Fay, Richard (MEd, MusM and PhD alumnus)

{November 2020}

I act as the unofficial co-ordinator of the LANTERN Doctoral Community (and this related Blog). I became a Lecturer Education (TESOL and Intercultural Communication) in 1994. Now, I am Senior Lecturer responsible for MA TESOL modules as follows: Language Education as Intercultural Practice; Developing Researcher Competence; and Principled Materials and Course Design. As you can see here, I have been, and remain, involved in quite a number of research projects including those focusing on researching multilingually.

I based my (very) part-time doctoral studies on a project that I co-ordinated for the TESOL team (called CELSE at that time) in the School of Education (now the Manchester Institute of Education). The project involved a 10+ year collaboration between CELSE and the Hellenic Open University (HOU) through which the HOU licensed CELSE’s MA TESOL distance learning materials for the HOU’s first ever programme, a comparable MA TEFL.

My approach initially was ethnographic and involved many periods of short-term project sojourning Greece as a privileged outsider. Over time, the ethnographic shifted however towards the narrative inquiry approach reported in my thesis. During the course of my studies, my focus also shifted from a large culture approach looking at how Greek distance education differed from CELSE’s ‘Anglo’ approach and instead adopted a small culture approach see Adrian Holliday’s work).

My research questions were as follows:

  • Q1: What understandings of the factors encouraging and discouraging the development of the CELSE-HOU project are to be found in the narratives of its participants?
  • Q2: What underpinnings for understanding the project are to be found in my narratives of conceptual development related to the project?
  • Q3: From the insights gathered in response to Questions 1 and 2, what can be learned about the characteristics of the project’s emergent cultures of distance learning and collaboration?

When I began my research into the project as focused by the above questions, I had to develop my researcher competence in relation to narrative research. During the process of developing this competence, an additional focusing Research Question emerged. Although its presentation below disturbs the chronological flow of my research story, I want to present it here so that all four Research Questions are gathered clearly in one place:

  • Q4: What insights about narrative research methodology can be gained through examining the participants’ project narratives?

Of any interest? Here is Chapter 1 and the Front Matter for the thesis.

I finished the PhD in 2004 and after the long slog doing it part-time whilst working, I took some time off studying but, glutton for punishment, in Sept 2009, I started a part-time Masters in Musicology (Mus.M) specialising in Ethnomusicology, graduating in 2011. For those of you that don’t know me, I have a strong musical life outside my academic role in TESOL and Intercultural Communication/Education. I founded and play in various ensembles including Hard Times Orkestar (playing my ethno-classical compositions amongst other folk repertoire), Hard Times Kapelye (playing klezmer), and Levvy Metal (playing Balkan-inspired brass and and music), I co-founded an co-direct the Music Department’s klezmer ensemble, the Michael Kahan Kapelye, and have co-developed klezmer-related shows – Amid the Mirk over the Irk: When klezmer Meets Irish, and Vessels of Song: Journeys into the Worlds of Klezmer. In March 2020m, the first CD of my ethno-classical compositions was released – Helix: Music for Hard Times, and during the COVID-10 restrictions, a 2nd CD – Hamosity: Music in Hard Times – was recorded ready for release early in 2021.

Musical Links 

Amid the Mirk Over the Irk – Babele/Butterfly (a video for a number in this show)

Amid the Mirk Over the Irk … An Irish Night in the Garden of Eden (a video for a number in this show)

Helix: Music for Hard Times (CD, released March 2020)

In Remembrance of Lost Worlds (from Helix CD)

Levvy Metal … Live at the Kondyke (promotional video for Levvy Metal).

Vessels of Song: Journeys into the Worlds of Klezmer (documentary of the concert, December 7th 2019).


  • Richard Fay

    You are welcome to take a look at all / any of the thesis you like but I have to report that its content is not really what you describe. My main page here in the Doctoral Community blog gives a reasonable sense of what it was all about. If it still sounds of interest after reading that, let me know 🙂

  • Hi Richard,

    It all sounds very interesting and incredibly complex; something though that will contribute hugely to this field of interest when it reaches completion. I was unaware that within the academic community there was already a body of research that had taken place. It is certainly not something that I have come across in the type of journals and publications that I have read though my interests of course are primarily in the fields of education, technology, and teacher development.

    With your clarification of the situation I can now see that you are very much basing this around the experiences and attitudes of those at the interface of these GV realities and issues.

