Liminal space in The Breakfast Club


In-between spaces by Kathrine Jensen     CC BY-NC-SA

Anyone who reads my infrequent blog post will have noticed that I go on about liminality and liminal spaces. I am always considering what might be a good example of a liminal space and at some point this month, it struck me that the 1985 movie The Breakfast Club is an excellent example. For me liminal space can include physical space, digital space, any interactive or conversational space or a combination of these. Crucially, it is a space that allows us to step outside ‘normal’ roles/activities/structures and represent an opportunity to explore, reflect, negotiate and the potential for transformation and change.

As the wikipedia entry on Liminality says:

‘During liminal periods of all kinds, social hierarchies may be reversed or temporarily dissolved, continuity of tradition may become uncertain, and future outcomes once taken for granted may be thrown into doubt’

For anyone who hasn’t seen The Breakfast Club the plot is loosely that a group of five students are in detention in the school library [!] on a Saturday and is asked by the teacher to produce an essay on ‘who you think you are’. The students are from different cliques and at the beginning of the movie are presented as five stereotypes:

  • Claire – the popular rich girl
  • Andrew – the sports jock
  • Brian – the geek
  • Allison – the outsider
  • John – the delinquent

As the day progresses they begin to come together as a group and they emerge as individuals and break out of their stereotypes. This happens through conversation, physical confrontation, sharing the content of their wallets/bags, comparing their packed lunches (or lack of), breaking the rules together when they leave the library and importantly sharing their stories about why they are in detention. Vernon, the teacher, who stands in for clueless adults, also functions as a way to bind the group together in joint resistance.

So here is some of the ways I think The Breakfast Club is an interesting tool to think about what happens in liminal spaces:

  • The space itself is not neutral but it does put them all in the same position to some extent – Claire and Andrew are still portrayed as privileged in a number of ways, but they are subject to the same conditions as the others.
  • Through talking about their lives, they all end up reflecting on/questioning their place/role in the societal structures they are expected to fit into.
  • They use the space to question their actions and motives and to what extent these reflect who they are, who others expect them to be and/or who they want to be.
  • The characters experience a sense of freedom in the space [or that is how I interpret the scenes where they play music, dance, etc.] even if they acknowledge this could be temporary.
  • It is portrayed as a space for negotiation [of identity and more] and a place of transition where we can see ‘becoming’ happening.
  • It is clear that being in a liminal space is both an experience that leaves them vulnerable, scared and exposes them but at the same time it can also empower them to explore their identity and break out of expected behaviours.

At the end of the movie, the characters recognise that the time [and space] they have had together has allowed them to see each other/themselves differently and break away from the rigid hierarchical interactions. But what happens when this time-out comes to an end? They ask themselves: will they still be friends – if they are now. Will they say hello to each other? What ridicule and social pressure from their established cliques (if they are part of one) will they risk? They acknowledge that some of them have more to loose than other, in terms of prestige and position.

They are asking whether the dissolution of the social hierarchies can be sustained outside of the space they find themselves in. I think the movie ends on a hopeful note; that what the students have experienced in the liminal space means that they have changed and will not blindly continue in the same way as before. I would argue this is illustrated by the match making where our intial expectations of who might end up as couples are reversed as the Sports jock ends up with the Outsider and the Delinquent ends up with the Popular girl [significantly Claire gives John one of her diamond earrings at the end of the movie – I always thought this was a very symbolic ‘distribution of wealth’ gesture].

I have more thoughts about the fact that the space is a library, the things that are in the library space and how they students use the space but that is for another post perhaps.

