10 SES 01 C, Talking about Teacher Education and Identity
In recent years, educational researchers have been increasingly drawn to the use of positioning theory to understand teacher identity and its development over the career. It shows a growing awareness of the fact that professional identity is a changing, dynamic, contextual and relational phenomenon or ‘accomplishment’, rather than a static and stable ‘core’. In recognition of this, researchers have begun to draw on positioning theory to conceptualize and understand identity, and the body of empirical work using this as a theoretical and methodological lens is steadily growing (see a.o. Haniford, 2010; Burns & Bell, 2011; Boylan & Woolsey, 2015; Arvaja, 2016).
Positioning theory has emerged from the work of Harré and Van Langenhove (see a.o. Davies & Harré, 1990; Harré & Van Langenhove, 1991; Harré & Van Langenhove, 1999) in the early 1990s in the field of discursive psychology. Positioning theory takes a discursive approach to ‘thinking’ and ‘acting’ and focuses on sense-making in interaction with others, in local contexts. Given its focus on the here-and-now, “positioning can be seen as a conceptualization of ‘doing identities in talk’” (Andreouli, 2010, p. 4). Positioning is a metaphor for the rights and duties adopted and being assigned in social interaction. “‘Rights’ and ‘duties’ are shorthand terms for clusters of moral (normative) presuppositions which people believe or are told or slip into and to which they are momentarily bound in what they say and do” (Harré, Moghaddam, Pilkerton Cairnie, Rothbart, & Sabat, 2009, p. 9). While acknowledging the flux of identity, positioning theory at the same time also recognizes that people are not blank slates who change subject positions whenever the situation changes. Quite the contrary, teachers' biographically embedded beliefs about teaching and learning are an important resource they draw on to adopt positions. The assumption underlying a positioning perspective to study teacher identity is that such a discursive approach is ideally suited for examining and understanding identity and its development as a consequence of social interaction, which is in turn shaped by the biographical, organizational, institutional, and social context.
Yet, what does it mean to frame and study teacher identity through the lens of positioning theory? What research questions that are outside the purview of the more traditional approaches and methods of research on teacher identity can be answered from a positioning perspective? How are the central tenets and concepts of this theory which was developed in the field of discursive psychology being operationalized to study the development of teacher identity? And, what are potential pitfalls or challenges of this particular perspective on teacher identity? As the empirical basis of studies drawing on positioning theory is growing, so does the need to reflect on the uses of positioning theory in educational research to advance our understanding of teacher identity and development. This paper responds to that need, by answering the question: How can positioning theory contribute to the study of teacher identity and development?
In order to systematically map this growing body of empirical work, I will search the Educational Resources Information Center, Web of Science and Academic Search Premier databases. I will search these databases online for work published between 2000 and 2018 given the fact that the principle texts and foundation concepts of positioning theory emerged in the early until late 1990s. They keywords that will be used for this search include: positioning theory (between quotation marks to ensure the search is performed using the whole word), teacher identity, self, development and construction. The analysis of the selected publications will occur in two stages. First, I will focus on each individual publication in a systematic within-case-analysis (Miles & Huberman, 1994). This will entail completing a reading grid for each publication summarizing information on: (1) the research interest and questions; (2) the background of the study; (3) the theoretical framework; (4) the research methodology; and (5) the research findings. The process will involve extensive memo-writing to capture any preliminary interpretations, questions or ideas and consider these as working hypothesis. The completed reading grid will serve as the basis for a cross-case analysis (Miles & Huberman, 1994) in which the unit of analysis shits from each individual positioning study to the research question defined for this review. In looking for patterns of usage of positioning theory across studies, I will constantly move back and forth between the data (i.e. publications) and the developing understandings (constant comparative analysis; Strauss & Corbin, 1998) to build a holistic and in-depth understanding of the conceptual and methodological characteristics, possibilities, and constraints of this new line of inquiry. In this paper I will take a 'narrative' perspective on the review (see also Jones, 2004). Such an approach seems appropriate given my goal of not only reviewing the nature and characteristics of empirical work drawing on positioning theory, but also suggesting deficiencies, contradictions, omissions or particular challenges to the field.
The first part of the findings section, will give an overview of the ways in which researchers currently use positioning theory as a theoretical lens to frame studies on teacher identity. I will also consider how positioning theory has clear methodological implications and expectations inscripted to it, by reviewing the type of data being collected in this body of work and its tendency to focus on narrative and discourse analysis in making sense of the data. The second part of the paper will explore the ways in which positioning theory advances and pushes forward existing research on teacher identity and development. Based on a preliminary analysis of the work, a positioning theory perspective may contribute to this line of inquiry in at least two main ways. First, in the emphasis of positioning theory on the dynamic and changing nature of 'doing' identity, it has the potential to avoid the rather static and essentialist perspective dominating research on and conceptualizations of teacher identity. Professional identity is often associated with an essentialist core; one's true, authentic professional self, that moves with the individual teacher from one situation to another. Such an essentialist conceptualization is one of the reason why research in this field has found it particularly hard to account for the persistent gap between teachers' espoused theory and theory in use (Argyris & Schön, 1974). From a positioning theory perspective, there is a place for acting 'outside of oneself'. Second, positioning theory offers a way of conceptualizing and understanding conflict and the play of power that shapes interactions and identity-making local. Positioning is never neutral. Positionings are only (re)produced in relation to others, which means that "the adoption of a position always assumes a position for the interlocutor as well" (Andreouli, 2011, p. 5).
Andreouli, E. (2010). Identity, positioning and self-other relations. Papers on Social Representations, 19, 1-13. Argyris, C., Schön, D. A. (1974). Theory in practice: Increasing professional effectiveness. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Arvaja, M. (2016). Building teacher identity through the process of positioning. Teaching and Teacher Education, 59, 392-402. Boylan, M., & Woolsey, I. (2015). Teacher education for social justice: Mapping identity spaces. Teaching and Teacher Education, 46, 62-71. Burns, E., & Bell, S. (2011). Narrative construction of professional teacher identity of teachers with dyslexia. Teaching and Teacher Education, 27, 952-960. Davies, B., & Harré, R. (1999). Positioning and personhood. In R. Harré, & L. van Langenhove (Eds.), Positioning theory (pp. 32-52). Oxford, UK: Blackwell. Haniford, L. C. (2010). Tracing one teacher candidate's discursive identity work. Teaching and Teacher Education, 26, 987-996. Jones, K. (2004). Mission drift in qualitative research, or moving toward a systematic review of qualitative studies, moving back to a more systematic narrative review. The Qualitative Report, 9(1), 95-112. Harré, R., Moghaddam, F., Pilkerton Cairnie, T., Rothbart, D., & Sabat, S. (2009). Recent advances in positioning theory. Theory and Psychology, 19(1), 5-31. Harré, R., & van Langenhove, L. (1991). Varieties of positioning. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 21(4), 393-407. Harré, R., & van Langenhove, L. (1999). Positioning theory. Cambridge, UK: Blackwell. Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Basics of qualitative research: Techniques and procedures for developing grounded theory. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
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