AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
The past 25 years have seen an unprecedented growth in the use of nontraditional research methods in the social sciences. Interest in new approaches to research are, in part, motivated by the desire to secure more authentic information about the people and situations studied and by the realization that conventional form of research often constrain the data in ways that misrepresent the phenomena the researcher wishes to understand. As a result of these beliefs and interests, new forms of data representation that elude conventional forms are being employed, These new forms have their promise as well as their perils. This article discusses the context in which these new forms of research have emerged and the promise and the perils they present.
First, I would like to thank the members of the Qualitative SIG for asking me to deliver this address on the occasion of the SIG's 10th anniversary. When the first meeting of the SIG convened in Washington, D.C., a decade ago, there was a small band of AERA members in attendance. Since then, the SIG, qualitative research methods, and the field of educational research in general has come a long way You have helped make that happen. I am here this evening to help celebrate your achievements and to reflect on where we are today
The theme of my remarks focuses on the promise and perils of the new frontier in qualitative research methodology I will be addressing the following questions: What is the new frontier and why is it being explored? What promise does it hold for improving the quality of education? What are its perils? And, finally, where do we go from here?
The new frontier in qualitative research methodology refers to research efforts that explore new assumptions about cognition, the meaning of research, and how new research methods might broaden and complement traditional ways of thinking about and doing educational research. Conventional approaches to educational research, those employing statistical procedures and the use of correlation and experimental designs, have in the past provided the paradigmatic conditions for the conduct of research. To do research was to use such procedures. An entire technical language has been created and batteries of statistical procedures invented to draw dependable conclusions from data. These procedures and the assumptions on which they rest are quite alive and healthy, but they no longer are the exclusive -- perhaps not even the dominant -- orientation to educational research. But why is this exploration occurring?
The emergence of what I have referred to as the "new frontier" secured its impetus from several sources, not least of which is a dissatisfaction with the constraints of operationalism and the legacies of positivism and behaviorism. Research conducted under the influence of these theories of meaning and behavior are often extremely reductive in character. In the opinion of many researchers, they leave out more than they include. Operationalism, for example, requires the measurement of variables, and although measurement can be a precise way to describe some aspects of the world, as a form of description it by no means exhausts the ways in which the countenance of the world or its details can be represented. Increasingly, researchers are becoming aware of the fact that form and content cannot be severed; how one chooses to describe something imposes constraints on what can be described.
As for behaviorism, neither stimulus response theory rooted in Thorndike's (Joncich, 1968) legacy to American psychology nor Watson's (1925) was ever adequate for understanding how or what the world means to those who inhabit it -- perhaps especially children. For humans, meaning matters and values and intentions count. Humans live in a contingent world and form purposes that shift and alter depending on the meanings those contingencies have fostered. Indeed, as constructivism has increased in saliency as a way to understand how humans made sense of the world, behaviorism as an approach to individual psychology has seemed less and less relevant. The dominant philosophical and psychological orientations of the first 50 years of the 20th century left out, in the views of many educational researchers, too much that mattered.
Other sources of discontent developed from a growing interest in what Schwab referred to as the practical. In his classic paper (1969), given at this annual meeting in 1969, Schwab advanced a view of knowledge which at that time had little saliency among educational researchers. The view that he advanced pertained to the centrality of practical knowledge in the context of action. For Schwab, teaching and curriculum development were, above all else, practical activities. By practical he meant what Aristotle meant: Practical activities are activities aimed at making good decisions, not activities seeking truth. Practical activities dealt with contingencies, not with causal laws. Practical activities made use of theory, but as a rule of thumb, not as a rule. Practical activities required deliberation and at their best exemplified what the Greeks called phronesis, a concept that referred not simply to knowledge but to wise moral choice.
Schwab's emphasis on the practical adumbrated for educational researchers another way of thinking about how we come to know. As those of you who are familiar with Aristotle's theory of knowledge will know, Aristotle distinguished between three types of knowledge (McKeon, 1941). The first pertained to theoretical knowledge, knowledge that could, in principle, be secured on phenomena that were of necessity; that is, phenomena that had to be the way they were because they could be no other way I speak here of fields such as mathematics, astronomy, physics, and other sciences whose subject matters were knowable by their necessary and sufficient conditions; subject matters whose locus of movement, Aristotle tells us, resides within themselves.
Practical knowledge, as I have indicated, is contingent knowledge; it depends on context. Perhaps its architectonic exemplification is located in the art of politics. Human activities in general cannot, in Aristotelian terms, be understood in the ways in which the stars can be.
The third form of knowledge is productive knowledge. For Aristotle, productive knowledge is knowledge of how to make something: tables, symphonies, paintings, or poems. Its most vivid manifestation is displayed in the arts.