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Can Social Realism Do Social Justice?
Debating the Warrants for Curriculum
Knowledge Selection
Lew Zipin & Marie Brennan, ...
‘Bringing knowledge back in’ to
educational attention and debate
• Academic and policy movements around the
globe to ‘brin...
Overview of our presentation
• SR’s argument as we understand it.
• Challenge from standpoint theory: questioning the degr...
SR binary 1: ‘Powerful knowledge’ vs.
‘knowledge that has power’
Knowledge of the powerful … has its roots in Marx’s … wel...
SR binary 2: ‘Powerful knowledge’ vs
‘everyday life’ knowledge
Bernstein’s distinction between vertical and horizontal
kno...
We argue: Curriculum for social justice needs
to incorporate three kinds of knowledge
• A: Life-world knowledge that carri...
SR invokes strong binary distinctions
(drawing on Durkheim/Bernstein)
• SR curriculum emphasis on ‘powerful knowledge’, as...
Claiming a special impartiality for
disciplinary knowledge communities:
‘A coalition of minds’
Development of ‘powerful kn...
Standpoint Theory’s challenge: Not impartiality
but partial objectivities, yielding ‘stronger
objectivity’
• Sandra Hardin...
A Vygotskyan challenge—‘Only life educates’:
Bringing life-world knowledge back in
[T]here [should] exist within the very ...
Scientific knowledge offers powerful
curricular value …
Vygotsky, in conceiving how learners extend knowledge
capacities i...
… but only in robust inter-relation with the
life-world ‘conceptual fabric’
Everyday concepts provide the “conceptual fabr...
In sum: A Vygotskyan Funds of Knowledge
approach pursues a curriculum dialectic
• As against SR’s stark binary separation,...
Separating epistemology from ethics?
• [T]here remains the issue that … [f]or Durkheim, the
social is the moral: it is abo...
SR, in seeking to keep life-world knowledge out,
seeks also to keep ethical valuation out
• By locating knowledge in the h...
Fraser’s challenge—we cannot keep ethics out:
Concept cannot be separated from value
On both philosophical (citing Quine) ...
Pursuing robust social justice in conditions of
globalising (post-Westphalian) times
• Fraser (2009) proposes two interrel...
Fraser’s 3-R dimensions of robust social justice
• Redistribution: the ‘what’ of justice; for example—
What knowledge shou...
SR’s thin conception of curricular justice:
Merely redistribution
• We find Social Realism to treat curricular justice mer...
Democratising curriculum for
robust social-ethical justice
1. All forms of knowledge to be included, viz:
– A: Life-world ...
Can Social Realism Do Social Justice? Debating the Warrants for Curriculum Knowledge Selection 
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Can Social Realism Do Social Justice? Debating the Warrants for Curriculum Knowledge Selection 

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Presentation by Dr. Lew Zipin and Professor Marie Brennan at the SIOE Seminar, 25 September 2015

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Can Social Realism Do Social Justice? Debating the Warrants for Curriculum Knowledge Selection 

  1. 1. Can Social Realism Do Social Justice? Debating the Warrants for Curriculum Knowledge Selection Lew Zipin & Marie Brennan, Victoria University, Melbourne Presented at Sheffield Hallam University 25 September, 2015 Based on a paper by: Lew Zipin, Victoria University, Melbourne Aslam Fataar, Stellenbosch University, South Africa Marie Brennan, Victoria University, Melbourne
  2. 2. ‘Bringing knowledge back in’ to educational attention and debate • Academic and policy movements around the globe to ‘bring knowledge back in’, after what some now see as decades of too much ‘process/pedagogy’ orientation that lost regard for matters of knowledge selection. • Social Realism as one such movement (prominent in South Africa; present in other Commonwealth nations; a significant UK emergence in the work of Michael F.D. Young and colleagues).
