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Reflecting on Working with Images & multimodality SOCRMx Week 4.1

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Tuesday, 17 Oct 2017, 10:41

1.  What three (good) research questions could be answered using this approach?.

·       What are the meanings and categories of experience that participants associate with concepts of ‘spaces’ and/or ‘room’ from being invited to make artefacts that reflect comparatively on their online and offline learning environments?

·       How would such socio-psychological phenomena be utilised in innovative digital pedagogies that utilise areness of the learners interacting environments for study?

·       Is it necessary to teach literacy in reading and making multi-modal texts in order to utilise such methods?


2. What assumptions about the nature of knowledge (epistemology) seem to be associated with this approach?

·        That knowledge is structured by in inherited resources in language, images and embodied action that form systems of communication that are complex and difficult to categorise as a single and simple response.

·        That knowledge is related to an interaction between the knowing subject, known discourses embodied in conventions, roles and institutions and the object that is to be known. The contributions of each will differ in different instances – when for instance we compare a material object with one that is entirely constructed by discourse.

·        That being the case, the researcher’s contribution to the act of knowing in collection and analysis of data must be made available as part of the outcome of the product and as reflexive analysis.

·        This approach does not see ‘subjectivity’ or ‘intersubjectivity’ as a bias in knowing the object but an essential part of the act of knowing. It cannot be ‘controlled’ out of existence.


3. What kinds of ethical issues arise?

·        Acts of interpretation of others and self are subject to power relations in different social contexts that can be a cause of significant harm to the participant in a world of unequal power (the ‘real’ world).

·        Hence no interpretation is innocent of judgement at some level in the production and distribution of outcomes related to the meanings of someone’s world or actions in it.

·        Gaining truly informed consent can therefore be difficult.

·        The participants must retain enough rights of co-ownership of the evidence and outcomes to influence the effects of their distribution between different audiences or when an unforeseen aspect of the final audience’s response becomes know.

·        No participant gives or alienates their rights entirely. This should not be seen as a source of bias b ut its existence considered reflexively in the research report.

·        It is possible that this exercise will involve sensitive material and that briefing and debriefing may be complex processes.


4. What would "validity" imply in a project that used this approach?

·       The descriptive and interpretative material is subjected to rigorous control by a theory of interpretation that can be known and communicated to BOTH participants in and readers of the research.

·       The limitations as well as strengths of this approach are considered but that those considerations (within the research) are not seen as final but provisional. It is open to ongoing representations from others that might be negatively or positively critical. This in part represents the integrity of the research process.

·       There is no inappropriate attempt to generalise the knowledge and outcomes acquired in terms of laws or rules of human behaviour, except in fully reflexive reflective discussion. The contextuality of the knowledge, skills and values examined must be reflected.

·       There is some basis of trust in the observations, given by the evidence and how it is handled and manipulated in the research report conclusions.


5. What are some of the practical or ethical issues that would need to be considered?

·       The ability to circumscribe the social events and scenarios that are studied such that they are not distorted in a way that predetermines the analysis but yet is manageably small enough to be fruitfully studied in the limited time, space and other resources available. This must involve the ability to reflexively describe these strategies.

·       Researchers or their theories must be open to query. This can cause difficulties in finding sponsorship or resource funding for a project. It will also have consquences that may affect the reputation and security of the researcher.

·       The method relies on a degree of openness to crossing boundaries that, in certain circumstances, may have unforeseen consequences.

·       Research funders also may not finance overtly open-ended research, requiring from it a usable product that can sometimes (especially in the research of educational institutions) be both monetised and turned to the benefit of a single source, rather than to education as a whole.

·       A high degree of participation in the tasks is required from participants. It should be allied then to meeting genuine learning outcomes of their own in the courses they are studying and this should be reflected in the debriefing that occurs.

6. And finally, find and reference at least two published articles that have used this approach (aside from the examples given in this course). Make some notes about how the approach is described and used in each paper, linking to your reflections above.

  • This section includes 2 research articles first.

Bailey, N.M. & Van Harken, E.M (2014) ‘Visual Images as Tools of Teacher Inquiry’ in Journal of Teacher Education 65 (3) 241-260 DOI: 10.1177/0022487113519130


The aim of this paper is to utilise ‘mutimodality as a research methodology for teacher inquiry (244).’ There is an element of action research involved in that the participants demonstrate assessed predictive levels of ‘growth’ in their understanding of qualitative methodologies in research on their  role as teachers as a result of the use of visual or hybrid multimodal material. However the methods were primarily underpinned by participant observation (244) but were focused on documentary evidence collection and analysis (collecting emails, field notes, 3 assignments per learner), interviews which were coded as typed documents. Analysis used a version of grounded theory from Glaser (1992 & Cresswell (1995) cited 245.

Moss, J. & Hay, T. (2014) ‘Keeping connected: a review of the research relationship’ in International Journal of Inclusive Education 18:3, 295-311, DOI: 10.1080/13603116.2012.689017 To link to this article:

The aim of this paper is to examine ‘multimodal’ accounts’, supported by interviews and underpinned by participant observation that identifies itself as an ethnomethodology hybrid with individual case study’ (298). There is an element of action research involved in that the participants’ accounts form libraries of materials for use in educating youth workers using pre-authorised and ethically checked accounts. It aims to use accounts created by young people with an acquired disability as the data for understanding the means by which this ‘group’ of young people construct their lives when co-constructing them in a relationship of trust. The paper admits to a degree of methodological naivety that is justified by the project’s importance and the salience of silence on issues of subjectivity in this area. The degree of rigour and integrity in this area is a mark of high reflexivity and will stimulate future more precisely formulated research.

One area that is unmissable in this area is that there is a great deal of theory which is not as yet well applied to practical research. However theorisation at a deep level is intrinsic to multimodal practice. As an example, note (the OU does not have access to a copy but only an Abstract) the use of feminist and postmodern theory together with multimodality in:

The study was based on a 3 year long examination of a teacher education course. It used multimodal presentations (graphic novel and role-play) as well as live commentary on the same to see how revisions of the multimodal material illustrated the value of a theoretical grasp of feminist theories of embodiment and the meaning of place and ‘space’.

Another feature of the publications in a new arena like this are reflective analyses of ation research of a semi-formal kind. Herein practitioners reflect reflexively on their introduction of innovations. The following uses multimodal methods from art history to classroom work in the sciences:

Yenawine, P. & Miller, A. (2014) ‘Visual Thinking, Images & Learning in College’ in About Campus (sept-Oct 2014) American College Personnel Association & Wiley Periodicals, DOI: 10.1002/abc.21162 

Companions from Steve's blog:

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What is a document? Atget & art: A843: 4.5.1 & 3

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Monday, 16 Oct 2017, 16:26

What is a document? Atget & art: A843 Combination of 2 exercises in this question

… an architectural photograph would be called a document, as would a chronophotograph, a police i.d., or an X ray. They had one thing in common: all of them were pictures that went to work.

The document was a fundamentally practical picture that lay at the bottom of visual culture as a base line, a point of departure, an objective pole. The document lived out its time quietly in the basement, many floors below the storied academic hierarchy, well below genre, well below still life, way below landscape.

(Nesbit, 1992, p. 16)

Yet Atget had no pretension to avant-gardism; there was no dada slap, no minimalist dirge; his materials were those of any documentary photographer without nostalgia for the old-style authorship of the easel painter or poet; his combinations were made with the same technical signs used by his peers. For him, authorship involved lyric impersonality and a credit line … Perhaps he was cheating a little when he called himself an author; he had neither won the right nor did he have the right kind of work to back up the claim in court. But for Atget the law existed to be exploited. And so without ceremony Atget bent the law and trafficked between cultural and industrial zones; he hustled his work back and forth across the border, playing to any market he could.

(Nesbit, 1992, p. 99)

Apply this exercise to the ‘documents’ below? (My extension of the exercise to make some sense to myself of this section of the course)

I have certain problems with the pedagogy of this bit of the module, so I’ve rather adapted how much and how I answer the exercises. For instance, the style of going through the Nesbit essay (themes with comments in between) made me feel too much as if I were being guided to a certain interpretation of this writer that I don’t (yet) feel able to share. So much so that it became a barrier to learning and I’m sure this wasn’t intended. I still haven’t got the author-teacher’s interpretation matched in my understanding and thus I’ll have to wait till something clicks, other than offering my first go at the Nesbit essay (opens in new window). Yet I’m very sure I need to try and understand the task here, especially since a ‘document’ is a description of something that in Barthes would be a (lisible or scriptible) text.

In Nesbit a document appears to be some artefact – in writing or image that represents some ‘thing’ in the world – that primarily has a ‘use value’, often as a ‘tool’ in some process of technical understanding, sale or manufacture. Hence both pictures below are interpreted by the text as things of which, an ironmonger or decorative iron craftsperson, might have interest. The picture is practical – and the term ‘praxis’ is not a million miles away from articulation here. The document is, for Atget, like a commodity in Marx, assessed as a ‘use-value’ and an ‘exchange-value.’


Ultimately Nesbit evokes Atget’s relationship to the ‘market’ as a means of negotiating the interaction between use and exchange value, since the latter allows for an excess of cultural or created (advertising) meaning over use to change the exchange value of the artefact. As I see it is that ‘excess meaning’ that allows Atget to make a silk purse of a useful sow’s ear, art out of documentary representation. Sale value is based in the ‘traffic between cultural and industrial’.


Atget's shop front

Atget stair-rail

When I look at these 2 documents together, I don’t quite get the point that both would interest an ironmonger. I don’t deny that is potentially true but it hides too much that would be uppermost iun the mind of the ironmonger in contemplating each. The ‘iron bars’ are decorative and carry images from nature, but their meaning for the ironmonger would be hegemonically controlled by their function as a source of ‘security’. In contrast the flora and scrollwork (nature and art) captured in the iron stair railing would emphasise decorative (or show) value over their menial role in guiding a gentleman or lady up the steps. In the second picture, the ironmonger would be concerned with distributions of open and closed space – both as a plastic 3-D effect and in conveying the theme of the staircase as a portal to somewhere – together with arches and sill barriers / thresholds.

Granted both speak of relationships between materials used in building and decoration and interactions between these. However the concern of the use of glass in the first seems to address different discourses and I hence still see a role for the notion of text in Foucault.

The idea of document though is superior in allowing us to see the role of the means by which use value and sale value interact. The meaning of the second picture, for instance circles around the use of decoration and free space (decorative play) to enhance the value of what is documented and its price over its use. Whilst that might be so in the first one, the issue is not so stark. The decorative plays (dreams) but also functions (to advertise commodified service of food and beverage for instance). The work with the reflective qualities of glass – that combines representations of outside and inside, visible and invisible figuration and hybridity in figuration is part of the ‘excess meaning’ that raises the documents value as ‘art’ (and here not just as decoration). Perhaps it also ‘queers’ the pitch by making disturbing what ought to be ‘normal’. The faces of the proprietor and other person seem to carry even more meaning here and allow themes of security in the ironwork to morph into their opposite – the role of the frontage to invite and repel and the insecurity that guards these functions.

So here is a deeper commonality. Both documents are about entry that occurs between differently constituted spaces It allows insight beneath what the document ‘masks’.

All the best


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FOCUS GROUPS: Theorising from a Critique SOCRMx Edinburgh Ex.

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Your task is to review the following case study and reflect on the use of the focus group method.

McKenzie, L & Baldassar, L 2017. 'Studying internationalization on campus: lessons from an undergraduate qualitative research project' [online]. SAGE Research Methods Cases. 

Read the case study carefully and write a reflective blog post, addressing the following questions in turn:

1.      How have focus groups been integrated with other methods in this research?

1.1.   The research, although it used authentic participants was also (and perhaps primarily) intended as a means of practicing data collection and analysis using interviews and Focus groups as a qualitative method. Hence the logic of combining the two was prescribed for this purpose and this is, I feel, a weakness in the data collection strategy which was not tied primarily to each research team’s conceptualisation of the main focus of their study nor to characteristics of participants selected.

