Knowledge structures and research partnerships: struggles over onto/epistemic realisms

Year: 2016

Author: Singh, Parlo, Heimans, Stephen

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Rob Moore (2012, 2013a,b) famously distinguished between two categories of sociology of education, a sociology of education and a sociology for education. In making this distinction, Moore placed the work of the sociologist, Basil Bernstein, in the first category and the work of post-structural theorists, post-structural feminists, postcolonial theorists, in the second category. Moore and Muller (2002) and Maton and Muller (2007; see also Maton, 2014), critique the social constructivist, relativist position on knowledge and knowledge building which they associate with ‘post’ theories, arguing that these theories fail to distinguish between powerful knowledge forms and knowledge of the powerful (Wheelahan, 2010). In this paper we briefly examine the critical-socialist realist (CR-SR) philosophy underpinning this position, following Popper’s notion of three worlds (see Moore, 2013a,b). We then draw on our research partnership work in schools situated in high poverty communities. In contrast to the social realist position advocated by Moore and colleagues, we explore alternative forms of realisms, for example emergent realism following the work of feminist philosophers of science. We contextualise our exploration of these ideas in a design-based research partnership project working with public schools located in high poverty contexts. We argue that we need theory that encompasses the possibilities of realism and at the same time engages with inequality as a central problematic. The schools participating in the partnership project were characterised as being ‘below the national standard on literacy and numeracy’ as measured by NAPLAN. The schools were represented on MySchool and local media as disadvantaged and low socio-economic. Our challenge was to work with school leaders, teachers and students, presupposing the equality of intelligences (Rancière, 1991), and co-design interventions to make an educational difference. Making a difference rests on the relations between epistemological conviction, ontological indeterminacy and responsibility for what comes to matter (Barad, 2007). So our argument is that ‘knowledge work’ and its outputs are ‘worlds- making’. That knowledge is not a product of the ‘world’ but participates in its ongoing emergence. So, how knowledge is made, by and about whom, and with what effects has serious implications that cause knowledge-making rationalities to become ‘slowed down’ as their ‘worlds’ making relations, and the ethics associated with this, are fully realised. Ultimately our scientific practices “produce reliable knowledge claims only in so far as the questions they address are at risk of being redefined by the phenomena mobilized in them” (Whatmore, 2013), so that whom, and whatever, are our ‘researched’ will have multiple and ongoing occasions for undoing emerging knowledge claims and interests.