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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 Six: Synthesis of Future Directions for Action



Only by conversations in which experienced thinkers exchange information about their actual ways of working can a useful sense of method and theory be imparted to the beginning student (Mills, (1971), p. 215).

Hope has two beautiful daughters. Their names are anger and courage. Anger at the way things are and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are (Augustine of Hippo, quoted in St. Vincent de Paul, 2013, p. 3).

As the above quotes suggest this book is rather unique in the way it describes the process of doing critical educational research. Like Mills, we decided early on to create a conversation, in this case with John Smyth, one of Australia’s leading exponents of critical ethnographic research, in order to help us work through a range of complex issues confronting educational researchers wishing to adopt interpretative, critical approaches to knowledge production. St Augustine of Hippo’s reference to the two beautiful daughters of hope—anger and courage—provided us with a window into the overarching motives driving John’s passion and commitment to critical inquiry over the past forty years. Those of us fortunate enough ← 141 | 142 → to work in close quarters with John know exactly what this feels like. Energizing his work is a palpable anger and intellectual restlessness focused on exposing the ways in which neoliberal and neoconservative policy regimes impact detrimentally on the lives of the least advantaged students in society (Au, 2008). Equally, John demonstrates...

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