1.2.   This is particularly evident in the issue of timing: The reason one might choose any research method is related to the ways in which participants are conceptualised – because to a large extent that conceptualisation is a co-creation of the methods of selection and orientation of the group on which we are focusing.

1.3.   The largely novitiate learner research teams then were it appeared guided to view the construction of data collection tools as primarily a technical matter in relation to the time available. They were not asked to understand how those technical matters and how they were implemented might construct (at least in part) the group on which they were focusing.

1.4.   This is revealed in the treatment of questionnaire construction for the focus groups. The teachers in this case note that: “Some students included too many “ice-breaker” questions … designed to put the participants at their ease, but that could easily take-up the bulk of the time” (7). It is clear from this this that it was considered that questions of skill in technical design relative to resources (here time) was the primary concern of feedback to learner researchers. What is not said to be explored is how the inclusion of ‘enquires designed to put the participants at their ease’ might constitute the groups perceived identity internally or externally. The methods are seen as neutral in relation to the participants studied rather than constitutive. This kind of thinking (in the development of tools) is highly salient in quantitative questionnaire design and seems here to miss raising the meta-methodological (or reflexive) awareness required in qualitative work to ensure the integrity and rigour of the findings.

1.5.   The research teachers make a similar point about their learners: the latter were thought to be blinded to the acceptability of methods, such as opportunity samples, created by ‘snowballing’, because in quantitative methods such non-random sampling would be a cause of significant bias. The teacher-authors indicate 9correctly that, reflexively understood, such methods may not compromise the rigour of selection and analysis.

1.6.   However, this is more than a comparison of the differences in assessment of methods used in quantitative and qualitative methodology, which is as far as this paper takes it (p. 11). It is in fact another recognition of the fact that participant selection is always a means of constructing the group definition of a sample (random sampling has its own assumptions – particularly given the fact that it is only conceived as effective in redressing participant selection bias in theory not in practice). Those learners who wanted more ‘ice-breakers’ may have implicitly felt this – but are corrected as impractical researchers. My own feeling is that the students were required to some extent by the framework of this project (using real participants – but mainly as an object in meeting their needs as students within this course as framed by its teachers) to not understand (because of the resource costs involved including time) that a research method in part constitutes its subjects (often as objects to be manipulated).

1.7.   This is also clear in the revelation that snowballing produced very good focus groups. These kinds of group already had a basis of trust on which to constitute a ‘community’ and a pre-mediated relationship to the learner-researcher. Where though is the learner encouraged to reflect on this.

1.8.   Another weakness, as I see it, in the understanding of how focus group methodologies are learned is that the framework of this research prescribes seeing the participant groups as, in part (but I think a big part), tools to a pedagogical end, that is not focused on the participants’ but the learner-researchers’  interests. International students become tools in a learning process to the cost of any interest in their self-articulation, in my view at least. It is interesting, for instance, that this paper does not define ‘discourses’ and ‘folk models’ and hence ask the method to be related to those theoretical tools for understanding how group identity and intersubjectivity might be structured, prior to and within the process. For instance the 3rd finding of this study (p.6) identifies a ‘bubble effect’; but fails to see this effect as a possible effect of methodological assumptions.

2.      What difficulties did students encounter in the design of focus group questions?

2.1.   I have referred to this in 1.4 above. It is important to notice that these difficulties are in large identified by mentor / teachers and used correctively to teach appropriate method in questionnaire building (as understood by teaching staff). I would argue that the learners’ would learn more about issues vital to qualitative methods had they been empowered to test the differences that emerge between groups that are made comfortable by such enquiries and those whom are not. That introductory conversation could indeed form matter for analysis rather than being seen as introductory to results produced by the ‘proper’ questions. An important word on p. 7 is ‘coded’. Coding is an aspect of hybrid methods (between qualitative and quantitative). Coding is preferred to analysis because it yields results that can be quantified.

2.2.   This emerges in a contradiction (p. 6) wherein the teachers lament lack of prior training in ‘qualitative interviews or focus training rather than in ‘participant observation’. Indeed I would argue that the latter (and other ethnographic epistemologies) are constructed as a contaminant to good interview and focus group preparation.

2.3.   This need not be the case but has been pre-constructed as a paradigm of the focus group work that learners are herein inducted. I find that problematic.

2.4.   Another aspect of this is the paradigmatic schedule of research (pp4f), in which ‘feedback’ opportunities appear always to refer to feedback from tutors to learners, rather than the reverse, or (in my view) essential ethical and methodological process in line with ethnographic methodologies, feedback to and from participants to assist in the interpretative analysis of the results. Participants’ ‘speech acts’ remain objects for coding analysis.

3.      What kind of insights did the focus group generate, and how were these different from those derived from other methods used?

3.1.   This is not as clearly indicated as it might be. However, it is made clear that the kind of questions (see 2 above of which this is a continuation in part) can be used to pre-construct participant answers in a focus group as either encouraging ‘individual responses, rather than collective discussion’? I find this obviously open to asserting that students are taught to see how processes in methodology (such as question-building) can constitute the subject they address. However, it is not thus used. It is instead used to see the difference between the question0-based tools used in either focus groups or interviews. Again the focus is predominantly technical rather than on how methodologies enabled knowledge creation that is aware that the participants are necessarily responsive and constructed by the whole tenor of a research method.

3.2.   The answers from focus groups are related however to the theory of ‘folk models’ (p. 8) as devised by Agar and Macdonald (1995 cited p.8). Defined here solely as ‘shared perceptions of a particular topic’, this fails to see that the kind of ‘folk’ typologies that a group might represent, dependent on selection and socialisation, could be multiple rather than single. The idea of ‘folk’ is hence reified. I believe that this is an effect of the teaching agenda in this project.

4.      What are identified as some of the key findings from focus group questions?

4.1.   These are on pp 5f. They are rather mixed and that, in part because they are, in my view, under-theorised. We need to know the balance of focus group, as compared to interview, results that were coded as these themes, for one thing.


4.1.2.Awareness of conflict between institutional constructions of the potentials for international learners and the real ones

4.1.3.The ‘bubble effect’ in which, from the point of view of the ‘domestic students’’, international student experience is separated from domestic student experience

4.2.   These themes are presented in sequence as if their production as knowledge was based on similar epistemological and methodological assumptions – but in fact they are not. Some a product of transactional analysis between researcher and participant experience (4.1.3). Even the presence in coding of primarily student identity issues (4.1.2) may be an effect of the researchers and participants co-constructing themselves as primarily learners in one institution, rather than any other subject position. They find difference then, only within that subject position.

5.      What kind of issues did the students face with recruiting focus group participants?

5.1.   These are touched upon in 1.7 above. The learners are said (p. 9) to make assumptions on recruitment inherited from their experience of research methods controlled by the issues motivating hegemonic quantitative methodologies.

5.2.   Those who succeeded in forming a usable sample (by snowballing) were those with longer experience and greater networks within the institution. Most however (p. 10) ‘underestimated the challenges of recruitment’. This is explained (I may stretch the description somewhat) as an interaction of being unaware that social approaches are mediated by awareness of how these approaches are motivated by one’s own needs (as a community member) and concomitant disregard that their needs – to recruit suitable people – was not matched by the needs that would motivate those in the ideal ‘sample’ Indeed the ‘bubble effect’ is more a factor in the constitution of the researchers rather than participants, yet the learners are never facilitated towards this necessary perception in qualitative work.

5.3.   I find it funny (when I don’t find it ‘self-serving’ that the writer-teachers conclude that student difficulties are in fact a reflex of under-resources of teaching staff (p.10)). How easily does the needs of that community of interest find its way into these reports?

5.4.   In fact this interpretation rather confounds the error in teaching qualitative method, which should stress rather a reflexive attitude in fully qualitative analysis. The base perception required is that analysis must not pretend that the ‘object of study’, including conception of the participant group that articulate that ‘object’, is co-created and that a force in that creation is the political, institutional and ‘practical’ research paradigm that from the first identified. Reflexivity is a political act. It must over-ride the ‘economism’ (Althusser’s Lenin and Philosophy) of the approach that leads this paper but by self-respectfully recognising it for what it is.


Steve Bamlett

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A Personal Pledge to anyone I may ever teach or tutor

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 15 Oct 2017, 11:14


Sometimes our own ethical standards make us have to be extra specially clear.

I pledge therefore to my learner colleagues that their words or any information they share in any place will not be discussed in any other closed or open discussion without their knowledge and consent. They may rest assured that I will also never talk about their assessed academic work except to them and, in extreme cases, a line manager - the latter only where there is a risk to the person's health or safety or likelihood of succeeding in the course.

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Mining Art Gallery Opens - please publicise

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Mining art leaflet

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Meaning in A Collage: Text Production SOCRMx

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Saturday, 14 Oct 2017, 09:03

Meaning in Production text in, Open that in new window by clicking here.

It was typical that I not notice that the task I chose did want meaning to be covered – although this was covered in the wording of Option 1 rather than the categories given for write-up.: ‘try to do some analysis of the resulting image(s)’.

 So here is a first of a series (if I ever take it further) of iterative thinking about my collage.

 a)     In both the online screens and the photographed offline location there are phenomena which call themselves ‘rooms’ that can be ‘entered’. The latter is a physical room in which a lone worker sits. The former (on the screen-prints) is of 2 online ‘rooms’ – the first is the ‘Main Meeting Sharing Layout’ (as designated by Adobe Connect [AC]) and the second (under design by the worker) is a ‘Break-Out Rooms layout’. This same layout (Fig 2b) will be demonstrated in the Meeting Main room (following the scenario represented in Fig 2a), and then will be used by three or more sub-groups in their individual ‘Break-Out Rooms’. Both online and offline rooms can be said to be entered by the participant (SB). In what sense are the action of ‘entry’ or the space indicated as ‘room’ related to each other in offline and online space?

b)     The physical room is distinguished by ‘space’ apprehended through various perspectives on its interior distances. These involve perspective, dimensionality and orientation. The camera representing the participant looks up, down (although these latter tend not to be represented in the collage). Each perspective as the cameras ‘sees’ it are influenced by the direction of light that illuminates the ‘room’ and makes its contents visible or obscures them in shadow. Those conditions of light are effected by spatial and temporal distance of the light source (a window to a garden, garage and field beyond and a desk light). The variation in perspectives fragments the whole so that our whole impression of the room is ‘mocked up’ as a whole whilst making clear the partiality of the grasp of each part of the scene to the pauses in the movements of the camera ‘eye’.

a.      Thus note how a central slide which looks down upon the computer desk in front of the computer monitor shows the light reflecting from the white page of the participant’s diary. The proximity of diary and monitor are related to the temporal space that the screen shots represent – they are designs for a session that the participant is committing to hard record in the diary. Likewise, the participant plans for future practice sessions in order to come to terms with how to engage with the transition between Main Meeting and Break-out room (which was revealed as still problematic in this session). For the participant, what is being manipulated on the screen online has a ‘close’ relationship’ to the planning of temporal space in the diary. The screen itself in the shot above is relatively dark – the camera eye responding to the greater light source at a nearby window. We see the break-out room represented on the monitor but that ‘room’ is, in this view, subsumed to the perception of the computer monitor as one of the many objects in the room that might articulate themselves and their relationship to the participant.

b.     Objects in the room and their spatial relationships can tell us something about the consciously and unconsciously displayed aspects of the participant’s identity. The house and garden bespeak something about class and status. However other issues are betrayed by the books on show, the formal placing of wall decorations and the informal placing of objects and mementoes, including postcards and photographs.

c.      Time is central to the last point. Dead parents and pets, lost interests (the occluded Whitman) is displaced by the postcard of the Scottish hunk. The meanings of the placements can’t though be determined without some view of the subjectivity, and its changes that caused their spatial placements over time. Moreover, how much of that placement was planned or ‘accidental’ (if accidents exist in psychology) without involvement of elements of subjectivity including cognition and emotion. But temporal changes that aren’t subjective will also have been determining those placements: change of jobs, friends and the growth and development of children – the pictures above the monitor are by ‘children’ long since entered adulthood. This point about time is true of the book selection which tells of what book survived different course – in Classical Literature, philosophy, art (Van Gogh in presence) and so on. The old Soviet peace poster recalls a past holiday in a long ‘gone’ country as do the Byzantine church models and life and educational certificates

d.     Determining the balance of literary mementoes and ‘scientific’ ones and interpreting what kind of boundaries there may or may not be can be posed by the 2 skeleton models and the brain next to centrally but upwardly placed neuroscience texts.

