Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Entering an Ambiguous Space: Evoking Polyvocality in Educational Research through Collective Poetic Inquiry

Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Entering an Ambiguous Space: Evoking Polyvocality in Educational Research through Collective Poetic Inquiry

Article excerpt


Polyvocality in research

As academic researchers, we are required to refer to published work to acknowledge the roles that others have played in our thinking. Thus, we value conventions of academic citations and referencing in distinguishing and bringing into dialogue our own voices and the voices of diverse scholars in our research texts. This polyvocal dimension of research has been described with the metaphor of a conversation. For example, Clandinin and Connelly (2000: 136) advise researchers preparing for a new study to "ask questions about what scholarly conversations we want to engage in". Similarly, Badley (2009a: 107) explains academic writing "as a process of reflecting upon our experience and on the experience of others in an attempt to make useful suggestions for change and growth as part of a conversation in progress".

Polyvocality, voice and voicelessness have been the focus of scholarly conversations in which educational researchers have sought to address a perceived absence of the voices of those most directly affected by the research: learners or students (and their families and communities) and teachers or educators. Regarding teachers' voices, Gitlin (1990: 443) argued for "educative research [as] a dialogical approach that attempts to develop ... teachers' voices" as producers of research knowledge. Subsequently, Hargreaves (1996: 12-13) acknowledged that teachers' voices have "frequently been silenced ... and suppressed or distorted within educational research", but cautioned that diverse teachers' voices are too often reduced to "the teacher's voice" and that certain teachers' voices tend to be "represented and sponsored in isolation from or to the exclusion of other voices".

More recently, Mitchell, De Lange, Moletsane, Stuart and Buthelezi (2005: 258) proposed that educational researchers should aim not only to elicit and communicate teachers' voices, but also to assist "groups such as teachers and community health workers, ... [to] hear each other". In response to concerns about voice, voicelessness and polyvocality, an increasing number of educational researchers are turning to participatory (often arts-based) methodologies in order to engage learners, teachers and community members as vocal partners in studies that aim to address educational and social challenges (e.g., Mitchell et al., 2005; Theron, 2012).

However, tensions with respect to polyvocality, voice and voicelessness are also apparent in debates on participatory research, particularly forms of participatory research where "community members, or stakeholders in communities, collaborate with researchers in addressing needs and enhancing resilience and well-being in societies" (Ferreira, 2012: 512). On the one hand, the principal intention of such participatory research is to give community members a voice in public research conversations (Bergold & Thomas, 2012). On the other hand, concerns are raised about whose voices are indeed present, how diverse voices are re-presented, and which voices dominate in participatory research analysis and research texts (for example, Borg, Karlsson, Kim & McCormack, 2012; Riecken, Strong-Wilson, Conibear, Michel & Riecken, 2005). Hence Riecken et al. (2005: paragraph 2) argue for paying specific attention to "an ethic of voice and voicing" in participatory research.

Polyvocality is thus a central and challenging issue in scholarly conversations that seek to understand how educational and participatory research can make a qualitative difference to the lives of 'the researched'. As Mitchell (2008: 257258) explains, in these conversations "questions of the social responsibility of the academic researcher (including postgraduate students as new researchers, along with experienced researchers expanding their repertoire of being and doing) are critical".

From another perspective, Smith (1997) considers the social responsibility of the academic researcher in relation to how researchers within the broad educational research community engage each other in conversation. …

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