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Professional Life and Work

Studying Teachers' Lives

Studying Teachers' Lives - an emergent field of study

Denzin raises a number of important points with regard to the use of life story and biography as methods for studying teachers' lives. There are two points to note, however. First he is wrong when he asserts that the life story is the 'left's answer' to repressive conservative politics. This is far too sweeping a generalization. Certainly some leftist scholars have employed this methodology but so too have a large body of less overtly political scholars besides some of a conservative orientation. Indeed, it could be argued that one of the side effects of life story work (I think Denzin would take this view) is to de-politicize our inquiry. By locating our study at the individual level, thereby cutting us off from the wider social forces and more collective milieux, it does indeed 'valorize the subjectivity of the powerless individual'.

Second, Denzin is specifically indicting the life story and biography. Much of his critique would not stand if we move to a more broadly contextualizing life history or collaborative inter-contextual approach. By pointing out the deficiencies of those approaches which celebrate 'stories' and 'narrative', Denzin's critique is itself an exhortation to pursue a wider structural frame of inquiry.


Denzin's blitzkrieg is, I think, a timely reminder of the dangers involved in studying teachers' lives. It seems almost a call for abandonment of the project and is, at times, a persuasive one. There are, I think, a number of reasons to resist wholesale evacuation of this field of study. First, the negative argument: I don't think 'wholesale' evacuation is a meaningful option. The field is already well occupied with people who produce teachers' stories and narratives. This work will continue and, indeed, Denzin's argument assumes such continuance in arguing the often unintended congruity between this way of studying teachers' lives and present political modalities. Hence, if the field of enquiry is going to continue it behoves us to build up more systematic consideration of context and better ethical procedures and methodologies. Second, there remain powerful rationales for studying teachers' lives if we can succeed in explicating and developing our values, ethics and methodologies.

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Studying Teachers' Lives Ivor Goodson
  • Date of publication: 06/02/1992
  • Number of pages (as Word doc): 272
  • Publisher: Routledge
  • Subject:
    Professional Life and Work
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    Studying Teachers' Lives
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  • Price of book: £42.99
  • ISBN: 978-0-415-06858-1
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