A visit to “edgelands” of research in management

I was not sure what to expect at a conference called Qualitative Research in Management, of course the abstract titles and the organisers name should have proved some inkling, after all Anne Cunliffe is well known as an academic who thoughtfully and carefully pushes us to think about practice based research. However, I am a more accustomed to education conferences, and the word management in the title spooked me, and later I realised I had self-policed my own presentation on design, value and soft systems (see here), to make it into what I thought would be acceptable, I need not have.


Figure 1, Make America Great Again, Chad Browneagle, 2017.  Macintyre, 2018, Santa Fe, CC BY NC SA 4.0

I am afraid I cannot do justice to the breadth of research on offer in sufficient depth, therefore I am just going to brush over the top.  The first paper I went to was Lynn Beckles,  it was an ethnography of the tourism industry in Fiji, Lynn is from Barbados, and she reflected on her own position as a researcher in Fiji, and how she negotiated the norms of ethnographic research within the academic community with the ways of knowing and being she observed in the field. In particular, how the dissonance between them led her to the work of Nabobo-Baba and the Vanua Research Framework, a framework developed to account for specific ontology and epistemologies encountered during educational ethnographic research Nabobo-Baba conducted with Vugalei Fijians (see here). I don’t know the field, or the writers, but it had a familiarity, which made me feel at home.

They do say, or at someone once did, the role of the researcher is to make the strange familiar and the familiar strange.  There was certainly lots of opportunities to experience this. For example, the winner of the “best paper” Yvonne Black work on community gardens as therapy turned into something else when Hulls position as “City of Culture” led to the arrival of a playwright and through the play the ability to talk about things and to people whose stories would otherwise have been obscured. Or Michael Butler’s   (co-authored with Ann) investigation of a coffin furniture factory in Birmingham, the pattern of work, and the patterns left on the material them, the image of the dent left in the flagstone floor by workers standing in front of a pressing machine resonate with me,  as I look back, and it echoes forward.  As does Jill Birch work on leadership, talking through her experiences as a practitioner and academic, the phrase “edge walking” will stick with me, as it seems to embody the difficulties in a way formulations like pracademic don’t.


Figure 2: I Love my Country: Anti Gun Demonstration, Santa Fe, 24th of March 2018, Macintyre, Santa Fe 2018, CC BY NC SA 4.0

Jack Harris was looking at networks in Disaster Relief in the US, the paper draws on existing and emerging work in Hurricanes Harvey in Houston Texas and Sandy in New Jersey (see here). Listening  to Jack talk about networks I felt I had to talk to him later about the question he posed, why do we know so little about tie formation. Our clumsy thoughts were we only observe the presence of connections and what it enables. It is a conversation that probably means I am going to be thinking about the networks that don’t exist, and the ephemeral ones, for some time.

Finally this papers tour takes me to the familiar ground of distance learning. Jean Saludadez from the University of the Phillipines Open University was looking at temporality and place making in tutor student discussion, as a researcher and tutor I felt the gentle nodding of familiarity. At the end someone asked why she had inferred a particular thing from the data, as they didn’t see it that way. It seemed obvious to me, and I said so, but when Jean spoke about her process, how she unpicked the meaning, I felt the jolt, as my tacit routines, the ways I have of knowing as an educator were surfaced, and by extension how they conditioned my view of this research. Perhaps this was the main lesson from the conference, the jolts.

selfpFigure 3: Black Mesa Landscape, Georgia O’Keefe, 1930. Macintyre, Santa Fe, 2018, CC BY NC SA 4.0

Those jolts were not just at the convention, as what might have been a placeless hotel venue at the Airport was in New Mexico, in Albquerque. While I could reflect on “Breaking Bad”, and the feeling I got on the train  to Santa Fe as it passed over a dry river bed and the scene where the child is shot flashed, or the Georgia O’Keefe Gallery again in Santa Fe, and her resistance to the eroticising of her paintings under the male gaze. Instead I couldn’t help think about Kafka and his book Amerika, and wondering to what degree the books, Films and TV series shape my own sense of this place, just as my reading of the word management shaped my expecations of the conference.


