Tony Gurr

Adaptation – the “art” & “science” of LEARNing

In Conferences, Our Universities, Research on 02/10/2011 at 2:06 pm

I’ve just returned from a trip to İstanbullove the place, hate the place, love the place, hate the place…OK…let’s stay with the “love”)!

The trip was mostly to attend a conference on “Adaptation” hosted by Yeni Yüzyıl Üniversitesi for those lovely people at the Association of Adaptation Studies.

Location, location, location… the Anadolu Kulübü on Büyükada (…love İstanbul…love the Princess Islands…love the fact that they do not allow cars on the island)! Brilliant…just brilliant.

The full title of the conference was – THE INTELLECTUAL SILK ROAD: CROSS-MEDIA and CROSS-CULTURAL ADAPTATIONS – but even before I arrived, I was feeling like a “gate-crasher” at a wedding!

But, hang on – “the AAS” (yes, almost an unfortunate acronym there, if you do not spell it out) is an “Akademe community” and we all know that these communities thrive on discussion of all the THREE pillars of the university “purpose”:

They’d asked me along (with Şahika and Şebnem, from Ankara University) to run a LEARNing and TEACHing “show” – and balance the scorecard on the EDUcation front.

I’d taken a look at the conference planner – and nearly died when I saw some of the titles. How could LEARNing and TEACHing “compete” with:

  • The Oriental as Absence in Minghella’s The English Patient
  • Traveling East: Orientalism and the Costume Drama
  • Adaptive Performances: ReViewing Cross-Cultural Adaptation Through Performance Studies

or even,

  • Constructing the British Hero by Exclusion: Adaptation and the Colonization of Sherlock Holmes

In truth, Sherlock beat us hands down (in terms of attendees)!

I thought it might have been all my fault – afterall, I did begin my paper by noting my very clear “bias” towards allthingslearning in the “university”:

  • Student LEARNing is the inescapable bottom line for a university…
  • …and the LEARNing produced is the most important result a university can achieve.

I also touched on a couple of “truths” that many in the Akademe do not enjoy “hearing”:

And then, the question no academic wants to hear (I was “quoting”, guys):

Come on – “fair dos”; I mean no self-respecting university-based research team would “hire” someone who had not been “trained” in the art and science of allthingsresearch (and have a string of citations) – so why should we think it’s OK to put “teachers” into lecture theatres and classrooms without some “training” or evidence of Educational Literacy and TEACHing skills?

I think they “got” that – and nobody threw anything at me!

I was also surprised that so few flinched when I “translated” the three pillars into what we all know happens in most universities:

I must admit – I did get a bit of a “response” when I noted Pope’s critique of the Ivies and their clones:

But was saved by a giggle or two when we brought Pope’s view “home” with a very real example:

I still maintain that Harvard should lose its “teaching license” for that one alone! Besides, “academic feedom” being what it is – even ex-Rectors and ex-Deans from Harvard can make a pretty penny from books exposing far more than I ever could

Obviously, the “model” of adaptation that I was discussing is very different to the the understandings and conceptualısations that “adaptation insiders” have – what I was saying was that “adaption is an essential part of the human condition“:

I think (and LEARN), therefore I adapt!


And, for educators that want to make a real difference to lives of others:




The funny thing was that participants would have only heard these things if they had come along to the session – this left me wondering why so many of the conference participants would not want to come to a session on LEARNing and TEACHing

Especially, as some told me later – 50 to 70% of their workload is frequently given over to TEACHing…OK – most of them were younger TAs (and their “average” was 85% of their time – allowing their “senior profs” to “publish, publish, publish”)…

What the conference LEARNed me was that perhaps we need more papers on allthingslearning – at more conferences! And, perhaps…we need more people to get excited about LEARNing and TEACHingand how we can all do it better!

Thank you Günseli and Laurence – for being so brave!


The highlight of the session for me, however, was seeing Şahika and Şebnem “translate” all this into “practice”. Their session was an honest, open and frank exposé of their “adaptation journey” to the role of “teacher trainers” over the past 2 years.

