Paula Ensor

School of Education, University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa

Paper presented to the Kenton Education Association Conference, Wilgerspruit, South Africa, October 1996


The purpose of this paper is to introduce a perspective on interviewing, and an analytic framework for working with interview transcripts. This framework is developing in relation to a number of forms of data collected from a preservice mathematics teacher education course, and from beginning teachers; interview transcripts, student journals, observations of lectures and classroom teaching, and student projects. It is illustrated here with reference to two interviews with the same respondent over a period of twelve months. In the first interview, the respondent, as a student on the preservice course, discusses his school career positively, both in terms of his own progress and the quality of his teachers. In the second interview a year later, as a beginning teacher, he describes this school career in negative terms, suggesting that for the most part, he either had no mathematics teachers, or such that there were, were poor.

While the discussion turns in part on this particular variation of account, and does so for illustrative purposes, the analytical framework is intended to address a broader problematic. Consider just two of the forms of data indexed above, namely student journals and interview transcripts. Both of these involve accounts of self and of settings, of classrooms, staffrooms, lecture halls, and moments of private reflection. What is the status of these accounts? Clearly, they do not straightforwardly provide windows on different worlds, be they inner or outer ones. Rather, they are constituted through representations of these worlds through selective description and redescription. Or, putting it differently, the authors of both forms of account recruit selectively from different settings to establish their own positions.

Through the framework which is mapped out here I wish to account not only for variation, but also mark out the regularities in this selective representation. Making explicit the principles of description carries a double imperative; both in relation to the demands of analysis, and also those of ethics. Bernstein (1996) points out that languages of description stand as explicit connecting frameworks which relate the empirical to the conceptual. In their explicitness they serve also an ethical end, by allowing 'the described to change its own positioning' (ibid., pg. 134) through an interrogation of the principles that have generated the analysis. While my own framework does not constitute a language of description, the issues still hold. For it could well be asked of the varied account: "well, why don't you ask him to clarify instead of imposing your own reading?" The analyst's reading is always that which is imposed, and to interview again and again in search of an unvaried "truthful account" would be to engage in infinite regress.

The interview as an evoking context

The interview is an invitation, an evocation, to speak. In this sense it is productive. At the same time it is constraining insofar as it canalises and silences expression. In the way it is constituted and in the manner of questioning, probing and responding, a regulation on speaking and silence is imposed, although by no means absolutely. The interview can be regarded as a context in which subjects position themselves in relation to each other, and recruit or recontextualise1 linguistic (and somatic) resources in order to achieve this. Questions, narratives, accounts, rhetorical devices of different kinds, and body posture are potential resources for recruitment in the elaboration of subjectivity. Language and subjectivity; the selection and combination of utterances to produce accounts and the enunciative spaces (Weedon et al, 1986) which are opened up by this, are inevitably key features in the analysis which follows.

Clearly interviews vary in terms of the subjectivities and linguistic performances that are privileged. A chat show, an in-depth news commentary and a research interview are all located within different activities, and are thus constituted differently. The two research interviews reported on here were conducted within the activities of teacher education and classroom teaching, and these regulate positioning and recruitment to some degree. I am an academic researcher and lecturer whereas those whom I have interviewed have been students and are now teachers operating in the field of mathematics education. We can be expected to produce and reproduce the utterances and general comportments associated with these positions in the field.

Subjectivity is multiple, and I argue that the evoking context of interviewing foregrounds or backgrounds subjectivities, repertoires, positions, and in this way motivates the selective recruitment of resources. In other words, the context of the interview calls forth or interpellates certain subjectivities or positions (academic, teacher, acquirer) and back-grounds others (those pertaining to domestic and leisure activities, for example). These subjectivities recruit resources in their elaboration. However, and here lies the theoretical and methodological rub, that which is recruited or recontextualised, at the same time constitutes subjectivity. In this sense subjectivity is both constituting and constituted; the subject constitutes itself through a process of recontextualising, but it is at the same time constituted by that which it recruits.

Slippery stuff, indeed. But while acknowledging to the social theorists amongst us the existence of this problem, I will for the moment adopt a more heuristic stance, a preliminary "take" which will allow me to proceed someways towards an analysis. Hall describes this problem of attempting to grasp both the constitution of subjects (in his case groups) and of subjects (or groups) as constitutive, as "a commitment to walking forwards while looking backwards."2 While he suggests there are dangers here "of falling into a pit, or at least of stumbling along with a very strange gait; [..] much, too, can be gained from weaving rather than marching" (Wetherill & Potter 1992: pg. 87).

