On theory and meta-theory
- Side: 207-209
- Publisert på Idunn: 2007-11-06
- Publisert: 2007-11-06
This special issue is devoted to educational theory and meta-theory. In an age when the old scourge of «publish or perish» is keenly felt by all researchers, and financial arrangements force most research institutions around the world to reward quantity and numbers of easily accessible articles rather than time-wasting in-depth studies and long articles, we have – perhaps paradoxically – found respite by delving deeply into time-consuming theoretical issues. This is not only personally satisfying, but it also has an academic, professional side to it.
There is now more research going on worldwide in education than ever, and there exist huge masses of data and empirical results. While this is all fine, it is our contention that the field as such both needs and will benefit from serious theoretical work and reflection. Not necessarily as quiet rebellions against current conditions of research, but as critical contributions to deeper understandings of processes, changes, influences and the various connections of factors in the educational field. Theorizing and theory development may contribute to the self-understanding of education as an academic discipline, but they may not (in any obvious manner) cater to the immediate needs of practitioners or policy makers.
Needless to say, the articles in this issue represent but a small sample of theoretical work in education. There is not one topic being treated by all contributors. The common denominator is rather that we are doubly theoretical in that we are concerned with both theory and metatheory. More precisely we employ selected metatheoretical perspectives to discuss particular problems in educational theory: Truth theory, pragmatism, discourse ethics and systems theory are both used and questioned. The last article deviates somewhat from this pattern – it addresses the self-understanding of education and thus puts the other articles into relief.
In the first article, «Truth Matters. The Correspondence Theory of Truth Meets an Educational Theory», Tone Kvernbekk discusses the problems and possibilities involved in employing the correspondence theory of truth in the educational realm. A fully fledged educational theory is a challenge rarely met by any truth theory, and their meeting is a complicated matter which mini-mally presupposes viable conceptions both of the correspondence theory of truth and of educational theory. The article explores in some detail what may be involved in assessing the truth value of a complex, sophisticated educational theory. Defending the correspondence theory against some common misunderstandings, Kvernbekk argues that a tenable version of this theory is one that minimally rejects isomorphism and allows truth to come in degrees. The gist of the article is that truth matters, and that truth matters are exceedingly complex.
Some theoretical perspectives seem to get hung up on certain notions. Why is activity, for example, highly valued both theoretically and in the praxis of teaching and learning, whereas inactivity (passivity) is more or less an empty concept? In «Where am I when I am at Ease? Relocating the Notion of Activity in Education» Moira von Wright questions some of the underlying conceptions that place activity at the centre of the dominant theories of education, most notably pragmatism. Following this, she seeks to relocate the notion of activity in education. She particularly explores concepts articulating what goes on when one is not actively taking part in the web of human relations; that which is beyond visible appearance and interaction, but still is concerned with being together with others in a common world and within human life processes. von Wright centres her discussion around Jan Vermeers well-known 17th century portrait of a young woman with a slightly absent expression on her face. When a student has such an expression on her face – what might happen?
In «Moral Consideration in Education. When (Not) to Speak about Tolerance» Ylva Boman addresses an issue that has been intensely debated in many European countries; the so-called scarf affair. Boman argues that the debate has moved well beyond the original question of veiling and use of burqa. It now touches upon several delicate questions, such as the political-ethical self-understanding of people as members of a nation; the collective understanding of democracy and its basic conditions; the meaning of social and sexual equality; the foundational values of education, and so forth. It demands of us, she argues, that we re-examine what it means to consider the other, as well as what should be done in education. Boman explores Habermass discourse ethical theory as a way to extend the discussion of moral considerations and their consequences for a public institution such as education.
Azita Afsar takes issue with the worldwide practice of comparing students academic results. In her article «A Systems Theoretical Critique of International Comparisons» she discusses the legitimacy of such international comparisons. She employs systems theory, more specifically Niklas Luhmanns systems theory, to disclose the logic of international comparisons in education. She focuses on the design of international evaluations of educational achievements; takes TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) as her example, and argues that the TIMSS design is based on a linear logic that does not adequately capture the complexity necessary for legitimate comparisons. Using Luhmanns theory, Afsar shows in some detail what the weaknesses of the TIMSS design may be said to consist in. Thus employed, the analytical power of Luhmanns theory is tested and discussed.
The last article makes a broad review of questions of currently ongoing epistemic transformations; transformations which not only challenge the ways in which we have come to define theory and the purpose of theories in education, but also the self-understanding of the discipline of education. In «The Discipline of Education in a World of Change» Torill Strand maintains that due to more general structural and epistemic shifts, the ivory tower is collapsing, the discipline becomes fragmented, its borders are blurred and new research interests are frequently approved. Consequently, the current expansion and change influence the disciplines standards of quality and its required scientific competency. Strand raises questions concerning how we are to understand these transformations and the concrete challenges facing educational research today.
All articles deal in their different ways with theory and metatheory (or larger theoretical domains in general) in education. They provide a multifaceted illumination of what theory is, what it can and cannot be; and taken together they deepen the issue of education as a scientific discipline. Furthermore, we hope to demonstrate that the relationship between theory and metatheory is bi-directional. Metatheory may contribute to our understandings of educational theory, but careful and accurate expressions of theory may also necessitate revision and development of the metatheoretical perspectives in question.