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Negotiating Tricky corners: Becoming A Researcher in Education Prof. James C Conroy: Dean of Education University of Glasgow.

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Presentation on theme: "Negotiating Tricky corners: Becoming A Researcher in Education Prof. James C Conroy: Dean of Education University of Glasgow."— Presentation transcript:

1 Negotiating Tricky corners: Becoming A Researcher in Education Prof. James C Conroy: Dean of Education University of Glasgow

2 The Tricky corners What are the tricky corners? – The evolution of the arithmetic as ontologically originary – The hermeneutical positioning of the enquirer - Who asks the question and for what purpose? – The conflict between the descriptive and the normative - methodolatory – The confusion or conflation of roles – Negotiating your supervisor! – The ethical

3 The arithmetic Cornelius Castoriadis ( 1997, World in Fragments: Writings on Politics, Society, Psychoanalysis and the Imagination, Stanford University Press)– ontologically originary nature of the arithmetic entails certain assumptions – The being and nature of the world can be encapsulated numerically- the world is number shaped – Culturally, sociologically and psychologically human behaviours, propensities and capacities can be summarised on the basis of the numbers See for example Big Five theories of personality – extraversion vs introversion – agreeableness vs antagonism – conscientiousness vs undirectedness – neuroticism vs emotional stability – openness to experience vs not open to experience What look like descriptive categories get determined by an inventory, which adds the numbers and translates them into a description

4 The Arithmetic (2) Why do we do this? – the arithmetic, at least since Descartes, has been endowed with a certain transcendence and consequently assumes the status of an article of faith – it holds the key – Confidence then becomes confidence that the arithmetic uncovers the real world, overcoming the poverty of our subjective judgments. Conroy and Davis, (2002, Transgression, Transformation and Enlightenment: The trickster as teacher and poet, Journal of Educational Philosophy and Theory) May this not be because we are unsure of the normative judgments by which we have chosen to live our public lives? – Numbers seem so solid – valuing integrity appears so nebulous – We have an anxiety about accepting that our own normative claims have any intrinsically enduring qualities and fret that they are much too prey to scepticism about value. – The arithmetic appears to offer some buffer against our own loss of confidence in our own beliefs- the public surety of numbers v the private doubt - If I believe that we should live in X way or by Y value then this is too often construed as a private matter subject only to my own confirmation and of no import or interest to others. BUT It is sufficient for us to recognise that understanding is of a higher order than accuracy. Measurement depends on numbers. Its aim is accuracy. But understanding, including imagination, is immune to measurement (and imagination may be immune even to neurological experimentation). Numbers are devoid of wisdom: to give them meaning, to reconcile them with life, we have to think about them and clothe them in words. (Lukacs, 2002, p. 138)

5 Ways of Constructing the World Who asks the Question? Bruce – statistics invariably tell the TRUTH (as to how things are) (2003, Catholic Schools in Scotland: A rejoinder to Conroy, Oxford Review) Conroy – look in the interstitial spaces to unearth greater complexity (2002, Catholic Education and the State, Oxford Review of Education, 2003 Standing on Hilltops: A Reply to Bruce, Oxford Review of Education) Whither philosophy/poetry etc?

6 The Hermeneutical Position of the Enquirer Hans-Georg Gadamer in his famous work, Truth and Method, argues that we need to constantly hold our interrogatory (hermeneutical) position open to the world. We can only do this if we allow the world to reveal itself to us. Such a view has been shared by a range of 20 th / 21 st century thinkers including Buber (I and Thou). The structure of the world should reveal to us the structure of our questions – if it doesnt we merely fail to unearth the world. Understanding is a function of the openness to the world an our questions have to follow the contours of the world. Lots of educational questions fail to do this and because of this turn out not to be real educational Understanding takes form of call and response. With our questions, we call out to the world and it responds. But this entails asking certain kinds of questions that are genuine questions- there are a great many pseudo questions in educational research which turn out not to be questions at all. How do we recognise them? – Rhetorical – the question is really a device for persuasion – Leading –the question has often already been determined – Pedagogica – the question mark is often no more than an injunction or imperative – Generalised – the question is too general to be of much help – Under-determined – the question is not susceptible to a range of thoughtful responses because it has not really understood the shape of the thing to be interrogated The requirement for a true/ a real question is that it opens the world and not close it down in the way pseudo questions do. If we cannot imagine possible alternative answers, we may not yet have formulated a genuine question.




10 The hermeneutical engagement The three images above represent different human engagements with the world. What do each of these represent in terms of the creators relationship to the world? – They are all artefact but how are we to look at them?

11 Education as a research based profession? Entering a profession that negotiates differing phases in ones career? What are teachers to make of research at different stages of their career? – Major debate on the role of teachers as researchers Rhetoric of the reflective practitioner: needs some unpacking What may be of most importance to teacher and researcher is asking the right questions.

12 The human propensity for enquiry is what it is - a kind of restlessness to know or understand more or better. Educational research is determined by the need to tell a story; a propensity that is echoed in myths of all kinds.


