Potential and Micropolitical Practice: Teaching the Sociology of
paper presented to
the British Sociological Association Annual Conference, 'Sociology in
Plymouth, March 1989
of theory as emancipation in the work of Bhaskar and Habermas, and
these with notions of theory as strategic communication or as resources
in (micro)political struggle (as in Bauman). The abstract
is illustrated by reference to the emancipatory claims typically made
Sociology of Education texts, courses, and lectures. Some general
will also be made to other examples of educational theory (Psychology
In the final section,
context of teaching on teacher training courses will be examined,
upon some recent work in classroom studies (including Ball on
but developing the argument at the level of higher education. Results
some preliminary, small-scale case-studies will be included.
and practice in teacher training is a theme that demands attention from
anyone involved in teaching the sociology of education. There are a
of manifestations of the split which present themselves differently.
find themselves under increasing pressure to justify their work
terms of immediate relevance to the classroom teacher, for example, but
the mechanisms whereby theory is actually 'applied' are left
What seems to be involved is some view of theory as a source of
insight into the world, with practice logically derived from this
foundation. Only theory which leads directly to practice in this way is
to be permitted, for both right- and left-wing contributions to the
However, this view of the theory-practice relation is one that is
With the emergence of
the 'new' sociology
of education in the 1970s, a greater theoretical self-awareness became
thematised in the literature, as writers and course designers
the rebukes to 'positivism' in symbolic interactionism and marxism. The
implications of the 'new' sociology raised the issue of theory, or
in general. Thus the famous but rather specific and idiosyncratic
between the sociologists and the philosophers at the London Institute
M and White, J 1975, 1976) centred on 'relativism', but began to raise
the classic concerns found in general theory - how is theory possible,
how might it be related to empirical data, and what is its relation to
practice. The last concern gained force from a more general marxist
as those 'great continentals' who had written specifically (and
accessibly) about education (especially Althusser and Gramsci) found
way into sociolgy of education, often via 'popularisers' first (Whitty
1985) too. Rather in the spirit of the person finding themselves
the tail of a tiger, the 'new' sociologists of education began to
social theory and its dilemmas.
A striking feature of
of the major trajectories is the role of institutional and professional
politics. Institutions and courses, such as the London Institute, and
Open University's famous undergraduate courses of the 1970s, and the
of particular conferences, such as those held at St Hilda's (Whitty
seem to have played a key role in producing the characteristic
of the subdiscipline. Occasional imports from Europe and the USA (the
including the influential works of Bowles and Gintis [see
file], or more recently, Apple and his associates) were crucial in
establishing new directions (sic) for the theoretical work. Even the
crusades of ethnomethodolgy or British post-Althusserianism surfaced
although iconcolcasm tended to be marginalised by more activist
A full study of the role of 'invisible colleges' remains to be
but the point here is that 'theoretical' issues were put on the agenda
by, and largely remain subservient to, more 'practical' or 'applied'
even in the 'more sophisticated' work (Whitty ibid). Even the new
of education seemed somewhat apologetic about theory, always ready to
or subsume 'purely theoretical' issues. This is hardly uncommon, of
Nevertheless, sociologists of education have always been acutely aware
of their clients, probably more so than in any other 'applied' area:
only do soiciologists of education commonly teach teachers or trainee
they also teach them, in the very sorts of educational institutions
they claim to be analysing. It is virtually impossible to avoid the
aspects of the 'theory-practice split', therefore.
will put the
issue on the agenda by demanding a justification for 'all this theory'.
They will report back from their teaching practices with a confident
of the widespread professional ideology (and accurate perception) that
'theory does not work in the practical classroom situation'. At the
level, the contribution of the various educational disciplines,
the sociology of education, have been minimised recently or even
(which often means they are still taught but by non-specialists). At
national level, often connected with the institutional one via the
of accreditation and validation, bodies like CATE or CNAA require
to be designed which embrace 'practice' and 'experience'. These trends
have not gone unresisted, and it would be misleading to abstract from
complex political struggles and alliances which determine actual course
design and teaching - but it is clear that there is a politics (both
and 'micro') to the 'theory-practice split', that it is not just an
of epistemology. 'Theorists' can not afford to defend themselves on the
lofty ground of abstract argument alone (and not many do, it will be
and 'activists' can find themselves engaging in 'struggle' at a much
mundane, local, and 'micro' level than their works anticipate.
labour that seems
to handicap what has become a rather grim struggle for institutional
must look particularly unwelcome at present. Yet the turn towards
'relevance' or activism is one which embodies its own contradictions,
which runs the risk of reducing theory either to an idealised moral
on classroom life or to propaganda. The former invites cynical
from students and practitioners, the latter an even more vicious
by moral entrepreneurs. The whole process has been encountered before,
in the emancipatory claims made by more general social theory.
