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Unsettling Research

Using Critical Praxis and Activism to Create Uncomfortable Spaces


Sherilyn Lennon

Unsettling Research investigates what can be learned from the journey of an insider activist researcher seeking social transformations around issues of gender in an isolated rural Australian community. Unique and risky in its undertaking, the research evolves to create a new discourse in qualitative research. A seamless bricolage of autobiography/ethnography, narrative, feminist theory, critical theory, media literacy, critical pedagogy, and social theory, this work takes qualitative research to the next level. It enacts the notion of social justice, while creating a new lens through which to view action via research … research via action. The author allows the personal to establish positionality, and then works from within her position to create a meta-perspective on dialogue, action, and community manifestations of power. The analytic component of the research couples an ongoing process of coming-to-know with a need to address a community issue. By developing a conceptual framework and a process for disclosing and dislocating ideological hegemony and its associated power imbalances, the research adds to knowledge in the fields of gender and education, social justice, and nascent activist pedagogies. Whilst the particulars are located in Australia, the book creates a global lens for qualitative activist research.
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Chapter 3: Mining and Morphing Theories to Conceptualize Complexity


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Learning to Rethink

My concern over the disproportionately high number of boys performing poorly at Wheatville’s schools had evolved to become a complex qualitative study of a study of the gender beliefs and practices of a whole community. For years I had been working collaboratively with teachers to develop and implement curriculum programs within and across the community’s schools. Many of these programs were designed to target boys’ disengagement and poor academic performances. In carrying out my work I had used federally funded multisite programs that emphasized authentic task-based learning as a way of reigniting boys’ passion for their schoolwork. This was something experience—and data collected from the local schools—had taught me began to diminish for many boys at the ages of 9 or 10. With the advantage of hindsight, I now suspect that whilst these programs did improve behavioral and academic outcomes for some students at a moment in time, they were unsustainable and generally had no long-term impact on boys who were resisting classroom learning. As soon as funding cut out and the programs finished, students (and sometimes teachers) would move on to their next class, reverting to their previous practices and performances. ← 41 | 42 →

I needed to consider an alternative approach. Adopting sociocultural understandings of gender as discursively constituted and constituting made me rethink the inevitability of boys’ underperformances. I started to focus on the gender messages our boys...

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