Just what sort of an endeavour is policy research in education? Some thoughts on feminism, the state education theories and practices- and the dangers of all purpose models

Year: 1995

Author: Yates, Lyn

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper discusses why I have spent the last fifteen years focussing on a particular area of education policy research - that relating to gender and education. It reflects on approaches I have drawn on in my own work in this area, and why my experiences here lead me to be sceptical about some current proposals to make policy research a tightly-bounded field.

The first part of the paper traces some background to my work in this area: my disciplinary training in history, sociology and philosophy; my concerns about two key educational issues (knowledge and inequality); and my personal and theoretical experience of how feminist insights were being ignored in educational debates in the 1970s. Next, I attempt to explain how this area has been one of immense interest for policy researchers: it throws up different issues regarding the standpoint of the researcher and the politics of research from that implied in many other debates; it enables us to trace the emergence and development of a new policy agenda which is associated with social movements and cultural changes; and it has offered wide-ranging opportunities for studying 'policy as text' and 'policy as discourse' - including questions of how we assess effects of reform agendas, and how different education policies are and are not related to each other. The discussion will draw attention to the way my own research has tried to maintain some methodological openness in the face of shifts in theoretical fashion, and why I think we should not let paradigms about 'the field' of policy studies over-ride our ways of (diversely) taking up educational questions.