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Curriculum Studies

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

The Story So Far

Research work, then, is seldom disinterested and prime interests at work are the powerful, Becker's ‘man at the top’, and the academy itself. Acknowledgement of these interests becomes crucial when we conduct studies of teachers' stories; for the data generated and accounts rendered can easily be misused and abused by both powerful interest groups and by the academy. Middleton (1992) notes that "in schools people are constantly regulated and classified" but this surveillance extends to teachers themselves. (p. 20) Plainly studies of teachers' stories can be implicated in this process unless we are deeply watchful about who ‘owns’ the data and who controls the accounts. If Becker is right that "officials lie" it is also plain that they might appropriate and misuse data about teachers' lives. Likewise, those in the academy might take information on teachers' lives and use it entirely for their own purposes.

Yet Becker reminds us that the terrain of research involves not only differentiated voices but stratified voices. It is important to remember that the politicians and bureaucrats who control schools are part of a stratified system where ‘those at the top have a more complete picture of what is going on than anyone else.’ It would be unfortunate if in studying teachers' stories, we ignored these contextual parameters which so substantially impinge upon and constantly restrict the teacher's life. It is, therefore, I think a crucial part of our ethical position as researchers that we do not ‘valorize the subjectivity of the powerless’ in the name of telling ‘their story’. This would be to merely record constrained consciousness - a profoundly conservative posture and one, as Denzin has noted, which no doubt explains the popularity of such work during the recent conservative political renaissance. In my view teachers' stories should, where possible, provide not only a ‘narrative of action’, but also a history or genealogy of context. I say this in full knowledge that this opens up substantial dangers of changing the relationship between ‘story giver’ and ‘research taker’ and of tilting the balance of the relationship further towards the academy.

I think, however, that these dangers must be faced if a genuine collaboration between the life story giver and the research taker is to be achieved. In a real sense ‘it cannot be all give and no take’. In what sense is the ‘research taker’ in a position to give and provide the basis for a reasonably equitable collaboration. I have argued elsewhere that what we are searching for in developing genuine collaboration in studying teachers' stories is a viable ‘trading point’ between life story giver and research taker. The key to this trading point is, I believe, the differential structural location of the research taker. The academic has the time and the resources to collaborate with teachers in developing ‘genealogies of context’. These genealogies can provide teachers as a group with aspects of ‘the complete picture’ which those that control their lives have (or at least aspire to have).

Much of the work that is emerging on teachers' lives throws up structural insights which locate the teacher's life within the deeply structured and embedded environment of schooling. This provides a prime ‘trading point’ for the external researcher. For one of the valuable characteristics of a collaboration between teachers as researchers and external researchers is that it is a collaboration between two parties that are differentially located in structural terms. Each see the world through a different prism of practice and thought. This valuable difference may provide the external researcher with a possibility to offer back goods in ‘the trade’. The teacher/researcher offers data and insights. The terms of trade, in short, look favourable. In such conditions collaboration may at last begin (Goodson and Walker 1990, pp. 148-149).
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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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