Posted in inbetween, learning spaces, library, liminal, liminal space, liminality | Leave a comment

The #altc alphabet

toys letters pay play

Photo by Pixabay on

Following the excellent example of Sheila MacNeill and her blogpost on 25 things I’m looking forward to at #altc here are some of the conference things that I am excited about. The Association for Learning Technology Conference takes place in Manchester, 11-13 Sep:

  • a is for access and the very useful pre-conference online space that ALT has organised
  • b is for being able to attend the conference. Thanks to University of Sheffield for funding my attendance. I will be mentioning the journal I work on so this is your advance notice that I’ll suggest you take a look at Online Information Review. The journal publishes research on the social, political and ethical aspects of emergent digital information practices and platforms
  • c  is for Dr. Catherine Cronin. The conference will be a great opportunity to catch up on all the exciting things she has done after finishing her PhD. For example the co-creation of Equity Unbound – an emergent, collaborative curriculum which aims to create equity-focused, open, connected, intercultural learning experiences
  • d is for Dr. Donna Lanclos. I’m excited to be able to connect with Donna in Manchester and learn more about the Digital Perceptions tool  a tool aimed at getting people thinking about their digital identity. It was developed by Donna, Lawrie Phipps and Zac Gribble
  • e is for the excellent supportive community feel that the conference always has
  • is for Dr. Frances Bell who, along with Catherine Cronin, is presenting a session called ‘A personal, feminist and critical retrospective of Learning (and) Technology, 1994-2018’ and I am really looking forward to their reflections
  • g is for getting to see Dr. Chrissi Nerantzi. Chrissi co-developed #LTHEchat and there is a special #altc edition of the chat running on Tuesday 11th September
  • h is for Huddersfield and the opportunity to catch up with my ex-colleagues from the University of Huddersfield, Dr. Liz Bennett and Dr. Sue Folley. Check out their session, ‘Getting to grips with Learner Dashboards: a research informed critical approach to understanding their potential’
  • i is for all the intriguing tweets that I will see, which will give me ‘alternative session envy’
  • j is for joining in as many of the opportunities the programme affords
  • k is for the amazing keynotes, eg. Dr. Tressie McMillan Cottom. I follow her on twitter and am excited about seeing her IRL. It will be a real treat to hear her critical perspectives on what is going on in higher education. LowerEd. How for profit colleges deepen inequality in America
  • is for learning analytics (LA) and the really interesting sessions on how students engage and perceive LA in this year’s programme. 
  • m is for Manchester, a great city for a conference and with lots of things to see and do (plus eat & drink). Check out the Beyond the Conference – what’s on in Manchester? blog post by Dr. Frances Bell
  • n is for networking, which the programme leaves plenty of spaces for
  • o is for all the open education experiences being shared at the conference 
  • p is for the pack of playing cards that participants will get when registering
  • q is for all the questions that will be asked in the sessions
  • r is for Research in Learning Technology, the excellent ALT journal
  • s is for the stickers with #femedtech that I have heard Dr. Maren Deepwell will be bringing
  • t is for technology and student and staff partnership approaches.
  • u is for the umbrella I should probably pack for going to Manchester but will forget all about
  • v is for the venue, University of Manchester
  • is for the wildcard presentations, I think that is a really great way to accommodate exciting work that may not fit the themes
  • x is for the [e]xhibitors and perusing what they have to offer
  • y is for Youtube, where you view the keynotes if you are not able to make it to the conference [this one is the same as Sheila’s – it was just too good]
  • z is for the [bu]zzwords in ALTc Bingo
Posted in education, learning analytics, learning spaces, Open education, Partnership | Tagged | Leave a comment

Sharing university press practices – our initial findings

Sharing university press practices – our initial findings
— Read on

Posted in open access, scholarly communication | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Engaging and supporting an Open Access scholarly community

answergarden-504049It is always nice when something you have worked on for a while comes together. The University of Huddersfield Press Manager, Megan Taylor, asked me to co-author a paper based on her work on developing the processes and impact of the University Press and our collaboration around Fields, a student research journal, published by the Press. Importantly, the University Press is Open Access, and we both believe this has been key to the reach, in terms of downloads and citations, that the student research journal and the other Press publications have had.

Initially, we presented these ideas at the Northern Collaboration Conference in 2017 with our talk on Embracing Open Access publishing for academic staff and student research. To prepare for the presentation we asked our network what open access publishing meant to them and used this for discussion on the day (see image at top of the post).

