined that it might be difficult to start, but the flow came quickly, easily, as I unpacked sentence after sentence into my own tentative thoughts.  In fact – isn’t it strange? – I knew more than I thought I did and so, instead of a whole posthuman landscape that is unfamiliar and strange, I realise that there are landmarks I recognise that, quite simply, I can write about in my own words.  I can’t tell you what a relief that is to me.  In losing my voice, I had lost a lot of my creative confidence too.

Obeying the rules is essential and one of the things that always surprises me about myself is that when I choose to be within a set of rules I commit to them 100%.  I downloaded a Pomodoro app** to my phone – or you could bring that tomato-shaped egg timer from the back of your kitchen cupboard because that’s probably a ‘Pomodoro App’ too.  I loved the gentle ticking in my ear; when it’s time for a break a bell gently pings.  My friend @janejanewormald had an app on her laptop, but had the sound turned down, so hers just said ‘BUZZ’…

There’s no talking in the room and this was perfectly observed by participants; the gentle rustles, taps and rummages of productive work time were soothing and collegiate.  We set our own goals and could collect symbolic prizes when milestones were reached or whenever we wanted to reward ourselves for something; I feel inordinately proud of mine. The whole process works on carrot, not stick.

I’d kind of expected @cherylren to shout at us every twenty-five minutes (why I thought this, I’m not sure – it’s really not her style).  But we self-manage and that felt empowering too.  Why would you cheat yourself of a five minute reward, even if you were resisting the fun-size Maltesers? There was just one compulsory ‘all out’ when we were asked to shift out of the space; some people went for a walk; I joined a group doing a simple ‘at your desk’ yoga session.  For those who have experienced my anti-Zen ‘Les Dawson’ approach to playing the Tibetan Bowls, I promise you none of that!

By the end of the day,  I was totally in the reward zone and came perilously close to breaking #dryjanuary not because of stress (usually my alcohol trigger), but because I felt so pleasantly tired that a glass of wine in front of the television seemed like the nicest thing in the world…***

I wrote 3680 words.  I might have expected that.  But what I didn’t expect was how credible those words are.  Most of them might even stay.  Contrast this with the four months it previously took me to write 2225 words on the same piece of work, I was so mentally constipated.   I’m a plumber’s daughter, so brace yourself for a plunger analogy…nah.  You can work it out.  But this process is definitely the intellectual version of colonic irrigation 😉

I’m repeating the Bootcamp at Northern College today, this time as facilitator.  I don’t expect to get as much done, or be as elegant in my delivery as @cherylren.  And I won’t be running up the side of a hill in the snow.  But we’ll muddle though.  I hope to return with my reflexions of the day, in my next blog.

*we don’t even have words for some digital things.  “Uploaded” doesn’t sound nearly as portentous.

**Click here for a list of apps – I used (free) Pomodoro Keeper on my iPhone

***The thought of parting with £20 was too much so I had a cup of tea in the end.

The Journey Continues…

First assignment over and I didn’t blog as much as I’d intended.  I’m not going to fall back on the ‘too busy’ argument because I firmly believe you make the time you make, it’s a priorities thing.  More pertinent was that there was a point when the assignment consumed me; I could no longer be a bystander, I had to dive right in.

I was a watcher of my own learning for the longest time.  From September to November I read greedily (I have a 75 page annotated bibliography to prove it).  I doodled in a Word document occasionally, but I didn’t really commit until I began to write seriously in December.  And then I lived it.

This is different and I want to try a different way of studying.  No beach hut this time, not even any opportunity for study leave, so it needs to be afternoons here and there (orange cat, blanket, pot of tea, fire).  How can I make this pattern of study work for my elusive but obsessive ADHD focusing? Maybe the structure of the module suggests a way…a step-by-step jourCat wearing tea cosyney, recorded here, slowly building up each element of the assignment as fellow travellers until we all cross the finish line together.