However unsteadily, then, let me illustrate here what I mean. As indicated previously, I will provide below extracts from two interviews with the same teacher over a period of a year. The first interview took place while the interviewee was a student on a preservice mathematics teacher education course; the second at the end of his first year as a mathematics teacher. I shall call the interviewee Thabo, although as will become apparent Thabo does not speak with a single voice. As a matter of style and ease of presentation, I shall variously refer to Thabo or the "authorial voice", a voice which is multiple and shifting, which is first transmitter then acquirer, now dominant and now subordinate. The authorial voice is that which is foregrounded, that which organises and enunciates at any point in time, a voice that speaks through that which it recruits.

In the first interview, the authorial voice is marked out as a successful student and teacher-to-be with a solid educational background, especially in mathematics. A year later, as a teacher in a demoralised, underresourced ex-DET school, an authorial transmitter voice can be marked out as a victor against very great odds. This voice alienates its past and those features of its present which resonate with it. It is a voice which presents itself as lacking in a solid educational background, having never, until Matric, been taught mathematics properly.

Looked at straightforwardly3, the teacher would at the very least appear not to be a very close companion of the truth. Looked at awry (in other words, taking variation in accounts as something to be expected and fruitfully analysed) the matter can be presented differently. This is, in part, what the paper hopes to achieve.

Both interviews are productive; they are invitations to Thabo to provide accounts of two settings, his teacher education course and his life in school as a teacher. They are likewise constraining, in that they establish what can and cannot be spoken of, in ways I shall show later.

In both interviews, interviewer and interviewee position themselves in relation to the other. Both draw upon, recruit, recontextualise resources in order to elaborate their positions. What constitutes a potential reservoir of resources for recruitment? Learning theories, utterances of lecturers, teaching colleagues and pupils, ensembles of voices and associated practices, mathematics, and so on. Here again, the interview constrains in that through the questions asked, certain reservoirs are indexed and not others (although none are likely to be explicitly excluded). Both teacher education and classroom teaching practices stand in relation to each other, and for the participants in the interviews being described here, as potential reservoirs of resources for recruitment.

Three levels of analysis suggest themselves here then (and here I draw loosely on Dowling, 1995). Firstly, the level of the event, the interview itself, the negotiation of meanings and positions between interviewer and interviewee. Secondly, the level of the text produced (the interview transcript) and thirdly, the reservoir of resources for potential recruitment. The interview engages empirical subjects and foregrounds and backgrounds subjectivities. These are produced and reproduced in the interview text as voices. So while the interviews took place between myself and Thabo, in analysing the transcript my authorial voice as analyst and writer of this paper attempts to mark out the authorial voice within the transcript (see in this regard also Atkinson, 1991).

How then does the authorial voice within the text recruit the settings of university and school in constituting its utterances? This authorial voice constitutes itself by recruiting as resources a matrix of voices, hierarchically arranged, and distributing practices to each. The authorial voice, in the context of these interviews, is variously a transmitter (teacher) or an acquirer (student teacher). An authorial voice as acquirer, for example, can be established as either apprenticed or dependent, according to the manner in which it marks out other voices and locates itself in relation to them. An apprenticed voice is one which presents itself as having mastered the pedagogic message. A dependent voice is an alienated voice, one which has not successfully acquired the message.

Positioning and distributing strategies

Dowling (forthcoming) refers to positioning strategies as those strategies which are deployed to arrange voices in relation to each other, vertically or horizontally, in patterns of dominance and subordinance. Positioning strategies described here include: specification or naming of voices (teacher, pupil, principal etc.) differentiation of voices (between "good" (privileged) and "bad" (pathologised); dominant and subordinate) through - affiliation (linking of dominant voices) attraction ( - association (linking of subordinate with dominant voice) ( - identification (linking of subordinate voices) distancing - rejection of dominant or subordinate voice (say, through critique)

The positioning strategies work with distributing strategies, which are here concerned mainly with the distribution of generalised (context independent) and localised (context specific and dependent) practices. Generalised practices (or knowledge), for example, would include learning theories, theories of teachers' work and life in schools, specialised subject knowledge and so forth. Local knowledge would include specific knowledge of life in particular schools, knowledge of particular students and so on. Distributing strategies, then, link forms of knowledge and practice with particular voices.

