Discursive discord, ethical estrangement: what hope for a ‘civil partnership’ of politics and educational research ?

Donald Gillies

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


This paper is a conceptual study which attempts to explore the uneasy relationship between educational research and politics. Across both Europe and globally, a range of politicians and political parties commit themselves to managing education with due regard to research evidence. Thus there is much talk of evidence-based, or evidence-informed, policy. For educational researchers, however, there has been a long tradition of dissatisfaction with the way in which the practice of politics ignores research evidence, twists research evidence, deals with it in a selective and partial manner, or elides its nuances and limitations. There is a latent desire for more political impact but a difficulty in engaging meaningfully with politics (Smeyers & Depaepe, 2006). 
The paper uses three key theorists to position its discussion and argument. First of all, it depends on Foucault’s concept of discourse (1981 [1970], 2002, [1969]) for its construction of the field so that both politics and educational research are positioned as distinct discourses. Secondly, it establishes the disjunction between the two discourses in relation to the thinking of Hannah Arendt (1958, 1990) who identifies the two central pillars of politics as being those of being public (‘the space of appearance’) and of persuasion - in relation to one’s perspective, opinion (‘doxa’). The paper argues that these two features create difficulties for the practice of educational research, and even more so when one considers modern politics in the light of Edelman’s extension of Arendt’s insights with his concept of ‘political spectacle’ (1985, 1988). The ethics of educational research would suggest that making a ‘spectacle’ of research findings, of a focus on perception rather than reality, would be discursively excluded. Similarly, using research as a means to promote a case, to infuse it with the tools of rhetoric and the emotive expression of opinion (‘doxa’), would also be discursively alien. 
However, in seeking to find a place for educational research within the political sphere, on the normative grounds that policy should be, or would benefit from being, research-informed, there is the possibility for some commonality to be discovered. This is to acknowledge that there is a wide spectrum of what constitutes educational research but also to argue that there is an overlap in that all research aims at the production of knowledge (Furlong & Oancea, 2005, p.20). The nature and intended use of that knowledge varies considerably undoubtedly, the prevalent distinction between ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ research being a typically-produced example. In addition, as Stenhouse (1981) argues, research can be defined as ‘systematic enquiry made public’. Thus we have a ‘public’ element to educational research, even although this was slightly amended by Stenhouse who added that only research which was designed for critical discussion and had in mind affecting a public theory of education was so positioned.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes
EventEuropean Conference on Educational Research 2013 - Bahçeşehir University, Istanbul, Turkey
Duration: 10 Sep 201313 Sep 2013
http://www.eera-ecer.de/ecer2013/ (Conference website)


ConferenceEuropean Conference on Educational Research 2013
Abbreviated titleECER 2013
Internet address


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