BESA Conference: on the entanglement of ethics and education

Naomi Hodgson

I will confess that, until it was announced that the 13th Annual Conference was to be held at Liverpool Hope, I had never heard of the British Educational Studies Association. Perhaps because there are other, larger, more well-established subject associations in the field (with very similar acronyms) that make it less visible. Perhaps because, as a philosopher of education, it just hadn’t appeared on my radar. Perhaps both. But for a society that is less well-known than others, it has provided an important space within the field of educational research. As Stephen Ward, founder member of BESA, fourteen years ago, told me, it was founded by those working in post-92 universities who were all developing education studies programmes at around that time.

The role of the university, the researcher, and of higher education in general has arguably undergone profound change in the intervening years – increased metrics on all aspects of the institution’s activities; overseas campuses; the introduction of tuition fees – to skim over just three. Each of these has presented challenges to education studies as a field and, in doing so, has raised ever more complex questions about why we do what we do and how best to do it. Questions that are able to be addressed at conferences such as BESA in ways that go beyond a purely instrumental approach to improving metrics and outcomes.

That these questions – and how to address them – continue to engage new researchers was very evident at the BESA Conference. Not only in the high level of attendance and engagement at the Early Career Researcher Day, but also in the number of postgraduate and early career researchers presenting in the main conference. Among the papers I attended, ethics was a recurrent theme. It was a central focus not only of the keynote given by Colette Gray, but also of the papers and discussions in the concurrent sessions. The discussions were driven by a concern to do the right thing, and an acknowledgement that, increasingly, we don’t always know what that is or how to work it out: What are the ethics of using visual material posted online in our teaching? How do we apply a UK Research Ethics Framework to students studying in very different cultural contexts? Increasingly, it seems, and understandably, we reach for guidelines: instructions written and ratified by experts that tell us how to proceed and that will protect us when things go wrong.

A clear tension arises, though, in the discussion of ethics in education and educational research between the need to adhere to such guidelines, and the desire to resist them and the audit and risk management cultures they represent. It became clear in a number of discussions that these more resistant conversations weren’t able to take place within universities, but were reserved for the ‘safe space’, to borrow a phrase from this very culture, of the conference. ‘Ethics’, as some of these discussions acknowledged, itself becomes instrumentalised as part of the research process; a tick box exercise to complete before we get on to the proper business of gathering data and writing outputs. But this not only fundamentally misunderstands ethics, but also why our thinking about it is central to both research and educational practice more broadly.

Professor Gerald Pillay made a very important observation in his opening remarks when he commented on the notion of ‘entanglement’ being used in the conference theme. He drew attention to the notion of ‘quantum entanglement’, which – as I found out from Wikipedia when I went back to my office and googled it – refers to the “physical phenomenon that occurs when pairs or groups of particles are generated or interact in ways such that the quantum state of each particle cannot be described independently of the others, even when the particles are separated by a large distance—instead, a quantum state must be described for the system as a whole” ( The relevance of quantum physics has recently been brought to bear on the social sciences and humanities through the work of Karen Barad and the emerging field of posthumanism. Quickly, unfortunately, being reduced to the latest fad in research methods, what this field draws our attention to, in part, is the very complexity of the constitution of the world and our human practices within it, and the very inescapability of ethics. They can never be fully individualised or reduced to instrumental purposes. Hence, in the reflective practices that we engage in as lecturers and researchers, we should be considering not only the right thing to do within those existing measured and audited practices, but also the ethics of those practices themselves and how they are constitutive of what the university is today. Because it is not a safe space for challenging ideas if those conversations are not able to take place there. That researchers have BESA as a scholarly association, and Educational Futures as an open access journal, is crucial, not least for the conversation about what that future might look like and, therefore, what we need to acknowledge and protect in education today.


Dr Naomi Hodgson is Lecturer in Education Studies at Liverpool Hope University where she teaches and researches in philosophy of education.


Twitter: @DrNaomiHodgson


‘Can national identity ever have “fundamental values”?’ : CEPA symposium at International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry

CEPA members Dr Alan Hodkinson, Ella Houston, Asli Kandemir, Dr Joseph Maslen and Dr Zaki Nahaboo travelled to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on 17-20 May for the Thirteenth International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry (QI2017). The visit, supported by Hope’s HEIF Route to Impact funding and invited by Illinois’ Distinguished Professor Norman Denzin, was to deliver the panel session ‘Can national identity ever have “fundamental values”?’, which problematised the notion of Fundamental British Values that are taught to children and young adults in British schools. Before their departure, the team launched their collaboration by rehearsing their papers to wide acclaim at the Faculty of Education’s ‘Golden Hour’ Research Seminar Series.