One response to the
the sociology of education has been to reassert certain emancipatory
for the subdiscipline. Examples are common (although I am not claiming
that these claims are universally made without reservation), and the
are familiar - doing sociology of education will help teachers
classrooms or schools more fully or wholly in some sense. This 'whole'
to be exposed sometimes lies partly buried 'beneath the surface' where
it can not be examined by the 'ordinary consciousness' of the
However that consciousness can be relatively easily extended, by merely
teaching (compare the emancipatory claims of some strands of marxism,
where a radical politicisation, a deep transformation of consciousness
is required). The necessary extension can come from adding information
about a 'context', for example, or by pursuing implications which, it
be pointed out, lie implicit in practice:
research]...can, in fact, transform one's view of life...Sociology can
also liberate from false notions of personal inadequacy or blame... our
knowledge [of discipline problems] would be incomplete without an
of wider contexts...Sociology often reveals deeper realities behind
(Woods and Pollard, 1988:11,12)
aware that the child's display of knowledge is constrained by the
of the task, the organization of discourse,and the physical parameters
of hte teaching-learning situation' (Mehan, 1986:101)
is the education
paradigm...there was no alternative but to set up a "circle of women"
produce and validate knowledge about women..."After institutionalised
you feel worse. After feminist education you feel better" ...'
Emancipatory claims of
are inscribed in the forms of argument deployed in 'theory' courses or
textbooks as well. The arguments classically follow a 'realist'
structure, where a number of flawed understandings are offered first to
the reader or listener, and then the underlying truth which makes sense
of and transcends all the 'surface' readings of the situation is
or, better still, is left to emerge and be 'discovered' by the reader.
This form is common, I believe in lectures, seminars and tutorials
common in my own!), and it makes its quintessential written appearance
in the OU course unit where, periodically, students have to record
views of a topic, or summarise and criticise a number of views they
just encountered, and are invited to 'self-assess' themselves by
to the course writers' preferred views. Wexler (1982) pursues a similar
analysis for school textbooks in the USA.
Of course, these
claims and forms
have been the subject of the most prolonged debate in social theory,
there is little evidence of this debate in the sociology of education
for the micropolitical reasons mentioned above). To be fair, some
contributions tend to acknowledge, at least, the difficulties (Whitty
Hammersley, 1989), and the work of Culley and DeMaine (1983) will be
and discussed below.
Ironically, some of
the most trenchant
objections to these claims have arisen from post-Althusserian or
writings, once eagerly pursued as a source of a more correct, secure,
more 'scientific' critical marxism by sociologists of education! Yet an
uneasy accommodation with these writings has been common, with
of education wanting to embrace only some of the critical implications.
It would be fair to
say, to summarise
a series of lengthy debates in some of these writings, that notions of
'surface/depth', 'context' or 'totality' are undoubtedly ambiguous and
often unhelpful metaphors, even in the classic works. The deployment of
these metaphors in concrete analysis reveals either an incoherence or a
dogmatism, even in the 'founding fathers', as one famous intervention
with surprising ease (Hindess, 1977). These demonstrations can be
liberating themselves in a personal sense, as the reader of, say, the
in Grundrisse, shifts the blame for the frustration and sense
inadequacy induced by irritating metaphor after irritating metaphor
reader to text.
The humanist focus
upon flawed perceptions
or consciousness, involved in many an emancipatory claim, as a source
limitation on understanding has largely been rejected by an attention
to discourses or practices that construct (mis)recognitions (Mepham,
The corresponding implications for liberating practice as a matter of
perceptions and solid deductions are also in doubt, partly because of
rejection of the whole procedure as ill-founded (since Althusser, 1970,
although he too was to be purified in the fire of Hindess ibid and
19XX): the 'objects' of experience and the 'objects' of theory are
objects, constructed in different linguistic and conceptual practices,
and sharing only a name. It is an idealist fallacy to expect even
consciousnes to grasp and totally subsume objects. As we shall see in
argument directed against the claims of 'practice', it is an empiricist
fallacy to operate the other way around and to prioritise the apparent
'objects' of experience, by some appeal to 'the facts' or 'the reality
of classroom life', for example.
arguments against the
search for privileged 'metanarratives' (Lyotard, 1986) as a guide to
theory, can hardly be ignored. Any emancipatory claim which bases
on a superior insight into an underlying reality, or a grasp of some
concepts, cannot avoid the questions raised most acutely by
what is the foundation for the claim to superiority? how can we
emancipatory claims from any other 'narratives'? why should some
be granted the status of metanarrative?
