Reading and Teaching Ivor Goodson

by Yvonne Downs (Author)
©2014 Textbook X, 165 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 441


Ivor Goodson is an immense and vital contributor to the study of education and to educational research. His influence extends across continents, taking in theory and practice, and including topics as diverse as curriculum history and the history of school subjects; change management and reform; teachers’ lives and careers; professional and learning identities; narrative and educational policy and life politics. To all this he brings a coherence born of his convictions and his commitment to social justice. This book traces the contours of his morally inflected approach to scholarship, highlighting its contribution to a politics of transformation, all the while acknowledging and encapsulating the practical, passionate, principled humanity that continues to drive Goodson’s scholarship.
This book will be of interest to students and teachers of education, to teachers and educational researchers, as well as to those with a passion for the history and politics of education.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the Book
  • Advance Praise
  • This eBook can be Cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Section 1. Reading Ivor Goodson
  • Chapter 1. Preamble
  • Chapter 2. Holding On
  • Independence
  • History
  • Optimism
  • Chapter 3. The Public Intellectual
  • Public Engagement, Research Impact, and Value for Money
  • Chapter 4. Stories of Action in Theories of Context
  • Power
  • The Relationship Between Theory and Practice
  • The Personal and the Political
  • The Relationship Between Story and Context
  • Chapter 5. Life Politics
  • Why Life Politics?
  • The Turn to Life Politics: A Response to Changes in the Sociopolitical Context
  • Life Politics in the Context of Postmodernism
  • The Study of Life Politics as a Transcendent Practice
  • Life Politics in the Contested Terrain of Identity
  • Chapter 6. Curriculum
  • Auto/biography and Personal Life Politics
  • The Restoration of History to Theory
  • The Focus on Subjects, Not Knowledge
  • The Inclusion of Teachers
  • Attention to Power Dynamics
  • The Past, Present, and Future (Social) Significance of the Study of Curriculum
  • Chapter 7. Teachers’ Lives, Professional Knowledge, Educational Reform
  • The Context for the Turn to Research on “Life Politics”
  • Methodological Precepts: Life History, Not Life Story
  • Theoretical Precepts: Middle Ground Theorizing
  • Substantive Applications: Professional Knowledge, Professional Lives, and Educational Reform
  • Chapter 8. Narrative
  • Enduring Concerns . . .
  • . . . On New Sites of Contestation
  • Toward Narrative Theory
  • Narrative Learning
  • Narrative Pedagogy
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Section 2. Teaching Ivor Goodson
  • Chapter 9. Preamble
  • Chapter 10. Biography
  • Chapter 11. Scholarship
  • Chapter 12. Learning and Pedagogy
  • Concluding Remarks
  • Notes to Teaching Ivor Goodson
  • Notes for Biography
  • Notes for Scholarship
  • Notes for Learning and Pedagogy
  • References
  • Index


It has been a challenge and a privilege to have spent so much time with Ivor in the course of researching for and writing this book. He has been wise and generous in his reading of my reading of his life/work. To encounter him, in his writings and through other media, or face to face, is to be infected with optimism. Liz Briggs has been a star. Always cheerful, always just at the end of an email, she saved me countless hours by providing ready access to Ivor’s work. I owe Pat Sikes, teacher, mentor, most loved friend, more than words can say. I am better for knowing her. James Downs has generously read innumerable drafts and when I was lost he had the knack of asking just the right question. My sons Wilf and Jonah Skinner light up my life and keep me grounded. Paul Downs was there when I needed a shoulder to cry on. He has made it a joy to be a step-mum. I value beyond measure the friendship of the girls I met at school, Belinda, Bev, Carol, Claire, Krystyna, Sue and the truly wonderful Juan. When the going got tough I focused on our next night out. Juan, who in the midst of her own sorrow thought of me, teaches me every day how to be a good person. I could never leave out my sisters and brothers, Monika, Kurt, Dušanka Elizabeth, Mark and Kristina. I am secure in their presence, even in their absence. Pamela Anderson had to share an office with me throughout the writing of this book and had the grace never to complain, though heaven knows I gave her cause. Shirley Steinberg’s tacit support throughout has been invaluable as has the support of all at Peter Lang. My heartfelt thanks to you all and especially Jackie Pavlovic.

Jess Moriarty kindly gave permission to quote from her unpublished work: Autobiographical and researched experiences with academic writing: An analytical ethnodrama. University of Brighton 2012. Copyright Jess Moriarty. All rights reserved.

Liz Briggs also gave kind permission to quote from one of our personal email exchanges.

I acknowledge here also the lives of Gillian Galloway and Mark Novakovic who left us too soon.

← ix | x → ← x | 1 →


I want to go on living my own intellectual project.

