What does it mean to be a mentor? Is there a common understanding or can a mentor be defined according to the context mentoring acts occur in? This issue of M/C Journal explores these questions in light of the societal and cultural context we live in today. The modern world is being transformed by complex and changing societal and cultural aspects, thus mentoring is an evolving notion (Bearman et al.). However mentorship is something that many people experience in their lives and accordingly it can be considered as a transformative phenomenon worthy of ongoing consideration.
The term mentor first emerged in Greek mythology, when Odysseus entrusted his son Telemachus to his friend Mentor for guidance, support and care. Traditionally the role of a mentor is that of nurturing, guiding, protecting, coaching, and supporting another. Since Telemachus’s experience of mentoring was reported in Homer’s Odyssey, the conception of the act of mentorship and the role of mentors has grown in relevance within modern society. The concept of mentorship has proven readily transferable to a range of contemporary contexts in education, business, the arts and more.
Mentoring is realised in different forms and locations: it occurs in social groups; it exists in major corporations and is common within communities to bring people together. Mentoring is generally viewed as a strategy to encourage personal and professional growth, thus the phenomenon of the mentor has the opportunity to permeate our everyday lives in both a conscious and unconscious sense. Mentorship can be either informal or formal. Informal mentorship is naturally occurring and is often focused on a need identified by the mentee (Lentz and Allen). Formal mentorships however, are arranged partnerships that often arise from a formal program and have specific goals to achieve (Kwan and Lopez-Real). Traditional mentoring tends to conform to a hierarchical structure where the more experienced mentor holds the power balance, however more contemporary forms of mentorship are underpinned by mutuality and are reciprocal in nature.
This brief collection of articles within this issue highlights mentoring in a variety of mentorship circumstances. The articles describe and provide examples of a variety of mentorships. Those that are hierarchal, reciprocal or asymmetrical and those that are formal and informal.
In the feature article, Angelina Ambrosetti explores the rise of the teacher as mentor and how this image is portrayed through film. She questions whether film provides a realistic image of teachers and whether all teachers can be considered as a mentor to their students. Reader response theory is used to explore the characteristics and actions of teachers in a selection of recent popular films that portray the teacher as a mentor.
The concept of cooperative mentorship is investigated within the context of family and the use of social media in the article written by Milovan Savic, Anthony McCosker and Paula Geldens. Social media use and its impact upon the family structure is a common topic that is negatively framed in the media. Although the family structure is seen as hierarchical, the authors discuss the need to flip this towards a more asymmetrical arrangement whereby social media use is negotiated through positive processes.
Peer mentoring is having an increased presence in different forms within higher education. Denise Beckton, Ulrike Sturm and Donna Lee Brien examine the notion of peer to peer mentoring within an online postgraduate course. They discuss how peer mentoring inadvertently occurred between the participants whilst they engaged in course related tasks, and how this provided opportunities for an organic form of support and collaboration to occur.
In examining mentorship in the 21st century, Diane Lorenzetti and Bonnie Lashewicz ask the question: Is mentorship simply in vogue or has it become indispensable for personal and professional development? They examine a selection of articles published in the New York Times that portray mentorship and delve into meanings of mentoring that are derived from them. They compare these real accounts of informal, organic mentoring with the meanings we academically ascribe to mentorship.
Mentoring within a reality television context facilitates, in many instances, an opportunity in which to rise into the creative class. In her article, Carla Rocavert delves into the role of the mentor as a plot device in scripted television and popular film. She examines both the good and evil sides of mentoring and how the roles mentors play provide a setting for entertainment.
This short collection has indicated just a few of the experiences and representations of mentoring currently emerging. There is no doubt that these forms of relational learning are becoming more diverse and important, as collaborative, informal and networked learning opportunities continue to grow. We hope that this collection provides insight into the world of mentorship and encourages further scholarship into the topic.
Bearman, Steve, Stacey Blake-Beard, Laurie Hunt and Faye Crosby. “New Directions in Mentoring.” The Blackwell Handbook of Mentoring: A Multiple Perspectives Approach. Eds. Tammy D. Allen and Lillian T. Eby. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007. 375-95.
Kwan, T., and F. Lopez-Real. “Mentors' Perceptions of Their Roles in Mentoring Student Teachers.” Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education 33.3 (2005): 275-87.
Lentz, Elizabeth, and Tammy D. Allen. “Reflections on Naturally Occurring Mentoring Relationships.” The Blackwell Handbook of Mentoring: A Multiple Perspectives Approach. Eds. Tammy D. Allen and Lillian T. Eby. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2007. 159-162.