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Curriculum Studies

Learning, Curriculum and Life Politics: the selected works of Ivor F. Goodson

Representing Teachers

The Representational Crisis

Educational study is again undergoing one of those recurrent swings of the pendulum for which the field is noted. But, as the contemporary world and global economies are transformed by rapid and accelerating change, such pendulum swings in scholarly paradigms seem to be alarmingly exacerbated.

Hence, we see a set of responses to a specific structural dilemma in which educational study has become enmeshed. But alongside this, the field is becoming engulfed (though more slowly than in many fields) by a crisis of scholarly representation. A specific structural dilemma now becomes allied with a wider representational crisis. Jameson (1984: viii) has summarized the latter crisis succinctly, as arising from the growing challenge to ‘an essentially realistic epistemology, which conceives of representation as the production, for subjectivity, of an objectivity that lies outside it’. Jameson wrote this in the foreword to Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition. For Lyotard, the old modes of representation no longer work. He calls for an incredulity towards these old canonical meta-narratives and says, ‘the grand narrative has lost its credibility, regardless of what mode of unification is used, regardless of whether it is a speculative narrative or a narrative of emancipation’ (Lyotard 1984, p. 37).

Returning to the field of educational study, we see that in response to the distant, divorced and disengaged nature of aspects of educational study in universities, some scholars have responded by embracing the ‘practical’, by celebrating the teacher as practitioner.

My intention here is to explore in detail one of these movements aiming to focus on teachers’ knowledge – particularly the genre which focuses on teachers’ stories and narratives. This movement has arisen from the crises of structural displacement and of representation briefly outlined. Hence the reasons for this new genre are understandable, the motivations creditable. As we see, the representational crisis arises from the central dilemma of trying to capture the lived experience of scholars and of teachers within a text. The experience of other lives is, therefore, rendered textual by an author. At root, this is a perilously difficult act and Denzin has cogently inveighed against the very aspiration:

If the text becomes the agency that records and represents the voices of the other, then the other becomes a person who is spoken for. They do not talk, the text talks for them. It is the agency that interprets their words, thoughts, intentions, and meanings. So a doubling of agency occurs, for behind the text as agent-for-the-other, is the author of the text doing the interpreting (Denzin 1993, p. 17).

Denzin, then, is arguing that we have a classic case of academic colonization, or even cannibalization: ‘The other becomes an extension of the author’s voice. The authority of their ‘original’ voice is now subsumed within the larger text and its double-agency’ (1993, p. 17).

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  • Date of publication: 15/09/2005
  • Number of pages (as Word doc): 272
  • Publisher: Routledge
  • Subject:
    Curriculum Studies, Narrative Theory
  • Available in:
  • Appears in:
    Learning, Curriculum and Life Politics: the selected works of Ivor F. Goodson
  • Number of editions: 1
  • Paperback
  • Price of book: £27.99
  • ISBN: 978-0-415-35220-8
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