The use of interviews as a research method traditionally attends to accounts of experiences and reflections on their salience, from which an interpretive analysis explanations can be constructed to bear on research questions. The research interview can also lead beyond the individual and offer a way in to the conditions that produce these reported experiences, extending to other kinds of actors and agencies. In this project, the unit of analysis is the discipline workgroup, thus interviewing the workgroup invites a focus on the participating entities at the institutional meso-level of the university.
In my series of interviews for this study, several workgroup participants remarked on the uncomfortable experience of working with (and around) the multiple agendas that take effect in curriculum and teaching practice, in particular agendas arising from policy and technology. In one instance, a purchased e-textbook was embedded in first year curriculum, yet its use led students away from the prescribed curriculum to an extensive publisher ‘walled garden’ in which they become lost and unmoored. The effect, and agency, of this particular ‘actor’ caused frustration for the teaching team and students, and was difficult to revise and repair.
The story of the e-textbook – how it was negotiated, resourced and folded into a curriculum – points to a micropolitics in play, prompting an inquiry into what ‘things’ like e-textbooks do, and their role in an assemblage of curriculum. It also points to an ethical space of teaching practice that struggles for a presence and a voice.
To do justice to the ethical space of the meso-level, I suggest, requires a non-traditional use of the research interview: one that departs from a focus on human actions and agencies to adopt an assemblage approach, that attends to how “relations develop in unpredictable ways around actions and events” (Fox & Alldred, 2015: 401). The assemblage view puts the interview to work in a different way: rather than construction – how the researcher makes sense of data, the focus is on production – that which is generated from the configurations that produce such effects. Thus the life of the meso-level becomes visible: its disparate resources and agencies that become entangled in and act on teaching and learning change and practice.
Further stories from the workgroup project that highlight the role of educational development in the emerging forms of the enterprise university will be brought to the International Consortium for Educational Development (ICED) at the University of Cape Town, in November 2016.
Fox, N. & Alldred, P. (2015) New materialist social inquiry: designs, methods and the research-assemblage, International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 18:4, 399-414, DOI: 10.1080/13645579.2014.921458