CIRE student members present at the annual SWDTP Student Conference 2018

“This is my very first blog entry. I saw it fitting to write about something close to my heart, my research and the shared experiences of researching I am currently having with my colleagues. This maybe a very descriptive entry but I think this is a start of me blogging and I believe that the CIRE blog is the best place to start as this is a platform which has given me voice, encouragement, and so much self-growth”


By Aminath Shiyama

This years’ annual student conference organised by the South West Doctoral Training Partnership (SWDTP) was held on the 14th November 2018 in Bristol at the lovely venue of Brunel’s SS Great Britain. This year, the theme for the conference was Beyond Research: Society, Collaboration and Impact. Among the six presenters from the University of Bristol’s School of Education, three were CIRE student members.

Aminath Shiyama (third year PhD student), Leanne Cameron (third year PhD student), and Beatrice Gallio (final year PhD student) presented at the conference, sharing experiences from their research work and how they are learning to navigate the intricacies of researching and communicating research work in (un)familiar contexts. Below are overviews of these presentations.


Aminath (Shimmi) in her presentation shared her fieldwork experiences working collaboratively with primary science teachers in the Maldives. Though collaborative approaches were presented as the ‘best-practice’ methods that guided her research design in developing ways of working with teachers as co-researchers in pedagogic innovations, her experiences in the field demonstrated somewhat different. Using quotes from her reflective journal, she shared instances where her expectations clashed with the realities of the field. Differing expectations, constant changes in plans at the schools, and clashing identities were the realities she had to navigate. Though some of these were unexpected, as researchers we have to learn to make a compromise of the situation, learn from it, and identify meaningful ways in which such clashes can impact our research mindset and the data that is generated in the process. To do so, she suggested that as researchers, it is important to construct a mutual understating of our chosen research approaches in tandem with our participants, be empathetic to the context teachers are working with, and have a positive outlook on the trajectories the research is taking on despite of the challenges that we face. The key is embracing the challenges and explore and learn the contextual relevance of the methodologies and methods we choose for our research.


Leanne presented about her dilemmas of negotiating identity(ies), reciprocity, and the associated need for constant reflexivity in her fieldwork with teachers in Rwanda. She shared anecdotes from her fieldwork to illustrate the ongoing challenge of mismatch between her and her participants, including a mismatch of expectations and how her own identity was itself differently interpreted: participants viewed her according to her ‘previous’ identity as a teacher trainer rather than as a researcher, which made her view of reciprocity very different than that of her participants. As such unexpected issues are often part-and-parcel of fieldwork, Leanne recommended that we talk more explicitly about fieldwork and what it entails and proposed a simple framework for considering the researcher, the ‘researched’ and the interaction of the two. For our physical and emotional wellbeing, we need to explore fieldwork beyond terms such as that it is ‘messy’ and ‘challenging’ and unpack the possible issues and dilemmas fieldwork may bring us. She closed her presentation suggesting a mindful hands-on tool for researchers that can be used before, whilst, and after fieldwork. Leanne recommended that we ask ourselves three key questions regarding who we are, what we need, and what we offer. We can aim it at ourselves as researchers, present it to the participants, and consider the way each party is looking at the other, thus enabling some level of mutual understanding.

Beatriz’s presentation was about engaging policymakers in academic research, drawn from her experiences as a PhD intern at the Welsh Government. Contributing her quantitative data analysis skills for analysing the relationship between well-being and natural resources, Beatriz learnt a different angle for research impact. She shared with us five key learning experiences on how to improve the communication of academic findings with policymakers. First, she suggested making the analysis and results relevant to policymakers, possibly by connecting them to the current legislation, which enhances the chances for policymakers to take meaning from the results and engage with research. Second, as policymakers work in multidisciplinary teams, she learnt that her analysis and associated recommendations need to be ‘discipline-proof’ so that the message is transmitted to as many policy team members as possible. Third, it is important to be concise, straightforward, and precise in presenting your recommendations. Fourth, she recommended getting in touch with relevant policymakers and taking the initiative to do so is critical in getting the message across, with the earlier, the better. Lastly, oral communication works better than written communication when it comes to sharing research findings and this is done best in focused meetings with the group of stakeholders present. These are critical and practical ways in which research findings can be shared with the public and relevant parties so that research can have the impact it was aimed for.

What the Grammar School debate tells us about understandings of social justice in/through education: a tribute to Vicki Gardner

By Angeline M. Barrett

Vicki Gardner’s outstanding 2017 Masters dissertation, Grammar Schools & the ‘Mayritocracy’: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Social Justice in/through Education, has been published posthumously in the Bristol Working Papers in Education Series. This blog overviews the paper and announces the launch this year of the Vicki Gardner Prize for Outstanding Masters Research in Education Policy.

