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Doing Critical Educational Research

A Conversation with the Research of John Smyth


John Smyth, Barry Down, Peter McInerney and Robert Hattam

John Smyth’s remarkable body of writing, research and scholarship has spanned four decades, and the urgency of our times makes it imperative to look in some depth at the breadth of his research and its trajectory, in order to see how we can connect, extend, build and enrich our understandings from it. Possibly the single most unique aspect to Smyth’s version of critical research is his passion for living and ‘doing’ what it means to be a critical pedagogue. For him, ‘doing’ is a verb that gives expression to what he believes it means to be a critical scholar. This necessitates actively listening to lives; taking on an advocacy position with informant groups; displaying a commitment to praxis; and being activist in celebrating ‘local responses’ to global issues. Smyth’s research is pursued with vigour through the lives he researches, as he interrupts and punctures ‘bad’ theory, supplanting it with more democratic alternatives, which, by his own admission, makes his research (and all research), political.


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Chapter One: Opening up his 'Intellectual Craftsmanship’


c h a p t e r t w oo n e Opening up his ‘Intellectual Craftsmanship’ We are extremely mindful that if we are not very careful, the overview chapter of this book could well blow-out into becoming a book-length document in its own right, not necessarily a bad thing, but possibly not the right place in which to do it. We thought long and hard about how to come up with a framework, a way of captivating, getting up close and inside, and understanding the extensive and complex body of work of John Smyth, in order to have a conversation with it—and by implication to cast some much needed light on our primary title Doing Criti- cal Educational Research, which after all was our animating objective. In the end, we decided to do this by invoking the sociologist John most admires—Charles Wright (C. W.) Mills, especially his defining work The Sociological Imagination (Mills, 1971). To borrow from Mills (1971), good sociological work requires an ‘anchor point’ (p. 222), and often identifying and deploying such points can make or break a piece of work. Often identifying anchors can be based on best guesses or hunches, and that is what we intend doing in what follows. Searching for a Hook While John Smyth has never been a slavish or cult follower of C. W. Mills, or any- one else for that matter, he has always been an avid admirer of C. W.’s work, and 2 | doing critical educational...

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