They described their motivations for wanting to embark on such an adaptive journey – they noted their fears, insecurities and frustrations over the whole process – and, they outlined how they had grown as professional LEARNing educators (and how they still continue to “adapt” today).

They communicated these ideas with passion and authencity – presenting themselves as “real people“, asking participants to get involved (and reflect on their own experiences) and using powerful and effective visuals to tell their stories.

Ohhh, if only all conference presenters had the same level of “visual literacy”… and common sense!

They won’t mind me telling you this – but this was their first major presentation at an International Conference. They not only kicked “Sherlock’s ass” in terms of engagementbut also in terms of relevance to the lives of all educators and “what matters” in education!


Post-script…for all you lovely ineks!

What exactly is “Adaptation Studies”?

I asked myself this question when I was first approached to do a session at the Silk Road conference. Being a simple man…I always looked at “adaptation” in terms of  “human transformation”! Being a bit of a “part-time film-buff” (and an “older” comic book “geek”)…I knew of many of the woes of filmmakers trying to do justice to so-and-so’s book (and the way directors are so often “slated” by critics and academics – for just doing what they do)…Being an avid learner…had to find out more!

Besides, I guessed I would have to “chew the adaptation fat” over a glass of red (or several)…on Büyükada!

My first port of call was Linda Hutcheon’s “A Theory of Adaptation” – I really did not think I would have the stamina to get through Robert Stam’s “three volumes” (though I’m sure he’s a great bloke). What Linda learned me was that I had to “get” that I could not truly understand “adaptation” by thunking about novels and movies aloneSmart woman that Linda…she learned me that I could also look at pop songs, fairy tales and even roller-coasters (OK – that one took me a few re-reads).

So, adaptation is not only about book (or movie) LEARNing – it touches on “real life”…told you she was a smart cookie!

The problem was – I left the book without finding the “theory” that the title promised me! Little did I know that I was not alone…

Someone else told me that Julie Sanders’ (2006) book – Adaptation and Appropriation – was the “bible”. So, I took a gander. What that individual did not tell me…was that I would have to learn a “whole new lexicon”…

OMG…recontextualization, tradaptation, reduction, simplification, condensation, abridgement, special versioning, reworking, remediation,  and re-visioning. We then move onto inter-semiotic, intra-lingual and inter-lingual adaptations – not to mention interpretants (including both the “formal” and “thematic” varieties)! Oh, yes and all that talk about “orientalism”, “aesthetic politics” and “cultural imperialism”. On “wiki” this shit is not…

OK – not all of this fell from Julie’s book (more the sources she directed me to). She is another very smart woman…

I had kinda worked out (a fair few years back) that “nowt is original” – everything is adapted and appropriated (or “robbed” as we used to say when I was a kid growing up in North Manchester). What I did not know was how confused researchers in Adaptation Studies seem to be – all those bloody “theoretical movements” just getting in the way, all that baggage from Translation Studies, all that…

This was brought home to me at the conference itself – I just did not “get” (or perhaps “care” enough) why everyone was running around screaming “We need a THEORY of adaptation”…. – all I could say was “just bloody do it, then”…

As I said, I am a simple man…and I can be a bit “thick” from time to time! It just seemed to me that all this talk of the “silver bullet” was…a bit of a storm-in-a-teacup.

But, then – who am I to judge?

Although many academics and commentators have been considering the issues related to allthingsadapatation for over 50 years, it seems that “Adaptation Studies” is “new” – all bright and shiny!

Who would’ve thunk it?

The problem seems to be (IMHO) that it is a bright and shiny “teenager” wrestling to assert its independence from its overbearing mother, “Translation Studies” (and all her “theories”), and the not-always-present father, “Intertextuality”.

The problem is that this “teenage rebel”, as with all teenagers, is “synaptically-disabled” (my daughter always hated it when I said this to her – at the age of 21, she now agrees). Its supporters seem to be saying that “if only” Adaptation Studies could just get a fırmer handle on its “theoretical framework” – all would be well in the world!