e.      And then it is clear that the room is not well-tended – bearing sciences of decoration from a past that is not the participants but of the house containing the room, the clutter and over-use of floor-space as a temporal storage during a work phase – showing the badly organised remains of different interests which could be those of the participant or his husband.

f.      IN CONCLUSION, an offline room is complexly organised in terms of both competing and collaborating interests of the participant and their immediate networks. It means emotions, thoughts, memory and forgetting, past and present lives and work roles, institutions and so on. Here the computer keyboard and monitor fit into the meaning of an object required by the participants work (very salient at the moment of the picture) and home-life (eBay stores of books now read and no longer having a space anywhere in the house).

c)     The offline rooms are located in what we might call cyberspace – but the role of metaphor here is important. The Internet does not require the idea of architecture or rooms but hierarchical organisations of education (universities do). I notice with some surprise that the idea of room architecture is employed as a self-labelling metaphor in both rooms and to connect them to each other. The break-out room event is represented symbolically in 2(a) by pictures of two rooms – taken from Google and with no knowledge of what they represent. In part they were chosen so that the institutional language of main meeting and break-out rooms can be visualised and absorbed. However, it was also purposeful to show two different rooms – to emphasise that how digital meeting-space is conceptualised is both arbitrary, can be different for different people in the same space, and the conceptual sequelae of that. Those sequelae are that online spaces can be used in ways that offline spaces cannot – to destabilise space by linking to other places / resources / pages. However:

 i.     It is not true that you can control spaces. It depends on your status in the VLE hierarchy (Host, Presenter, and Participant – each with diminishing powers in that sequence). Since both screenshots are in ‘Host’ view controls that would allow this are visible in the in the top icon bar. However, were this scenario seen by a participant, even avatar participant as I discovered, those controls are diminished such that one follows a top-driven agenda. Hosts can gift and take away privileges to anyone below them, whether these gifts are requested are not – even in Break-Out rooms the agenda remains firmly in the hands of the Host and s (he) can visit each room as s (he) wishes. The breakout room reminds participants in them, by the placing of an icon to the left top corner, the main meeting to which  they will return on the Host’s decision (as do timer and fixed – unchangeable instructions)

ii.     It is clear that Bayne’s view that some metaphors for space here maintain functional fixedness in the educational space – they connate not multiply determined space (as in the physical room collaged) but one determined by ‘convention’ and, of course hierarchical power relations in higher education. I appear to be aiming here to a Baynesian reading as referenced in the earlier blog.



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To Enter a Room: Working with Visuals SOCRMx Edinburgh Exercise

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 8 Oct 2017, 19:23

‘To Enter a Room’: Researching Space & Entry into Space in an exploratory exercise by one OU Tutor preparing an online session on newly introduced software (Adobe Connect).

Steve Bamlett

Image Creation Exercise

To see the Meanings found in Production text described below, see that in new window by clicking here.

Self in room

The two images I will be examining in this blog post are on pages 2 & 3.

1.     This is a collage of photographs that aim to show a series of views of the room space taken in a 360o swirl in an office chair. The room space is that in which teaching preparation happens, including representations of offline space and access point to online space at one point in the preparation process (p2).

2.     This is the online space used at this same point, as well as an explanatory online pages (p3).

The exercise took place on Thursday 5th November 2017 at 1419. Steve started work on his preparation. A random time by his husband, Geoff, was chosen from a set of folded identical papers well jumbled. The purpose of this ‘randomisation was so that Steve would not know which window would be open on his computer at the point when the photographic data was collected. Had he known this, a window could have been chosen that illustrated a pre-determined set of meanings (at least potentially)

Text Box: Figure 2: The collage of views taken at 1421 from a single swing on a swivel office chair

Print screens

The Task set & option chosen

Option 1: Collect and analyse images. Take a tour of your workplace or your neighbourhood with a camera, create a collage of images that represent a particular concept or theme you are interested in exploring. Then, write a blog post about your image creation task. Importantly, try to do some analysis of the resulting image(s).

Think about the following questions as a way of structuring your writing:

·        What is depicted in the image(s)?

·        What were you trying to discover by creating your image(s)

·        What did the process of image creation involve?

·        What is not seen, and why?

·        How is meaning being conveyed?

·        With respect to the photographs, how might the image(s) convey something different to your experience of 'being there'

The Task

  • What is depicted in the image(s) – Figs 2 & 3 above?

Fig 2 is an amateur’s attempt to create a ‘joiner’ (a method of assembling overlapping photographs to represent the collision of different perspectives to create a ‘whole’ but fragmented vision). David Hockney (2007:102) argues that such works use theories of seeing originating in in Analytic Cubism under Picasso, Braque & Leger. They show the participant’s spatial environment(s) at 1419 during a preparatory session for an online meeting with a group of 22 Level 4 learners to be held in the following week. The method used is dependent on the viewer’s perspective during a sequence of pauses in one 360o chair swivel the whole picture since, unlike Hockney and others, it also involves views to the back of the participant at 1419 and are represented by a swivel of their frame in the median range of 180o. The technique was intended to picture ‘space’ and ‘room’ (and a ‘room’) following Hockney’s experiments (but by an enthusiast amateur with no artistic pretension) that was, in effect ‘moving the space about’ (Hockney 007:106).

This is a deeply ‘subjective’ act but that in itself is not a problem with the method, since it aims at capturing not measurable space but perceived space, which may be an interaction with both filmic space – all depths are brought to the surface in a photograph and interact with ‘illusory’ effects of light - but also an element of potential psychological space (within any conscious or unconscious decisions made in taking and framing the picture and then selecting it or not for the collage).

The reason for not selecting an image (the repertoire can be seen on the attached file), the participant – analyst believed that these images could not technically fit on the A4 page on which cropped versions of them were mounted. The cropping was guided, it was believed, by an attempt at minimal fragmented continuity of the photographs.

Near the middle of the picture is the computer screen on a computer table, which was the primary focus of this observation.

Figure 2(b) is a print screen of the new layout being created for breakout rooms to be used in the teaching session. These are in incomplete form but are, I think, near, completion, although the Attendee pod will not be present. Note that attendees in this creation mode and in 2(a) are the participant (as Host in control of dependent views available to participants). The participants are all ‘avatars’ of the participant created by successive room entries.

The move to the Breakout rooms in 2(b) when completed will follow the screen in the main meeting at 2a. In each case a photograph representing the parent screen is available in its own pod. The breakout screens will ideally be used for instruction before participants are despatched to breakouts – especially in introducing the drawing / writing icon tool-bar (this is their first tutorial on the first year of AC’s introduction to the OU). I ought to say that the latter sentence indicates my plans if this is possible but I am not totally sure yet – more planning to do.

The screen (2b) at 1419 was in a state of near completion. Note that since this is a HOST screen there are some icons in the top bar not available to learners in the breakout rooms, which allow the creation, control and destruction of this new layout by the Host.

It had been pre-planned, but not with an eye to this project, to work on breakout rooms. I have long puzzled on the spatial / architectural metaphors such as ‘room’ used to describe cyber-space or online space and puzzled about them on my MA in Online & distance education (click to open in new window).

  • What were you trying to discover by creating your image(s)

In my blog (Bamlett 2016) – link immediately above – I quoted a sentence I removed from my EMA (which didn’t do all that well! L cheer upJ). It was:

Lucas & Claxton (2010:99) identify ‘functional fixedness’ as a means of disempowering learners from grasping more than the obvious affordances of resources. They see it as endemic to cultures dependent on teaching-to-the test rather than ‘lifelong-learning’.

I think it is possible that one means of achieving ‘functional fixedness’ is to control the spaces that learners inhabit online and indeed offline. What is space and what is 'a room' or 'room'? How do formal and informal definitions of these terms impact on learners online? How do offline contexts relate to online contexts in the learner’s conceptualisation and use of space? How do ideas of control, order, organization, and conversely, ‘creativity’ or individual difference – perhaps aspects of manipulations of psychological space - interact with other formal and informal spatial definitions?

These questions are all MUCH too large and vaguely posed. Moreover, I probably have no intention of following them through. They are not new questions to the academy though. Collier & Collier (1986: 46ff.) example such questions in ‘visual anthropology’ as early as the 1950s. Indeed Hall’s (1966: 97 words cited ibid: 48) seem to sum up my own study:

People who “live in mess” … are those who fail to classify activities and artefacts according to a uniform, consistent, or predictable spatial plan.’ (Mea culpa!!!!!!)

Together with these are much newer questions in online education: notably those in Bayne (2008:403) who shows how some VLEs strain to ‘render the “unknowability” of digital space knowable … in a way that is heavily coded for stability, authority, and convention, and which limits the sense of the information space as a domain’ from the intrusion of radical alternatives.

There is no doubt that what I want to produce however is only notes towards these issues. My MA in Art History has like ‘la belle dame sans merci’ ‘me in thrall’.

  • What did the process of image creation involve?

I have detailed the process of ‘reconstructing’ images into a ‘production text’ (Fiske 1989 cited Mitchell 2017:92) above at various points. Of course in a write-up I’d go for a fuller Methods section here, included deeper thought on analytic methodologies – my preference though would be a form of multimodal analysis (Bateman 2008, Bezemer & Kress 2016).

  • What is not seen, and why?

The unseen here is vast, even though the method aims to highlight the perspectival nature of concepts of offline space. Indeed an addition to the method may be to ask participants in open interview ‘what do you think is missing from your collage that would help someone to understand your experience better?’ What I think is missing here (given that I did this quickly and as a pilot to see how to refine the instructions to myself) is that psychologically vision is not experienced in this angular way and that gaps in the layout appear not to be meaningful – see, for instance, how Hockney uses gaps – and their absence – in his ‘joiners’. The kinetics and proxemics within the space obviously also have meaning, since movement, even eye saccades, will serve psychologically to make the objects and environment meaningful to the person viewing them. A kind of dance animates meaning and image production. This is even more problematic when you consider how the contents of a screen are seen in interactions with the objects that ‘contain’ it and surround it or are called forth by it. Some pictures could not be integrated in the collage, yet one, showing a pile of papers on the floor, topped by my copy of Coe et. al. (2017) obviously must have an impact on meaning production – its absence being significant.

  • How is meaning being conveyed?

Meanings may be thought to be conventionally attached to objects and artefacts in the ‘room’ (and indeed the room itself, which was obviously once a bedroom – well before we moved here (why do we never decorate?). Meaning will be an interaction between top-down stored associations and bottom-up perceptions. Untangling what we see and what it means is necessarily a subjective and iterative process where meanings are tried out. Such a process will involve deep reflexivity in the process of interpretation and contain information to help the reader find out how interpretations might be motivated by interest (gender, sexuality, class, status and so on). What is discovered might not be unpredictable to the viewer’s expectations as a result. One effect of changing perspectives on a moment is its defamiliarisation, possibly as a result of mental processing involving wider networks of association than those usually employed.

  • With respect to the photographs, how might the image(s) convey something different to your experience of 'being there'

My last sentence in part covers this. However, it is also important to remember that the viewer may already have chosen a ‘meaning’ of their experience prior to having it: in order to meet the ambitions of their academic project or for a more or less conscious reason. Hence devices to increase reflexivity including peer involvement in analysis may well be important.

PS I have my ideas about how, at this point, I interpret my ‘production text’. I’m so pleased we aren’t asked to make this analysis. Happy to discuss though.

What fascinates me are the self-images in the created cyber-rooms shown (especially Fig. 2a). I’d like / not like to think about that!