The Co-op Uni: From Pedagogy to Governance and Back

Despite having banked with the Co-op for most of my adult life, being a member, and using its services, I don’t know much about the Co-op Group, and as Chrissi Nerantzi and I walked to the Co-operative Quarter in Manchester it was odd to pass 1 Balloon St Manchester, whose only previous life for me was in the completion of direct debits. We were heading towards the Co-operative College along with 90 or so others to attend “Making the Co-operative University: New Places, Spaces and Models of Learning” .

selfpFigure 1: The Co-op Uni, A long time coming, An idea whose time has come, Ronald Macintyre, CC BY SA 4.0

I admit I struggled through the day with the question that kept rattling through my head, if a Co-op University is the solution, what was the problem in the first place. It was a question that arose from a sense that many of the people here were disaffected with Higher Education, and articulated it through the lens of losing their own jobs. A mood that obscured other problems, and for me clouded the day somewhat until, I was able to read the blog Chrissi put together, and go away and think about it. In thinking about it I pulled “Building a Co-operative: A Business History of The Co-operative Group, 1863-2013” of the shelf. Written before some of the groups recent troubles it has a tone of, this is our time, and I recollected how at the start of the day we were told the time was right for a Co-op Uni,  a tone that reminds of many struggles in a state of becoming, where success is perpetually immanent.

So, having thought about this immanence, my mind settled on the pedagogy workshop I attended, and the question of whether I attended the right one, should I have gone to governance, a thought process I tease out below.

One of the key aspects for me from the day were the questions around co-design/production, when people talked about it I couldn’t get the sense whether it was brought up as a novel approach, or a just as good practice. I suspect the former, and this was a surprise as it has been fashionable with the Higher Education Academy and Quality Assurance Agency for some time, albeit with little traction within the academy, a thin participation I blogged about  a couple of years ago (see here ).  Where I suggest learner co-design as articulated in a context where the learner is a customer, leads to the application of co-design models from the private sector, so called Service Design Logic, which is thin participation and does not address underlying social and structural relations within education. However, that simply describes the problem, how do we move beyond that.

selfpFigure 2: The Pedagogy Subgroup Questions, Ronald Macintyre CC BY SA 4.0

One view, which I have tried to explore in the past in relation to widening participation, is to see learner’s engagement as academic labour, learning involves everyone doing work, they need to have the skills to do the work, the opportunity to express that skills, and to be able to benefit from the value which accrues through this shared labour. My original analysis focussed on the barriers experienced by some learners as the look to do this work (see here ), it was really a thinly veiled Marxist analysis of adult learning. However, having attended the event I see where co-operation could lead, and perhaps unblock some of the issues which have made co-design/production in HE an unreachable aspiration.

I have long been interested in participatory design, in particular its roots in labour movements in Scandinavia, here it was called co-operative design focussed on how workers, managers and academics might work together to design work process’s (for a critical reading from OU academic and Co-op Tech person Steve Walker see here). I do not draw attention to the historical development of participatory design, or the connection to labour movements idly. Could a Co-op University be an organisation that was just as concerned with the organisation and power relations in work finally see the application of co-operative/participatory design to Higher Education. Perhaps it could. Perhaps the thin sense of this approach that has informed co-design, which takes some of the practices but filters them through a commercial logic will be undone by a co-operative logic. I take Richard Hall’s point regarding the sense in simulating a thing whose image of itself is predicated in unequal power relations. However, perhaps the co-operative model, the flattening of power relations within the whole academic community might be the thing to turn learner engagement into something more than a rhetorical device. With the flattening of labour relations within the broader academic community, i.e. a change in governance relations, ushering in many of the pedagogic ones that remain unrealised.