(l-r) Ella Houston, Dr Alan Hodkinson, Dr Jospeh Maslen, Dr Zaki Nahaboo, and Asli Kandemir launch their project at a Faculty Golden Hour


The story of the visit by Asli Kandemir

At 5.30am on 17 May the team met at the appointed time and place to take the taxi to transport us to Manchester Airport. The check-in process as well as the flight from Manchester to London and to Chicago went smoothly. The Amtrack train we took to accommodate the transportation from Chicago to Urbana-Champaign was easy and enjoyable as well.


On the Amtrack to Urbana-Champaign

The team had been excited and positive, both about the Congress and their panel as well. First of all the team participated in the official barbeque night, in which all of the team members managed to establish good contacts with different scholars through successful networking both in formal and informal gatherings. The next day the team attended several panels before delivering their specific session – a session that was very well received by a considerable gathering of scholars from several countries. In the audience there were a number of scholars from different institutions with different fields of research, and all of our presentations received significant comments and thought-provoking questions from the floor. The team celebrated this success with a nice dinner at a local restaurant.


The ICQI is a highly prestigious conference devoted to qualitative inquiry, and therefore it attracts many scholars each year from a variety of countries around the world and with high calibre of expertise and research-informed knowledge. The keynote speakers are thus selected from the leading figures of qualitative research. This year’s keynotes, too, were seminal and the team attended those speeches.

Professor Denzin’s inaugural speech was a critique of the immigration-ban enacted by the current American government, and following this was an acknowledgement of emancipatory research being undertaken by and about indigenous American peoples. The appreciation of this work was one of the most pleasant moments of the Congress.

Meeting Professor Norman Denzin by Ella Houston

A clear highlight of our trip was meeting world-renowned sociologist and qualitative researcher, Professor Norman Denzin. His work on qualitative inquiry is foundational in many sociological and humanities-related disciplines. As you may notice in the photo below, Denzin is holding a small box in his hands. Within this box is a University scarf we offered to Denzin, as a token from Hope. With local temperature a warm 23 degrees celsius, unsurprisingly the scarf remained in its box! Denzin was a fantastic host and meeting him was a true pleasure for us all.


(l-r) Professor Norman Denzin (and Hope scarf), Ella Houston, Dr Zaki Nahaboo, Asli Kandemir, and Dr Alan Hodkinson


Landings and new departures by Joseph Maslen

Since the Illinois visit, the ‘Fundamental British Values’ conversation continues and we have found ourselves featured as the top story on the Faculty of Education’s internal E-Bulletin as well as the University’s website and news feed. For the future, it is anticipated that this symposium, coupled with a contribution from Professor Ian Stronach and other interdisciplinary papers from the Department of Early Childhood, will form the basis of a special edition of the International Review of Qualitative Research, edited by Professor Denzin, as well as generating further bids for research funding.

Below you can see the outline of what the team presented at the Congress. Contact Joseph Maslen for further information.

Can national identity ever have ‘fundamental values’? Panel session, Thirteenth Congress of Qualitative Inquiry, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 19 May 2017  


The UK Government is currently asserting the need for the curriculum in England and Wales to promote ‘fundamental British values’, in response to perceived threats from various radicalisations and globalisations. In the broadest sense, ‘fundamental British values’, as the UK government promotes it, raises issues of interpretation that will be explored by the speakers.


Dr Joseph Maslen: ‘“Fundamental British values”: What’s fundamental? What’s value? And what’s (now) British?’

Dr Alan Hodkinson: ‘Fundamental “British” values: Radicalising “British” children into a manufactured concept of “British”ness – A problematization from an Englishman at Liverpool Hope’

Asli Kandemir: ‘Tolerance in fundamental British values: A case study on young British-Turkish people in Northwest England’

Ella Houston: ‘National identity and the prevalence of ableist and disablist ideologies’

Dr Zaki Nahaboo: ‘Being valued as a “post-truth” citizen’


‘Aspiration’ as technology of government and self in UK policy discourse

New article by Konstanze Spohrer, Garth Stahl, and Tamsin Bowers-Brown examines how efforts to ‘raise aspirations’ by successive governments call on young people to work on themselves in particular ways. Out now in Journal of Education Policy. Abstract below.


Since the 2000s, successive governments in the United Kingdom and elsewhere have embraced the idea of ‘raising aspiration’ among young people as a solution to persisting educational and socio-economic inequalities. Previous analyses have argued that these policies tend to individualise structural disadvantage and promote a ‘deficit’ view of working-class youth. This paper adopts a novel approach to analysing aspiration discourses combining Michel Foucault’s four dimensions of ‘ethics’ and Mitchell Dean’s notion of ‘formation of identities’. Applying Foucault’s and Dean’s work in this way provides a new lens that enables an examination of how policy encourages particular forms of subjectivation, and, therefore, seeks to govern individuals. The findings presented in the paper complicate previous research by showing that raising aspiration strategies portray disadvantaged youth both in terms of ‘deficit ‘and ‘potential’, resulting in a requirement for inner transformation and mobility through attitudinal change. The paper concludes with a discussion of the implications for the identity formation of young people and for conceptualising contemporary forms of governmentality.