ERG SES D 01, Research in Higher Education
The idea of approaching a doctoral thesis as a text with overarching literary features such as an extended metaphor is a relatively new concept in academia. However, recent dissertation papers, including my own, have attempted to do this, using popular children stories to provide a framework for analysing particular types of data. This paper explores the advantages of using an extended metaphor in this way, as well as any inherent limitations.
The case for the use of metaphors in academic writing is represented by Kelly (2011) who, drawing on the work of Bump (1985), argues that drawing together elements from different domains allows for “‘both/and’ thinking and interdisciplinary thought” (Bump, 1985, p. 445). Kelly (2011) suggests that the strength of such an approach lies in its ability to make “conceptual links” for the reader: “Metaphor has the potential to enhance textual sociability and actively bring meanings and foster associations from ‘outside’ the immediate context of the research project” (p. 432). Coming from a more literacy perspective, Zhao (2009) sees the use of metaphor as a powerful conceptual tool, helping to simplify abstract ideas and suggests that “figurative thought is at the heart of meaning-making processes” (p. 121). Aligned with this is Jones (2013), who sees metaphor as an important tool in educational research to “illustrate or explain a concept in a way that will communicate effectively to the intended audience” (p. 2). From a different perspective, Watson (2015) suggests that the use of humour in research, arising from the use of metaphor, can provide a way to “re-see” the world and “delight and spark the sociological imagination” (p. 418).
This paper reviews how metaphor has been effectively used in doctoral writing, drawing on dissertation and published papers, including the presenter’s own doctoral thesis. The examples are drawn from Europe, the British Isles and Australia.
This research out of which this paper has arisen utilised the paradigm of constructivism as articulated by Guba and Lincoln (1985, 2013). Within this paradigm, an interpretivist/constructivist ontology was chosen because it aligns well with the educational context in which the research was conducted and the social nature of Communities of Practice that were researched. This research adapted the Value Creation Framework developed by Wenger et al. (2011) in designing the questionnaire, focus groups and semi-structured interview questions. The key research terms of self-efficacy, professional identity and social connection also influenced the construction of these questions. The questionnaire consisted of 23 items and included both closed and open-ended questions. The questionnaire was primarily distributed through social media. A total of 107 questionnaires met the criteria of being from secondary teachers with less than 5 years teaching experience. Two focus groups and 49 semi-structured interviews were conducted over a period of 15 months. The data was analysed both statistically (questionnaire) and thematically (focus group and semi-structured interview).
The first example reviewed is from the doctoral thesis of Collins (2015) from the University of West England who used the story of Alice in Wonderland to conceptual her research on social marketing. The idea of Alice negotiating a new social world helped her communicate her own struggle to “navigate a path between an inclination towards experimentation and unconventionality in style and structure and desire to actually, get a PhD” (p.10). The same story was used by Australian doctoral student, Netolicky (2016) , who portrayed the 14 educators at the school she used in a case study as characters from the story. For example, as the researcher, she is Alice, whilst school leaders are, collectively, the Cheshire Cat and teachers are the White Rabbit. As Netolicky (2016) notes, using metaphor was not only a way of ensuring anonymity for her participants, but an important tool for analysing her data and highlighting her key themes. Other examples include Hoogland and Wiebe (2009) from the University of Western Ontario who use Little Red Riding Hood as a way of portraying themselves as narrative researchers. My thesis used the story of The Wizard of Oz. Alice represented the early career teachers who left the safe worlds of their pre-service teacher education for the unpredictable world of Oz. The Tin Man, Scarecrow and Lion who Alice meets are the mentors and members of Communities of Practice that some fortunate ECSTs have as they travel through the early years of their professional career. Just as these characters each seek to find a heart, courage and a brain, so ECSTs have the opportunity to develop self-efficacy, professional identity and social connection through the professional learning they gain from being part of a CoP. This metaphor gave unity to my thesis and helped to highlight my key findings
Bump, J. (1985). Metaphor, creativity, and technical writing. College Composition and Communication, 36(4), 444-453. doi:10.2307/357863 Collins, K. (2015). Alice through the telescope: A critical autoethnography of an (almost) participatory research process. . (PhD), University of the West of England. Retrieved from http://eprints.uwe.ac.uk/25558 Hoogland, C., & Wiebe, N. (2009). This small matter of paying attention:” A dialogue about listening to the body in narrative inquiry. Jones, J. K. (2013). Into the labyrinth: Persephone's journey as metaphor and method for research: Cambridge Scholars Publishing U6 - ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&ctx_enc=info%3Aofi%2Fenc%3AUTF-8&rfr_id=info%3Asid%2Fsummon.serialssolutions.com&rft_val_fmt=info%3Aofi%2Ffmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Abook&rft.genre=bookitem&rft.au=Jones%2C+Janice+K&rft.atitle=Into+the+labyrinth%3A+Persephone%27s+journey+as+metaphor+and+method+for+research&rft.date=2013-01-01&rft.pub=Cambridge+Scholars+Publishing&rft.externalDBID=n%2Fa&rft.externalDocID=oai_eprints_usq_edu_au_23418¶mdict=en-US U7 - Book Chapter. Kelly, F. (2011). ‘Cooking together disparate things’:The role of metaphor in thesis writing. Innovations in Education & Teaching International, 48(4), 429-438. doi:10.1080/14703297.2011.617088 Netolicky, D. (2016). Rethinking professional learning for teachers and school leaders. Journal of professional capital and community, 1(4), 270-285. Watson, C. (2015). A Sociologist Walks into a Bar (and Other Academic Challenges): Towards a Methodology of Humour. Sociology, 49(3), 407-421. doi:10.1177/0038038513516694 Zhao, J. (2009). Conceptualizing English academic writing via verbal and manual metaphors. Ibérica, 17, 119-138.
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