It’s worth a try.  And so today, the first chance I have this half-term week, I have devoted the morning to getting into shape.  I’m taking the opportunity to improve my digital literacy at the same time – no way I’ll manage 75 pages of notes this time (as if that’s even a good thing.  I’m recognising that I got lost in my own essay the first time round).  So I’m heading into GoogleDocs to keep everything tidy and experimenting with DocHub to not only annotate papers but give me the potential to share them across the Community of Praxis*.  Opening a Word doc for “the essay” and choosing a Prezi template for “the presentation”.  Checking the assessment requirements.  And, finally, choosing the two pieces of research I’m going to contrast and compare for this module assignment.  They might not be the Holy Grail of opposites.  They might not even ‘work’.  But if I’ve learned one thing thus far, it’s that it’s OK to get in a knot…as long as I have the wits to work myself out of it again.

I’m sticking with Marxism and Actor-Network Theory (ANT).  I’m still not fully figuring out how each of them works, to drive a research intervention.  It’s still seeming to me as though they come into play in the analysis stage, pulling the strings of the researchers…is that unkind?  I ended the last assignment in a state of not knowing (and that was fine), so this is definitely going to be a walk without destination.  What will I learn today?

I’ve chosen an education topic which doesn’t bear particular relevance to my teaching context, because I don’t trust that my self-discipline is strong enough to prevent me getting drawn into the content.  Broadly, each considers the teaching of history and – explicitly or implicitly – the long reach of imperialism.  One article I sourced via a chance conversation in an ANT Facebook group (it’s like a secret society, I had to push my trouser leg up to join.  JOKE – but certainly I was getting nowhere Summon-searching ‘Actor-Network research’ and the like).  The other was a straightforward search using the terms ‘Marxism’, “Education’ and ‘History’ and it brought up a familiar name.  Many thanks to Josefine Raasch and Mike Cole for being my guinea pigs.

In the meantime, I’m reading some other stuff.  I would call myself a practical academic and this period of study runs on parallel tracks to my other endeavours, which are concerned with the run up to a General Election, as well as my work as a teacher educator.  So I’m reading about privilege and intersectionality, white work, queer theory, digital and academic resilience, distributed, ideas and social purpose leadership in amongst everything else.  This is throwing up some commonalities which are making my head hurt at present but I have a strong sense of the world changing, to drive me.  I’ll get there.  In the meantime, I’ll take a few steps forward, under my own steam.

*Graduates, colleagues, students and critical friends who share my passion for social purpose education, loosely gathering around the TeachNorthern programme at The Northern College.

Losing my ‘Religion’…

So there I was, some weeks ago now, excitedly trying a postmodernist identity on for size (Bladerunner!  John Cage! Actor-Network Theory!) and I found myself reading Marx. Finally reading about the meta-narrative I’ve blagged comradeship with all my life has brought into play a whole new set of behaviours, not least a kind of sullen, resistant lack of focus, which initially manifested itself in tweeting about sausage dogs and cleaning the house.  And then I ground to a halt…faced with an inability to find anything which told me what a Marxist approach to education is (rather than what it isn’t), I gave up rather quickly and put the books away.  Welcome back, Impostor Syndrome.

Why put myself through this?  I have two theoretical research strands to study for my first EdD assignment and I decided on Actor-Network Theory (ANT) right at the start; nothing I’ve read (whether I’ve understood it or not) has diverted me from this. There are plenty of other options for strand two which would engage me intellectually in their subtleties:  the ‘critical realism’ of Rob Moore, for example, or an exploration of Bourdieu.  I’d like that.  And yet, if I’m going to situate my thinking in my work at The Northern College – and if it’s my thinking, given the hegemonies I’m breaking free from – Marxism is the bloody great red elephant in the room.

