21 March 2014

Tanith Lee

Thanks to Tanith Lee I’ve planned a live lounge for Iggy members to discuss Wolfland. Wolfland is one of my absolute favourite reworkings of Little Red Riding Hood so I would recommend this one.

Tanith Lee is a British fantasy author. She is the author of more than 70 novels and almost 300 short stories. The story is one in a collection of reworked fairy tales ‘Red as Blood’ edited by Ellen Datlow and Terry Windling and it might remind you of a very familiar fairy tale you know! Special permission has also been granted by Tanith Lee herself to distribute the story to Iggy members who want to take part in the live lounge.

We’ll be looking at the story critically and discussing writing style and fairy tale motifs along with as well as reflecting on images in the writing, and what the story tells us about femininity and gender. Such as what the author captures about men and women’s perceived roles in society.

It’s going to be a lot of fun.

20 February 2014

Funding Success

When I met with Jack Zipes in November 2013 to talk about my research into storytelling he kindly invited me to Minneapolis, US, to work with Neighbourhood Bridges, a charity for underprivileged youth advancement in literacy and communication skills. Neighbourhood Bridges is recognised by the US Government for as a national model for arts education. The catch of course being that I had to raise the money to go.

I was advised and supported in my application to the departments IMPACT fund by my supervisor, Mick Carpenter, Anton Popov and Martin Prince (MYPLACE), and Nickie Charles. This Monday in a meeting with the head of the Sociology department Professor John Solomos I was awarded funding for my trip this coming September.

A big thank you for everyone who gave me advice and support.
This month I also met with Professor Simon Williams, due to his interests in the Sociology of Emotions. He gave me a friendly grilling about my research questions and methodology, it really helped me clarify where I was now positioning myself. And how much reading I have to do in the Sociology of Emotions whenever I get the time between my three part-time jobs and transcription. I returned to the office and rewrote my research questions inline what I have been thinking about this year.
And that was followed by a chat with Martin Price (Director of MYPLACE) about how my storytelling research could help research with people of all ages and political engagement in terms of using storytelling, and what sorts of stories to use, to support people in opening up about political engagement.
Coming soon... a bit of publishing news!

31 January 2014

Education, Emotions and the Future Seminar– Leicester University 22nd January 2014

I attended and spoke at this fascinating conference in Leicester. The standard of speakers was very high. Here is a link to the presentation that I gave:-
The programme for the day was as follows:-

Part 1: Education, Emotions and the Present

Keynote: ‘Spatial Disparities in Emotional Responses to Education: Feelings of ‘Guilt’ Amongst Student-Parents’  (Rachel Brooks; University of Surrey)

Detached Youth Work: Understanding (how to be with) Young People’s Emotions (Matej Blazek; Loughborough University)

Emotions and Disaffection with School Mathematics  (Gareth Lewis; University of Leicester)

The Cry for Professional Intimacy (Fiona Birkbeck; University of Nottingham)

Reflection, Emotions, Shock and Puzzlement in the Education Workplace (Rajesh Patel; De Montfort University)

Part 2: Education, Emotions and the Future

Keynote: Education and the Construction of Hope  (Darren Webb; University of Sheffield)

Atmospheres of Progress in a Data-Based School  (Matt Finn; University of Durham)

The Narrative of Education: A Changing Force in Society? (Emma Parfitt; University of Warwick)

Widening Participation and Educating Hope (Thomas Grant; University of Leicester)

I especially enjoyed Darren Webb, Matt Finn, and also Rachel Brooks’ talk on student-parents.

What I took away from Rachel Brooks’ talk is this. That historically there is an uneasy relationship between emotions and higher education. Emotions are typically erased or managed in the education system in place of rational thought (Beard 07, Clegg 13, Hey and Leathwood 09). This is an advantage to those from privileged backgrounds. And one place where this is evident is in the provision of childcare and the ability of women to have access to suitable childcare for their circumstances. For instance this effects women’s options to return to education/work or stay in the home to provide childcare. And different women have different needs and wants in this area.

I liked the idea Brooks mentioned of social patterning. What makes a good mother, what makes a good father, as being determined by the expectations and pressures of society around families. The ‘norm’ for a family, in terms of who cares for the child, who works, in the family home.

Over all women felt more guilty than fathers for returning to university. Brooks’ argued that therefore normative constructions of motherhood are in conflict with education. And one could say that emphasis on attachment (in early childhood studies) and intensive parenting (and its effect on brain development) carries a cost for women more than men. How as woman can we validate decisions to keep working, or to return to education, if child care structures as they stand do not there to support this?

