SYMPOSIUM: Pushing forward with new knowledge at Undergraduate level: Exceptional Student Dissertations.

In this symposium two undergraduate students from Plymouth University talk about the origins of their third year research enquiries, the theories that shaped them, and their findings. In addition, both students will discuss their experiences of how their work is pushing forward with new knowledge and adding to their respective fields. We welcome contributions from other students and educators with similar experiences of and questions about developing outstanding undergraduate dissertations.

Kirsty Abbott’s autoethnographic study explores her personal experiences of growing up with large breasts in a sexualised and shame-filled patriarchal culture; experiencing shame and sexual harassment, rejecting societal ideals by undergoing a breast reduction, and living with the resultant physical and emotional trauma. Employing self-interviews and story-writing methods, she uses her personal experience to explore the wider cultural issues of patriarchy, sexual harassment, shame and trauma, with particular reference to the embodied nature of shame. The study highlights the relevance of personal experience to the political, finding strong links between Kirsty’s experiences, the work of other researchers, and the wider culture. Kirsty also critically explores claims of narcissism pertaining to autoethnographic research as well as considering the multitude of ethical implications within autoethnographic methods. It is hoped that the findings help create a deepened understanding and awareness of the personal and professional implications of living in a patriarchal society.

Joshua Perren’s study explores Democracy and its place within education. In particular he addresses this in the context of John Dewey’s 1916 publication- Democracy and Education. Democracy is regarded as one of the key values of modern Western societies but implementing the teaching and development of it has a troubled history. Conceptualising the original ideas proposed by Dewey over 100 years ago is vital to understanding the role of democracy within education- and unpicking what they mean in light of ’democracy’ and ‘education’ today is essential to providing a contemporary understanding of this somewhat difficult piece of literature. It is important to begin looking at where Dewey’s work may have been interpreted and/or misinterpreted by the educational writers and how Dewey’s original ideas might fit or be re-configured in contemporary contexts. These issues are all explored from the personal viewpoint of the writer in order to portray the opinion that there can be more than one meaning extracted from Dewey’s writing.