Education Policy and Realist Social Theory: Primary Teachers, Child-Centred Philosophy, and the New Managerialism

By Robert Willmott | Go to book overview
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Notes

Chapter 1
1
Hence the use of natural analogies by social realists to explain emergence and stratification (Sayer 1992). Many critics rightly point out that social reality is unlike natural reality since (a) it does not exist independently of us, and (b) it can never be likened, for instance, to a magnetic field precisely because it is quintessentially peopled (Manicas 1997). However, it will be argued that the dissimilarities are unhelpfully emphasised at the expense of the similarities between natural and social reality.
2
The notion of structure (or culture) as possessing sui generis properties has been wrongly assumed to entail reification; viz. that such properties are either disconnected suprahuman 'substances' or beyond agential grasp. But the phrase 'sui generis' means nothing more than 'of its own kind'. As Archer notes,

The confusion arises etymologically because the same word genus (of which generis is the genitive) means 'birth', deriving from the older Sanskrit verb 'jan', meaning 'to be begat'. Hence the source of the Holistic error that (reified) society begets or generates its own (equally reified) properties. However, when referring to things, such as 'society', it denotes merely 'sort' or 'kind'.

(Archer 1995:48-9)

3
Any research methodology presupposes a social ontology. This cannot be avoided. However, school effectiveness research, for example, refuses to examine its ontological presuppositions and conducts its defence purely at the methodological level. (See the Preface to Part III of this book, and Willmott 1999c, for a critique of their positivist methodology and how its ontological presuppositions provide the necessary, though insufficient, conditions for the charge of ideological commitment.)
4
As Layder (1990:120) argues, methodological individualism presupposes a flat ontology of social reality and insists that facts about social phenomena can be explained solely in terms of facts about individuals. The principal reason for the emphasis upon the individual stems from its empiricist underpinning, and hence any reference to unobservable social relations is taken to entail reification or the positing of a dubious social 'substance'. (See the useful collection of essays in O'Neill (ed.) Modes of Individualism and Collectivism (1973), in which empiricist propositions preclude a full-blown endorsement of ontological emergence.) Indeed, the empiricist ghost has yet to be fully exorcised. In their discussion of Lukes' (1974) three dimensions of power, Deem et al. write that, 'because three-dimensional power is not directly observable, we can only speculate about its existence' (1995:135). The foregoing should be sufficient to dispel any need to speculate about the existence of powers that may remain unexercised or are exercised but unperceived.

-227-

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