Clearly the differentiation between positioning and distributing strategies is an analytic one; empirically they work together. It is difficult, for example, to talk of a transmitter voice independently of the practices which are distributed to it.


The purpose of the first interview was to animate a discussion on the academic (university) setting and to a lesser extent the school setting. The interview took place with Thabo and another student; it is only Thabo's utterances which are of interest here. The authorial voice is marked out as a successful acquirer and teacher-to-be on the basis of the selective recruitment of voices and practices from the academic and school settings, and the strategic positioning of these voices in relation to each other. How is this achieved?

Marking out of the authorial voice as successful acquirer

The authorial voice marks itself out as a successful acquirer by recruiting voices and associated practices from academic and school settings and positioning itself in relation to these.

* recruitment of voices and practices from academic setting

- positioning in relation to the educational theorist

The acquirer voice marks itself out in relation to two dominant transmitter voices in the academic setting, that of the educational theorist (lecturers of core theory courses) and that of the virtuoso practitioner (lecturers on the mathematics teaching method course). Positioning in relation to the educational theorist is ambivalent. At an early point in the interview, a subordinate and dependant voice describes the HDE overall as "very tough" - "it's like we are doing some Masters course in Engineering or so, it's very tough, everyone is complaining". By referring to "everyone" here, identification is established between subordinate voices. There is a strategic disruption of dependency, however, by a later comment that the course isn't really difficult but a lot of work. "Ja, really, I never found anything difficult. I found that I could cope very well". A successful acquirer can be marked out here as one who is able and willing to work hard.

The extract below forms part of a discussion about the core educational courses on the HDE; social foundations, psychology and curriculum theory. Distributed to the educational theorist is generalised knowledge about the educational system.

If you take curriculum theory and what what practice, you know about I mean some innovations that are being made in the education system you know I mean what to expect when you go back. I mean some of us schooled a long time ago, now there have been some changes in the interim so you have got to know what changes have been made there, what changes are going to be made and the changing, I don't know, political system and so on, so you go back to school knowing very well what to expect .. like psychology of education, you really learn a lot I mean about how I mean adolescents behave like.

Here the educational theorist voice is established as dominant and the acquirer associates with it by referencing its usefulness for providing a general orientation to schooling. These core courses are useful in exposing students to the "real world of teaching", "there is no way you can do without them". However, a strategy of distancing is invoked as well; there are problems in the way these courses are structured; "like if you come from, like Itumeleng, he's from a purely B.Sc. background, you know, it's very difficult to deal with some of this stuff like philosophy of education where the language is too philosophical ..". The course is criticised as "too theoretical and lacking the real world", it cannot be applied in classrooms.

I think it should concentrate more on teaching us how to react when we confront particular sit... I mean, I don't know how to put this, but rather, how do you react when you meet this particular situation, not giving us a proper direction that when A happens, do B, you know, that when A happens, you can either do B or C or whatever and not sort of A. I don't know how I should put this, but should tell us more on not what to do but how, how to do when you confront this particular situation, when you are confronted in this particular situation.

In other words, knowledge which can be applied in local, specific contexts is privileged over more generalised forms. The core courses are useful in introducing students to general forms of knowledge about the context of schooling and changes that have and are about to be made. The importance of this generalised knowledge is acknowledged, but there is the need likewise for more localised, context-specific knowledge. In other words, the acquirer voice is partly distanced from the message of these courses, and challenges the subordination entailed here by criticising the course for its lack of localised knowledge.

- positioning in relation to the virtuoso practitioner

Whilst the authorial acquirer voice is largely dependent in relation to the educational theorist, it is apprenticed in relation to the virtuoso practitioner, to which is distributed both general and specific knowledge of classrooms and the elaboration of pedagogic assemblies. The apprentice voice speaks confidently about the mathematics teaching method course and demonstrates facility with its message. The course has been a "complete revolution".

Previously mathematics was seen as completely theoretical; one learned topics like linear equations with little concern for how they might be applied in practice. "... I think it's very beneficial really. Pupils come to discover some of the things on their own you know...They actually see how some of the things they do in mathematics is practical and some of the things they discover on their own [...] The self discovery, hands on approach is good [..] pupils must get involved [..] I always try to be innovative. [..] I have never had a problem of discipline, even before, but a you know using the rod in order to effect discipline is not a good way. The best way [...] is when the pupils are really involved. I mean the class basically belongs to the pupils, you are only there to guide them and pupils shouldn't think that you are the seat of knowledge as a teacher. You are only there to share with them and develop their experiences.[..] They (lessons) were very fantastic, they were very interesting to the pupils and I think my lessons went pretty well, you know. I also type of enjoyed this way of teaching mathematics.