It is also clear that
affects all foundationalist arguments, no matter how impeccably
they might be in intent. As a colleague once pointed out, one's first
upon being exposed to anti-foundationalist arguments is to exult in the
discomfort they bring to rivals: only later does it occur that one's
cherished metanarratives are also subverted! The anti-foundationalism
applies alike to marxism and Christianity, to sociology and to its
Some popular versions
that operate with some notion of a 'deep' structural or foundational
of patriarchy to explain 'surface' manifestations of female oppression
are also susceptible to the charges of 'incoherence' or 'dogmatism' as
the two levels of the arguments are brought together. Culley and
(ibid) argue this case, with specific reference to the work of Hirst,
to the 'essentialist' and 'ontological' notions of 'needs' or
in certain feminist analyses of patriarchy (like Deem's) (p 162).
Kingdom (1980), cited
and DeMaine, points to the incoherence of arguments claiming that one
reduce legislation or courts decisions to the interests of male, upper
class judges. Her analysis serves to make a general case that could be
used equally to criticise work like Spender's cited above. We can
liberating laws (or educational reforms?), for example, as the result
a wrong identification of male interests, a temporary failure of the
of the law, or a kind of strategic withdrawal the better to secure long
term male dominance.
As Adlam (1979), and
also cited in
Culley and DeMaine, argues, 'a duality can not be stretched into a
(p 99), that is, a basic polarity between men and women can not be used
as a coherent foundation for an examination of the specifics of
the diverse relations between them. Adlam goes on to consider the
usefulness of emphasising diversities in women's struggles, as opposed
to the usual claims that there is one essential (sic) constituency of
who simply are represented by (socialist) feminism (a theory, she
privileging a politics, despite the apparent activism of the project).
In a conclusion of general significance for this paper, she argues that
liberation requires politics not some foundational theory.
At the tactical
narratives have also been criticised. Far from offering emancipatory
they can quietly privilege a particular dominant view, and leave
or listeners or viewers practically powerless to intervene. As a
device in radical cinema, 'socialist' or 'critical realism' once
serious criticism of this kind (Maccabe, 1981) [ see
file], yet its use in radical education seems largely unquestioned
(with the exception of, say, Wexler op.cit., or Thompson 1979). Realist
narrative conforms so much more deeply to the conventions of formal
to notions of 'good' lecturing and writing, and, above all, to the
of student grading schemes, as I have argued elsewhere (Harris 1987) [ and
see file], that the pedagogic equivalent of an avant garde cinema
to the Crisis:
One path out of the
by post-modernism involves a turn back to realism, especially
realism of the kind popularised by Bhaskar. The story, developed in the
pages of Radical Philosophy, for example, involves a sustained
at the 'post-Althusserians', both at the conceptual and political
It will be necessary to summarise very heavily here too, but the
post-Althusserians were roundly condemned by Skillen (1978) or Collier
(1978) for idealism and incoherence in their own writings. In an
piece, Eliott (1986) linked the iconoclasm of Hirst to the opportunist
politics that the critique had finally come to embrace. By the strict
rigid canons of coherence and discursive purity that had led to the
criticisms of virtually all the founding (sic) traditions in sociology,
history and marxism, all attempts to guide politics with theory were
For analysts, there remained 'concrete' analysis that looked
like Weberian sociology after all (Turner, 1981)). Activists could rely
only upon 'calculation' in politics, and that too closely resembled
predecessors - Wilsonian pragmatism in this case (Elliott op.cit).
In many ways, the
one outlined by Colletti's account of Marx's early critiques of Hegel
1975) - abstract philosophy, in its attempts to purify and manipulate
remains abstracted from, and uncritical of existing practice, and thus
far too likely to apologise for that practice, when it decides finally
to 'apply' itself to 'the real world'. In Hegel's case, the notorious
with the Prussian State was the result, for Hirst, the return to
Indeed, the abstractions of Habermas and Bhaskar run the same risk, as
we shall see, where a sophisticated abstract defence of emancipatory
(or science, or communication), can end in a blindness to the
micropolitical elements of actual, concrete, theorising. Considered in
an activist mode, the dilemmas are equally clear and acute, since no
grubby concrete poltical practice can ever be as pure as a theoretical
argument. Activists are then left with the choice of remaining pure but
aloof, or facing an uncomfortable rapprochement with actual
and risking compromise, dilution of the faith, or incorporation.
offered one alternative
to the post-Althusserian tragedy. Bhaskar's work ,in brief, offers an
for realism that follows a familiar 'transcendental' route: science is
only intelligible as an activity if we assume realism; a real world can
be conceptualised that breaks with the old empiricism, by postulating a
world of real entities that are knowable only in their effects; those
are not tightly determined, but are real, emergent
produced by multiple determinations. In social science, parallel
lead to 'naturalism' in Bhaskar's work (Chalmers, 1988). Similar
appear to lie behind Gidden's 'structurational sociology', although the
position seems unclarified.
