Considering Self and Identity in reading and writing

This year has started in a whirlwind of teaching, reading and writing.  Teaching has been rewarding , and planning for the next part of the teaching year has been progressing well, collaborating with old and new colleagues.  I have read a few blogs (that RSS feed to my email is working really well) and among them I have enjoyed thinking about action and starting tasks: Beginnings. I also liked Patter’s recent post on considering a blogging identity, it resonated with me mostly because I consider this blog as my professional/academic face, and also because I am constantly considering the ‘self’ in my students and studies…self and identity is proving very complex to pin down.

In my academic reading I have been re-reading Burkitt’s (2002) exploration of Foucault’s ‘Technologies of the Self’, which has lead me back to considering Foucault (1988). *For those not familiar with this work, the next few sentences outline the main ideas in this article, though I truly am skimming the surface.

  • Burkitt explains the idea of ‘technologies of self’ in terms of habitus, based on Aristotle’s interpretation of ‘self’ as our activity and dispositions. Burkitt continues to develop his ideas with reference to Aristotle and Heidegger to include in ‘technology’ the ‘machinery of production’ and ‘the knowledge and skills’ (pg 222) humans use to produce or create anything. It is challenging to the 2013, everyday, interpretation of ‘technology’, though it does highlight that the ‘new technologies’ we use in our day to day lives are merely tools to help us to express ourselves through interactions in social spaces. For example this blog: hard to do without the laptop and the internet, though I would probably be writing using the ‘technology’ of pen and paper in a private journal had this forum not  been available. The internet offers a more authentic audience than a private journal.  Burkitt then explores the idea of habitus being latent, until we are challenged in some way to reflect upon our actions and motives. The implications this has in social life, interactions and even education are explored in this article. (That’s a pretty quick skim….the article is referenced below should you wish to read further…)**

Considering these fundamental works in light of my own study and methodology has been exciting. I was reminded by Burkitt of many great names in the field and this has led me to ponder when I first encountered philosophy outside of a university lecture.  Nearly 20 years ago I read “Sophie’s World” by Jostein Gaarder, this book helped me to connect with philosophy (so much so I still remember the key philosophers). I would recommend this book to the ‘uninitiated’ as it gives a good overview of western philosophy, and is written in a creative fashion that gets you questioning reality itself.

In terms of writing, my literature review is starting to take shape, and with my confirmation on the horizon I feel I am making good progress in setting the foundations of my research identity.

Until next time

Fiona T

* to ** added in response to reader feedback, on 28/1/13


Burkitt, I. (2002). Technologies of the Self: Habitus and Capacities. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 32(2), 219–237. doi:10.1111/1468-5914.00184

Foucault, M. (1988). Technologies of the Self. (L. H. Martin, H. Gutman, & P. H. Hutton, Eds.). USA: University of Massachusetts Press.

Gaarder, J. (1995). Sophie’s World (English.) London.


Teaching isn’t about test scores.

Today’s Blog is a little late, as we were away from our usual internet connection and 130kms from home visiting family.

While taking some time out this weekend I was reflecting on blogs I have recently read. This one below, from an American Teacher, reflects on the multitude of roles a teacher takes on. It is  a nice article about the broader ideas of teaching and learning, the global citizen aspect and what a teacher has ‘gained’ from this. Teaching is not always about test scores, it is about nurturing and challenging young people to be their best. It highlights the rewards and adventures of working with students, who shape you as a person as much as you shape them. Have a read, feel free to share your reflections in my comments below.

Teaching is Beyond the Classroom | Bucket List Publications.

Until next week,



Stories and Narratives in Education

First I would like to thank all my new ‘likers’ from Facebook and those who have found me via google (seems the evernote posts are quite popular). For those who would like to know of new posts from this blog, you can follow me on twitter (fiona_trapani) or ‘like’ my facebook page (!/pages/My-Paperless-PhD/204188786308872 ) for up dates.

Now to this weeks Blog, following on from last week on methodology…

I have always loved stories. Stories from books, TV and people around me have always fascinated me. Perhaps that’s part of what drew me to teaching; the fact that working with and getting to know people would mean sharing my stories with them, and having their stories shared with me. I was definitely excited when I began my Master’s studies and found that my supervisor was also interested in stories. Our research group explored stories from interview data, and then probed deeper into the meanings of the interactions and resulting actions. In our methodology we go beyond simply ‘re-telling’ stories told to us. We use positioning theory, umwelt and a few other analysis tools to present the lived world of our research subjects.

The area of inquiry is termed ‘narrative inquiry’ (   Narrative Inquiry has grown over the last 20 years to be used broadly across disciplines and cultures. One of the foundation papers is that by Clandinin and Connelly titled: ‘Teachers professional knowledge landscapes: Teachers stories; stories of teachers, school stories, stories of schools.’ Despite it being written 15 years ago, it still has much to bring to defining the spaces used by people to disclose their stories, especially in professional situations. Their work is as much a foundation for my past studies as it is for the study I am about to embark upon. What follows is a very brief overview of some main ideas in ‘Narrative Research’.

