Going underground

Our reading and writing group project for March was to select a chapter from the book The Power of Partnership , read it and respond. We will publish the responses over the coming week.

An image of the original underground map

In their chapter The experience of partnerships in learning and teaching: a visual metaphor Kelly E Matthews talks about the messiness of working in partnerships and presents us with an image that is, indeed, very  messy!

At the same time, the image is bold, brightly-coloured and connected. Matthews argues that images, rather than simply words, offer “space to affirm the messiness of an idea, an aspiration, a practice, a pedagogical praxis, and a commitment”. And her provocation to us is “How is your partnership messy?

So what visual metaphor would I choose? A London underground map. Yes, that most cited example of design providing clarity, but at the expense of accuracy! That masterpiece of compressed design overcoming messiness! So, how does this provide a visual metaphor for messy partnership working? Whilst acknowledging that messiness, I do think that at some point – in order to move forwards/backwards/sideways – we do need to step over, outside, beyond that messiness.

It is worth reading about how Harry Beck used design to bring some level of organisation and clarity for fellow travellers – how he surfaced the underground detail. Apparently he wasn’t commissioned to do the work. Anna Renton, senior curator at the London Transport Museum says that “It was more a demonstration of his ingenuity, in seeing a problem and coming up with a solution to it, rather than a response to public demand”. Alternatively, I suppose his actions could be viewed as rather presumptuous! What right did he have to decide how to impose order? What does this tell us about the power relationships of the day? But I am going to put this well-trodden ground aside for the moment. Beck did his design and, as it turned out, people didn’t need to know the every detail to move around, to navigate and get where they wanted to go.

Current map of the London Underground

Recently TfL published a version of the map that shows the walking times between the various stations – in a sense adding back in a layer of that accuracy that was abandoned in that original design. If you want to stay in the fresh (?!) air or experience the bustle of London, this version of the map is great. But I can understand that tourists might find walking around on the busy, noisy, confusing streets of the city a bit overwhelming, and happily retreat back to the clarity. Although if you do want to go between Leicester Square and Covent Garden, trust me, you really don’t need to use the tube!

One of the wonderful things, I think, about the underground map is how it has been adapted and/or subverted over the years. There’s a version that makes links to well-known films and one that links to books. You can use another version to find out where to buy the cheapest pint of beer. If you are a fan of bad jokes, there’s the Punderground. Then there’s the ‘honest’ version – although this one is possibly only funny if you already know London well. There are the versions that aim to represent what an accurate map of the underground.would look like. So many adaptations that you never knew you needed!

So yes, partnership working is messy, but to achieve anything at all we – although who that ‘we’ might be will vary – need to establish some order, I think. But we need to do it in such a way that people find it useful. And we need to acknowledge, accept and even celebrate that others will adapt and subvert that order for any number of reasons.

So my visual metaphor for partnership is the London underground map – thanks Harry!

Sounding brasses, clanging cymbals and love, potentially

In January we embarked on a new collaborative writing project. The brief: To compile a collection of individual responses to one stimulus piece with a view to starting a great conversation! We wrote independently without discussing our thoughts and are publishing them here as a series of posts.

The stimulus piece is: “Love acts and revolutionary praxis: challenging the neoliberal university through a teaching scholars development program” Higher Education Research & Development, 39:1, 81-98, DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2019.1666803.


I am currently helping to organise a wedding. One of the tasks is to help choose readings for the marriage ceremony. Now 1 Corinthians 13 is an obvious choice (too obvious?). Thinking about this reading I was reminded of the scene in ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ when the character George (played by Rupert Vansittart) reads, in a harsh, pompous, monotone, “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am become a sounding brass, or a clanging cymbal.” Gareth (played by Simon Callow) is heard to mutter “Good point!”.

And it is a good point. When we speak of learning using the words that have been moulded by the ‘cascade of neoliberalism’ referred to in the article we, like George, can remove all beauty from its meaning. On we go through our daily working lives, sounding our brasses and clanging our cymbals. Yet, speak we must if we are going to get our jobs done, and help others do theirs.

I think it is the recognition of our complicity to maintaining the neoliberal university that makes articles like the one we are responding to here so appealing. The authors outline a programme that provided them with an opportunity to deploy a ‘pedagogy of the heart’ when supporting colleagues through a period of professional development. I was particularly struck by the metaphors that the participants used to describe their experiences of the programme – both powerful and uplifting. So the article was uplifting in both style and content.

But after the uplift, there is the inevitable ‘come down’! I want to stress that this is not a criticism of either the programme or the authors’ account of it – more a reflection of feelings when you turn from the stories of love to look at the endless ‘to do’ lists that structure our working lives. So what turns those lists into acts and action? The last line of the reading from Corinthians claims “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Is it though?

sparklerI think faith (in what we are doing and encouraging others to do) and hope (that between us we are making some difference) are what underpin our everyday practices. When we reflect back on those practices, isn’t that when the love comes? Perhaps that’s why academic developers are so keen on reflection!

When Noujain (1987) tells us that sometimes it is more appropriate to think in terms of micro-revolutions rather than revolution, they are not saying we shouldn’t aim high. Rather that, if we are not going to be overwhelmed by a lack immediate fundamental change, we need to pay attention to ‘the accidents, the minute deviations, the reversals, the errors, the false appraisals, and the faulty calculations that give birth to those things that have value for us’ (Foucault, 1971, p.81).

