Davcheva, Leah

Copy-2-of-PA2600603-300x225My field of work is intercultural education. I met Richard there some time ago and before I continue with my research focused account I would like to thank him – first for introducing me to some of you and inviting me to join this community, and second, for guiding me into the art and craft of narrative research.


My very first research project happened in 2005/6 when I was still working for the British Council. It examined mutuality, a core corporate value. The research was based on narrative interviews with British Council staff designing and managing projects in cross-cultural teams and diverse regions around the world. My research questions were:

1) What understandings of project conceptualisation and initiation underpin the accounts that British Council professionals give (in storytelling interviews) about their project experiences?

2a) From my emerging understandings of the nature/character of project management as arrived at through my analysis of project manager’s stories of their experience, what can be learned about the nature of mutuality in such projects and in general?

2b) Further, from these learnings, what seems to be the potential value of mutuality in the context of project conceptualisation and design?

3) How might these understandings inform the creation of an instrument to apply to project initiation and facilitate their development in a spirit of mutuality?

The outcome of the research was a wonderfully  illustrated small publication which meant to encourage British Council project managers to initiate and carry out their projects in a spirit of mutuality. It presented the elements and practices of mutuality and a mapped  out the mutuality territory for them.

My research interests have overlapped with Richard’s on a number of occasions including:

  • narrative studies of supervisor experience (Davcheva, Byram and Fay, 2011; Davcheva and Fay, 2008);
  • narrative study of the place of Ladino in the lived experience of (often elderly) Sephardic Jews n Bulgaria  (Davcheva and Fay, possibly in 2011); and
  • (as arising out of the previous study) an interest in the use of researcher narratives within a collaborative, multilingual research process in order to deveop reciprocal reflexivity (possible research methods article?)

A brief summary of the supervisory experience research follows below.


In 2008-2009, I led a small-scale, narrative-inquiry exploration of supervisors’ stories of the supervisory experience. The objective was to better understand the supervisory space (with international students especially but not exclusively) which I conceived as an intercultural zone.

Here is a poster I presented with Richard at a 2008 SIETAR conference (Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research) in Granada, Spain entitled: “Zones of interculturality in doctoral supervision: Implications for training and development”.

Working on the poster for the SIETAR congress helped us map the territory for further exploration. A good stimulus for such exploration came when the editor of a book (focusing on the concept of interculturality) accepted our joint proposal – Michael Byram, Richard and myself – for a chapter with the narrative-inquiry project at its core. Below is the abstract of this chapter which is still in the editorial process for publication in 2011:

Davcheva, L, Byram M. and Fay, R. (forthcoming, 2011). Zones of interculturality in postgraduate doctorate supervision. In F. Derwin, A. Gajardo A. and Lavanchy, F. (eds.), Politics of interculturality [pp to follow]

In this chapter, we discuss an exploratory narrative inquiry project into the little-researched understandings of supervisors in UK universities concerning their experiences of working with international doctoral students. This research was informed by a view of interculturality as an emergent, dynamic, fluid space of meaning-making and -negotiation between individuals between whom there are significant cultural differences. The focus of the project concerned our narratively derived and interculturally approached understandings of the supervisor experience.

The research project was positioned in the field of English-medium higher education with doctoral supervisors from two UK universities. It involved generating supervisor stories in one-on-one co-constructed story-telling interviews. The narratives were analysed and interpreted predominantly for content and emerging thematic categories but some elements of form were also noted. In the different layers of the supervisory experience narrated to us, we identified a number of themes which operationalise interculturality, including: stepping over borders, dividing lines, and thresholds; addressing difference; transforming identities; initiating dialogue and common understandings; and moving towards independence and autonomy. These themes and the aspects of the narratively-constructed understandings which they encapsulate are (some of ) the elements of interculturality as supervision was experienced and – to varying degrees – understood by participants in this research site.

Our analysis of the empirical data thus reveal that the concept of interculturality is helpful in analysis and in capturing the experience of those involved as seen from the supervisors’ perspective. Future work may involve work on the student perspective and their conceptualisation of supervision (as approached interculturally).

One other possibility for future work, a practice oriented one, is to translate the findings and concepts of this reseach into intercultural training agendas for both supervisors and PhD students. Richard’s posting (see below) is self-explanatory.

Richard Fay on 15 Jun 2010 at 3:44 pm 

It may be of interest to know what Supervisors’ needs are perceived to be (as suggested by the following training sessions for them):

Two ‘Supervisor Awareness’ workshops run by the Faculty in May.

The first will be a half-day workshop on the Supervision Context … The focus of PhD supervision tends to be on completion of the thesis and preparation for viva. However, there is clearly a wider context to supervision – one in which the student must cope with the emotional demands of the PhD and prepare to enter in an increasingly competitive job market. This session will therefore explore the broader remit of PhD supervision by considering the pastoral role of the supervisor and the supervisor’s role in helping the research student to develop the skills necessary for a successful career within academia or beyond.

The second is a lunchtime session focussing on the Viva … The viva is often the most stressful part of the doctoral process, both for candidates and their supervisors. This comes, at least partly, from the fact that the viva is generally “conducted behind closed doors with a Hogwartsian sense that it is an arcane ritual, a mystery and properly so” (Carter, 2008). Vivas also tend to vary greatly – in length, tone and content – so no two are the same. How should a supervisor help his or her researcher prepare for such a private, individual and important event?

This session is intended to help supervisors to demystify the viva by exploring perceptions, and clarifying the purpose and process of the oral exam. It will also suggest ways in which supervisors can help their students to prepare for this part of the doctoral examination process.





Richard and I are exploring the narrativised understandings of middle-aged and elderly Sephardic Jews in Bulgaria regarding the place in their lives of the language they tend to call Judesmo.  The study involves 10+ storytellers aged between 45 and 92.



Davcheva, L, Byram M. and Fay, R. (forthcoming, 2011). Zones of interculturality in postgraduate doctorate supervision. In F. Derwin, A. Gajardo A. and Lavanchy, F. (eds.), Politics of interculturality …

Davcheva, L. and Fay, R. (2008). Zones of interculturality in doctoral supervision: Implications for training and development. Paper presented at SIETAR Global 2008: How globalization affects cultures & how cultures shape globalization, 22nd – 25th, Granada, Spain.

Davcheva, L. and Fay, R. (2011). Linguistic Identity-Play Amongst Sephardic Jews in Bulgaria: A Narrative Study. Paper (to be) presented at the Language, Identity, and Intercultural Communication joint conference of the British Association for Applied Linguistics Intercultural Communication Special Interest Group and The Annual Bloomsbury Round Table, 9th – 10th June, 2011, Birkbeck College, University of London).