Then Megan was asked to contribute to a special issue of Publications on ‘Open Access and the Library’ and asked me to co-author the paper building on the work we had done.

Enhancing content to develop engagement

When Megan and I collaborated on Press publications, we were focused, not only on developing excellent content, but very much on involving authors in ways to promote engagement with their final publications. In the paper, we go through a number of the ways that the Press activities engage with authors and editors and the benefits of the different social media platforms in promoting the research of students and staff. The WordPress blog, in particular, ‘proved ideal for creating a space where researchers can tell our readers more about their research in an informal discussion style, whilst always linking back to the original underpinning publication to help drive downloads and, ultimately, citations’ (Taylor and Jensen 2018)


Taylor, Megan and Jensen, Kathrine S.H. Engaging and Supporting a University Press Scholarly Community. Publications. 2018, 6, 13. doi:10.3390/publications6020013

Taylor, Megan and Jensen, Kathrine (2017) Embracing open access publishing for academic staff and student research. In: Northern Collaboration 2017 Conference, 08/09/2017, York, England.


Posted in library, open access, scholarly communication | 1 Comment

Doing education right is not easy (or cheap)

I have been listening to an episode of Metric: the user experience design podcast that featured Dr Donna Lanclos talking about collecting personal information in the name of user experience.

The podcast covered a lot of ground including discussing the notion of ‘UX washing’ – similar to the concept of ‘greenwashing‘ or ‘openwashing‘ where organisations pay lip service to their product/processes being environmentally friendly or open/free and use this as publicity for their services/products. So, I understand ‘UX washing’ to be about highlighting that some organisations pay lip service to caring about the needs and experiences of users when their products/processes do not in fact support this.

And isn’t that just how anything you click on/subscribe to justifies and frames their tracking of what you do? They collect all these data (for how long/who sees it/what do they actually do with it and can you actually choose some alternative ways?) in order to make YOUR experience better with no other motivation of course…I guess we all know what these assurances are worth so I end my slight rant here…

Donna also talked about learning analytics products and systems in education and how problematic is is when people mistake technology & systems (especially surveillance and tracking) for education. As always, she posed some challenging questions about whether relying on learning analytics is actually outsourcing our duty of care to students. As Donna said:

‘You shouldn’t outsource the human labour of education to learning analytics systems’

Ultimately, it is tempting to see the promotion of learning analytics as linked to a refusal to recognise the need to spend money on employing humans to establish relationships, have conversations and offer advice/guidance.

But what I found especially powerful and thought provoking was when Donna called out the problem with ‘commodified logic’ – in essence when you frame (and reduce) complex phenomena like education (and healthcare) to commodities/products. And this is when she talked about ‘doing education right’. We should care about education as a common good.

‘The public sector is full of processes, and services and human beings and those cost money…we shouldn’t try to put a private sector commodified logic overlaying public sector things like schools and hospitals…One of the things that I think learning analytics has as part of its interior logic, is the idea that education is a commodity…’

Then Donna goes on to talk about the important work by Tressie McMillan Cottom on LowerEd – see

Donna ends up posing the question: What’s at stake when we facilitate the argument that making things easy is the same as doing things in a way that helps people?

View story at

View story at

Posted in anthropology, education, ethnographic praxis, learning analytics, library, privacy, user experience | Leave a comment

‘thick description’, big data and meaning making with maps

A map showing a cosmoramic view of London

(de) Cosmoramic View of London –

I’ve recently used some research methods that involved interview participants producing maps/drawings, which where then explored and developed in a subsequent discussion/conversation. I’m still in the process of co-writing a paper about this but the research builds on some collaborative cognitive mapping research that I was part of carrying out. I’ve also previously reflected on the benefits of getting people to create as part of the research process in a post on using Lego for research purposes.

You could consider this type of research activity with a limited number of participants (eleven in this case) and the data gathered as being an instance of small scale data. And perhaps viewing this as ‘small data’ is an easy – but I would argue not very useful  – classification in this time where there is often a focus on ‘big data’, which I take mainly to mean data from a lot of people and/or possibly a lot of data points – such as instances of social media activity or in the case of higher education, the number of times students access a virtual learning environment, use online resources, view video captured lectures or access any number of institutional systems.

