«WHAT'S THE PROBLEM? An investigation into the social construction of 'problems' through the case of boys and their education. Susan Askew Thesis ...»
• the ontological axis relates to the view of truth underpinning the research approach and has a realist view of truth at one end, and a nominalise 3 at the other. In positivism there is a belief that we can actually know what things 'are', therefore positivist research is concerned with discovering what is. In interpretative, or post-positive theory, all knowledge is seen as relative to the human mind; we can know only the affect something has on us, not what the thing itself is. Therefore interpretative, or post-positivist research is concerned with discovering how individuals perceive things. Poststructuralism moves beyond truth as relative, to a notion that there are no universals either in our minds, or external world, but that words act as symbols from which our beliefs are constructed. Thus 'truth' is not discovered through the research, but instead research identifies our ideas about things and where they came from.
• the other axis relates to why the research is conducted and has for the purpose of explaining at one end of the axis, and to bring about change at the other. A poststructuralist perspective is concerned with change in perspective, with change to the way we think, whereas critical theory is concerned with change to either practice, people, policy or society. In comparison interpretivist and positivist research are both for the purpose of explaining phenomenon.
Pring (2000: 110) elucidates the conventional approach to educational research as including:
- the idea that there is a complete and scientific explanation for physical and social reality
- the development of separate intellectual disciplines
- the idea that these 'bodies of knowledge' can provide a secure knowledge base for social action and improvement
- a commitment to the 'grand narrative' of social progress involving connections between application of reason, the production of research evidence, and the capacity of research to bring about solutions to social problems
- a view of education as initiation into these different forms of 'knowledge' and rationality, and of teachers as 'experts'.
Poststructuralists offer a fundamental critique of this conventional approach to knowledge construction by both positivists and post-positivists (interpretivists and critical theorists).
13 I have struggled to find language to describe the poststructuralist view of truth. Scheurich (1997) calls it 'relative'. However, Rawlinson (1997) also describes post-positivist research as relative. As indicated in Figure 4, critical theorists view truth as being constructed, but through the process of research the real research is
This thesis is written from a poststructuralist, rather than a postmodernist theoretical perspective, although there are similarities and overlap between the two, they are not the same. I attempt to demonstrate a distinction between poststructuralism and postmodernism in Figure 5 below. I recognise that this oversimplifies complex and multifaceted ideas. Adams St. Pierre (2000: 485) argues that: 'The point is that poststructuralism is not concerned with asking essentialising questions about the "meaning" of anything, including discourse, since meaning can never be found... '. This endeavour has nevertheless helped my understanding of issues that might properly be the concern of poststructuralists and those that might more broadly be considered th~rist, within the realm of the postmodern and has led me to suggest that, while postmodernism is coqcerned with fluidity, mutability, and uncertainty; poststructuralism is rather more unambiguous and boundaried, because essentially concerned with explaining social organisation.
In my understanding issues of reality and truth figure largely in postmodernist theory, while the focus in poststructuralism is more with the role of language in determining thought and belief, and the contexts or social regularities that make specific discourses possible. While poststructuralism may be described as a postmodern outlook on the world, postmodernism cannot be described as poststructuralist. Poststructuralism and postmodernism have developed from separate critiques of two of sociologies most influential traditions - the former of structuralism, and the latter of modernism, particularly its stress on dualism, the scientific method, certainty and the possibility of human progress (Peters, 1999). Whether in the arts 14 or social sciences, postmodernism rejects the tenets of modernism: it rejects the doctrines of supremacy of reason, the notion of truth, the belief that people can become perfect and the idea that we can create a perfect society. Postmodernism tries to avoid the modernist project to classify, bound, confine, and polarise concepts into oppositional dualities, and instead emphasises uncertainty, insecurity, doubt and ambiguity. Andrew Rawlinson wrote to The Times Literary Supplement after a number of previous correspondents asked what the term 'postmodern' meant, and told a story about
14 Postmodernism is a widely used theoretical concept both in the arts and social sciences. The term appears to have been first used in architecture. Postmodernists in architecture rejected the modernist, avant garde, passion for the new in the 1950s and 60's and wanted to maintain elements of modem utility while drawing on the classical forms of the past: 'In the latter half of the 20th century there has been mounting evidence of the failure of the Modernist enterprise. Post- modernism is riddled with doubt about the continued viability of the notion of progress' (www.jefferson.village.virginia.edu/elab/hfl0242.html). These doubts arose partly as a result of the Second World War in which millions of people died -largely as a result of modernist 'progress'.
Before the Second World War the Surrealists 'clung to the modernist belief that their art could influence human destiny, that they could change the world... Having rejected the past many years ago, and now with the future no longer the goal of artistic effort, many artists turned with visible distress to the present and focused their attention on contemporary popular culture' (Witcombe, 2002). Attention also turned toward manipulation of materials and the process of making was given more importance than the result. In art postmodernism has come to be identified with an emphasis on 'anarchic collective, anonymous experience... most importantly. the dissolution of distinctions, the merging of subject and object, self and other, and an anarchist rejection of all attempts to define, reify or re-present the human subject' (www.jefferson.village.virginia.edu/elab/hfl0242.html). Postmodernism is concerned with process and 'becoming' (Witcombe, 2002). A 'non-linear, time-fractured mode of viewing the world is distinctly postmodern' (www.pixcentrix.co.uk/pomo). The viewer, is more than an observer, but instead is invited to participate in some way. Instead of a linear or realist approach, postmodernism may stress gaps and discontinuities.15 My full time post was jointly funded by the EOC and ILEA. CRs part-time post was also funded by the EOC Three umpires are discussing how they do their job. The first, who is also the least experienced, says, "I call 'em as they are". The second, who has been in the game, a little longer, says, "I call 'em as I see 'em". The third and most experienced says, "They're nothing till I call 'em". These three could be characterized as objectivism, relativism and postmodemism respectively (Rawlinson, 1997: 17).
