Monthly Archives: February 2014

Capital bonding


There was a top notch opportunity for students and staff from Solent to meet the Southampton Creatives network last night. In a regular event that Steve Cross from Rareloop has been central in developing, local agencies Carswell Gould, Etch3 Men & a Suit and fivebyfive (to name but four) were generous in spending time with students and a number of internship opportunities were discussed. The maze game that had been developed by a team from 3 Men & a Suit that day at #hacksoton (an event hosted at Etch) proved to be the perfect ice-breaker. These events are a great example of the inclusive micro-culture in Southampton where creative agencies from a range of disciplines are keen to support emerging talent and to represent the vibrant community of practice as a real alternative to going up to London. Opportunities like this serve to further enrich the social capital of our students, particular in developing bonds with local practitioners and to enable them through advice and opportunity to move from the ‘pre-periphery’ (Fuller, 2007).

Fuller, A. (2007) Critiquing theories of learning and communities of practice. In J. Hughes, N. Jewson and L. Unwin, Communities of Practice: Critical Perspectives, pp. 17-29. Oxford: Routledge.



Serendipity. My favourite word and I enjoying recognising its catalysing effects. Having noticed L’Etang‘s Sports Public Relations in the library’s ‘new’ section, I signed it out to skim through over lunch. It fell open on the final chapter which considered a philosophical framework that applied habitus to the discipline and context in an appealingly direct way. This in turn led me to Ihlen (2007, pp.269-274) who has researched how public relations strategies might be used by organisations (actors)  ‘struggling and competing to position themselves in so-called fields with the help of different forms of symbolic and material resources, and L’Etang (in Edwards and Hodges, 2011, pp.17-24) who sees opportunities in investigating the ‘role public relations plays in the social construction of reality’ and encourages an anthropological approach in exploring ‘micro-cultural formations’. The theme is developed by  Edwards (2011) who reflects on public relations activities that are ‘felt deep within the fabric of society and affect our habitus: the beliefs, values and attitudes that we hold about our roles as consumers, voters, citizens, students…’. She goes on to critique public relations from a socio-cultural perspective and in particular the dominant values and acquisition of symbolic capital that are particularly suited to the dominant ‘PR personality’ and social circumstances. I hadn’t considered the impact of an organisation on the dispositions of publics in this way before – habitus was too intangible. It is encouraging to find related research and the readings have helped organise my thoughts around related concepts of field and capital. The final piece in today’s puzzle led me back to a employability capital compass model that Solent is developing and which is heavily influenced by ‘Bourdeauvian perspectives’ (to borrow from Edwards). In the model and using ideas developed by Puttnam (2000), social capital is further divided into bonding capital (links with people like me) and bridging capital (links with people unlike me) which very neatly coincides with some of my initial ideas on researching field habitus and takes me a little further forward.

Edwards, L. and Hodges, C. (2011) Public Relations, Society and Culture. London, Routledge.

Ihlen, O. (2007) Building on Bourdieu: A sociological grasp of public relations. Public Relations Review.

L’Etang, J. (2013) Sports Public Relations. London, Sage.

Puttnam, D. (2000) Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York, Simon and Schuster, 2000.

Makers teaching

Having had a little time to reflect on a presentation by Professor Susan Orr I have begun to consider some possible implications for my research. Particularly the role practitioners might play when engaging with students – or makers teaching (this borrows heavily from Susan’s ideas on making teaching/teaching making – the tensions in being a practitioner/educator and the status of practical subjects). These interactions often take place in agency boardrooms (see below) and provide a range of insights into the field habitus of the industry, or to borrow the idea of dichotomies – sites of experience/experiencing sites. The physical evidence helps define the personality of the agency from decor, displays of awards, examples of work or motivational exultations. A couple of years ago a female creative team were pitching their ideas to an agency to win an internship. They had seen that nearly all the team had beards so they drew on their own with markers before presenting. Of course they won and went on to work at the agency for 6 months before taking their next step.




