Challenging the Binaries

I’ve had my abstract accepted for Challenging the Binaries, the Centre for the Study of Literacies International Conference at the University of Sheffield on the 29th and 30th of June. The paper will expand on ideas I discussed in a previous blog post. My abstract is as follows:

Drawing on my research into how PhD students are using social and participatory media, I problematize binaries associated with online identity by adopting two generally opposing social practices from lifelong learning studies: the ‘confessional’ and the ‘critical’ (Usher et al., 1996).

In a confessional practice, the learner is disempowered in accepting the dominant (often solitary) model of learning, aligning her subjectivities with formal educational discourses to articulate her own learning needs. Corresponding pedagogies are based on rhetoric of the ‘self,’ and manifest in professional profiling and portfolio development (Tennant, 2009). Identity is seen as stable, developmental and coherent across spaces of productivity, reinforcing binaries of formal and informal, and work and recreation.

In a critical practice, identity is multiple, fluid and fragmentary. Rather than adapting to specific learning contexts, empowerment is authenticated through questioning, challenging and potentially changing them through discursive practices. The literature on critical pedagogies locates the politics of self-representation within the cultural processes of education, and sees the learner as a socially and politically constituted agent able to shape her identity construction.

Through developing authentic representations of ‘doing a PhD,’ framed within the transformative nature of the doctoral learning experience, I argue identity construction extends beyond activities associated with thesis development and models of socialisation, to incorporate student agency within and across multiple practice contexts, ranging from entrepreneurialism to student activism.


Tennant, M. (2009). Lifelong learning as a technology of the self. In K. Illeris, Contemporary theories of learning (pp. 147-158). London: Routledge.

Usher, R., Bryant, I., & Johnston, R. (1996). Adult education and the postmodern challenge: Learning beyond the limits. London: Routledge.

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