Academic journal article Family Relations

Placing Feminist Education within the Three Paradigms of Knowledge and Action

Academic journal article Family Relations

Placing Feminist Education within the Three Paradigms of Knowledge and Action

Article excerpt

Placing Feminist Education Within the Three Paradigms of Knowledge and Action*

Use of the three paradigms of knowledge and action (instrumental-technical, interpretive, and critical-emancipatory) to achieve the goals of feminist family education is explored. Each paradigm is described, including its underlying assumptions and when it is useful to use. Feminist methods in selected Family Relations articles between 1988-1999 are examined for their illustration of the three paradigms. Various challenges in using the interpretive and critical-emancipatory paradigms also are discussed.

Key Words: family life education, feminism, pedagogy.

In the past 13 years, educational approaches designed to further feminism have become more widely acknowledged and discussed in family studies. Feminist educators seek to increase students' awareness of, sensitivity to, and critical reflection of (a) the experiences of women in families (Allen, 1988), (b) the multiple realities of families attributable to diversity in structure, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, age, disability, and class (Thompson, 1995; Walker, 1993), and (c) the continued imbalance of power between women and men in families (Allen & Baber, 1992). Implied in these purposes is a call for educators to promote social change by facilitating students' examination of their beliefs and behaviors. Initial articles dealing with feminist family studies education appeared in Family Relations in a 1988 special section called "Feminism and Family Studies," where Walker, Martin, and Thompson called for feminist practitioners to write about their experiences of trying to implement the goals of feminism.

Beginning with the 1988 issue, various Family Relations articles have contributed to our understanding of how feminist purposes, assumptions, and approaches can be utilized in learning situations (see as examples, Allen, 1995; Allen & Baber, 1992; MacDermid, Jurich, Myers-Wall, & Pelo, 1992; Marks, 1995; Thompson, 1995; Walker, 1993). As part of our ongoing journeys as feminist educators (one near the start of her career and the other more established), we looked forward to such articles and read them when they were published. However, we noticed that the number of explicitly feminist pedagogical articles had decreased recently, with the last obvious articles being published in Family Relations in 1995 (see Baber & Murray, 2001, for a recent exception). On one hand, we found ourselves wondering whether feminism had been integrated into the discipline enough so it was no longer necessary to delineate clearly that a feminist perspective was being used. On the other hand, we wondered whether the topic had run its course. Certainly topics wax and wane over the years. Although we do not have a definitive answer to this, we argue that feminist principles continue to be relevant within family studies.

We seek to stimulate renewed interest in feminist pedagogy. Toward this end, we propose a conceptual framework to guide the intentional, reflexive work by both new and seasoned educators who wish to incorporate feminist principles into their practice. Specifically, this article can help educators frame their practice within the conceptual framework of alternative paradigms of knowledge and action (Carr & Kemmis, 1986). Having used this framework ourselves, we believe it has helped us develop a more thorough understanding of our practice and contributed to our facilitation of a more just society. First, we justify the need for a conceptual framework. Then, we describe alternative paradigms of knowledge and action and review the related literature. We describe the assumptions of each paradigm and provide examples of appropriate applications. Finally, we offer suggestions for new and seasoned family life educators to consider when using the alternative paradigms.

The Need for a Conceptual Framework

As the field of family studies began to emerge, theorists organized their inquiries around conceptual frameworks such as structural functionalism and family development theory (e. …

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