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Relations between theory and data in research into higher education

Date: 7 October 2009 Time: 12.30 pm - 2.00 p.m.

Venue: IAS MR1

Relations between theory and data in research into higher education

Dr Paul Ashwin, Department of Educational Research, Lancaster University.

Wednesday 7th October 2009, 12.30 - 2.00 p.m., IAS MR1. Department of Educational Research Seminar Series. Everyone welcome.

There has been increased level of discussion of the role of theory in research into higher education. However, this discussion has tended to focus on two aspects of the use of theory in this area. The first aspect is whether theory has been used at all in research and the second is the type of theory that is drawn upon. An aspect that has been the subject of far less discussion is the relationship between theory and empirical data in research into higher education.

Based on a review of articles published in international higher education journals in 2008, I argue that the current ways in which the relation between theory and data are constituted are two closely-related ways in which the relationship between theory and empirical data are usually constituted in research into higher education. First, empirical data are sometimes argued to illustrate theory. Second, theory is sometimes argued to explain the data generated, thus the data provided by participants in the research are argued to be explained by the theoretical concepts under discussion. I argue that these approaches tend to obscure the ways in which the theory underpins the conceptualisation of the research object and thus informs the way in which data are generated and analysed. I also argue that they involve an essentially one-way relationship between theory and data, in that it provides no space for empirical data to develop theory. Together these problems can lead to tautological research in which the analysis of the empirical data involves a re-statement of the theory that underpinned the initial conception of the research object.

I draw upon Basil Bernstein's notion of 'languages of description' to argue for a two-way relation between theory and empirical data, which means that theories need to be capable of being developed by the empirical data that is generated. In conclusion, I examine the implications and limitations of this approach for research into in higher education.

Watch the video of this session at: http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fass/edres/seminars/index.htm

See powerpoint presentation at: http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fass/doc_library/edres/09seminars/ashwin_07.10.09.pdf

For more information contact Dee Daglish d.daglish@lancaster.ac.uk.

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Who can attend: Anyone

 

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Organising departments and research centres: Educational Research

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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Lancaster University
Lancaster LA1 4YD
United Kingdom

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