14 Prometheus The researcher as a Promethean figure – The bringer of light – The bearer of knowledge What kind of knowledge? Of interest to whom? To what uses is it to be put? Conroy, 2004, Betwixt and Between, The Liminal Imagination, Education and Democracy, Peter Lang)

15 Methodolatory Too easily method is confused with methodology thus the techniques come to represent the end with the result that Randomised Control Trials (RCTs) are increasingly seen as not only the only way forward but the only way forward. Avoiding confusion – Method= specific tools and techniques for disciplining enquiry – Traditions of enquiry = larger communities and disciplines (e.g. philosophical enquiry; historical enquiry, social enquiry) – A third term is that of methodology, which falls between the two and draws together the actual techniques and the overarching conversation – When method is mistaken for the whole field of enquiry we end up with a kind of technicism or methodolatory. – Increasingly the use of RCTs are in danger of falling into this trap and the temptation is fuelled by a reliance on a medical model (cf: the arithmetic)

16 Thinking things through- the philosophical turn A propos earlier observations, empirical research that is not conceptually informed reveals a lack of what might be termed curiosity. The philosophical is as important (perhaps, more important) than the empirical). How the philosophical integrates with the empirical Recognition Diagnosis Prognosis Prescription Social Practices – (see Conroy et al, 2008 What confidence can we have in philosophy in educational research? Journal of Philosophy of Education)

17 The philosophical turn Recognition E.G. In the case of citizenship certain kinds of empirical data may suggest a decline or collapse in civic participation. It might be, and often has been, assumed that this heralds a dangerous loosening of attachments to the institutions of democratic society. But immediately we might ask, what is meant by participation? We might wish to surface what other factors the concept of participation might be related to that are not being illuminated. For example, what is the connection between attachment and participation? In its activity around questions of recognition, the philosophical method may be perceived once again as counterintuitive; indeed such counter-intuitions may themselves offer appropriate pause for thought. By this I mean to suggest that it is not uncommon that commonsense notions of certain social phenomena may be felt to express particular causal relations that, under closer scrutiny encouraged by a philosophically informed appraisal, might be rendered as simplistic. Carrington and Skelton on gendered education debunked the deficit notion of the feminisation of education. Might we not have begun by asking what kind of problem is being addressed; indeed, whether or not there is a problem here at all.? At this stage philosophy can assist, deploying the insights into a range of discursive practices to unearth other similar or overlapping patterns in the official discourses (e.g. between male students in general and particular groups or minorities such as the Afro-Caribbean community). Carrington and Skelton -the official discourse around gendered underperformance was at one with the rhetoric around Afro-Caribbean males.

18 The philosophical Turn Diagnosis The present predilection in policy-making for eliding the distinction between apprehending the situation as it presents itself 1 and an analysis of a causal track can occlude our capacity to speculate and offer alternative perspectives, and indeed alternative causal explanations. Too often this slippage results in a rush to judgement about the salient features of the social issue or educational problem under scrutiny. A failure to retain philosophical composure too often surrenders us to univocal explanatory frameworks. Again, in the Carrington and Skelton example the assumption made by the policy makers/commissioners of the research was that there is a problem with academic male performance in schools. It was also noted that there are fewer men in teaching. Taken together these two features of contemporary schooling were seen to have a causal connection, the second in some way being responsible for the first. If we were to take more time in the diagnosis of the problem might we not have avoided a rush to spend lots of taxpayers money on attempts to recruit men into the teaching profession? Prognosis Once again, the temptation to offer peremptory prescriptions may leave us bereft of the capacity to project a range of possible outcomes which match the complexity of the social or educational question under consideration. Platos Socratic dialogues offer a possible model for a style of philosophic prognosis. Socrates interlocutors are held back from judgment by the careful consideration of a number of possible outcomes and by systematic interrogation of likely consequences. In the work of Smith and Hardman on the use of IWBs we might want to suggest that their failure to generate new pedagogical engagements requires us to offer a range of possible ways forward which are not necessarily reducible to a particular set or sets of practices but might require us to reach back and ask why we perceive particular practices to be both pragmatically and, I would suggest, morally superior to others.

19 The philosophical Turn Prescription This is the stage where policies are formulated and where it might be assumed that the philosopher disengages from the process leaving the judgments to professionals. However, it is precisely here that a philosophical disposition may come into its own. This disposition presents itself in a number of complementary ways. – 1. It may appear in the form of an ethical engagement the effect of which is to subject intended prescriptions to an interrogation which receives its authority from an acquaintance with, and understanding of, a communitys ethical traditions and its vision of a good society. In liberal democratic polities more than one ethical ideal is likely to emerge in the course of our deliberations about proposed prescriptions. Such ideals may sometimes appear in tension one with the other. Here the philosophic attitude can critically reacquaint policy makers with the resources of their own ethical tradition and in doing so enable them to test proposed prescriptions against those traditions. – 2.the philosophical turn may assist in addressing some epistemological questions which emerge out of possible prescriptions. For example, the perception that contemporary education has failed in the context of a knowledge economy to deliver into the workplace young women and men who are fitted to the complex socio-engagements of a late industrial society. Here the deliberative engagements of philosophy may be helpful in disentangling some important epistemological questions. Primarily these may be concerned with the relationship between education as process leading to issues around the value and validity of metacognitive approaches as opposed to, for example, knowledge as cultural inheritance. Social Practices It is often assumed that when social practices (including pedagogical ones) are instigated they assume the status of theory-free action and that whatever claims the philosophic disposition might have had it is no longer relevant. Here, it is assumed, we are only concerned with what works. However, social practices can themselves be recuperated into naturalised modes of behaviour that disguise their origins as culturally laden interventions. This blunts the edges and disguises the character of our more radical insights and engagements. Consequently, the social practices themselves are not an end or solution to a state of affairs recognised and diagnosed but a stage in an iterative process of ongoing re-cognition and insight.

20 Flexibility What other ways are there to unearth what is going on? Arts Based Education at an extreme from RCTS- more improvisatory – But requires not just flexibility but skill and craft, preparation and attunement, improvisation – The skilled improviser has prepared to be unprepared.

21 Negotiating your Supervisor Human nature! – Who knows what? – When should we publish? – A terrible rush is born – Should we publish with our supervisor?

22 Ethics Why are undergraduates in school? What is the balance? Whither action research? What is informed consent? – What about Milgram? – A52B D3F/milgram- experiment.aspx What about statistics v narratives?

23 Ethics Responsibility V Codes and regulations The Politics of Educational Research

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