19 SES 07, Making Inequality: Ontologies of research into pedagogy in high poverty contexts
In Australia, England and Scotland as elsewhere, a gap still persists between the outcomes and experiences of schooling of students from low SES backgrounds and their more affluent peers. The enduring and almost taken-for-granted nature of this problem suggests that new ways of knowing, (un)doing and ameliorating inequity are needed. Non-representational ontology is yielding new insights in other fields but is yet to gain traction in educational research. The requisite ontological shift would attend to inequality as a specific material effect of practices of knowing instead of, for example, a social, natural, or discursive reality requiring representation. Yet, for some of us with long careers in educational research, we recognize echoes of the past in these ‘new’ ways of thinking, and strong resonances with, for example, Roy Bhaskar’s critical realism as a ways of understanding education and society in emergent ways.
In this symposium, we explore the potentials of different ontological approaches to researching pedagogy in high poverty contexts, and what these might contribute to thinking about difference, and about redressing inequities in schooling. We pay attention to the distinction between ontology and epistemology, and their interplay, to highlight differences in the theoretical arcs in our research. Some of us are drawing upon new materialist studies, particularly the work of Karen Barad (2007), to offer a reconceptualistion of educational inequality as a doing, not a thing, which becomes meaningful as it is defined by the circumstances required to measure it. Others build from critical realist metatheory, with its complex, inclusive and layered approach to ontology, to account for the causal efficacy of material, discursive and normative conditions in producing educational inequality. Both of these approaches make problematic the flat ontological world of standardized testing, league tables and international benchmarking.
Some questions we consider are: Is educational inequality the same thing across different settings; across different times? Which inequalities matter, where, and when; and to whom?
Researching inequality in education requires a choice of apparatus, such as those associate with the methods of ethnography – sustained detailed observations, interviews with key participants, collection and analysis of various artifacts, etc. Each of these ‘devices’ forms a specific physical arrangement (entanglement) with the agency of observation (researcher), through which the phenomenon (inequality) materialises.
As Barad explains, ‘there is no unambiguous way to differentiate between the “object” and the “agencies of observation” ‘(p. 114). The apparatus enacts a cut delineating the object from the agencies of observation. Research then is an ongoing working out and reworking of the object of study during which it is made what it is: ‘There are no solutions; there is only the ongoing practice of being open and alive to each meeting…so that we might use our ability to respond, our responsibility, to help awaken, to breathe life into ever new possibilities for living justly. The world and its possibilities for becoming are remade in each meeting’ (p. x).
We hope to demonstrate that the dilemma of educational inequality is best served by treating it as a question in process that has many forms and that may be investigated through different lines of inquiry that do not necessarily share the same epistemological or ontological postulates.
Barad, K. M. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway: quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham: Duke University Press. Bhaskar, R. (1998). Philosophy and scientific realism. In M. Archer, R. Bhaskar, A. Collier, T. Lawson & A. Norrie (Eds.), Critical realism: essential readings (pp. 16-47). London: Routledge. Haraway, D. J. (1997). Modest₋Witness@Second₋Millennium.FemaleMan₋Meets₋OncoMouse: feminism and technoscience; with paintings by Lynn M. Randolph. New York; London: Routledge.
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