“Critical Friendship” Sessions: Outline of Approach 


It is important for participants to note at the outset that this is not a conventional conference session. This is an exercise in critical friendship where all participants must circulate a piece of written work THREE WEEKS before the session.  


The piece of written work does NOT have to be a full conference paper. It can be a section of a chapter, a draft paper or any document you want to discuss with peers.  


There are three main objectives: 

  • To provide a forum for PhD students to receive feedback on their ideas no matter where they are in the project.  

  • To develop the skills, culture and practice of critical friendship within the World of Work research network.  

  • To provide a forum for discussion significantly different from usual conference papers.  


Participants - including facilitators - will submit a piece of written work before the session. An indicative maximum word length is 8000 words in order to keep the pre-workshop workload manageable.  Submissions can be as short as the participant wishes. There is no expectation submissions are even written in full sentences. Examples of previous submissions range from a full draft book chapter, through to preliminary literature review paragraphs, a list of key questions of interest to the participant, and many other formats. The objective is that participants submit something they think they can get useful feedback on through the process of critical friendship.  


The process will be co-ordinated by facilitators so we will have to have participants' names and email addresses before the session. We will alert participants to deadlines, circulate draft material, advise on preparation for the session etc. The number of facilitators will depend on the number of participants. We aim for a ratio of approximately 1:7 


Written work is NOT anonymised nor peer reviewed for acceptance. The only requirement for participating in the session is that someone is a PhD student in the broad area of industrial relations and intends to participate in the wider conference.  


All written work is collated a circulated to all participants at least 3 weeks prior to the event along with guidance for principles of critical friendship in this document. All participants must read all written submissions in advance of the session and prepare feedback in line with the principles of critical friendship.  


Any participant who does not submit a written document will not be allowed to attend the session. It is essential that critical friendship is reciprocal and non-hierarchical.  


Each piece of submitted work is then discussed by the group and feedback is given. This can range from questions about the premise of the argument, suggestions for improvement and development, etc. Principles of respect and support are agreed in advance and it is the responsibility of all to ensure they are upheld.  



Critical Friend Scheme 


Introducing the concept of a critical friend 


A ‘critical friend’ is a trusted peer who asks provocative questions, provides alternative lenses through which to examine data or experiences, and offers critiques of your work, issues or problems. A critical friend takes the time to fully understand the context of the work, issues or problems presented and the outcomes that the person or group is working towards. The critical friend is an advocate for the success of those outcomes. A critical friend provides an appropriate balance between support and challenge. Finally, critical friendship is more than a technical exercise predicated on a context-free, asocial or ahistorical environment; rather, it is a process of argumentation that emerges from dialogue, interpretation, experience and active attempts to both subvert and navigate through prevailing power structures. 


The role of a critical friend 

  • Peers who listen, question your rationale, challenge assumptions and support your risk-taking 

  • Supportive and non-judgemental of you as a person 

  • Prepared to ask questions relating to your statements, arguments or actions 

  • Committed to helping you develop your professional practice and providing advice about your professional dilemmas 

  • Shares knowledge and resources 

  • Critiques research papers and provides feedback 

Offers active facilitation which explores how learning is supported, avoided and/or prevented through power relations