Sunday, July 4, 2010

PL 37/10: A new republic

Filed under: Uncategorized — plinius @ 10:09 am

Plinius celebrates July 4 with a note on republics.

Science does not consist of facts, results or methods, but of communities of people that work on – and spend time discussing – shared professional problems.

As the number of researchers grows – and new interests develop – new sub-fields and specialties appear. That is a normal process. General history becomes divided by period – ancient, medieval and modern – and sub-divided again – into (say) Early, High and Late Middle Ages. People specialize by country – Norway, France, China – and by sub-system: political and social, cultural and religious, demographic and economic history.

An expert on Norwegian economic history in the nineteenth century will seldom discuss her findings with an expert on Chinese philosophy in the Sung dynasty. But the two will still accept each other as historians – and they will probably recognize the methodological issues that their far-away peers are struggling with.

The shared commitment to historical method unifies the discipline as a community of practice.

But sometimes differences become more profound. Academics develop approaches that break with the accepted standards of scholarly work in their subject. They leave, so to speak, the recognized republic of research – and establish their own statelets – or independent fields of discourse.

Separatists make their own laws. Independence means that they reject the authority of the disciplinary establishment.  They create their own concepts, their own ways of talking and their own standards of quality (if any).

A radical journal

The new journal on methodology from Oslo University College seems to fit the separatist description. I have read the articles in the first issue. From my point of view, they do not make sense as research.

In their first editorial the editors point out that RERM is a fully refereed and international journal. It welcomes manuscripts about how research is done, whether the focus is on early childhood education, schools and other places of learning, or higher education.

But the following sentences argue for a radically different way of doing educational research

  • RERM focuses on reconceptualizing as this connects to the doing and textualizing of projects in educational locations, for educational purposes.
  • As a methodology journal then, RERM aims to present some of the innovative work currently undertaken, as this connects to critical thinking and the questioning of the status quo.
  • By publicizing ways of doing research differently, and considering how research practices might change, this journal strengthens researcher positioning and aims to advance the field of methodology.
  • Not all published educational research is required to openly deal with concepts, by which we mean philosophical concepts.
  • RERM thus provides a publication place for the resistance of research that goes simply from the getting of information to analysis and presentation of findings.

Is this a journal in methodology – for people who reject the mainstream? Is it a journal in philosophy – to be judged by philosophers? Or is it a journal that rejects the distinctions between science and philosophy, theory and methods, fiction and non-fiction, research and art?

Finding the right questions

From the RERM point of view, these questions may be all wrong, since they represent (admittedly) traditional ways of thinking:

  • RERM challenges what is rulebound and questions some of the unwanted histories of disciplinary practices. …
  • In contemporary times it is not mandatory that our positionings as researchers are fixed.

But this is a material world. Rules and rulers have teeth. Since we are hired to undertake teaching and research for a purpose, we get into trouble if we deviate too much from the expectations of students and employers.

Personally, I’ll not stop collecting and analyzing statistical data. I think the professions need correlations as well as concepts, quantitative as well as qualitative data. I will continue to train librarians and teachers in practical statistics, in Norway and abroad..

Fortunately the editors also say: – What we have to do is make clear

  • why we work methodologically as we do, and
  • which concepts drive this work

I look forward to explore the new republic further with my OUC colleagues.



– To master the language of deconstruction, to acquire that special understanding of “nonconcepts” such as difference, trace, supplement, or verbs such as to inscribe, to defer, to open up a text, one has to assume an intellectual posture that is deeply unnatural within the culture in which we live.

Ewa M. Thompson. From Body, Mind, and Deconstruction (from IR 23:1, Fall 1986) – 02/27/08



  1. In 2000, Amos Hatch wrote:

    – I am intrigued, challenged, and sometimes awed by the fresh insights possible when considering the substance of the reconceptualist critique of early childhood education.

    I am strongly in favor of opening up our field’s conceptions of what counts as knowledge to include perspectives other than traditional, positivist, male-privileged, mostly developmental psych ways of thinking.

    At the same time I am attracted to the substance of the critique, I am often repelled by the form in which the ideas are presented.

    The short answer to the question about what the reconceptualist critique means for research and teaching in ECE [early childhood education] is: ‘Not much.’

    Ordinary early childhood teachers and mainstream early childhood researchers pay little or no attention to the critique. Reconceptualists seem to be applying a change model that relies on standing on the fringe and yelling at the middle.

    We have our own meetings, put chapters in each other’s books, and generally celebrate being excluded from the mainstream. Other models of change might be more effective – models that include dialogue, debate, and give and take; models of infiltration and subversion; or models where alternatives are demonstrated and viable options promoted.

    All this assumes that change is the point, which for me it is.

    [I second that]

    Taken seriously, the reconceptualist critique can change the face of early childhood education. But if reconceptualists continue to talk only to each other, ‘not much’ will continue to be the answer to the ‘what does it mean’ question.

    Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood. Volume 1 Number 2 2000

    Critical and Feminist Reconstructions of Early Childhood Education: continuing the conversations. GAILE S. CANNELLA Texas A & M University, College Station, USA

    Comment by plinius — Monday, July 5, 2010 @ 7:22 pm

  2. i know some children, who don’t want to cooperate and it is really difficult to not talk only to oneself and to focus the attention of them even using the reconceptualist critique

    Comment by agkal — Monday, July 5, 2010 @ 7:52 pm

  3. Thanks for your comment.

    I only discovered this “reconceptualist movement” in ECE a few days ago – a radical alternative to the “evidence movement” – and try to find a way to engage with these authors without getting lost in their unfamiliar and rather slippery concepts.

    To me (as to Hatch) the main weakness seems to be the choice of talking and writing (to themselves) – based on the belief that the World (the Establishment, neo-liberalism, positivist researchers) will change if enough people critique it long enough: standing on the fringe and yelling at the middle.

    I think deliberate social change requires practical organization, social mobilization and long-term political action.

    Comment by plinius — Monday, July 5, 2010 @ 8:02 pm

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