Here the authorial voice marks itself out as a successful teacher by appropriating the rhetoric of the preservice teacher education course and arguing that this works successfully in practice. The student teacher (novice transmitter) voice marks out its development from TP1 to TP2 through increasing association with the virtuoso practitioner voice. In TP1 Thabo taught in the old way, simply giving the formula "raw from the book" and "people have got to ram it into their heads". "In the past I would simply give the formula from the book and give them an exercise and they apply the formula, that's all." On TP2 he taught in the "new way". "I think my lessons went pretty well, you know".

- positioning in relation to other practitioner voices

A distinction is made between the mathematics method course and another method course offered. In the mathematics method course students were grouped deliberately but randomly each session, so that students worked with different peers over different sessions. In the other course, however, students were permitted to group themselves voluntarily, and all the white students grouped together with the black students forming a residual group.

you feel that you are being alienated you know. White students will group together every time ... you know I like the way they do it in maths [..] that was much more fair [..] It is like a race thing, you know, so it is like you are being told OK, you are black, go together every time. [..] The very same people are in maths, when they move (to this method) they are different people. When we are in maths we are friends, when we go to (second method) no, we are different people now.

Here the authorial voice places a section of lecturers and students (white) in collusion. The comments stand as a rebuke, as a distancing strategy from those in control of the course.

* recruitment of voices and practices from the school setting

The authorial voice recruits voices and practices from the school setting, encountered on teaching practice, to distance itself from the educational theorist and virtuoso practitioner. This is achieved in the following way, in a discussion of teaching practice.

On teaching practice, Thabo claimed, "most of the lessons you fake them, you know". Students often say they are teaching but in fact they are giving tests and both their TP journals and lesson plans are entirely "fictitious" accounts of what student teachers actually do. This is described as a generalised practice; "everyone does it". Thabo colludes, and yet later distances himself by asking "if you are sure of yourself, and the lessons are going OK, why repeat a lesson?"

Furthermore, he indicates that a teaching practice supervisor confided in him that most lessons in ex-DET schools are staged, preplanned dramas performed in the classroom.

The UCT point of view which emphasises I mean the, what do they call it, the student-centred approach where students do most of the work. You know if you go into a class and you are a teacher and you talk alone, so from a UCT point of view you have done nothing, you have been talking alone, that is the teacher-centred approach, so you've got to make pupils, I mean, know what to expect and you even know which one you are going to ask a question, which question is to be directed to which pupil and the pupils almost expect it (laughs).

In order for pupils to respond in the way supervisors would like, then, student teachers often teach the lesson twice, once alone and then again before the supervisor. Either this strategy is employed, or student teachers will cajole pupils into collaboration while the "crit lesson" is in progress. Thabo gave as an example of this an English lesson where the student teacher asked the pupils in Xhosa to behave so that the supervisor, who spoke English, could not understand. Pupils in some schools refused to collaborate with these "faked" lessons and became disruptive.

The authorial voice further caricatures UCT's view of a good teacher, as "one who engages the pupils, moves around the classroom [..] smiles even when there is nothing to smile at [..] must always have some big posters with him or her", cleans the chalk board and writes the date on top. The last two mentioned imperatives resulted in ridicule from teachers in the school who characterised it as a phenomenon of teaching practice rather than practising teachers. A bad teacher, by contrast, does none of these things and "monopolises classroom activities" and "stands in front like a priest". UCT's emphasis on lesson plans is questioned; "preparations are not necessary as long as you have done your stuff and you know what you are going to do in the classroom. Why write it? You are not going to look at it. You are implementing your activities as you face the reality of the classroom, as you face the classroom situation. That is what dictates your lesson plan".

Here, the authorial voice proceduralises notions of good teaching practice, shows them to be inappropriate and recruits this as a way of privileging momentarily the local, contingent knowledge of schools above the more generalised knowledge transacted by the university. The educational theorist, and to some extent the virtuoso practitioner, are established in a mythical space which is contrasted with the "reality" of schooling. The theorist is positioned as incapable of generating localised message; the virtuoso practitioner can but lacks the knowledge of local conditions regarding the possibility of implementation, a point to which I will return later.

