Critical qualitative research in education: Notes from the field
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The state of the notion critical in theory and research is open to a yawning discussion. The political challenges that critical scholars have taken up are usually accompanied by methodological frameworks that have been appropriated to fit the nature of their critical enterprise. The “critical” of the 1980s, 1990s or 2000s, particularly in educational research and theory has allowed distinct heavens for educational scholars in line with their different socio-political positionalities, usually in tangent with social theory and epistemology. This dissertation project problematizes contemporary portrayals of the “critical” in regards to the question of referentiality and bordering and the associations between critique and critical, while examining constructions of the critical in the field of educational research through working its various aspects such as mechanisms and functions of critical, alignments of critical, epistemic vs. empirical criticals, and homologic productions of difference within the critical scholarship. This has been done through analysis of research data conducted through systematic content analysis of education and educational research journals, as well as data from interviews with “critical” scholars at various US universities. Content analysis and interview data indicate that the problematic of defining the “critical” contemporarily have to do with the same feature that set the critical initiative into motion at the hands of the Frankfurt School members in the first place. That the members of Frankfurt School envisioned a rupture with the past (the Enlightenment) as well as with the future (the finality of the liberal bourgeois order) suggests a domain that thought itself as oppositional, hence political, to the existing order and its relations of power. Therefore, the critical as one of the building blocks of critical research theory and practice is employed for specific tasks relatively independent from each other, suggesting that attachments/attributions to the notion of critical such as normative claims, political commitments, and value orientations carried the discussion over the realm of the identity problematic within the academy. Drawing on Bourdieu’s field theory, as well as on patterns abstracted from content analysis throughout this dissertation, I also argued that the critical enterprise is not a static theoretical construct that is applicable across different research studies. Nor is it limited to the realm of the theoretical; for its usage in empirical studies and the contextual and conceptual variations that its instances, from German idealism to French structuralism, etc., underline the need to adopt both theoretical and empirical tools in order to explore the current manifestations of the critical enterprise. Moreover, the political dimension of research construction and practice is inherent to the various aspects of the social, academic, and personal and is re-enforced through power relations within the field.