Most relevant for our
Bhaskar's discussion of the emancipatory claims of the approach. After
summarising a numnber of emancipatory steps a social science can take,
Bhaskar describes 'explanatory critical rationality', where it becomes
possible to show that an object is 'blocking' an accurate perception of
reality, and that that object is contingent, and can, in principle, be
removed (Bhaskar 1980). This is a matter of the relations between
and beliefs, and helps Bhaskar escape from the circularities of purely
His examples in the
article are rather
schematic and abstract, or based on rather Habermasian accounts of Marx
or Freud, but the whole argument seems to offer a parallel with some
advanced in the sociology of education that attempt to account for, say
the rival views and perceptions of teachers and pupils, in terms of
social class backgrounds or mobility experiences - see Hopper (1981)
an unusuyally explicit account. Certainly, the sociology of education
be an excellent empirical discipline to comb for concrete examples of
kind of demonstration that Bhaskar has in mind. Criticisms of the
can be considered with those of Habermas's below.
Habermas's work also
a similar project involving the grounding of emancipatory claims made
theory in 'quasi-transcendental human interests' (Habermas 1972a).
versions of 'critical theory' tried to base their claims on some notion
of 'totality' (in Adorno), or a lingering adherence to an autonomous
(in Marcuse), both of which would be liberated or fully acknowledged in
(although never finally subsumed by) adequate theory. The 'q.t.h.i.s'
broke with these problematic conceptions, and were described as
in 'work', 'symbolic interaction' and 'emancipation'. Habermas used
to sytematise his earlier critical work on positivism and the human
(located in the first two interests, respectively, and so justifiable,
but not acceptable as universal), while leaving a space and a project
critique and critical theory (representing the interest in
The project found a
in the influential work of Carr and Kemmis (1986), where the apparatus
of the q.t.h.i.s was used to rebuke existing notions of knowledge in
curricula, and, as in Habermas himself, to fight off various kinds of
where knowledge grounded in only one of the interests claimed to be
and self sufficient. This sort of argument will be echoed below
we consider the universal claims of 'professional studies' in teacher
However, the whole
apparatus has been heavily criticised. The precise status of the
'transcendental' level was unclear, for example (Bubner 1982)), and the
general argument, found in the 'post-Althusserian' approach outlined
also applies to Habermas and to Bhaskar: how exactly can the two levels
of the argument be reconciled without circularity or incoherence or
What actually happens when one moves from the level of observed
to the 'transcendental' level, for example, and what guides the
of abstraction? Are these processes of abstraction the same in
three cases? From the other way around, how is it possible to move from
the transcendental level to find practices that both reflect these
intertests as they are, so to speak, and offer a critique of them?
points have been made about other 'two-level' arguments as in
models, for example, and they are almost certainly inherent (see
op.cit., Dallmyr 1982, Benton 1981).
moved on to another
apporach, of course, having acknowledged his critics (Habermas 1972b),
and came to stress the emancipatory potential of 'the ideal speech act'
(i.s.a. - sic) instead (Habermas 1979). In the 'i.s.a'., the force of
better argument alone prevails among formally equal participants. There
are no restrictions on the scope or direction of the argumemnt. The
range of argumentation is deployed (including 'rhetoric' Habermas
rather than some self-denying ordinance to use only 'scientific' or
forms. Claims as to the truth or appropriateness of the speech, or the
sincerity of the speaker, can be raised and questioned by any
at any stage. Habermas wants to argue that such speech is within the
of all competent speakers.
The 'i.s.a.' is used
the same projects as before. Social and natural sciences are
and arranged according to how fully they permit argumentation and
competence to develop in their accounts. Habermas embraces an
schema to perform this systematisation and, en route, fights off rival
approaches such as relativistic ones (his earlier struggles with
and systems theory could be recast in the new terms).
implications of the
'linguistic turn' are less clear, though. Habermas had used terms such
as 'blocked' and 'distorted' communication in the earlier approaches.
could be 'blocked' by some unreflected adherence to a restricted form
communication, such as a discourse which took for granted some
political goal and had not rethought that goal in the light of new
(Apel 1979). 'Distorted' communication occurred when particular
masqueraded as more general ones, as in the classic marxist accounts of
how market forces acted supposedly in the interests of all, or, more
in modern societies, how the State claimed legitimacy as an agency
universal goals while quietly privileging the particular ones of
groups (Habermas 1976).
Notions like an
'ideal speech act'
can clearly be used to help identify these distortions still, as well
serving the older goals of rebuking the universalist claims of more
social sciences. I have used the notion of 'conversation' in the i.s.a.
to expose the limits of the term 'conversation' in educational
for example, (Harris, op.cit.) and much could be gained from using
to widen the scope of the analyses of classroom language currently
by ethnomethodolgical interests. Habermas himself is alert to the
lurking in these usages, however, and has warned his readers against
the i.s.a as a kind of blueprint or metanarrative from which to read
an approved emancipatory practice. Political activity is now a
autonomous area with its own constraints and risks. Nevertheless, the
seems to remain as a kind of tactical weapon in the hands of activists,
able to be asserted 'counterfactually', to keep debate alive, as it
(Habermas 1982), or to resist 'colonisation of the life world'
reduced to the
level of a mere tactical weapon, and a rather conservative one
the extent of the crisis induced by 'post-modernism'. One can no longer
scour works like those of Bhaskar or Habermas expecting to find some
ground' upon which to base tactical interventions in local struggles.
