Education, Philosophy, Research:
Opening space for moves towards social justice in research
Given the complex inter-relationship of social/educational research with, on the one-side global capitalist systems and technology1, and on the other, governmental institutions concerned with security, including, as Foucault2 saw more than three decades earlier, education, health and welfare. Given the sublime and ever-growing powers involved in the enframing of populations3. Given, too, the growing polarizations in this country and in many of other societies4, cultivated by forms of neoliberalist discourse around the globe. Especially, given such discourse foregrounds ‘privatization, commodification, free trade and deregulation’5 in accord with ‘free market fundamentalism… that now shapes and possibly threatens ‘all aspects of life’ around the world6. While largely ‘excluding’ or reducing to a ‘state of exception’7 and so placing on permanent ‘life support’8 any democratic ‘public’ space cultivating ‘citizenship’, ‘solidarity’ 9, and the ‘fragile prospect of comradeship underpinning the achievement of liberty/equality’10. Given these and other complex issues, it was no surprise to find that within the institution of social/educational research there has been considerable interest, albeit not expressed in these terms, in pushing against the limits of what is given in practice11. At issue are the limits imposed by the everyday economy of exchange involved in the giving and receiving of a gift in order to open such practice to the possibility of improvement12.
Over the last thirty years within the international field of school improvement13, for example, there remains a completely undimmed passion from many researchers to find ways of pushing against the limits of what is given in practice in order to open space14 for the improvement of measurable outcomes for young people’s learning15. Similar drives and passions are in evidence in the fields of social/educational research more generally16. Such moves accord with the requirement for the reproduction of rigorous truth claims to knowledge in ‘school improvement’17 research and other forms of inquiry more generally18. Indeed, there continues to be much debate, generated by one of the international leaders in this field, David Hopkins19, drawing from the earlier groundbreaking work of Lawrence Stenhouse20, concerned with whether one should regard any truth claims to knowledge as intelligent rather than correct. Understandably, then, within the economy of exchange of improvement such intelligence opens space for leadership, professionalism and so-called improved practices mediating learning at all levels within the ‘apparatus of education’21. But, such an economy of exchange of what is given in practice in the field of improvement research is largely grounded in a homogenous ethic foregrounding the conditional, calculable, possible dimensions of young people’s existence22.
At issue behind all the headlines concerned with improvements in education23, is the naming force aligned to the sublime gathering powers of that tiniest of words in our lexicon, the ‘is’. In other words the powers of being as presence at work in every nominalization and verb in the languages of improvement, social/educational research, and in language more generally 24. In an earlier study with Nick Peim, rather than continuing to operate within any of the existing paradigms of research concerned with the production of knowledge, we had sought to deconstruct the apparatus of education against indications drawn from the possibilities open to human beings25. Here was a move towards the possibility of social justice – ‘deconstruction is always mad about justice’26. It opens space for hospitality concerned with what is unconditional about the possibilities of human existence. Unconditionally, such myriad possibilities, of course, are incalculable and impossible ever to identify fully. Unconditionally as human beings in the multifarious possibilities of our express sense of being, our everyday practices are always open to what hitherto may have been regarded as impossible and incalculable dimensions of practice. They accord with a heterogeneous ethic27 of practice.
But, currently the apparatus of education28, along within more instrumental forms of research29 concerned with the generation of new truth claims to knowledge, remain locked within economies of exchange of what is given by the enframing30 of practice. In this way what is revealed in these economies is ordered and so delimited by the principle of assessment – ‘nothing of value in practice is made public without independent assessment’31. Such enframing reduces the existence of human beings to a ‘standing reserve’32 of energy and possibilities – a huge reservoir.
Ironically in this way these many systems of improvement of education and of practices more generally generated through research are always in danger of rendering the body of populations around the globe as simply being available for use within the dominant system of capitalism. This hardly constitutes grounds for moves towards social justice.
In a nutshell what is required, surely, is a form of research that aligns the reproduction of truth claims to knowledge with moves towards social justice through democratically grounded and communitarian-based research33. In more radical forms of research informally such moves have been in operation for many years34. At issue is the challenge of educational/social research, along with its aligned practices of education emerging from such research, that open space for hospitality to a heterogeneous ethic of practice for human beings. At issue are forms of research that are ever alert to moves towards social justice. At issue are moves through research towards balancing rather than generating ever-growing sublime powers mediating human existence. At issue remains the need for greater understanding of people’s experiences of living in a ‘state of exception’ in this age of technology. At issue remains the imperative to understand more about the education people experience through their engagement with different practices outside the apparatus of education – practices of research, everyday complex practices of living and working in urban, sub-urban and rural landscapes with the media and a multiplicity of technologies always at hand. At issue remains just how such education mediates, shapes and possibly delimits people’s existence. The stakes are high. At issue remains the integrity of human co-existence in the biosphere on this planet.
