Some thoughts on study groups and theoretical frameworks

I am currently running a study group with a few fellow PhD students at my university. It’s nice and refreshing to see other people while working on a PhD project in solitude most of the time. And this is different from the people one meets at conferences, workshops and so forth. Having a bunch of people around who are there every fortnight just for you and you are there just for them… well, there’s something special about this. It all started as we became increasingly frustrated with our limited knowledge of theoretical perspectives, frameworks and all those scary words. And I’m being dead honest here, my subconscious choice was to completely shut myself down when asked about my theoretical framework or data analysis for that matter.

Initially the whole idea of a study group wasn’t very clear, I just felt that I need a safe space to study and a supportive group in a similar position. Once I introduced the idea to my peers, they all seemed enthusiastic about it and motivated to take it further. We scheduled regular meetings and theories to cover for the academic year and the learning journey began… We were discussing in turn each other’s frameworks and relevant theories that could help with making sense of the research data. However, for the sake of feeling safe in ‘not knowing’ and to reduce the anxiety, it was decided that the study group would be a private, closed attempt in the first instance until we sort out our ideas and try how it works. This meant meeting with the same group of students this year and possibly opening the group to the rest of the School next year.

Three months down the line I feel more confident about my theoretical framework. There was quite a lot of work around it, and reading and talking of course, and it finally looks like something that can help me analyse my data. For my pilot study I used a thematic analysis approach and I did find out that when you say you’d use thematic analysis, there won’t be any further questions asked, not about theory anyways. But I wasn’t satisfied with the depth of my analysis and reflections which motivated me to look beyond codes and themes into socio-cultural approaches to understanding educational contexts. Thinking through my framework and working as part of the study group exposed me to a range of theoretical approaches used in educational research. Looking at what other people have done and how they have used theory to analyse their data was some kind of enlightenment. And yes, just for the record, I’ll say that I am now using Bernstein’s discourse theory to look at the classroom context of my research and Bourdieu’s understanding of social reproduction to explain the social positioning and identity construction of children learning English as an additional language.

I am curious to see how this might change in the next few months, year. This record could be a useful signpost of how my thinking has changed over the course of my development as a researcher and just as a reminder where I have been once…

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