(Goodson, 2011, p. 8)

Ivor Goodson is one of the most important thinkers and researchers on education and schooling of our times. His paper “Life Histories and the Study of Schooling” (1980–1981) rehabilitated life history methodology, establishing it as a critical approach to educational research. His book on the social construction and social histories of the curriculum, School Subjects and Curriculum Change, first published in 1983, secured his immediate elevation to the rank of professor, the ink on his PhD being barely dry. Since then Ivor has worked continuously and with unwavering commitment as, to use his own terms, a public intellectual. His output is prodigious. His reach, both geographically and intellectually, is awe-inspiring. He has broken fresh ground theoretically, particularly but by no means exclusively in the areas of curriculum and narrative and in conceptualizing change. Methodologically he has revitalized research agendas, insisting, for example, that including teachers and other public service professionals, their lives, dreams, and politics, is crucial to formulating, implementing, and analyzing public, particularly educational, policy. Bringing his historian’s orientation to empirical research and his historian’s concern for context and supporting documentation to sociological perspectives, he argues that the success, but more often the failure, of educational reform is traceable in no small way to the people who are responsible for its implementation on a daily basis. Their mediating influence is what counts in evaluations of efficacy, rather than inherent weaknesses in the constitution of the reform itself, however real these may also be. He has collaborated with many other significant contributors to the study of education and its role in fostering just societies, and many important educationists have offered commentaries on Ivor’s work. He has also, in the prefaces and introductions to his works and in conversations with others, offered his own readings of his output. For all those reasons, providing (in the words of the general editors to this series) a “deeper, yet accessible conceptual framework in which to negotiate and expand” his work initially presented itself as frighteningly daunting. What could possibly be added to the enormous body of ← 1 | 2 → interpretation and commentary that already exists? My fears were dispelled during a meeting with Ivor to discuss the possibility that (a) this was something that could be done, (b) I might be willing to take it on, and (c) Ivor would be happy for me to do so.

Although the first point is arguably the most important, I will deal with these issues in reverse order, because Ivor’s being happy for me to take it on turned out to be the easiest one to resolve, and yet it is also central to understanding and addressing the other two. Ivor did not hesitate in expressing his confidence that I would do a sterling job, grounded in the fact that we had met briefly at a conference some months before and had immediately hit it off; the “chemistry” between us was good, and there was a bond. Now, it may seem foolhardy to assign the (re)interpretation of one’s life/work to date on the basis of such unscientific reasoning. But this just highlights the limitations of such reasoning. For one thing, “shrewd” is a much more accurate description of Ivor’s judgment. When Jess Moriarty (2012) interviewed him, he points out the obvious fact that he would not be where he is today if he had not been “canny.” More importantly, he knew I was “getting” what he was about, despite considerable differences in our biographies and histories. That we are both from what is commonly understood as a working-class background provides a strong bond of mutual comprehensibility between us. Saying we are working class is risky here because the term encompasses a multiplicity of lived realities. There is a danger that it glosses over rather than facilities understandings of what that means. But as Mahoney and Zmorczek (1997) claim:

(W)hat it means to have a working class background is different in each case. But not so different that we do not recognise each other and not so different that our connectedness (at least on this issue) disappears. (p. 5, original emphasis)

There are powerful and enduring influences from our backgrounds that are embedded deep in our bones and within our psyches—and our hearts. One of the ways in which this manifests itself is in our resilience, something that often presents itself as a combative approach. Metaphors of war, of battle, and of fighting are embedded in Ivor’s writing. If either of us had ever tried to hide our backgrounds, this kind of fighting talk would be a dead giveaway. This is not to say that Ivor is in any way aggressive. In fact he is a great romantic, although he apologizes for it when he catches himself being that way. This is not so much because he wants to fit in and romanticism in scholarly circles is not the done thing. It is because he is in constant communica ← 2 | 3 → tion with imagined dialogic others of his original community, and here romanticism can easily slip into pretension. This would invite some not inconsiderable teasing from those to whom he still owes allegiance. Where we come from, if you act in ways that might be construed as pretentious, then you are inviting others to poke fun at you. In extremis this can be a mechanism of control, but it can also take the form of good-natured teasing, and that is something Ivor obviously does enjoy.


X, 165
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2013 (May)
education change management policy life politics curriculum history
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2013. 165 pp.

Biographical notes

Yvonne Downs (Author)

Yvonne Downs earned her PhD in the School of Education at the University of Sheffield. Using a life history methodology, it is a critical evaluation of the meanings of value in respect to higher education and was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council in the United Kingdom. She is currently researching in the field of financial ethics and the formation of professional identities in the accounting profession.


Title: Reading and Teaching Ivor Goodson