Back to Four Weddings and a Funeral….

Charles (played by Hugh Grant) and Tom (played by James Fleet) are talking after the funeral. Charles thinks it is remarkable that Tom retains such faith in the institution of marriage, and hope that he will get married. Tom responds:

Well I don’t know, Charlie, truth is – unlike you, I’ve never expected the thunderbolt – always hoped I’d just meet some nice, friendly girl, like the look of her, hope the look of me doesn’t make her physically sick – then pop the question and settle down and be happy. It worked for my parents …well, apart from the divorce and all that!

So perhaps we all need to be a little bit more Tom. It takes until the film is almost over, but his reward for all his faith and hope is that he does eventually find love – complete with thunderbolts!


Foucault, M. (1971), ‘Nietzsche, genealogy and history’, in D. Bouchard (1977) (ed.), Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, Ithaca, Cornell University Press.

Noujain, E. G. (1987), ‘History as genealogy: an exploration of Foucault’s approach to history’, in A.P.Griffiths (ed.), Contemporary French Philosophy, New York, NY, Cambridge University Press.


Four weddings and a funeral  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Weddings_and_a_Funeral

Drowning – Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash



Reading (and writing) group

Back in October last year we (Catriona, Jennie, Natasha and I) wrote a blog piece for LSE Higher Education blog based around our reading of a journal paper. We worked independently – reading the paper and writing our responses without discussing our thoughts. We found the process so useful (and even enjoyable!) that we are going to do this again. But this time we would like to invite others to join in.

The paper we are reading this time is “Love acts and revolutionary praxis: challenging the neoliberal university through a teaching scholars development program” Higher Education Research & Development, 39:1, 81-98, DOI: 10.1080/07294360.2019.1666803.

There has been significant interest in developing academics through Teaching Scholar Development Programs across the USA, Canada, the UK, and more recently in Australia. At their core, such programs develop academics across teaching scholarship, leadership, promotion, and award opportunities, where universities reap the benefits of developing such a cadre of leaders. This paper pays witness to one such a program in an Australian university to highlight enactments of caring passionately. We use qualitative survey evaluation data, metaphor analysis and reflective practice to nuance the pleasures, passions and challenges of the lived experiences using phenomenological and metaphor lenses to describe our experiences. Metaphors provide powerful insights into the dimensions of experience as they open up how programs are perceived and experienced. Our paper disrupts traditional linear writing through rhizomatic, multivocal and multitextual encounters to challenge dominant authorial voicing. The academic identity work and emotional work required in the program is unfolded through evolving, experiencing and reflecting on the program to inform design and highlight what we have come to (re)value in our academic work when we come together to learn, share, and lead. We forge ways to be and become with and against neoliberal agendas that have
choked the soul of ‘the university’ to evolve rich spaces and practices of/for reciprocity and kindness where not only learning can thrive, but where love acts – a much needed revolutionary praxis for our time.

Join in

If you would like to read (and write) with us, that would be great. We are not looking for carefully-crafted critical responses, although those are welcome too! We would value responses that come from your heart as much as your mind. You don’t need to respond to the paper as a whole, it may simply be a paragraph or a phrase that speaks to you and the context in which you practice. We are also not just looking for traditional academic text. Image – moving or still – or poetry, for example, would be welcomed.

As the article speaks to the notion of love, we plan to publish our responses on 14 February so it would be great if you could send us any contributions before that date. Yes, we know it is a short deadline – but just go for it! If you would prefer us to publish your contribution anonymously, that’s cool too.

Send any contributions to our mailbox lacunae1@gmail.com 

Creating compassionate spaces in higher education

A reblog of a post earlier in the year from LSE Higher Education blog.

In a time of change and uncertainty, four academic developers from different disciplines, Jenni Carr, Natasha Taylor, Catriona Cunningham, and Jennie Mills, revisit Haynes’ and Macleod-Johnstone’s powerful paper Stepping through the daylight gate: compassionate spaces for learning in higher education and aim to make connections with how compassion plays an integral role in their practice

Creating compassionate spaces in higher education

‘Tongue Lash’: An act of decolonising pedagogy through hip-hop poetry and dialogue

LSE LIFE’s Dr Sara Camacho-Felix considers questions around decolonising the curriculum and explains how working with Poetcurious and other spoken word artists to create an event for students, alumni, staff and the wider community created a space to explore themes including empathy and ownership in society in an inclusive and illuminating way. 

Source: ‘Tongue Lash’: An act of decolonising pedagogy through hip-hop poetry and dialogue

Who should be responsible for the Future of Higher Education?

Contemporary Issues in Teaching and Learning

In this module: ’contemporary issues in teaching and learning’ we try to explore and critique how higher education is done. This is explicitly stated in the course materials, i.e. we are asked to critically examine, reflect and adapt our own teaching practice based on our new critical engagement, and ‘contribute to and inform the discussion’. Just below the surface, there is an understanding that higher education is a work in progress and the people most likely to influence changes for the better are the ‘next generation’ of academics and higher ed administrators – current PhDs. By putting together this blog we show the wider academic community and each other that we are concerned about the issues which affect how our careers are likely to unfold, and are putting intellectual labour into considering their effects, if not offering solutions.

images 1 This image has nothing to do with the post – i just…

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