The Impracticality of Practical Research - Professor Thomas S. Popkewitz
Seminar, School of Education, The University of Queensland, Monday, 8 February, 4.00-5.30 pm, Room 402, Building 24
Professor Thomas S. Popkewitz, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, The University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA
During the Cold War, Irving Louis Horowitz, a prominent American sociologist, wrote about the dual projects of social science. One was to understand critically and historically the conditions that made the present possible. The other was a political project to plan for the future. The former worked and has been extremely influential. The latter fell apart after its 70th birthday.
Horowitz’s distinction between the study of the present and the planning for the future, however, is not merely a characteristic of the Cold War. The dream of the future is a mainstay of contemporary educational sciences concerned with school reform. Filled with the search for “useful” and “practical” knowledge and rigorous methodologies to identify “what works,” the sciences embody a redemptive theme about pathways to actualize the desired future. Whereas the promise of finding the practical knowledge for the future is daunting and enticing – as Sirens’ singing to beckon the mariners— the lecture explore the historical limits of present research on practical knowledge as a strategy of educational change. The focus on knowledge gives attention to what political philosophy and feminist theory, among others, have noted: the politics of modernity is concerned not only with questions of sovereign power, but also with productive power.
Not-with-standing the current topoi about thinking today of The Knowledge Society, power in liberal societies is exercised less through brute force and more through systems of reason that order and classify what is known and acted on. This relation of power and knowledge is generally ignored in the history and sciences of schools. The lecture will explore how it is possible to think about practice and everyday life as objects of change; and that change directed at changing social conditions by changing people. Explored are the shifting terrains and paradoxes of the Enlightenment's cosmopolitanism as a comparative mode of reasoning that excludes in its impulses to include.
The (re)visioning of cosmopolitan principles in contemporary research about “practical” and “useful” knowledge are examined in reform-oriented research to change teacher education, teacher core practices, and international assessments of student performance, and OECD and McKinsey & Company models of changing educational systems. While the research programs are different in their emphasis on practical knowledge; when explored in relation to epistemic principles about people and social change, I argue, they are not different. The research produces hierarchies of value about difference through distinctions about the qualities, competence and capabilities of children. It is at this epistemological level that the research is argued impractical. Impractical as (a) the research conserves the very contemporaneous frameworks to be changed; and (b) its inscription of principles of inequity rather than equity.
Professor Thomas Popkewitz is an acclaimed and internationally recognised post-structural theorist and cultural historian of education and curriculum. His work includes comparative, historical and ethnographic studies of national educational reforms and educational sciences. https://ci.education.wisc.edu/ci/people/faculty/thomas-popkewitz His recent books include, The "Reason" of Schooling: Historicizing Curriculum Studies, Pedagogy, and Teacher Education (Routledge, 2013).
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