Clandinin and Connelly describe three main types of Narratives that people tell, with specific reference to schools, though I am sure these are transferable to other work places and professions. First there are the stories presented to parents and the wider community, these are called ‘cover stories’, and may be presented through things like newsletters and advertisements. Second are the stories shared with students and other teachers, these are called ‘secret stories’. Third are the stories of teachers that are driven by policies and rules within the school, known as ‘sacred stories’ these may only be shared with select colleagues. More detail is given in a recent article by Jean Clandinin

An example of the above story types is that the things you tell different people in your life will change, depending on the person you are talking to and the place you are in. The conversations you have with your boss, or a colleague, will be different to those you have with your best friend. Sometimes you will be giving a ‘cover story’: “yes, I love my job and don’t mind working late”, sometimes it will be the ‘secret story’: “He’s asked me to work late again, why can’t he be more orgainsed?”,  or the ‘sacred story’: “He’s always asking me to work late, I can’t wait till I get that other job and get my life back”.  Can you pick who the Narrator is talking to by the type of story? Again, this example is brief and obvious. When working with conversational interview data the analysis is much more involved and detailed.

I was pleased, in a recent blog from educator Jane Nicholls, to see her pondering the use of these stories to continue to explore the professional knowledge landscapes of teachers with reference to ICT: *** ICT U Can!: Professional knowledge landscapes. I read her blog and felt that Narrative Research is an amazing field to be a part of. I have since (in the last few weeks) found may other articles using these story types to shed light on the professional interactions of teachers in many different settings, subjects, countries and cultures. There is even an emerging branch focusing upon written narratives and conversations from journals, email and social media, which I think is also quite exciting.

So, this week, try and reflect on who you are talking to and the version of the story you are telling. Is it a cover story, secret story or a sacred story? How much of your life narrative are you really sharing with others?

Next week’s Blog will feature a couple of recipes…not sure if they will be quick things to cook, or bulk things to cook, but one things for sure, they will be tasty 🙂

Until next week,

References: (in addition to in text links)

Clandinin, DJ & Connelly FM (1996) Teachers professional knowledge landscapes: Teachers stories; stories of teachers, school stories, stories of schools. Education Researcher, 25 (3) pp 24-30

Analysis tools: Positioning Theory and Pronoun Grammars

An important part of any thesis is the methodology…how you are going to gather and analyse the data of interest in your study. For me this is an easy decision, I will be using a small range of narrative analysis tools, building on those that I used to analyse interview data from my Masters’ thesis. There are a few facets to this, that I will present in my blog over the next few weeks. One of the key theories though is that of our ‘guru’ Rom Harre, ( and Van Langerhove, 1999): Positioning theory and Pronoun grammars.

I love a good story. Peoples’ stories fascinate me. It is no surprise then that my data will be what is known in research as ‘narrative data’. I will be recording interviews (using Evernote audio) and analysing the conversation that I have had with the interviewee. At the moment I am exploring the difference between ‘conversations’  and ‘interviews’….basically I think that conversations are more relaxed and will lead to more of the honest data I would like, as opposed to a highly structured interview where my subject is in a spotlight.

Put simply, the conversation data gathered is analysed using a very fine grained process, looking at who has said what, how they fit into the conversation (and the professional landscape) and the sorts of pronouns they use to ‘position’ themselves within the interview. So, if someone uses ‘I’ a lot, perhaps they fell very much in control of the conversation and the action being spoken about. If they use ‘we’ there is a sense of team work and shared responsibility. These are very basic examples, and examples of this analysis can be found in my previous thesis, Teachers’ Umwelten in a Middle School. You can also search or generally on the web for other examples from many other researchers. I have even found some research recently looking at how positioning theory and pronoun grammars can be used to analyse written narratives, like blogs and social media conversations.

In terms of the ‘professional landscape’ ( I will be researching within education), I also need to disclose the participants (and my) position. I am a teacher and teacher educator, in some cases I will be interviewing people I have worked with before, and have personal and professional relationships with. In other cases I will be working with people I haven’t really met before. The way these conversations will flow will be different, as everyone brings with them varied ideas and experiences. This methodology considers all of these as important dynamics within the analysis.

In my previous work, the idea of Harre’s (1993,1997) ‘umwelten’ was also pivotal. This German word means ‘environment’ and allows an extra dimension of the conversation to be included and considered in the analysis. umwelten is presented by Harre as a combination of the physical and social space where the interview takes place. So, for example, you need to present and consider the general goings on of the day that lead to the interview (was it a full teaching day? or an excursion day? or a day where they felt a bit ill?) , it is also worth considering the location, an interview with a teacher in their office will yield a different conversation to an interiew in the back of a working classroom, or in the principal’s office.  Time and place is a big consideration, and always we are trying to get a quiet, relaxed interview.The social space also links to Positioning Theory, especially in a group interview, do these people know each other well, do they work together, do they even like each other? All of these things will influence the conversation.

A further aspect of my methodology includes narrative story types, and I will present this in next weeks blog.

It is worth thinking about your everyday personal and professional conversations, and the ‘umwelten’ they take place in over the next week. Consider whether in your own life you can see the difference mood, location, time and physical space make a difference to the conversations you have with others.

Until next week, may your conversations be interesting 🙂



Harrè, R (1993) The Social Being (2nd ed). Blackwell Publishers. Oxford.

Harrè, R (1997) Forward to Aristotle: A Case for a Hybrid Ontology. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 27 (2/3), 172-191.

Harre, R & van Langenhove, L (1999) Positioning Theory: moral contexts of intentional action. Blackwell Publishers. Oxford. (Chapters 1 & 2)

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