 I found it interesting that more guilt was expressed by UK mothers than those from Denmark (the study compared two Danish, and two British univisersities). Brooks’ explained that in Denmark it is more usual for mothers to work while the child is young compared to the UK where women feel the weight of societal disapproval against the return of mothers to the workplace. Her work indicates that surrounding social networks have a big impact in women’s opportunities/resolve to return or continue with higher education. Brooks’ also mentioned that the state also plays an important role because they establish the ‘norms’ of child care. More needs to be done to support women who want to work, because women can feel this conflict between work and child care. Those that want to work also want to know their child is getting the best care.

Women in Denmark also received more support from their partners. Men were more involved with child care. Whereas in the UK men predominantly saw themselves as providers for the family and therefore less guilty than the women for not being as involved with child care. Though I also know, through personal experience, more men are opting to look after their children, and support their partners and get involved, to allow their partner to continue working.

The point is that those options should be there. Women should be supported and not made to feel guilty for wanting to work. Whether we like it or not female biology makes this difficult, naturally mothers want to be close to their child, they may want to breast-feed and there are not the structures to support this for the average working woman. The workplace favours men with families more than women, and understandably women are more and more caustious about mentioning family in a job interview than men. Because it is assumed that they will be the ones to drop everything and not show up to work if the child has the chicken-pox or whatever.

Therefore more provisions, more demands, need to be requested from employers, from the government, to allow women to be close to their children whilst working. And affordable child care for people who need to work to bring in enough money to live on.

Obviously as a woman who intends to have a family I have concerns about how to balance these things. Especially that it is often the woman who is expected to make sacrifices either in terms of her career or in time spent with her children. We can’t have it all. That is the reality. But we can try to find a way that works for us… that at least should be an option.

Unfortunately we don't all have the same gumption as Kara Westlund, a full-time municipal councillor to take our children to work. I have to ask... why not?


15 December 2013

Interview with Jack Zipes

This month I went to Cambridge to talk to Professor Jack Zipes about my PhD in storytelling and socialization. Here is a podcast about my visit. it begins with an introduction of my work followed by a summary from Professor Zipes of his unusual career path including how he believes storytelling can benefit young people: Click for Podcast

After outlining the summer school widening participation project me and Paul Whitehouse ran at Warwick University this year and our hopes to form a permanent programme in schools Professor Zipes invited me to go to Minneapolis and observe the Neighbourhood Bridges Program that he co-founded Peter Brosius, artistic director of the Children's Theatre Company of Minneapolis in 1997. The Neighbourhood Bridges literacy program runs from September to May each year. There are about 15 to 20 sessions per every week in different schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul in the USA.

For more information please follow this link: Neighbourhood Bridges Project

 I am currently seeking a grant to allow me to take up this fabulous opportunity. 

I have also been invited to present a roundtable at the BSA conference this year but was unable to attend due to a family wedding. However I will be speaking at Leicester University's conference on Education, Emotions and the Future on the 22nd of January 2014.  

Thus far I have been able to continue in my PhD and related projects due to the generosity of the PREP fund at Warwick University, Warwick’s English Department, and the Adam Smith Institute.

31 October 2013

‘life should be until you die’

Stated Felicity (Parfitt 2013a line. 87).

[Photo by Null Value at]
From an initial analysis of my focus groups young people seem to be aware of conformist and nonconformist elements in the stories—such as the compulsion to accept social “norms” and values—along with other potentially influential narratives such as media, film, television, video games, books, the internet, and education. I found it interesting that in the all-girls school Group One related the content of the stories to crime and how to treat other people. In week one whilst talking about the story MacCodram (MacIntyre 2012) the group’s conversation revolved around crime before they even reached my focus group question about conformist and nonconformist elements that they recognised in the story (lines. 82-91),

            Mary  I know this is getting off the subject a bit but if you murder someone you get ten years

            RES     If you murder someone you get a life sentence

            Felicity           A life sentence is about twenty-five years

            Paris   It’s not good enough

            Felicity           A life should be until you die

            Paris   You can get bailed out before then because if you’re good you’re allowed

            Felicity           If your family have enough money

            Paris   Yeah but and you’re let out if you’re good

            Mary  You shouldn’t do it though, just do your time

Two of girls in this group, Mary and Felicity, shared in their final interviews that they want to join the police force (Parfitt 2013c). Mary’s mum is a teacher and her step-dad works in the army perhaps explaining her strong stance on crime. Felicity’s mum works in school administration. What her father does is unknown but she does say that ‘I love CSI,’ and is knowledgeable about things happening the news (Parfitt 2013a line. 132). So TV and media may be influential on her desire to join the police force (though Felicity’s first choice is to be a vet). A little while later the group’s conversation returned to crime as Felicity mentioned up the case of a homeless man that was on the news, Felicity, Heidi and Mary explain what happened to Paris (Parfitt 2013a lines. 158-176),

Paris   When? Where?