The school setting is thus recruited by the authorial voice to effect a distancing specifically from the educational theorist voice. The authorial voice identifies with other HDE students in claiming local knowledge about the distinction between real and artificial lessons; the educational theorist, and to some extent the virtuoso practitioner, are linked with the artificial lesson. In this strategy, the authorial voice claims access to both the theorist's message (because it can create artificial lessons which satisfy the theorist) and the localised message of the practice of teaching and thus lays claim to greater generality. The lecturer can operate only in the lecture room and the mythologised classroom whereas the student can operate in both these spaces as well as the real classroom. Furthermore, the authorial voice gives some indication of knowledge of the theorist's message but employs irony in its presentation, thus effecting a distancing.

There remains an association with the virtuoso practitioner through the recruitment of its message in discussing classroom practices. At the same time there is a distancing from this voice which is achieved by problematising issues of implementation of the teaching ideas advanced on the HDE in relation to schools.

Teachers in the schools teach "50 50" in the old and "UCT" way. The teachers know they cannot change overnight, they have developed their ways of teaching. That is why some of them are still using the old ways. I think they are still learning. Some of them are old teachers and I think they have been demoralised by everything. They are no more interested in teaching so they are just there for their jobs ...

Thabo claims that he is able to take these new approaches into classrooms, this must be done gradually, "or it will give a wrong picture of yourself" and antagonise other teachers.

* recruitment of a projected voice - positioning in relation to the future

A projected voice, the voice of the teacher-to-be, presents itself as ambitious for the future. Thabo does not wish to stay in teaching long but wants to take his skills back to those "in the dark". He would like to work in the rural areas in a college or as a subject advisor. "I think people will have a lot to learn from me, it won't be useful for me, I mean, to work as a teacher in a particular school". However, he intimates that he will do this in his other method rather than in maths, as he only has one year of university mathematics and to opt to become a maths teacher might hamper his advancement.

* recruitment of a retrospective voice - positioning in relation to the past

The authorial voice marks itself out as a successful acquirer also by recruiting school experiences as a pupil. Thabo says he never hated mathematics and talks of a community pride in him to achieve. "Everybody at home wanted me to study maths so I had this type of you know this pride in me that mathematics was simple for me, I can always do it you know." He had always done well in mathematics at school; "maths was simple for me, I can always do it". He claimed he had good teachers at school, "I also I had good teacher at school, I never had a bad teacher", although they all taught from a "traditional point of view".


The authorial voice establishes itself as a successful student and teacher-to-be through a dynamic and changing process of positioning and distributing strategies. The acquirer as apprentice affiliates with the HDE as a whole, and the method course in particular, and its message of good practice, and critiques that which is considered inappropriate. The acquirer voice is dependent in relation to more generalised forms of knowledge on the theory courses, but the implied subalternity is disrupted by the celebration of more local forms of knowledge through association with teachers in schools. Likewise subordinance is subverted by recruiting the local knowledge of teachers in schools who ironise the message put out by the university.

In establishing itself as successful acquirer, the authorial voice also celebrates its own past as pupil and its access to sound mathematics teaching. This, as we see, changes in the second interview.


In the second interview, my intention was to generate a more detailed set of utterances about teaching in a specific school, about the planning of lessons, teaching strategies, the evaluation of pupils and so on, as well as about the academic setting. The purpose was to mark out a transmitter voice in relation to other voices, and the distribution of practices to them.

In interviews conducted around the same time with other beginning teachers in the sample, I was generally positioned as a voice from the past, as one associated with the teacher education course but not in any central way with current practice. In other words, I was accorded a certain dominance with respect to my access to generalised knowledge, which could be counterbalanced by teachers' grasp of local knowledge of school life. Overall, they positioned themselves in relation to me as professionally competent teachers.

In my second interview with Thabo, this time with him alone, we were positioned not only as interviewer/interviewee, but also as lecturer and student in that Thabo had enrolled for a B.Ed. In other words, I was a PhD candidate conducting research, someone associated with his past as a student, and also his lecturer. Positioning was thus a complex task.

Marking out of the authorial voice as competent teacher

As with the first interview, I wish to describe how an authorial voice as competent teacher is marked out in relation to voices both within the academic and school settings.