I view postmodemism and poststructuralism as congruent with one another and forming a chain of ideas, as I endeavor to show above. However, I have identified some tensions between poststructuralism and postmodemism, and these are raised in Chapter Ten, 'Reflections on the Research'.
Both positivist and post-positivist research are rooted in modernist discourse. The conventions of writing a thesis demand, to a degree, that the 'rules' of modernist research are followed.
However, I circumvent these rules to some extent: for example, I do not have a chapter presenting the supportive literature and research, nor do I consign my research methods to an empirical research design. I do not present my 'results' or 'findings' in a chapter, followed by my analysis. I do not make claims to the production of 'grand theory' as an outcome of my research, and neither am I testing a hypothesis. My research design is principally poststructuralist, rather than postmodernist, and because of this I am not primarily concerned with fluidity, uncertainty, insecurity, doubt or ambiguity.
Instead, I am attempting to develop a poststructuralist research method: policy archaeology (the necessary conditions for the construction and emergence of a social problem as such) (Scheurich, 1997). Rather than analysing the ways in which boys are socially constructed (as in constructivism) or ways in which social organisation produces gender (as in critical theory), I use poststructuralism as a framework to analyse discursively the changes to how we think about and understand boys as a social problem and the 'social regularities' that made this way of thinking possible. My 'method' relates to the whole of my thesis, including the literature, and to my own previous ways of thinking about boys.
I have adapted Scheurich's (1997: 97) arenas of policy archaeology as the overall framework for the thesis and discourse analysis (analysing how we talk about and understand phenomenon)
as an integral method. Policy archaeology involves study of the:
l. changing construction of 'problems' relating to boys in school- recognizing how the 'problems' are described, language used to describe them, and how they are explained and understood.
2. social construction of solutions to the 'boy problem' - why are some solutions acceptable and others unacceptable?
3. interconnected factors, and changing events that make it possible for the emergence of 'boys as a social problem' - what is the context within which this particular problem has been able to arise?
4. purpose/social function of identifying boys as a problem, or as having problems.
5. historical struggles that occur among and between discourses relating to gender and education.
Below I indicate the methods used to study each arena of policy archaeology. Arenas 1 and 2 involve the same research method, discursive analysis, and are therefore linked together.
1. Study of the changing construction of 'problems' relating to boys in school, and
2. Study of the social construction of solutions to the 'boy problem' - why are some solutions acceptable and others unacceptable?
Study of the changing construction of 'problems' relating to boys in school will begin with discursive analysis of one way in which boys were talked about, and understood in the early 1980s. It is not suggested here that this was the only, or even main, discourse about boys at this time. However, it was the only published discourse to identify boys in school as a 'problem' and to be explicit about 'masculinity' as the issue. It therefore begs the question of why this specific way of thinking and talking was possible at this time. Study of this discourse about boys in the 1980s will involve discursive interrogation of my own and others' writing about boys, and 'data' collected during action research between 1982-86.
As previously stated, between 1982-1984 I taught and developed an anti-sexist course for boys (SfL) in WBS. An external project worker, CR I5, was appointed for one and a half days a week to jointly evaluate the work. (Further information about the school, and the setting up of SfL is in Appendix 3). In this role I taught SfL to all eight first year classes, and subsequently to the second year (years 7 and 8). Together with CR, I devised a curriculum and curriculum resources, documented observations about the course and wrote reports to feedback issues to the SfL working party.
In my Advisory Teacher role between 1984-86, I organised In-Service Education for Teachers (INSET), attended by over 100 teachers from schools in the LEA. In the main, these were women teachers from the 10 non-denominational boys' schools in the Authority. During the two years I was seconded I visited individual women and women's groups in boys' schools in the LEA. I collected 'data' from women on the courses and in schools about their experiences of working in boys' schools. I made brief notes in the workshops, observed women teaching in boys' schools and asked 30 women who attended two of the workshops to complete a questionnaire.
I now plan to interview women teachers in boys' schools in the same LEA as previously about their experiences of teaching boys and working in boys' schools in order to compare discourses relating to boys as a 'problem' in the 1980s and the 2000s. Discursive analysis, involves
exploring what is said, what is not said, and what cannot be said (Ninnes and Burnett, 2003:
282). It involves asking, for example, 'What is included and what excluded when the category 'man' is spoken?' (Sondergaard, 2002: 189). Discursive analysis is used to investigate empirical material and enables us to question how sex/gender is constituted (Ibid: 189).
Evidence for how the 'problems' were described in the 1980s, language used to describe them, how they were explained and understood, and how solutions to the 'problems' were constructed
will be sought through discursive analysis of:
- Reports and books written in the 1980s that present our experiences and analyses of work with boys, including extracts from the report 'Anti-Sexist work with boys' (Askew and Ross, 1984)16, extracts from a book, 'Boys' Don't Cry' (Askew and Ross, 1988a); extracts from a chapter, 'Combating Inequality-Combating an isolated approach' (Askew and Ross, 1991)
- Observations of SfL lessons in WBS. These observations were carried out for one day a week over two years by CR and were written up at the time by her
- Questionnaires completed in 1985 by 30 women teachers from 10 LEA schools (see Appendix 4)
- Other research and literature about boys and their schooling. Research specifically focusing on boys in school at this time was limited. Therefore, I will draw on feminist educational scholarship produced in the 1980s, which although explicitly concerned with the educational needs of girls, highlighted concerns about boys.