Mary  A homeless man got beat up by three teenagers

Heidi  They got dared

Mary  A twelve year old, a thirteen year old and a seventeen year old

Paris   They got dared?

Heidi  They got dared to kill a homeless man

Mary  They were dared to kill this man. They beat him up and then

Felicity Dared, saying I dare you to go kill that man

Mary  No, they beat him up first, then they walked away, and their friend makes like, I bet you couldn’t finish him off and they were like, yeah, and then they battered him to death. The twelve year old didn’t do anything. He stood and watched. But he still got something like five years, three years for it

Felicity He got six years. Yeah, my teacher told me this, the homeless man, eye socket was missing, that’s how much damage they gave to him

Paris   You what?

Mary  His eye socket was missing, that’s how badly they

Felicity           The seventeen year old who did most of the work, he only got ten years

Mary  He should have got like twenty-five, he should have got murder

Felicity           He should have got life

Note how Mary and Felicity relate all the facts of the case; it makes sense that they would take an interest when considering police work. Read the news story here: BBC News. Mary in particular as the police force is her first choice narrates what happened in order. Justice is very important to the group in a conservative way, they share a ‘do your time’ attitude that Mary expressed earlier (line. 91).
 [Photo by Brim216974 on]
The way people treat other people is also very important to this group, as Mary summaries in week two conformative to her means things that are ‘Illegal’ or ‘common decency rules’ (Parfitt 2013b line. 128). An example would be the way the husband treated the wife in Moon Bear. They see this as nonconformative to the way a woman expects to be treated by her husband (lines. 130-141),

        Mary I reckon the nonconformative was probably the way the husband treated the wife, it wasn’t very nice. I wouldn’t have put up with that

       Felicity  I’d be like, get out my house now

       Mary  Well he wasn’t in it in the first place

        Felicity  Get out my forest

        Paris   Get out my life

        Heidi  What about conformative though?

        Mary  I guess you could say that the wife was conformative because she

        Heidi  Cared for him

        Mary  Cared for, yeah

        Heidi  She tried everything that she could

        Felicity To get him back into the house

In relation to conformity the group also discusses appearances.

‘You’re not the same person than you are with nothing on’

Says Heidi (Parfitt 2013a line. 254). The way they describe makeup in relation to themselves, the way they describe others, a lot of it is visual. Make-up is seen as a surface act, a mask ‘When you’ve got your makeup off you tend to look at yourself in the mirror and you don’t usually see the same person that you do with makeup, when you’ve always got a disguise on’ (Heidi 250-253).

Heidi wears a bit of make-up but doesn’t ‘plaster my face in it’ (257), Felicity wears it ‘sometimes’ (260), while Mary says ‘I only put mascara on but I’m not wearing any today’ (266). The most obvious makeup wearer is Paris who has thick mascaraed lashes and smoky eyes. She regards this make-up as being essential to who she is and feels that her eyes look ‘horrible’ when ‘I’ve got no makeup on’ (267-268).

While some of the group, like Paris, view make-up as part of their self-expression and part of their day-to-day physical identity, at the same time the students also criticise other women’s sense of identity in today’s society in terms of make-up. Mary says, ‘I turned on the telly and Single Date was on and there was this girl and she had the biggest eyebrows you’d ever seen in your entire life and I took a picture, I’m going to show you now [gets out her mobile]. Like slugs on her face.’ Felicity responds, ‘You know the Liverpool, Essex or whatever, they have proper weird eyebrows’ (220-223).

When Felicity commented ‘they think it looks good but it’s not it looks really ugly,’ I asked the group, ‘Why would they think it looks good?’ Heidi said, ‘Usually you’d tend to get people, I mean I’m not trying to sound harsh or anything but, people who end up being like that do get attention from the lads and think they’re beautiful and then they keep on doing it all the time’ (238-240). Showing that in terms of social identity appearances do matter even if on a deeper level ‘whatever’s on the outside you don’t usually see on the inside’ (Heidi, 256). This group don’t seem to feel pressure to conform to the limited media images of female beauty at this stage though understand in terms of attractiveness that they will be judged by external appearances, by young men for example. And when referring to such things they are citing TV programmes like The Only Way is Essex and Single Date with a critical eye. In this way storytelling appears to be triggering conversations about what it is currently like to be a young person for these individuals.

