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Why we need social theory in teacher education research

Published in Critical pedagogy, Latest Posts, Method, Pedagogy & Curriculum, Uncategorized by on October 25, 2019

Old Neenah school classroom photograph. Image by NeenahHistory

The recently published book, Social Theory for Teacher Education Research: Beyond the Technical-Rational, co-edited by Kathleen Nolan and Jennifer Tupper, is a superb addition to the book series, Social Theory and Methodology in Education Research providing a close fit with the objectives mentioned above. It is, I believe, a much-needed collection, given the visibility of teacher education research in the field, and the relative lack of engagement with social theory thus far in research on the professional education of teachers. Teacher education, for all its virtues, exhibits a tendency to fall prey to over-zealous efforts to separate theory and practice, or worse, to evangelical agendas around school improvement that deliver simplistic reforms while ignoring the consequences for teachers. One such consequence is that theory about the education of teachers is side-lined in professional practice, a narrowing of the curriculum that this collection brilliantly shows is a form of what Gayatri Spivak calls ‘epistemic violence’ (Spivak, 1988).

This collection, comprising a wide diversity of case studies, is a timely reminder that teacher education is unavoidably about the relation between theory and practice. But it is also a reminder that theory and theorising – the capacity and skill-set to critically engage with one’s own practice and those of others – is a core element to professionalism and professional identity. The book beautifully illustrates that such a complex profession cannot be reduced to narrow sets of standards and performance measures, and that it is a field open to myriad conceptual interpretations and conflicting ideas about teaching practice. After all, it is a profession openly dedicated to knowledge – to its production, dissemination and socialisation – and is deserving of the kind of epistemic justice delivered by the current collection.

There are a number of key elements to this well-organised and structured collection, but let me note two in particular: First, the contributors expertly apply social theories to teacher education research that help move us beyond what the editors term ‘technical-rational discourses’, while also building critical capacities in teacher education programs for dealing with the sociopolitical contexts of schooling. The range of social theories represented is formidable as is the geographical spread. Theorists such as Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, Basil Bernstein and Pierre Bourdieu are represented, as well as authors like Michel De Certeau who are less well-known in education research. Also welcome are the inclusion of theories such as La Didactique du Plurilinguisme and the set of concepts embedded in the notion of ‘moral economy’ as reflected in teacher education. There are also useful examples of conceptual hybridisation throughout the text.

Second, the book offers a unique set of case studies that highlight the relation between theory and research practice in the field of teacher education (programs, curriculum, courses, field experience), thus making a significant pedagogical contribution to new researchers and scholars who wish to learn more about social theory as it applies to teacher education research. I particularly like that all contributors have include a section ‘Focus on Theory’ in which the social theory/theorist is introduced and then assessed in relation to the benefits and challenges of using the particular social theory/theorist in teacher education research. This is a masterstroke when it comes to reflecting the remit of the series. By explicitly examining how the theory and method influenced and shaped each other in the research, this feature helps the readership to be reflexive about their own research. It is evident that all authors have grasped what the book series is attempting to do – concepts are explained well and links between theory and methodology are explored for the reader.

The book offers readers a significant state of the art text via which researchers can explore the immense untapped potential of social theory and its application in teacher education research. It is an impressive collection and the editors have done a stellar job of bringing the contributors together. Many thanks to Kathleen and Jennifer, and all the contributors, for delivering such an important book.

[this is an edited version of the book series foreword]

Mark Murphy, Series Editor, Social Theory and Methodology in Education Research

References

Spivak, G. (1988). Can the subaltern speak? In C. Nelson and L. Grossberg (eds.), Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, pp. 271-313, Basingstoke: Macmillan Education.

 

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About the author /


Mark Murphy

Mark Murphy is a Reader in Education and Public Policy at the University of Glasgow. He previously worked as an academic at King’s College, London, University of Chester, University of Stirling, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, University College Dublin and Northern Illinois University. Mark is an active researcher in the fields of education and public policy. His research interests include educational sociology, critical theory, accountability in higher education, and public sector reform.

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