Social theory has found particular favour in the following key research topics:  

  • Inequality, inclusion and education
  • Identities: Notions of educational selves and subjectivities
  • Curricular and pedagogical practice
  • Governance and management

Inequality, inclusion and education: The ways in which schooling and learning generally are mediated by, and impact on, issues of class, race and gender, have concerned education researchers for decades, with the ideas generated by social theory providing a valuable foundation for innovative methodologies. Much of social theory itself is designed to explore questions of power and privilege, and educational processes, systems and outcomes are intimately connected to these questions.

Identities: Notions of educational selves and subjectivities: Questions of identity have recently come to the fore in social science research. In particular, questions of professional identity have received much attention, with the field of education proving a rich source of data. This is because educational identities are open to multiple interpretations, and cover a wide range of professional formations and issues – becoming a teacher, transformations in teacher professionalism, sources of academic identity, the challenges of teacher education, to name but a few. Social theory has been widely applied to these research areas, with ideas from post-structuralism and postmodernism proving especially popular as conceptual schemas. Another area of identity studies to which social theory has been applied is student identity. There is a growing body of research literature that examines the relationship between educational processes and forms of selfhood, with questions such as the formation of learner identities receiving a great deal of attention.              

Curricular and pedagogical practice: The field of teaching and learning has understandably proven a mainstay of educational research. The field, however, has undergone something of a transformation in the last two decades, moving away from its more psychological and instrumentalist routes to more recently embracing the intellectual traditions of social theorists such as Derrida and Habermas. The application of social theory in this field has been wide-ranging, covering topics such as the role of teacher efficacy in learning, the metaphorical nature of supervision, and the role of ethnography in assessment practices.         

Governance and management: Educational governance provides a political and economic context for the previous three thematic areas, but is also an important focus of research in its own right. In education, much of the governance research centres on policies of regulation, marketisation and accountability, and the impact of these on educational values, professionalism, provision and delivery. In particular, the work of Michel Foucault has proven especially attractive to educators as a way of making sense of changing political imperatives, and the nature of performative and audit cultures. Habermas has also proven to be popular in the field of policy and management studies.