Why I am no longer a Critical Theorist

LyotardLeave it to Maha Bali in her Embracing Paradox: Both/And Mentality and Postmodernism to get me thinking about critical theory and how I find myself somehow free of it.

Egads, what did I just say?

Power is all around us, right?

I agree.

Do all people operate with equality and fair use of power?

Certainly not in my experience.

So how can you be beyond critical theory, given that it Continue reading “Why I am no longer a Critical Theorist”

Trying to Make Sense of My Research Status Quo

Based on these open questions I have been developing over the past few days, I think I may ultimately locate my research problem.

So, where am I now?

  1. I am thinking about questions of identity, especially how one formulates one’s online identity.
  2. As my previous two research papers (for Modules 1 and 2) explored the experiences and meaning-making expressions of those who engage in autoethnographic inquiry, I am still interested in exploring some element of this.
  3. I know that I see a connection between autoethnography and identity (as this seems a way of exploring and expressing this identity development), though I have not found much of this done in an online context (yet). I believe this is coming, though have not yet found it.
  4. There is increasing work in exploring online identity formation through blogging and liveblogging (among other social media, Web 2.0, etc.), though much of it seems to be from the perspective of people studying another phenomenon in the process — I am interested in how those who engage in this develop their own self concepts. I do not have a model for what I think this self-conception should or does look like — I have not yet identified if such a think exists.
  5. I see a great connection between threshold concepts and transformative learning, and wonder why they are seen a separate, and not related.
  6. There are networked learning possibilities here as well . . .
  7. Since my work comes from adult education, critical theory, (atheoretical for now) identity formation, and increasingly communities of practice, I want to explore some way of bridging some of these elements (that may seem disparate, though are all interrelated from my perspective) into a research design that will build upon my previous modules and work toward the final program thesis.

I really need to have this sorted out by the end of this week, since while I want to conduct solid research and learn something in the process, I do have to meet my course requirements (which do, of course, have a tight timeline).

Any thoughts on how to narrow this down, especially within the scope of work with threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge?

Research Interest Clarification, 2009

phenomenologyI recently had to re- introduce myself to a colleague regarding where my current research interests are, and I thought it may be interesting to share with a wider audience, as I do get asked to explain what I am interested in (since I cannot oversimplify this, however hard I try).

One of the things I learned about myself in the module at Lancaster I just finished is just how much I love qualitative methods. Not just qualitative studies in my own content areas, but the rich methodological particulars in themselves. Yes, I couldn’t believe it when I first said that a few weeks ago – I knew I was interested in application to practice, but now find myself loving the complexities and issues around selecting, using, and assessing various qualitative methods. I can see myself really exploring this more in itself . . .

Since my background is adult education, I tend to think of myself as an adult educator. I like critical theory and constructivist frameworks, and am fond of Wenger’s Community of Practice model, as well as Jack Mezirow’s Transformative Learning framework. I am a proponent of postmodernity, and as such am interested in identity development, especially in online blogs and other forms of social media where narrative inquiry and autoethnography can be used.

Now, to see how all this can develop toward a thesis direction . . .

Pragmatism as an Episode of Constructivism

I am chatting with some colleagues right now, and explaining what I meant when earlier this week I referred to pragmatism as an episode of constructivism.

Pragmatism is a worldview or philosophy that is concerned with the application of what works in this or that context. If pragmatism is a paradigm that Creswell, in his Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches, has separated out from the others (like positivism or critical theory), then it occurred to me that pragmatism is doing something based completely on the context. In other words, it is constructing a method or approach to an issue as needed. This sounds surprisingly like constructivism, just reconstructed in time as needed and when needed.

Thus, pragmatism is an episode of constructivism.

Next Research Project Ideas

This is my first foray into sharing my doctoral journey, specifically through my decision to share my 5-10 minutes a day of writing about my process and thinking as per my program’s recommendations in our current module (and which I discussed here and here). I hope that reflecting aloud may be helpful for others who are considering this for themselves—either as a model for what can be done, or as a suggestion for what to avoid (the challenges or the process of sharing here itself).