    In many ways this desire to hear the voices of those at the interface is something that has strongly shaped my own worldview and my own research in other areas. For example I am very keen to ensure that in my own work as a manager and in my research that I am creating spaces for the voices of teachers to be heard in an authentic and open way.

    Incidentally I had initially gone onto the Doctoral Community blog to ask, on the suggestion of Achilleas or perhaps Magdalena, if I could have a copy of your PhD thesis; part of which contains the narrative study of a group of teachers in a language school as far as I am aware. I am currently writing up the contextualisation and literature review parts of my thesis, as I am doing my focus group research at the same time and I would like some ideas on how to build the team building aspect of my work into the narrative. In setting the context I want to show how I built up a team of teachers from scratch and I want to tell the stories of those individuals in brief because I feel that in order to ultimately produce a good case study or set of case studies the description of the context has to be “as rich and thick as possible”. I think that quote comes from Creswell.

    In saying this I am not suggesting that I am going to be using narrative research. I am talking about the narrative in the sense of building up the human story at the heart of the context in which I am doing/will have done my research. When they read my first draft I think it was Magdalena who said that this reminded her of the approach that you had used to describe a language school in Switzerland if my memory serves me right.

    Anyway if you have anything published in this area I would like to have a look at it, if possible, and good luck with your GV research. As you said in an earlier posting there’s years’ worth of scope for exploration in this area. And so long as those who are part of the story are involved in its telling, it will be something that all of us will benefit from reading.

  • Richard Fay

    Thanks Paul for the long posting. I should perhaps have made clear that the project is being led by some of the leading trans researchers in the field, so the kinds of issues you raise are not new for them (although they would probably set them out somewhat differently), nor for me as it happens – the trans world is one with which I have roots developed over the last 25 years or so (in which I have, amongst other things followed the legal struggles for recognition and equality and have cast a linguist’s eye over the court rulings since the late 1960s). So, yes, for sure the project is not rooted in perspectives from the gender identity mainstream – it has an embedded GV standpoint.

    In many ways, this project builds on the trans work of these researchers over the last 20 years and represents a consolidation of it, plus an enrichment of the available stories (of both medical history and of GV individuals). One thing I do know from them – and I hope I do justice to the complexities involved here – is that the term ‘intersex’ is problematic, since it is so linked to medical usage (in which there was a ‘problem’ to be ‘solved’) that it ceases to be useful when speaking about the continuum of gendered identities that exist and have existed in our diverse world, hence the preferred term GV. My colleagues’ worry is that this diversity is being reduced as the diagnosis of transsexualism becomes increasingly influential globally speaking. As I said, I am wary of basing the project on an assumption that a) has definitely had an (negative) impact on b) – I hope that the exploratory line suggested by c) might enable us to not only generate stories (and other data) which will enrich the existing body of academic and medical understandings of the GV phenomenon, but also to use these stories (and other data) to explore the relationships between a and b.

