Disciplines of Inquiry in Education: An Overview (Schulman)

As promised by the title, this is very much 'an overview'. Basically, Schulman provides educational researchers with an outline of the role of 'method' within research. The audience seems to be those who have arrived at research through a single discipline and may be a little blinkered in their approach.

Schulman highlights that there are a range of different disciplines from which research methodologies can be drawn (using the term 'disciplined inquiry' at times to describe methodological research). He described education as a site for research (a 'field of study') rather than a discipline, and lists a range of disciplines from which methods of inquiry can be drawn to examine questions of education – including demography, history, sociology, psychology etc.

The critical point Schulman is making is basically 'horses for courses' – the nature of one's area of research area or question will determine the best form of research method, or alternately, your mode of inquiry will significantly influence the questions you seek to answer. Not only is there a relationship between the research approach and the questions being addressed, Schulman also points out that there is inherent ideological baggage that comes with different disciplines. This is demonstrated through an examination of different approaches to 'social darwinism'.

To anyone who comes from an interdisciplinary field, the paper will be fairly straightfoward and reasonably uncritical. Schulman does not critique the nature of disicplines themselves, taking as given that there exist a set of disciplines with embedded ideological taints. While he concludes by loosely advocating a multi-disciplinary approach (he describes what sounds like 'triangulation'), he also does not address the different narratives and vocabularies that different disciplines use, and the potential difficulties in drawing them together. 

I was perhaps most interested with Schulman's comments about the generalisability of case studies. My dark academic history having its origins in the 'sciences', I have always had a soft spot for statistics based quantitative studies. What Schulman points out is that 'case studies are confronted with a problem of generalisability that is not different in kind from that confronted by their quantitative colleagues'. The point of a case study is that you are claiming 'it is a member of a family of individuals or events of which it is in some way representative', and you are then extrapolating from that representative case to a broader population through generalisation – just as quantitative studies do, except that statistical tools are not used. 

In taking some of Schulman's thinking and advice forward, I think it would be interesting to draw on some of the interdisciplinary/transdisciplinary approaches to find mixed-methodologies that may be useful for examining questions within education as an field of study amenable to different disciplinary approaches. I'm thinking here of Bruno Latour (and his approach to topics like 'Aramis') and Michel Serres (it feels like the educational researcher may need to become something of Serre's 'Troubadour', though he may be a bit hardcore for white feels like a quite pragmatic field like education). If I have time I will go back and read Joe Moran's very accessible overview, 'Interdisciplinarity' to see whether some of the approaches used to traverse disciplines within other integrative fields may be useful within education. Of course I assume someone has already done this, and look forward to stumbling across them at some point…

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