Crossing Boundaries: beyond a singular trespassing


In our second session altogether this term we were interested in focussing – in one way or another – on ideas of boundary crossing or ‘shifts’ to enable us to find ways to conceptualise and discuss our current concerns in our writing.

We started by engaging in free writing for ten minutes without locating our focus particularly, other than through an initial attention to the pebble we had each selected with the idea of this acting as a calming and centring catalyst for thought and writing.  As ever, in our partner discussions after the activity, we found ourselves ‘surprised’ by where this writing led us, and my hope is that some of the reflections shared in the group today, will be captured by group members below.  They were insightful and redolent with possibilities for further thought.  Certainly I found myself caught in the ebb and flow of a rather gentle tidal wash of connections as I slipped between my free writing experiences on Saturday afternoon (as part of the Free Brighton University session I’d led with Emily), and the session this afternoon. Both were pleasurable and illuminating experiences with women generous enough to share their eager engagements with text and dialogue and able to listen attentively to others.

We spent some time going back through what we’d each writtent to identify ways in which we had touched upon, or engaged with shifts, or boundaries, through what we’d written.  I spoke about the way in which I had found a shift in paradigms in my early PhD work difficult and challenging at the time but also productive as a way of entering my final PhD text to exemplify a process of ongoing methodological engagement.  Emily has written a piece below which reflects on what her claims to occupy paradigmatic territory meant to her both at the time of the writing of her PhD thesis and since.

We ended the session by collectively moving our attention to a rich quotation provided by Martin Bittner, based on the seminar he had presented in the department earlier in October, entitled:  ‘On Translation:  knowledge between intuition and institution’ in order to open up ways of speaking and writing of cultural shifts, somersaults (elegant and otherwise) that are undertaken by some PhD researchers as they move from one language context to another.  Here is the quotation:

By translating something we fulfil a movement, we go beyond borders and limits; these are borders and limits of ourselves, of institutions, of disciplines, of methodologies. Seeing translation as a methodology of its own means that we cannot remain on the target-side – it is not a singular trespassing, a one-way crossing of borders [that would be a conversion (of faith), assimilation (of culture) or violation (of nation and law)]. We can use these methodological experiences to get a greater meaning of educational processes and of questions on institutions that I consider to be better addressed through ethnography.”

I leave my fellow Writing Into Meaning writers to take up the challenge of sharing a response to this quotation themselves.  Certainly, for me the quotation reminds me of the richness of trespassing into textual spaces of unfamiliarity, that may be ‘difficult’ to translate conceptually, theoretically or linguistically…and the possibilities – as long as we don’t position ourselves as ‘lacking’  – in sticking with difficulties to experience differently, to be surprised by what we can think afresh and how we can change.

We’ve suggested that the group collectively engage with Robyn Barnacle & Gloria Dall’Alba (2014) Beyond skills: embodying writerly practices through the doctorate, Studies in Higher Education, 39:7, 1139-1149, DOI:  10.1080/03075079.2013.777405

This text focuses on challenging ideas of ‘mastery’ within writing that question its very premise within the process of shaing and honing writerly academic text.

We meet next as a whole group on Wednesday November 8th 2018 between 1300 and 1500 in the ground floor meeting room in ESW when the group will be led by Rebecca Webb and Tamsin Hinton-Smith.  Do please come along.  We will be focusing on writing our data into meaning…please bring some data along if you have some OR ‘imagine’ some future data that you may have and be prepared to discuss this and write ‘to’ it.

Rebecca Webb







3 thoughts on “Crossing Boundaries: beyond a singular trespassing

  1. Rosa says:

    Free writing on translation:
    In some contexts, I feel comfortable taking a concept and re-framing it for a less-familiar audience – I felt no disjunction or difficulty explaining to a colleague at the pub why it’s an utterly fallacy to believe anything other than that trans women are women without resorting to in-group language, to take a recent example.
    However, I find this much harder now, for my PhD, in the early stages of working out where I stand theoretically.
    This translation is important – if I cannot translate it into something meaningful for people who exist outside the academy, how can I use it, deploy it, know it has any meaning? How can I champion it with confidence? Speaking to my partner, I contorted myself trying to distil Skeggs’ (2004) arguments about class and found myself frustrated. The strong internal sense that hers is a powerful conception that would be a rich and valuable engine for my thinking is mediated by being unable to express the thrust of the argument without all the academic lexicon, the scaffolding that appears to hold the argument together. If the argument cannot work without the couching of elitist language, if its power is constructed by and constructed in elitist language, how can that be right? And further, is not absurd to erect such impenetrable, hard-to-translate walls around an argument which, at its heart, wants to fight for better class inclusion and recognise class struggle? My heart tells me what is lost in translation is lost because I am a novice translator without the skills, language or momentum to give the thought portability on my own. Yet the double-bind of arguing against exclusion whilst excluding perplexes me.
    This sets off another cog whirring.
    Skeggs also talks about reflexivity, arguing that this positioning, centralising of the self is perhaps not the rose-tinted approach it may seem. By centralising ourselves as researchers – with all the privilege that entails – and making our subjectivity central, are we in fact engaged in a project which replicates the exclusionary practices so many of us elect to study? Drowning out the voices of the researched with that of the researcher? Writing myself into meaning is so seductive and alluring, but will it make me complicit?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. emilydanvers says:

    Here is the piece of writing I shared in the session:

    I wanted to reflect on the boundary shifting nature of research writing and share something of where I was before the PhD and during and something of how that all feels to look back upon, 18 months after my viva. If the PhD was an item of clothing, I would say it is most like a pair of completely impractical but nonetheless sort of fabulous, shoes.

