PGR Day reflections

October 18th – I was in Bmouth for a Postgraduate Researcher Day – an opportunity for PGRs to collaborate and reflect on each others research. It was a fine moment to meet those further down the PhD line. I like to visualise how the future might look – perhaps it’s a security thing. It was a unique moment for me because I can think of only a handful of occasions when I’ve been in a group situation articulating what it is I’m interested in academically, more particularly the direct assertion of a set of personal propositions …. in contrast with being alone with these thoughts or on a one to one (and even they have been rare). To have the ear of a bunch of peers intently listening and responding was quite bouleversant (sometimes other languages take over and certain words cover the situation better than in English)…. . I enjoyed it but also felt like I wasn’t expressing myself coherently, especially when in the company of other PGRs most fluent and cogent in their delivery….. paranoia of the “I’m not good enough” ilk crept in. I’m used to this though – it’s a constant companion in unfamiliar situations and I eventually rationlise my way out … Rationalise but not really feel my way out in any lasting way.

I was reading Assessing Achievements in the Arts (1993) by Malcolm Ross et al – a book I came across during the Masters dissertation and I wanted to incorporate their theoretical framework on assessing aesthetic learning, but didn’t in the end.. still very much worth looking at again – and it brings up Vygotsky’s thoughts on inner speech and external speech. A particular passage helped me with the rationalising process mentioned above:

“The private use of speech (inner speech) can be nurtured by a context that is sympathetic to its use” (1993:60)

So in a teacher/pupil context, when there’s a shared closeness of understanding the distinction between inner, private speech and outer, public speech starts to blur and can lead to a deeper aesthetic response. The authors’ framework for aesthetic understanding and the importance of dialogue in assessment interests me a great deal and there’s margin for it to be used across the curriculum.

According to Vygotsky one of the main distinguishing features separating inner/external speech is “the preponderance of the sense of a word over its meaning” (“Thought and Language” 1972:146)

It would be interesting to link Vygotsky’s 2 different categories in relation to language – the fluid, protean “sense” of a word and the precise “meaning” of a word and how sense can change with context but not the meaning which remains stable – to Raymond Williams’ ideas of social relations being “in solution”. Williams talks about how silly it is to critique or to place discriminatory value on cultural artifacts without a discussion of the complex social context in which the text is situated and how it ‘talks to’ and positions each individual consumer. This is the work of dialogue: shared contemplation meshed with critical reflection.

MAKING conversation could be a chapter in the thesis exploring the conditions in which practical work thrives – making, doing, talking, writing, producing, sharing, creating a sense of community. It was a sense of community that was evoked in the PGR session which although testing at times was ultimately a nourishing experience on which to build.

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