finds the issue of the emancipatory claim discussed in the abstract at
a very general level, but with such rigour, critical purity, and
'philosophical' awareness that no immediately practical benefit can be
gained. This is the same sort of 'pathos' that haunted classical
theory, as well as some of its rivals like the 'sociology of knowledge'
(Piccone 1978, or Vallas 1977). The disappointment has played a part in
a rejection of 'grand theory' in favour of some more optimistic or
work (notoriously, in the sociology of education, Gramsci's work).
However, activism has
too, although one ran a risk of incurring deep personal unpopularity in
outlining them in certain quarters! It is associated with emanciaptory
claims of the old doubtful kind, for example,as if Gramsci's work were
somehow uniquely privileged as a metanarrative. As the debates about
work reveal, though, there is as much incoherence and dogmatism among
struggling to interpret concepts like 'hegemony' or 'organic
as among Althusserians or any other group of theorists. (Entwhistle
Moreover, arguing, as
that theories should be rank ordered in terms of their relevance to
with Gramsci often in first place, Althusser next, and critical theory
way behind, is precisely the same sort of argument as is found among
versions of the theory-practice relationship. It is a left-wing
and therefore runs a number of risks familiar in the history of
Finally, it is hard to justify all the risks and limits on the
of political advantage, since activism as a political project seems to
have lost its way and lost its revolutionary agents with the discovery
of the populist power of Thatcherism, the conservatism of youth, and
relative powerlessness of organised labour. In these circumstances,
looks increasingly propagandist or 'idealist' in both the popular and
senses of the term.
activism has helped
focus attention on an aspect of the theory-practice debate which
has been negelected in the abstract discussions - how the emancipatory
claims of theory are actually wielded in concrete politics. Again, this
sort of discussion usually takes a 'left-wing' turn in the
strands in the sociology of education, but Bauman's recent book (1987)
serves as a useful reminder that social theory's flirtations with power
(which Bauman says are likely to increase with the post modernist
have more commonly been rather disreputable 'right-wing' ones.
Having talked so far
theory as a source for the emancipatory claims made in 'theory'
in teacher training, however indirectly and hesitantly, it might be
to consider not activism, but the more likely rivals to those 'theory'
courses. Here, a difficulty presents itself, however, since it is hard
to identify alternatives with a stable content. It is common to refer
'practical' or 'professional' courses, at least in my experience, as
main rivals to courses based on educational disciplines ("the
In the abstract, it might be possible to characterise those
as designed 'with a practical intent',as Habermas might put it,
upon skills required by the succesful teacher. These skills seem to
from familiarity with the routines of classrooms and staffrooms,
of and practice with pedagogical techniques, teaching packages and
and skills of diagnosis and assessment. Some courses offer skills like
this at three levels - individual, classroom, and school.
Skills are commonly
taught in formal
and informal ways in College, and, crucially, while on treaching
in actual schools (or equivalent placements). These locations make it
to codify contents exactly, of course, especially since 'practical'
applications of skills forbid generalisation. Traditionally, and
for the reasons of micropolitics as we shall see, the supervision of
courses is undertaken by staff who rarely specialise in 'theory', and
it is difficult to find 'theoretical' comment about them. 'Theorists'
myself) are unlikely to have had much chance to experience these
themselves or to have observed them (except long ago, as trainees
The claim, developed
of explicitness, seems to be not one of emancipation in some
sense, but that these courses lead to practical success. Success
if students embrace particular methods or techniques, and here some
paradoxes arise, it seems. In the first place, it is clear that
schools can vary, and so methods and techniques can only be 'applied'
concrete cases after interpretations and adaptations. Applications of
involves a kind of two-way modification, apparently: the methods are
(operationalised in effect) to fit the concrete case, and vice-versa,
the concrete cases are interpreted, certain features abstracted from
certain elements 'recognised' and others ignored and so on.
I have no close
to offer here, but, from a number of accounts offered by disgruntled
and colleagues, ususally, for the former, after a disputed assessment
been made of teaching practice, it seems likely that these processes of
interpretation and application feature the same qualities of
and dogmatism as discussed above. The parallel here is with critical
of positivism in Adorno, for me (Adorno 1976). These discussions also
to a reliance on method as a kind of metanarrative guaranteeing success
(via a discussion of the links with pre-Enlightenment magic). Adorno
argues that the concrete object has to be dominated and subdued first
laboratory experiments or idealisations) before the methods can be made
to 'fit' successfully, and thereby suggests a deep link between
and political forms of domination. It would be useful to consider as
studies of the 'practical reasoning' of scientists as they try to 'fit'
a scientific vocabulary to observed events - say as in Mulkay (1979).
