Educational Research for Social Justice: Getting off the Fence

By Morwenna Griffiths | Go to book overview
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4: Facts and values: power/knowledge

Epistemological and methodological issues in research for
social justice

In Chapter 3,1 discussed the significance for epistemology and methodology of human agency, of social interactions (especially the effects of power) and of ethics. I discussed the significance of the way human beings use their agency to interpret their worlds, and I discussed it in relation not only to the subjects of research, though this was important, but also to the researchers, who are themselves human beings. All this was shown to be of great importance for educational researchers interested in social justice.

In this chapter I take these issues further by considering how - or how far - values enter into interpretations: that is, if - or how far - facts can be value free. This is a matter which is crucial for anyone interested in research for social justice. It is also a matter which is widely and hotly debated both in and out of educational research communities, though I shall draw on education examples and theories as much as possible. These debates are subtle and complicated. They draw on a range of theoretical frameworks, none of which deals in easy answers. Educational researchers do not have the luxury of remaining within just one of these theoretical frameworks: the questions that arise in educational research necessitate some familiarity with several of them. As a result, this chapter is, inevitably, more dense and difficult than most of the others in the book. So some readers might like to skip it at first reading. Others will find it exactly the one they want to start with.

As I shall explain in this chapter, some researchers argue that facts are objective and unbiased if, and only if, they are not contaminated by values. They say that once the facts are established, values are brought into play in order to use the knowledge well: to make progress and to improve things. Against this, others would argue that such facts do not, and could not, exist. A particular facet of this debate is the place of power in the construction of values and knowledge, including, in some Foucauldian versions, the ethics


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