University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Pedagogy, Language, Arts & Culture in Education (PLACE) Group Seminars > Interpretative research in education: an invitation to an open discussion

Interpretative research in education: an invitation to an open discussion

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  • UserProfessors Paul Smeyers (KU Leuven and University of Ghent) , Nick Burbules (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaigne , Morwenna Griffiths (University of Edinburgh) , and David Bridges (University of Cambridge Faculty of Education)
  • ClockThursday 03 June 2010, 17:00-18:30
  • House Faculty of Education, 184 Hills Road, Cambridge, CB2 8PQ, 2S4.

If you have a question about this talk, please contact Ewa Illakowicz.

CONTACT Ewa Illakowicz (ei219@cam.ac.uk) if you are planning to attend

University of Cambridge Faculty of Education in association with the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain

Professors Paul Smeyers (KU Leuven and University of Ghent) , Nick Burbules (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaigne , Morwenna Griffiths (University of Edinburgh) , and David Bridges (University of Cambridge Faculty of Education) are meeting in Cambridge to plan a major new international handbook on Interpretative Research in Education (running to over 600,000 words)—and would welcome the opportunity to engage staff and students in the Faculty of Education and elsewhere on the issues which such a handbook will need to address and in exploring examples of research in this tradition which have contributed to educational practice and policy.

There is a sense in which all research might be held to be interpretative, in so far as all data requires interpretation, but the term is usually applied to research which is perceived as explicitly anti-positivist or where the researcher’s interpretation of events can only be checked or challenged by reference to data which itself consists of interpretations of events. The historian or biographer, for example, writes on the basis of secondary sources (ie other people’s interpretations of events) and primary sources – letters, diaries, newspaper reports, official documents – which are themselves mediations of what happened by other people. Arguably there is no escape from this sort of mediation or interpretation.

Contemporary educational research draws extensively on enquiry in this interpretative tradition drawn from many parts of the academy, but especially from the humanities and the qualitative end of the social sciences. This includes, for example, auto/biography, phenomenography, ethnography, discourse analysis and history, as well as the strong interpretative framing provided e.g. by critical theory, psychoanalysis, feminism and post colonial research. The convenors of this seminar (and editors of the international handbook) will be inviting contributions from all of these forms of enquiry which illustrate the ways in which they can contribute effectively to educational understanding.

Of course the brief introduction provided above itself raises more questions than it answers. How is ‘interpretative research’ best defined or understood? Does an attachment to interpretative research necessarily lead one into social relativism or subjectivism? Can interpretative research also be critical? Will any interpretation do? Is there a rigour to interpretative research? Is there anything beyond the interpretation? Is it possible to tell it, as the German historian Ranke put it, ‘wie es eigentlich gewesen’ – as it really was? What role is there for such research in the world of ‘evidence based policy’?

Paul Smeyers will introduce the seminar and then Nick Burbules will raise some issues about interpretation and understanding to be followed by short contributions from Morwenna Griffiths and David Bridges, but there will be ample time for contributions from what we hope will be the multi-disciplinary perspectives of those attending. The presenters would be especially interested to hear from anyone who has an example of research of the kind indicted here where the methods employed have proved effective in informing educational practice or policy.

This talk is part of the Pedagogy, Language, Arts & Culture in Education (PLACE) Group Seminars series.

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