Dissertation Marking Done & Dusted!

Phew! That was a lot of reading. 15 dissertations and an MPhil/PhD upgrade. This is the first time that I’ve supervised MSc dissertations and I was rather naive with regards to the amount of second marking. Fortunately the dissertations exude the passion of students in the fields of SEN/inclusion and many were a joy to read. An added perk was the informative nature of the work – I learned so much during marking!. Great work, class of 2016!



Teaching: IEI Deja Vu 

I recently gave a couple of presentations on interpretivist research for the Introduction to Educational Inquiry Research Awareness Day. The idea was to provide a philosophical and methodological contrast to postivist research (presented by Dr Sarah Meadows). There was doubt in the department that such an old school binary existed at the GSoE but Sarah and I managed to resurrect an intellectual conflict that had been dormant for a while! It was good fun, though a bit surreal as our M-Level cohort was so big I had to present the same material twice (running down 5 flights of stairs between presentations).

The essential message was that interpretivism is a complex beast which is tricky to define. Positivism is more clear cut, but text books sometimes present interpretivist philosophy as literally the epistemological and ontological opposite of positivism when, in fact, interpretivism is a broad term which can be used to refer to a collection of philosophies, some of which may compliment positivism. (For example, core phenomenology is a normative project.)  Still, wrestling with these ideas allows us to get away from a tedious qualitative/quantitative divide abstracted from philosophical thinking which is a benefit in and of itself. I hope the students agreed!

(Pictured: GSoE’s home in Berkeley Square, Bristol)

Teaching: Controversial Issues in Special & Inclusive Education

We are midway through the MSc unit Controversial Issues in Special & Inclusive Education. 12 hours of input in four seminars! This year’s group is fantastic – international, engaged, experienced, and critical. I’ve been a bit cheeky and redesigned the unit around some personal interests in the field of SEN. Each week students tackle big questions and major themes, which so far consist of:

  1. Are all children ‘people’? (drawing on bioethics and personhood debates)
  2. Are all children ‘educable’? (drawing on psychological theory from the PMLD field)
  3. Are all children ‘researchable’? (drawing on research philosophy from disability studies)
  4. Are all children ‘includable’? (drawing on international debates about inclusive education in the Global North & South)

The sessions finish at 7.30pm which is tough-going, but the depth of discussions about such significant topics keeps me awake and keen for more. (Literally – I find it difficult to sleep when I get home because my head is buzzing with thoughts about the discussions). Next week we have guest doctoral researchers presenting their work which should be fab!


(Pictured: Inside of Wills Memorial, University of Bristol)


Seminar: Understanding Educational Research – Research Ethics

Earlier today I ran a session on research ethics for the EdD/PhD unit Understanding Educational Research. Being a member of the GSoE Research Ethics Committee I was asked to cover the formal research ethics application process. I also talked about a range of philosophical approaches to ethics – deonotology, consequentialism, situationism, virtue ethics, and relational ethics. Exploring these topics with 35 doctoral students was great fun. The level of debate about sensitive and controversial ethical issues was outstanding, and the students challenged both myself and each other for the best part of 2 hours. Textbooks in the field of social science ethics sometimes present the different approaches as oppositional. However, I was keen to explore how educational researchers can think around these philosophies in complimentary ways. Whilst deontological approaches help mandate obligations (e.g. Mental Capacity Act), consequentialism helps us appreciate the need for forward planning and anticipation during application processes. Situationism allows us to appreciate ethics on a case-by-case basis, whilst virtue ethics suggests that we reflect about who we are as researchers and how we can strive to develop our ethical mindfulness. Finally, relational ethics or the ethics of care helps us deepen our understanding of the meaning of an ethical relationship.   These ideas have been flying around my head for a while, but the seminar provided a great space for drawing together the approaches and debating them with keen early career researchers. Great stuff!

