Education, higher education, PhD

Reading Lists: Recommendations, Rabbit holes and Reputation

I was recently asked to try and write a blog to explain my reading strategy. The questions posed were how I decide what to read, when and why. I was also asked about how I read and take notes. I am going to take this into two posts, the first focusing on how my current reading pile has come about.

Why has this stack of books come about?

I hadn’t really thought about this before so I took what I currently had and realised there were three main reasons books and references to follow up were there, namely some form of recommendation, a follow up from a reference i’d come across in other reading or the fact that I felt something was a seminal text in the areas i’m researching.

Recommendation

Recommendations that have populated my list have come from several sources. Some have been as a result of twitter, some from seeing mailshots and stands at conferences and some through personal recommendation.

For example, Education, disadvantage and place came onto my radar through a flyer from Policy Press. Other recent books to drop into this category are the Education Policy Research book I reviewed last week, which came as a result of attending a symposium at the BERA conference and Zizek’s First as tragedy, then as farce recommended by @andewilkins on tiwtter following a conversation about cynicism as ideology that has fascinated me since the BSA conference earlier in the year.

Rabbit holes

When you begin immersing yourself in one topic, you find references to many things you feel you should read, things that look interesting and things that might be central to your research. The process of following one reference to another without really knowing where you will end up brought to my mind the idea of Alice following the white rabbit in her adventures in wonderland and as a result I decided to term these texts my rabbit holes.

There are a number of journal articles relating to this  category in my list, probably too numerous to mention and often this has been a useful way to carve out my reading into relevant studies. It has also lead me to explore specific texts from authors that may have also fallen into the final category; that of reputation. Two examples here are Bourdieu’s Pascalian Meditations which Steven Jones talks about in his chapter in Education Policy Research and in which I wish to explore the notion of ‘playing the game’ further. Bauman’s Wasted Lives has also ended up on my must read list as although I have read several of his books this was cited in another chapter and I feel may have some relevance to issues surrounding my thesis.

Reputation

The books that I would currently put into this category are actually ones on my reading list to revisit. I have read with interest Mills’ Sociological Imagination, Bourdieu’s Distinction and Becker’s Telling about society and all have extensive notes in them. The reason they are still sitting in my reading pile, however, is that re-reading certain parts in light of other thoughts i’m having, now specifically related to my thesis may help me develop my own thesis by drawing on the issues and concepts that these works highlight.

What do I do with this reading?

I wouldn’t suggest by any means this list is exhaustive, nor that my way is the best way but this is how my current reading list has been shaped. It would be interesting to here if this resonates with anyone else or if people have very different strategies for deciding what to read. I will be following up this post by exploring the idea of how I read and think through reading in another post in due course.

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Book Review: Gunter, Hall and Mills (eds.) – Education Policy Research

This edited collection of reflections of the dilemmas and messiness inherent with educational research by practitioners or those who may have history within the field is an essential read for anyone who is in the early stages of their research career. 

 Gunter, Hall and Mills have edited a collection that encapsulates the concerns and worries of most educational researchers. Through the voices of a wide range of researchers and their honest accounts of dilemmas and their own journeys it brings alive many of the issues that textbooks on methodology and ethics make look black and white. Written in a personal and accessible way, it brings to live the realities behind research.

The book draws on the work of eleven researchers from current doctoral candidates through to recent graduates and more experienced researchers from within the Manchester Institute of Education. Generally conceived, their projects are all framed through the lens of critical policy studies but cover a wide range of context from primary to higher education. 

Issues that are of central concern to those researching such as the insider/outsider continuum, issues of access and trust, researching your own practice and the ramifications of self-cirque are tackled head on. This book takes those elements which are often implicit and offer a frank and honest account of what they mean in the real world.

In my opinion, this book is an essential read for any postgraduate student to add colour and depth of understanding to the realities of educational research and to help them navigate the issues that will also be central to their own research. It fills a clear gap between the informative practical ethics and methodology texts and the practical issues faced by the new researcher.