Growing a bigger research conversation… space, place and social justice in education

Questions of space and place – physical, social, virtual, private, collective – and how they impact on fairness and the distribution of power in education is what I want to talk about…so here I go as a first timer into the unfamiliar space, for me, of the blogosphere! If I can, I’d like to use the ESRI blog to mention a couple of related things. First, I want to give a last push to our forthcoming international research seminar on space, place and social justice in education (MMU Didsbury, 13th July). Second, I’d like to say a little bit about the back story to that event, bringing out how formal research ‘outputs’ – bid success, publication – can be grown out of conversations in informal ‘over coffee’ spaces and in so doing can assist in developing the kind of convivial, collaborative and expansive research environment envisioned in ESRI’s core values.

As to the event itself, it’s still not too late to register (go to ‘register’ at the webpage) and be part of a developing academic network coming together for what is set to be an excellent day of input and discussion. Keynote contributions from Prof. Valerie Walkerdine and Prof. Danny Dorling promise a cutting edge engagement with the issues around space, place and social justice in education and around 40 papers from scholars from four continents will take up different aspects of the spatial turn in social theory as it impacts on education research at various scales: from inquiries into macro-level policy to highly focussed, micro studies of the classroom or the school bus (check out the abstracts).

That’s the event. What about the back story? Well, the seminar had its initial germination in a coffee and a conversation at the European Conference of Education Research (ECER) in Helsinki in 2010. Basically, a session of papers convened by the Ethnography network of ECER had prompted a fairly ‘robust’ discussion about the use of spatial terms in ethnography of education: ‘site’, ‘field’, and such like. As a result, geographer Phil Wood (based at Leicester and a contributor to our seminar) and I had a natter about the need to try and build a bigger conversation on what seemed to us a very important topic. Phil’s work was looking at the physical, architectural spaces of the Building Schools for the Future programme and mine was looking at the power of a community’s memories of conflict and traumatic deindustrialisation to affect young people’s sense of belonging (or, more commonly, not belonging) in the space we commonly call ‘education’ (see, for example, my article ‘Non-servile virtuosi’ in insubordinate spaces: School disaffection, refusal and resistance in a former English coalfield in in European Education Research Journal, 10: 4. Space, place and equity were obviously critical – in different ways – for both of us.

From coffee in Helsinki, the idea grew via the Oxford Ethnography Conference a couple of weeks later, gathering support from the journal Ethnography and Education and the conveners of the ethnography network at ECER on the way. Eventually – by way of wider conversations at ECER 2011 in Berlin, at last year’s British Education Research Association (BERA) conference in London and with colleagues at ESRI in Manchester – we succeeded in gaining funding from the ECER Network Support strand, the Social Theory Special Interest Group at BERA and Ethnography and Education to bring the international seminar to ESRI at MMU. Indeed, in offering attendance bursaries for colleagues from Eastern Europe and elsewhere who are themselves marginalised to some extent from the global academic community we have been able to directly address issues of space, place and social justice in education.

So, next week, from a starting point of two Finnish coffees, the conversation finally formalises as an international research seminar. Publication opportunities are being finalised and the next job – preparing a bid for ESRC International Partnership and Networking Scheme funding to consolidate what we’ve built and kick start an international research project – begins. Watch this space (sorry!). I’ll update soon.

Geoff Bright – Research Associate (ESRI)

2 thoughts on “Growing a bigger research conversation… space, place and social justice in education

  1. Pingback: Welcoming Kim Allen and Geoff Bright | ESRI Blog

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