* recruitment of voices and practices from the academic setting

The authorial voice, as before, associates with the voice of the virtuoso practitioner on the HDE by referencing forms of practice introduced on the teacher education course. The method course, claims Thabo, "turned me around". When pressed to say how, he responded that he was now more responsive to pupils' needs and interacted with them more instead of "teaching from the front". Interacting with pupils meant he got to know them better. There is thus an association with forms of regulative practice introduced on the HDE although these are not fully elaborated. Very little detail is provided of instructional aspects. Thabo mentioned one task to which he was introduced on the HDE which recurred in interviews over the course of the year. Both instructional and regulative aspects are invoked to achieve an association with the virtuoso practitioner voice as indicated above.

* recruitment of teaching practices from school setting

As indicated above, the purpose of the second interview reported here was to solicit discussion of current teaching practices. In other words, to mark out transmitter and acquirer voices and a detailed web of distributing strategies. I asked Thabo to identify a section of mathematics which he found difficult to teach and describe how he would structure a lesson around it. This proved extremely difficult to do. With considerable probing he eventually sketched out a geometry lesson. The following is an extract from my field notes4:

I asked him to identify a section of work he found difficult to teach, and he said geometry to the standard 10s. I then asked him to imagine that I was a student teacher who has been attached to him for teaching practice and he is asked to advise me how to structure the lesson. What advice would he give me? Thabo had considerable difficulty with this. After a pause he suggested that I would need to be aware of the students' previous knowledge because often what they learn in standard 10 is based on standard 9 work which they don't know. So I said fine, that was an important piece of advice. How should I proceed next? He had considerable difficulty with this, so I prompted him. Should I make use of the textbook in any way to structure my lesson? He said I should make sure as I went through that the students understood the theorems and the reasons for each step. You mean I write it out on the board, set out each step, perhaps asking them to say how each step is justified? Yes. OK, what should happen next? Again he was stymied. I went over the steps again. Now what should I do. He said, well, some practical examples, but there aren't any in geometry, so some exercises. [..] When I asked him what he would look for in critting a lesson like that, he couldn't answer at all.

While it proved difficult to solicit utterances about Thabo's own teaching, he did mark out what he considered to be a "good teacher". This was somebody who moved around the classroom and interacted with pupils, identified their problems, assisted them and didn't "pour in knowledge" by standing in the front and delivering. A good teacher also achieved good results.

It is significant that there is little detailed elaboration in this interview of classroom practice. One could speculate that a reason for this could be that for Thabo to elaborate on lessons, for example, would be to subordinate himself to me as an apparent adept and make his practice available for my evaluation.

* recruitment of other voices and practices from the school setting

In this interview and others conducted on previous occasions with him, Thabo described the school in which he taught as underresourced and inhabited by teachers who were demoralised, often came late, and when they were in school, often did not teach. There was no functioning mathematics department, and no one to draw support from in planning and evaluating lessons. This differs significantly from interviews with other teachers, who, in positioning themselves as professionally competent, would recruit utterances by other teachers, parents, pupils, the collective voice of a functioning mathematics department as well as their own repertoires. The authorial voice here does not recruit resources of this kind to mark itself out; instead it marks itself out in relation to lack, what is not done and not provided.

* recruitment of a retrospective voice; positioning in relation to the past

The transmitter voice here recruits a past as pupil with very few good teachers. Senior students at the school where Thabo was a pupil coached those in the lower standards in a "self help" system; it was only in Matric that he had an effective teacher. Most teachers came to school only on pay days to collect their cheques.


The authorial voice marks itself out as a successful teacher through continued association with the virtuoso practitioner on the HDE and by distancing itself from extant teaching practices in the school. It recruits problems of schooling in the past and the present to establish itself as the voice of a victor, as one who has become professionally competent against very great odds. It seeks to distance itself from its past school environment which is in many ways equivalent its present. The implication is that just as Thabo overcame the obstacles imposed by poor teaching as a pupil, in like manner will he overcome the obstacles posed by the same lack of professionalism in his colleagues.


This paper constitutes an attempt to work with an analytic framework in relation to interview data. It suggests that interviews as contexts foreground subjectivities, and that the foregrounded or authorial voice within a text such as an interview transcript constitutes itself by recruiting other voices and distributing knowledge and forms of practice to them. This is summarised in the appendix to this paper.

Utterances have been produced on two occasions by the same respondent in consistent and apparently varying ways. In the first interview, the acquirer voice recruits a successful career in mathematics as part of a strategy to establish itself as able and hardworking. In the second interview, the transmitter voice establishes itself as professionally competent against great odds, namely underresourcing of the school, a non-functioning mathematics department, low morale and lack of professionalism amongst fellow teachers. The authorial transmitter voice distances itself from these positions and forms of practice, and attempts likewise to distance itself from its own past. Poor mathematics teaching as a pupil forms part of that picture.