Bamlett, S. (2016) ‘Education as Space-Travel. Referred to in H817 EMA as Bamlett (2016c)’ in ‘Steve Bamlett’s blog: Available at:

Bateman, J.A. (2008) Mulltimodality and Genre: A Foundation for the Systematic Analysis of Multimodal Documents London, Palgrave Macmillan.

Bayne, S. (2008) ‘Higher education as a visual practice: Seeing through the virtual learning environment’ in Teaching in Higher Education 13 (4) 395-410 DOI: 10.1080/13562510802169665.

Bezemer, J. & Kress, G. (2016) Multimodality, Learning & Communication: A social semiotic frame London, Routledge

Coe, R., Waring, M., Hedges, L.V. & Arthur, J. (Eds) 2nd ed. (2017) Research Methods & Methodologies in Education Los Angeles, Sage.

Collier, J. & Collier, M. (1986) Visual Anthropology: Photography as a Research Method Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press.

Hockney, D. (2007) Hockney’s Pictures London, Thames & Hudson.

Lucas, B. & Claxton, G. (2010) New Kinds of Smart: How the Science of Learnable Intelligence is Changing Education Maidenhead, Open University Press / McGraw-Hill Education.

Mitchell, C. ‘Visual methodologies’ in Coe, R., Waring, M., Hedges, L.V. & Arthur, J. (Eds) 2nd ed. Research Methods & Methodologies in Education Los Angeles, Sage. 92 – 99.

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Molly Nesbit v. Foucault. Marx redivivus. A843 Ex. 4.4

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Read Molly Nesbit, ‘What was an author?’ (1987).

Note: please skip from ‘In 1982 …’ on p. 252 to ‘One might say …’ on the final page (p. 257).

It should be apparent from Nesbit’s title that her essay is, in some sense, a retort to Foucault’s influential ‘What is an author?’ As you read try to keep this dimension in mind. Ask yourself, and include in your notes:

·        How does her account differ from Foucault’s perspective on authorship? To put this another way, what is her dispute with him?

·        How does copyright define biography/authorship? How does it change?

·        Why does Nesbit employ the past tense?

1.     Style is important in comparing this essay to Foucault: ‘The French definition of the author has gone vague …’. We begin with a very relaxed response to what ‘some say’ about an author, including the characterisation of Barthes infamous notion of the ‘death of the author’ – ‘some say corpse’. This rather deliberate undercutting of your antagonist (a kind of reduction ad absurdum’) is as near to the allusiveness of Barthes and Foucault as is gossip to formal debate. It mimes the ‘crudeness’ (229) of which it speaks. This then is stylistic control of a high order, which tries to show that author-functions (the plural is indicative of what is to follow) are implicit in the work but may be multiple, rather than singular. It shifts the question from, in the last analysis, what are authors in relation to a work – even, we might say, somewhat reflexively, the work you are now reading. The use of an authorial ‘we’ in this essay is probably as worthy as study as anything else in it.

The substance of the dispute with Foucault appears on pp. 240ff.and again starts with an allusive wit. In mounting a case that Foucault does not cite law specifically as a means of explaining the socio-cultural function of an author: “to characterize the existence, circulation, and operation of certain discourses within a society” (cited 240). Nesbit riffs, in the stylistic register of the detective –fiction genre. Foucault does not ‘call in the law’ to investigate the death of the author but prefers like any old private dick to do the job himself.

We are left with a deeper critique than we might suppose. Foucault assumes authority in order to question it, and, Nesbit suggests, thus fails to see how, in the end, even his own function is socially inscribed in determining economic practices – market regulation in the name of the law. Author functions are called forth by the relations of supply and demand in the economy: ‘Authors function, whether the state of knowledge recognizes their existence or not.’

This is so beautiful – in turning ‘author function’ into ‘Authors function’ we see that function in relation to the economy of desire (another term for supply & demand). Nesbitt says Foucault fails to note that discourses are not superior to the ‘market economy’ and are indeed their locus of being: indeed ‘this economic condition … defined the author in the first place (240). Author functions are determined (or in Althusser’s use of the Freudian term  ‘overdetermined’) ultimately by the economy in Nesbit, who goes to insist that law is, at some level, the primary political articulation of this changing economic condition. The ‘state of knowledge’ ruled by Foucauldian authority forgets that its ‘state’ is merely transitory and ultimately determined (‘in the last instance’) in determining socio-economic practices such as the market. It is a state therefore in deep political peril.

Nesbit therefore argues, I think, that history, through mutating legal discourse, does not provide an authoritative definition of the author and their work but a determining ‘working definition of art’, which has been ‘as a quantity not a quality, the zero-degree of the law’ (241). Her conviction is that Foucault is blind to this because he is blind to any perception of over-determination, such as is argued by Marxism as a totalising analytic philosophy. As the economic bases of an economy slowly change, so do, by necessity, the laws which maintain stability are slowly changing, either in the direction of the consolidation of notions of individual ownership of intellectual property or capital (235) to one where capital is aggregated from interest groups working in uneasy collaboration (in the present day [257]). In this present context copyright law is barely able to form a coherent statement, not least about what an author is. What I think is suggested here is that the author is seen as a conflicted concept at present and that, it is in this conflict that there is hope of beneficial historical change, in which cultures differentiate in the very act of coming together (257). This provides a source of postmodern change not available to the more structuralist theories of Althusser.

My concern here is that Nesbit rather reifies the law and its ability to speak in a unitary voice. The law speaks only at the moment of its interpretation (in court) and otherwise lives in an interpretive vacuum, using only tools enabling its texts to be read and these in themselves being largely past interpretive moments (the role of legal precedents). Law in practice is often defined by discourses other than itself – including professional discourses. If we fail to see that, we fail to see how a liberatory law for those with queried mental capacity in 2005 has become a law that articulates mainly how ‘deprivation of liberty’; can be justified – following revisions in 2010.


2.     Copyright defines biography’s relationship to authorship by ‘flattening’ any differentiations one might want to make between authors’ biographies which other discourses, such as those of connoisseurship: high art, lower art and non-art; genius or non-genius; or good art & bad art. It reduces authorial function to a set of rights ‘to a cultural space over which he or she may range and work’ (230).Thus photography is defined not by its concomitant devices (such as the camera) but by the photographer’s ‘work’ understood as his or her ‘property’. (237). This could be extended since Nesbit here falsely names the camera device as the main progenitor of photography as an art, whereas it was in fact the means of imprinting durable images produced within the camera. There remains a lively debate about the role of the camera in visual art since Brunelleschi, Caravaggio and Vermeer. This debate however would perhaps not shake Nesbit’s main point. The artist’s ‘eye’, ‘hand’ and their especial interaction remained a means of enforcing hierarchical distinctions, since it was conceptualised as a valorised and distinct type of interaction through virtue of nature, nurture or both.

3.     Nesbit employs the past tense for a number of reasons I think.

§  First it acts as if the author, being dead according to Barthes, can only be a past phenomenon. In this sense ‘was’ is past perfect in tense.

§  Second the ‘was’ might be a past imperfect tense. In this sense it does not ask what was the author when it existed but what was the author in the past compared to what the author is now and will be in the future – it was once that but it now is … and may become … (re-establishing the dynamic dialectic of history in Marx over Foucault’s archaeological metaphor for it.

§  It riffs on Foucault’s title. Foucault says what ‘is’ an author because he remains that type of author established by the Old law (as, more tragically, does Barthes). He does not know that he sings of his own obsolescence – believing that the hall of discourses (the university) trumps historical changes in the economy and the new law that will articulate it. Atget’s and Duchamp’s ‘common-sense’ appreciation of art is favoured over theirs as more historically accurate, timely and sighted out of the old writer’s ‘blind spots’. It establishes a new wave of Marxist cultural analysis: Lyotard to Nesbit.

That’s me, done though.


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Copyright law and genius in France 1793. A843 Ex 4.3.1

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Tuesday, 3 Oct 2017, 08:33

Consider the following extract from Lakanal’s report on the French copyright law of 1793 and try to identify the central concepts he uses to argue for special rights for authors:

Of all properties, the most incontestable, the one whose increase is in no way injurious to Republican equality and which gives no offence to liberty, is undeniably the property of works of genius; it is if anything surprising that it should have proved necessary to recognize this property and to secure its free exercise by a positive law, and that a great Revolution like ours should have been required to return us, in this as in so many other matters, to the simplest elements of common justice.

Genius fashions in silence a work which pushes back the boundaries of human knowledge: instantly, literary pirates seize it, and the author must pass into immortality only through the horrors of poverty.

Ah! What of his children …? Citizens, the lineage of the great Corneille sputtered out in indigence!

Since printing is the only means whereby the author may make useful exercise of his property, the fact of being printed alone cannot make an author’s works public property, at least not in the way that the literary buccaneers understand; for if it were so, it follows that the author would be unable to make use of his property without losing it in the same moment.

What a cruel fate for a man of genius, who has dedicated his waking hours to the instruction of his fellow citizens, to receive only a sterile glory, and to be unable to claim the legitimate reward of such noble labour.

It is after careful deliberation that this Committee advises you to create dedicated legislative provisions which will form, in a sense, the Declaration of the Rights of Genius.

(Lakanal, 2008 [1793], p. 176)

The passage works by setting up an assumption that property and capital accumulated by certain individuals may be the source of significant inequality (and, unsaid) oppression). In a sense, that is the meaning (at this time at least) of the revolution – in that it challenges the control of land, objects and more fluid property by a minority – those who call themselves the ‘best’;  the aristocracy. Aristocracies may be set up by accumulation of property in the hands of a few, but the French Revolution here does not declare that property is itself a problematic category: where ‘all property is theft’, Instead it implicitly declaims that property ownership be determined according to the ‘simplest elements of common justice’.

This belief in property rights as inalienable rights will become the trademark of bourgeois revolution. It institutes itself on a belief in unequal distribution of talents, founded on the example of ‘genius’. Genius is never equally distributed – if it were it could not be recognised as such and there would be no reason to separate our feelings about the fate of Corneille’s children from those of the children of every (wo) man. And if our belief that intellectual property is the ‘most incontestable’ can only be a step away from a New-Right justification that property itself is not the source of inequality rather the natural and qualities of its holders.

The passage is a defence of ownership in its crudest form and applying to objects that are unseen. A printed work may be an object that can enter the free market but its contents represent that which naturally belongs to the ‘author-function’ – that work which alienates (in silence) the author’s internal property and makes  it appropriable unless its ownership be legally protected as a ‘right’. If we believe in the ‘Rights of Man’ (sic) then (assuming that only some men are genii) the rights of genius are also an obvious corollary of those rights and we are a step away from copyright law.

We have reinstituted a kind of aristocracy in the name of equality – a contradiction worthy of a true bourgeois revolution. Such a view must be music to a ‘genius’ like Marat or David.

An aristocracy of Nature. The masturbatory image of Corneille sputtering out his semen as waste is at its root – a right of man indeed. What we requite is a coming together of the law (legitimacy), the recognition of ‘natural’ inequalities of mental capital as an incontestable basis for seeing labour in acts of mental control in a recognition of inequality as the basis of an ordered society – at least of bourgeois society. This is the tragedy of nineteenth century France. The peasants die for a fraternity of capitalists (come back Zola – all is forgiven – even what you did to Cezanne!).

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Introduction: Me and research methods: Initial blog for EDX SocRMx Blog

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Monday, 2 Oct 2017, 16:45

· What kind of topics are you interested in researching?

 As far practical research in the world of work, that is no longer an aspiration for me. However, my residual interests in the nature of research into health and social care remains, even though I never during my career found a context of research in this area that focused on a multi-perspectival approach to the psycho-social world that I once felt to be such an urgent need. The work I do part time (AL at the OU) that introduces methods remains either thin (at undergraduate level) or focused on quantitative approaches that actively excludes qualitative work at any depth (in conceptualising data collection and analysis). I teach a course on Mental Health (aimed at part at nursing and social work trainees) that virtually invalidates the kind of qualitative analysis, which I find most useful as a mental health practitioner, survivor or learner.

