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Epistemology of Educational Case Study


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Dominik Lukeš at BERA 2007 presenting a short summary of a paper by John Elliott and Dominik Lukeš

Dominik Lukeš at BERA 2007 presenting a short summary of a paper by John Elliott and Dominik Lukeš

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  • 1. Under what terms might case studies yield useful knowledge to policy makers (Epistemology as ethics) John Elliott and Dominik Luke š University of East Anglia BERA 2007
  • 2. Initial considerations
    • “ What kind of confidence can we have in the ethnographic study and construction of a single case (or cross-site analysis of a limited number of cases) as a basis for policy and practice? What is the nature of the inference between evidence and recommendations for policy and practice in such studies? “
    • in the context of inquiry into “the warrant or level of confidence which educational research (of different kinds) can provide for decisions about what should be done in terms of general educational policy across a whole system or practice at classroom level.”
    • David Bridges’ formulation of the research task
  • 3. Epistemology as methodology
    • Most of the methodological issues have been addressed by case study theoreticians in three overlapping traditions:
      • ethnography: Becker, Lacey, Wilis, Nathan, Pole and Morrison, Hammersley, etc.
      • responsive evaluation: MacDonald and Walker, Parlett, Kennedy, Kemis, Stake, Simons, etc.
      • contemporary history: Stenhouse
    • However, examination of method is not sufficient to address questions of warrant and confidence
  • 4. Epistemology as cognition
    • A confusion springs from the surface properties of case study as a genre of research and the requirements of case-focused reasoning which is a prerequisite for situated judgment
    • Statistics often serves as a metaphor of generality and medicine as a metaphor of evidence
    • But both can be shown to provide insufficient correspondences
  • 5. Epistemology as phronesis
    • Phronesis: practical rationality vs. instrumental rationality
    • Instrumental rationality has its place within one area of practice but does not necessarily translate across areas of practice (since it is acquired as much by apprenticeship as by fulfillment of abstract principles)
    • Cf. portrait of Gordon Brown as a practical philosopher in the sense of Gramsci: “ The man of action is the true philosopher: and the philosopher must of necessity be the man of action.”
  • 6. General vs. Universal
    • We need to differentiate between:
      • generality: a result of an analysis of internal properties of the data
      • universality: a result of a situated human cognitive and affective act
    • Case study can provide the latter in the context of policy as practical philosophy but the former only within the context of academic practice
  • 7. Policy-making as practice
    • Utilization of research data is the intersection of three areas of practice: researched, researcher, policy-maker; each provides situational context with its own interpretive imperatives
    • Policy-maker as practitioner needs to be a philosopher-researcher rather than a client of philosophers and researchers
  • 8. Conclusion: Epistemology as ethics
    • An inquiry into the warrant and generalization of case study should be an inquiry into the ethics surrounding the creation and use of research, not an attempt to provide an epistemologically transcendent account of the representativeness of sampled data.
    • Ability to ‘Render private knowledge public’ and ‘challenge prejudices’ can be better criteria for case study’s relevance to policy making than disembodied rules of generalization and representativeness (these, however, have a place within the practice of case study);
    • As uncomfortable as it may be for academic researcher, leaving judgements of practicality and warrant to practitioners may be one way of getting inspiration from medicine