23 SES 12 B, Radical Social Theory for Radical Times: Putting Theory to Work in Educational Research II
Symposium, Part 2
Educational research across Europe faces fundamental challenges. We work in radical times: global financial crisis, neo-liberal policy intensified by austerity, and increasing socio-economic inequalities. These same trends are putting educational research under pressure through restricted funding, government shaping of research funding agendas, and demands for visible research ‘impact’. Indeed, some educational research leaders argue that our work needs to ‘chime’ with ‘the reasonable expectations and aspirations’ of users, warning against ‘the pursuit of the holy grail of theory’ (Gardner, 2010: 556-557).
This two-part symposium takes a different standpoint: that radical times call for radical social theory in educational research. Following Bourdieu, we argue for the systematic critique of ‘reasonable expectations’ that seek to constrain educational inquiry, and for research that is relevant because it disturbs expectations and engages in political struggle against social injustice.
The symposium draws on research projects across different countries and sectors of education, including studies of:
- parental school choice
- teacher-researchers’ work in higher education
- higher education in dual sector/further education contexts
- school-to-work transition support
- adults returning to further education
- educational boundary work in non-institutional settings
The authors and discussant are all leading contributors to theory-informed research, and each innovatively explores a particular aspect of theory to address the challenges we face at a time of major, critical change across society in Europe and beyond.
James, Bathmaker, Colley and Webb use Bourdieu’s theoretical tools for understanding current educational practices. James discusses multiple layers of ‘misrecognition’ in understanding the apparently progressive choice of state vs. private schooling by white middle class parents; he also emphasises the importance of reflexive disturbance in educational research. Bathmaker undertakes a critical examination of the concept of ‘field’, and considers how the metaphor of game may contribute to an understanding of the social justice dilemmas of diversity in the changing field of higher education. Webb applies the concept of doxa to understand the experiences of adult returners to learning; she discusses Bourdieu’s (1999) suggestion that a reflexive scientific methodology and political activism may provide a way of undermining an oppressive doxa. Colley uses the related concept of illusio, crucial to understanding the articulation between habitus and field, to consider the corrosion of ethics in school-to-work transition support services as austerity changes the field, leaving professionals’ deep-seated vocational habitus out of kilter with policy-driven values and goals.
Two additional theoretical perspectives also contribute: Ylijoki and Henriksson focus on temporal dynamics in the work of academics in higher education, drawing on Adams’ concept of ‘social acceleration’ and considering spaces for potential resistance. Niemeyer applies Negt’s theorisation of critical education to discuss the growth of ‘boundary work’ by educators outside formal learning institutions, the political dimensions of learning, and the potential for agency on the part of educators and learners.
Thus the symposium speaks directly, and with theoretical insight for these radical times, to the conference theme on ‘The Need for Educational Research to Champion Freedom, Education and Development for All’, and Network 24’s theme on ‘Discourses and Research Politics’.
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