I have to begin thinking about my research ideas for this module, which is entitled Development of Professional Practice. I really like this concept, and think it is more than fitting that I am developing this practice, and exploring it in my own life, here, where my colleagues (both current and future) can join me on the journey.

As I am beginning to formulate my ideas for this mini-project (around 3800 words, +/- 10%), I am going to consider some of the concepts that interest me, as I think some brainstorming is in order:

  • identity and learning
  • autoethnographic inquiry (both as a researcher and as studied in others who engage in this)
  • exploring various personal identities, and the transition from one to another
  • transformative learning
  • reflective practice related to constructivist / critical frameworks
  • individual identity development and self-definition within communities of practice
  • juggling of identities as a process of personal learning

Will have to play around with these, and see what feedback my cohort offers.

Are Transformation and Power Shifts All of Nothing Events?

Jacqlyn S. Triscari is presenting this session. Her answer to the session title is simply, no! The purpose of her qualitative research study is about the role of power and shifts in power that occur in an organization during an organizational transformation. How is the transformation process intertwined with shifts in power, and issues in and around power? She spoke about organizational change as the main framework, and then organizational development (OD, which is a policy and procedure way of managing change that comes from senior management) and organizational transformation (OT, which addresses issue of culture and people).

She addresses issues of critical reflection and altering values / assumptions / beliefs. She used a case study, which was a non-profit that provides services for people with developmental disabilities. With her case study,  she interviewed senior management, documents monthly newsletters as DVDs where senior management spoke, interviews with workers, and focus groups.

Her theoretical framework was Critical Organizational Theory with a Postmodern Lens. She did a spin on mainstream organizational theory (Abel, 2005), which is generally around maintaining the status quo. She then added critical theory, specifically critical management studies and critical HRD (cf. Alvesson & Wilmott, 1992). Jacqlyn did a nice job explaining these critical organizational theories and how they merge into transformative theories. Critical Organizational Theory and its view of power assumes power from society spills  over to organizations, diversity is seen broadly and includes many organizational factors, some people have more voice than others, and power is repressive and a negative entity. Postmodernism includes multiple views, perspectives, and voices that are encouraged, deconstruction is used as a teaching, learning, and questioning tool, context is crucial, no preferred ways of thinking, and solutions (even temporary ones) are sought. Needless to say, based on my blog’s subtitle, this is something I am really interested in. Postmodern organizational theory posits power that exists, though it is not good or evil, and this is based on the work of Foucault.

I asked a question about how deconstruction was done within the organizations; she will come back to this and respond later.

There is a lot of research on (planned) change (OD change), but less on organizational transformation with its issues of power.

She used a Spiral of Analysis (cf. Cepeda & Martin, 2005)—she did an analysis and then brought the findings to more people in the organization to test them out. This process reminds me of the PDSA (Plan – Do – Study – Act) cycle in the performance improvement literature.

One of the fundamental things that she learned from the workers within the organization—they followed what management told them to do (policies), unless they knew they were wrong. This was in part linked to the CEO’s initial tea and cookie session, when the CEO told the workers that sometimes you stand alone when you are right. The CEO gave a list of values, and asked the employees to accept the one(s) they thought were right and agreed with.

She was then asked at the end to reflect on what she learned and how she has changed (reminds me of my Lancaster paper I submitted last week and am now revising). One of  the items is that maybe power does not follow organizational lines. There is more than one “reality” to any event. In this way, everybody can be right.

A person in the audience recommended a Sage text by Dvora Yanow – Conducting Interpretive Policy Analysis, that may be useful for this style of research.

Adult Education Research Conference (AERC) 2009 – Significant Opening Plenary

The opening plenary session for AERC2009 is taking place in the Chicago Cultural Center, what a beautiful and optimistic location to begin the 50th Anniversary AERC. This is the 3rd of these conferences I have attended, and I have felt this is one of my professional homes. I always like how this conference, in addition to all the wonderful sessions and past and future colleagues I have worked with from here, has a focus on critical theory, social justice, and the political implications of education. I was attracted to this organization initially because I agree that education, and adult education in particular, is focused around teaching and learning as both a means and a enabler of power and positionality.

This reminds me of one of the reasons why I engage in liveblogging at academic (and professional) conferences. I believe this is an opportunity to both engage in autoethnographic work as well as to co-participate in the conference itself. What could be a more engaging and democratic experience.