Clearly lots of things need to align before perhaps becomes real. Some of the things that seem to clear to me are a need to connect with Labour movements more broadly, Workers Education Association of course, but also Trade Union Learning. I would also ask those in this space to reach out to those in Open Education, not just the Open University, or those in Open Education Resources/Practices, though clearly they have much in common, in particular similar challenges.  With lessons from the former about sustainability and the latter about emerging models of provision and accreditation as organisations like University of the People and OERu  look to establish challengers as well. But also the wider Open Education movement, for example, “The Jane Austen” series by Casey and Greller (see here for a recent update) which draws inspiration from Art Schools to combat neoliberalism , or Alex Dunedin harking back to ragged schools though the Ragged University , or the miners libraries and weavers reading groups.

Talking of further reading Joss Winn from Lincoln University has produced a bibliography see here


Porous, Permeable, Praxis, Pedagogy, more P’s less HE


After a busy couple of days at the Porous University event in Inverness on the 8th and 9th of May I went back to “the croft”, Keith, Frank and I had spent a lot of time thinking about how to structure an event that was not structured, unconference seemed too fashionable for us, but something like that was what we aimed for. In the end our gathering started slow with people reaching out beyond their own context, sense making, find their place, and I think in part getting a feel for how safe it was to say what often is left unsaid. Left unsaid not because people think it is unimportant, left unsaid because it is vitally important, because these are thoughts, opinions and reactions to our contexts that might leave us exposed.

People did open up, and there is an excellent selection of blogs and resources, some on this blog here, and many on the Ragged University see here for some talks (more coming) and here for some reflections from Alex. I see no need to add my own summary of the day to those excellent accounts. One thing I did want to pick up was a comment by Alan Levine who joined virtually, he suggested Porous was incorrect as a description or an intention, we should really be talking about permeability. Where porous describes the qualities of the thing (the amount of space), where permeable describes the ease by which things can pass through – see here from Alan. Though it is interesting as something with a biological sciences background where it is used in the sense of whether a plant or animals has pores, i.e. a membrane is porous, it has pores, from the same Greek, Latin Old French root, and perhaps also from literary theory, the idea of boundary crossing.

However, his comment stayed with me, not just because I wondering about the right P, but because it highlighted the U, was the day really about Uni. Actually it was, and I think one of the issues was we often ended up talking about and for those outside the academy, with the best intentions we made visible the barriers and the problems, but from within HE. While as people within HE we have no choice but to speak for, we are also people in the world, with opinions, with views, with families, who engage socially and politically, who form groups, volunteer and campaign.


Figure 1: The Elephant Not in the Room, Macintyre 2010, CC BY SA 4.0

We are in the world, so perhaps what we need to do is take out the University and add some extra P’s. This is by no means a definitive list but I would like to suggest permeable (to accept Alan Levine comment), but I think the important ones are pedagogy and praxis. Praxis because one of the things that ran through the two days was how our education practice transforms and is itself transformed though our actions, and in turn how those practices are used (or not) to create change.  Pedagogy, because of the sense, if we are looking at shifting locus of knowledge creation and production, of opening up, then we need to understand and develop appropriate pedagogies to support those changes.

I think dropping Uni, or University might also help with another thing that made me worry post event, I have already alluded to the tendency to “talk from within”, at least at first, in part this related to talking about what we know, but its dominance at the event was because most participants were from HE, as you can tell from the way I use “we”, I assume are most of those reading this post. If we are serious about reaching out and reaching in then we need a broader community, the “we” needs to be more inclusive. Otherwise the assumption is that “reaching in” is in the gift of those within the academy. When lots of the examples of reaching is those outside barging in, rowdy, unplanned, rudely asking those within to listen. I am not saying Uni is acting as some sort of barrier, “this is not a network for me”, but instead a change to better describe not what we are at present but where we want to be.

So with this in mind and getting where you are meant to be can I say

“Oh kind friends and companions come join me in rhyme,

 And lift up your voices in chorus wi mine;

 Let’s drink and be merry all grief to refrain,

 For we may or might never all meet here again


Here’s a health to the company and one to my love,

 We’ll drink and be merry all out of one glass;

 Drink and be merry all grief to refrain,

 For we may or might never all meet here again.”

Or Better Watch this