22 SES 11 A, Where Does Theory Come from in Higher Education? Tales from the Field.
The central premise of this symposium is that as a direct consequence of societal expectations, economic concerns and geopolitical movement, higher education has become a vast conduit through which diverse populations from across the globe will eventually pass. The purposes and functions of the university, when considered as a recently internationalised and predominantly neoliberalised domain, are therefore drastically altered – and continue to change. This is evidenced by the various modes, methods and paradigms for conducting research in higher education, where considerations of what it is permissible to think, to say and to do, reflect collective and individual anxieties regarding issues of change and transformation in educational workers’ professional lives. Yet old habits die hard, and whilst on the one hand, traditional boundaries and divisions have demonstrably dissolved – not least in response to broader demographic access to HE – on the other hand, certain rigidities in the structure and organisation of HE remain, with familiarly polarised arguments – about the nature of knowledge and its construction, for example – regularly being re-rehearsed and reinvented.
This symposium reports on a longitudinal project which considers the question, where lie the places and spaces of theory in academe, whether as a phenomenon in its own right or as a distinct yet sometimes elusive feature of academic environments, lives and identities which are themselves in a state of flux. It then sets forth specific instances of how HE practitioners’ interactions with theory – not least in the act of narration – enable them to develop sustainable research and teaching identities and practices in an era when ‘head space’ for thinking, feeling, doing and making theoretical work may be in short supply. We consider how these activities can be rendered visible for international audiences grappling with (post)modern concepts of the university, of education today and its functions in wider society, through illustrated of the individual dilemmas and power struggles this invariably entails.
Our primary objective therefore is to raise questions regarding how practitioners in Higher Education approach and account for the issue of theory in relation to their discrete professional practices and disciplinary fields, that are not mere reactions to realpolitik. We argue that education may now have entered an era of ‘theory austerity’ (Perselli, 2014) whereby pragmatic or short-termist considerations of ‘what works’ – or latterly ‘what saves/makes money’ – takes precedence over thorough engagement with complex ideas and their working through in practice. From this standpoint, a distinct lacuna emerges between, for example, completion of the doctorate and postdoctoral publishing and research, whereby reflections on how theory emerges and operates in this context may be lost. Our approach has been that as a phenomenon theory is best understood ‘in its appearing’; that is, through narrative accounts of research in practice. The symposium will therefore be useful to anyone curious about how established and neophyte researchers ‘get theory’ in their disciplinary areas and projects, how it is put to work in their practices, and the extent to which responses in the form of these individual studies represent distinct patterns of thinking and doing; tentatively characterised as ‘pedagogies of change’.
Barnett, R. (2012) Learning for an unknown future. Higher Education Research & Development Vol. 31, No. 1, 65–77 Biesta, G; Allan, J. & Edwards, R. (eds.) (2014) Making a Difference in Theory. The theory question in education and the education question in theory. Routledge Gibbons, M., Limoges, C. Nowotny, H., Schwartzman, S., Scott, P. and Trow, M. (1994) The new production of knowledge: the dynamics of science and research in contemporary societies. London: Sage. Goldstein, R. A. (ed.) (2007) Useful Theory. Making Critical Education Practical. Peter Lang. Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991) Situated learning: legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: CUP Meyer, J. Land, R. & Baillie, C. (2010) (Eds.) Threshold concepts and transformational learning. Rotterdam: Sense Publications Perselli, V. (2014) The potentially transformative power of theory when put to work in professional practice contexts: observations towards ‘pedagogy of change’. BERA Annual Conference, Institute of Education, London, Sept. 2014 Quicke, J. (1998) Towards a new professionalism for ‘new times’: some problems and possibilities. Teacher Development, 2(3), 323-338 Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of practice; learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge: CUP Whitchurch, C. (2008) Shifting identities and blurring boundaries: the emergence of third space professionals in UK Higher Education. Higher Education Quarterly, 62(4), 377-396
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