Methodology as research practice: Application of a structural-constructivism in the tertiary context

Year: 2018

Author: Dunham, Nicola

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper provides a critical discussion on the practical application of a structural-constructivist research methodology in the New Zealand tertiary education context. The PhD (Education) research project, on which this paper of based, investigated the academic identity of students in early childhood field-based initial teacher education. This paper discusses the practical challenges faced when methodology shifts from a theoretical enterprise to one of practical application. The paper also discusses the insights gained by employing a context rich research methodology.
Structural-constructivist methodologies are of particular value to identity research due to the contextualisation of identity within the social realm of its construction. The self relates to the social world through practices associated with the various roles assumed as part of daily living (Bourdieu, 1989). It is through these practices that social experience is given subjective meaning and contributes to the formation of identity.  The subjective experience of identity is seen as part of a wider frame of reference, informed by norms and social roles which act to both allow and restrict participation within social groups. Social roles impact on how social actors behave in social spaces, what they see themselves as being capable of and able to do.
A structural-constructivist approach was used to investigate the influence of context on personal experiences of academic identity. The constructivist aspect consisted of the intra-personal features of student academic identity, namely: self-theory, agency beliefs, dispositions, achievement indicators and motivation. The contexts informing the structural aspects of student academic identity included the inter-personal features of the academic institution, the early childhood community and the related socio-political environment. To have studied student academic identity in isolation of these situational contexts, would have provided limited insight into the phenomenon and a missed opportunity to enhance the practical application of knowledge gained into reforming contexts to better support positive student academic identity and enhance student success.
This paper is aimed at those new and emerging researchers, who are considering the use this form of research methodology. Furthermore, this paper reinforces the value of contextualised methodologies within educational research to promote positive change.
Bourdieu, P. (1989). Social space and symbolic power. Sociological Theory, 7(1), 14–25.