The practice-theory regime, professional development and educational action research in Scandinavia

Year: 2012

Author: Jakhelln, Rachel, Eilertsen, Tor Vidar

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


 Purpose. There are two major strands of traditions underpinning action learning and research in the Nordic countries. One is the folk enlightenment (study circles, folk high school) and schooling as a major tool for democratization and nation-building. The other is the conceptualization of pedagogy within the "practice-theory regime" (PTR) (Dale 2005). Our purpose is to present this tradition and if and how it has provided fertile soil for professional development, action learning and action research in the Scandinavian countries. We also want to voice the Nordic traditions in a wider conversation of traditions in the field.

 Method. The presentation is based on literature review of some of the major proponents of the PTR in the Nordic countries. Our analysis draws on the theoretical framework of practice architectures (Kemmis & Grootenboer 2008), in particular the cultural-discursive role of the PTR, in facilitating a more developmental professional teacher identity. Furthermore, Scandinavian neo-institutional theory of organizational change is used in explaining how ideas are translated, transmitted, adopted or rejected (Rovik 2011).

 Results. The PTR is seen as a reaction to the positivist regime, heavily influenced by Anglo-American educational theory based on foundational or "support" disciplines, most prominently educational psychology. Contrary to this the PTR alternative, founded in the early 1970ties, conceptualized pedagogy as a discipline in its own right, based on teachers´ practical reasoning, but informed and supported by scientific concepts and theories. Lars Lovlie, launched the pedagogical practice theory concept in which theory and practice are two sides of the same coin. Steeped in the Aristotelian concept of phronesis he construed a pyramidal model with three layers: actual performance (P1), experience-based and theoretical arguments (P2) and moral and ethical justifications (P3). This concept, also referred to as "practical professional theory", has been widely translated and conveyed within teacher initial and further education, peer counseling and school development.

 Conclusions. We see PTR as a contribution to an educational environment in which the notion of teacher action research may thrive and spread. The fact that activities like these are mostly confined to educational programs or externally initiated projects can be explained in terms of practice architectures, most notably political-social and material-economic constraints. However, there are institutional developments that may change this, e.g. by economical support for school development and a teacher education that promotes collaborative research as a way of providing new opportunities for student teachers´ participation in communities of practice development.