My present involvement in study then is mainly on an MA on Art History, which does at least raise issues fundamental to my interests – such as the role of multimodality in teaching, learning and research. In the end then I plump for that as my main interest. As you will see below, I kind of resist the ‘research question’ approach because I think my current interests are fulfilled by the speculative, intuitive and reflective examination of the limits of research for my needs were I ever to try and realise them.

· What initial research questions might be starting to emerge for you?


How can multimodal input into teaching and learning be used to engage, motivate and raise expectations of ‘self’ and the ability of practitioners to practice with a more critical sense of what evidence is important in work with people who identify as having mental health problems?

I understand that this is too large, but I am not at the point of knowing how to ask the researchable questions, which might evaluate current or past implementations of multimodality in teaching or learning, as well as attempting trials of newer interventions.

In a sense I do trial and error (with safeguards) in my present work as a teacher in this vaguely conceptualised direction (and I still hope to be motivated by some external prod to a clear conception of what I want to give as a teacher). How else can one teach effectively & develop as a teacher though without some kind of continual reflexive self-examination.

· What are you interested in researching - people, groups, communities, documents, images, organisations?


Again all of these objects (and subjects captured through ‘ethno-methodological method and analysis) of research are important to me. The research should eventually focus on how these foci of interest interact with each other in day-to-day teaching situations in HE.

 An example of small scale thinking I did on using multiple perspectives in qualitative research analysis in the language of assessment (abandoned as unworkable) is this old blog. (click to open in new window). When I look at it now it seems confused but it does at least say that what I want is some approach that integrates multiple inputs.

In the end, my interest remains speculative and reflective and this may be because I have personally ‘sort of’ resigned out of the practical issues. But the interest remains because I find ‘research’ so often used to justify a certain approach to subject matter that I can’t quite feel comfortable with. I think this is painfully evident in this blog ‘blog-blasted from the past) - (click to open in new window).

 · Do you have an initial ideas for the kinds of methods that might help you to gather useful knowledge in your area of interest?


Ethnomethodology that looks from within learner and teacher communities at perceptions of the barriers and commonalities that arise in performing the identities that inscribed learner & teacher roles prescribe. How deterministic are these roles? Can they be explored in terms of performative ambivalences that threaten ‘stable’ power relations? Is that a worthwhile aim?

· What initial questions do you have about those methods? What don't you understand yet?


To the last part, there is quite a lot I don’t understand. In many ways, I will learn whether my interest is in pursuing ‘research methods’ or whether it is purely speculatively epistemological and based on the lived experience of epistemological conflict in the contemporary institution of HE.

·  Do you perceive any potential challenges in your initial ideas: either practical challenges, such as gaining access to the area you want to research, or the time it might take to gather data; or conceptual challenges; such as how the method you are interested in can produce 'facts', 'truths', or 'valuable knowledge' in your chosen area?

Many. This seems the base problem for me and stymies me, at the moment, from conceptualising a research role for myself and which indeed was a barrier to me taking on an Ed.D at this time as the first step in this process.

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Caravaggio as a comparative test-case A843 Ex. 3.6.2

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 1 Oct 2017, 17:52

Read the opening section (pp. 449–55) of Phillip Sohm, ‘Caravaggio’s Deaths’ (2002), up to ‘Lost Baggage’ on p. 455, asking:

·        What are the main points Sohm is trying to make about biographies of Caravaggio?

·        How is his case similar to or different from that of Raphael?

I have never understood the point of reading sections of a paper, especially when directed to comment upon issues related to the theme of the paper itself, although I warmly recognise that this is an attempt to lessen the learner workload and therefore has advantages. Hence, this answer is based on a quick reading of the whole paper. I do not yet know whether I will want though to confine the answer to the introduction of it. (And still don't know after finishing it thus far - as far as I want to go).

·        The main points are:

o   The function of achieving readable and engaging narratives elides or possibly (in the biopic) over-rides the function of biography as an objective historical account.

§  This may extend to using the narrative to make of the life, death and intervening events a meaningful pattern imposed on it by the perception of the artist’s life as a whole.

§  The art itself is seen not only as product of one single individuated ‘ life’ but also as the limiting case for the authenticity of our reading of one or more artworks (and indeed, sometimes the defining character of the artwork as a whole oeuvre.

o   Kris & Kurz introduced a formal notion of the function of ‘early modern’ biography to articulate the meanings of an art work, and its place in an oeuvre, in terms of a ‘higher truth’ (449). Narrative in the form of iconic myth becomes the locus of that meaning. This is especially true of ‘death’ stories, which retrospectively shape the meanings of earlier artworks.

o   If biography can shape interpretation of paintings, the corollary is also true (459). This is in past a function of the function of language to convey multiple meanings simultaneously, and this is particularly true of literary language (450). A retold life event can be treated as a form of allegoreisis.[i]

o   The allegorical meanings of an artwork, read as a combination of the multimodal intertextuality of biography and work, can be the substantive evidence used to critique:

§  The artwork OR oeuvre;

§  The artist per se – including their socio-cultural emplacement in history.

§  The culture itself, which the art is used to articulate (modern or contemporary art for instance cp. Tracey Emin author-function.

o   A Death Scene is the key to ultimate truths. This is the case for a number of types of biography, even those making ‘truth claims’ (451).

o   The meaning attained in a review of both life can be an iconic allegory: Raphael as Christ, Michelangelo as Marsyas, and Caravaggio as Judas Iscariot (452).

o   Those iconic meanings are embedded in visual art by manipulations of facial expression, properties, costume and adornment. However, from the evidence (452f.) I would also add relationship to the artist’s formal framing devices). We could include Poussin in this.

o   In Caravaggio meaning, description and allegorical interpretation attach to notions of darkness, in relation to morality, nature and formal tenebrism – shadowing, chiaroscuro. This can verge to the notion of Caravaggio as anti-Christ (or anti-artist) in some particularly class-bound accounts.

o   In particular it can characterise artists who supplant pursuit of the Platonic Idea for material objects in Nature. Including fleshly ones, but chiefly monetary reward or its commodification in possessions.

I would caution here that ‘allegory’ is the Renaissance (as inherited through The Neo-Platonist revival, was complex. In England, for instance, Spenser speaks of his Faerie Queene as a ‘continuous allegory or darke conceite’ (sic.). Here ‘dark’ mirrors 1 Corinthians 13 about the sublunary world as a place in which we see ‘as in glass darkly’. We can’t confront then uses of darkness in Renaissance & 17th century art as baldly as this paper does. To be ‘dark’ is to secrete one’s meaning. This does not always invalidate it – it often purports to do the opposite.

  • Raphael is said to be presented as Christ. I agree in as far as we read that identification as allegorical – a function of meaning complication. In both cases Icarus myths are used (see Castiglione’s faux-Raphael) to show attempts to over-reach in an assault on the Sun (like Marsyas with Apollo, Icarus with Apollo in his natural light). Of course, though rooted in similar meanings, they can act differently. Thus Caravaggio is Icarus who is punished by the sun (Apollo) for too much savouring the “cellars without too much sunlight” and for covering up ‘the difficult parts of art’. (458)

Darkness in Caravaggio is purported to allegorically point to his love of the lowly, a baseness and lack of right learning that even elevation to the Knights of Malta cannot hide (458). The underlying myth here is of the foundling (as found in Shakespeare’s Cymbeline and The Tempest for instance – very much plays about art as noble or base). Stolen from Court, the true noble will show himself so, even though ‘basely’ brought up. Likewise darkness is a space with different meanings – sinister, psychological (mad isolation), social as well as theological or philosophical. (458).

In both cases the artists are described as ‘self-fashioning (459)’ (using Greenblatt’s terminology), we cannot assume that Caravaggio fashioned a dark, demented and fragmented self-image for the reasons given by his biographers. For a modern reading, see Schama’s The Power of Art. Nevertheless both detractors and emulators accept that C self-consciously evidences the phrase, ‘every painter paints himself’. This can be used to look at not only subject-matter, and the artist’s relationship to subject-matter, but also technique – chiaroscuro of course but also naturalism and the means used to achieve stylistic individuality. Detractors speak of Caravaggio ‘driven’ by a malign or disordered psychology to ‘paint his own ugliness’. But I wonder – Caravaggio is, for me the master of the ‘dark conceit’ – the invitation to seek meaning at a number of different levels, or to speak more contemporaneously, through a number of possible conflicting discourses.

[i] Mirriam Webster definition of allegoresis: the interpretation of written, oral, or artistic expression as allegory.

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Raphael in search of the 'best' in life & art. A843 Ex. 3.5.2

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…, let me start by saying that to recognize true perfection is so difficult as to be almost impossible; and this because of the way opinions vary. …. Still, I do think there is a perfection for everything, even though it may be concealed, and I think that this perfection can be determined through informed and reasoned argument. And since, as I have said, the truth is often concealed and I do not claim to be informed, …I can … only approve what seems to my limited judgement to be nearest to what is correct; and you can follow my judgement if it seems good, or keep to your own if it differs. Nor shall I argue that mine is better than yours, for not only can you think one thing and I another but I myself can think one thing at one time and something else another time. (Castiglione (1976: 53f.)


Knowing where to start can be difficult, as Castiglione’s character, the Count, admits. It is a matter of judgement. Then, isn’t everything, says the Count in the same breath. This passage, which somehow reminds me of Wittgenstein, is actually about what constitutes judgement of what is good and best in a thing, action or person. It rests on an as yet unresolved dialectic – in a sublunary world we might intuit ‘perfection’ but never know properly that it is ‘perfection’, mired between different and varying (diachronically and synchronically) ‘opinions of how such perfection be adjudged. Judgement is a slippery thing. This is Castiglione at his most playful best posing problems of judgement and authority. The Count is talking about perfection in a ‘courtier’.  We are posed by opinions about what is judged to be perfection in an artist.

This task looks at 2 opinions of what constitutes an artist’s achievement.

(1)    Raphael doesn’t in a sense, in a private family letter not purposed for sharing beyond that family raise the issue of perfection in the artist per se. He is concerned to show his family that he has achieved a certain status and that status (and its surrounding circumstances) have changed since they last heard of him. The change that constitutes achievement is expressed in the following series, with more than a hint in the ordering what Raphael thinks will most be adjudged success by his current audience: first, monetary wealth, then a role with status (and that adjudged by income) and then a hint of the stability of both status and income. Raphael ‘making it’ as an artist, or at least so he thinks his family will judge, is Raphael with money and promise of more to come. Of course Raphael also associates these things with ‘honour’ that is personal but also shared with the family to which he writes and the city where they live and he originated. But that ‘honour’ is quantified in money and whose value is evidenced in those quantities. Of course, this witty letter is an act of reassurance to his family and a bolster to their faith in them and their belief that he continues to think of them, despite not writing. The final joke is telling. Yes, this could be Raphael but is Raphael in the subject position of the young man who, having left home, must prove he is making good. He does not mention the aesthetic value of his art but is this because he is not thinking of it OR that he knows (in as far as he can judge) that that will not be uppermost in the minds of his audience. We need to remember that all communication will, as I think Castiglione, suggests above will take on the values of the current interaction in assessing what matters.

(2)    The Subject position of the Raphael invented by Castiglione (I'll call if Faux-Raphael) is precisely a man self-conscious that judgements differ in our world and that a better judgement is hard to assess or find. Hence, Faux-Raphael says of the ‘designs’ he sends to Castiglione that they have been judged as good in themselves, but notes that judgement may in itself be compromised in quality and sincerity. This mock letter then is a much more obvious illustration of the dilemma expressed dialectically in The Courtier.

In that search for knowledge of what constitutes ‘perfection’ in art faux-Raphael seeks models in the reconstruction of buried antiquity, critical authority of a master (Vitruvius) but neither offer ‘all that I need’. What this suggests is that perfection is an aspiration rather than an achieved phenomenon and that searching it is dangerous and potentially fatal (the point of the use of the Icarus myth here – to fly too near to the sun of perfection may end by drowning in a sea of undifferentiated mutability.

This piece is full of humour about dangerous death: does, for instance, the original Italian allow you to read the joke in English that shows that the ‘collapse’ of a career can be like being buried under the weight of a falling St. Peter’s. The metaphors of falling and rising he are contiguous – collapsing like a building, raising like Icarus to show that the issue of social reputation too is a dangerous area – seeking perfection may fall foul of the fact that there are too many opinions of what perfection might be – and some of them, not that well informed (even if it be one of successive Popes, as both Raphael and Michelangelo were to find).

The meat of this passage is very playful but central to Castiglione’s philosophy (perhaps I think of him as a precursor to Wittgenstein). A perfect woman cannot be fairly judged – note how Castiglione plays (heterosexual men will be heterosexual men) on Raphael’s well known uxorious life – without being found in a wide trial amongst a very large sample of women. Just as he submits his ‘designs’ to what he supposes is the better judgement (than his own, The Poe or the Roman intelligentsia) of Castiglione at the opening of the letter, at the end, he invites Castiglione in a similar bed-hopping hunt for the ‘best’ in ‘beautiful women’. This is more than a mere joke, it dramatizes the problem in the Courtier – we believe that ‘perfection’ exists but tastes so vary that we cannot attest to perfection without trial of it. At this point, it may no longer be see-able as ‘perfection’. This is the same dilemma we find in Milton’s Comus. Perfection survives not in realised body but in an imagined one that is desired but never caught (witness Galatea in flight in her scallop shell – the scallop is the very icon of eternal perfection). It is really ‘a certain Idea that comes to my mind’. Such intuitions might though actually BE the road to Perfection. Castiglione fades into Plato or, at least, the ancient Neo-Platonic school Castiglione favoured.

Castiglione, B. (1976) (Trans Bull, G.) The Courtier London, Penguin Books.

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Raphael into Castiglione and vice-versa: A843 Ex. 3.5.1

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Castiglione graphic analysis A843

Consider Raphael’s portrait of Baldassare Castiglione in the Louvre (Figure 3.7), asking what it reveals about the sitter and artist.

·        How is the portrait composed?

·        How would you describe the relationship between sitter, artist and spectator that it sets up?


I have attempted in the Figure above to use rough geometric shapes to describe the composition and suggest the almost axial centrality of the central figure and the distribution within that figure of the volumes suggested. I have described it as almost like a set of notional triangles that work in interaction to focus the face of the sitter, and render it the compelling focus of a viewer’s attention.

This attention I do not equate with that of the artist since the latter employs a number of devices that get noticed in the picture only as a function of time and attentive looking. Whilst a viewer first notices the humanity of the central figure in its face and latterly hands (almost occluded by the apparent arbitrary placement of the bottom marginal line of the whole). We definitely start with the face. This is in part because that feature (or set of features seems almost islanded in volumes of clothes stuffs, whose size is emphasised and forms the width of the picture frame as a whole.

Colour is important here. The choice of soft dark colours which animate merely by being folded in ways that distribute light as the main source of their tonal variation. Colour in the face contrasts pallor with effects that appear to emerge from within the figure to interact with light – the blush like central colouration of the centre face reflected in those prominent lips.

Yet Raphael does not centre Castiglione on the picture plane itself. The torque of his body, twisted so his right side moves beyond the picture plane and leaves an important gap of space on the left (viewer’s left) of the picture. That emphasis on space creates the sense of necessary distance that modifies our human closeness to this man. It is as if Raphael reserves him slightly for himself by this compositional device. Likewise the torque of the body emerges, as viewers concentrate on that ideally placed eye level as a means of showing Castiglione’s eyes as fundamentally indirect in their imagined attention. While the iris has moved to retain an appearance of centrality (given the turn of the body), the pupil focuses above rather than on the viewer. The sitter seems both to see you and not see you.

Moreover, the embodied turn emphasises one ear, such that Castiglione is seen as both a person who sees and hears – as himself attentive (as someone who takes in the world rather than projects himself into the world. This is emphasised to me too by those reticent hands. Raphael composes the picture so that they just appear above some arbitrary line, as if caught by accident. How different from earlier Renaissance uses of a balcony to emphasise the resting place of hands. These hands are tense and enfolded, appearing to move into themselves. To me they imply a tension moving against and into the body of the man, again emphasising interiority – areas of something unknown and hence forever distant from the viewer.

This enfolding is mirrored in the clothing, which although asserting boldly (if also in a muted fashion) colour, volume, decoration and both social & financial value emphasise the recesses of shadow and a folding in of light to a darker interior. Castiglione’s outline is less prominent against the shadowed background to our right.

Castiglione is clearly a man who both values art and manifests that value in the hidden features of that costume, otherwise made beautiful by light. The gem on his hat mirrors the expressive and open shape of its highs and resides (unobtrusively just above them). Likewise the woven refinements of his garments almost hide – that gold button, the line of woven patterns above them in the base of the inverted triangle the button proposes, and the apex of the triangle in the woven insignia at the centre of his headpiece. This is most reticent – beauty and taste shown nonchalantly (Bull’s translation of Castiglione’s (1976:67) term sprezzatura) _ Wikipedia opens in new window (use with caution).

I have discovered a universal rule which seems to apply more than any other in all human actions or words: namely, to steer away from affectation at all costs, as if it were a rough and dangerous reef, and (to use a novel word for it) to practise in all things a certain nonchalance which conceals all artistry and makes whatever one says or does seem uncontrived and effortless. … So we can truthfully say that true art is what does not seem to be art: and the most important thing is to conceal it …

I would say that this is precisely about the relationship between Castiglione, Raphael and his viewers. What we see conceals the art of both men only to blazon that art more in the paintings (and the philosopher’s) deeper, richer truer and well-educated art. In fact I would say the picture constructs art as riches – praises the luxury of the prince and entourage whilst it decries and vulgar show of that richness. However, show there must be or there would be no art alone.

Sitter and artist display not only exterior but interior riches (those of deep character so loved of the period). The viewer will see these if they can from a distance as an admirer but not as an equal

That’s about as much as I can think of – now to the revealed discussion.

All the best


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Christ (?) in Raphael’s Self-Portrait: A843 Ex. 3.4.2

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Consider the self-portrait of Raphael (Figure 3.6). What does it reveal about the artist’s identity? What is the relationship between Raphael and the other sitter, and what does it seem to tell us about Raphael’s persona? Note that the second sitter’s identity is not known, despite much speculation by art historians.

Raphael & friend

acheiropoieton’, an image made ‘without human hands’. : The look and hands of Raphael

This may turn into a small essay. Why? Because I desperately want to resist the idea that Raphael paints himself as Christ. In as far as he is like Christ, I believe the simile is merely and self-consciously rhetorical and communicates complexly. This is very much a ‘thing’ of mine, perhaps an obsession and, in this sense, this can never aim to be an essay in miniature. However, I do not see any identification with Christ as necessitated in this or other self-portraits of Raphael. If it is there at all, it is only in terms of an analogical allegory of Christ’s mission (the way, the truth and the life) in that of the artist. Concentration on the facial appearance seems to me less important (although possibly there I admit) since there is no pressure – in our portrait - on the characterisation of Christ as ‘type’; even if a humanist type such as is explored rather thinly by Thomas (1979) and more deeply in Kemp’s (2012:35ff.) treatment of Leonardo’s portrait of the saviour.

Nevertheless the lively debate in Christian thinking on the nature of images of the divine is important. It matters that the ‘Veronica’ (as Dante calls it) is the imprint of the real body of Christ precisely because it both (a) differentiates the image of Christ from a ‘graven image’ & (b) takes away the impurity implied by the fact that the divine might need human ‘hands’ to represent itself as an idea. However, the relationship between Raphael and his ‘friend’ here is clearly mediated in terms of what we see in the hands of the two participants. Raphael’s hand sits at rest on his friend’s shoulder in total relaxation from labour (manual labour characteristically) whilst the friend’s hand works to express intention and purposive meaning. If feels to me to point in the index out of the picture plane – a point that is essential to readings of this picture I’ve encountered. And the friend’s hand co-operates with his head and face, one attempting to direct, in its backward glance, the gaze of Raphael towards that place where he wants it to be.

That both hand and face can be read together as index of interaction and intentionality (or its lack) is common in Raphael I think. The very opposite being the sketch of ‘A battle of nudes (The Siege of Perugia)’ where hands and gaze express committed action and mental intention in total concord, creating a directed flow in the viewer’s gaze on them towards the right edge of that drawing (NGS 1994, Item 19  - not pictured).

SodomaThere is as a result of the focus towards dramatic action in the latter a great stress on human body and art that is of the body. In contrast, all of Raphael’s known (or suspected) portraits (Thoenes 2016, 7ff) show Raphael as merely a head without active hands. The gaze of that head is never on the action of the picture but towards the viewer, implying a relationship of minds engaged in looking (and thus valorising looking as an act) rather than an active physical or even mortal relationship. This was perhaps noticed by Raimondi as noticed both by Thoenes above and Whistler (2017) in her essay on the importance of ‘hands’ in Raphael. For me it is the relationship between head and hand that is important here. That is because desegno in Vasari and others was both a matter of what happens in an artist’s head when s(he) plans and their hands when they draw. Yet there is something less than perfect, less than ideationally divine. About the reliance on manual labour. It is for this reason that Raphael appoints himself as of the gaze and the head (looking out to an unperceived and therefore potentially eternal viewer) rather than to any other mere actor on or behind the picture plane. We see this in our picture but also in the School of Athens.

In the detail above Sodoma is veiled and darkened by his attention to other artists, whilst the light on Raphael’s face emphasises a gaze that goes beyond Sodoma or Pinturicchio to us – his repeating viewers and requests a meeting of minds. And not because he is isolated (spiritually at least) here. Look at the figure left who Goffen (2002:222) insists is both Michelangelesque and perhaps Michelangelo himself, whose gaze is obscured and shadowed, with his hand in restless action.


The same is true of the ‘The Expulsion of Heliodorus’, (Theones 2016:10 - not pictured) where Raphael bears a weight but concentrates attention on the gaze as if the work of the hand were as nothing, and the disputed Uffizi self-portrait (not pictured).

Now this has something to do with divinity but it also has relation to the relative importance of manual dexterity and work compared to the role of the head – in design / desegno.

Raphael is building a characterisation of the artist I’m arguing that might use ‘godhead’ as one of its analogies but not merely in terms of appearance. The Godhead is more impressive when it plans than it executes (as for living our assistants can do this for us). Although Raphael is not a mere aristocrat as that analogy with the Duchess of Windsor suggests. He values the products of his hand and the action of hands (perhaps in interaction they are genuinely potentially one – hence the beauty of the painting).

Look for instance at the telling drawing of unconnected (if that ever can be true) of apostolic head and hands in Catalogue item 120 (Whistler & Thomas 2017: 246f.) In our beautiful painting of two men, the gaze which looks out and beyond mere relationship in real time is valued in relationship to that which acts out of the picture. Here there may be a Christ analogy. No-one can ever know what it is that is pointed towards. It could be the artist’s mirror or a third person who WAS there. Belting (2013; 133ff) argues that the two point to the picture from whose completion Raphael and sitter are resting and showing by the compared attitudes and appearances the difference between how art might and must capture social masks but also the living face in the moment of the ‘speech act’. But much must be assumed in this reading. But then that is the case in any reading. That is why I think Raphael inevitably engages us as viewers, asking for his picture’s completion in that relationship of ideas. Now a Christ analogy might be useful here. Raphael’s mission to his friend may be like that of Christ – to ask his disciple or mentee to see the ‘way, the truth and the life’ he must lead – with all the pain therein. However, I see that as one of many possibilities. The painting’s meaning for me is overdetermined by Raphael’s mentation within of the meaning of art for the true artist, where immortality and divinity appear in a more mortal light – all in war with time (a true Renaissance theme and in Edmund Spenser as much as Raphael).


Belting, H. (2013) Face and Mask Princeton & Oxford, Princeton University Press.

Goffen, R. (2002) Renaissance Rivals New Haven and London, Yale University Press

Kemp, M. (2012) Christ to Coke Oxford, Oxford University Press

NGS (National Galleries of Scotland) (1994) Raphael: In Search of Perfection Edinburgh, NGS.

Thoenes, C. (2016) Raphael Cologne, Taschen.

Thomas, D. (1979) The Face of Christ London, Hamlyn

Whistler, C. (2017) ‘Raphael’s Hands’ in Whistler, C. & Thomas, B. (eds.) Raphael: The Drawings Oxford, Ashmolean Museum Oxford University.

Whistler, C. & Thomas, B. (eds.) (2017) Raphael: The Drawings Oxford, Ashmolean Museum Oxford University.

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Characteristics of depictions of Raphael’s death A843 Exercise 3.3.1

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Thursday, 28 Sep 2017, 08:32

Consider the common themes in the Vasari extracts and the 4 descriptions from contemporary writing.

I have extended this task to include Vasari because I thought that would help me more. I find the task as set rather leading since it presumes the identity as Christ that might be being built around Raphael’s person in all the accounts, although I have yet to read the discussion. Having read them again and again, I do not find clear evidence of such an identification in the 4 accounts exactly contemporary to the death, other than might be prefigured in the notion of Christ as the new Adam (as humanity transfigured by His redemptive function).

In Vasari however there seems to be a daring identification of Raphael as an exemplum of ‘possessors of rare and numerous gifts’ as one of the ‘mortal gods’. Hedged around with the signs that this might be blasphemous since Christ is as near as Christianity gets to a ‘mortal god’ (a god that can die), we still have to remember that Vasari cannot be evoking Christ as such because Christ is not one of many ‘mortal gods’ in Christianity. And then the extract offered leaves out the sentence qualifying the possible blasphemy. That continuation makes it clear that the immortality secured by Raphael (and his like) is because of the endurable remnants of himself that he (and they) have left on earth as support to his ‘honoured name’. Is it not possible then that this discourse is not about the artist as immortal but the endurance through time of his works (including Art)? I think such an interpretation possible, even in Vasari.

Of course Vasari makes this clear in his account of the Transfiguration. Our translation calls this picture ‘divine’ but both the Penguin and Oxford Classics translation prefer ‘inspired’ for this term. We need the Renaissance Italian, but even then we might fail to understand the nuance of the term, so distant is that version of it from even contemporary Italian. I am pretty certain however, that though Raphael may be said to be like Christ, he is not identified with Him but is instead shown to be enduring because he raises Art to the level of the comprehension of the divine and the godly in the Christian Trinity:

‘with His arms outstretched and His head raised, appears to reveal the Divine essence and nature of all the Three Persons united and concentrated in Himself by the perfect art of Raffaelo, …’

The role of Art here is to ally itself with Godhead. It is not the role of Raphael. That, at least, would be my reading. I think this is evident too in Castiglione’s account of Raphael who insists that Raphael is not merely a great artist or is so only because he facilitates a revelation of what Art can and ought to be doing (Castiglione / Bull 1976: 98f.).

To be clear about the consequences of this, the treatment of death (the sure sign of mortality) in a ‘Life’ story is clearly crucial. I think Vasari makes it clear that Raphael is not the new but the old Adam – a man who chooses violent excess and secrecy in his sexual life is not Christ. He fears even to admit his own humanity – a very UnChristlike thing – until he must confess in his last office. He is a ‘good Christian’ at the end but not Christ and he dies as a Christian must, without, at and up to this time, rebirth. However he pays witness to the reborn Christ through his ‘perfect Art’ as we have seen. His soul’s immortality in heaven is at the end compared not with his person but with that with which ‘he embellished the world’.

Although this may seem like nit-picking, I think it important that the myth of Raphael’s perfection is seen not, by his contemporaries, as like Christ but in using himself and his art in that service. Too like mortal men who only act properly when they know how to act, Raphael’s secrecy and excess (however much Vasari admires that) was the source of his death, which proves him mortal, whilst allowing art the chance still of immortality – enduringness beyond death. Remember that Vasari does not see redemption of sin in Raphael’s story but only the ability of art to ‘efface any vice, however hideous, and any blot, were it ever so great.’ That claim does not elevate Raphael into the superhuman but rather forgives him for his humanity.

So, if we turn to the very contemporary accounts, I find little that makes him Christ-like. I sneaked a peek at the account that follows this exercise and find nothing in this extract from Lippomani (10 April) that justifies the construction of the extrapolation – ‘as if God planned it this way’. Maybe the justification for this reading is in the hidden discussion. I’ll see. There is the potential of seeing Raphael as Christ in Pico’s (7 April) letter that states without doubt that ‘ The heavens sent warning’, but even then we may not be reading the tone of this statement correctly. After all, Pico, a courtier, is writing (with ‘wit’ – which means with the use of rhetorical figures - as the Renaissance courtier must) to the Duchess herself. Both would use language that emphasises and elevates art. What our lives Raphael is not a reborn self but a ‘second life’ that is equated with Fame. I think Sir Walter Raleigh would have known how to read this – is it formal hyperbole – in ways we do not.

As for the worldly Michiel (6 April) in private to his diary he notes only the importance of Raphael in terms of his wealth and his scholarship (without even mentioning his Art). He laments his unfinished scholarly tome on Rome rather than the promise of future Art. Of course, by the 11 April and writing to a fellow courtier, he has heard the rumour (he says it as that) of the heaven-sent warnings but makes sure we understand that these may really be more to do with ‘the weight of the porticoes on the door’ – again with great weight. What will immortalise Raphael, as Castiglione, would have understood is the transfiguration of his reputation into art – ‘moving and perpetual compositions’ says he wittily and perhaps not a little sarcastically (possibly).

So my account does not seem what is prefigured for me in this task but I’ll now see by looking at the hidden discussion.

One issue with these accounts of course that Raphael is said variously in them to die at the age of 33, 34 & (in Vasari) 37. In a numerological age, fixing on one might be important for establishing a commonly held myth.

All then best


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Larry Rivers & camp subjects / gay subjectivity: A843 Ex. In 2.4.2

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Monday, 25 Sep 2017, 17:55

Washington Crossing DelawareI love to answer these and commit to an answer before I reveal the course discussion, so here goes again:

Now read a selected extract from Gavin Butt, ‘The gift of the gab: camp talk and the art of Larry Rivers’ (Butt, 2005). While reading, you should ask yourself:

·        What does Butt claim about gender and sexuality in this essay?

·        How does he characterise the sexuality of Rivers?

·        How does he find this sensibility in Rivers’s artworks?

·        What does this suggest about gendered identity?

Note: What Did I Do? is the title of Rivers’s autobiography from 1992

1.      I find this essay somewhat confusing and I would not wish to say that Butt commits to straightforward and univocal characterisations of either gender or sexuality. He appears to wish to characterise a socio-culturally determined set of subject positions and a discourse associated with those positions that in 1940s and 50s USA characterised a marginalised community and how those positions became equated with a statement of an artist’s wish to confront and challenge the norms of society. In a sense they seem to offer merely a means of characterising art and artist as denying any solidity to the objects it reproduces and produces and as, therefore both object and subject, understood both in terms of the ‘object’ represented and the subjects who both respond to culture through remaking its imagery.

Yet it is not so simple, since, Rivers also uses those subject to both play and enact sexual practices that those subject positions enable in a minority and oppressed community: the sexualisation of the male body as object of desire and appropriation, the valorisation of the penis and the deconstruction of masculine heterosexual hegemony over the realm of desire.

Problematically, the discourse of gay subjectivity already employs subject positions which both critique but also maintain the validity of binary gender discriminations, which can be experienced as oppressive by lesbians, some gay males and some women. Thus the issue of ‘gay subjectivity’ is far from simple. The ‘self-othering game’ (p. 89) may enact otherness in complex interacting forms that may undermine them. However, in as much as it remains play or game, it refuses to challenge essentialist notions of subjectivity that may be the real root of contradiction in subjects seen by themselves and others. Butt seems want to point out that Rivers preserves essentialist positions ('real' heterosexuals act out as gay and vice versa). The same might be said of the use of feminine subject positions – not only in painting but the art of Tennessee Williams – which retain some of non-playful power dynamics which contradistinguish binary power distictions like male & female.

I may not have read carefully enough but I am unsure where Butt stands (or sits to carry on the camp play) on this issue.


2.      Butt characterises Rivers as playing gay but also benefitting from that play by the appropriation of sexual pleasure possible when the sexual subject which is the other is hardened into sex object. He could be clearer about this if that is what he means. Tennessee Williams, for instance, shows that the appropriation of the sexual object through performance is both dangerous and a matter of real power – in Both Streetcar Named Desire and, my favourite, Suddenly Last Summer. He also suggests that Rivers uses sexuality and sexual pose as a means of characterising the challenge to conventional meaning posed by art and the artist. Images no longer mean what the prevailing power structures in society want them to mean and are therefore ‘queered’ by the legitimation of counter-cultural meanings.

Washington's trousers

3.      I am not sure that we are really looking for a reflection or mimetic representation of River’s own sexuality in these paintings but rather a performance of traditional subjects – both in the act of the painting and the representation of these subjects’ action. I’m quite happy to take on the reading Butt gives to the painting of the figure of Washington in the boat (see above). The emphasis on the stark outline of the naked leg and the phallus is taken as an enactment of painterly emphasis but also as an action in Washington that offers his sexualised body for some sort of appropriation.

However, I can’t stop where Butt does at camp fun. There is an abstraction in the use of white here (and potentially in the brushwork mentioned but I can’t see that) that does other than point out the joke of Washington’s ‘burgeoning basket’. Looked at in the context of the whole picture, that white patch is recalled in figure of Washington before embarkation (below) for instance as well as other abstractly white motifs. There is something of glory in Washington’s horse that defies outlined drawing. Now, this might be merely making an equivalence between stallion between the legs as phallus – the white makes his neck look like a phallic projection and it, as in the Washington in the boat, reflected by the horse’s strong white and painterly legs.

Washington's horse

But return to the whole painting and we see a display of such stark whites throughout, not least in the characterisation of the water. These whites may or may not have meaning but they cannot be confined to a camp joke. I may therefore be wanting to see ‘more’ in the picture than a camp joke. I agree that in the 1950s camp and gay life seemed to heterosexual men to embody excess (p. 84) but the ‘excess’ in the white of this picture cannot be reduced to such stereotypical characterisations. It may have multiple meanings, not least in re-characterising light and notions of illumination and reflection. In a sense, it stops Washington being the iconic focus of the picture, replacing that figure by homage to spaces and spatial relations in time and space. At least I think it does.


Greatest Homosexual

4.      What Rivers does to David’s Napoleon (already quite a camp figure) is to reflect him, almost recessively in male shapes, which are beginning to lose their iconic ‘masculinity’ and are thus ‘queered’. I love how Napoleon’s constraining sleeve is mirrored in the subject/object to his left (our right). Here male bodies are subjected to cubist fragmentation. The sleeve can look like the camp red hat of a miniature figure with red epaulettes.  The men turned round, eventually running into each other. The link of military values to latent male homosexual bonding had already been made by Freud (in relation to both French and German militarism.  And Rivers appears here not only to allow male figures to reproduce each other but, in a cubist fashion, undress them, with suggestive emphasis on groin areas. I wonder if that too comments on neo-classical traditions in art, wherein, David, for instance, would first draw his figures unclothed in order to allow what parallel he then attaches to hang appropriately. Was David too willing to employ the ‘myth’ of Napoleon as well-hung man? Here again a joke has the capacity to undermine traditional values – of man as fighter, leader and so on. Hence I think, Rivers may be employing gay subjectivity as a subversive potential, but I can go no further and I’ll look at the discussion after mounting this reading.

All the best


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Greenblatt’s Self-fashioning: A843 Block 1 Sec 3 Exercise

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Saturday, 23 Sep 2017, 08:41

Read Stephen Greenblatt, ‘At the table of the great’, an extract from Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare.

  1. Pay attention to the author’s method for teasing out theoretical concepts about self-fashioning from Holbein’s painting, as well as to the fact that the primary topic of his book is English literature (note the book’s subtitle: ‘From More to Shakespeare’).
  2. How would you characterise the discussion of identity and subjectivity here? What are the conflicts in the painting according to Greenblatt, and how do they operate?