The analytic framework points to regularities across these two interviews, as in both, the authorial voice establishes itself as competent, either as a student or a teacher. It also provides a mechanism for explaining variation, in that it suggests that different resources (different accounts of life histories) are recruited on the two occasions to establish competence. In other words, there is consistency and regularity in Thabo's efforts to position himself as effective; variation in the resources that are selected in order to do this.

As indicated at the start of this paper, the analytical framework presented here is intended to organise a range of data. Interview data, as well as journals, student projects, field notes and recordings of lectures and classrooms are to be analysed in terms of how subjects (transmitters and acquirers) recruit resources in the elaboration of their positions. Of particular interest is how knowledge produced and reproduced within teacher education constitutes a potential reservoir of resources for recruitment, and how different students and beginning teachers act selectively on this reservoir to constitute their own repertoires.


Atkinson, P. (1991) The Ethnographic Imagination London: Falmer Bernstein, B. (1996) Pedagogy, Symbolic Control and Identity London: Taylor & Francis
Britzman, D. (1995) "The question of belief": writing post-structural ethnography Qualitative Studies in Education 8,3 229-238
Dowling, P. (1995) A Language for the Sociological Description of Pedagogic Texts with Particular Reference to the Secondary School Mathematics Scheme SMP 11-16 CORE Vol. 19
Dowling, P. (forthcoming) Mathematical Myths, Pedagogic Texts, Social Activity: the sociology of mathematics education
Henriques J. et al (1984) Changing the Subject London: Methuen
Muller, J. (1995) Intimations of Boundlessness: Literacy, Verticality and the Sacred Paper presented to the Second Theory, Culture and Society Conference, Berlin, August
Pecheux, M. (1982) Language, Semantics and Ideology Stating the Obvious London: Macmillan
Potter J. & Wetherill, M. (1987) Discourse and Social Psychology London: Sage
Scheurich, J. J. (1995) A postmodernist critique of research interviewing Qualitative Studies in Education 8,3 239-252
Silverman, D. (1993) Interpreting Qualitative Data London: Sage
Weedon, C. et al (1986) Theories of Language and Subjectivity In: Hall, S. (et al) Culture, Media, Language London: Hutchinson
Wetherill M. & Potter J. (1992) Mapping the Language of Racism Hemel Hempstead: Harvester
Zizek, S. (1991) Looking Awry An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture Cambridge: MIT




associated practices
educational expert
generalised knowledge, knowledge of schooling
virtuoso practitioner
general and specific knowledge of classrooms; elaboration of pedagogic assemblies
reproduction of rhetoric and practices (recognition and realisation)
lack of access to message (possibly recognition; no realisation)


associated practices
* subject specialist
* pedagogic expert
reproduction of school mathematics
relaying or interpreting of syllabus
development of pedagogic assemblies
regulation of classroom practices
* apprentice
* dependent
access to school mathematics
alienated from school mathematics

  1. I have avoided a general engagement here with the notion of recontextualisation. Bernstein (1991, 1995) refers to it as the mechanism for the constitution of discourses. Muller (1995) more recently uses it to refer to the ability of acquirers to retrieve vertical discourse, to demonstrate connectability. My usage follows that of Dowling (1995), who associates recontextualising with the elaboration of a "gaze" by one activity upon the practices of others, which are recruited and reorganised according to the regulating principles of the recontextualising activity. As will hopefully become apparent in the analytic framework presented here, subjectivity is for me central to recontextualising action.
  2. Or lifting oneself into the air by pulling on one's own hair, as Pecheux (1982) describes the 'Munchausen effect'. Or 'the age-old problem of the homunculus again' (Henriques et al 1984, pg. 96).
  3. The reference here is to Zizek (1992) who uses the metaphor of anamorphosis to problematise the gaze or view, suggesting that regularity or distortion shift and are reconfigured according to how one "looks". My appropriation of Zizek goes no further than this; there is no attempt here to develop a psychoanalytic account of variation.
  4. Unfortunately there was a fault with the tape recorder used to record the final interview and it was necessary to create field notes shortly after the interview took place.

Maintained by Pam Rosenthall
email comments and suggestions
Last Modified: 11th November 1997