Putting The ‘Critical’ Back Into Ethnographic Educational Research

Year: 2015

Author: Kuteyi, Olabisi, Ronbinson, Janean

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

When publishing or presenting from our respective research projects, ‘Troubling Behaviour Management: Listening to Student Voice’ (Robinson, 2011) and ‘Caught in the middle: (Re)constructing beginning teachers’ identities’ (Kuteyi, 2013), we often experience controversy and confusion in our choice of ‘critical ethnography’ as a style of research. In response, this paper argues that it is the ‘critical’ component that allows one as a researcher to question the actions and intentions of education policy and practice and find a way to break through the silence. It is the critical that has driven our interrogation of the complex cultural spaces infused by political ideologies, historical structures and economic powers that mask other more important socially democratic practices in schooling and education.
More specifically, it is the ‘critical’ in critical ethnography that enabled us to unsettle the simplistic versions of students’ behaviour and navigate the ways teacher identities are constructed in schools, providing a terrain on which to unpack the many challenges and struggles experienced by our participants. It is problematic to explain or define what critical ethnography is and rightly so otherwise we contradict our own critically social position as we begin to categorise and delineate what it is that we do. The critical ethnographer, therefore, sees the ethnographic project as activist work, not necessarily as limited by a specific method or theory, but an imaginative process that amalgamates spaces in-between, the spaces that although challenging to explain can provide open reflexive spaces for agency and propositions for social and cultural change.