Notes on: Lather, P.  (1992) 'Critical Frames in Educational Research: Feminist and Post - structural Perspectives'. Theory Into Practice XXXI, 2

Dave Harris

Her early reaction to empirical research was to see it as an alienating form of science.  Qualitative research and feminist inquiry offer new possibilities.  Their interest is in what it means to do critical inquiry, on how lives are affected by systems of inequity.  Feminist and qualitative research has reconfigured educational research itself.  Her interest is in developing critical social science intended to empower [citing of all people Fay].  Critical theories identify with various opposition or social movements.  Post modernism and post structuralism, however, have implications

Positivist science used to be democratic within emancipatory potential, but scientific method had additional consequences, posing as something culture- free.  This is 'methodolatry' [citing Daly].  Relativism has now intruded.  Social sciences are often addressed as anti science, with calls to adopt scientific methods.  There are also arguments to retain science but without positivism.  The background is Habermasian legitimation crisis, which is undermined intellectual and cultural authority, as expressed in post structuralism, including Foucault undermining regimes of truth.  There is a new openness in social inquiry as a result, but there are now contending paradigm is raising issues of legitimacy and authority.  Habermas on human interest might help us categorise them, and she likes emancipatory paradigms esp..  We can add a column referring to their capacity to deconstruct, however.

[Then a rather basic discussion of how positivism emerged, and how it is used more loosely and aggregated illegitimately with notions like the objectivity of knowledge. Kuhn on paradigm shifts started the critique and introduced post positivism.  This has embraced constructivism, and eventually led to the linguistic turn.  We also became aware of the political context, via Freire.  Relativism was also raised as a problem.  Women studies and critical education studies had emerged as a positive challenge.  To call this qualitative is inadequate, and risks neat parcelling of qualitative to oppose quantitative.  Positivism still remains as an official way to do social science, and this has implications on grant funding and publication, but it no longer dominates theoretically and is no longer seen as the only best way to proceed.  Postmodern shifts in social relations has also produced the realization of the limits of enlightenment rationality, and led to post structuralism as a challenge to structural attempts to 'scientize language, to posit it as systematizable'.  Universalistic claims of positivism were seen as participating in bureaucratic and technocratic systems of domination, and one answer was to stress '" discontinuities and suspensions of dictated meanings, in which difference, plurality, multiplicity and the coexistence of opposites are allowed free play"'(90) quoting Bannet.  This is where educational research and feminist research properly belongs.

In the early days, educational research was dominated by psychology, especially behaviourism, itself positivist.  All that has changed with the emergence of new critical paradigms [citing Carr and Kemmis among others].  New approaches go beyond just using qualitative methods, to focus on meaning making.  Some research is openly based on values as in critical ethnography in Willis, or critical feminist theory, and contestation has emerged.

Feminist research has had a considerable impact, and has ranged widely, in addressing patriarchy [some examples are revealed, including work on female achievement (91)].  Increasingly, interaction with other dimensions such as race and class have been investigated.  Much of it is 'openly ideological'and challenges conventional ways of knowing [as phallogocentric].  It embraces advocacy.  Initially, it operated within positivist paradigms, but the second wave was more innovative, searching for patterns and meaning, and asking questions of power.  Advocacy was defended as no more ideological than conventional work.  Much debate took place about whether there was a distinctive feminist method and if so, what it was based upon, often leading to qualitative methods.   Harding in particular defended 'feminist empiricism' to investigate the social biases found in culture and conventional social science.  Feminist standpoint theories reacts against male understandings and their distortions, and embraces multiplicity on the grounds that different conditions make different knowledges possible.  Both these approaches are 'transitional' for Harding, and lead to feminist postmodernism focusing on truth effects, and abandoning conventional science altogether to go beyond it.  The approach might be premature for Harding, until the old positivist conventions are completely overcome.

Examples follow.  One particularly influential one ( Belenchy, Clinchy, Goldberger and Tarule 1986) takes on developmental psychology to 'give voice to the experiences of women usually unheard' (93), through indepth interviewing.  Women's ways of knowing and viewing reality emerged opening new topics for research.  However, it seems to have stuck with Perry's five stages of development rather than pursue heterogeneity.  Jones takes on critical ethnography of schooling to examine the responses of adolescent girls in a way which avoids both liberal democratic and orthodox Marxist approaches.  Jones says this is openly ideological, and justifies this by saying that it is no more so than the usual mystified approaches.  Later work builds more on Foucault to look at the construction of objects of investigation, and identifies contradictions in academic discourse as reproducing elite definitions.  She advocates 'counter practices of academic writing' that open more readings, and undergoes the self critique of the constructedness of her own account and assumptions, sometimes using a personal voice as opposed to a 'white academic' one.  This is not like the usual ideology-critique involving hegemony, where the critical theorist is the solution.  Emancipatory work itself is seen as reproducing power dynamics.  Britzman also talks about how discourses construct the real, and she wants to develop 'the movement of "building suspicious texts and encouraging suspicious readings"'(94).  Lather's own work is cited, where she offers for deliberate 'tales: realist, critical, deconstructive, and reflexive'.  The intention is to undermine the notion of research as offering a correct reading.  Text is 'multi voiced'.  The intention is to show how textual styles operate to make sense of the data, and ends with questions about the narrative authority of the text, the way in which it frames meanings nor as multiple voices and emancipatory desires.  The intention is to produce 'a science capable of continually demystifying the realities it serves to create'and offers 'a more humble scholarship capable of helping us to tell better stories' rather than the "dream of scientificity"'[95, quoting Barthes].

[Main ideas are summarised in lieu of a standard conclusion] Recent theoretical movements towards the posts has coincided with feminist research, leading to 'a deconstruction of the researcher as universal spokesperson'(96).  There is no one best way, but awareness of complexity and contingency 'can be paralysing'.  The answer is 'reflexively getting on with doing such work might be the most radical action of feminist researcher and educator can take'.

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