Previous Section: Blocks 3 & 4

Critical Interpretive Research: An Introduction

Blocks 5 and 6: Explanation Part II


Blocks 5 and 6 dealt with each paradigm's second way of seeking explanation.


Block 5: Empirical-Analytic Explanation--Statistical Control (3 weeks).

This Block continued examination of methods for drawing conclusions in empirical-analytic inquiry, turning to quasi-experimental and causal comparative designs. Control of differences between groups through statistical procedures was discussed. Inferential statistics included multiple regression and two-way analysis of variance. The Block Project was identical in research question and design to that of Block 3, but used multiple regression as method of analysis.

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Block 6: Interpretive Explanation--Constitutive Causality (3 weeks).

The second way in which interpretive inquiry seeks explanation is by examining the social fields that provide a context and background to activity. A social field exerts a constitutive causality. Block 6 intrduced this concept and explored two aspects of a social field: the culture of the small group, and the material spatio-temporal arrangement of artifacts. It thus encouraged the students to take a step towards the critical cultural-historical analysis of educational phenomena. The game metaphor was explored further, strategies for analyzing social fields were considered, and ethnography and field work were introduced. Inquiry was "moving into the field." Syllabus.

Week 1. The Analysis of Social Settings

Week 1 introduced the concept of constitutive causality. A distinction can be drawn between regulative and constitutive rules: the former operate on entities that already exist; the latter define the entities on which they operate -- for example, the rules of chess define the king, rooks, pawns. Constitutive rules underlie the speech acts performed in conversation, as conventions specifying what act the utterance of an expression counts as: "X counts as Y in context C" (Searle, 1969, p. 35). More broadly, constitutive distinctions underlie all social practices (Taylor, 1971/1979) in the form of "inter-subjective meanings which are constitutive of the social matrix in which individuals find themselves and act" (p. 36).

A social field -- an array of material artifacts taken up and engaged in collective practical activity -- has a constitutive causality: an ontological power to define the kinds of person and artifact that are understood to exist. A social field is "a relational configuration endowed with a specific gravity which it imposes on all objects and agents which enter in it" (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992, p. 17); a "space of possibilities" that both enables and constrains activity, defining the roles and positions that people occupy, and the entities they encounter. This is precisely the role Kuhn attributes to scientific paradigms. It calls for a cultural level of analysis. Latour and Woolgar's (1979/1986) ethnography of the science laboratory illustrates the importance of material artifacts in the social field, while Nespor's (1990) study of the "culture" of group problem-solving in a university physics class illustrates the importance of collective activity.

Students explored the social field of our classroom: its artifacts, and their character, arrangement, and use; social positions and resources; architecture; scheduling and monitoring of time; boundaries between inside and outside. They explored map-making as a technique of objectification: Whose point of view does a map show? How does it divide up reality? Whose interests are served (Wood, 1992)? Block Project 6 was to visit a social setting and describe it in these terms. (Readings: Kincheloe, 1991a; Nespor, 1990; Latour & Woolgar, 1986.)

Week 2. Relationship between Researcher and Researched

The concept of social field fits well with the game metaphor. In week 2 the game metaphor was revisited. A social field provides the setting for characteristic interactions; it is "a space of conflict and competition", a "relatively autonomous sphere of 'play'" (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992,p. 17). People become invested in their play, colluding in a competition for stakes, for species of capital. The classroom is a field that supports a typical way of acting and relating; a game with familiar rules. People occupy possible positions in this field: "teacher," "student." They relate to one another through a shared system of exchanges: the exchange of turns in conversation; the exchange of goods, of opinions. Different positions provide different perspectives on the exchanges that take place; they are understood in different but complementary ways.

Week 3. Evaluation of an Interpretive Account

In Block 4 we saw that interpretive research has an ethnographic moment: describing (-graphe) what folk (ethno-) are up to. This must include "fieldwork": the researcher enters a social fields in order to study it. The researcher is not just an interpreter of texts, but a participant in various language-games. Research involves moving between the social field of the university and that of the educational phenomenon being studied. The researcher must be a participant-observer. Week 3 of Block 6 introduced the techniques of ethnographic fieldwork, including field-site selection, field entry and accompanying ethical issues, and writing field-notes.


Next Section: Block 7

© Martin Packer, 1999

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