References and Endnotes
1. Flint, K.J. [in preparation, a] ‘Where is the Justice in Research’, paper presented to Cultural Studies – Critical Methodologies, Urbana-Champaign IL: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Flint, K.J. [in preparation, b] ‘The Social Justice Turn in Qualitative Research: Capitalism, technology and the sublime powers of the ‘is’, paper presented to Cultural Studies – Critical Methodologies, Urbana-Champaign IL: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
2. Foucault, M.  Discipline and Punish: The Birth of a Prison, trans. Sheridan, A., London: Penguin Books.
3. Flint, K.J.  Rethinking Practice, Research and Education: A philosophical inquiry, London, New York: Bloomsbury; Flint, K.J. and Peim, N.A.[ 2012] Rethinking the Education Improvement Agenda: A critical philosophical approach, London: Continuum
4. Castells, M.  The Rise of the Network Society: Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture v. 1: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture Volume [2nd Edition], Chichester, West Sussex and Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
5. Giroux, H.A. [2014a) Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education, Chicago, Illinois: Haymarket Books.
6. [ibid: 1]; Klein, N. (2014) This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. Climate, London: Penguin.
7. Agamben, G. [ 2005] State of Exception, trans. Attell, K. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
8. Giroux, H.A.  Dangerous Thinking in the age of the new authoritarianism, Boulder, CA and London: Paradigm Publishers: 162.
9. Glesne, C. (2007) ‘Research as Solidarity’ in, Denzin, N.K. and Giardina, M.D. (eds.) Ethical Futures in Qualitative Research: Decolonizing the Politics of Knowledge, Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press: 126 -78; Tuck, E. and Fine, M. (2007) ‘Inner Angles: A range of ethical responses to/with Indigenous and Decolonizing Theories’, in N.K. Denzin and M.D. Giardina (eds.) Ethical Futures in Qualitative Research: Decolonizing the Politics of Knowledge, Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press: 145-68.
10. Wallerstein, I.  Unthinking Social Science: The Limits of Nineteenth Century Paradigms, Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press: 22.
11. Flint, K.J. [2015: 125-204]
12. Dooley, M. and Kavanagh, L.  The Philosophy of Derrida, Stocksfield: Acumen: 10.
13. Fullan, M. (2007) The New Meaning of Educational Change (4th Edition), New York: Teachers College Press; Hargreaves, A. and Fullan, M. (2012) Professional Capital: Transforming Teaching in Every School, New York: Teachers College Press; Hargreaves, A. (2003) Teaching in the Knowledge Society: Education in an Age of Insecurity, Maidenhead, Berkshire: Open University Press Hopkins, D. (2015) ‘Curiosity, Practitioner Research and the Quality of Teaching’, Lecture presented at Nottingham Trent University, September (2014) A Teacher’s Guide to Classroom Research (5th Edition), Maidenhead, Berkshire: Open University Press; (2013) Exploding the Myths of School Reform Maidenhead, Berkshire: Open University Press (2001) School Improvement for Real, London: RoutledgeFalmer. Hopkins, D., Ainscow, M. and West, M. (1994) School Improvement in an Era of Change, London: Continuum.
14. References to ‘opening space’ connect with Henry Lefebvre’s  thesis concerned with the ‘production of space’ wherein space is no longer viewed as an inert and empty vessel, but rather as an entity produced in social interaction and in the coding of language. Lefebvre, H.  The Production of Space, trans. Nicholson-Smith, D., Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
15. Flint, K.J. [in preparation, a]; Flint, K.J. and Peim, N.A. 
16. Flint, K.J. [2015: 125-204]
17. Fullan, M. [2007; Hargreaves, A. ; Hargreaves, A. and Fullan, M. 2012; Hopkins, D. [2015, 2014, 2013, 2001].
18. Arthur, J., Waring, J., Coe, R. and Hedges, L. V.  Research Methods & Methodologies in Education, London: Sage; Denzin, N. K. and Lincoln, Y. S. [eds]  The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research [4th Edition], London: Sage. Denzin, N. K. and Lincoln, Y. S.  ‘Introduction: the discipline and practice of qualitative research’ in The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research [3rd Edition], London: Sage.
19. Hopkins, D. [ibid]
20. Rudduck, J. and Hopkins, D.  Research as a Basis for Teaching: Readings from the Work of Lawrence Stenhouse, Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
21. [Foucault, M. ; Agamben, G.  State of Exception, trans. Attell, K. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.
22. Derrida, J. (1999) ‘Hospitality, Justice, and Responsibility’, in Kearney, R. and Dooley, M. (eds.) Questioning Ethics: Contemporary Debates in Philosophy, London and New York: Routledge: 65-83.(1990) ‘The force of law: The ‘mystical’ foundation of authority’, Cardozo Law Review 11, 920–1045.
23. Fullan, M. [2007; Hargreaves, A. ; Hargreaves, A. and Fullan, M. 2012; Hopkins, D. [2015, 2014, 2013, 2001].
24. Flint, K.J. [in preparation, a, b]; Flint, [in preparation, c] ‘Education for social justice: Towards a mapping of the event of social justice in qualitative research’.
25. Agamben, G. 2005; Foucault, M. 1977; Heidegger, M.  Being and Time, trans. Macquarrie, J. and Robinson, E., Oxford: Blackwell Publishing [trans. of Sein und Zeit [7th Edition], Tubingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag].
26. Derrida, J. [1990: 965]
27. Derrida, J. [1990: 947, 953]
28. Flint, K.J. and Peim, N.A. 2012
29. Flint, K.J. 2015; Flint, K.J. [in preparation, a, b, c]
30. Heidegger, M. (1977) The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. Lovitt, W., London and New York: Harper & Row: 1-35.
31. Flint [2012: 63].
32. Heidegger, M. [1977: 19]
33. Flint [in preparation, b, c]
34. Flint [2015: 125-204]