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UOA 60 - Philosophy

University College Plymouth St Mark & St John

RA5a: Research environment and esteem

Research Environment

The University College Plymouth St Mark & St John is a relatively small, teaching-led institution with a particular, but not exclusive, emphasis on professional training. Prior to RAE 2001, its research endeavours were concentrated primarily in one or two units of assessment. However, a new strategic plan, Marjon 2010, committed the institution in 2004 to ‘develop and implement a sustainable research strategy relevant to the University College’s academic values and priorities’ (emphasis added). Consequently, the current Research Strategy is more inclusive and focused on ensuring that all teaching is underpinned by effective research and scholarly activity. Crucially, however, it also recognizes that teaching generates ideas for research and that knowledge construction is the direct outcome of engagement with pedagogy both on a theoretical and practical level.

The effect of this distinctive strategy has been to broaden and deepen the engagement with research across the University College rather than to target resources on a few particularly research-active staff. The success of the Research Strategy in stimulating research activity has been such that this submission to RAE 2008 is now seen as a key part of sustaining the upward trajectory of research in the institution as well as a recognition of the achievement of its staff.

It is important to recognise that, given its size and distinctive mission, the research environment is determined as much by institutional initiatives as by particular departments. A number of the institutional initiatives deriving from the Research Strategy and their effects are outlined below.

A first and crucial development has been the creation of infra-structural support for research. A Research Co-ordinator has been appointed in each school to encourage and focus research at grass-roots level. This has elevated the profile of research quite markedly; each school has its own research strategy and its annual staff development day features research. In addition, the University College has appointed a Research Officer whose job is to identify and promote opportunities for external research, consultancy and knowledge exchange activities, and to support colleagues in applications for external funding. The effect of this has been to increase the number of applications for internal and external research funding. Also an annual University College Research Conference showcases the output of its researchers from across the institution, as well as bringing in expertise from other higher education institutions.

Secondly, the Research Strategy commits the University College to support research excellence wherever it emerges. The annual Research grants scheme, to which all academic staff are eligible to apply, awards funds on a competitive basis. Within this scheme, the Promising Researcher awards target those colleagues who are beginning to publish their research in peer-reviewed outlets, providing periods of release from teaching to enable these individuals to build some research momentum. For example, several colleagues have been able to turn doctoral theses into books or major articles; while some have not published sufficient quantity to be submitted to this RAE, their potential as researchers with national and international reputations is now unmistakable.

Thirdly, the Research Strategy aims to increase the number of Professors and Readers to provide a cadre of senior staff able to provide leadership in the field of research. A revised procedure for the appointment of Professors and Readers, which is more in line with the core mission and ethos of the institution and includes significant external assessment of candidates, has led to the appointment of two Professors and one Reader from inside the University College in the past two years. A recent decision to provide additional remuneration (as well as timetable relief) for Readers and Professors has also encouraged a marked increase in applications for these positions. A new Visiting Professor scheme has attracted very well qualified external practitioners in two disciplines in its first year: one from Cardiff University has been appointed Visiting Professor of Communications and Media; another from the Open University has been appointed Visiting Professor of Developmental Psychology. The remit for both Readers and Professors (internal and external) is to mentor staff and to promote research both internally and externally. A condition of appointment is the commitment to deliver an annual research lecture. This year the University College has launched its first public lecture series utilizing the talents of its recent appointees.

Fourthly, facilitating the sharing of inter-professional practice is a significant feature of the Research Strategy. Cross-disciplinary dialogue is encouraged by research events within each of the schools. Since the departmental groups are small, research clusters tend to be united by the common themes of, for example, practitioner research or social science perspectives, rather than by subject matter. One example is the Discourse, Communication and Society group, described below.

Finally, it is worth stressing the distinctive nature of the Research Strategy and its impact. A project promoting the symbiotic relationship between research and teaching was funded by the Higher Education Academy and Leadership Foundation to take part in the 2005 Change Academy. This generated a programme of events designed to heighten the awareness of the links between research and scholarly activity and teaching and laid the foundations of an institutional model of ‘Scholarly and Research Activity’ subsequently written up in Academy Exchange. Subsequently, the Leadership Foundation provided funding for a collaborative project involving two other HEIs sharing good practice in organisational change in the research arena. This has led to two conferences in October 2006 and in April 2007, at which the institutions have shared their experience of how research and scholarship underpin academic practice and have celebrated the outcomes of research projects. It has also led to invitations to speak at national conferences on the process, for example, MASHEIN Research Conference on 11 December 2007. Further and deeper collaboration with the other two institutions is planned.

The implementation of the Research Strategy has, therefore, done much to foster an enhanced research culture at an institutional level. This process has set the University College’s research on an upward trajectory, which is reflected in the Units of Assessment selected for submission. However, there is also a substantial groundswell of research which will feature in future assessments of research and which will ensure the success of an application for Research Degree-Awarding Powers to which the new Strategic Plan commits the institution.