  3. 3. Overview of our presentation • SR’s argument as we understand it. • Challenge from standpoint theory: questioning the degree of faith that SR places in the ‘objectivity’/ ‘impartiality’ of disciplinary communities. • Challenge from a Vygotskyan (Funds of Knowledge) approach: affirming the curriculum value of life-world knowledge in dialectical interaction with disciplinary knowledge. • Challenge from Nancy Fraser’s criteria for an ethically robust social justice framing: knowledge selection for curriculum must not only redistribute ‘powerful knowledge’ (the ‘what’ of justice), but also inclusively recognise diverse knowledges and values (the ‘who’ of justice); and participatorily represent the range of stakeholders (the ‘how’ of justice).
  4. 4. SR binary 1: ‘Powerful knowledge’ vs. ‘knowledge that has power’ Knowledge of the powerful … has its roots in Marx’s … well- known dictum that the ruling ideas at any time are the ideas of the ruling class …. However, … [this] tells us nothing about the knowledge itself …. [W]e need another concept … [that] refers not to the backgrounds of those who have most access to knowledge or who give it legitimacy … [but] to what the knowledge can do or what intellectual power it gives …. Powerful knowledge provides more reliable explanations … for engaging in political, moral, and other kinds of debates …. In modern societies, powerful knowledge is, increasingly, specialized knowledge; and schooling, from this perspective, is about providing access to the specialized knowledge that is embodied in different knowledge domains. (Young 2008a: 14)
  5. 5. SR binary 2: ‘Powerful knowledge’ vs ‘everyday life’ knowledge Bernstein’s distinction between vertical and horizontal knowledge structures … assumes that … the codes and practices associated with subjects and disciplines … are designed to set the curriculum apart from the everyday knowledge that students bring to school … [and] it is this separation of the curriculum from everyday life that gives the knowledge acquired through it an explanatory power and capacity for generalization that is not a feature of everyday knowledge tied to practical concerns…. Certain principles for guiding curriculum policy necessarily follow …[including that] curriculum cannot be based on everyday practical experience. Such a curriculum would only recycle that experience. (Young 2008b: 89)
  6. 6. We argue: Curriculum for social justice needs to incorporate three kinds of knowledge • A: Life-world knowledge that carries powerful meaning and use value in learners’ cultural-historical identities and family/ community practices. (Vygotsky: Funds of Knowledge approach) • B: Powerful knowledge that develops among specialist communities of disciplinary knowledge work, carrying the use value of cogent systematicity and explanatory power. (Social Realism; Vygotsky) • C: Cultural capital (knowledge that has power), the codes of which need to be redistributed to those who do not inherit them at birth, as they carry the exchange value of those with socially-structurally positioned power to influence both overt and hidden curricula. (Bourdieu) We find that Social Realism explicitly negates the value of A and the relevance of C, while hyper-emphasising B.
  7. 7. SR invokes strong binary distinctions (drawing on Durkheim/Bernstein) • SR curriculum emphasis on ‘powerful knowledge’, as against both ‘knowledge of the powerful’ and ‘everyday life knowledge’, relies on a set of strong binary distinctions, valorising one side of the binary: – sacred : profane – impartial : partial – objective : relativist – generalisable : specific – vertical (disciplinary) : horizontal (everyday) – concern with knowledge as truth : as use – school’s prime purpose as cognitive : cognitive-ethical
  8. 8. Claiming a special impartiality for disciplinary knowledge communities: ‘A coalition of minds’ Development of ‘powerful knowledge’ in contexts of disciplinary specialisation and expertise supposedly guarantees a high degree of impartiality, hence objectivity—hence ‘the best and most empowering knowledge available’—via a ‘coalition of minds’ across historic time and social space: Collective representations are the product of an immense cooperation that extends not only through space but also through time; to make them, a multitude of different minds have associated, intermixed, and combined their ideas and feelings; long generations have accumulated their experience and knowledge. (Durkheim 1967:15)
  9. 9. Standpoint Theory’s challenge: Not impartiality but partial objectivities, yielding ‘stronger objectivity’ • Sandra Harding: sociological relationalism—all knowledge, including that of specialist communities, comes from partial somewhere/s (standpoints: not the ‘God trick’ of everywhere and nowhere) … • … but not epistemological relativism: Standpoints of partial knowledge are also partially objective. ‘Power-sensitive conversation’ across different yet socially related standpoint perspectives can map these ‘partial objectivities’, yielding ‘stronger objectivity’. • Thus standpoint constructivism takes social science seriously. Standpoint constructivism does not necessitate epistemological ‘relativism’, as SR advocates assert … • … but it does mean that no work on knowledge—including in scientific communities and networks—is immune to partialities of perspective and power.
