Academic Research and ‘Giving Voice’ – An Inherent Contradiction?

@jillberry raised a really interesting point the other day. Academic is on one level so ‘right on’ in its pursuit of giving voice to the voiceless and its treatment of interviewees not as ‘subjects’ but as ‘participants’. And yet, for those of use who choose to join academia, it is, quite literally, necessary to learn another language in order to ‘belong’.

I’ve always hated ‘cliques’. I remember being aware of them from around my daughter’s age, and it saddens me to see her equally sensitive to any perception of being ‘left out’ at the age of eight. I hated them through school. I hated them at university; the green wellies and the loud chanting a declaration that you are not ‘one of them’ and I’m uncomfortable with them to this day, from the pilates group in the playground to the whisperings in the staffroom. When I teach teenagers, I ensure the quieter, more isolated ones feel just as special – because they are.

So, when I first started my research, it was something of a shock when my carefully honed topic (Level 8 criteria, Emma. Don’t try to change the world today, Emma. Your focus must be manageable enough for in-depth analysis, Emma) seemed to actually cause slight offence to some. ‘The influence of parenthood on teacher identity’. I was quite proud to hit on this topic, somewhere around Junction 17 of the M25 after a long, rainy November seminar. ‘Something you live, breathe and eat for breakfast’, advised my first supervisor. This was it – this could only be it.

‘What about teachers with dogs?’ responded my less-than-impressed line manager, who clearly saw my new new pet-project as flighty and a potential distraction. ‘What about carers?’, asked another friend, visibly upset that her own daily challenges weren’t being explored. (‘One day, if you’re lucky, you’ll be one of us’, said the course director, somewhat patronisingly.) Another child-free colleague probed a bit further. So, flexible working hours for parents? Time off when your child is ill or in a play. What about the rest of us? When do we get time off?

I still hate cliques. I’m not comfortable with perceptions of exclusivity that inevitably attach themselves to my research. I want to be clear that I’m writing about my own limited, flawed experience, and one which has parallels with many others. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t value and respect alternative perspectives, and wouldn’t write about it if I could. I am also highlighting these areas and more as possible research opportunities – anyone up for it?!

I just hope that any focus on work-life balance will benefit as many of ‘us’ as possible. Otherwise there’s no real point. And yes, I’m acutely aware of the contradictions and tensions this project brings, and will be writing a chapter to this effect, when I eventually stop distracting myself with blogs…

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