The Northern College was founded in 1978 as the ‘Ruskin of the North’ (Barrett Brown, 2013).  The tortuous politics around its inception were schismatic left-wing ones; the College’s founding mission of providing second-chance, working-class education survives to this day, albeit translated somewhat uneasily to postmodern times.  The College continues to feint like a prizefighter thanks to the ‘Cinderella’ neglect of further education (Daly, Orr and Petrie, in press), somehow holding on and, in many senses, thriving, if an ‘unprecedented’ no-weaknesses Ofsted report is a measure of that (it could be collusion, had we not been so present as ourselves throughout the inspection).  Despite all our more or less successful attempts to ‘fit in’ and consequently not cut our own throat financially (Train to Gain was not our finest moment), the Northern College air remains dusty with Marxist hegemonies, Labour movement pride, working class history.  To finally face up to that and challenge it philosophically, after a life of academic ducking and weaving, has shaken my world.  I’ve spent the last few weeks feeling like a class traitor and there’s no doubt at all that I’ll have to get over that if I am going to get anywhere at all in my thinking.

Add to this a growing disaffection with the political system (and no clue how to do things differently) and some even more recent thinking prompted by the nauseating behaviours of some ‘Black Friday’ shoppers (which I am internalising as a kind of collective shame) and I realise I’m caught up in some kind of class angst.  Change is painful and the pain is limiting my thinking. I’m not quite sure how I’m going to do this, but I have to push on through.

Writing this has been excruciating, has taken weeks in fact – but enough.  Angst is pretty self-indulgent.  Time to think on.

Barrett Brown, Michael (2013). Seekers:  A Twentieth Century Life.  Nottingham.  Spokesman Press.

Daley, Maire, Orr, Kevin and Petrie, Joel. (in press). Further Education and the Twelve Dancing Princesses.  London.  Trentham Books.

Space travel’s in my blood, there ain’t nothing I can do about it…*

I spent last week on the beach at Wells-Next-the-Sea, almost literally the whole week as I had the joy of a rented beach hut to hurry to each morning, getting up early to make the most of the light and quiet before families arrived.  I am famously hard on laptops and daren’t risk my precious Mac anywhere near sand, so instead of writing my promised 500 words (and last week’s!) I took the armful of printing I’d probably have otherwise swerved and headed east.  The non-tech approach extended to takeout coffee and a bacon sarnie and that pesky useless yellow flipchart marker, always left over from the Berol pack.  Great for some good old-fashioned highlighting.


These practical fixes changed the landscape of my studies last week and I journeyed to places I don’t believe I would ever have reached.  I’m excited by how much uncertainty I’m stirring up in my own thinking.

James Avis provided us with journal articles which fought against one another but not (on the whole) dichotomously; the very best (in my view) avoided the binaries and dialogically explored the edges of contention. Not that I didn’t also enjoy the diatribes (thanks Stephen Ball :-))  I would never have read this deeply and this intensively without feeling the need to write stuff down, had I not been surrounded by lovely invasive Anglian sand.

I had two lightbulb moments.  The first concerned myself and my capacity to focus.  The part of ADHD that gets overlooked is the ability to completely zone in on an engaging task.  I can totally do this with a Rebus novel or a Community boxed set.  I would not have thought that academic reading – of this complexity – would do that for me.  It’s been a joy to surprise myself and slay some demons.  And, funnily enough, the more I read, the easier it got (“der-doi!”).  I would still struggle to define epistemological in a quick-fire round, but I can spell it on the second attempt now and I skim past it with a sense of understanding just enough.  Ontology I’ve got nailed.  I read enough to start to figure what was easier and what was harder…and then to appreciate some of the harder stuff (Patti Lather, the late Rob Moore) more than the easier – or should I say more familiar – stuff (Mike Cole).

And that brings me to the second, more profound, of my lightbulbs.  I grew up in a socialist mining community in the 1970s and 1980s.  Like many of my generation, I would claim to have been politicised by the Miners’ Strike, though in truth I breathed in Labour politics with the sooty Mexborough air.  I moved seamlessly through Red Wedge, trade union activism, wilderness, euphoria and unease with New Labour, washing up at Northern College, a former stately home cut from the same cloth as those NUM banners we proudly display. Some of my best friends are middle-class – now – but my home and almost certainly my habitus remain working-class hero…and much of the guilt I carry around with me is about never really fitting in.

My most recent foray into Labour politics crashed and burned like all the others – I couldn’t bear it – and I’m not doing so well on the trade union front.  And yet my work is radical, with collectivism at its heart.  What’s going on?

