Introduction

Sean Michael Morris, Lucy Rai, and Karen Littleton

This volume is about personal stories, episodes from the lives of educators which have in some way shaped their practice. More specifically, it is about educators with roots in professional practice prior to entering academia. Throughout this volume authors ask themselves how professional and personal stories have shaped them as educators and scholars? How can reflections on such stories deepen our understanding of teaching and learning?

The origins of this book grew from serendipitous conversations between  Karen Littleton (Professor of Education at The Open University), Lucy Rai, (Director of PRAXIS, the scholarship and innovation centre for the Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies) and Sean Michael Morris (Instructor at the University of Colorado Denver and founder/director of Digital Pedagogy Lab). During these conversations we were troubled by several shared reflections on the relationships between professional practice, scholarship, the status of knowledge and how it is conveyed and valued. With diverse backgrounds in social work, education and creative writing, we shared a deep belief in the value of stories of human experience, in creativity and in disrupting institutionalised norms of what ‘counts’ as scholarly writing. From this grew an ambition to collate a collection which would give a voice to scholars who were quietly drawing on extensive reflections from their professional practice to inform their teaching and scholarly research, but perhaps not being able to meet institutional targets or influence international discourses. We wanted to honour and authenticate these experiences as valued scholarship, scholarship which often struggles to surface within traditional academic publishing.

Voices of Practice values practitioner stories as important, and undervalued, scholarly tools. Institutionally, the scholarship of teaching and learning can be situated as of secondary significance to research. Ravecca and Dauphenee (2018) propose that scholar-narratives have the potential to disrupt ‘fortress writing’ which privileges traditional hierarchical scholarship research and the power relations associated with it. They suggest that narratives represent ‘invitations to engage in scholarship, where the aim is not to prove us right and debunk other positions but to open the scholarly terrain to different sorts of questions that are not dependent on solidifying and defending a position” (p. 127). Disrupting this tendency to solidify and defend is potent, as it enables the co-creation of permeable and expansive ‘dialogic spaces’ (Wegerif, 2019) characterised by: diversity and plurality; fluidity and provisionality—as well as curiosity, questioning and creativity. Our hope is that the miscellany of voices and perspectives, in interplay throughout this book, will resource new dialogic spaces and seed inquiries powerfully rooted in professional “funds of knowledge” (see Moll, 2019, p. 131). By raising up and valuing  these diverse voices (and the allied funds of knowledge) we can transform our institutions as epistemic communities; our fields of inquiry and also “people’s ‘self-definition, self-expression, and self-understanding” (see Esteban-Guitart and Moll, 2014: p. 37).

This  volume thus challenges the notion that knowledge arising from empirical research is, by default, of greater value than scholarly reflections by practitioners on their own stories. It applies a concept of critical pedagogy which Dominguez, drawing on bell hooks (2000) and Friere (2015), suggests ‘explores in detail the everyday personal, affective, embodied, relational, livingloving aspects of critical pedagogical praxis’ (2019, p.19).

The volume is divided into three sections, each responding to the voices of the authors and the stories they tell. The organisation of the collection, in other words, circulated around the writers rather than the other way around.

Reflections on Identity

This volume seeks to put identity and voice at the centre of our conversation about scholarship, and so we open with stories—narratives from the margins—that set a stage for a collection that paints a backdrop for academe not traditionally exposed. These stories demonstrate the ways in which narrative scholarship is a vulnerable, political scholarship, one that reminds us about the human and humane behind the academic. In these chapters, authors reveal truths behind cultures of exclusion and inclusion, experiences of belonging and not-belonging, advocacy and going it alone. These reflections on identity set the stage for much of the work done by the chapters which follow.

Pathways to Academe

Just as many of the voices in this collection have found themselves pondering the how, what, and whether of being a scholar, challenging in their own ways the definition of “scholar” and the sphere(s) in which that term applies, so have they etched their own unique paths into the scholarly life. Academe is a landscape well-guarded and gated, kept from non-traditional scholars and practitioners by expectations set around the prestige of publishing, the advanced degree—and, more subtly, the postures of scholarship which are in nature like a secret handshake, signals for a closed society that meets in plain sight. In these chapters, authors detail their beginnings, the paths they have chosen to follow, or which they have been given no choice but to trail blaze.

Scholarship and Practice

Once inside academe, how does the the marginal scholar “fit in”? What opportunities are given for utilizing the skills learned in their fields within the more theoretical landscapes of traditional scholarly discourse? Here we see a deeply affective narrative of the balancing act of being both a practitioner and an academic, of making one’s way simultaneously inside and outside of the university. In these chapters, authors discover their voices—voices informed by trying to fit in, by learning to code switch, or by recognizing the performativity of life and career inside the ivory tower. These chapters close the collection with implicit questions about the way forward for scholar-practitioners in academe.

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This is a book that has arisen from processes of sustained collective reflection and deep interiority, as much as professional practice and action in the world.  Engagement with it thus requires, of you the reader, a willingness to ‘meet (this) intensity with intensity’ and to dismantle the protection of assumption, projection and authority (see Winterson, 1995 p.10). It demands a willingness to un-know and to listen—with openness and absorbed attentiveness – to the cacophony of voices that resonate throughout the book. Let these voices bring you to an intersubjective place of encounter and allow them to astonish, disquiet and disrupt. Our hope is that much of the writing in this book jars. The jarring should prompt us to question: the ways in which scholarly thinking is communicated and given valence; the stories that we hear and value; the ways in which ideas are shared and the diversity of identities that find a voice.


References

Dominguez, C. (2019). Each and everyday, love us free: Critical pedagogy as a living-loving praxis. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, Vol. 10 (1).

Esteban-Guitart, M., and Moll, L. C. (2014). Funds of identity: a new concept based on the funds of knowledge approach. Cultural Psychology,  Vol. 20, 31–48. doi: 10.1177/1354067×13515934

Moll, L. (2019). Elaborating Funds of Knowledge: Community-oriented practices in international contexts. Literacy Research: theory method and practice, Vol. 68 (1), pp. 130-138. doi: 10.1177/2381336919870805

Ravecca, P. and Dauphinee, E. (2018). Narrative and the Possibilities for Scholarship. International Political Sociology, Vol 12(2), pp. 125–138.
doi: 10.1093/ips/olx029.

Wegerif, R. (2019). Towards a dialogic theory of education for the Internet Age. The Routledge International Handbook of Research on Dialogic Education. London: Routledge.

Winterson, J. (1995). Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery. New York: Vintage International.

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Voices of Practice by Sean Michael Morris, Lucy Rai, and Karen Littleton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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