Not so sure, I am…but maybe I need an “expert brain” to comment on this!

  1. Laurence is at an “airport” – asked me to post this (on his behalf):

    As the chair of the Sixth Association of Adaptation Studies conference, I am grateful to Tony for having expressed his thoughts in such a trenchant way. It’s nice to see that what was planned as a low-key event is being given such a high profile.

    I do think, however, that I should respond to some of the points he makes, in order not to give a misleading impression of what the conference’s aim actually was.

    I am sad that he should feel “like a gate-crasher at a wedding;” the conference was planned as a way for colleagues of different disciplines to get together and look at what “adaptation” actually meant, and how it was something far more than just “adapting literature-into-film” or “mediality,” or whatever other terms have recently been coined for that process.

    I agree that some of the titles might have seemed rather daunting, but in truth the presenters were looking at only one form of “adaptation,” focusing specifically on “adapting-literature-into-film,” or “adapting familiar characters into different modes.” Performance studies, I believe, is an important part of “adaptation;’” it is not just restricted to the theatre, but covers every aspect of behaviour in public, whether in the classroom, in management or in other forms of business. All of us “perform” – when we engage in public interaction; and the only way we learn how to “perform” is to “adapt” ourselves to the specific contexts in which we are placed.

    I accept wholeheartedly the idea that “learning is the inescapable bottom line for a university.” However that “learning” can take place in many ways – including conferences, where the participants try to negotiate and come to terms with the many meanings of “adaptation.”

    Tony’s points about teaching standards, and the ways in which they could be improved, might apply to some institutions; but there are others which try their best to cope with often difficult conditions (an increasing number of teaching hours per week, a greater ratio of learners to educators, and so on). It is at conferences like ours where such issues can be addressed, and alternative solutions found. Put another way, colleagues faced with difficulties in their classes might be able to find ways to “adapt” their approaches, and hence orient their work towards their learners in a more focused manner.

    I think the term “adaptation” implies “engagement,” rather than “rejection,” across all disciplines, and across all aspects of university life. It should encourage us to talk to one another; to negotiate; and hence to initiate change. Such change might take a long time coming, but conferences like ours are an effective means to bring it about.

    Many years ago the psychologist Jean Piaget used the terms “adaptation,” and “appropriation,” to describe the ways in which children come to terms with the world around them. They first learn to “adapt” (in other words, try to make sense of new phenomena), and subsequently “appropriate” (to adapt such phenomena to their own lives). By such means colleagues might become better educators as well as good researchers and publishers (the three elements are not mutually exclusive, but interrelated). Our conference represented a small step in this process; it might not have made too much difference to the participants’ lives, but at least it got people talking!


  2. Laurence,

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to my “little post” – I guess I did get my “expert brain” after all!

    Please do not feel sad about my feeling like a “gate-crasher” – I would have felt the same at a conference on “brain surgery” or innovations in the field of “measurement and control engineering”.

    I met many great people at the conference, I made many new “friends”…and I know what you and Günseli were trying to do (if only others would do more of the same)…besides, I did say I wanted to focus on the “love”…

    The feelings I experienced have much to do with the way the “university” has continued to base itself on the 19th Century drive to “organise and rationalise” the process of discovery:

    …most of the distinguishing traits of the contemporary university follow from this initial conception of purpose. The organisation of the curriculum into discrete research disciplines, the idea of the scholar as specialised professional, the understanding of education either as training in the methods of inquiry or as the transmission of the ‘fruits’ of organised research, all these elements, and many more, were inherent in the philosophy of the reconstituted university from the beginning. (Anderson, 1993, p.7)

    Far from wanting to suggest that every single academic does not give a hoot about LEARNing (I know many do – and continue to do in, as you note, very challenging times and under very difficult conditions) – what I was trying to do was suggest that we need more of what you had so clearly tried to do at the conference.

