We are pleased to have this post from Steven Peters, a participant at the Doctoral EAP pre-conference event held in April.
In February 2015 I presented a paper at the Centre for Assessment and Evaluation Research at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Bristol. It was the first time I had acted as an invited speaker in presenting my research work to an audience. My initial reaction to receiving the email detailing the expected length of the talk was to write back suggesting that I split the time into a talk followed by a workshop of equal length. Not long after sending that reply, I wrote to the Centre coordinator to say that I would in fact aim for the 45 minutes originally suggested. Why had I changed my response?
I had, I suppose, prioritised the work over my own anxieties of performing a new set of practices that felt very new to me. In addition, I realised that the new experience would push me to view my work in a new way and provide the opportunity to represent in greater depth the research process, its data, some of the findings, a key bit of method here and there, and the new set of questions arising from engaging with a different audience, including from new starting points. This led me to reflect on how researchers choose to represent all these practices and data differently at different times. It put me in mind of a talk Ali Smith had given about the origins of her Man Booker short-listed work How to Be Both. In this talk, the author describes how she became aware of the processes that lead to the painting of a fresco and the way that previous compositions remain beneath the final version, invisible to the eye.
In my understanding, she wanted to explore how revealing these versions to the viewer could inform a richer understanding of the work. She calls this the under-novel. It occurred to me that we rarely make available to our audiences the various ways in which we have represented, interpreted and adapted our work for others and that this might offer a meaningful addition to understanding the original data, the related theory, and the research as a collection of representations that have been worked upon and reworked. This might be the research equivalent to the under-novel – the under-report. I have to add, I don’t see this as a question of good faith in the researcher but rather one of how to capture the developing understandings and multiple directions understanding can take. Perhaps, the silences and omissions become starker, the positionings and the responses richer in colour? It certainly views research work as a set of discursive practices which can be traced or charted.
At the Doctoral Research PCE in April, one participant told me that she had written her upgrade report and submitted it only to be told to rewrite it in a different style. She was questioning whether this version reflects adequately the nature of the research conducted. Afforded Ali Smith’s freedom, she would be able to create something that goes beyond either single version standing on its own, I would suggest.
It is possible that if one sees research as a way to capture eternal universals, then I suppose it might seem that adapting and representing don’t do the facts justice. However, in a world where we understand a bit more about the human way knowledge construction works, with decision-making and problem-solving bound up with messy ambiguity but helped by transparency through reflexivity, there might be something in looking at how the colours and lines come across once we allow audiences access to our versions. How this would look in practice is another question, or perhaps I have missed where this is already being done. I would argue that EAP practitioners as researchers, with a wide and extensive sense of the needs of varieties of audiences, are in a prime position to explore such innovations in research practices. The under-report might not be such a static thing after all.
The immediate questions are, should I have kept all my revisions to this text available for the reader or is that a different question – one which looks at the miscommunicated or irrelevant rather than the diverse, alternative or recontextualised?
Bristol, May 2015.
Steven is an EAP tutor and educational researcher currently working at the University of Bristol, Centre for English Language and Foundation Studies.
Link to Ali Smith interview at LRB: http://media.londonreviewbookshop.co.uk/2014-09-02-Ali-Smith.mp3
Photo by Lauri Kosonen licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/