Thinking About Theory in Educational Research: Fieldwork in philosophy
(2015) Educational Philosophy and Theory, 47 (2), pp. 173-191.
This article responds to and reflects upon the articles in this special issue. Specifically, it deals with the usage of theory in each of the articles, what we might see, as examples of re-descriptive usage in autonomous theorizing. The articles utilize different theories and varying intellectual resources—Foucault and Deleuze (Richard Niesche), Bourdieu (Carmen Mills), Levinas (Sam Sellar) and Butler (Christina Gowlett)—to analyse the topic of the My School website and associated new accountabilities in Australia schooling. This article argues that their usage of the My School website must be seen as a condensation symbol to signify a broader neo-liberal agenda in Australian schooling that has global as well as national elements to it. The fact that the social today is no longer straightforwardly homologous with the nation also challenges ‘methodological nationalism’ and suggests the pressing need to ‘deparochialize’ theory in research and reject a reading of Northern theory as universal. The article uses the provocations of these articles to reflect upon the necessity of theory in educational research more generally, and to consider its usage in research with different purposes, while accepting that theory should be endemic in all stages of research. Theory serves a different purpose in research with different goals; quantitative correlational research demands theory to move to explanation, interpretive research requires theory to strengthen interpretation and plausibility, while critical research utilizes theory to uncover the hidden as a step towards emancipation. These articles implicitly suggest alternative forms of accountability and politics, but I argue in conclusion that, additionally, we need a broader politics that will move us towards a non-utopian post neo-liberal social imaginary.