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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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The contribution formal education could and, indeed, should make to social betterment has been widely described, theorized, and urged upon those who would teach for at least the past 150 years. I encourage all of my students— undergraduate and postgraduate alike—to read George Counts’ (1932) Dare the School Build a New Social Order?, for example. Academic libraries are filled [thankfully] with the literature of critical pedagogy, radical education, feminist teaching, anarchist approaches, public pedagogy, and the like. If the university library to which I have easiest access is anything to go by, many of these volumes seem to be heavily used. One can only hope the intended inspiration to act that has presumably underpinned the work of these many authors has been ignited in those who have read, grappled with, argued against, and embraced [one hopes] the arguments and imperatives captured by theorists in the field.

One of the criticisms of much of the broadly described critical pedagogy literature is that it is very much theory-dense and practice-thin: that it is eloquent, if sometimes ponderous, in its description, diagnosis and directives regarding social change through alliances of educators, students, parents and the community as a whole, but that it leaves the question of How? to local consideration, development and deployment. What Sherilyn has succeeded with in this valuable addition to this library of liberatory, emancipatory, ← xiii | xiv → disruptive and unsettling texts is to show how an avid reader of these works has in fact been...

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