It would be tempting
to explore these
issues further, but as an interim conclusion, it seems likely, to
put it mildly, that a turn towards 'the practical' is not sufficient to
avoid the crisis of educational theory, even though this is usually
theorists are urged to do. The crisis seems to disappear, but only
the apparent imperatives of the practical situation (that is the power
of the practitioners over students and tiros) prevent debate. Disputes
over the legitimacy of the propsed methods simmer on although they are
less visible, articulated neither by theoretical nor political
at present. However, the crisis in theory is used in micropolitical
to buttress its perceived alternative, of course, and no one is really
addressing the abstract issues per se.
Even the alternatives
are not markedly
different, though. There are no 'pure' cases of 'theoretical' and
courses found in teacher training. All 'theory' courses have long had
justify themselves at the institutional level by claiming to be
to practice, for example, and the claim to success has always been
with the claim to emancipation, as the following examples show.
orientation in education
has been a source of limitation at the broader level of research and
in the disciplines: classroom observation has been closely tied to the
issue of teacher control, for example, as a kind of surveillance
as Sweetman (1988) argues, or as an intervention in a 'practical'
about effective styles (MacIntyre 1986); studies of the subcultures of
boys long dominated the field, partly since they were often the sources
of more noticeable 'discipline problems' (McRobbie 1981), and the same
point applies to 'working class' forms of school deviance as opposed to
the equally interesting but less personally threatening 'white collar'
forms; teaching systems on the margins of conventional education
schools, special education, transition education, distance education)
relatively neglected, despite their theoretical significance; the very
discursive boundaries of the sociology of education were accepted as
coterminous with the occupational interests of existing pedagogues and
adminstrators, and only recently have parallels been pursued with the
of the media or the sociology of the State.
The same points seem
to apply to
the equally oddly specialist and ghettoised disciplines of
and phoilosophy of education, although I am less informed here: in the
former, the connections between concepts of intelligence and the
of selective testing are well-known, at least (Henderson 1976), while
the latter field, the apologetic nature of classics such as Benn and
establish a harmony between existing forms of school provision and the
(official) political culture of Britain, even for the non-specialist
studies exhibit the
same impurities. There always is a 'theory' of some kind involved in
of course, albeit at the level of 'spontaneous philosophy', or of
drawn from some half-remembered theory course of long ago. A number of
studies of the 'professional perspectives' of schoolteachers have
found admixtures of this kind (Esland 1971, Woods 1980), and it is fair
to expect them in the perspectives of 'professional studies' at College
level too. At both levels, it seems expedient,at times, to deploy
concepts, or at least theoretical language, possibly in order to gain
micropolitical advantage. Thus a number of writers have noticed
deploying an 'educational perspective' when discussing pedagogy with
(and a possible contradictory one when in classrooms) (Esland, op.cit.
Sharp and Green 1975, Keddie, 1971). The strategic nature of these
discourses has been interpreted with varying degrees of sympathy and
solidarity - see Hargreaves (1986).
At the level of
course design, 'professional'
courses also seem to embrace 'theories', partly because of the
in separating them from practice,as above, and partly in order to
gain acceptance from various validating and legitimating bodies.
and abstract knowledge still seems to be 'high-status' at least in
circles and for those purposes. For the skilled micropolitician, as we
shall see, a number of other 'OK words' have to be included in course
too, as the preferred terms of the CNAA or CATE or HMI emerge and
are learning to
couch their work in the newly acceptable terminology. The solemnities
the accounts of activities undertaken in classrooms in mainstreeam and
'transition' education have been noted, at least in polemical pieces if
not in 'proper research' , and there are 'organisational myths'
many institutions referring to the ways in which trivial or routine
in classrooms can be dignified: preparing a poster for display can be
as 'interdisciplinary work'; exercises where children identify objects
by touch can be seen as 'science'; learning to change the spark plug on
a motor mower can be recorded as 'acquiring a range of technological
social skills at an appropriate level', and so on. Appendix 1 gives a
in cheek example. Woods' study (1984) of 'survival strategies'
'morale boosting' which involves 'well established rhetorics' useful in
the 'legitimation of certain forms of absence and removal ...
is now a vast thesaurus of "progressive" vocabulary and idioms from
the teacher might draw to construct his [sic] own vocabulary of
These examples lead
to the main argument
in this piece, in fact. The differences between 'theory' and
and the relations between them, for practising teacher trainers at
are micropolitical ones, not epistemological ones. The relations
theory and practice are unstable, and need continual redefinition
they are the subject of, and the trigger for, micropolitical struggles
for students, control over courses, promotion prospects, and all the
resources available in institutions. Indeed, I want to support the view
that strategic action of the type described as micropolitics (and there
are difficulties in using the term) is fundamental to and constitutive
of the theory-practice relation, not just an additional dimension to
problem.(Hoyle 1988, Ball 1987, Foucault 1980). Whether one
or not this strong claim, the micropolitical level is at least a
one to counter the abstractions of the focus on (very) macropolitics in
theorists like Habermas, and the likely problems outlined above.
teacher training is likely to be very difficult for anyone at the
of any struggles themselves, and in this field, there are
practices which make it difficult to observe even the lectures of
let alone their seminars or tutorials, or visits to schools.
