Reproduced with permission from Social Theory Applied. Original review posted here. In this very timely, accessible and resourceful book editor Mark Murphy brings together experienced researchers to consider how and why social theory is relevant to our understandings of contemporary education. The combination of expert commentary, practical advice, considered prose and empirical casework will prove invaluable to practitioners and students interesting in applying theory and philosophy to education and non-education research.
In fact, many of the analytical frameworks explored in this book will be particularly useful to empirical studies of health, social care, local government, and so forth. A unique feature of the book one which will appeal enormously to those intimated by dense, philosophical texts is the focus on rendering complex ideas accessible and providing critical skills to help guide education research design, development and evaluation.
Social Theory and Education Research is divided into four sections.
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The first chapter of each section situates each theorist historically, intellectually and culturally, in addition to providing a useful summary of key concepts. The remaining two chapters in each section are more empirically driven and evidence the use of theory for framing research ethics, data collection and analysis. The book is packaged as a textbook, presumably with a target audience of practitioners and entry-level and advanced students. The empirical-based sections therefore could have been strengthened with the addition of discussion questions and boxed examples.
The benefit of doing so would have been some reflective practice for the reader. The first section of the book focuses on Michel Foucault. The second section focuses on Habermas. In the following chapter Murphy and Skillen skilfully draw on these insights to trace the impact and limitations of bureaucracy and accountability audit, inspection, quality assurance mechanisms, benchmarks, target setting which they align with insidious forms of political regulation that threaten the professional integrity of public sector organization. In a vein similar to Murphy and Skillen, Sandberg suggests that the closures and hierarchies inherent to these assessments might be overcome through the application of dialogue and communicative action.
The third section somewhat inevitably covers the work of Bourdieu. Perhaps this section of the book may have been better utilized as a space for discussing the theories and application of Gilles Deleuze, Judith Butler, Zygmunt Bauman or Valerie Walkerdine, to name a few. In the following chapter Green demonstrates the utility of these concepts by mapping the interaction between structure, practice and agency in the context different religious-sponsored academies.
The final section of the book is on Derrida and by far the most difficult to navigate.
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On this account, the authors of this section should be commended for making accessible the seemingly incomprehensible. Irwin characterizes deconstruction as a means of eschewing any kind of complete or stable understanding. In the tradition of critical theory which makes contradiction the object of investigation, Irwin aligns deconstruction with indeterminacy, uncertainty, contestability and the incommensurability of values, the promise of which is new ethical and political imaginaries and terrain.
In the final chapter Mercieca applies deconstruction to a consideration of teachers-students reflective writings and, in true Derridean style, considers how much of autobiographical writing commonly understood as a reflective practice through which to better understand, even improve, the conduct of the self invites closure and jettisons possibilities for alterity. Theory and philosophy offer a means of engaging the world critically and for thinking through and beyond superstition, myths and false oppositions; ideologies disguised and taken for granted as given, ahistorical and unchangeable, for example.
Esteemed editor Mark Murphy provides a keen-eyed overview of the theories of Derrida, Bourdieu, Foucault and Habermas, in relation to four key education issues: - inequality, inclusion and education - identities: Notions of educational selves and subjectivities - teaching and learning: curricular and pedagogical practice - governance and management: Performativity, audit cultures and accountability While the influence of these thinkers has grown considerably over the last number of years, both their original work and its application to education can prove challenging to the educational practitioner.
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