Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

Tony Lawson on Critical Realism: What's Teaching Got to Do with It?

Academic journal article Review of Social Economy

Tony Lawson on Critical Realism: What's Teaching Got to Do with It?

Article excerpt


As the title of this article implies, our primary focus in exploring the ideas proposed by Tony Lawson is the relationship between his perspective and teaching. Parker Palmer, a leading commentator on contemporary higher education, has emphasized the need to "make our teaching community property." Likewise, Lee Shulman, noted educational psychologist and now President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, has called for faculty to "make our teaching public." Like any form of scholarship, they argue, it is important to engage our colleagues in discourse on our practice as educators, both in terms of what we do and what we need to do. In this article we take up that challenge by reflecting on how our study of Lawson has assisted us in our thinking about what it means to teach our disciplines, economics and philosophy, as well as others. We are, in effect, offering an example of how faculty might approach the study of their disciplines as a way of reflecting on their teaching.

In a sense, then, this article is not only about Lawson's work and our reflections on it, but also serves as an example of a relatively new, but potentially powerful form of scholarship. In his seminal work, Scholarship Reconsidered, Ernest Boyer, past President of the Carnegie Foundation, identified ways of rethinking the nature of scholarly work, and, in that context, discussed the importance of what he called "the scholarship of teaching." In that spirit, we have engaged in this study as a way of integrating our disciplinary, and cross-disciplinary study, with our practice as teachers. This means that the article represents how the study of our fields and reflection on our teaching are integrally related. More specifically, our interest in this article is not so much in how we would teach Lawson's ideas to our students, although that could be one way of thinking about his work, but in how his ideas might inform the way we as teachers engage our students in the practice of our disciplines.

At our college during the past few years we have had many college-wide discussions regarding the relationship between disciplinary scholarship and teaching. We have asked ourselves as a faculty what the major issues and questions are in our respective fields and how that affects our thinking about our disciplines and our teaching. One of the many observations that have been made in this reflection is that some questions and issues seem to cut across many disciplines, and that the disciplines themselves are being practiced more in relation to one another. For example, the study of philosophical questions is often enriched by exploration of the insights that psychology can bring to bear, and the exploration of ethical questions is often tied to socioeconomic considerations.

Tony Lawson's discussion of transcendental and critical realism represented for the two of us that kind of intersection between disciplines and one that held promise for us as educators in our respective disciplines of economics and philosophy. With the support of a summer faculty fellowship at our college, we worked together to consider how Lawson's ideas might affect the way we thought about the present and future direction of our disciplines and, more importantly, how they might assist us to think about ways of educating our students in those disciplines. As we have said, we wanted not only to develop our own insight into Lawson's ideas, but also to engage in a process that integrates study in the disciplines with pedagogy.

In the first part of our analysis we explain our take on the meaning of Lawson's perspective and its significance for the practice of our disciplines. It is our contention that he is addressing a central issue in the methodology of both economics and philosophy, as well as other disciplines for that matter. In the second part of the discussion we consider how our reflection on Lawson has influenced our thinking about teaching in our fields. …

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