Hello and welcome to Social Theory Applied. My name is Mark Murphy and I am a Reader in Education & Public Policy at the University of Glasgow. I’ve been teaching and researching in universities for 20 years now (not sure where those years went), and have amassed a reasonable level of experience, particularly in the field of applied theory and social research. This experience has been very positive overall but at the same time has made me realize how challenging the application of theory can be, both for me as a relatively experienced researcher as well as new researchers coming into the field. At various stages in my career I’ve conducted theoretical applications, especially via the work of critical theory (Jürgen Habermas and Axel Honneth for example). I’d have to say these efforts have not been without their difficulties and may not always have been as successful as I would have liked (no sniggering at the back there). But time and time again, I’ve seen the same issues faced by other researchers, including Masters and Doctoral students. So it’s not just me.
And why wouldn’t it be challenging? After all, we’re talking about a set of theories, developed by the likes of Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Pierre Bourdieu et al, that could never be described as ‘simple’ or easy to navigate. On top of that you have a variety of issues faced when applying such ideas in research contexts, a field of complex interwoven imperatives and practices in its own right. These challenges – epistemological, operational, analytical – inevitably impact on researchers and our attempts to make sense of research questions, whether these be questions of governance and political regulation, social reproduction, power, cultural or professional identities (among others). So care needs to be taken when applying a challenging set of ideas onto a challenging set of practices, incorporating a strong consideration for both intellectual arguments alongside the concerns of the professional researcher.
Hence the development of this site. Alongside some of my recent publications in this field (see the About Me page), I wanted to develop a space where issues in research could be fleshed out and explored in more detail, providing an online forum that offers the practitioner/researcher a suitable space to assist their acquisition, understanding and application of social theory (emphasis on the application). I would especially like to see this site grow as a place where students and academics can come together to share ideas, collaborate and learn from each other. Let’s face it, none of us have the final word on anything.
I’m updating this page a year into running this site (the site became active in January 2013 – it’s now January 2014) and so far it’s been a very enjoyable experience – an experience that combines a curating role (there have been 23 contributors to the site so far), with my own input as post contributor on a range of theoretical and methodological issues. I look forward to seeing how the site develops during 2014, particularly as regards the ‘application’ aspect – keep an eye out for developments around the topic of theory as method. Please note that the remit of the site is to become broader than its original focus on educational research – now to cover the field of social science research generally. This change in emphasis is in line with my own intellectual interests but also reflects my strong belief that research in fields such as education should not be considered in isolation from other connected fields such as social work, urban studies, etc.
Thanks for reading, any comments on the site (design, content, aims) are always welcome. And to reiterate, don’t be shy – get in touch if you want to make a contribution. I would be delighted to hear from you.
All the best, Mark