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Sunderland Repository records the research produced by the University of Sunderland including practice-based research and theses.

Embracing Vulnerability: The Moral Dimensions of Practice within Higher Education

Duffy, Kate (2019) Embracing Vulnerability: The Moral Dimensions of Practice within Higher Education. Doctoral thesis, University of Sunderland.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)


This study is an auto ethnographic inquiry into the moral dimensions of one educator’s practice as a teacher in a UK University. It has long been accepted that teaching is a moral activity (Noddings 1984; Jackson et al 1993; Sockett 1993; Sanger 2001; Rosenberg 2015) because of its unique close interaction between two individuals and because the teacher is actively engaged in changing the behaviours of others. Studies in this area are limited within the context of Higher Education and this study adds a unique insight in to the discourse surrounding moral practice and agency of teachers specifically in this sector. The study had two main objectives. The first was to understand, in-depth ‘how I perceived moral practice and agency in Higher Education. The second was to illuminate, through biographical accounts, ‘how I dealt with moral choices and conflicts.

Using the paradigm of positioning theory (Harré & van Langenhove, 1999), this study adopted an auto ethnographic methodology (Ellis 2004; Chang 2008) to gain a deeper insight into the moral practice of an HE teacher. The primary data source was a written diary alongside artefacts and correspondence from colleagues and students. Thematic analysis (Charmaz 2014; Kim 2016) of the diary entries showed that practice was motivated by building, maintaining and sustaining positive relationships. This illuminated the complexity and the emotional dimensions of teaching in Higher Education.

Analysis indicated that the emotions which were prevalent in the interactions of the teacher could be collectively defined as the emotions of vulnerability. The data revealed how the teacher responded to these emotions and noted that instances where the teacher was able to embrace the emotions of vulnerability, practice would be more transformational. This view runs counter to the current perception of vulnerability in society and education where it is seen as weakness and should be resisted and avoided.

In its conclusion, the study provides a model for a Pedagogy of Vulnerability which can be used to open up a dialogue with teachers and students in Higher Education about the moral dimensions of practice. It is not intended to show what teachers should do but enable us to think about what we
could do in order to resist the transactional and performative culture in higher education towards a more transformative and arguably humanistic one.

Embracing Vulnerability in HE FINAL JUNE 2019 (002).pdf - Submitted Version

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Depositing User: Klaire Purvis-Shepherd


Item ID: 10920

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ORCID for Kate Duffy: ORCID iD

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Date Deposited: 27 Jun 2019 09:34
Last Modified: 23 May 2023 03:30


Author: Kate Duffy ORCID iD

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