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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 4: Constructing a Study of Complexity


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Framing the Research

Initially inspired by a desire to address the disproportionately high number of underperforming male students in Wheatville’s schools, ultimately the research evolved to become a study of a study probing the boundaries of critical qualitative research. As a politically motivated, passionate, and insider researcher, I set about excavating and dislocating asymmetries of power and their ideological frameworks, discourses, practices, and structures. The primary purpose of the research became theorizing what could be learned from my journey.

Whilst the theoretical framework I used rejected a positivist approach, this did not mean that quantitative data collection techniques weren’t at times useful. Statistics comparing boys’ and girls’ academic and behavioral achievements were helpful in highlighting gender anomalies and contradictions. The reports and graphs produced using these data sets helped to trigger the inquiry process. Questions adopted and adapted from the work of Kincheloe and McLaren (2005) assisted me in making sense of the quantitative data. This, in turn, advanced the conceptual and epistemological development of the study. Questions included: Why are these data so? How has this ← 59 | 60 → situation come to be? Who might be advantaged/disadvantaged? What are the social implications of these results? Are there alternatives? What would be a better outcome? How might this be achieved? What happens when a community’s practices and beliefs are challenged? What happens when community members are asked to rethink their gender roles and representations?


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