For this post, Katherine Burchell talks to Dr Jacqui Stanford about the success of her open access doctoral thesis: Identities in Transition: theorising race and multicultural success in school contexts in Britain. The thesis is available to download from Apollo here: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.58378
Thanks for agreeing to talk about your research. Could you please describe what your PhD thesis is about?
I am interested in how we build a harmonious society given the challenges of our past of chattel slavery and colonialism. As a Black educator of Caribbean heritage, I also have a particular professional interest in schools that are successful for Black children. However, I’ve never been interested in a ten-point list of ‘how to build successful schools’; there was a lot of that in the late 1990s when I turned to graduate studies. And that project seemed to be inconsistent with necessary, actual and sustainable outcomes in schools. Furthermore, that project did not access or address the complexities introduced by race. Yet, as a microcosm of society, schools necessarily had developed strategies that addressed race, especially if they were harmonious spaces, where everyone could be successful.
For my PhD, I was very much interested in writing process, ie, zeroing in and exploring the complexities of transitioning from one thing to another. For example, I was very interested in white teachers and how they imagined – perhaps actually practised – but particularly how they articulated – transition from a past beset by the challenges of race to a context that was considered successful for Black and minority ethnic young people – as well as themselves. I also wanted to see what Black and white identities looked like in these contexts.
Methodological and analytical approaches were paramount in my research enterprise. I was not content with taking up established ideas. I focused on building theories at every stage of the project: a theory for research, ie, for doing race research, and for doing race research in Britain; a theory for analysing data on race; a theory for teachers’ explanations that transformed their personal stories into universal ideas. In other words, I was focused on developing and delineating generic ideas for negotiating race and racial identities as well as philosophical ideas about actually doing race research, as much as I was on delineating ideas about success in the school contexts I researched.
Has open access helped promote your work?
To begin, I remember feeling such discontent back then, and actually writing it in my thesis, that all the tremendous effort would just end up on a shelf in the UL. For me, the award of a PhD was a bonus on top of the actual experience of learning, growing and fashioning another world through research. The PhD was not just the work needed for the award of a qualification; I was intentionally seeking to articulate the aforementioned theories and understanding of the world. I am glad I did. For following my PhD, lecturing and working internationally in policymaking, activism and community development took precedence over writing. Now, in the wake of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, as we begin to seek ways to understand and address the racial past, I find myself instinctively returning to my PhD, revisiting theories on whiteness and blackness, how to negotiate challenges posed by race and create harmonious multicultural spaces.
I also note the irrepressible urgency, and opportunity, currently growing in society to grapple with the past. This encouraged me to make my thesis open access in Summer 2020, and I am pleased to see that it has attracted strong interest, from a range of countries, and especially from old colonial countries such as the USA, France, Belgium as well as the UK. And I am definitely interested to note that it has attracted attention from China.
Do you feel open access has helped you reach marginalised groups that your work discusses?
It would seem that my work is reaching marginalised groups, in addition to groups that, though arguably not marginalised, have urgent need for research insight. Here, for example, I would highlight white teachers faced with the responsibility of teaching Britain’s past in the wake of Black Lives Matter etc. The thesis has interest for various groups positioned in various ways in the present historical moment, both here in the UK, and in other countries with whom we share a colonial past, and with others simply seeking information on it.
How has the work been taken up in policy? (Do you feel open access has been helpful in policy?)
I have had opportunity to contribute to government policy here in the UK and internationally over the years, and it has been gratifying to see viewings of my thesis from countries where I have worked. While there has been good indication of interest from the UK, it is noticeable that viewings from the US in particular, is very strong. The ideas in my thesis underpinned international travel and work in the US lecturing, and activism as well as contributing to President Obama’s Race to the Top education policy as a reviewer. So, I am very pleased that open access has made my thesis accessible there, especially as it is also being accessed.
Here in the UK, my thesis was used to evidence arguments made in submission to the recent government consultation for the Sewell Report, aka Race Report published in March2021. Controversially, like other submissions, it was not listed in the acknowledgment; nevertheless, my PhD was offered and reviewed as an example of how we create successful multicultural schools and society. There was a significant uptick in viewings of my thesis following submission, dramatically so after publication of the report. Perhaps there is a link between the events.
It certainly feels as if the time has come to share my exploration of the UK’s history of race and schooling in relation to government policymaking, and specifically my thorough going examination of Tony Sewell’s seminal text which anticipated the Commission on Race and Ethnic and Disparities’ report. It is certainly the case that my PhD informs my current #ProtestingSewell campaign, which denounces the report as a source of legislation and policymaking on race in the UK today.
On the strength of my PhD, I was the first person in my Cambridge Education department to be a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow having been the first person to be awarded the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship. This followed the ESRC award for my PhD as well as other awards including the three-year Isaac Newton Award for young researchers, and the Barbadian High Commission award for Outstanding Students of Caribbean Heritage studying in Britain.
Jacqui Stanford: Having suffered life-changing injuries while working as a professor in the US, I am presently in rehabilitation, focusing on opportunities to make ideas and theories generated in my thesis widely available.
Katherine Burchell is Scholarly Communication Support at the Office of Scholarly Communication at Cambridge University Libraries