  10. 10. A Vygotskyan challenge—‘Only life educates’: Bringing life-world knowledge back in [T]here [should] exist within the very nature of the educational process, within its psychological essence … as close an interaction, with life itself as might be wished for. Ultimately only life educates, and the deeper that life … burrows into the school, the more dynamic and the more robust will be the educational process. That the school has been locked away and walled in as if by a tall fence from life itself has been its greatest failing. Education is just as meaningless outside the … [life] world as is a fire without oxygen, or as breathing in a vacuum. The teacher’s educational work, therefore, must be inevitably connected with his [or her] creative social and life work. (Quoted by Moll from Vygotsky 1997: 345, with original italics and ‘[or her]’ added)
  11. 11. Scientific knowledge offers powerful curricular value … Vygotsky, in conceiving how learners extend knowledge capacities in ‘the zone of proximal development’, envisions (says Moll 2014: 34-35): [Curriculum inter]relationship between … what he called “spontaneous” and “scientific” concepts …. The key difference is that scientific, or schooled, concepts … as compared with everyday or spontaneous concepts … are acquired through, a system of formal instruction. The observation that scientific concepts tend to be acquired in school and everyday concepts … out of school is not as important as the characteristic of systematicity: the way scientific concepts form part of an organised system of knowledge and thus can more easily be reflected upon and deliberately manipulated.
  12. 12. … but only in robust inter-relation with the life-world ‘conceptual fabric’ Everyday concepts provide the “conceptual fabric” for the development of schooled concepts, and the everyday concepts are also transformed through their connection with the more systematic concepts. Scientific concepts grow into the everyday, into the domain of personal experience, thus acquiring meaning and significance. However, scientific concepts bring with them conscious awareness and control, which Vygotsky believed to be essential characteristics of schooling. (Moll 2014: 35)
  13. 13. In sum: A Vygotskyan Funds of Knowledge approach pursues a curriculum dialectic • As against SR’s stark binary separation, the Funds of Knowledge approach that builds upon Vygotskyan precepts promotes a dialectical curricular interaction: life-world knowledge: spontaneous concept/thought  scientific knowledge: systemised concept/thought • This appreciates knowledge as historically emergent in situated time/space. Ethical appreciation of the use-value, and indeed the depth, of life-based knowledge is also affirmed. At the same time, specialised knowledge is valued as providing systematicity and explanatory power.