In reading Dall’Alba and Barnacle (2007), I recognise the importance of added layers of meaning to what I have been doing so far. In particular how ‘ways of being’ builds on concepts of habitus (and particularly field habitus that chimes with ‘situating and localising knowledge within specific manifestations of practice’) and the suggestion that there is something more intrinsic than skills development. As I write this I am completing a Self Evaluation Document as part of Periodic Academic Review, which of course has a major focus on the acquisition of skills and the measuring of success through recruitment, retention and achievement. At the same time I am updating course blogs on activities last week that offered students the chance to meet alumni who had embarked on their advertising careers and who’s very attitude showed how in as little as six months they were becoming advertising creatives and planners and had moved on from the student habitus. The industry was letting them learn what couldn’t be taught. Through this lens I see planned Taster Day activities as an opportunity for applicants, in a temporary and limited way to learn a little of what it is to be a student, to sample the particular student habitus.

“An ontological shift means engaging with being-in-the-world differently. As dedicated learning environments, higher education institutions are ideally situated to do this. Not only can they provide a forum for challenging taken-for-granted assumptions, but also promote ways of being that integrate knowing, acting and being. Indeed, educational institutions cannot help but promote ways of being.” Dall’Alba and Barnacle (2007)

Dall’Alba, G. and Barnacle, R. (2007) An ontological turn for higher education. Studies in Higher Education 32 (6), December, pp679-691.


A summary of my initial thoughts draws (no pun) me back to the visual. Particularly in the use of perspective of the landscape, fields and composition of trees – as I write this it occurs to me that the author’s code for a ‘field of green’ has so many other connotations in visual discourse. So, the imperative to draw what you see not what you ‘know to be there’ is a familiar concept and serves as a warning to be aware of preconceptions.

Another related and reflective observation is that I often create rich, detailed visual stories in my imagination, often as a form of rehearsal for a new task to be undertaken (for example building a fence from scratch, including the selection of timber, measuring, marking, cutting and assembly) though entirely imaginary they seem real and are referred back to as the actual task unfolds. This rehearsal is also perhaps why I am beginning to consider existing sets of photographs from a visual ethnography perspective as ‘practice’:

Now, considering my research, my background beliefs and knowledge are being formed as I read the literature and evaluate perspectives and discourses. In turn these are influencing methodologies, paradigms and even preconceptions of the environmental factors around my research. Would it be too simplistic to think that the situational justification is the means by which you test your belief justification constructed in this way? So, I think I am beginning to know more about the role(s) of the researcher and paradigms for carrying out doctoral research (in some ways the equivalent of rehearsing in the imagination) which itself provides me with an awareness of the breadth and depth of concerns and approaches appropriate to the task.

Concurrently, my reading of theories of learning is leading me towards an investigation into action or experiential learning in the context of industry working with HE to develop ‘fusion skills’ or the synthesis of the creative and the digital. So I am beginning to put in place belief justifications (I guess this is largely a subconscious process) and to think about the situational justification for those beliefs that will serve to build knowledge.

Facilitating applied research

Part of my role is to oversee ethics approvals for a wide range of applied research proposals for a faculty which focuses on the creative industries. There are an endless stream of innovative projects which show a great deal of creativity and innovation that challenge more traditional academic research. It struck me that the language and resources used in relation to these projects sometimes fails to take into account the breadth of what might be considered research and often relates to established paradigms that have no real meaning for the student. It would be important not to stifle these imaginaitive approaches, but equally there are also some very important ethical considerations that need to be fully considered by the student and taken into account in the research design (and to recognise important research-skills learning outcomes). As a result I have begun to develop a website that provides advice, guidance and exemplars (in time case studies too) taking into account the range of projects and forms of participation, while providing flexible templates and interpretations that will be more readily applied by the student.


