Educational Research for Social Justice: Getting off the Fence

By Morwenna Griffiths | Go to book overview

8: Getting justice: empowerment
and voice

Justice, power and empowerment

The terms 'power' and 'empowerment' crop up a great deal in research related to social justice. This is not surprising. Improvements in justice are related to power: who has it, how it is exercised and where it manifests itself. It sounds as if researchers for social justice would find a lot to agree about here. But this is not the case. The use of the terms can obscure profound disagreements about what to do, rooted in disagreements of theory. At the same time, the terms can be useful in that they draw attention to a fundamental agreement about the importance of altering power relations in order to enhance justice. Further, the very differences invite greater reflexivity and clarity about what researchers think they are doing, and whether it is worthwhile. This is of practical importance all through the research; from the start (clarifying the aims, designing the methods) to the end (evaluating its worth, and deciding on future actions). It is worth noting, for instance, the significance of 'power' and power relations in all the examples of research for social justice described in Chapter 2 - including in my critiques of them. David Gillborn and Caroline Gipps's overview of research is, precisely, framed by the category of ethnicity and race: these are categories which are significant precisely because of the power relations they signal. Mehreen Mirza's methodology is based, methodologically, in a theoretical understanding of power. Stephen Ball's analytical framework depends on power as a central category. Melanie Walker evaluates her own research in terms like 'oppression' and 'emancipation'.

The concept of 'empowerment' is popular in educational research. Some examples demonstrate the range of claims to be undertaking research for empowerment. They show that it is not the prerogative of any one view of the politics of research. First, central to liberalism is a belief in the usefulness of knowledge to gain power and to use it wisely, as I discussed in relation to Bacon's and Comte's view that 'knowledge is power' (Chapter 4). But

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Educational Research for Social Justice: Getting off the Fence
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Doing Qualitative Research in Educational Settings ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Series Editor's Preface vii
  • Acknowledgements xii
  • Part I: Introduction and Context 1
  • 1: Taking Sides, Getting Change 3
  • 2: Research for Social Justice? Some Examples 15
  • Part II: Theoretical Frameworks for Practical Purposes 29
  • Introduction to Part II 31
  • 3: Truths and Methods 33
  • 4: Facts and Values 44
  • 5: Living with Uncertainty in Educational Research 65
  • 6: Educational Research for Social Justice 85
  • Part III: Practical Possibilities 99
  • Introduction to Part III 101
  • 7: Getting Started 105
  • 8: Getting Justice 117
  • 9: Better Knowledge 129
  • 10: Educational Research at Large 141
  • Appendix: Fair Schools 148
  • References 149
  • Index 159
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