Dr Laura Mazzoli Smith (Associate Professor, Durham University)
Laura’s Story Bio
Laura’s educational journey has the idea of stories – or narratives – at its heart. The daughter of immigrants to the UK who had their own stories about what a good education would look like, one that they never felt they’d had themselves, Laura always loved learning in many contexts, formal and informal. As a result, she has an interdisciplinary background that attests to wide interests and a desire to see the bigger picture, or whole story, as far as this is ever possible, rather than specialise. Laura’s first degree was in Anthropology, where the stories of indigenous and marginalised peoples challenged her own Western stories and led to travel and teaching abroad. Then a literary Masters enabled her to engage with some of the big ideas in literary theory and narratology. But, it was in Education Studies that Laura did her doctorate and in which she has continues to write and research, as, along with John Dewey, Laura sees education as growth, with no end in itself, but as an ever-shifting process of becoming. Her main focus is on narrative inquiry and the use of life history and auto/biographical methods, with the aim as much to facilitate the voice of others, particularly those with less power to speak, as on conducting research. Laura sees stories as a powerful, humane and often therapeutic way in which people find a voice and so can come to be heard.
At the end of her grand-mother’s long life, Laura recorded many hours of her stories, whilst sitting in the tiny kitchen in Zagreb in which she had lived for over 80 years and worked at the sewing machine by the window, looking out onto the 60 foot walnut tree. The same kitchen where her mother was born, who had planted the walnut that grew into that tree, and who had then migrated to London against great odds, where Laura was born and grew up. This same kitchen to which Laura returned on her grand-mother’s death, just after completing her PhD, with her own young daughter, to pack up the sewing machine to take back to the UK and where she discovered a tiny suitcase, hidden away in the larder of preserves and homemade walnut liquor, with the last items that belonged to her great grand-mother, who had died in that same kitchen some 50 years before.