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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 Five: Educational Policy and Leadership



This is a field of educational inquiry in which it is easy to quickly become cynical and dismissive of because of the totalizing way in which educational leaders and policy makers around the world have become captured and implicated in doing some deeply damaging work in inflicting a neoliberal agenda upon schooling. To that extent, it is a field that is verging on if not already completely moribund. The reasons that make it so unattractive, deformed, intellectually bereft and repulsive, are also the reasons why we ought not desert it and leave it to the neoliberal barbarians. In other words, educational policy and leadership are ripe for and in desperate need of a reinvigorated socially critical approach.

A way into this might be for me to pose the general question: how might C. W. Mills have envisaged such a move? If we start with something like the quest for a sociological imagination, then we might be able to begin to bring this into conversation with the kind of socially critical ideas I have been working with, and out of this begin to frame some quite different questions to those that have come to capture the field as it currently exists. It is worth reminding ourselves that Mills was a scholar on a mission of unmasking the workings of power, and to that extent, his ideas are highly pertinent today in getting inside opaque notions ← 107 | 108 → like educational policy and leadership that are more...

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