International Research Conference, Lancaster UK, 21-23 July 2014
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Translations and contradictions: on making a difference and critical distance 

Sue Clegg, Leeds Metropolitan University. s.clegg@leedsmet.ac.uk


This paper argues that simple dissemination models do not work and that arguments about evidence-based policy and practice are based on inadequate understandings of science. One of the strengths of close-up research, with its emphasis on depth and understanding, is that it can identify why things are as they are and by extension when we identify wrongs seek to challenge them. Based on a critical realist understanding of normativity there are no good philosophical reasons for not connecting research and practice. The paper suggests, however, that making a difference is fraught with contradictions and tension and that the translation from research to action is far from straight forward since agents (ourselves, students, and teachers) confront situations not of our own choosing.  The paper explores this dilemma by analysing the Formations of Gender and Higher Education Pedagogies project undertaken by Penney Jane Burke and colleagues and by reflecting back on some of the authors own efforts to make a difference based on research projects conducted with Jacqueline Stevenson. The Formations of Gender project was based on a participatory methodology and produced resources for teachers and is an excellent example of close-up research aimed at making a difference. However, there is a tension between the advice for teachers and the conditions under which staff find themselves practicing. In our own work our critical stance on employability was in tension with our suggestion that students could draw on their extra-curricular activities as a way of building and consolidating cultural capital. The problem and paradox was that in effect we were saying to students become better neo-liberal subjects, bring more areas of life under surveillance as part of the narrative of the employable self, so re-instantiating the position that we had criticised and deconstructed at the beginning of the research. Our translations into what we hoped were usable staff and student texts, as part of ‘making a difference’, recommended that which we had been at pains to critique. There is an inevitability about these moves, but at the same time as exploring the slippages of translation and loss of criticality I want to defend notion of praxis as theoretically informed change for critical social purposes. This involves a view of making a difference and research that moves beyond thinking of research as a discrete act and invokes the significance of corporate agency and the possibilities of acting collectively. 

Link to Full Paper (If submitted)

Conference Organisers

Paul Trowler
Lancaster University, UK

Alice Jesmont
Lancaster University, UK

Malcolm Tight
Lancaster University, UK

Paul Ashwin
Lancaster University, UK

Murray Saunders
Lancaster University, UK

Chrissie Boughey
Rhodes University, South Africa

Suellen Shay
University of Cape Town, SA

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