In a fully developed
study, it would
be desirable to acquire full transcripts of lectures or other
in order to pursue the sort of detailed analysis of strategic talk in,
say Pinch and Clark's piece on market traders. As it is, I can refer
to some exploratory notes taken during those occasions when I have
it possible to attend others' lectures or seminars, in a number of
institutions and over a number of years.
would also suggest themselves as suitable methods to uncover and
strategies of distancing, differentiation and involvement between the
audiences interested in theory-practice relations. I can offer only the
results of some very preliminary interviews with some colleagues, and
results of some participation in some of these encounters in a number
different institutions over a number of years. In these cases and when
attending the teaching sessions of others, I have not always maintained
a strictly research orientation, but have lapsed into 'naive'
on occasion. I am not offering the results summarised here as anything
other than a most tentative and exploratory preliminary stage of what I
hope might turn into acceptable research on this neglected topic. I
attempted to disguise identities, for obvious reasons, and this has
changes in content on occasion, to disguise subject matter specialisms,
for example. I have also collectivised reported activity.
In lectures I have
claims do seem to have been advanced, and they have promised to reveal
some hidden context or totality as in the classic examples discussed
Thus in my first example, Dr Athene's lecture promised to make
a series of events in a Russian play by filling in the social context
the work, in a kind of 'sociology of knowledge' approach. Thus
themes in the zeitgeist of the author's milieu were described and then
used to make intelligible selected sections of the text, often at the
of detailed scenes or characters.
Dr Telemachus used a
for his emancipatory claim while lecturing on a more 'professional'
As well as claiming that successful practice would follow a study of
subject (indeed, that listeners would become more successful parents as
well as teachers), he was offering a privileged insight into classroom
life, appearing as a trained observer of others' folly or inadequate
as they tried to cope with pupil disaffection. Studying Telemachus's
brought insight and control, over others and over oneself, as one
liberation from one's own emotional, personal, immediate and
reactions to rude behaviour.
seemed to operate
at a different level, with a kind of 'deferred gratification' model. In
her introductory lecture on theories of pupil underachievement, she
a summary of a number of pieces of research and argument, predicted a
confusion in the listeners, wryly apologised for making it all seem
an acdemic game but promised that at the end of the course students
be in a much better position to come to their own conclusions about the
causes of underachievement. The idea seemed to have been to 'unblock'
about the topic by selecting a range of conflicting and sometimes
accounts, as an essential first stage, much as did the famous OU
Studies course E282.
Other sessions seemed
expose something more like 'distorted communoication' in Habermas's
Dr Poseidon offered an historical account of Scottish progressive
schools apparently designed to show, as in Johnson's well-known 1981
that popular education did once exist, that there was indeed a struggle
over education, and that popular demands were once very different from
the dominant views that prevailed in our apparently unified and
State schooling system. Ms Agamemnon's lecture similarly put current
in context by summarising a range of philosophical and historical
about the curriculum, and managing to imply quite clearly that the
had indeed made a 'selection from available knowledge' which it was
to disguise as 'natural' or agreed, precisely as in the 'new'
critique. Mr Polyphemus argued that notions of seemingly universal
practice' in primary schools often penalised female pupils, and, after
giving some examples, he invited students to consider whether notions
practice' at that very institution, did not do the same.
Arguments like these
emancipatory in intent, sharing many of the characteristics of famous
pieces. The courses which sustained them are currently under pressure,
however, and they have attracted epithets like 'heavy theory', or
a professional referent'. These are relative terms, however, with
an unstable meaning contingent upon the alliances and forces at work in
teacher and College politics.
