Discourse in Educational and Social Research

Discourse in Educational and Social Research

Discourse in Educational and Social Research

Discourse in Educational and Social Research


WINNER: 2004 AESA Critics' Choice Award

"With wonderful clarity Maggie MacLure shows how deconstructionism opens new avenues of critical inquiry and understanding for educational researchers. In exposing the hidden, ideological side of terms like clarity, certainty, mastery, and relevance she allows us to see schooling and educational policy in new ways. In so doing she allows us to imagine classrooms as liberating, pedagogical places, as places where new forms of desire, knowledge, and learning take place"
Norman K. Denzin, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

This book is both practical and provocative. It demonstrates the insights and the challenges of a discourse-based orientation to educational and social research. Drawing on a variety of educational and social science 'texts' - including press articles, life history interviews, parent-teacher consultations, policy debates and ethnographies - the author shows how knowledge, power, identities and realities are constructed and problematised in discourse.

The book also deals with research itself as discursive practice, examining the texts that qualitative researchers produce and consume: reports, monographs, journal articles. Practical examples are included for researchers and graduate students wishing to 'interrogate' their own data from a discourse perspective. The author develops a critical awareness of the researcher's role as writer/reader of texts.

The book makes the case for 'discursive literacy' in research. While its primary allegiances are to poststructuralism and deconstruction, it draws from a wide range of disciplines, including interaction sociology, feminist ethnography, literary theory, critical discourse analysis and art history. What holds the book together is the persistent question: how to do educational research and social research within a 'crisis of representation' that has unsettled the relationship between words and worlds?


The notion of text is central to this book. the chapters engage with many different kinds of text, often in some detail - newspaper articles, parent-teacher consultations, policy documents, life-history interviews, ethnographic studies, research reports, a child's letter. By picking apart the fabric of these texts, the book tries to show how big and familiar issues of curriculum, opportunity, authority, policy, history, power and point of view are woven into the most mundane fragments of talk and writing. Although the main focus of the book is on educational texts and educational research, the methodological dilemmas and issues that it pursues are of relevance to social science research in general.

It will be clear from the outset that this is not a recipe book. It does not set out to present discourse analysis as a method or a model, with rules and principles that can be 'applied' to educational phenomena, although it provides plenty of examples of what such analysis could look like. It is more concerned with helping readers to grasp, or glimpse, something that is quite elusive - namely, the discursive nature of educational and other social realities. It is very hard to grasp the discursive texture of educational, or any other, worlds. Our usual habits of thought and ways of seeing - as researchers and as 'lay' people - inexorably lead us to look through or past the discourse 'fabric' of events, as if the bigger truths or the harder facts lay somewhere behind. This book tries to interrupt those customary ways of seeing and reading educational phenomena, by insistently focusing on their textual status. Sometimes this involves examples from fields that seem very distant from education, such as tv shows, paintings and novels. and although the book is written mainly in a relatively straightforward academic style (or so I hope), there is an element of 'playfulness' that might disconcert readers . . .

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