CityLIS Research Student Profile: Ian Rodwell

We are delighted to have three new research students joining us at CityLIS during 16/17.

In this post, Ian Rodwell shares initial thoughts on his research area, as he begins his journey as a part-time PhD student.

Ian will be working in the area of storytelling with a specific focus on the liminal spaces we inhabit, and how we behave within them. Storytelling has long featured as an important component in organisational success, and in knowledge and information management. The changes wrought by, and potential impact of, liminal spaces on the way we utilise and interpret stories is an innovative and exciting concept, and we are looking forward to exploring this emergent area of research. Ian will be working under the supervision of Dr Lyn Robinson and Professor David Bawden.

You can follow Ian on Twitter: @liminalnarrate

I am a senior manager at a global law firm (where I have worked for over 24 years) and support our clients with a range of of knowledge and learning initiatives.  I have worked with City for many years – several of our team are CityLIS alumni – by hosting visits and delivering talks.  I have spoken at and chaired a number of knowledge management conferences and published articles in the professional KM press.  Way back in the day, I completed a diploma in library and information studies and worked in libraries at Imperial College and the Institute of Directors.

In my research I want to explore how we use storytelling in organisations to make sense of our environments and cohere what we know. More specifically, I am interested in how stories function within liminal states – that’s to say, states that are, in some way, ‘betwixt and between’.  Within an organisation, liminality might manifest itself as a role (for example, a consultant), a physical space (a cafe area), a form of working (a newly formed team) or an activity (an awayday). Liminality can be experienced paradoxically as both a source of confusion, blurred identities and uncertainty; but also as an environment that stimulates creativity, personal growth and innovation. I am curious whether such ambiguity affects the characteristics, performance and impact of storytelling.

As a published writer of fiction and having studied English literature at degree level, then completing a MBA, the topic blends a number of my academic, private  and professional interests. Also, having experienced the wealth of stories that are shared in seemingly ‘hard data’ legal and financial environments, I am immensely curious about analysing and deconstructing the narratives I hear around me.

For my research, I intend to direct attention to one aspect of liminality and examine its impact on storytelling in two contrasting high-performance contexts: a professionals services firm and among jazz musicians.  One potential area of focus is how storytelling functions within newly formed teams.  A coalescing team is a liminal state for the members as they transition from their previous roles and identities creating uncertainty but also possibilities.  I believe this has current resonance as there is an increasing interest in how both teams and leadership operate within conditions of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (‘VUCA’).  These conditions share many of the features of liminality and so the research may have wider application as to how storytelling might help organisations respond to this evolving environment.

About lyn

Dr Lyn Robinson is Reader in Library & Information Science, and Head of Department at City, University of London. She established and directs the Library School, and co-directs the Centre for Information Science alongside Prof David Bawden. Contact:
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