Autumn Teaching (2016)

Within the next couple of weeks the university will be welcoming new and returning students. I often find this time of year exciting – there’s a buzz about the place as students arrive and the campus feels festive.

This term I’m teaching two units. The first – Controversial Issues in Special & Inclusive – is a fantastic MSc unit that Helen Knowler ran for many years before I was lucky enough to take the reigns. It’s currently being redesigned to include some hot topics including controversial research, alternative forms of education, challenges to the Global North’s concepts of inclusion, and the function of ‘personhood’ in educational discourse. The unit offers a safe space for students to discuss big themes and develop critical insights into some rather sensitive topics. It should be fun!

In addition, I’m also a tutor on the undergraduate unit Education and Society. The unit is led by Dr Debbie Watson and is part of the BSc Childhood Studies programme based at the School for Policy Studies. The aim of the unit is to explore the role of education and the social impact of different education systems and policies. I’ll be delivering material on disability and inclusion, whilst also leading a seminar group.

Roll on Teaching Week 1!


(Pictured: Wills Memorial Building, from the perspective of Berkeley Square.)


New Book Chapter (sort of…)

I was emailed over the summer and told that a paper I co-authored had been published in a book. This was a lovely surprise as I had no idea that a book was in the works! Edited by Berni Kelly and Bronagh Byrne (Queens University Belfast), the book is essentially a reissue of papers written for a special edition of the Child Care in Practice journal. At first I was a little sceptical about charging readers for already-published work. However, given the potentially modest readership of the journal, the book should increase the amount of interest that the papers receive, which is usually a good thing in academia!

You can learn more about the book by clicking the link below.

Kelly, B. & Byrne, B. (Eds.) (2016) Valuing Disabled Children and Young People – Research, Policy, and Practice. London: Routledge.


Book Review: Seeing with the Hands, by Mark Paterson (2016)

UPDATE (27th October 2016): the review is now available to read online here:


I recently reviewed Mark Paterson’s Seeing with the Hands for Disability & Society. Given Paterson’s previous work on embodiment I was expecting an historical account of sensorimotor subjectivity (even Paterson’s website goes by the name sensory-motor.com). Instead, I was (pleasantly) surprised to read an authoritatively-written book about the history of blindness and touch in philosophy and literature. For copyright reasons I’ll only post a snippet of the review below, but it’s a book I’m more than happy to recommend to researchers in the field. The review has only just been submitted but I’ll let you know when it is in print.

Seeing with the hands is Mark Paterson’s latest offering in a trilogy of books exploring the role of touch. As the title suggests, the topic of touch is approached in relation to Early Modern articulations of vision and blindness. Through exposition of philosophical and historical texts on touch, sight, and blindness, Paterson documents the emergence of ‘visionist’ culture in Europe over the last 350 years. This gives way to a convincing discussion of how such thinking influenced psychological investigation, technological invention, and contemporary attitudes towards the blind by the sighted, what Paterson refers to as an on-going “fascination with what the blind ‘see’” (p. 3).

Seeing with the hands indirectly presents a history of research on blindness and the positioning of the visually impaired in the research process. For example, early chapters demonstrate a disconnect between philosophy (particularly rationalism) and people with visual impairment: blindness is fetishized and theorized via thought experiments, but blind people themselves are never considered to be authorities of their own experience and hence rarely consulted. In the middle of the book (and the middle of the eighteenth century) we see the emergence of medical experiments to cure the blind (e.g. cataract removal) and a desire by philosophers (such as Diderot) to seek out blind people and inquire about the nature of their experience. Whilst it may be a stretch to label these approaches ‘positivism’ and ‘interpretivism’, the seeds of these research traditions are certainly being sowed.

Seeing with the hands: blindness, vision, and touch after Descartes, by Mark Paterson, Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 2016, 288pp., £19.99 (paperback) ISBN 978-1-4744-0532-4

(Pictured: my son, Caleb, “working like Daddy”.)


Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol

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