Working with theory – go hard or go home

everyday-im-husserlnThis moment has been coming for a while. My background is in science, and I’m now working in academic development. So in the past when people have talked about theorists such as Bourdieu, Foucault, Derrida and the gang, I’ve struggled to understand. When I saw that Dr Remy Low was giving a talk called ‘How to do things with theory’ , I was so there!

Remy took us on an exciting romp through phenomenology, critical theory and post-structuralism, enlivened by poetry, memes (including the one above) and music videos. Obviously there was only so much he could cover in two hours, but it was a great introduction. His talk has made me more aware of the theory-lite nature of my own research to date. And I’m not the only one. The lack of theory in higher education research has been pointed out several times e.g. Ashwin (2012), Hutchings (2007). A whole issue of HERD was devoted to the topic ‘Questioning theory-method relations in higher education research’.

My research is crying out for it. I’m interested in many different topics in higher education, and making better use of theory will help me tie those interests together and see them in new and exciting ways.

So I now need to leap in and start reading.  My plan is start with theorists who write about education or higher education. My ideas so far include Raewyn Connell, Sue Clegg & Catherine Manathunga. Other suggestions for reading are very welcome.

I know that some of the writing might be difficult to understand. But as a colleague pointed out, statistics is difficult and off-putting for those who don’t have a statistics background.

So here goes. See you on the other side!


One thought on “Working with theory – go hard or go home

  1. Hi Amani, Great post! I came across your blog on the weekend via a twitter feed (good connections)! As I commented after Remy’s very rich, entertaining & knowledgeable talk was that I too arose form a theory-lite discipline and field(s) – or if it was there I failed to notice or try to understand/apply – and have struggled to come to terms with the big theorists and what they may mean for my work, my research and life in general. I have chatted with others who also need to cross such perceived divides when shifting disciplines and fields, or researching in disparate areas. It has been consistently challenging wrestling with deep theoretical handles on your work, life etc, however they say knowledge is a good thing (?), just don’t take it too personally. For me it is about findings ways in, being confused with complexity and finding a small gem (hopefully) to bring into the everyday world. An ongoing process and adventure….

    For a lighter touch. my recent endevours with colleagues has been to bring attention to the role of theory in relation to learning analytics (1), or to look at how theoretical framings like transdiciplinarity plays out across MOOCs, and their design (2).

    Cheers, Melinda
    BTW – I have some of Raewyn’s books, papers by Sue Clegg and a swathe of books by and about Bourdieu, Margaret Archer. Very happy to share and/or chat.

    (1) Pigeon pecks and mouse clicks: Putting the learning back
    into learning analytics
    (2) Professional Learning through MOOCs?: A Trans-Disciplinary Framework for Building Knowledge, Inquiry, and Expertise.

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