19 SES 01 B JS, Challenges of Educational Ethnographies in the Context of Social Inequality
Joint Paper Session NW 07 and NW 19
While there are critical ethnographic studies of education contexts, these are few in comparison with other methodological approaches. Pressure on researchers – driven largely by the neoliberalising of higher education - for ‘fast’ scholarship, blitzkrieg approaches, and ‘mercenary’ research styles, means that in-depth, emotionally nuanced and uncertain approaches to research are marginalised. At the same time, power relations inhering in education at the intersections of ethnicity, language, place, social class, ability, gender sexuality, and body are becoming ever more complex. Often these complex workings can only be understood by attention to the everyday, banal minutiae of specific contexts. In this paper, we argue for the ongoing need to explore educational contexts via methodologies that privilege relationships, time, engagement, emotional nuance and the contingencies of the day to day, while also attending directly to issues of social justice, inequity and researcher reflexivity. One such methodology – which, though significant in its effects, remains still largely marginalised in education – is critical ethnography (Fitzpatrick & May, 2015, 2018; Madison, 2012; Thomas, 1993)
There is a great deal of work on the ongoing effects of neoliberal ideologies on education and on educational research. Neoliberalism is a political approach to governing that values individual accountability and responsibility, the right of the market, and profit and output over people. As a result, neoliberal discourse assumes that all individuals are equal in the system. In the case of access to education, for example, a neoliberal system disregards socioeconomic status and social class positioning and rather upholds a meritocratic view of schooling that highlights individual responsibility and accountability (Apple, 2006; Harvey, 2007). In relation to higher education and research productivity, neoliberal reforms emphasise ‘fast research’ and put students and faculty under pressure to be ‘calculable rather than memorable’(Ball, 2012, p. 17). Green and Usher (2003) argue that neoliberal approaches, such as those underpinning new research funding regimes internationally, along with increased pressure for more and faster higher degree completions, are creating a mode of fast research and supervision in postgraduate research:
The term “fast” is appropriate here in that students need to be positioned so as to formulate their research questions from the outset, satisfy demands for research proposal hurdles on time, collect data in ways free of unexpected impediments, and write (or produce a given artefact) without hesitation (p. 44)
This creates an academic environment charged with the language and practice of neoliberalism; one in which we are measured according to the rules of: manipulability, interchangeable potential, linear rankings and monetary value (Ball, 2012, p. 25). The measurement of research outputs and impact are at the heart of expectations within this regime, thesis completions included. The problems with this approach are legion. The kind of research then that tends to be funded and is the most efficient is that which gets quick results: in terms of qualitative research this will be: surveys and questionnaires, one-off interviews, focus group discussions and the like.
What is neglected, marginalised and sidelined in this increasingly neoliberal research regime is research that takes time, research that connects with the messy realities of people’s lives, and research that engages with communities and problems which are not politically expedient or easily solved through neat recommendations or policy change. The kind of research that is most needed in these contexts is slow research, research that asks different and often politically inconvenient questions, and research that looks for new theoretical approaches to old problems (Becher & Trowler, 2001). This theoretical paper explores why, in this era of increasingly ‘fast’ educational research, critical ethnographic methodologies are (still) needed in education.
Madison (2012) defines critical ethnography as a process of going “beneath surface appearances” and unsettling both “neutrality and taken-for-granted assumptions by bringing to light underlying and obscure operations of power and control” (5). Such a critical approach ensures that research is humanising and that researchers attend to the complex relations of power in education. Critical ethnography also requires significant time in the field to connect with people and to gain deep understandings. Lather (2007) suggests that researchers employing such an approach will embrace “the performance of practices of not-knowing” (7) by being slow to make claims, while also adopting ambiguity and uncertainty. In this paper, we outline the key tenets of this methodology and discuss a range of contemporary critical ethnographic studies utilising this approach.
In this paper, we re-offer critical ethnography as an alternative/antidote to the fast research that is increasingly dominating the field of education. Critical ethnography is a methodology that reclaims slow, messy, relational and deep approaches to research. It is grounded by a sophisticated engagement with critical social theory as method (Fitzpatrick & May, 2015) and aims not only to highlight issues of inequality and exclusion but also, crucially, to remediate them. This paper thus offers an updated rationale for the ongoing need for critical ethnographic work in education (Fitzpatrick & May, 2018). In so doing, we draw on an international range of examples, excerpts, and discussion from contemporary critical ethnographic work in the field. This critical ethnographic work continues centrally to address questions of in/equality and in/exclusion at the intersections of ethnicity, language, place, social class, ability, gender sexuality, and body in educational contexts. It does so through critical, close, prolonged and engaged ethnographic involvement, while also proffering deep and considered alternatives grounded in equity and social justice. These are all elements, we argue, that remain largely absent from the realm of fast research that is increasingly dominating the field of education internationally.
Apple, M. (2006). Educating the right way: Markets, standards, god and inequality. New York: Routledge Ball, S. J. (2012). Global education inc.: New policy networks and the neo-liberal imaginary. Oxon, UK: Routledge. Becher, T. & Trowler, P. R. (2001). Academic tribes and territories: Intellectual inquiry and the culture of disciplines (2nd ed). Buckingham: Open University Press. Fine, M. (1991). Framing dropouts: Notes on the politics of an urban public high school. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press. Fitzpatrick, K. (2013). Critical Pedagogy, Physical Education and Urban Schooling. New York: Peter Lang. Fitzpatrick, K. & May, S. (2015). Doing critical educational ethnography with Bourdieu. In M. Murphy & C. Costa (Eds). Theory as method in research: On Bourdieu, education and society (p. 101-114). London: Routledge. Fitzpatrick, K., and S. May. (in press, 2018). Doing Critical Ethnography in Education: Social Justice, Ethics, and Equity in Educational Research. New York: Routledge Green, P., & Usher, R. (2003). Fast supervision: Changing supervisory practice in changing times. Studies in Continuing Education, 25(1), 37-50. doi:10.1080/01580370309281 Harvey, D. (2007). A brief history of neoliberalism . Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Lather, P. (2007). Getting Lost: Feminist Efforts Toward a Double(d) Science. Ithaca: SUNY Press. Madison, D. S. (2012). Critical Ethnography: Method, Ethics, and Performance. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
00. Central Events (Keynotes, EERA-Panel, EERJ Round Table, Invited Sessions)
Network 1. Continuing Professional Development: Learning for Individuals, Leaders, and Organisations
Network 2. Vocational Education and Training (VETNET)
Network 3. Curriculum Innovation
Network 4. Inclusive Education
Network 5. Children and Youth at Risk and Urban Education
Network 6. Open Learning: Media, Environments and Cultures
Network 7. Social Justice and Intercultural Education
Network 8. Research on Health Education
Network 9. Assessment, Evaluation, Testing and Measurement
Network 10. Teacher Education Research
Network 11. Educational Effectiveness and Quality Assurance
Network 12. LISnet - Library and Information Science Network
Network 13. Philosophy of Education
Network 14. Communities, Families and Schooling in Educational Research
Network 15. Research Partnerships in Education
Network 16. ICT in Education and Training
Network 17. Histories of Education
Network 18. Research in Sport Pedagogy
Network 19. Ethnography
Network 20. Research in Innovative Intercultural Learning Environments
Network 22. Research in Higher Education
Network 23. Policy Studies and Politics of Education
Network 24. Mathematics Education Research
Network 25. Research on Children's Rights in Education
Network 26. Educational Leadership
Network 27. Didactics – Learning and Teaching
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