Grammar Schools and the ‘Mayritocracy

Critical policy sociologists, worried by growing inequalities and increasing corporate interest in the English public education system, will read Gardner’s work with interest. The sudden resurfacing of the grammar school debate in 2016, championed by the Prime Minister Theresa May, whose name is cheekily incorporated into the title, came as a surprise to many British education academics. Gardner states her own reasoned and unequivocal position on the ‘myth of meritocracy’ that underpins selective schooling very clearly. However, the main focus in this dissertation is not to argue her own position on grammar schools but rather to critically analyse the notions of social justice deployed in the popular debate triggered by May’s policy. By taking a specific contemporary debate as the “prism” through which to identify and analyse enduring discourses of global reach, Gardner produced a piece of research that was relevant beyond time and place. In short, she made a contribution to theoretical scholarship on social justice in education. The sophistication and theorisation of her arguments are remarkable for a researcher in the very earliest stage of her academic career.

Gardner was centrally interested in the battle ground of ideas, ideas concerning what is a socially just education and the relationship between school and society. She viewed meritocracy as a version of “the myth of the enterprising individual” (Apple 2001, 421), an assumption that is central to the neoliberal argument for the pseudomarketisation of public education. To understand the rules and parameters of the battlefield, she drew on Gramsci’s concept of cultural hegemony. Gramsci, a philosopher, sociologist, linguist and political activist, produced his most influential writing during 11 years of imprisonment by Mussolini’s Fascist government. His theory of hegemony explained how political elites use cultural power, alongside violent coercion, to control the masses. Cultural hegemony is created through discourse, i.e. verbal and written texts and associated practices that carry, create and promulgate ideologies. Discourses are hegemonic when they exclude other ways of reasoning. Schools are key institutions for transmitting discourses and hence creating public consensus around the world view of the ruling class. However, Gardner also argues that education has the potential to be the site for the reversal of hegemony when it is used for the development of critical consciousness. Education then is a site of contestation, complicit in the historic formation, deconstruction and reconstruction of public consensus or common sense.

Mass media is another site of hegemonic contestation where competing ideological discourses vie to represent and shape common sense. Gardner turned to broadsheet newspapers to find texts representative of the grammar school debate. Her analysis covered a total of seven articles from publications associated with the political Left and Right (The Guardian, The Times and The Daily Telegraph) published within two separate one week periods when the grammar school debate was hitting headlines.

She used the analytical tools of Fairclough’s Dialectic Relational Approach to dissemble and deconstruct the intent and messages of the newspaper articles. Using these tools, Gardner identifies strategies of legitimation and interrogates how social actors are represented in the articles. For example, she showed how authors on both sides of the debate named policies after the individuals, who champion them to imply that policy positions are nothing more than a personal agenda with no basis in research evidence or relation to broader public consensus.

Gardner’s analysis reveals the semiotic and deontic moves made by grammar school champions to represent them as a necessity, a democratic and counter-hegemonic redistribution of resources. She shows how proponents assert a horizon of possibilities for education in English constructed by a neoliberal world view of increasing economic competition. “Thence, the promoting message is that selective schooling is needed for every child to fulfill their potential and contribute to the knowledge economy” (Gazdner 2018, 33). Another strategy deployed by proponents of grammar schools is to represent May and her cabinet as “ ‘new’ intellectuals” (Gramsci 1999, 818), her ‘socially representative’ cabinet a contrast to David Cameron’s privately-educated elite. The grammar school policy is then presented as a virtuous ‘politics of interruption’ (Apple 2013, 66). By contrast, Gardner argues that the central rationale of meritocracy, that it expands opportunity for low income families, neglects the systemic and sociocultural dimensions of disadvantage and hence oversimplifies social class:

by exacting a problem-solution relationship that conceives of the problem as selection dependent on income, common sense is limited to the economic realm. (Gardner 2018, 40)

She finds that whilst social mobility is understood by commentators on the Right as a matter of individual human rights, on the Left it is understood as a structural issue or class formation. Both sides, however, reduce social justice to social mobility, treating the two as synonymous.

Ultimately, the discursive moves “to recontextualize concepts such as democracy, class equality and even social justice itself and, as such… disguise itself as counterhegemonic” (Gardner 2018, 41) did not win the grammar school policy argument in 2016-2017. Yet for intellectuals on the Left engaged in the “war of position” it was not a hopeful time. Gardner wrote her dissertation mere months after the Brexit vote in UK and the start of Donald Trump’s presidency in the US. Within her dissertation, Gardner holds onto and repeatedly returns to two concepts from Gramsci’s work. These tell us much about her hopes for herself and society. First is the notion of an ‘organic intellectual’, i.e. an intellectual engaged with civil society, affiliated with a class or group and who may assume a hegemonic or counterhegemonic stance. Gardner identifies herself as a “subaltern organic intellectual” (2018, 4). The second concept is the ‘cathartic moment’ and captures the utopian vision that steered Gardner’s work. The cathartic moment is the point where purely economic reasoning is superseded by ethical and political reasoning, so that:

structure ceases to be an external force which crushes man …; and is transformed into a means of freedom, an instrument to create a new ethico-political form and a source of new initiatives. (Gramsci 1999, 691-2) (cited on p.15)

And so,

the organic intellectual, be that journalists or the researcher herself – now needs to stand up from their desk and find a means of connecting this theory with practice (Gardner 2018, 44).



