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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 Four: Community Engagement


c h a p t e r t w of o u r Community Engagement Towards an Imagined Future—Some Reflections from John Smyth What has Community Engagement got to do with Research? Academics really pride themselves in claiming to be open-minded to new and enriching possibilities in their exploration of knowledge—yet they continue to be manacled, bounded, contained and cloistered within the silos and sub-disciplines within which they work. The diverse field of education is notorious in this regard, and we are rapidly becoming more and more expert at less and less—with the re- sult that we are fast losing the capacity to understand the totality. Keeping with C. W. Mills (1971) who I have invoked in earlier chapters and his notion of ‘intellectual craftsmanship’ in his Sociological Imagination, we can obtain some valuable insights into how and why my work has taken the particular direction it has in this chapter. One of the important points Mills makes early in his discussion of his craft, is for the need ‘to use your life experience in your intel- lectual work: continually to examine and interpret it’ (p. 216). He adds that as so- ciologists, ‘craftsmanship is the center of yourself and you are personally involved in every intellectual product upon which you may work’ (p. 216). In all of this there is an important interplay at work here: ‘To say that you “have experience”, means, 76 | doing critical educational research for one thing, that your past plays into...

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