Passionate Scholarship

Passionate Scholarship was a term coined by Barbara Du Bois (1983). Over 20 years later Deutsch (2004: 886) wonderfully encapsulated the philosophy behind this term. She states:


I became disturbed by the prospect of becoming one of those researchers [researchers, she says, too comfortable or superior to think about how they carry out research]. I was walking a fault line between my heart and my head. What I sought, but did not yet have a name for, was Dubois’s (1983) “passionate scholarship,” modes of research that privilege values and empathy.


Although the focus in the quote above centres on research, I believe the term can be applied to other areas of professional work. In a world where terms are thrown around like candy I’d hate to be another purveyor of “professionalism,” distancing myself from the people I work with. In this vein we can sometimes get constrained by a sense of “professionalism” that prevents us from, or is at odds with, being relational. However, being a passionate scholar breaks through all that and says it as it is – I am passionate about the work I do and the people I work with and I’m not ashamed to say it. My actions, reactions, position, armory of tools, beliefs and values all encapsulate this.


Selfish, you may say?!?! Self-indulgent even – "no space for this within a professional role," I hear you cry?!?!


Rubbish and outdated thinking, I say!


Everyone has an impact on the work that they do. Those ardent quantitavists are lying to themselves – and others – when they say they are outside/above this! Those that are non-relational can sometimes push “at-a-distance,” disconnected and formulaic practices. There is always an important space for a vast array of perspectives around the table but an approach that focuses on quantity rather than quality has no place leading child care practice. Too often people question and undermine qualitative, connected work because they are frightened of it. They dismiss, even attack, the individual and their work rather than embrace discussion or debate around it. Let me tell you really clearly – quantitative, “objective” research is no more valid, yet it often has its own agenda and often masquerades as the objective truth which is, quite frankly, dangerous.


Being relational, involved, connected and empathetic are important values to have, particularly when working with people. Now this is not to say that in using this approach professional ethics have been gaily abandoned – quite the opposite – instead, it acknowledges that there is, nae SHOULD be, risk of getting stuck in and getting your self dirty in the roles that you professional take up.


There is no question that feminist scientists and scholars will continue to be charged with bias, advocacy, subjectivity, ideologising, and so on. We can expect this; we can even welcome it. If our work is not in some way threatening to the established order, we’re on the wrong track… Our doubts and uncertainties are not only natural; they are even desirable. They keep us honest, for one thing – by obliging us continually to question our purposes, our motives, our values, our integrity, our scholarship (Dubois, 1983: 112 – 113).


Now it is important to note here that the rise in practitioners leading the way in research, writing and training is a very much welcome addition. However, the majority of the “experts” in this field have no experience of living or working in care, yet I find that a high number of writers in this area do not relay their “knowledge” with an element of caution. After reading the literature it seems almost impossible for my academic colleagues to say “I got it wrong,” “I don’t fully understand" or “my ideas have moved on.” They are simply steadfast in their “outsider” knowledge, perpetuated by the same mantras and dominance which creates a silence and invisibility of the experiences of young people in care and care leavers themselves.


Being a passionate scholar means I know I have certain values and prejudices because of my personal experiences and professional training. I do not come to the table empty handed. I am honest and open about my experiences which may impact on the ways I work with individuals and groups, but as stated above, we all have an impact/position we come from, it's whether we are honest and open about it or not.


I am not pertaining to say I am a better or worse practitioner than any other. This philosophy of practice, instead, enables me to reject a “doing to” approach when working with others. It allows me to make a commitment to invest in communities and individuals, to strive to make a difference and have an open commitment to change. There is then a real sense of “being alongside” and holding people in mind, at the centre of this approach.


Growing up in care my personal life was ruled and governed by forms and procedures. The results were not good. I am adamant that my professional life will not be the same (though I recognise the foundational support these can give – but not the leading light!). Whether the role I am in is one of researcher, trainer, lecturer, consultant, colleague or friend – I am a passionate scholar – and I’m not ashamed to say it!



Deutsch, N. L. (2004) ‘Positionality and the pen: reflections on the process of becoming a feminist researcher and writer.’ Qualitative Inquiry. Vol. 10 (6): 885 – 902.


DuBois, B. (1983) ‘Passionate scholarship: notes on values, knowing and method in feminist social sciences,’ in Gloria Bowles and Renate Duelli Klein (Eds.) Theories of Women's Studies. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.




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