Specifically, in relation to Philosophy, the emphasis of the research strategy is to make time available for individual research and collaboration across the institution and with other HEI’s. Philosophy is a small programme in the University College that is part of a subject group which includes Sociology and Education Studies. Of the three Philosophy teaching staff, 2 are active researchers, with Large submitted here and Pollard’s work being submitted to UoA 45 (Education). There are six postgraduate research students who are just coming to the end of their PhD’s registered in either Philosophy or Theology; another six transferred in January 2006 to stay with their lead supervisor in Theology when she changed institutions. An active research environment is provided for them (and for the staff) through co-operation with the University of Exeter. Large is actively involved (supported by the University College) in the research culture of the Department of Politics at the University and has organised seminars, reading groups and short conferences with them (some of which have been jointly funded by the University College). All these occasions are open to our own research students. The University College provides research students with IT resources, office space and library facilities, and they can also use the University library. Large is also involved in an exciting interdisciplinary research unit at the University of Newcastle, ‘Music, Philosophy and the Vernacular’, which is directed by Dr Lars Iyer.

Large’s own research has been supported generously by the University College in terms of time and resources. First of all, he has been successful in obtaining funds regularly from the competitive annual research grants scheme, which have enabled him to pay for teaching replacement costs and also to attend international conferences. Secondly, annual attendance at national conferences has also been provided by the school’s staff development fund. Finally, the most important change in the research strategy since the last RAE has been the shift away from a specifically department based support system to a broader institutional one. One major element of the new strategy has been the creation of interdisciplinary research clusters. Large is an active member of such a cluster, ‘Discourse, Communication and Society’, which investigates how we speak, see and write and how the transformation in technologies of communication have effected contemporary social relations. This group includes colleagues from English Literature, Media, Sociology and Computing & Information Technology. The purpose of these research clusters is to support existing researchers, but also for those who are more experienced to act as useful guides and mentors for staff who are just beginning their own research careers. The aim in the future is to make this the interdisciplinary home of all research in philosophy at the University College.

Esteem Indicators

During the assessment period, Large has organised innovative small workshops at the University College between 2001 and 2003 in which philosophers from around the UK were invited to present their research to other academics and postgraduate students (Dr Paul Davies, University of Sussex, Dr Lars Iyer, University of Newcastle, Dr Philip Goodchild, University of Nottingham, Dr David Webb, Staffordshire University, Dr Havi Carel, University of the West of England, Dr Celine Suprennat, University of Sussex, Dr Robin Durie, University of Exeter, Dr Christian Kerslake, Middlesex University, Dr Michael Bowles, University of Greenwich , Prof. Peter Halliward, Middlesex University, and Dr John Mullarkey, University of Dundee, are just some of the people who attended during this period). These workshops were funded by the British Society of Phenomenology, the Forum for European Philosophy and the University College. Since 2004, he has focused his efforts in organising international conferences for the British Society of Phenomenology with Dr David Webb from Staffordshire University. He has planned and arranged the following conferences: ‘Bergson’ – 2003-4; ‘The Philosophy of the New’ – 2004-5; ‘The Political Writings of Slavoj Žižek’ – 2005-6; ‘The Work of Michel Henry’ – 2006-7. Recently, he has been working on developing a research culture with colleagues at the University of Exeter. He organised a workshop at the University in 2006 called ‘Time and Sensibility’ and a cross-institutional and -departmental philosophical seminar series, ‘Intersect’, with Laura Cull, which is an ongoing project.

He has given invited papers at numerous national and international conferences. Internationally, he has presented papers in Wroclaw (Philosophy – Psychoanalysis – Literature Converging Points, Polish British Conference) Atlanta (The American Academy of Religion), Syracuse (Annual Conference of the International Association of Philosophy and Literature), Freiberg (Annual Conference of the International Association of Philosophy and Literature) and Cracow (The Literary Revisited, Between Phenomenology and Deconstruction) and nationally, in Manchester, Chester, University College Cork, Middlesex, Essex, Exeter, Lancaster, Reading, Dundee and Newcastle.

In terms of his contribution to the philosophical community in the UK, he is an executive member of the British Society of Phenomenology, and is the reviews editor for the Journal of the British Society of Phenomenology. He has also written many reviews for numerous journals, including The Journal of the British Society of Phenomenology, History of Political Thought and The Journal of Cultural Criticism. He referees papers for The Journal of the British Society of Phenomenology, Literature and Theology, Angelaki, South African Journal of Philosophy and History of Political Thought, and monographs for Palgrave, Edinburgh University Press and Columbia University Press.

Finally, his co-authored book Maurice Blanchot has been translated into Persian and Korean, and his article ‘The Difference between Genealogy and Phenomenology: The Example of Religion in Nietzsche and Levinas’ into Spanish for the journal Eidos.