Academic journal article Social Justice

The Cultural Organizing of Formal Praxis-Based Pedagogies: A Socio-Historical Approach to Participatory Action Research

Academic journal article Social Justice

The Cultural Organizing of Formal Praxis-Based Pedagogies: A Socio-Historical Approach to Participatory Action Research

Article excerpt

THE CONTRIBUTORS TO THIS ISSUE OF SOCIAL JUSTICE GRADUATED FROM A DOCTORAL program called Social and Cultural Studies in Education, in which a unique scholarly dynamic emerged from two disparate, yet related-schools" of thought. One is described as the socio-historical perspective, with an emphasis on relationships in learning, and the other as participatory action research, with deep roots in popular education and critical pedagogy. The socio-historical perspective frames the idea that learning is best understood beyond its institutional confines (i.e., schools) in places, situations, and practices considered "everyday" or "common." Participatory action research (PAR) assumes that everyday knowledge holds the epistemological key to unlocking the methods and strategies for producing social change within marginalized communities. The authors highlighted in this special issue, Activist Scholarship: Possibilities and Constraints of Participatory Action Research, discuss how collaborative relationships in learning engender autonomous, agentive processes that aim to secure greater equity and justice among the marginalized and often disenfranchised.

Social and Cultural Strands in Education

The socio-historical perspective is delineated through the conceptualization of "communities of practice" (Lave and Wenger, 1991). Owing most of its fundamental principles to Lev Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development (Holland, 1998; Moll, 1990), the socio-historical perspective asserts that intellectual capacities or skills develop in relationship to expert knowledge or communities of practice, while the distance measured by the effectiveness of this relationship determines the level of intellectual capacity. The amount of knowledge attained by an individual depends on his or her social and historical proximity to the source of this knowledge within a particular community of practice. The key variable determining distance is social power; an individual lacking social power or status will be relegated to the margins and thus far from the knowledge required for apposite development.

With the advent of Birmingham's Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, the socio-historical perspective valued non-institutional sites for their potential to evince the knowledge-laden, productive, or creative aspects of everyday culture (Lave et al., 1992; Willis, 1977). Thus, the "everyday," whether we observe the shop floor, street corner, or playground, became ethnographic sites rife with the potential to understand how people make meaning around, and critically reflect on, their life experiences.

Focusing on the value of the everyday connects with the main assumption within participatory action research (PAR) such that everyday, common folk possess the knowledge necessary for meaningful self-reflection (Selener, 1997). PAR does the socio-historical perspective one better by asserting that everyday people not only engage in sophisticated self-reflection, but also learn how to make changes to their communities and the institutions within them. The emphasis of this assertion is on "learning," but in a way that is more formalized and pedagogical than what the socio-historical approach considers true and useful knowledge attainment. Rather, the socio-historical perspective assumes that formalized, institutional pedagogies only perpetuate marginalization by prioritizing knowledge in a way that gives precedent to dominance.

The focus on power and how traditional schooling may knowingly or unwittingly generate disparities is a commonality between the two schools of thought. However, when the socio-historical and PAR perspectives evoke theories of change, considerable distinctions occur. From a socio-historical perspective, change happens informally in places beyond dominant institutions, where people cultivate their own cultural agency independent from formal processes unmoored from their own traditions. In contrast, PAR posits that change emerges from formal pedagogies of scientific research, even drawing from standard disciplinary methods, such as ethnographic observation, the case study approach, and survey techniques. …

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