Lectures like these
are not innocent
of 'politics' themselves, of course. The easiest way to demonstrate
is to consider them as making claims to specific status as well as to
in general. These status claims are directed most obviously at
immediate audience, but also through them at rival positions in teacher
education. Dr Athene's lecture rather aggressively assumes that
are as familiar as she is with a range of Russian novels and operas,
with the history and politics of the period. Indeed, listeners are
to have a working knowledge of Russian pronunciation too, since proper
names are spoken but not written down anywhere for the ease of the
The audience is not provided with a booklist before lectures, and so
is no opportunity to have prior access to works cited nor to any
independent material addressing the theme. The text to be interpreted
known, but students coming to it for the first time are hardly likely
possess the same detailed knowledge as the experienced pedagogue who
probably given this lecture several times before. Rival accounts are
including the occasional comment from students, but these can be
ignored, or treated as embryonic versions of the preferred
The overall effect recorded in my notes is of 'an intensely personal
integrated worldview - so personal that it is impossible to intervene
to anticipate the course of the preferred view'. This personal
of knowledge is used to exclude those of insufficient perception, both
students, and beyond, colleagues unable to match such a tour de
Dr. Telemachus also
offered a personal
worldview of this kind, making it clear that his own wisdom and insight
testified to the efficacy of the approaches he outlined. His aneccdotes
concerning his own success with 'difficult' pupils in 'difficult'
reinforced his personal authority as much as the power of the
concerned. The connection between observation or surveillance and power
has been charted by Foucault among others, and students found
calmly surveyed as Telemachus waited for quiet or dealt with a
Again, colleagues who lacked the concepts or self control needed to
the cool clinical observation were being downgraded, as well as
Prof Calypso exhibits
best the power
relations connected with a 'classic realist' pedagogy, as outlined
The students were presented with a certain level of 'narrative tension'
as Calypso laughingly refused to offer right answers. Students require
'right answers' even more than the abstract viewer of realist film, of
course, because they have to produce assignments regularly for grading.
The only way to get answers, though, lay with further commitment
to the narrative, guided only by Calypso. Students needed
from the confusion generated by the narrative itself, one might say.
was no alternative but to wait as Calypso demonstrated her superior
(as the only one who knew the end of the story and, thus, was above all
passion) by starting false trails and red herrings, setting up
only to demolish them, and so on. Some of the red herrings were the
of her rivals, of course.
With themes like
these, we have rediscovered
the Althusserian 'paradox of the subject', the processes whereby one
an (emancipated) subject only by subjecting oneself first to power.
the general processes outlined by Althusser miss a number of specifics
in educational institutions. Lectures like the ones I have described
mixtures of emancipating and dominating practices because of local
including the need to 'show one can control a group' and demonstrate
of the pedagogic conventions of one's subject, the unspoken contract
exists between lecturers and students whereby both need to generate
in examinations, and so both have an interest in producing simplified
answers', and, above all, the need to fight for space, and
popularity in an institution which demands external justifications for
courses and lectures rather than offering an unconditional commitment
scholarship. These activities serve to constitute in practice what
theory refers to as the 'interpellation' or 'positioning' of the
I have given some
examples of the
'dark side' of power in these sessions, but there were also lighter
of course, as lecturers paused to tell amusing anecdotes or jokes,
emotional stories of tragedy and heroism, or exhibit the 'role
of the professional by commenting adversely on their own
All these devices preserve the popularity of a lecturer, of course, and
they may have a pedagogic role too. In the spirit of Habermas's
not to restrict consideration to one particular 'respectable' form of
these ought to be included in any concrete study too.
I have been
unable so far to observe their teaching sessions, but I have managed a
small number of interviews as a pilot study. Even from the limited
gathered so far, it is clear that 'practitioners' are more complex than
their stereotyped labels indicate (not surprisingly, of course, since
practices are responsible for the stereotypes). Some 'practitioners'
been 'theorists' before, for example, and some have retained an
in 'theory' that matches that of the 'theorists'. The overall
is that the 'theory-practice' issue is used strategically to demarcate
a number of boundaries between themselves and audiences like
colleagues in the same institution or even in the same department, and
members of rival organisations such as University Departments of
The boundaries shift
over time and
with changes of career. External policy changes provide triggers for
activity, as when the CATE criteria stressed the need for more teaching
practice in schools for trainee teachers. As one respondent reported,
micropolitical implication of the apparently innocent pressure for more
school time was that there would be much less room for College-based
and so a competition for space was likely, between subject specialists,
'professionals' and 'the "ologies"'. Those specialising in the 'ologies
lost most, not for any particular epistemological or principled
but because 'they didn't have many friends' (in schools or in local
government). In colleges, the 'ologists' had made enemies because they
had been 'riding high' in the decade before. The next struggle for this
respondent would be to reduce the amount of time spent on subject
as the pressures for subject expertise from the National Curiuculum led
to the recruitment of less specialised teachers. Whether this
had dawned on colleagues was unclear.
As Ball suggests,
in terms of their explicit pursuit of strategies. The most acutely
respondents saw micropolitics as the main issue in teacher training,
connected the theory-practice issue to a range of other strategies,
strategies in the politics of gender. The least strategic respondents
much more noticeably 'philosophical' commentaries on the issue. Of
it is particularly likely that skilled strategists are going to be good
at finding out what an interviewer wants and supplying it.
Much more needs to be
done at the
concrete micropolitical level.The material gathered so far in this
is very patchy and preliminary. It needs to be extended by more
interview and observational data, although there are formidable
and political problems in gathering it. Nevertheless, some
have been illustrated here, perhaps, sufficient at least to argue that
the 'theory-practice' issue in teacher training is not a
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