What’s going on is that I have lived my life in a hegemony.  Of course, I’ve lived my life in many hegemonies, but most of them are obvious once you start looking.  But this one…it’s one of my own, isn’t it, one I was born into and I have never been able to see it before, despite all my resistance to binary thinking.  I was born into standpoint (socialist) politics, a philosophy that preached certainties.  I have occasionally switched standpoints, but I have never before even contemplated that there could be a landscape so complex and mutable as to make standpoint not be a thing.

It’s taken about seven years for me to catch up with myself intellectually.  This is not about having new favourite authors.  And it’s certainly not about not having socialist views.  I don’t think my personal politics have changed.  It’s deeper, it’s an identity thing.  I am released.

Of course, it all bears more thinking about.  It’s much more than nailing my colours to postmodernism.  But this feels like space travel to me.  Something has happened that has liberated not my thinking – yet – it’s all too confusing, but my potential for thinking.  It’s liberated my mind.

*Got it?  Another Girl, Another Planet by The Only Ones.  Pure class.

Reality Bites

Finding time to study is something that my students constantly battle with; all are following in-service programmes of teacher education, juggling work, home, family and, in many cases, caring responsibilities.  I, too, went back into adult education as a (soon to be) single parent with a small child (in fact I enrolled on a Master’s in Public Health the day before I was ‘confined’).  Working obsessively in the day job, I share their anxieties about finding the time and space to study.  In fact, I am ending the week with more of a difficulty around stopping studying and getting on with the marking I have to do!  But it’s not been an easy path.

Twice during the week I got my books out and immediately fell asleep.  Although studying in bed in the afternoon at the end of a tiring week was probably not a good idea (!), I have learned that carving out time in my diary is not discipline enough.  It needs to be good quality time, time when I’m rested and able to focus on difficult words and concepts without dropping off.  Is that even possible?  As someone with attention-deficit issues, my life is disciplined by self-imposed rules – otherwise I’d stay in bed all day or just drift around the house half-doing things.  Patterns are emerging, which I hope will helpfully govern my studies:

– commitment to six hours’ studying a week, including during holiday times.  This stuff is way too hard for me to do the last minute winging it I’ve got away with before.

– logging out of all social media except Twitter before I begin studying (I’m using Twitter to share thinking/develop critical community around my research topic).  This also means a ceremonial switch from my staff Unimail login to my student one…

– reading through a chapter once, then working back through it, making detailed notes.  I’ve found this means I really process what I’m reading, instead of simply copying out soundbites.

– if I start to blur, switch books or articles.  It does wake up my thinking.  I can only push my focus so far.

– commitment to writing 500 words a week on my assignment, and a strict rule about not writing this blog (comes easy to me) until those hard words are down on the page.  Even if they are rubbish (there, I’ve said it).

Having experienced VLE discussion board tumbleweed over a number of years, I was also delighted to find an online community which is actually being used and where blogging was a topic under discussion.  The posts challenged me to think through why I’ve chosen to blog my EdD experience:  is it a solipsistic action, or am I still using it as a pedagogical device? Certainly I can’t claim to be intentionally sharing my experience for the benefit of others, unlike the wonderfully generous Pat Thompson in Patter:  That realisation shifts me back towards solipsism but I don’t think it’s quite that either, though my focus will benefit from self-reflexive activity I’m sure.  There’s something in me which deeply values openness which I would like to explore more fully through these pages another time.

This week my reading and thinking, when I’ve managed to stay awake, has been largely around Actor-Network Theory, or ANT. I’m not ready to go public with articulating my understanding of this approach because it’s so challenging to my way of seeing the world (my ontology?) that it’s going to take a while to process through.  But it’s been good to already make a connection via Twitter with other interested individuals; the opportunity to talk more about ANT is one I’m hopeful about pursuing once I’ve mastered the basics.

Reading this week

Fenwick, Tara and Edwards, Richard (2010) Actor-Network Theory in Education Abingdon Routledge

And to explore

Actor-Network Theory – Bruno Latour, John Law, Michel Callong