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Curriculum Studies

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

The Story So Far

Personal Knowledge and the Political

In this paper I conduct an exploration of some forms of inquiry that are becoming influential within teacher education. In particular, I want to focus on forms of inquiry variously called ‘stories’, ‘narratives’, ‘personal knowledge’, ‘practical knowledge’ or in one particular genre ‘personal practical knowledge’.

I find myself highly sympathetic to the urge to generate new ways of producing, collaborating, representing and knowing. They offer a serious opportunity to question many of the in-built biases of race, class, or gender, which existing modes of inquiry mystify whilst reproducing (see Giroux, 1991). Storying and narratology are genres which allow us to move beyond (or to the side) of the main paradigms of inquiry — with their numbers, their variables, their psychometrics, their psychologisms, their decontextualized theories. Potentially then, the new genres offer the chance for a large step forward in representing the lived experience of schooling.

Because of this substantial potential the new genres require very close scrutiny. For whilst they have some obvious strengths, there are I think some weaknesses, which may prove incapacitating. If so, we may be sponsoring genres of inquiry in the name of empowerment, whilst at the same time, effectively disempowering the very people and causes we seek to work with.

Personal Knowledge and the Cultural Logic of Post-modernity

Before embracing personal knowledge in the form of narratives and story it is important to locate this genre within the emergent cultural patterns of contemporary societies and economies. Whilst the pace of change at the moment is rapid, a good deal of evidence points to an increasingly aggrandizing centre or state acting to sponsor ‘voices’ at the level of interest groups, localities and peripheries. From the perspective of these groups this may look like empowerment for oppressed aboriginals, physically and mentally challenged, gays and lesbians and other deserving groups. This is all long overdue. But we need to be aware of the overall social matrix. Specific empowerment can go hand in hand with overall social control.

Hence, alongside these new voices a systematic attack on median or secondary associations is underway - schools, universities, libraries, welfare agencies and the like. An attack, in fact, on many of the existing agencies of cultural mediation and production. Economic restructuring is being closely allied to cultural redefinition - a reduction of contextual and theoretical discourses and an overall sponsorship of personal and practical forms of discourse and cultural production. The overall effect will be to substantially redraw existing modes of political and cultural analysis. In its place we may end up with what Harvey (1989) calls the ‘tyranny of the local’ alongside what we might call the specificity of the personal. General patterns, social contexts, critical theories will be replaced by local stories and personal anecdotes.

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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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