Vicki Gardner was a research associate at the School of Education, University of Bristol, where she worked with Leon Tikly, Angeline Barrett and Marie Joubert on a review of secondary science, technology and mathematics education in sub-Saharan Africa. She completed the M.Sc. Education in 2017, specialising in Policy and International Development and producing an outstanding dissertation. Her first degree was in German and Russian languages and she worked for four and half years as a German language teacher in secondary schools in Devon and the Bristol area. Vicki had hoped, and the staff who worked most closely with her had known, that the Masters programme would be the start of a long academic career. In her unexpected absence, we are publishing her dissertation in its entirety not just to remember Vicki, but because it is a piece of research which deserves wider readership.



-Apple, M.W., 2001. Comparing Neo-liberal Projects and Inequality in Education. Comparative Education, 37, 409-423.

-Apple, M.W., 2013. Can Education Change Society? New York/ Oxon: Routledge.

-Gardner, V., 2018. Grammar Schools & the ‘Mayritocracy’: A Critical Discourse Analysis of Social Justice in/ through Education. Bristol Working Papers in Education no. 09/2018. Bristol: School of Education.

-Gramsci, A., 1999. Selection from the Prison Notebooks. tr. Q. HOARE & G.N. SMITH. London: The Electric Book Company Ltd.

Global Imaginaries and the Capacity to Aspire

Every Wednesday at 4.30 pm, 14 November – 12 December 2018 
Room 4.09, 35, Berkeley Square 
CIRE Reading Group
The decisions that people make in and through education are often influenced by their view of globalisation, the opportunities it offers them or the exclusions it creates. Literature theorising how we imagine the globalisation and how we imagine the future may help us to understand why some young people decide to the West to study higher education; how they respond when they are denied access to education; the career decisions of foreign language teachers or why some policy ideas become global policy agendas.
This reading group engages with texts primarily from anthropology and cultural studies in order to explore how dominant or widespread ways of imagining globalisation shape the possibilities that individuals imagine for their own future, or their aspirations. Some readings are concerned with how globalisation is experienced by internationally mobile individuals living within hybrid communities. Others focus on poorer, marginalised communities and individuals, with identities strongly associated with specific localities.
Week 1: 14 November 
Taylor, C. (2002) Modern Social Imaginaries. Public Culture 14(1): 91-124. Introduction (pp. 91-2) and Section 3 (pp. 105-111) 
Charles Taylor coined the term social imaginaries in order to explain how ideas about individuals and society that originated with a small number of European thinkers came to shape modernity in the West. 
Canclini, N.G. (2014) Imagined Globalization. Translated by Yúdice, G. Durham and London: Duke University Press. Ch. 2.  
Canclini focuses on how globalization and identity is conceptualised and represented at a time of unprecedented mobility. Nestor Garcini Canclini is an Argentinian anthropologist with an interest in hybrid cultures.  
Week 2: 21 November 
Steger, M. B. (2009) The rise of the Global Imaginary: Political Ideologies from the French Revolution to the Global War on Terror. Oxford: Oxford Scholarship online. Introduction.  
Steger also draws on Charles Taylor’s concept of social imaginaries to understand concepts and experiences of globalisation but his analysis has a more political focus. 
Week 3: 28 November 
Appadurai, A. (2013) The Future as Cultural Fact: Essays on the Global Condition. London & New York: Verso. Chapter 9 – The Capacity to Aspire: Culture and the terms of recognition. 
This week we turn to the aspirations. Appadurai discusses the capacity to aspire in relation to the voice and agency of oppressed communities to imagine and navigate an alternative future. Arjun Appadurai is an Indian-born anthropologist, who has conducted extensive research with slum dwellers in Mumbai. 
Week 4: 5 December 
DeJaeghere, J. (2018) Girls’ educational aspirations and agency: imagining alternative futures through schooling in a low resourced Tanzanian community. Critical Studies in Education 59(2): 237-255. 
In the last week, we look at one example of the application of the Appadurai’s concept of the capacity to aspire to education. Dejaeghere also draws on the capability approach to conceptualise agency and Bourdieu, to understand structure.