The Paradigm Wars and their aftermath

Nathaniel Gage was a renowned educational psychologist who at the very end of his career published ‘The Paradigm Wars and Their Aftermath’ within which he envisioned three outcomes for educational research. This was written in 2009, the year before he died, which adds poignance to the reading, particularly as his conclusion placed the answer to his question in the hands of ‘us’.

“The answer to the future lies with us, with you. What you do in the years ahead will determine whether the wars continue, until one paradigm grinds the others into the dust. Or, on the other hand, whether pragmatic philosophical analysis shows us the foolishness of these paradigm wars and the way to an honest and productive rapprochement between the paradigms” Gage (2009)

One might also imagine that his reflection on a career that was well into its swing by 1947, would not fully take into account the rising importance of social media research and the impact it would have as we moved on from 2009 to 2014. As Chris Anderson, editor-in-chief of Wired, wrote at about the same time:

“This is a world where massive amounts of data and applied mathematics replace every other tool that might be brought to bear. Out with every theory of human behavior, from linguistics to sociology. Forget taxonomy, ontology, and psychology. Who knows why people do what they do? The point is they do it, and we can track and measure it with unprecedented fidelity. With enough data, the numbers speak for themselves.” Anderson (2008) in Williamson (2014)

It’s pretty clear which paradigm Anderson thinks has ground the other into the dust. Perhaps it is not only the availability of ‘big data’ but the development of algorithms that increasingly deliver data to the researcher that are creating paradigms that Gage wouldn’t recognise.

“No more searching, no more wasting time reading the wrong things or looking in the wrong places, no more aimless flâneurs wandering around libraries or flicking through e-journals to see what they might find. None of this will be needed because the power of algorithms, as sociologist Scott Lash has put it, will be reshaping the academy. These algorithms will streamline, predict, make decisions for us and do work on our behalf, taking some of the agency from researchers and research processes – and making it their own.” Beer (2012)

It is easy to recognise the influence of Google and Wikipedia on student research and Beer goes on to ponder whether Powerpoint is influencing how lectures are delivered. To what extent are decisions being suggested or even built in to the tools that we use? How often are we invited to fill in a SurveyMonkey questionnaire which has been distributed through Twitter or Facebook? These norms are running deep through the academy and offer opportunities for positivists, interpetivists and philosophers alike to explore a world that is increasingly categorised, tagged, linked, followed, liked, shared and ‘metricized’.

“So the current big data tools aren’t up to the job. While a brash, young, ‘social media analytics’ field has grown, it hasn’t moved us much closer to any insight. The numbers are getting bigger and bigger, and the analysis shallower and shallower. They can measure the easy things – likes, retweets, followers – but we don’t really know what they mean for people. Attempts to measure sentiment – ‘positive’, ‘negative’ and ‘neutral’ – are better at producing pretty graphs than serious, rigorous research.” Miller (2014)

The above quote was the catalyst to a huge project to be launched soon by the Demos Centre for the Analysis of Social Media or CASM. Using 63 algorithms to interpret sentiment in Tweets ‘like sluice gates, controlling the flow of some tweets into deeper levels of the architecture, and siphoning off the rest into a waste pool’ . The intention to explore ‘clear clusters of concern and interest’ surrounding ‘Twitcidents’ great and small. Amusingly, the technology was tested by attempting to forecast the X Factor result each week, but the centre has a more earnest remit to  produce reliable, usable and ethical social media research.

Anderson, C. (2008) The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete. Wired 07 [Internet]. Available from: Quoted in Williamson, B. (2014) The death of the theorist and the emergence of data and algorithms in digital social research. Impact of Social Sciences [Internet]. LSE, 10 Feb. Available from: <>

Beer, D(2012) Leave the thinking to us. Times Higher Education, 30 August [Internet]. Available from:>

Gage, N. L. (2009) The Paradigm Wars and Their Aftermath: A “Historical” Sketch of Research on Teaching since 1989. Educational Researcher 18 (7), pp. 4-10.

Miller, C. (2014) The Promise of Social Media. Demos Quarterly, Issue 1, Autumn/Winter [Internet]. Available from: