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Introducing Homo-somatism?: The nature of ‘queer’ readings in Art.

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 18 Feb 2018, 16:29

Introducing Homo-somatism?: The nature of ‘queer’ readings.

How is the tolerance of a picture to interpretation tested?

This is a question I started asking myself after discovering a beautiful drawing attributed to Titian: Two Satyrs in a Landscape (1509 -19) [Whistler 2016:113].

Whistler (2016:112) describes it thus: ‘two entwined satyrs with an astrological disc in a rustic landscape. In the hooked, curly or lapping pen-strokes we can trace both the forceful movements of Titian’s hand and the impetuous flow of his ideas; the furry, hairy bodies of the satyrs seem to merge with the rough grass, and the broken pen  lines and strong hatching stokes animate their bodies and create a sense of the play of light outdoors.’

How much is both said and unsaid here of my immediate and even considered response to this picture – because the play of hair / fur (the naming announces the liminality of the beings caught between animal and human) merges not only bodies with grass but body with body. I do not sense though a sexual meaning (or as people with a preference for late nineteenth century medical terminology sometimes prefer to call it ‘homosexual meaning’). If anything this is as near as the ‘play’ (to take Whistler’s term again) of light and bodies but also of bodies. What this picture ‘means’ to me is of an asexual comfortableness of the male body with body itself and the body of other males.

It marks a moment when the male is not seen as rigidly distinct from other males in the performance of a kind of heterosexualised masculinity where closeness of male to male is absent or ritualised in performances of mutual violence. Titian’s satyrs are as isolated from heterosexuality as much as homosexuality, in so far as both hetero and homo-sexuality are thought of as variant forms of the genitally sexual. So I prefer to invent the term – homosomatism or homosomal interaction. These definitively male bodies (not being goat-like below) rest on and in each other and, if light, space and line play, play intermingles in doing so the curvy lines that fail to outline each male body in any non-liminal (non-boundaried) way.

I love that term ‘liminal’ – it is about the merging of boundaries with each other, where boundary maintenance and boundary crossing are allowed a momentary rest from the usual antagonism to each other that they sometimes evoke in real life. Yet so comfortable is this picture – so much in repose - that one wonders why Titian chose satyrs. They were the sign of indecorous phallic sexuality in Classical Greek ceramic and statuary art. It reminds us that, in deliberately copying Giulio Romano’s print (Wyss 1996:98) 

for his Flaying of Marsyas, another satyr, Titian deliberately omitted the patterned contrast in Romano between the decorous well-proportioned phalli of the Apollonians in the print and the gross bestial (bent) phalli of the satyrs – and the huge testes sac of the incoming satyr servant. Issues of class emerge here of course.  The small but proportioned phalli form one diagonal on the left of the picture outfacing the parallel bent of the phallic equipment of the satyrs

It is commonplace for hegemonic male cultures, as Franz Fanon shows us, to brand its fear and distaste for the males of a subaltern culture in 'picturing' the genital sexuality of the latter as both gross in shape and size, and as ill-controlled. Fanon sees this imagery played out in the US ‘lynchings’ in the twentieth century American South where the phalli of black men were cut off and inserted in the mouths of their own hanging bodies.

Where am I going with this? The meaning I see in Titian’s print is highly ‘subjective’. As someone who respects, but does not want to mimic in myself, scholarship, I am aware that the iconography of this picture has not been rigorously examined. The presence of the astrological disc suggests that there may be ways of merging our satyrs in a pattern of iconological meaning, which will stand aloof from subjectivism and perhaps find a hidden secreted meaning in line with the Neo-Platonism of Marsilio Ficino. Moreover (I’m ashamed to say) I can’t read the Italian writing at the right base of the drawing being Italian illiterate. There seems to be a reference to Milan (and that may be crucial if I did but know why).

But is this reticence about finding meaning how it must be? Does painting that we see only allow the play of meanings authorised by a symbolic system entirely knowable to their author/painters, as Ficino’s was, or do other meanings insert themselves through the history of the picture’s reception. Usually those meanings are fearful and sublime (how I would read the Flaying of Marsyas). But in Two Satyrs, I sense a meaning that is purely beautiful. It is about the possibility of a masculinity that is not defensive against its ‘queering’. It cannot be labelled ‘queer’ or ‘homosexual’, it is that which, at the moment, neither of these nor their ‘opposed’ binary qualities. To me that is beautiful: a world beyond the granite force of boundaries and the walls of Trump (or do I mean the Walls of Doom). When one looks at the White House now, it is difficult to decide.

All the best


Whistler, C. (2016) Venice & Drawing 1500-1800: Theory, Practice and Collecting New Haven & London, Yale University Press (a wonderful book by the way).

Wyss, E. (1996) The Myth of Apollo and Marsyas in the Art of the Italian Renaissance: An Inquiry into the Meaning of Images Newark, University of Delaware Press / London, Associated University Presses.

Pictures from these books:

Titian, Two Satyrs in a Landscape (1509 -19). Pen & brown ink with white body colour, some oxidised, 216 x 151 mm. New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Inv.1998.28.

Giulio Romano, Apollo Flaying Marsyas : design for a detail of the frieze in the Sala di Ovidio, Palazzo Te (1527) : pen, ink and wash over chalk, Louvre, Département des Arts graphiques.


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Thoughts on Architectural History by a classic in Art History.

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Monday, 5 Feb 2018, 09:01

I thought this a provocative, if self-consciously minor, thought as it passed through my head - so for better or worse!

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'SPACES / PLACES': Assessment (sumitted to MoMA course on Modern Art & ideas)

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Monday, 5 Feb 2018, 09:04

I’ve always been intrigued by the terms, space’ and ‘place’.

Places are spaces with other qualities, like names & meanings. These bind us to them, lending us their security at what can be the prices of entrapment in a fixed identity or over-localised constraint. Here I consider their relation to art.

Space is a concept related to both infinite expansion and enclosure in a boundary or frame simultaneously. In painting it suggests a flat surface in two dimensions, which sometimes thickens in mixed media like collage. But even in painting, space is not only framed by two material dimensions but also optical illusions of depth, which might be regulated (by perspectival illusions) or merely subjectively layered by colour contrasts as in my view of Mondrian.

This course made me look at Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’. A small section depicts a place in reserved space that we might think of as provincial Saint-Remy. The town is only a set of straight lines and contained shapes, but its surrounding is not that place but space itself: space that extends from the cypress in the picture plane to the mountains and beyond. For a moment refuse to see the skies above the town as a projection of Van Gogh’s inner conflict and pain. Why isn’t turbulence here seen as not pain but merely unconstrained pleasurable play in and on space? In fact, to me it celebrates space. We lose the sense of spatial perspective around the town and see the play of paint on a flat surface, mocking the supposed solidity of Saint Remy and displacing it with arabesques and rococo swirl.  They increasingly lose any sense of trying to imitate reality as they swell and flow multi-directionally because somehow the illusion of seeing a space moving from front to back no longer holds. So that cypress tree dances with the sky and queries the sense of solidity that must be felt inside the houses of comfortable Saint-Remy.

When we see places as spaces, they become disturbing because free space makes us insecure: perhaps any sense of freedom must be insecure. When Rachel Whiteread makes an empty interior space solid – as in House – she shows us that a place is a monument to something we think we are not what we can be. I think something similar goes on in Wyeth’s Christina’s World.

Home, constriction and enclosure – neatly packaged on the horizon - drowns in space that defies conventional perspective. Looking from a worm’s-eye-view, as we seem to do at the base of the picture frame, we would never really be able to see the exaggerated expansiveness around Christina – nor its intricate patterns of colour. Space expands to accommodate the viewer’s eye as it travels up from that grass – and is beautiful, hopeful and fearful.

Matta-Clark’s Bingo similarly transform the signs and frameworks of the most contained of places (the home) into spaces that lack ordered relationships which makes them comfortable. We notice frames – stair frames, door frames but displaced from utility and function in maintaining security. Just space containing meaning!

Some months back I saw Kurt Schwitters’ work for the first time near home in Newcastle (UK). I’ve chosen him as my one art-work in the next exercise. 



Whole wall Merz Barn wall Kurt Schwitters

Schwitters became an artist who investigated interactions between places and spaces long before he was exiled from Nazi Germany and was interned in the UK. Megan Luke says Schwitter’s life was continually displaced and that produced art which we enter like experience: ‘a space wherein we no longer take our perception of something for granted.’ (Luke 2014:161). Schwitters life was punctuated by envisioning and creating different kinds of living space into Merzbau – spaces in which boundaries were deceptive. Artistic vision was a matter in which the viewer’s motion within the internal spaces of his art confounded all framing of that vision. Interiors and exteriors, accessible and non-accessible spaces or cavities (or grottoes as he called them as if he were an eighteenth-century landscape artist) were confounded.

His later art-spaces were consciously abandoned places in which space and waste came together as a means of ‘making space’ self-conscious. His last was unfinished and took the last of his life: an abandoned barn on a patron’s land in Cumbria. On his death, it was abandoned with most of the interior transformation of the barn unfinished or ‘unstarted’, but included diagonal dividing walls and hanging objects and sculpture that enriched the view of the remaining mural – known as the Merz Barn Wall. The Wall was transported to Newcastle University and is now a proud permanency in the Hatton Museum.

Merz was a word taken from half of the word ‘Kommerz’ and from the verb to obliterate. It became the name for Schwitter’s whole work and even for ‘himself’. It combines ideas of the disposability and death of objects as well as their loss in constant exchanges of meaning. What does that mean for places and spaces. Always impermanent, until absorbed into a Museum, they are always also places that both become and lose purpose over time.

The Barn-wall now is splendidly beautifully but not with the drama of light, viewing position and motion it would have had, although the place of the barn’s original skylight is recreated. This is a wall where boundaries and cavities, which is what a wall is, become part of its the boundaries and frames that are sunk ‘in’ or built ‘out’ from it – including a grotto of small objects whose meaning is impossible to recreate.

One cavity appears as a mouth-like shape on a smooth face-like structure and contains a visible small piece of green twine that feels on observation an uncomfortable memory of the undigestible experience. As you look, you see the cavities and projections are made up not only of materials but shadows and that doubling distorting shadows are a function of the work and begin to suggest fragmentary new meanings for the whole work. One projection of steel wire and rock as a shadow mimes a phallic figure.

Some depths are smaller than they look and, as you look, you see that Schwitters transformed and deformed shadow shapes by addition of painted shadows. Thus, places may not reassure us in Schwitters, but they do become spaces where we recognise and do not recognise the doubles of everything that makes up our placed – unplaced species – ‘Poor unaccommodated (wo)man is more than this’. Or that is what, at least, I am nearly thinking if this thinking ever gets formed into thoughts.

Details of wall Merz Barn wall Kurt Schwitters

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Assessment 2 (Submitted Assignment): Coursera (MoMA on Art and Educational Activities)

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Saturday, 20 Jan 2018, 17:30

Introduction to Emotional Triggers in Visual Images (Pair Exercise - class divides into pairs). 1st year Undergraduates (UK) in Psychology of Counselling

  • (1) Briefly describe how your artwork and project theme connects to the overall grade curriculum.
  • The lesson plan introduces undergraduate counselling psychology learners to the importance of cues and prompts in the visual world through analysis of visual artefacts like this painting. This is part of a core introductory curriculum which looks at the relationship between phenomena in the world that we access through our senses, whether that be sight, hearing, smell and touch. For counselling learners the learning is related also to how people communicate with mutual empathy about the thoughts and feelings created by such stimuli. This first lesson emphasises how we access common structures of feeling and thought linked to the word 'home' and how we both introject and project feelings and thoughts. However, at this point of the curriculum and this lesson, we are concerned only with visual cues. Much of the learning will be based on sensitive listening and attempts to empathise using different modes of expression between the paired learners.
  • (2) Describe two activity goals of your assignment and explain how they connect to the work of art. NOTE: The large learning group will after viewing and writing about the Wyeth panting be divided into pair groups. 
  • (2a) Each participant will be able to demonstrate that they have responded in writing to the picture in terms of the emotions and thoughts that the picture as a whole and its formal elements create. In pairs they will also demonstrate the ability to communicate their thoughts orally, conveying a sense of what they saw and how they felt and thought about what they saw.
  • (2b) In those same pairs, each participant will be able to demonstrate that they can listen to another person's response to the same visual stimulus that they themselves have just seen and reflected upon it in writing. From what they hear from their partner, they will draw a picture (aesthetic considerations will not come into this) which reflects what their partner saw and felt rather than what they saw and felt about the picture. The pairs will discuss together the drawings produced in terms of their responsiveness to what they themselves thought.
  • (3) Write clear instructions for how another teacher should lead your activity.
  • A class of 10 learners in counselling psychology (who are already known to each other) will be briefly introduced to the activity. It is a 3 hour session. They will all see a picture. This picture may be a very large poster reproduction or a projected slide. For 5 minutes, they will be asked to look at it silently allowing themselves to respond both with thoughts and feelings about painting. They will have been instructed not to talk to each other about the painting at this time.
  • A standard open-ended question questionnaire will be handed out. (link opens in new window)
  • Each person will fill out the questionnaire for a fixed duration of 25 minutes. They will have been instructed that they will be divided into pair-groups (being counselling learners they are familiar with that) and that the purpose of their answers will be to be communicate what they have written clearly in oral form to their partner in the pair.
  • At the end of 25 minutes a comfort break (of 10 minutes) is given but people must leave their completed questionnaires upside down on their writing table. During this time the large reproduction of the painting will be removed.
  • On return each person will retrieve their completed questionnaire. At this point a list of pair groups will be produced. The pairings will have been produced by random allocation by the teacher.
  • In their designated pairs (named A/B), A will be given 10- minutes to talk about their responses to the painting (no longer on show of course) to B. B will then (for no more than 5 minutes ask A any questions they think will clarify what A saw and felt and thought about what they saw. Then roles will be reversed and the process repeated.
  • There will be a 10 minute break. Pairs are asked not to communicate within their pairs during the break.
  • On return, each learner will be instructed to make a drawing or sketch (aesthetic considerations will not be important and that is made clear to the learners) that demonstrates the central features of what their partner in their pair saw in the stimulus and how it made their partner  feel and think and why it did this. (They have 20 minutes and can leave the room to find a private space in the adjacent quiet room if they so wish).
  • On return again, they give their pair-partner the drawing. Without communication, each pair-partner will reflect on the drawing they have been given for 5 minutes on their own.
  • The pairs will reform. Taking each partner in turn (about 15 minutes each), the pairs will discuss how they felt about the picture completed by their partner stressing things they found that reflected their personal visual responses as they saw it best and anything they felt that was either an inaccurate reflection or one that challenged them to rethink how they felt. The pairs will ensure that they retain a good and empathetic relationship during that period.
  • There will be a 10- MINUTE BREAK. The painting will be returned to view.
  • On return the whole class will discuss the painting (now available again) and how it has changed for them in the course of the session,
  • They will be given feedback forms and asked to return them during the next hour to the tutor's pigeonhole. On the feedback forms they will be given instructions on seeking a personal debriefing should they want one.

The Artwork Again

Wyeth 'Christina's Home' MoMA

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Assessment 1 (Questionnaire Resource): Coursera (MoMA on Art and Educational Activities)

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Saturday, 20 Jan 2018, 17:29

The questionnaire relates to the following painting from MoMA

Wyeth 'Christina's Home' MoMA

The Questionnaire

Answer the questions on a separate sheet of paper. You have 25 minutes in total (you may write in note form):

1.     Describe the central figure in the painting, so that someone else could visualise her as she is in the painting.

2.     How do you relate to her as you look at the painting? This might include feelings of closeness or distance, interactions between what you imagine of her feelings and thought with yours as you look at the painting.

3.     What are the basic forms that you see in the pictures? These could be shapes that you see in the picture. These shapes might be created by outlines or differences in the colour of different patches within the picture? Do you sense or imagine different textures in different parts of the painting? How do different forms or shapes relate together? Is there a pattern or different patterns? What effect do any of these things have?

4.     What does ‘home’ mean in this painting, which is called Christina’s Home? How is meaning and/or feeling about this word conveyed? Whose meaning of ‘home’ is it?

All the best


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Shall I do this MOOC? Leicester Museum Studies

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Tuesday, 2 Jan 2018, 15:12

Three words on Museums:

1.     Challenging

2.     Open

3.     Facilitating

When you have posted your three words, consider the following:

  • Do they refer to museums as buildings, exhibition spaces, or to museum objects/artefacts? All of these? Something else?

They refer to a wishful notion of the experience a museum might offer but they also carry with them a secondary expectation that, in my own past, museums could be experienced as having quite the opposite effect in every way – as spaces that might be too self-contained, forbidding and closed (mentally & emotionally). In fact, the three words are the obverse of the words that I FIRST thought in response to the exercise. My final words were the result of forcing myself to be more positive.

  • Do they best describe your view of museums of the past, museums of today, or the possibilities of museums in the future?

In the light of the above, very much the future. But that future is predicated on interesting and diverse experiences in places like Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the Hepworth Gallery or even the Bishop Auckland Mining Art Gallery.

  • Can you identify a time in your life when you may have formed those associations?

As for the positives, only recently and as a result of becoming interested again through positive experiences that have excited me. My thoughts about the worst experience of museums would be in buildings and organisation and exhibition spaces that remain locked in with symbols of exclusion – the key example being the Bowes Musuem (although I see that even here changes are beginning to be made).

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The Baltic at Christmas

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Monday, 25 Dec 2017, 08:25

The Baltic at Christmas

We visited the Baltic on Christmas Eve. A strange experience socially – sometimes you just need to see very young children reacting to abstract and conceptual art to see it anew.

The art survived the contact – maybe even was refreshed.

There is much to see and much at which to marvel. As always we track art back to the choices in the arrangement of media. In the case of Susan Philipz’ A Single Voice, that is radical and you need time to learn how to bring together the experience of sound, space (sheer volumes that interact with the Baltic’s own massive architecture) and sight to even begin to organise your experiences of this installation. I’ll visit again. Meanwhile get to grips (at the back of the hall with Philipz’ installation).

You enter a space that is completely dark – experiencing space both as visual illusion and tactile experience, you only gradually learn that some of the space is a cognitive-visual effect when you bang into a padded dark wall that obstructs and guides you – towards a thin light in one of the armatures of the space as a whole. If you survive the visual ‘deprivation’ (if that is what it is) you feel yourself into a room holding the voice of Philipz – here the tactile surface I was still holding onto becomes ridged and softer. Nothing I have ever ‘seen’ has told me more I think than this work about what the ‘visual’ in visual art means.

Then to Starless Midnight, a show in commemoration of Dr Martin Luther King’s receipt of honour from Newcastle University. I was stunned by the ‘Association for the Advancement of Cinematic Creative Maladjustment’ piece (the manifesto is republished by Baltic and can be picked up here – a piece of art that shows textual arrangement can be just that). The heart is in King’s own speech – see book excerpt above. The show is an anthology of cutting-edge art that makes you live and re-see racism and our defences against it.

My favourite piece is an installation centred on Ashley Holmes’ 18-min. film Everybody’s Hustling containing narratives about black working-class male experience in which race is sexualised and which refuses to avoid difficult perceptions about gender that this involves as the depth of a racist social psychology is penetrated. The installation screen is surrounded by 3 black barbers’ chairs themselves surrounded by a fence. Learning to see is daring to go around the screen, sit on the chairs – not all do (such is part of the experience of exclusion) and listen to the installation text). This in itself connects black male experience in the US, where barbers shops became a means of economic survival for black people. And there is much to learn about hair and hair and head shaping as we sit here. Absolutely profound piece I thought.

Likewise a disturbing show by Edgar Arcenaux on Floor 2, where nearly every shibboleth about access and relation to art as exclusive is explored. So much so that some will never see the mirror at the centre of this piece (a ‘centre’ at the margins of the work’s space) because it is occluded by the experience of art’s learnt behaviour of refusing access that has been internalised in most of us.

Don’t neglect the Sofia Stevi show though. Here is feminist art (one piece commenting on Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party) that recasts our experience of Greek classical art with a fun reconstruction of that phallocracy. The point is hard to miss – this shows displays the phallus to undermine it and to (in a beautiful pink painting) replace it. The use of linen hangings as material is a delight to see. Stevi’s experience of Greece is, however deeply subversive of attitudes to art it has been located within in art history, deeply in love and at home with Greece and is beautifully hopeful.


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Thoughts on ‘Style in Schapiro (1953): A843 Ex. 4.2.7

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Wednesday, 20 Dec 2017, 19:12

Thoughts on ‘Style in Schapiro (1953): A843 Ex. 4.2.7

As part of an exercise in close reading, consider Meyer Schapiro, ‘Style’  (1994 [1953]), and answer the following questions.

What kinds of intellectual work does Schapiro see the concept of style facilitating?

Schapiro conceives of style, I think, as a means of generalising certain abstract ‘qualities’ relating to a group or an individual at a particular historical moment – which in some cases constitutes the whole of some individual’s lives. These ‘qualities may range from defining elements, ‘expression’ and form – but are sometimes (perhaps as a sufficient and necessary condition of ‘style’) reduced to ‘form’ alone. However ‘form’ itself is not uncontested as a term - Wolfflin, for instance, sees form across a range existing between bipolar contrary qualities or elements.

For the duration of a ‘period’ of time, style then denotes certain constancies in form (at least) for a person – think of Picasso’s periods (Blue, analytic cubist, etc.) – or a historically identified group. In both cases those constancies might be attached to certain values implied by qualities – that might be variously ethical, spiritual, social or aesthetic (or ALL or a few of these in combination). To have ‘style’ then, within any period of relatively constant aesthetic forms for a geographical-temporal group can also be a normative statement, implying ranges of that ‘quality – from being without ‘style’ to being ‘stylish. This is what the Duchess of Windsor hints at when she says, ‘As for living, our servants can do this for us.’

I find it interesting that Schapiro limits our perception of such constancies to that which can be helped by common-sense psychology and social theory (my emphasis). Is this limitation a deliberate attempt to exclude factors that are unconscious in the maintenance of constancy or, at the very least, non-intuitive (such as social factors like status or income).

However Schapiro, whilst calling art history’s ‘construction of temporal & spatial distribution of styles’ systematic, both acknowledges that this construction is (perhaps forever) ‘incomplete’ and insists that variability across and within groups in time AND space ‘resist a systematic classification’. We are therefore in a world of contradictions which style discourse tries to harmonise, at least to ‘common-sense’.

Although there are no empirically established rules for identifying style it is justified experientially – not as a result of investigation but as a by-product of engaging in investigation: having ‘arisen from (that) experience.’, It works like a ‘language’, ‘admitting a varied intensity or delicacy of statement.’ Note how it is judged by the social characteristics of an elite, which combines intensity of being with a certain delicate tact in relation to those not fortunate enough to be ‘in’ that elite.

At what ‘levels’ does Schapiro see ‘style’ operating?

Let’s call these ‘levels’ (from low to high):

·        Characteristics of a behaviour or personality trait (noble or weak)

·        Characteristics of a person’s presentation at one point with regard to some activity or product of creativity;

·        Characteristics of a person or their work over a period of time or work

·        Characteristics of the social qualities / mores / actions of a group at one time

·        The same as above over a temporal duration

·        The culture of a group.

I’m sure one could go on. This is always the case with experientially and non-validated and non-orthogonal concepts. They generate boundaries and crossings thereof as of right. This is probably, in fact, a necessity of artistic creation at any of these levels.



How does Schapiro substantively characterise the concept of ‘style’?

He specifies these on p. 3:

1.         Form elements or motifs;

2.         Form relationships; &

3.         Qualities (including ‘expression’ as an all-over quality).

One could be forgiven for seeing these levels as far from independent of each other and far from being other than ‘fuzzy concepts’. Indeed fuzziness is essential to them in the main, since they don’t have ‘distinct’ boundaries. Indeed their boundaries yield to ‘anticipation’, blending, & continuity’ (p.2). Can these then be levels? Or are they nothing more than what ‘rarelky corresponds to a clear and universally accepted characterization of a type.’ (p. 3).

Hence not a ‘type’ at all but an unclear & vague representation thereof.

Examples can, he says, be found anywhere – in children  & ‘psychotics’ (the labelling and grouping tells us a lot about the ‘style’ of art historical thought throughout its history in fact. Indeed in ‘primitives’ of other sorts (p.5) and this helps modernity to see transfers between styles as a wilful adoption and rejection in sequence of different forms of values that were once the expression of a group: Cubism, Abstraction, Expressionism, Surrealism.

As far as I can go.


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How is modernism historicised (narrated as a teleological end) A843 Ex. 4.2.4

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How is modernism historicised (narrated as a teleological end) A843 Ex.  4.2.4

Read the following two texts:

·        extract from Clement Greenberg, ‘Modernist painting’  (1965 [1960])

·        extract from Julius Meier-Graefe, Modern Art. Being a Contribution to a New System of Aesthetics (1908 [1904]).

Look at the mode of presentation of the two texts.

Consider the account they give of the beginnings of modern art.

Note the ways in which Greenberg and Meier-Graefe seem to differ.

Both texts speak from a ‘present’ which they regard as the ‘end’ (in the sense of completion & intentional purpose) of a narrative processes that we can call ‘history’, but history as a teleology – a history that knew where it was going (and whence it would end) even if its participant characters – painters or viewers – did not).

Of course Greenberg recalls Pollock in its defence of a trans-historical conception of art. This was not to say that art served the same purpose throughout history in the eyes of people who saw or painted it, but that only one purpose survives the ‘reduction’ of art to non-essential purposes justified by structures of meaning outside of art. Art was always a manipulation of the potentials of its media, whatever a medieval commissioner of art might have ‘divined’ it to be. That art supports both religion and illusion is not the end of art but an excrescence explained by its unknowing present participants in their own time. A knowing art grasps its meanings from its nature – the essential flatness and framedness of its being (Greenberg, p.775).

The moderns know that and hence speak only of painting as a relation to an extent of 2 dimensional space and its transformation to effects of (consciously illusory because partial) 3-dimensionality, through uses of applied media that build relations of form and colour. For Greenberg, this means losing the ‘literary character’ people (even some artists) imposed on painting (p. 777). He goes further in translating that change into a convergence with a notion of ‘science’ (p. 778) based in ‘results’. This now seems a very dated reading of science, which in part explains why Modernism has itself succumbed to historical reversals, so that its own formulations seem as outdated as the Neo-Platonist explanations of Byzantine Art.

Greenberg ends though with a modernism that is perpetually self-renewing since it interprets its past, and pasts that seem alien to it, to its own catch-all theme of continuity (778). Religion never promised as much stability as that – change that is forever the reproduction of the same essence (‘Eterne in mutabilitie’ as Spenser expresses it in the English Renaissance). Postmodernism begins to fragment that very sense of stability that lies within continuity in a way that makes the latter look like the grossest of illusions – a time-line that is singular and always going in a common direction – rather than several lines, whose only commonality is difference.

Meier-Graefe, speaking from the midst of the modern (Manet, Freud) democratises his language only to belittle that part of us and him that misunderstands that flat space and a multiplicity of impositions on it (Constable’s non-uniform greens as perceived by Delacroix (p. 140)) by merely following Constable ‘like a favourite racehorse’ (p. 136). Maier-Graefe hence simplifies art to show us its actual complexity, which lies not in the illusion of contours it appears to show than its mastery of the superficial, such that it is ‘made’ only as ‘an effect on the eye’ (ibid.). It is that effect that is the wonder of art – past and present says Meier-Graeffe from the eminence of 1904-8. Like Greenberg he aims to embrace the flat as our necessary starting point, the eye as the knowing source of the appreciation of all artistic endeavour made upon that surface forever after.

What distinguishes the latter however is I see no sense of trying to break from the literary character of art appreciation – not least in its use of sonorous literary effects to show the meaning of how Courbet reinvented Nature from a surface – the rhythms are that of the King James Bible: ‘cleft the earth with mighty strokes of the spade (p. 264)’, the use of metaphor self-conscious as here calls a brush (which ‘strokes) a ‘spade. Maybe though the difference is that the ‘literary character applies to the artist making art rather than to some narrative thought to be the meaning of the painting alone.

I don’t feel I’ve addressed the questions at all fully (if at all) but my purpose is to understand what I read rather than get a meaning someone else has already decided to be there.

All the best


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Criteria for modernism A843 Block 2 Ex. 4.2.3

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Monday, 18 Dec 2017, 18:41

Criteria for modernism A843 Block 2 Ex. 4.2.3

In the light of the criteria suggested, make notes on what aspects of these works gave impetus to modernist theorisation.


·        ‘flatness’, i.e. shallow pictorial space

·        alignment of forms with the picture plane

·        echoing of the framing edge in internal forms

·        ‘all-overness’, i.e. the elision of the distinction between figure and ground

·        the reduction of ‘tangible’ pictorial space to purely ‘optical’ pictorial space

·        unity of effect.


·        Paul Cézanne – search particularly for his late landscapes, from late 1880s to his death

·        Georges Braque – search for Cubist still lifes, both painting and collage, from c.1908 through to c.1914

·        Piet Mondrian – search for ‘neo-plastic’ abstract paintings from c.1920–30

·        Mark Rothko – search for examples of his work after c.1948

·        Kenneth Noland – search for his ‘chevrons’ and horizontal ‘stripes’ of the 1960s.

NOTE ON ME ON BLOCK 2: I have become rather jaded by Block 2. It started off well and I liked both sections but am wary of the exercises, since they presume very much the answers revealed in Discussion. Where that was overt I miss them out. The section on Byzantine Art (by concentrating on connoisseurship of a very limited kind) was enough to put me off Byzantine Art or at least the versions of it in Art History, if this is representative. However, having read Anthony Eastmond, I have a feeling it is not and so I’m leaving that section as merely read. Onwards & upwards to here.

This exercise:

Rather than search for a picture that meets the analytic need I decided to choose the first picture for each artist I came across – by accident or unconscious determination – and go with that.


·        Paul Cézanne – search particularly for his late landscapes, from late 1880s to his death

I have ‘chosen’ View of the Bay of Marseilles with the Village of Saint-Henri’ (c. 1883) because I did not know it.

·        ‘flatness’, i.e. shallow pictorial space

One can see what is meant by those who emphasise this in Cezanne, although there is much here that appears as a classic perspectival picture with receding planes emphasised both by object shapes (the funnel chimneys) where the near (in the village?) takes much space but is perceived as small in comparison with diminished spaces representing huge factory chimneys near the bay shore. Indeed if flat it is so only because of a feel of tectonic planes divided by lateral lines representing natural features. There is not only illusion of distance but depth since the village slopes away from the eminence from which we view.

·        alignment of forms with the picture plane

As above, I do not see this

·        echoing of the framing edge in internal forms

This is certainly so in the representation of man-made objects with much purer verticals, which contrast with dynamic natural forms, even invisible ones like an east wind seen in tree curvature and smoke.

·        ‘all-overness’, i.e. the elision of the distinction between figure and ground

At the level of colour, this may be the case. Green has a flattening harmonising planar feel in the picture that contradicts the perspectival or tectonic recession seen in man-made objects. Similarly with reddish disruptions to the right.

·        the reduction of ‘tangible’ pictorial space to purely ‘optical’ pictorial space

This may be an effect of the contradiction in perception I feel above.

·        unity of effect.

I certainly feel more a pull to fragmentation than unity – partly as an effect of blocks of colour and contrasts of straight and less straight laterals & vertical lines.


·        Georges Braque – search for Cubist still lifes, both painting and collage, from c.1908 through to c.1914

I have chosen ‘The Table (Still Life with Fan)’ (1910)

  • ‘flatness’, i.e. shallow pictorial space

My sense of this is far more than of flatness, but rather of recession and projection – the threatening knife like object which may be the perceived shape of the fan bone, which seeks its viewer as victim. Moreover I am prompted to see depth rather than irregular geometry in the table and the effect of the closed table door, promising depth behind it. It isn’t tectonic in the same way as Cezanne is (in part) because there is a sense of angularity in the geometric shapes which take perception on a trip to the sides of the object. I didn’t know it but I love this painting.

  • alignment of forms with the picture plane

There is too much balanced recession, which seems to cut into the picture laterally with the upper part of the picture looming forward from that depth so that the top of the picture is impossibly higher and further forward from the picture plane, The geometric shapes on the right may be at the level of the picture plane. They disturb but seeking objectification. I have the same felling of fragmentation.

  • echoing of the framing edge in internal forms

There may be an attempt to do that (at a deep tilt) in the table but it is constantly disrupted by intersecting geometric forms.

  • ‘all-overness’, i.e. the elision of the distinction between figure and ground

Instead of harmonising the ochre colours are disrupted by what feel like violent yellows. Perhaps the dissolution of the background to the Table (where is floor, where is wall, helps create this partial effect of all-overness where objects begin to dissolve into the plane.

  • the reduction of ‘tangible’ pictorial space to purely ‘optical’ pictorial space]

I find this. If anything the tangibility of space is increased and becomes more visible by the disruptions of the prompts to consistent pictorial (or represented) space.

  • unity of effect.

I do not find anything that matches this.


·        Piet Mondrian – search for ‘neo-plastic’ abstract paintings from c.1920–30

I have chosen ‘Lozenge Composition with Red, Blue, and Yellow', 1925

  • ‘flatness’, i.e. shallow pictorial space

This painting has really challenged me because its use of shape is not like that stereotypical image I had of Mondrian which uses the picture frame as part of its internal structure. The illusion of tilt and depth in the lozenge in relation to the overall marginal and shaping shading of the background in this painting disturbs, so that I have a sense of curved surfaces, depth and projection from within that depth. The shapes seem potentially partial rather than fulfilled ones – that triangle to the right is surely part of another unseen figure, perhaps a square that that lozenge lifts out of an imagined background,

  • alignment of forms with the picture plane
  • echoing of the framing edge in internal forms

I find it difficult to find any of these, as suggested above.

There may be an attempt to do that (at a deep tilt) in the table but it is constantly disrupted by intersecting geometric forms.

  • ‘all-overness’, i.e. the elision of the distinction between figure and ground
  • unity of effect.

The effects of colour provide this to some extent, not least how shading effects might mimic proximity of colour band effects – black, white, blue, greys.

·        Mark Rothko – search for examples of his work after c.1948

I have chosen ‘Number 18’ (1951)

  • ‘flatness’, i.e. shallow pictorial space

This painting has an emotional effect that is far from flat or to do with surfaces, partly because the disruptive lines, with their jagged edges give both a sense of violence and depth – like a cut or wound that seems to bleed or to seep (even worse). There is a liminality to all the framing that exceeds even the actual edges of the picture.

  • alignment of forms with the picture plane
  • echoing of the framing edge in internal forms

Again I need these together because they are absolutely crucially interconnected. Reductively speaking the frame ‘gives’ all the other ‘edges’ shape, whilst being itself compromised by their liminal effects and hurting depths. The transformation into shading of colours is beautiful, but disturbing & fragmenting to me. Forms are clearly not aligned to one plane for all of those reasons.

·        ‘all-overness’, i.e. the elision of the distinction between figure and ground

·        the reduction of ‘tangible’ pictorial space to purely ‘optical’ pictorial space]

Instead of harmonising the pinks, reds & purples feel like disruptions as well as transitions, especially the pink that traces the picture edge. This partial effect of all-overness where objects begin to dissolve into the plane.

·        unity of effect.

Unity is not the effect, rather liminal and unbounded space (not infinity, just overwhelming larger than itself.


·        Kenneth Noland – search for his ‘chevrons’ and horizontal ‘stripes’ of the 1960s.

I have chosen Red Divide Date 1965

  •  ‘flatness’, i.e. shallow pictorial space

The title may influence but I see planar ridges here together with incompleteness in shapes of varying depth. Shallowness may not happen because of what is felt as the incompletion of the red triangle, which feels logically partial but ‘divides’ because it may be forcibly truncated.

  • alignment of forms with the picture plane
  • echoing of the framing edge in internal forms

Too disrupted by diagonals to reinforce the rectangular frame or to hold shapes at the surface.

  • ‘all-overness’, i.e. the elision of the distinction between figure and ground

Well, yes. There is no figure, no background.

  • the reduction of ‘tangible’ pictorial space to purely ‘optical’ pictorial space]

I can’t think about this one. L

·        unity of effect.

Unity is not the effect, rather spatial contradiction within an apparent and limitless potential continuity.

 Well that’s me.

Let’s see what I should have said.


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Wölfflin’s Formal comparative ‘Approach’: A843 Ex. 2.3

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Wölfflin’s Formal comparative ‘Approach’: A843 Ex. 2.3

Totally Personal Responses

Which other approaches to art, already discussed in this block, does Wölfflin define his own approach in opposition to?

There are two aspects of the approach of Vasari and Winckelmann (different though they are in themselves) that matter to me.

1.     It is not claiming to be a method that addresses the absolute (or even – though this is arguable) relative VALUE of individual work or artists. We aim for a formal / stylistic comparison of works (or works grouped into periods) rather than as both V & W do, valorise certain periods of artistic production based on an absolute criteria – which is the use of God-created ‘Nature’ as a model in Vasari and the truth of the beautiful body (as product of nature and culture) in Winckelmann. Those periods are, respectively:

a.      The ‘now’ of the Renaissance period in which V lived and worked. V makes it plain that the value of art is relative to innovation of technique (by hard observation & practice) by which individual artists express their sens of desegno – though their gift remains as a foundation on which later artists build if they are virtuous (in the Renaissance sense of strong) enough.

b.     The ‘democratic’ openness of Classical Greece and pride in the body that can also be seen in the High Renaissance – expressed in terms of natural nobility and active passion rendered visible but passive.

2.     It is not necessarily linear in progression (whether that line be part of a cycle of life – birth - development – death – decay – rebirth – redevelopment ….. or a straight line of progress or decline (as Vasari’s model sometimes seen – at least in the present of a period of development in which one works. It is about metamorphic change from one state of formal being to another. We should note that this change has an inside and outside, such that much of its process – though described as formal- is conceptually far from superficial or a matter of non-intentional appearance. The inside drives the outside.

In what ways is his approach or method typical of style art history as defined by Elsner?

It is comparative, and can therefore be used to compare works, or groups of work, in relation to its formal handling of representations at the level of a surface that is compelled to show variability of perception or need expressed in imagery.

What kinds of art does Wölfflin apply his method to and to what other kinds of art can it potentially be applied?

It is applied to sixteenth and seventeenth century art - focusing on the metamorphosis from Renaissance to Baroque form, which latter terms it treats as serious labels of formal differences that can be analysed from the evidence of what is seen alone.

Since, it is metamorphic, I wonder if it need be applied to the point of metamorphosis between two sequential styles or cannot be used to look at ‘intrinsic’ differences in form – hence its use in modernism (I’d go for Marsyas). Why should we not compare a Byzantine fresco with a Baroque painting. I’ll try anyway.

The issue with Wolfflinn is that the cusp of change allows for liminality. In thise conditions any comparison might treat an intervening period as purely liminal & transitory.

What is the most fundamental of the concepts that Wölfflin develops?

We have to pre-suppose ‘unity’ in then work when we make comparison between it and another. This is more problematic than it appears, since the unity in any one fresco in a church may not be apparent at its own boundaries but lie across boundaries stylised in the church architecture as a whole. The idea of a framed whole is possible at the level of the possessed art work but not in the variations of openly accessible public art.

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Highlights from A Few Dangerous Days in the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle: Day 1.

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Highlights from A Few Dangerous Days in the Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle: Day 1.

Tired of the silliness of Turnitin, and dogmatic beliefs about referencing, I’ve taken a break from the bit of academic institutionalism I’m tied to for a little money in my retirement and am back in Yorkshire and tonight sitting in a Leeds hotel. Here are the highlights for today, where we stuck to transitory exhibitions because of a ‘man-flu’ (bad cold) I’m nursing.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

I thought at first of describing the 3 exhibitions today, but I think it is better to pick out moments. In the Bothy Gallery, 3 new artists (Tom Lovelace, Miriam Austin and Sam Belinfante) explored perception of what we call ‘nature’ and the surprising discoveries within it of artifice and imposed human (and sometimes ‘inhuman’) orders. My attention was called to a 25-minute HD video installation of a rehearsal of a rehearsal – the Mechanicals from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The aim is to explore the sensory confusions in the language of the mechanicals in a way that takes as more than a joke, but sensory overload was certainly the order of the day – not least in the play with water as theme in all 3 artists, all exploiting the ‘scenes’ from the Sculpture park itself.

However, to the main exhibition: Alfredo Jaar. At the portal of this exhibition us ‘The Garden of Good and Evil’ and we approached it from its non-explicated end, that away from the Gallery entrance and thus had no props to our perception of it in the form of explanatory and context-giving notice boards. Aisles of living trees in pots ordered but taking no notice of their ordering in their invasion of the spaces that separate them, you would encounter large steel & concrete structures in the form of enclosed and semi-enclosed boxes and bars – the most naked being small prison cells but all foreboding of unnatural constriction – or is ‘evil’ an abomination of nature or a function of it. One we ignore at peril.

Jaar’s work, whether looking at Chile or Vietnam disturbs because it tests the level of our tolerance of seeing. Many of his most telling photographs and their multi-modal transformations within large imposing and threatening installations, where images emerge from the ambient darkness are of people looking at horrors and reacting, that we, as viewers, cannot see. And then there is the ‘Sound of Silence’. Approached via a wall of unbearably bright light, you go beyond that wall to find behind the box that bears it the entrance to a totally enclosed ‘cinema’. Here the story of ‘Kevin, Kevin Carter’ is told on slides mainly of one lines, sometimes one word of a story, flashed so that they gain he intensity of a poem and at its centre a photograph of a vulture and a child and at its cruel end the play of ethical issues that mount into torture and implicate all artists as well as commentators about the responsibilities which ‘observation’ puts us under. No spoilers here – they matter.

‘A Hundred Times Nguyen’ has a similar theme – in a huge gallery sets of 4 different frontal shots of a single Vietnamese refugee (the same 4 in each hanging) are toured until at the end we are confronted by the variations of order of the shots in the pictures. But the effect is not in seeing this but in the ease with which we do not see these differences – how Nguyen is obliterated in multiplicity, in refugee status where such is a matter of huge numbers. In films, Jaar talks about what the aesthetic is and what it hides but also how resistance to it may be as morally futile as remembering it is not self-sufficient. To use a cliché – an art for our time.

Then to:


The main exhibition was a retrospective of Alina Szapocznikow’s sculptural work and preparatory drawings. Let’s be honest. I had not heard of this artist but what a rich and fully engaged career is opened up here, full of searing honesty and the necessary obsession that creates art. Szapocznikow’s early death and its expectation became for her a means of deepening her concerns with boundary-crossing between boundaries, of flesh and machine, human-animal, female-male such that she began to explore the buzzword of all art – development – in terms of the pressing living growth of cancerous tumours alongside other developments. Taking casts of her body still, she made that and the relationship to other bodies – notably her beautiful son, Pyotr – her theme and object. Pyotr naked and lieing at an angle, exposed and dead to sight, bears a large phallic growth that resembles a tumour. The exploration of sex and gender then remains painfully close to her concern with the Gothic monster – that thing of horrible parts that insists on wholeness.

And those apparitions are in the early work too. I was pleased to find that Griselda Pollock has a book on this. I purchased it.

So back in Leeds and surprised by how it has changed today’s Leeds Art Gallery visit promises the artists which were so ignored today, Hepworth but especially Henry Moore of the Henry Moore Institute. At last we might be beyond seeing Moore as the old reactionary of art: Szapocznikow’s debt to him was clearly enormous, although her thought and feeling perhaps outgrew him.

By the way, I did take the chance to see Henry Moore’s mining drawings again in the Hepworth. Tom McGuinness is right though. They do not live as pictures in a mine but merely depict it. Food for thought.

All the best


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North Porch of Aghia Sophia in Trabazon/Trebizond

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Sunday, 26 Nov 2017, 15:32

A Space for Presence: The fresco in the North Porch of Aghia Sophia in Trabazon/Trebizond

© Steve Bamlett: Presentation Proposal

North Porch (external photograph)

I aim to apply Belting’s[1] hypothesis about the ‘nature of the image before the era of Art’ to an unusual example of Trebizond Empire Byzantium.

Porches are uncommon in mainstream Byzantine architecture, whilst the frescoes within North Porch are thoroughly Byzantine. A notion of spatializing embodied presence is proposed to explain how Byzantine imagery translates novel architectural space into meaning, in which narrative and symbol-offered–to–interpretation become phenomenal embodied presences

Fresco North Porch - sketch

Focusing on the central section of the fresco (Jacob wrestling the Angel[2]), I argue that Eastmond’s[3] iconographical reading is less significant than embodied intra-male visceral action: ‘He touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of his thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him’[4]. The Greek term (ή παλαίστρα) used to describe the wrestling training-ground initiates our struggle with meanings. Image and text co-create presence across space. 

The Word is implicated in Byzantine images throughout Aghia Sophia. In this fresco, the image denotes a place of ‘faces’ rather than ‘masks’,  a place Jacob names merely because it marks embodied (‘face to face’[5]) encounters.

247 words


Steve Bamlett

Born in West Yorkshire, Steve gained first class honours in English Literature at University College London in 1976, studying under Professor Frank Kermode. After postgraduate study at Kings Cambridge and Leicester University in Victorian Poetry, he started his career as an academic in Higher Education, teaching English Language and Literature in Roehampton in London (Now Roehampton University). However, moving to Durham with his partner in 1990, he explored my options through taking Open University courses, initially in social care and gained First Class Honours in Psychology. He still sees himself as a lifelong learner rather than a tutor though. 


After qualifying as a social worker by MA at Durham University, he worked as a social worker and primary care mental health worker in the statutory and voluntary sector, latterly with people who give care for a relative or friend in the community. In 2004 he returned to teaching at Teesside University as Subject Leader, teaching Social Work relating to the understanding and work with people undergoing difficult life-transitions. Now 63, he has taken early retirement but returned to teaching with the Open University in 2014 as an Associate Lecturer in course in Psychology and the psychobiology of Mental Health. He also still acts as a peer reviewer for The British Journal of Social Work. 

He continue his own study with the Open University, gaining a PG Diploma in Humanities (Philosophy and Classical Greek Drama) and a MA in Open & Online Education. He is now in his first year of a MA in Art History with the OU. He has a passion for the variations of historical ‘Greek’ culture. He has an interest in queer perspectives on cultural history.


[1] Belting, H. (1994) trans Jephcott, E. Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image before the Era of Art Chicago, The University of Chicago Press

[2] Plate VIII in Talbot Rice, D. (Ed.) (1968) The Church of Haghia Sophia At Trebizond Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press.

[3] Eastmond, A. (2004) Art and Identity in Thirteenth-Century Byzantium: Hagia Sophia and the Empire of Trebizond London, Ashgate.

[4] Genesis 32:25

[5] Genesis 32:30

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Jacqui Gabb, J, and Janet Fink, J. 2015.SOCRMx Week 8

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Thursday, 23 Nov 2017, 21:20

Aim to write around 500 words on:

Jacqui Gabb, J, and Janet Fink, J. 2015. ‘Telling Moments and Everyday Experience: Multiple Methods Research on Couple Relationships and Personal Lives’. Sociology. Vol 49, Issue 5, pp. 970 - 987

Here are some questions that you might use to structure your writing:

·        What method of analysis was used?

·        How was the chosen method of analysis appropriate to the data?

·        What other kinds of analysis might have been used?

·        How was the analysis designed? Is the design clearly described? What were its strengths and weaknesses?

·        What kind of issues or problems might one identify with the analysis?

·        What are the key findings and conclusions, and how are they justified through the chosen analysis techniques?



Reductively speaking the research uses a two-staged method:

1.     An Online Survey using a convenience sample (n=5445) collecting quantitative and qualitative (open-text answers) data, the latter ‘quantified’ using ‘grounded theory’.

2.     Numerous qualitative data collection methods aimed at a sample of ‘couples’ (n=50). Data appears largely to be collected from individuals rather collectively from dyads.

Generically described as Multiple-Methods-Research (MMR), ‘Moments Approach’ is an innovative ‘mixed method’ in which forms of combination, and specific uses of, research paradigms and ‘tools’ ‘constantly (evolve)’ to match the mutating knowledge they generate. Thus, qualitative methodologies are ‘refined’ from conventional norms: avoiding collection alone of ‘logocentric’ and favouring multiple multimodal, datasets. Sequential stages of MMR interact and interpret each other’s meaning(s) and whilst compromising traditional uses of some tools, it adds interpretive richness. For instance, MANOVA data identify statistically significant clusters of themes, which initiate focal categories for use in the qualitative research.

Methodology also matches the goal of describing ‘complex and uncertain objects’, with porous, ‘fuzzy’ boundaries of objective definition. Hence, descriptions of enactment or objects cross categorical boundaries by using ‘vital’ metaphors: ‘dynamic’, ‘flexible’ and ‘fluid’. Aiming for holistic representation of Bourdieu’s psycho-social concept ‘habitus’, data are intended to be read in multi-sensory ways.

The role of the reader in this process is essential but not fully explicated. Data yielded by this research isn’t completely interpreted or ‘multi-sensory’ until processed by its readers. Thus Sumaira’s diary-data is strictly describable only as multimodal (using visual and textual modalities for instance).

Evidence from a diary accountIt only yields a ‘palpable sense’ of ‘vitality’ when read (using multiple senses that ‘embody’ meaning) by living readers. Yet this process of reconstructing multi-sensory experience (sound, sight, proxemics, and signification) is only partially explicated in a dense final paragraph.

This is a weakness because available paradigms, such as reflexive ethno-methodology, explicate such meanings using ‘thicker’ descriptions of the ‘collaborative’ roles of participant researcher, interpreting researcher (even when these are one person) and ‘readers’ in the research. Other weaknesses include the fact that, whilst critiquing its concentration on ‘couples’, as a source of ‘bias’ from ‘queer perspectives’, it doesn’t address this limitation actively.

Moreover, neither unmediated data from heterosexual males, nor LGBTQ couple data, though collected, get represented richly. Both detailed data examples are from individual women in heterosexual relationships. Methodologically Discourse Analysis was available to explicate ‘account variability’ yielded from using multiple stimuli from multiple group-types (Potter & Wetherell 1987:39). We must question then whether ‘doing couples or relationships’ data are representative of all participants.

Moreover, ‘foci’ determined within and before the qualitative research change as other themes cross-cut, confounding them: their significance expressed only in metaphor: ‘flashes’ in multi-faceted gemstones. The authors’ claim that ‘slower pace’ enriches data-interpretation by finding ambivalent or contradictory, meaning(s) in research ‘foci’. However, this is also a disadvantage because masses of over-complicated data become time-consuming to reduce into comprehensibility. They admit of ‘false starts’ and conceptual obscurity, as contingencies in the process revise the boundaries of ‘objects’ experienced by both participants and researchers.

Nevertheless, they self-evidently discover issues that hide from conscious perception under layers of everyday experience; thought to be of unsystematic relationship to life-experiences that regulate couple-relationships. They establish that ‘moments’ of interactive inter-sensory experience demonstrate complex patterns of interpersonal/ intrapersonal negotiation between couples: Hayley privately weighing up ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ of sleep over heterosexual responsiveness. Those methods match this research arena, whose movable boundaries must yield results that are always situated and provisional: thus, though unnecessary in 2014-5 to distinguish LGBTQ marriage from civil-partnership, this cannot be so in up-to-date replications.

588 words (as low as I can get it)

 Potter, J. & Wetherell, M. (1987) Discourse and Social Psychology: Beyond Attitudes and Behaviour London, Sage Publications

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Teenagers: ‘All in war with time’: SOCRMx Week 7

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Saturday, 18 Nov 2017, 15:05

‘All in war with time’: SOCRMx Week 7: The activity is as follows:

The literary quip may seem to show that I’m not that intent on being very forthcoming about a rigorous approach to coding but I hope that I am. However, my reflections have all been about the adequacy However, I’m happy to be corrected because I don’t have much experience of coding software, which may be more sophisticated than I suspect it to be.

·       Visit the UK Data Service database of these essays, and read a number of them (ideally between 6-10). Make some notes about what you notice about the content, use of language, or other features of these essays, and where there are similarities and differences between them that you find interesting.  

·       I looked at 10 to be on the safe side and decided not to select  my 10 after selectively reading, which would have reflected my prior interests, but to take the first 10 that came up on my dashboard (which were the essays by 11 to 20). All of these examples were male – a potential or problem in the research?

·       I felt I needed much more information than we were given about instructions to participants, especially about format, but thought I’d go ahead without seeking this information.

o   First, there was the issue of length – were instructions given. If not, is length per se meaningful and codable – does it contribute to interpretation of meaning and why and how?

o   Second, some ‘essays’ (why was that word chosen?) were segmented into sections fronted by a separate bolded capital R (presumably for ‘Respondent’ but not necessarily). This seems to suggest that the essay was delivered in a specifiable number of ‘takes’. How was each take constituted since a take does not have a standard length across the essays, and some with more takes (5 for Essay by 11) are much shorter than ones with less takes (1 take in Essay by 12 for instance). As, perhaps, an example of the problems with statistics the Mean was 5.5 takes, Median, 4 & Mode 3. The range was 11. This kind of variation is not very meaningfully statistically but it will be significant perhaps in other ways. But how?

o   Issues of lexis, syntax and prose structure are considerably varied even in my 10 ‘sample’. With some themes, such issues will be of immense importance. In fact I wanted to choose one where that is the case. There is a danger that the meaningful structures created in those features of language would and should have a large effect on coding choices – maybe for all themes or maybe only for some.

· What is a key theme that emerges for you from the essays you have read?

·        Because we are told that these ‘essays express expectations and hopes’ I was already tempted to investigate something about attitudes to time (especially future time) and place (and future place). However, these ‘attitudes’ would be in themselves of only (as they say) ‘academic’ interest unless they were linked to notions of personal agency in relation to time & place.

·        As a learner and teacher f psychology, I have of course interests in old concepts like ‘locus of control’ (Rutter) and ‘self-efficacy’ (Bandura) etc. which are also associated to tools used in quantitative research. This raises some interesting issues BUT I am glad this is just a one-off exercise nevertheless, because they are complex issues.

·        An issue arises about whether we consider all the points raised as one category of code for which we will (a-priori) seek examples or as a possible product from a more fine-grained bottom-up or ‘grounded’ analysis, since even from first reading I was picking up sub-categories such as internal intention, self-action, network-action, external top-down determining action, present time as past, future time as present, intermediary time as past, and so on …..

·        Of course such abstractions will not, I think be picked up by software and are often coded by elements of syntax (tense for instance), length of sentence and use of subordination in sentence structure.

·  What is an interesting question that researchers might be able to answer using this data?

·        How do attitudes to personal agency in imagined time and place reveal the life-expectations of teenage males in South Sheppey?

·        Do attitudes correlate with demographic data?

· If you were conducting a project using this data, what would you want to do next?

·        I would work out how I take into account signifiers such as grammar & syntax (tense, sentence structure variants, etc.), lexis and other issues, even length.

·        In an initial look I discovered that some used a kind of regressive story structure, which referred the boy back (as an ‘old man’) to what he should (from the old man’s perspective) be thinking now. Is this a means of producing cognitive alternatives and widening options in present personal agency?

·        I would want to consider how subject-positions operate in the ‘essays’ relative to networks of different kinds (family, marriage, friends, and generalised ‘people’).

·        I’d need to work out whether issues of cognitive style were salient.

·        The active role of events already in the past or present for the writer in the future.

·        Issues of choice as ‘open’ or ‘closed’ – Chatham dockyards or nothing against a range of options – perhaps spread over time.


Add a link to your blog post in the week 7 discussion forum.

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What is 'lying with statistics. SOCRMx

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Tuesday, 14 Nov 2017, 19:46

I chose to look at this Reuters report:

Voter belief in Brexit negotiations fades

A new poll shows British voters are unhappy with the current state of Brexit negotiations, and sceptical whether leaving the EU will improve the country.

ReutersNOVEMBER 8, 20174:31AM

A record majority of Britons disapprove of Prime Minister Theresa May's handling of Brexit talks and are increasingly sceptical that leaving the EU will make the country better off, an opinion poll shows.

ORB International said 66 per cent of people disapproved of the government's conduct of the negotiations, up from 64 per cent last month.

The poll also showed only 27 per cent were confident that May will get the right deal, compared with 47 per cent who were not confident.

Trust in May's handling of Brexit has evaporated since she gambled away her parliamentary majority in an election in June.

With only 17 months left until Britain is due to exit the European Union, the lack of clear progress in the negotiations has raised fears of an abrupt departure with no transition that businesses say they need.

For the first time, more Britons disagreed that Brexit will help the economy than agreed, ORB said.

"There is no sign that the prime minister is beginning to turn things around when it comes to Brexit," ORB said in a statement. "Overall these poll findings provide little encouragement for a prime minister facing multiple battles."

As well as trying to breath life into Brexit talks, May is dealing with a growing sexual harassment scandal in Britain's parliament. Without an overall majority, May cannot afford to lose parliamentary seats.

Businesses have expressed alarm at the progress of Brexit talks.

On Monday, the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply said nearly two-thirds of European businesses planned to cut back orders from British suppliers.

Last month finance minister Philip Hammond said a transition deal needed to be struck by early 2018.

ORB surveyed 2044 people in an online poll between November 3 and November 5.

I think the issues here relating to distortion may be more to do with the discursive shifts in this article than the statistical evidence, however it is clear that the report itself is based on one very simple statistic.

For the first time, more Britons disagreed that Brexit will help the economy than agreed, ORB said.

All we can discern from this is that in an answers to questions whose content is reported only in indirect speech (and therefore makes no truth claims) more people agreed with the basic statement than disagreed. That this was for the 'first time' would depend on a use of this question in a longitudinal study, but this is not a longitudinal study.

It concerns what appears to be an opportunity sample (although we have not enough data to say) recruited over 2 days. We do not know if the same (or even other samples) were asked exactly the same question to justify the claim that the distribution of answers was thus 'for the first time'. Even had other samples produced different results the results would be questionable since not easily comparable given that sample size, internal constitution and means of recruitment may differ considerably. There is no guarantee of random sampling at any point, given that the sample is (compared to the population to which it is generalised) very small.

The problem with this reported survey is that I want it to be correct - it says what I want it to say but that in itself raises the issue of sampling reliability. We need also to see what was happening between 3 - 5 November because opinions may fluctuate at times of increased publicity for an issue. 

In a flat sense, this ONE poll appears to be different from other polls in its descriptive results but we cannot say why nor overly interpret its meaning or the causation of any perceived change - since it is not evidence enough for any change.

All the best


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Sauerländer on the problem of 'style' in art history A843 Block 2 1.4

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Tuesday, 14 Nov 2017, 18:08


As you read, you should make notes in answer to the following questions:

1.     What does Sauerländer see as the fundamental difference between ancient and modern uses of the term ‘style’?

2.     Why is this difference a source of tension?

3.     How was the concept of style transformed during the eighteenth century?

4.     What does Sauerländer find problematic about the consequences of this transformation for the subsequent practice of art history?

Point of vocabulary: anamnesis


Spell Syllables

·        Word Origin

noun, plural anamneses 


the recollection or remembrance of the past; reminiscence.


Platonism. recollection of the Ideas, which the soul had known in aprevious existence, especially by means of reasoning.


the medical history of a patient.


Immunology. a prompt immune response to a previously encounteredantigen, characterized by more rapid onset and greater effectivenessof antibody and T cell reaction than during the first encounter, asafter a booster shot in a previously immunized person.


(often initial capital letter) a prayer in a Eucharistic service, recallingthe Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ.


My definition of contextual use: In Sauerlȁnder, the process of remembering involved in tracing past uses of a word back to its root, and accounting for them by narration of its progressive meanings as it develops from those roots.

Answers to exercise

         i          Although deriving from the term for a ‘pen’, it becomes a means of categorizing style attached to ancient scholastic traditions – which were to travel through the Middle Ages – of Grammar and Rhetoric and was, as are these disciplines rule-bound (or become so in an enduring form, such that S calls it a ‘figurative and normative@ - a ‘means of normative classification’. However, from the 18th century it becomes attached to an opposing meaning – that which defies ‘norms’ and is singular to persons (truly individual). In fact both meanings come together uneasily in some uses. Hence the difference is between hard categories of temporal stasis in art AND an infinite multiplicity of styles that each speak a different person and to whom a sensitive approach is required.

       ii          It is tense because the meanings are binary opposites almost – the first claiming objective reality, the latter requiring subjective judgement & care. Other important binaries are rule-bound v. free, methodical v. intuitive, stasis v. change & trans-historical pertinence (a kind of essentialism) against meaning determined only situationally. How then can we talk about style in a building, or painting without invoking contradictions which undermine each other’s authority?

     iii          S. sees Winckelmann at the cusp of a movement from style as an expression of Rousseau’s individualistic Romanticism to the hermeneutic philosophy of H.G. Gadamer. The issue becomes from the 18th century a focal ‘hermeneutic difficulty’ in explicating the role of stasis and change in histories of art. However, one strategy that may help reconcile them in part is the development of an evolutionary paradigm for art history which makes art history speak as an oracle of historical changes as a whole.

      iv          The use of rule- bounded sequential history is set against change inspired from within the conflict of unlimited variabilities with each other in an evolutionary form of survival of the fittest style. Interpretation cannot reconcile the objective and subjective tools it uses in each – and hence the role of hermeneutic philosophy. Hence ‘style’ seems a necessary component of art historical accounts (Gadamer) but, at the same time based in an a-contextual formalism (Barthes).

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Denigrating the 'feminising' North A843 Ex. 1.3.2

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Tuesday, 14 Nov 2017, 08:08

Vasari’s norms

1.      Rule, then, in architecture, was the process of taking measurements from antiquities and studying the ground-plans of ancient edifices for the construction of modern buildings.

2.      Order was the separating of one style from another, so that each body should receive its proper members, with no more interchanging between Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, and Tuscan.

3.      Proportion was the universal law applying both to architecture and to sculpture, that all bodies should be made correct and true, with the members in proper harmony; and so, also, in painting.

4.      Draughtsmanship was the imitation of the most beautiful parts of nature in all figures, whether in sculpture or in painting; and for this it is necessary to have a hand and a brain able to reproduce with absolute accuracy and precision, on a level surface— whether by drawing on paper, or on panel, or on some other level surface— everything that the eye sees; and the same is true of relief in sculpture.

5.      Manner then attained to the greatest beauty from the practice which arose of constantly copying the most beautiful objects, and joining together these most beautiful things, hands, heads, bodies, and legs, so as to make a figure of the greatest possible beauty. This practice was carried out in every work for all figures, and for that reason it is called the beautiful manner.

Preziosi, Donald. Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology, Oxford University Press, 2009. ProQuest Ebook Central, .

Created from open on 2017-11-13 23:40:14.

Flemish painting … will appeal to women, especially the very old and the very young, and also to monks and nuns, and to certain nobles who have no sense of true harmony. In Flanders they paint with a view to external exactness such things as may cheer you and of which you cannot speak ill, as for example saints and prophets. They paint stuff and masonry, the green grass of the fields, the shadow of the trees, and rivers and bridges which they call landscapes … All this, though it pleases some persons, is done without reason or art, without symmetry or proportion, without skilful choice of boldness and finally without substance or vigour.

(quoted in Nash, 2008, p. 35)

How does the author characterise Netherlandish painting? In what ways does he imply that it is deficient by Italianate standards?


The intention here is to suggest that the art is of a secondary nature. That judgement is cast in a gender binary – that characterises the best as necessarily masculine in its appeal and design. What then do women lack in this respect? There is an appeal to the Italianate standards outlined by Vasari but we need to see why those standards are thought to be masculine. The clue is in the constant appeal to rigour, long practice and submission to laws of perfected creation – the latter encapsulated in rule, proportion and ‘harmony’. Not surprisingly it is women outside even the capacity to themselves to be perceived by men as ‘beautiful’ that the excess and disharmony of ‘feminine’ practice rules in this judgement.

This is not because the practice in the North is inherently untrue but because its appeal is to mere ‘external’ exactness not to well-trained and God-given harmony that paints the world as it can be seen filtered through the reasoning intellect rather than superficial feelings. In the latter you find, the passage suggests, immature or senile women who like accurate precise decoration – with elements recognisable to life (in landscapes or vignettes of things seen afar (Northern virtuosity in object painting) that are not ruled by reasonable intellect – proportion means accurate perspective and respect for the ‘vanishing point’ – that place where reason asserts that visibility of things in minutiae ends. It lacks the control of variegated ‘stuff and masonry’ that make men into the perfect builder of the world. And the proof for that - our reason is based on evidence from the phallocracy of the buried Ancients

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Style Art History A843 Block 2 Ex. 1.3

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Style Art History A843 Block 2 Ex. 1.3

Jaṡ Elsner (2003) ‘Style’

Style art history, according to Elsner, begins by attaching a meaning to the term ‘style’ that allows it to signify something distinct about a person, an age, a cultural movement or a group, that is remains constant (whatever changes occur) while that person, age etc. persists and retains its character and life.

This is a complicated definition because it implies not only ontology but a dynamic story which explains and complicates that ontological entity. It does not exist outside a descriptive story or ekphrasis.

This is why we call it a ‘history’ but we need to emphasise in that term the constituent of ‘story’ or narrative. There are two types, with one type having two sub-types, of possible story that characterise the dynamics of style: Linear or metamorphic, although a mixed form is possible, and together all three may appear in a number of sequential combinations:

1.      Linear story

a.      Linear story of decline / self-betrayal

b.      Linear story of improvement / self-realisation

2.      Metamorphosis story

The style undergoes such significant changes within and without such that it changes its ontological nature – into another distinct style.

History can be seen as such a pattern – either simply as one of the above or a combination of any 2 or all 3. The choice of pattern(s) will depend on the phase indicated in the story as that which we see occur in its middle between a beginning & an end.

So Gibbon & Raphael tell a story of the decline of Roman art and culture. Vasari one of transformation – from Greek manner to rebirth and then one of improvement / self-realisation. Of course one sees cycles in Vasari’s story, since a decline may follow a ‘self-realisation’ in art such as Raphael. One can analyse the temporal bricolage of the Arch of Constantine in these terms: ‘spolia’ from artefacts of a more illustrious time mix with examples from a contemporary decay of style (or if you prefer a metamorphosis of style).

Is style still evident & relevant?

It is because it allows us a language to talk about elements of stasis or movement in time that can be plotted chronologically – even if with overlaps. It will be relevant as long as we need to explicate spatial-temporal phenomena, since ekphrasis offers a description that passes as an explanation – of an historical shift.

However, it also serves as a means of applying value judgements to history that are usually poorly substantiate – a decline moves from something good to something not so good, etc. However, a metamorphosis is more like a paradigm shift where we are not interested in values changing but merely comparison of difference.

It works by COMPARISON of artefacts where the story of the intervening spaces between the artefacts – of space & time – are seen as explanatory of that difference in some way. Asa long as we need such comparisons, we probably need this level of explanation. However, it should not be seen as enough of an explanation in itself. Why?

·        It only pretends to empiricism & ‘objectivity’

·        It relies on the authoritative experience of the interpretative comparison. It validates the role of the expert over other forms of knowing or uses of evidence.

·        It may use assumptions that are unquestioned – about value, or relationships between form and content.

·        It assumes constancies that may not explain multicultural contexts or contexts in which values in relation to artefacts are contested as part of their contemporaneity.

·        It may pass as ‘history’ in a way that is reductive or biased to one set of interests.

·        It supports overlarge generalisations of change: Onians’ ‘neuroarthistory’ for instance, based on Riegl’s notion of ‘necessary transition made by the human mind.’ What is this necessity? Does it remain vague and claim to be unspecifiable – which it is not in, say, Hegelian or Marxist dialectics.

All the best


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Quantitative Data Analysis in Kan & Laurie (2016)

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Edited by Steve Bamlett, Monday, 30 Oct 2017, 17:53

Questions for discussion:

1.   The researchers here conducted secondary analysis of an existing dataset (the UK Household Longitudinal Study https://www.understandingsociety.ac.uk . What are some advantages and disadvantages of secondary analysis for exploring this topic? (hint: there are some noted at various points in the paper) 

  • The national survey contains sufficient sample sizes of ethic minority groups, including boost samples, in order to generalise comparisons between multi-ethnic populations.
  • It represents national sub populations
  • It provides quantitative data to offset bias in past literature to qualitative studies in the UK and possible poor representation of the issues for the UK in non-UK quantitative studies.
  • It notionally applies only to heterosexually married or cohabiting couples.
  • Since participants self-identify ethnicity, this will be of importance, especially where a choice of ‘Mixed’ is made.
  • They also self-report housework hours – social desirability biases are therefore possible, although checks on this are in place (8).
  • Religious affiliations are assumed to not be sufficiently orthogonal to yield results, yet there is no equality between religious affiliation and ethnicity – a South East Asian origin member could be Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Catholic, and so on …

2.   How does the concept of intersectionality allow the researchers to build on previous research in this area?

  • Studies have shown (4), the significance of interactions between different important variables such as gender, ethnicity and socio-economic status. The researchers do not assume that either gender or ethnicity, etc. are primary determinants of inequalities and will allow them to test intersections between population distinctions and not treat each variable as orthogonal.

3.   Choose a term you aren’t familiar with from the Analysis Approach section of the article on page 8 and do some reading online to find out more about what it means (for example: cross-sectional analysis;multivariate OLS regressions; interaction effects). Can you learn enough about this to explain it in the discussion forum? (if you are already very familiar with statistical analysis, take an opportunity to comment on some other participants’ definitions).

  • Since I have completed a course at MA level on Advanced Statistical Analysis in Psychological Research, this does not apply. However, happy to look at other contributions as they occr (or if they occur).

4.   How do Kan and Laurie go about building a case for the interpretations they are making? How do they compel you, as a reader, to take their findings seriously? Share a specific example of how you think this is done in this article.

  • They  compare the descriptions yielded by the data to the expected results or hypotheses, qualifying thise expectations where suggested by data interpretations.
  • They describe data graphically, using a range of chart types (10, 12), tables and written verbal descriptions.
  • They use multivariate regression analysis to account for interactions and test for significant effects. They do not show interaction effects however from the analysed data (15). To some extent, they leave these for future studies (18).
  • They suggest explanations (also supported by descriptive data (14), where possible.
  • They summarise findings in relation to their hypotheses (18).

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Qualitative Data Analysis in Paddock (2016) Task 1 Week 5 SOCRMx

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Questions for discussion:

1.   Why do you think Paddock chose narratives as a way of conveying the main themes in her research?

  • The analysis is a means of finding whether there is evidence for propositions raised in the literature of alternative food, particularly pertaining to issues of communities in which distinctions of economic status and/or class are found between different groups in ‘one’ community. Since that theory in Bourdieu (and more specific literature also employing Bourdieu) emphasises that practices in everyday life reveal to analysis ‘unconscious rules’ (1042) that perpetuate and naturalise social distinctions. These are perceptible to analysis in ‘participants’ normative account of the struggle for resources, namely foods that they value in upholding their ways of life (1042).’ Hence Paddock determines to choose normative accounts from two differentiated contexts which might show the reproduction of ‘a balance of power that favours well-to-do consumers.’ (1043)

2.   What is the impact for you of the way the interview talk is presented? What is the point of the researcher noting points of laughter, for example? What about filler sounds like ‘erm’?

  • Non-verbal communication (NVC) like laughter conveys meanings that presume recognition of the situation described and values pertaining to it in the addressee. It can also be used to rescue a situation in which the addressee may find the points made offensive by attributing them to humour and less-than-serious comment, should the need arise in the continuation of dialogue. Filler sounds convey meaning that shifts in response to context. They allow space for intervention, time for thought (perhaps in gauging the addressee’s response through NVC) or allow for a sense of real or postured uncertainty.

3.   How does Paddock go about building a case for the interpretations she is making? How does she compel you, as a reader, to take her findings seriously? Share a specific example of how you think this is done in this article.

  • She accumulates narrative talk that talks about attributions of values to behaviour that differentiates ‘us’ (who are in current conversation) from them, who are the subject of that narrative. Thus information is passed that uses explanatory modes to expose differences that should strike the addressee as surprising or extreme. The language of the child health visitor for instance (1046) uses fillers, collusive address (‘you know’) and repetition to build an extreme case about the object of her attention. Paddock actually allows a lot of this to speak for itself in the quotation but points out exactly why the attributed feelings of those in her narrative are problematic – though apparently feelings, they are actually, claims to refuse to believe an otherwise ‘self-evident truth’ (as Valerie sees it).

4.   Interviewees use many emotive words in the excerpts presented here, but Paddock has focused in on the use of the word ‘disgusting’, and developed this through her analysis. How does this concept help her link the data with her theoretical perspective?

  • This is read as a means of Valerie positioning working class people as disgusted by the wrong things and therefore betray that they themselves are disgusting in their insistence. It is a narrative ploy that suggests ‘bourgeois disgust’ whilst not owning up to it. There is a tacit insistence that some things are ‘disgusting’ but they are the reverse of those tastes expressed by working mothers. This is further developed from pp. 1048ff.

5.   Paddock’s main argument is that food is an expression of social class. Looking just at the interview excerpts presented here, what other ideas or research questions do you think a researcher could explore?

  • Let’s just start off with one for now:
    • How and why is identity attributed to self and others through indirect speech that mimes the characteristics of the ‘others’ invented typical speech-acts?
      • Look at

Ø  p. 1048 – Ken’s 2nd speech,

Ø  p. 1046 Valerie’s opening speech.

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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

Sourced: http://journals.sagepub.com.libezproxy.open.ac.uk/doi/abs/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: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13603116.2012.689017

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 

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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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