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Methodological Paradigms in Educational Research

Professor Martyn Hammersley

To cite this reference: Hammersley, M. (2012) Methodological Paradigms in Educational Research, British Educational Research Association on-line resource. Available on-line at [INSERT WEB PAGE ADDRESS HERE] Last accessed _[insert date here]

Introduction: Divisions, Issues, and Debates

For the newcomer to educational research, and even for those already familiar with the scene, there is now a baffling array of different approaches advertised and practised.

The days are long gone when the main internal divisions were marked by the disciplines (psychology and sociology, but also philosophy and history), each adopting one or two major methodological approaches. Now, the disciplines have become less salient, and are in any case themselves internally diverse; so that what we have is a large and complex field in which work of sharply different kinds is carried out, accompanied by debates in which a disparate collection of theoretical and methodological labels and ideas are deployed.

Some of the issues which divide educational researchers today include:

• Should research be aimed primarily at producing knowledge about educational practices and institutions, or should it be designed directly to improve those practices and institutions?

• Should it be neutral in political orientation or should it be, for example, committed to challenging inequalities (in relation to social class, gender, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity or race, religion, etc)?

• Can it demonstrate ‘what works’ in terms of policy and practice, or is it limited to providing broad understandings that are, at best, of only indirect use to policymakers, practitioners, and others?

• Should the process and product of all research be under the control of specially trained researchers, or should it be pursued in partnership with participants in the setting being studied? More radically, should the latter be in control of research? • Is qualitative evidence superior to quantitative evidence, or vice versa? Can and should these different methods be ‘combined’ or ‘mixed’?

• Should there be criteria by which the quality of research is judged? If so, what are these?

• Can we explain social phenomena or only describe them? And, if we can explain them, do we do this via causal accounts or, say, by explicating the meanings that constitute them?

• Does research-based knowledge offer factual representations of the world or artful constructions that can offer conflicting, equally valuable pictures?

These are some of the main issues that have been, and continue to be, widely discussed. Implicated in them are diverse methodological positions and arguments.