(1) Greenblatt does not, as such describe ‘self-fashioning’ as a theoretical concept or define it. It is rather implicit, at least in this piece. This is characteristic of certain kinds of literary theory, which aim to persuade that the theory used is born of empirically observable facts..

Look, for instance, at p. 20 para. 2:

o   There are, to be sure, the faces and hands of D & S, and yet so strong is the sense of pose as Holbein depicts them that they seem, of all the objects in the painting, the most artificially crafted. They possess a calculated impenetrability that suggests, in the hands, the carefully fashioned casualness counselled by Castiglione and, in the faces, the masking counselled by Machiavelli.

The next sentence uses reference to ‘the power of human shaping’ to characterise and summarise what is described here. Yet where is this notion really defined or spelled out in a way that can be challenged. In this extract it is not. Hence, the passage can elide certain agencies. Is the ‘pose’ crafted by the two diplomats or by Holbein to allow us to see through the imposture? That question will not be answered. This is because Greenblatt is working from a consideration of the humanist diplomat More to seeing Shakespeare as that artist who writes ‘character’ in ways that allow us to see the character fashioning an ideal image of itself, whilst allowing us to see behind that mask. This is, after all, the aim of most theatrical drama whether that of Shakespeare’s Othello or Leontes or any of Ibsen’s characters, including the Emperor Julian in Julian the Apostate.

It is totally appropriate to call this a ‘teasing out’ of concept rather than a theoretical discussion or even the application of theory, which might require some robust inter-disciplinary thinking. 

I totally agree with Greenblatt’s statement however that this picture offers us signs for interpretation, which interpretations (even of the question ‘what is reality in this picture?’) it then undermines. (p. 20 para 3). The problem is that like most literary critics, Greenblatt uses the tools of his trade as if there were no difference necessitated by the cultural object examined. Having noticed the uneasy and disturbing ‘reflection’ upon each other of the anamorphic skull and the skull brooch that is worn by one diplomat, he offers this ‘close reading’ as the key to his interpretation that the picture both celebrates the human capacity to map the world and undermines its efficacy in a world that other than the means we use to represent it.  His characterisation of visual art (presumably compared to literature) is of the former’s ‘sensuous immediacy and simultaneity’.

This strikes me as a cliché. In an obvious sense the process of reading literature and auditing/seeing dramas necessitates temporal as well as spatial issues, but it is naïve to  think that visual art is processed outside of time or in immediacy. Otherwise we can only attribute Greenblatt’s ability to see the well obscured brooch skull as an effect of critical and special close reading. In fact I think this is not the case. The picture, like most products of the norther, rather than Italian, Renaissance operates very differently to the stress on ordered perspective in say, Raphael. Yes, Greenblatt has noticed the brooch. Here it is.

Hat-brooch Holbein

 This piece of painterly virtuosity can be noticed only with the ability of the viewer to spend time as well as critical intelligence on the picture and it is this call to temporal attention that characterise the virtuosity of the Northern renaissance I believe. And, in doing so, other images emerge. The same diplomat wears a pendant (no doubt also a sign of wealthy imposture) in which Satan (by Archangel Michael?) is overcome and the crucified Christ hovers in the extreme upper right hand of the picture (hiding, like Polonius, behind an arras) – only seeable if you give time to the painting. If you see all this, it may undermine the imposture of diplomacy, science and education but it does not do so by leaving everyone merely with post-modern angst about the lack of unitary meaning, although for me as a non-Christian it must do so.

Satan Defeated (by Michael)

 Christ behind arras

Hence my feeling about Greenblatt is that sacrifices accuracy about the process of seeing visual art (and accuracy about the different roots of the Northern Renaissance) for an attempt to wear the cloak of the theory to cover meretricious subjectivism. Is that too harsh?


(2) Greenblatt seems to argue that while identity is observable and readable from signs of complex and shifting meaning, it can be distinguished from our apprehension of how the characters presented through these signs appear subjectively to themselves. Moreover, identity and subjective self-apprehension can clash – they can mean different and sometimes contradictory things. We are used to dealing with Shakespeare, of course, in this fashion, wherein we see action and character in conflict – as too in Browning’s Italian painter monologues. We can see our diplomat as proud in the vanity of his education, place in court and the world but open to being undermined by the otherness of mortality and even perhaps notions of sacrifice and redemption which go beyond the ornamental. These conrtradictions make up our and probably Holbein’s ‘reality’. However, Holbein, in effect can afford not to rest on the fissures between contradictory readings. If, as viewers, we can’t, it is because the meaning of all symbols, icons and signs change diachronically in time. Greenblatt’s reading effectively hides this basic truth from us – merely because he insists response to visual art is about simultaneity. I do not believe it is.

Well, that's what I thought on 22/9/17.

All the best


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Griselda Pollock on Van Gogh A843 1.3.5

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A843 1.3.5 Griselda Pollock on Van Gogh


1.     Read the extract from Griselda Pollock, ‘Artists, mythologies and media – genius, madness and art history’, (1980) skipping part III ‘Ways of reading’ on pp. 76–89, and try to summarise her approach to art history.


2.     How does Pollock’s critique of art history take its cue from what she identifies as a Marxist literature? Take particular note of her use of the word ‘ideology’ and consider its meanings.


·        Pollock deconstructs the means by which art history produces a discourse of art history focussed upon the individual artist or ‘subjective genius’. The latter becomes in that discourse the unitary guarantor of the meanings of an oeuvre and limits those meanings to the ideological reflection of the specialised ‘subjective genius’ – the artist. In the term ‘subjective genius’ we understand that what the artist realises is something specific and special to their own subjectivity, rendering their art into ‘visionary scenes’ (that appears without awareness of the work that goes into building a scene).


At the same time the ‘subject’ is rarefied from its social constituents, which may be multiple and contradictory rather than unified and coherent, and rendered magically apparent rather than ‘made up’ from work on discourses, which may also be visual discourses or image repertoires. The stress on self-transcendence in vision is what links ‘subjective genius’ to the notion of asocial madness and the ‘romance life’ produced by allowing VG to appear as a subject in his own subjective visions in the film Lust for Life– such that self and vision are removed from the ‘everyday’ and the processes constructing the everyday (social configurations of both time & space in the constitution of ‘work’ for instance).


For Pollock the reflection of social philosophy in Carlyle is needed to understand in part the origin of VG’s motifs, as is also an awareness of how his work with images mediates relationships of class, gender and so on between him and his art. The source of all the disguises which mask work on and in multiple discourses (both validation and otherwise of the given social order in which VG is ‘thrown’) is ideology.


·        Ideology in Pollock’s use is a means of rendering a social practice in ways that ignore its origins in social relations, including power relations) and the ongoing history of changes in modes of production (in ‘art’ as in other commodities). Hence we can create an ‘ideological ‘pure’ space’ for art (57). Art history is then a social practice that not only disguises its object – art as made in history – but its own practices as ideology by precisely seeing itself as non-ideological. Commodities like the monograph and catalogue raisonné embody the ideas of art and artistic genius as shown above but are, like art itself, materially produced out of a set of (hidden) power relations. The practices productive of such commodities, which declare themselves as non-ideological (note Marx on Robinsonades in Grundrisse) are ‘temporal and causal narratives’ and ‘biography’, in which the latter is the primary agent in the former.


The agency of institutions and dynamic social processes is missing from ‘art history’ which makes it, in effect, not ‘history’ but a narrative of transcendent realisation of a special individual’s whole body of art  work. This is illustrated in the role of the publisher in Pollock’s own work on VG (67).

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A843 Exercise on Foucault's concept of 'author function' applied to art

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Tuesday, 19 Sep 2017, 20:17


Now read an extract from Michel Foucault (1969). Consider the following questions:

  1. What is the ‘author function’ and how does it differ from a more traditional idea of ‘the author’?
  2. In Foucault’s view, what kind of author does the critic invent, and why does the critic fixate on the author?


3.     What does Foucault mean by the ‘discourse’ surrounding an author?


4.     What does Foucault’s account do to the idea of the author as a stable point of origin, a concept fundamental both to the model of the genius artist and to the genre of the art-historical monograph?


1.      The author function is that ‘ideological product’ which acts within the text to marshal its meanings / significations into a repository that tames its tendency to discontinuously propagate excess of meaning. It classifies meaning under a ‘name’ that owns and therefore unifies those meanings and takes responsibility for them and a right to control them. This is likely to be complex because we are not imagining here an active control by a ‘person’ or ‘agent’ but a limiting or regulating filter which suggests that responsibility and rigt to allot meaning is owned 'elsewhere' than in a text's multiple and multiplying readers. It is a ‘principle of thrift in the proliferation of meaning’.

2.      The critic aims to establish an author’s canon and ascribe unity to that canon (in the name of the author, through limiting criteria which discern the ‘author’ as the source of rights and responsibility for the meanings appropriate (and appropriated) to that work. In that sense the role is similar to connoisseurship in art. The critic thus invents and maintains author-function, repairing it when it is ruptured (by re-reading). Foucault sees the critic fixating on the author as a criteria for:

a.      Safe attribution of works to an author – as part of his canon (not Henry VIII for Shakespeare);

b.      Unity of meaning that acts as a control against erratic (uneducated) readings.  

c.      A means of explaining diversity in a work because such diversity mocks biographical or contingent information associated to an author.

d.      A means of resolving contradictions in and between canonical texts – giving it a non-contradictory unitary source (cp. Bakhtin).

e.      It defines what in other writings or sources of expression can be given ‘authority’ as evidence for a singular interpretive act.

3.      Discourses proceed from social institutions and ideologies supportive of those institutions, as well as the power structures & dynamics which support and are supported by institutions. Subjects are inserted into this frame but an ‘author’ escapes such insertion (and therefore ideological identifications) by a discourse of artistic technique. The author function suppresses the ability to identify the interplay of power and interest of the social discourses writing instantiates.

4.      Foucault’s account sees the social processes of discourse about art as a production and maintenance of author-function. In art this the individual genius (whether Raphael or Rothko). The purpose of such processes is the maintenance, in as far as is possible of current distributions of power in society and of the ideologies that sustain that power to self-maintain. It argues that the radical potential of seeking meaning in art is thus lost and the power and authority to read / interpret / understand of the viewer is deferred to the author-function – the latter’s private ownership denies collaborative meaning-making or limits it.

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A843 Exercise on determing an artist's oeuvre

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Monday, 18 Sep 2017, 15:45

A843 Block 1 Artist and life


Are all works by an artist relevant? What exactly is an artist’s ‘work’? Write down a few notes in answer to these questions.


Once we begin to ask ‘what is relevant for the study of the artist?’, what further questions come to mind? Write a few down that occur to you.

(a)    The question ought to be are “‘all works relevant’ to …” and then nominate an issue in art interpretation, evaluation and / or other area of thought and study. Otherwise there is too much to think about I think. However the second question is more pertinent. We could say that an artist’s work is all of the work that s/he completes but that raises issues about how being ‘finished’ is interpreted and by whom. Can the artist alone decide the answer?  And what of draft work or ‘preliminary studies’ where the earlier question is even more acute in that the work is mainly an object whose meaning lies on the processes that lead to a complete work – which we may consider another work. Yet Leonardo’s greatest work is often represented by ‘cartoons’ (once the name of preliminary studies. transitional to the making of the final work). Moreover, some works – say Louise Bourgeois recovered notes and drawings done (sometimes) on scrap paper during nights in New York in which she was unable to sleep and pushed under her door to be picked by her person who worked with her ( Was this therapeutic private work or more than this – a portal to other parts of her work? The video on this page claims it gives access to a Louise Bourgeois who is not otherwise ‘well known’.

(b)    Is art only those things that have the potential to be made into a relatively ‘enduring’ record? What then of unrecorded performance? What of the performance thought to make everyday life? Does art need even to be seen by others to be art? Do we distinguish between the ‘works’ of an artist and work done in conditions where they are not in control of the product?

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