    Let’s talk some more about “outsiders”…and “gate-crashing”.

    There is much talk of the idea of the “reconstituted university” or the “21st Century Akademe” – reflective, responsive and outwardly-looking. Sadly, this remains just what it is – “talk” – in many institutions.

    My “challenge” was essentially about the “idea” of the university – not “indivıdual institutions” (OK – my example of Harvard stands – but as an example of what we should not be prioritising as we head into the 21st Century). Yes, the university remains a “status industry” (Pope, 2006) – but if our drive for “prestige” gets in the way of what we need to be doing with LEARNing, I (for one) say this needs to change (and I know you agree with me)…

    Anderson also tells us that the reason we have seen so little change in the way the Akademe “does business” is because we are often reluctant to criticise our institutions of “higher learning” – and we have come to see the ways of the university as somehow “natural and right”. The university, he explained:

    …has initiated us into its particular visions of reality. We have taken its habits of thought as our own. It is hard to imagine an alternative. Somehow, we have come to assume, I think that the organisation of the university rests on some logical necessity, that the order of the disciplines, the specialised fields of study, actually reflects the order of nature. Rather, we suppose there are sciences, social sciences, and humanities in perfect triune equilibrium. And we presume that the range of social sciences, let us say – the array that runs generally from anthropology, to economics, political science, history, psychology and sociology – is somehow complete and exhaustive, that this is what is logically entailed in the study of the human condition. (Anderson, 1993, p.6)

    Need I comment further? Probably not…but I want to!

    Our reluctance to “see” the Akademe for what it really “is” – is also reinforced by the “academic guilds” that tell us what a “university” is supposed to “be” – “guilds” that, sadly, are often more interested in protecting their own positions, controlling what research is considered worthwhile (Karabell, 1998) and who is best “equipped” to carry out the business of LEARNing.

    The hierarchical structure of major disciplines that were then divided into sub-disciplines – devised in the 19th Century – holds firm as the key mechanism we use to organise knowledge (and LEARNing). For many in academia, this type of organisation is still seen as a logical necessity, despite the obvious benefits of teamwork and collaboration across the university (and, dare I say it, the wider community). I believe, and think Anderson would agree, we have not matched our trans-disciplinary rhetoric with the talk-we-do-not-yet-walk.

    Anderson’s work was followed up a year later by another seminal work – this time in the “world of business”. Drucker challenged business leaders around the globe to rethink their ”theory of the business” and recast outdated assumptions that “shape any organization’s behaviour, dictate its decisions about what to do and what not to do, and define what the organization considers meaningful results” (1994, p.96).

    It would appear that both works largely fell on deaf ears within the Akademe. The vast majority of institutions have not addressed their “assumptions” – and they certainly have not tackled the “design flaw” (Barr and Tagg, 1995) upon which most of their “teaching” rests. The vast majority of discipline specialists have not even considered the harm they are doing by working to build newer “ivory towers” on the shoulders of “older” disciplines.

    I recognise that many individual institutions have worked to broaden their links with business and community stakeholders – and build closer collaborative ties with outside stakeholders. However, much of this is the result of economic and political realities (or “mandates”) – not a desire to fundamentally re-examine the core purpose of the Akademe and improve levels of openness, transparency and accountability (to those stakeholders) and certainly not to make “outsiders” feel like “insiders”.

    We agree on the nature of “adaptation” and “engagement” – but until others get on board – we may remain “voices in the wilderness”.

    Adaptation, appropriation and incrementalism may be the name of the game in “research”. However, we need more if we are to prepare learners for the future – much more.

    University LEARNing is “broke” – and it’s time for the Akademe to decide if it wants to continue filling its ranks with mono-disciplinary Mensheviks or cultivate/create more trans-disciplinary Bolsheviks willing and able to create more inclusive, meaningful LEARNing communities that can make a bigger difference to the lives of everyone.

    I know who I want to “dance” with next time I “gate-crash” a wedding…

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