Important themes in terms of social identity for Group one in the all-girls school were crime and appearances. Young people were aware of conformist and nonconformist elements, discussing them in the group before the focus group question was raised.

This month I am also writing a paper for The Warwick Research Exchange Journal about how the storytelling space in combination with social interaction triggers sharing conversations. I also have a meeting to discuss some of these ideas with Jack Zipes in Cambridge.


MACINTYRE, M. 2012. MacCodram and His Seal Wife. Video Bank. Education Scotland.

PARFITT, E. 2013a. All-girls School Transcript 1, 19 April 2013

PARFITT, E. 2013b. All-girls School Transcript 2, 26 April 2013

PARFITT, E. 2013c. Final Interviews, 22 May 2013

21 September 2013

BSA Education Study Group Conference 17th Sept

Young People’s Educational Identities in Challenging Times

The title of my presentation was Climbing the Beanstalk: Self-worth and Education. It was a challenge for me to think about my research in a different light. That is, how it could be related to young people’s educational identities. I largely let the students’ words speak for themselves to demonstrate that one of the themes that seemed to emerge was that a large part of their identity at school. In particular the students had an awareness of the current economic crisis and its consequences for their future. They felt under pressure to achieve academically. While some students felt supported to meet educational goals, and were therefore more confident in their futures, others did not feel supported and tended to think negatively based on the experiences of their families. As a result these young people felt powerless and frustrated, with low self-worth despite their potential.
The keynote speaker was Dr Sara Delamont. She gave an interesting view on sociology as a subject and how female researchers work was becoming forgotten about because of male and female academics citing a biased ratio of male authors, despite many women working the field (something for all us PhD students to bear in mind, to be inclusive in our referencing). Obviously a PhD supervisor has more power to insist on this being done by their students. So I’ll be checking with mine that they are aware of this issue! This also affects journals and books. One series of books Dr Delamont mentioned wasn’t going to include a book on Gender until she pointed out it was missing. Something for us all to be aware of in our own referencing and when writing book reviews.

Other speakers:-

Siobhan Dytham - The Dynamic and Contestable Nature of Friendship Groups at Secondary School

Shelagh Keogh and John Fulton - An Exploration of a Free Schools and the Application of Bourdieu's Theories of Habitus, Capital and Field

Natalie Campbell - Higher Education Experiences of the Paralympic Student

John Fulton - Learning Through Amateur Boxing

Maria Papapolydorou and Patrick Ainley - Aspiring middle class people who come from working class backgrounds may, one day 'marry a prince'

8 August 2013

Transformations Summer School

The transformations summer school hosted by Warwick University, Milburn House, and planned by Paul Whitehouse and myself took place July 2013. This was a free, two-day non-residential drama and storytelling event supported by the widening participation team in the English Department, with an additional £1000 funding from PREP (Postgraduate Researcher Enterprise Programme) raised by myself.

Twenty-four pupils attended from the following schools:

Tile Hill Wood School (Coventry)
George Elliot School (Nuneton)
Stoke Park (Coventry)
Myton School (Warwick)
President Kennedy School (Coventry)
Bluecoat C of E School (Coventry)
Slough Grammar School (Slough)

We’ve had some great parent feedback about the two day event which was designed to support current year nine and ten school pupils with interests in English Literature, Drama or Theatre to consider a future in Higher Education (HE).

‘Thank you to you and the whole team for putting on such a great course. The performances were all so witty, original and well performed. It was hard to believe most of the children probably didn't know each other before as their interactions were so fluid.

My son, said he needed to reconsider whether he was an introvert after all, as he felt himself to be an extrovert when with people 'like him'. He spends most of his days avoiding speaking to anyone (at school) because he does not trust their motives and thinks they will have nothing in common. For him to feel he was with like-minded people, if only for two days, has cast a ray of sunshine over my hopes for his future.

I look forward to his next Transformations experience.’

Workshops included

Drama and theatre workshops over the two days, including ice-breakers, communication skills, use of body movement – by Rachel King and Ollie Turner

Rethinking Little Red Riding Hood, transforming and creating subverted pieces of writing using different versions of Little Red Riding Hood as inspiration – by Kate Edwards

Storytelling workshops including the history of folk and fairy tales – by Storyteller Colin King

A big thanks to everyone involved x