A manifesto for a SIG?

Year: 2012

Author: Clegg, Sue

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper sets out to consider an impossible project: what it would mean to think through and realise an agenda for the new Higher and Professional Education SIG. This is unrealisable because we are faced with multiple uncertainties relating to our conceptualisations of the field/s under scrutiny, and challenging because we are simultaneously confronted with the material transformations of the practices which constitute these field/s. We are forced to confront questions, therefore, about the nature of professional knowledge, including our own professional knowledge as educators. It is interesting to note that as long ago as 1983, when Schön wrote his influential text on the reflective practitioner, he too saw himself as thinking at a point where professional knowledge and standing were under threat in what was then called the military industrial complex. What sorts of research and concepts do we need to wrestle with in the new conditions of higher and professional learning given the different intellectual histories of the various fields that make up post-secondary education?

I suggest that we need to ask some big questions about the global patterns shaping post-compulsory education. We need to contemplate the implications of what Brown, Lauder and Ashton (2011) call the 'Global Auction' and the breakdown of the connections between education, jobs, and incomes; the profound changes in our understanding of the public and private, and whether these categories can do the work traditionally ascribed to them; and the reshaping of institutions in ways that are forcing scholars to ask fundamental questions about them including 'what are universities for'? These questions are normative as well as positive. We need to think about the nature of the connections between theorising and empirical work and 'what matters to people': their ethical concerns and projects as well as our own.

Big questions, however, also need detailed 'close-up' research to understand how practices at the micro and meso level produce new subject positions, social relations, and possibilities. This requires methodological pluralism. I will argue against methodolatory and for research which pays careful attention to its own discursive practices. We also need to be attentive, as Val Hey argues, to those theorists who come to haunt our research imaginaries. There are many different imaginaries in the SIG but this should not induce a rush for order and even less for colonisation. Rather we should see it as a source of strength and of productive tensions.