I like how the conference bags that were donated by Jossey-Bass were made from recyclable materials. National Louis University, the host institution, even provided all the conference attendees with water bottles in a further effort to be green (no individual bottles here!).

Nice discussion about the merger of theory and practice with adult education that is being discussed right now. Interesting that the adult education program at National Louis University lives within the school of arts and sciences.

There have been several references to Elizabeth Peterson, who was the conference organizer before she passed away very recently (RIP).

The panel presentations are now beginning, after the opening remarks concluded and the housekeeping issues were addressed.

  • Edgar Boone is now speaking, and he started working with adult education 58 years ago. He speaks about how he got into the field, started to work in academia, and early work with Malcolm Knowles. He said that adult education has had a powerful effect on social justice within the US. He also said that we (the field of adult education) has done a lousy job communicating who we are and what we do. He acknowledged that our departments are dropping like flies, and unless adult education as a field becomes more politically connected on campuses and within governmental funding bodies. I agree with him completely. Adult education, I believe, will perish as a formal department-based program, merging into higher education programs or, which I believe will be much better, into programs such as cultural studies. I think I need to blog about this more thoroughly. Edgar is now talking about the need for a research agenda for the field, and ask ourselves how to rebuild the profession. Goodness, this reminds me of the DPE (Delta Pi Epsilon) organization I used to be a member of, where the focus seemed to be on what was rather than where we are going. Edgar is making a wonderful point, and I find him very refreshing.
  • Phyllis Cunningham is now speaking. She is speaking how adult education has always been more among the more conservative of fields, really run by the numbers. She mentioned that issues of social justice and power and positionality comprise the core of adult education, though the field has now transitioned to program planning, evaluation, and adult learning as the core of graduate programs. Freire was translated into English in the early 70’s, and then after that critical theory, Habermas (even taken out of context and in pieces), and Miles Horton (among others) became the focus. The field gradually became more inclusive (not just white men) and international. She is now speaking about the various caucuses and pre-conferences that were organized. She is now speaking about the failures of our own association that did not even publish its own policy paper (written by Jack Mezirow). The counter-hegemonic forces grew, but then education in HRD and higher education have taken the focus and emphasis. Phyllis mentioned that President Obama’s emphasis is where the change is happening, not in here (field of adult education). As she said, everything can be critical, as long as the power structures do not change. How right she is. She is not hopeful for our field.
  • Alan Knox is now speaking. Amazing he facilitated the first AERC 50 years ago. Nice that he is standing in from of the panel table and is directly speaking with and engaging us (even without notes – wow). He is very articulate, though somehow I am not able to really focus on his words; I am still so focused on Edgar and Phyllis, both of who stated what I have been thinking about the future of the field. He even mentioned AAACE, which is an organization to which I used to belong, but have since left due to its ambiguous nature and shrinking membership.

Now, an opportunity for conversation and dialog. Great question about how to afford all these conferences. A wise use of technology to blend with the live experiences is a possibility. Kathy King is adding a good point about having virtual conferences and presentations. Interesting discussion about how the GRE is a racist test, and how the differences between outcomes-based assessments (which are recognized) as opposed to issues of social justice in education. Alan Knox is now speaking about identifying measurable outcomes for adult education. The issue of having discussion boards and continued online work is a significant. Do I hear a need for a community of practice apart for the conference.

I have heard a number of mentions of the future of adult education,especially after the 50 years of AERC and want to try to list them in my own words:

  • Become more political (both from a critical theory and activist perspective as well as connected to the governmental and national bodies)
  • Remember the roots
  • Differentiate ourselves
  • Determine and articulate the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) – how and why should the field remain? What does it add? What makes it different? Is there still a need?
    • expanding on this point, this may just be a good position paper for the field, even to the point of creating an “elevator speech” for what it means to be an adult educator
  • Consider how adult education can more actively understand itself, especially in relation to other fields and areas (anybody hear of cultural studies, communication studies, e-research, technology, online education, nursing education, gender studies, performance studies, and sociology?)

What to do for a field in need of renewal. Hope my colleagues