  • Hi Richard,
    Very interesting though I would ask why there seems to be a focus on transexualism and not intersexualism when (b) seems far more linked to intersexual rather than transexual identities. However if (b) were taken to be intersexual identities then the assumption behind (a) could be intrepreted as echoing 1930s assumptions about gender reassignment surgery, mainly championed by the Johns Hopkins Hospital in the US.
    Since this has so many controversial undertones I would suggest a good piece of research could be located at the interstice of relationships between the transexual ‘community’ and the more scattered collection of individuals who would term themselves ‘intersexual’ whether public or privately.
    How does the intersexual identity fit in with current sensibilities? Does it? Does society understand it or want to understand it in the same way as our understanding of transexualism? I would find that a fascinating study as this has been something I have had an interest in since the time of reading Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel ‘Middlesex’. There are some fantastic narrative accounts on the website http://www.ukia.co.uk/ but my impression is that these voices are very much secretive in the way that transexualism was very much secretive not so long so. Maybe it still is in many parts of the world but at least people are conscious of its existence. We seem somehow comfortable with the notion that surgery can alter someone from one state to another, taking the epistemological position that there are two distinct states of sexual identity, namely male and female. We seem far less comfortable with the concept that there may be some people in our society who are in the middle, between male and female, and they don’t seek surgery. They just want to be themselves, not male and not female.
    This notion outrages us as a society. We are not ready to even consider this as a serious possibility. The very concept of it makes us want to ask the question of ‘are you a male in the middle’ or ‘a female in the middle.’ This goes back to the Judaeo- Christian roots of our religious tradition where everything begins with a very distinct Adam and Eve in very clearly defined roles; in fact an Adam who is infinitely superior to Eve. Woman at base is untrustworthy and subservient. There is no mid point, no sliding meridian line of sexuality. This is why religion has traditionally been prejudiced against gay people according to the American writer Gore Vidal. It blurs the boundaries and the distinction not just between sexuality but also the rationale that we use to maintain the ‘natural order’ of male dominance.
    Take a look at this story that made the news in Britain and North America recently http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-13581835
    I don’t think it matters if the kid is a boy or a girl. It is nobody’s business but the family’s. However in this case there could be prejudice if the kid grows up unable to handle being different. A few months back I was watching old episode of the Wogan show on You Tube to see Georgie Best swearing and so on. I came across this clip of James Harries, the child prodigy who was supposedly a prodigious and precocious antiques expert:
    I decided to research what happened to young James and discovered that he had changed to a woman named Lauren Harries: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lauren_Harries
    I am not highlighting this information about James Harries to make any point about transexualism or sexual identity. I am simply saying that it happened this way and it was an interesting story.
    I think there are many more interesting stories out there and I would love to read a synthesis of those stories. I hope that your research goes down the road of point (c) rather than making the assumption that (a) is a contributing factor to the decline of (b). Socially and culturally (b) may have declined but from a biological perspective I would say that argument lacks statistical evidence. I cannot see how (a) could cause a decline in (b) since (a) is very different to (b) in many cases. They do though share common concerns in the areas of human rights and right to identity.
    Passports being a case in point. A transexual apparently cannot change their gender on the passport. Surely this is discrimination. This summer I am getting married and my wife to be can change her name at a cost of seventy pounds. It used to be free. Similarly I can have two passports because I am from Northern Ireland and the 1997 peace agreement allows me to be both British and Irish at the same time.
    Is someone’s gender not as vital a part of them as their name or nationality? Is it not even more so? I think it is and the law should be changed in this regard. Of course it is unlikely to be changed any time soon especially with all the hysteria over airport security in the present age.
    That though is another story.
    To conclude, I think there are real possibilities with this research and the way to beat the expert scholars you are competing against is to put together something that captures the thoughts and feelings of the real experts in this field – those on the margins of mainstream sexual identity themselves.
    That is it for now. Hope this gives you some links to new possibilities. It’s a subject that I find interesting and hope you get funding to explore.

  • Richard Fay

    Not by me. Grand theory is not my style but in the team there is great depth of experience and expertise regarding these storylines/histories and I will learn a lot from their passion, hunches and expertise and how these work out in methodological practice. It was really very exciting being amidst scholars from different fields who are at the top their game – I learned a great deal. But, with all such funding bids, who knows whether even part of what we envisage will come to pass …..

  • Achilleas Kostoulas

    So could this be the beginning of a research agenda aimed at formulating some kind of underlying ‘grand theory’?

  • Richard Fay

    ‘Quite’ is probably the understatement of the year to judge by the 3-day meeting itself and ts wide ranging discussion of issues to do with identity and methodology to mention but the most obvious areas. Endlessly fascinating if, like me, one is interested in (obsessed with?) methodological puzzles at the interstices of different traditions/disciplines and the complexities of identity as viewed with current sensibilities and an agenda for combating discrimination. This sort of work could keep me going for the next 10 years! Also, despite the very different topic areas, there were many resonances with the Ladino work I am doing with Leah Davcheva.

  • Achilleas Kostoulas

    Sounds quite interesting, Richard. Good luck with the bid and do keep us in the loop 🙂

  • Richard Fay

    I am just at the start of a new (ad)venture which may involve my linguistic interests, narrative research experience and also intercultural sensibilities. This is for a Medical Histories funding bid led by Prof Stephen Whittle at Manchester Metropolitan University (who specialises in Human Rights Law especially in the areas of gender discrimination). The project involves three main elements:

    a) the documentation of the history/ies of the diagnosis of transsexualism (especially the Anglo / UK aspects of these stories);

    b) initial, exemplifying documentation of some of the local gender variant practices and identities around the world (which seem to be disappearing, perhaps because of the influence of the diagnosis of transsexualism); and

    c) an exploration of the relationships between a) and b).

    The initial assunmption was that a) was/is causing the disappearance of b), and this remains a strong hunch but the project will probably take a more exploratory view as captured in c). This project has many many interesting methodological aspects with which I am looking forward to engaging in coming months. The bid documentation has to be submitted by early September.