Actually interviewing… and more theory

Hello again. Two months since the last post. What have I been doing.


On the reading front, more theory! Agency-structure stuff, so more Bourdieu and a raft of new to me people- Archer, King, Elder-Vass and so on. Quite heated at times! Interesting enough, and important given I’m talking about people’s choices and actions.

On the interview front, I’ve done two! And have two more lined up, with one more potential. Hope to secure at least a couple more for this pilot phase.

So far, so good, although I do talk a lot- the conversational approach coming out there! It all makes the transcribing even more of a pain, mind… but it helps to move chat along, check understanding and so on.

Doing my own transcription, whilst time-consuming and weird (your own voice is odd enough, but at 3/4 speed…) is helpful. You’re doing a bit of analysis and reflection even as you type.

The pilot is designed to see if the questions work, if my interview technique works, and to provide data for initial analysis practice and reporting. This will all then feed into the main phase of data collection and the next reporting stage- the progress to PhD or RF2. So I might surface again in two months, unless there’s something very interesting to report from the data!

Across the blasted wastes of theory

Really, it’s not so bad 😉

Reading Bourdieu. Just reading for now, making little notes as I go- questions, reflections, expressions of puzzlement. I admit it’s not the easiest reading I’ve ever done. A lot of the time I have to stop, re-read, puzzle out. Which is not a bad thing. Slow reading by necessity. If only I had taken theory more seriously *ahem* years ago when I was an undergraduate…

Same goes for jurisprudence, although the writing style of Brian Bix and Stephen Riley is a lot easier to get on with. Again I am focussing on reading, making notes more for recording my impressions. I will go on to tackle the writers themselves- your Harts and Fullers and such- once I feel I have something of a grip on the basics. Perhaps something I should have done- or do now- with respect to Bourdieu!

On a practical level I am waiting for collated feedback on my ethics application. As far as I can tell from the summary, I need more detail on the questions and on my sampling method. Both of which are fair comments on reflection. Once I have the detail I can look at the application and respond to these concerns- and then try to get some interviewees!

Into view

Tonight I’ve been reading up on interviews. The commonest method of qualitative data gathering, seemingly.

I’ve done some interviews, but am aware that this is an area where I need to carefully plan. It’s easy to assume interviews are just conversations. I mean ideally they are close to conversations, but there’s got to be an awareness of



ethical responsibility

meaningful questions.

I’m going to do some pilot interviews, to see that the questions work- and my technique as well. I’ll be doing more reading and discussing the interviews with my supervisors beforehand, and keeping a research diary / analytic memo book during the process. I need to reflect as much on the process as I do on the data, perhaps more so initially.

Right, now to some legal profession history reading. Relentless glamour here in the research cellar 😉


Time flies, or Bourdieu-ing on the ridiculous

It has been six months  since I posted. Why so long? Short answer- focus, both gained and lost. Longer answer…

September- January I was working on two MRes modules- one on interviewing, one on social constructionist approaches. Both were very interesting, and more importantly useful, but they took up a lot of time. There were the 6 days for the module classes themselves. Then there was the reading between classes. And then there was the time spent on the assignments. All this meant I wasn’t looking ‘directly’ at the PhD and so did not feel I had much to write here.

Of course, method is a direct part of the PhD. The modules were a good reminder of that. I have tended in the past to honour method in the breach- I blame my Realist school International Politics training 😉 But the discussions, and the reading, and the challenge- difficulty indeed- of the assignments brought home to me the need for a clearer understanding of interview technique, analytical approaches, and wider theories. So I am doing much more reading on and reflecting in these areas, alongside the ‘topic’ reading and thinking connected to the PhD.

One of the ideas frequently referred to in the methods literature is the ‘analytical memo’ / research diary / field notes. This blog was meant to be something like that- at least to function as a public space to share ideas, get ideas etc- and I’ll be trying to get back to that. I’ll also be keeping a memo book, some of which will make it into these posts…

So, focus here needs to be regained. Perhaps I can put up quick posts on what I’ve read, news stories etc. It’s all good writing practice, if nothing else!

Brief notes on the LERN conference, Open University, 26th September

Futures of legal education- OU- 26/09/2017

This was a very useful and interesting conference. Not much networking for me, as I am still pretty new to this area- but I did make a couple of useful contacts!

I’d say my main impression- as reflected on by Fiona Cownie- was that responses to changes in HE and legal education vary very much according to ‘type’ of institution. Post-92 speakers seemed much more concerned and much readier to make changes in response to the incoming Solicitor Qualifying Exam (SQE.) Radical change may well not be on the horizon for some, but for others it’s very much a feature. The latitude to choose degree of change may well depend on how you see your students, their expectations, and the demands of your management.

Certainly the HERA 2017 can be presented as ‘codifying’ changes already here, and the OfS could well be a cautious and ‘continuity’ minded body- as argued by Fiona Cownie. I agree with her call for a ‘pragmatic and principled’ response. Pragmatism, to me, means taking professional and government demands seriously; principle means that those demands must be set in the context of the university’s role in personal development not merely job preparation.

Clinical legal education was discussed as one way to creatively respond to the challenges. It would allow teaching to align with / refer to the SQE, as well as providing interesting and authentic learning. CLE could not, one speaker said, take on the whole role of responding to the SQE- but it could provide a way to cover writing skills.

There was concern over the way that the SQE might make the law degree more practice oriented, crowding out theory and reflection. Can the law degree make people ‘SQE ready?’ Fiona argued no, and I would agree- and not just because to do so would be bad for the law degree.

As Patricia Leighton noted, we see much the same kinds of arguments that have been going on in legal education for the past 160 years! Legal education research should focus on these questions, but also look to see what research would be useful to the sector. One area which was referred to was ‘mapping’ the provision of legal education across sectors- schools, FE, HE, public and private etc. A challenging task, Antony Bradney said, given the sheer scale of legal education. My research may contribute in a small way to this, if I ‘map’ examples of PLE.

I had to leave before the end. The last substantive discussion I caught was around Brexit- the ghost at the feast for the next few years…

So what?

That is the question! I sent in an outline history of HE to my supervisors. One of them got back with the comment that it was interesting- but what would be really important would be how HE relates to legal education, and what that all means for the thesis question. Or, more bluntly, ‘so what?’

I’m working on a rough outline of legal education this month, which will go some way to answering the “so what?” The structures and problems of HE pass on to HE based legal education- that is why a history of HE is important- and the structures and problems of legal education themselves play a part, interacting with the wider HE context.

The real, deep ‘so what’ will be dealt with when I turn to the model / theory element. I think that the nature of law itself- at least what legal academics understand it to be- will be the main element in linking HE, legal education, and the question of what legal academics feel-

they can do

they want to do

and how this relates to whether they can or want to do PLE

First hurdle cleared

Yesterday I got a letter from the Research Degrees Committee (RDC), informing me that my RF1 had been accepted with no conditions. This means that I can now progress to the next stage, the RF2.

Whilst the RF2 is a light-touch initial assessment, it’s good to have it done and be free to move on.

The Assessor did recommend I create a timetable- something I had thought of doing. I have another 6 years or so to complete within the permitted time, but hope to do it earlier than that.

My next ‘target date’ is February 2018- my first annual review. By then I hope to have:

  • the structure sorted
  • draft chapters written
  • ethics approval for interviews
  • arrangements in place to do interviews

I can then go on to conduct some interviews and do initial analysis ready for the RF2 in February 2019. The RF2 is a much more serious business than the RF1. It involves preparing preparing a 6000 word report and presenting to an assessment panel. If that goes well, I will be permitted to progress to examination.

So, more reading to come! And now, the writing too.