Missing in action: The absent presence of theoretical choice considerations in educational research

Year: 2015

Author: Hayes, Debra, Doherty, Catherine

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Research in education draws upon a wide range of methodological traditions. Perhaps, this reflects the commensurately wide range of problems considered by educational researchers, and the diverse audiences for their work. While it is commonplace for research papers to include a description of theoretical underpinnings and approaches, it is less likely that the epistemic boundaries of the meaning making processes that have been deployed are marked and mapped. By this, we do not mean a description of the strengths and weaknesses of the research method that is a standard element of experimental designs; nor the location of the researcher within the field of study that is a standard element of post-structural designs; but rather a discussion of the effects of epistemological choices on what is asked, how it is studied, how these choices will construct both problem and solutions, and the knowledge that is produced. In this paper, we argue that within a context of open and politicized contest over knowledge claims, it is necessary to expose that which is easily taken-as-read and hidden from view – meaning making processes and their relationship to power and knowledge.
The global debate between skeptics and the vast majority of climate scientists is one example of a contemporary knowledge contest. In this contest, there is however strong agreement among climate scientists about their meaning making processes and what counts as knowledge, whereas the same cannot be said of researchers in the field of education. Consequently, we claim educational research is more vulnerable to the criticism of skeptics and powerful interests, since our diversity means we can be easily divided into those worth listening to, and those who should be ignored.
In this paper, we put forward a generative model of knowledge producing processes in education that can both identify the repertoires of capabilities and habits of mind associated with each and encapsulate their epistemic diversity. We suggest that the influence of educational research will be enhanced through the promotion of four “practices” that are each necessary but not sufficient on their own. This model provides ways of examining educational research processes to ask whether all four practices are being addressed and made explicit. The model assumes that these practices always be situated in authentic contexts and purposes. We provide a brief worked example of how the model might be applied to the evergreen educational issue of non-compliance.