  14. 14. Separating epistemology from ethics? • [T]here remains the issue that … [f]or Durkheim, the social is the moral: it is about values. Insofar as knowledge (and the curriculum) are social, they too for Durkheim are primarily moral issues. This makes it difficult to use his framework to explore questions of knowledge content and structure that are avoided by … social constructivism. Is Durkheim right in equating the social with the moral, even when it comes to the question of knowledge? Or can we envision a non- moral concept of the social? We think the answer to the latter question must be yes … [because] issues of the structure and content of knowledge must lie at the heart of the sociology of the curriculum. (Young and Muller (2010:122-123)
  15. 15. SR, in seeking to keep life-world knowledge out, seeks also to keep ethical valuation out • By locating knowledge in the history of human beings’ actions on the external world, a dialectical approach treats knowledge as a product of human labour … in the Marxist sense … [of] purposive activity …. Within such an analysis, knowledge and truth, as distinct categories referring to cause and explanations that are not tied to political purposes, disappear. (Young 2008a:39) • Vygotsky’s emphasis on social activity appears to preclude him from treating knowledge as something that can be conceptualized as separate from its uses. The importance of being able to separate knowledge from its uses is of course Durkheim’s key point in his critique of pragmatism. (ibid:66) • For Durkheim .. [explanatory] power [of knowledge] could never arise out of its usefulness in terms of satisfying specific needs. Consequences, he argued, are inevitably unreliable criteria for truth. The power of logic has to refer to factors that are a priori and external to any specific human activity. (ibid:70)
  16. 16. Fraser’s challenge—we cannot keep ethics out: Concept cannot be separated from value On both philosophical (citing Quine) and historical grounds, Nancy Fraser (2009) challenges simple trust in experto- cratic science-from-‘above’ as able, by itself, to illuminate complex problematics of the current (or any) historical age. [Any] proposed accounts of the circumstances of justice are inherently theory-laden and value-laden, which is why they are controversial …. The task of adjudicating rival characterizations … must … be handled dialogically, in a multifaceted practical discourse that canvasses alternative conceptions, unpacks their underlying assumptions, and weighs their relative merits—all in full awareness of the internal relations between knowledge and normative reflection. (38-39)
  17. 17. Pursuing robust social justice in conditions of globalising (post-Westphalian) times • Fraser (2009) proposes two interrelated meta-principles for justice in globalising times: – A strong inclusion principle: ‘all-subjected’ (who)—‘what turns a collection of people into fellow members of a public is…their joint subjection to a structure … that sets the ground rules for their interaction’ [i.e. not merely those inside a ‘national’ boundary] – A strong democracy principle: ‘participatory parity’ (how)— ways must be designed and practiced for all who are subjected to have representational capacity to speak views, put issues on agendas, question assumptions, become knowledgeably informed, and receive fair hearing. • Only if these two principles are operative can the ‘what’ of justice be decided in ways both considered and fair.
  18. 18. Fraser’s 3-R dimensions of robust social justice • Redistribution: the ‘what’ of justice; for example— What knowledge should be selected for curriculum; for what reasons? • Recognition: the ‘who’ of justice; for example— Whose cultures and identities should be included in the mix of curriculum knowledge; and who should decide? • Representation: the ‘how’ of justice; for example—By what arrangements and processes can those with stakes in outcomes of curriculum discussion and debate be enabled to participate in reciprocally informing synergies of diverse ‘expertise’ leading to curriculum selection decisions that fairly adjudicate competing claims?
  19. 19. SR’s thin conception of curricular justice: Merely redistribution • We find Social Realism to treat curricular justice merely as a ‘what’ matter of redistribution; e.g. Maton & Moore: Social realism attempts to recover knowledge in the service of progress and social justice. The impulse underlying social realist work is … both the creation of epistemologically more powerful forms of knowledge and establishing the means to enable them to be accessible to everyone. (2010: 10) • Moore extends this argument: SR is the appropriate framework for socially progressive sociology of education because it secures, contra … constructivist relativisms, strong justice claims with strong rather than weak knowledge claims. The powerful are so not because they can arbitrarily impose their knowledge/culture as ‘powerful knowledge/culture’, but because they enjoy privileged access to the knowledge/culture that is powerful in its own right. (2013: 350; italics in original) • This just about denies the existence of culturally arbitrary ‘codes’ of cultural capital that come into power-play in processes that recontextualise knowledge into curriculum.
  20. 20. Democratising curriculum for robust social-ethical justice 1. All forms of knowledge to be included, viz: – A: Life-world knowledge (Vygotsky: Funds of Knowledge approach) – B: Powerful knowledge (Social Realism; Vygotsky) – C: Cultural capital (knowledge that has power: Bourdieu) 2. All 3 dimensions of justice, viz: – Redistribution – Recognition – Representation An illustrative mode: flood competency groups as public democracy (Whatmore & Landstrom 2011).

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