However, as my anthropological roots continue to manifest themselves, and I realised how rich the visual maps and discussions turned out to be in terms of developing our understanding*, I couldn’t help but remember the classic notion of ‘thick description’ associated with the anthropologist Clifford Geertz. Although as Geertz himself notes in the chapter ‘Thick Description: Towards and Interpretive Theory of Culture’ the term itself he borrowed from the philosopher Gilbert Ryle.

Very briefly the idea of ‘thick description’ is for the anthropologist to not only present descriptions or facts about another culture (Geertz’s argument is also that such ‘objective’ descriptions are not possible, there is always interpretation and analysis, layers of meaning upon meaning) but to present detailed interpretive descriptions of actual behaviour, which allow for context that give the data presented meaning and is a way to understand the world in which the anthropological subjects live.

‘…to aid us in gaining access to the conceptual world in which our subjects live so that we can, in some extended sense of the term, converse with them.’

(Geertz 1993, p. 24)

So in short it is a way to make meaning that can develop our understanding of the why and how (and everything else) of other peoples’ lives – I should also say I really like the idea that the reason for this is to be able to have conversations/enter into a dialogue. But what I take away as a really important point is that it is the contextualised interpretation that makes meaning. And, this is what I think the ‘interviews with maps’ accomplished to some extent. I think it also important to note that in the interviews we were doing at least some of the interpreting together when we were exploring what bits of the maps meant and why they had chosen to represent some things and not others. I hasten to add that the notion that interviews are instances of joint meaning making is not new (see for instance Kvale 1996).

And this brings me back to why some of the hype about the power of ‘big data’ to ‘deliver insights’ doesn’t sit very well with me because very often there is little context added and therefore very little potential to understand what the data actually means or can tell us about the peoples’ lives represented by the data points. This is not to say that large scale data, quantitative or survey data is not useful and it was, in fact, an analysis of large scale data that highlighted that some students were not accessing the university library as much as others, which informed the design and focus of the qualitative research that was carried out.

In thinking about this I wanted to avoid setting up dichotomies, eg. between quantitative and qualitative research or big data and small data, so I hope that is clear from the above musings.

*I am not sure it really matters what the research topic was but in case you are wondering it was to learn more about academic study practices of students – I’ll possibly write about this in more detail in another post.


Geertz, Clifford (1993). The Interpretation of Cultures. Original printed 1973

Kvale, S. (1996). InterViews: An introduction to qualitative research interviewing. London:Sage.

Posted in anthropology, ethnography, user experience | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

2018: building the #LTHEchat community

It’s a new year and it’s a new day.

Last year Chrissi Nerantzi invited me to be part of the organising team for the #LTHEchat, which involves coordinating and organising activities from Jan-April 2018. I have joined in these chats over the years and really enjoyed the conversations and connections made so I was pleased to be able to join in a different way and support the activities.

For those that don’t know the LTHEchat, it is a weekly Learning and Teaching in Higher Education chat created by the community for the community and takes place Wednesday 8-9pm. The weekly chat is open to anyone interested in higher education and provides an opportunity to share practices, as well as ideas, and connect with other practitioners on a regular basis.

One of the outcomes of an initial conversation with my fellow organiser, Kiu Sum, a MRes student, is the aim to involve more students directly in the conversations. As a first step we are asking all the guest facilitators to promote their themed chats to students in their organisations. We are also exploring different ideas for involving students more directly as partners in the teaching and learning conversations in this new year of LTHEchats. If you have some thoughts on this please get in touch with us.

This year’s first chat is Wednesday 10th January and the questions are posed by Prof Dilly Fung with the theme ‘Connected Curriculum’. To me this approach with its focus on connecting students and faculty is a great way to enable positive partnerships.

Download the free version of A Connnected Curriculum from the UCL Press Website.

Posted in collaboration, Open education, Partnership | Tagged , | Leave a comment