    When I first tried them on, I was self-conscious but proud. I like the way they felt and made me feel. But I wore them awkwardly, as if playing dress up. Sometimes I stomped loudly but mostly I crept too lightly (and still do) not saying or knowing exactly who I was or what I wanted to say. Often I was worried someone would tap me on the shoulder and say ‘why the hell are you wearing THESE’. Then the dress up game became easy – on a good days that style was effortless and on other, metaphorically rainy days, I had blisters.

    And perhaps now I’m becoming sick of looking at them, wanting a wardrobe refresh and wondering if the same methodological styles and trends would still ‘work’ for me.
    So this is something of my journey, if it helps.

    I bounded into the PhD full of ideas, full of what I thought I knew about my topic. And then you read more and suddenly becomes acutely aware of your own ignorance and insignificance. I saw in my reading that my topic, critical thinking, meant multiple things and, of course, it meant everything to me, meaning I didn’t want to ignore any of the multiple interpretations on offer. I then speed-dated different theorists, not quite knowing which one to settle down with. In truth, it was a bit of a mess. But eventually, I tidied it away into a neat proposal and I was ready to go.

    And then it got messier again. Halfway through collecting my data, I attended a conference which shifted my thinking entirely. I became interested in feminist new materialist theories which encourage researchers to think not just about language but about materiality – or the stuff of things. As my research design was focused very much around people and their words, this was a real challenge to my thinking. These theorists challenged me to ask was critical thinking really about the person doing the thinking or the context that made it possible in a particular moment or time? I considered what role buildings, rooms, atmospheres, clothing, books, bodies, written essays, digital technology had to do with critical thinking? This provocation was a real challenge to me as someone who felt her research design was already ‘fixed’. I wanted a framework, thanks – not a list of bloody difficult questions.

    So I started to then ‘look’ for the material as I wrote. I re-read my data for ‘things’, I wrote about the atmosphere in the classroom, I inserted the word ‘material’ hundreds of times in the text. I shifted into speaking that research methodology and embodying it in my writing. And simultaneously I worried it was becoming a fetish object in my work – given overdue focus, because that it was ‘new materialist thinkers’ should do. I was also using post structural theories which both complemented and clashed this ‘new’ thinking, requiring me to think about what theory made it possible to say about my data (and what it made possible to write about it). So as I wrote I was moving forward and backwards, within and between paradigms.

    I found an imperfect solution and tried to write in a way that felt generative, rather than closed – speculative, rather than certain – but at the same time being sure I was convincing of my ‘expertise’, It was a difficult process of becoming writer/researcher that is given very little space, on refection, in the PhD as a pedagogical process.

    In the end, I also came to realise that my research design had created a set of boundaries not just around what I could ‘find out’ in my fieldwork – but about what it was possible to say in my writing. This is about how our methodologies become our writing styles in that we adopt the language and form of the theorists we use. These can give us a recognised structure for how to analyse our work but perhaps they also restrict us to speak as action researchers or critical theorists do. To return to the shoe analogy – I couldn’t smoothly run up a mountain wearing sparkly high heels. So my methodological choices produced my writing which was simultaneously produced by and entangled with my own experiences/understandings of my topic/of what makes good writing.

    I notice even in the fact I turn to the clothing analogy and wriggle my toes in my shoes as I write that I have becoming sensitively attuned to the material much more than I’d possibly anticipated.

    So to conclude, just as I start to look for that next pair of fabulous shoes – that I am unlikely to wear for so long or get so comfortable within, I want to invite you to think about what journey your paradigm or topic (or style of shoes, perhaps this analogy is wearing thin) enables you to walk on (or say or write).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. rebwebb50 says:

    Dear Everyone
    I wanted to share an email that Martin Bitnner kindly shared about his idea of writing and translation that i thought you might find fascinating. This is what he wrote:

    ”Dear Rebecca,
    Thank you for this wonderful blogpost. I would love to participate once in this writing group.
    **To me, writing had always been something I would do for myself in the first stance (very selfish). Although I knew that the purpose/reason/aim* of my diploma thesis and my phd were to participate and enrich in the discipline and their discourses, it had always been a personal relationship/bond and only in the second step of handing the text in/publishing the text I would understand its “greater” (only in the sense of extending my writing) meaning. Is it the practice of writing or the practice of allowing others to read when we translate a… or into a… text?

    *this is something I do quite often in my first writing up of thoughts.
    **I am pretty sure that this comment is not appropriate to any “style-writing” (cf. Williams 2014: Style. Lessons ins Clarity and Grace)”

    I love the idea that Martin captures here of ‘steps’. However, what I take from what Martin says here is that the first stepp (the ‘selfsih’ one) is always minutely and intricately linked to subsequent steps as part of an ongoing process of translation. Martin asks about the ‘moment’ of tralsation….now that’s an interesting one to ponder…



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