Reimagining and transforming identity as researchers and educators: a (con)textual fugue

This paper presents the educational and research journey of a group of academics as a textual fugue. We understand a fugue as a contrapuntal composition in which a short melody or phrase is introduced by one part and is successively taken up by other interweaving parts. By weaving together the multiple motivations, commitments, philosophical, theoretical and methodological underpinnings of the authors’ individual research and education aspirations, a collective composition emerges. Our ‘fugue’ represents the sum of the parts, but also we argue, challenges individualized conceptions of research impact by recognizing and naming our collective aspirations for reciprocal, relational and dialogic research presences in a context to which we are all deeply committed. This context is the region of Gippsland, Victoria, a distinctive and extensive area encompassing regional, rural and remote communities, diverse natural environments and localities, with correspondingly complex social, cultural and economic underpinnings. The establishment of a new regional university, where the authors are situated, has precipitated what Mezirow (2000) might describe as a sudden, dramatic, reorienting insight. With the opportunity to reframe habitual interpretations, the authors have a fresh impetus to pursue a collective purpose, impact and identity through research partnerships and engagement with surrounding communities. While embracing Gippsland voices, perspectives and particulars we also seek to illuminate wider and even universal implications and understandings (Arendt, 1960). The paper thus articulates the collective strength of our education research endeavours and brings our new identity to life through a number of interwoven narratives involving research and education collaborations between the authors and local people and places. These stories include Cheryl and Sue’s commitment to learning to research alongside the traditional owners of Gippsland, the Gunaikurnai, with a focus on early childhood education; Margaret’s project to raise tertiary education aspirations of local primary school students; Di’s research to develop an understanding of social presence to inform practices for remote social and relational activity in online learning; Anna and Cheryl’s collaborative project with a Diocesan cluster of secondary school principals to improve literacy outcomes; and Monica’s collaborations that advance the importance of place-community pedagogies in pre-service teacher education. In the whole, this paper furthers Susan and Nicola’s individual projects that work to challenge hegemonic neo-liberal governance practices in higher education by reconciling individualism and the holistic into greater balance. Together, as the FUGuE (Federation University Gippsland Education) Collective, we weave a transformed rural, regional and Gippsland education research identity and purpose for transformative education research collaborations.