Paradigm and Ideology in Educational Research

Social Functions of the Intellectual

Tom Popkewitz, University of Wisconsin Madison

Published 2008

The purpose of this book is to explore the social location and contradictions of social science. It is to probe how social assumptions, cultural location and political interests become intricately tied to conceptual, procedural and design questions. These issues are given focus through case studies in American and the former Soviet pedagogical research and evaluation, particularly the Russian Vygotski traditions. These research communities provide a specific historical context to consider the larger sociological issues of social science and the social role of the intellectual.

Because of the general and specific focus, the book has different publics. It is directed to professionals, academics and students interested in critical analyses of social institutions. The researcher is considered a social type who is located in the general dynamics and represents interests of society.

This book is also designed as an introductory text for courses in research methods. The focus on paradigms enables a consideration of the interrelation of questions, concepts and data gathering procedures. While written before the current policy focus on science on randomized studies and ‘scientific evidence”, the discussion provides a corrective to limitations of such thinking about research. It illustrates research as a complex process in which particular data collecting techniques assume meaning and significance only in relation to the assumptions of the larger intellectual traditions in which the techniques are applied.

In this respect, research methodology is considered as a subject matter of this book. Its themes and organization are a response to university research and graduate programs which focus only upon the ‘how-to-do-it’ tasks of data collection and analysis. Research is thought of as a series of techniques in statistics, testing or observation that are practiced independently of questions, assumptions or concepts. Labels such as qualitative or quantitative research, for example, ignore the underlying values and commitments of science which give variation to the use of statistics or field study.

To focus solely on techniques and procedures produces certain limitations to the conduct of inquiry. First, the lack of situating concepts and techniques within their social and philosophical con- texts produces knowledge that is often trivial and socially conservative. Second, the social sciences have competing traditions. To consider the various traditions as differences only in techniques is to obscure the assumptions and implications of these traditions. Third, social and educational sciences have a dual function of describing and orienting people to the possibilities of human affairs. To filter out discussion of the social circumstances and cultural location that guide policy option is to mystify social arrangements.

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