Quick Read: The “Hidden Curriculum”

As part of AllGo‘s new series looking at being fat in college, Meaghan O’Riordan‘s The “Hidden Curriculum” Taught by Desks in College Classrooms (Almost) Everywhere considers the ways that space, fitting in, and the ways that campuses reflect on the needs of plus-size students (or not!) affects our experience as students.

O’Riordan’s post addresses an issue that is relevant to our discussions in Weeks 1 and 9, and highlights the ways that the learning environment can influence feelings of belonging and knowledge exchange:

Sarah M. also felt that the accessible desks, located almost exclusively, in the front of some of her classrooms at Portland State University placed people in the spotlight.

Additionally, she had to register as someone with a disability in order to gain access to this seating, even though she was able-bodied. This required her to get a letter from her doctor saying she is “medically obese” and going through this process was very traumatic for her.

She felt that by asking for an accommodation she was appropriating language not meant for her but, without doing so, she would be without any seating options as the other seats in her classrooms were “tablet arm” style desks that can’t accommodate plus-size students.

Meaghan O’Riordan, ‘The “Hidden Curriculum” Taught by Desks in College Classrooms (Almost) Everywhere’, September 4, 2019

Drawing on 15 interviews, as well as research by D. Breithecker, Kemal Yildirim et al., and Heather A. Brown (among others), the article is a profound reflection on embodiment and space, and a sound starting point to explore discrimination in greater depth.

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Methods: Run-alongs

One for the methods side of the course, Making space on the run: exercising the right to move in Jerusalem, by Dr Una McGahern, provides an insight into the intersection of politics, the body, and contested spaces.

In her study, McGahern draws on the go-along method, which in the case of her study, involved participating in eight ‘run-alongs’ with a running group, two training sessions in East Jerusalem, and the Palestine half-Marathon in Bethlehem.

[Image via: Right to Movement/Signe Vest]

As well as offering a fascinating analysis of running as “an ongoing political claim and exercise [emphasis in original]”, McGahern highlights the opportunity to do methods in an fresh way:

The ability of the researcher to hold a ‘conversational pace’ of running (or not!) allows local runners the opportunity to initiate, or close, conversation with relative ease. The option to accelerate or slow down the pace of running to run on with others or continue alone provided a safe and non-pressurised atmosphere to participate, observe and gauge perceptions while responding to the different needs, moods, preferences and comfort levels of runners, a key ethical benefit of the run-along method.

Una McGahern, 2019. ‘Making space on the run: exercising the right to move in Jerusalem’, Mobilities. p. 8.

For more on the go-along method, see Margarethe Kusenbach’s 2003 article, Street Phenomenology: The Go-Along as Ethnographic Research Tool; on walking, you can read Tim Edensor’s 2010 study, Walking in rhythms: place, regulation, style and the flow of experience, and Jo Vergunst’s Rhythms of Walking: History and Presence in a City Street (2010), and in the context of Palestine, Raja Shehadeh’s Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape (2008).

Methods Tip: Positionality and Reflection

Looking to the dissertation, which runs from April to August, this marvellous piece by Sarah Lagot, an MA student in Humanitarianism and Conflict Response at HCRI, provides an excellent example of reflective writing.

In Unbroken Silences – Musings of a Novice Field Researcher, Lagot considers the ways that her multifaceted positionality affects her negotiation of what it means to be an insider and an outsider,

There are many layers to my experience as a novice researcher in post-conflict Northern Uganda. On the one hand, I assume an insider banner. I am a survivor of the LRA war with a lived experience of conflict. Yet, I am never completely able to wear the hat of insider. On the other hand, I am an “outsider” looking in, as a postgraduate student researcher from the University of Manchester.

This duality posed problems in my interactions with interviewees. Some interviewees were initially hesitant to share information as they assumed I was just a chaperone for the research group. They only divulged information upon confirmation of my student status through repeated showcase of my student identity card. Some also treated me with suspicion especially when I asked questions about male survivors of wartime sexual violence.

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Lagot’s piece demonstrates the power and importance of critical reflection during the data-gathering process, as well as journaling, the emotional impact of fieldwork, and how this can be addressed in conjunction with the broader methodological literature.