Post-Structural-Feminist and Queer Action Research
Deborah is a senior lecturer at the Institute of Education, University of London
Aims of this resource
This page explores post-structural-feminist and queer approaches to Critical Action Research, locating these in relation to further forms of action research and offering source materials and useful links to other resources.
The category Action Research covers a wide range of approaches to research, with a diversity of aims and conceptual and political underpinnings. In its broadest sense, Action Research includes all forms of research that have as a core part of their aims and process the desire make something happen and to assess the impact of the intervention made. In this way action research contrasts strongly with traditional research approaches that seek to study the field in ways that are value-free and that leave it undisturbed. Action Research at the University of Massechusetts offers useful background on Action Research.
All Action Research aims to achieve change, and usually some sort of improvement of the situation as it stood at the beginning of the research process, but this can be for a range of reasons. For instance, much Practitioner Research in educational settings is also Action Research in that it often seeks to understand, intervene in, and measure subsequent improvements in teaching, learning, assessment and so on.
Critical Action Research
Alternatively, Critical Action Research is underpinned by an understanding of social inequalities, in particular social class inequalities, and the way these are reproduced in educational institutions. With this central concern with inequalities, Critical Action Research is at heart political – it aims to make and study interventions designed to interrupt inequalities. Wilfred Carr and Stephen Kemmis are often credited with popularising Critical Action Research in education through their 1986 book, Becoming Critical . In 2005 the journal of Educational Action Research published a Special Edition which explored the legacy and continued relevance of that publication and the Critical Action Research tradition in education. Further useful resources are available from the Participatory Action Research Collective at CUNY and at Critical Debates in Action Research at Limerick University.
Critical Action Research and Critical Pedagogy
Critical Action Research in education is closely aligned with critical pedagogy, with critical pedagogic approaches often taken as part of a critical action research process. Radical Teacher is a US-based journal for educators involved in critical pedagogy and Critical Pedagogy is a substantial resource that draws anti-racist, feminist, and queer pedagogies under its umbrella. The Critical Pedagogies Project is a TLRP thematic activity that invites educators to share their experiences of critical pedagogic work. Again, the Critical Pedagogies Project seeks to include a wide range of approaches and concerns.
Feminist Emancipatory Research
Feminists concerned with understandings and intervening in the inequalities experienced by women and girls have developed and drawn on their own version of action research, often referred to as Feminist Emancipatory Research. Again, the desire for political and social change is at the heart of this research approach and, as in the case of critical action research and critical pedagogic interventions, Feminist Emancipatory Research often makes use of feminist pedagogy in its interventions in educational settings. Allied forms of research include Feminist Participatory Research and Feminist Collaborative Research. These approaches emphasise a relational and dialogic engagement with women and girls who are seen as research subjects (not objects) and who are involved in research as collaborators. A politics of change is an intrinsic part of these approaches. Liz Stanley's 1990 book Feminist Praxis is often regarded as a key contribution to this field. ParFem is an example of a Feminist Participatory Research community that details current projects and offers some useful resources.
Critical Action Research and Feminist Emancipatory Research have in common their focus on material inequalities, inequalities that are often understood as operating through social structures and institutions. As theories of power, politics and the subject have moved to embrace post-structural ideas about the productive force of discourse and subjectivity constantly in the making, this has been reflected in new developments in politically orientated action research. I refer to these as Post-structural-Feminist and Queer Action Research.
Post-structural-Feminist and Queer Action Research
Post-structural ideas shift the terrain for education research of all kinds in two key ways. The linguistic turn troubles the ground on which empirical work takes place by refuting an external researchable reality that is independent of interpretation and normative meanings. It is not only the empirical ‘real' that is troubled by post-structural thinking – the person, or subject, at the heart of research is de-centred by the idea that the individual as we understand her/him is not a natural and abiding fact, but rather is created or ‘subjectivated' through the endless citation of discourse. In feminist work this implies a move away from a universal and abiding category of ‘woman', a moves whose implications have been a key aspect of feminist methodological debates.
Maggie Maclure and Ian Stronach at the Education and Social Research Institute at Manchester Metropolitan University have written much on research informed by post-structural ideas.
Patti Lather's 1991 book Getting Smart is a key attempt to work through the implications of post-structural understandings of productive power and subjectivity constituted in and through discourse for feminist research concerned with gender, gender experience and gender inequality. And Wanda Pillow and Elizabeth St. Pierre's 2000 Working the Ruins: feminist post-structural theory and methods in education continues these explorations. Other useful sources include Francis (1999) and Weiner (2004).
Debates over the possibilities for a feminist project in a post-identity era continue, but there is now a well-established body of post-structural feminist research that accepts the productive and circulatory nature of power and the gendered subject who is constituted in the ongoing citation of discourse.
Post-structural-feminist and Queer Action Research are intrinsically politically located and motivated. Putting discourse and struggles over meaning at the centre of research and understanding the subjects who are involved in research as created through ongoing discursive practices are seen as opening up new political opportunities.
For feminists this means a move away from, for instance, demands for gender equity and a development and a take up of tactics that expose and trouble normative gender regimes. Bronwyn Davies' (1993) Shards of Glass offers a detailed account of an attempt to research putting tools based on deconstruction to work in classrooms.
This work continues to be built on by Bronwyn Davies and others in the Narrative, Discourse, Pedagogy research group at University of Western Sydney
Queer politics, queer studies and queer research share post-structural conceptual tools with post-structural feminism but foreground (without claiming primacy for) questions of sexuality. In particular, queer work exposes, critiques and aims to unsettle the taken-for-grantedness of heterosexuality and the persistent pathologisation of other sexualities. With this way of understanding, a person is not ‘queer', rather queer is an intrinsically counter-hegemonic political enactment whose purpose is to queer normative sites, meanings, and subjectivities. Grace et al (2004) explore the possibilities for such queer practices in education, Youdell (2004) examines these practices inside the classroom, and Chang (2005) interrogates the relationship between critical pedagogy and queer research.
Queer Action Research is an emerging area of conceptualisation and practice, and so to date there are very few examples of this sort of work in education. The ESRC funded No Outsiders project, which is working with educators in primary school settings to develop and research approaches to sexualities equality, is a notable example of this sort of work.
Other examples of such work can be found at the Young People's Queer Action Research Project in Vancouver, Canada and at the Centre for Research on Gender and Sexuality at San Francisco State University. The Critical Pedagogies Project would like to know about further examples of research and pedagogy of this sort.
Chang, Y-K (2005) ‘Through Queer Eyes: Critical educational ethnography in Queer Studies' Review of Education, Pedagogy and Cultural Studies, 27(2):171-208.
Francis, B. (1999) 'Modernist Reductionism or Post-structuralist Relativism: can we move on? An Evaluation of the Arguments in Relation to Feminist Educational Research', Gender and Education, 11:4, 381 - 393
Grace P. A., Hill J. R., Johnson W. C. and Lewis B. J. (2004) In other words: queer voices/dissident subjectivities impelling social change, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 17:3, 301-324.
Weiner, G. (2004) Critical Action Research and Third Wave Feminism: a meeting of paradigms, Educational Action Research, 12(4): 631-644.
Youdell, D. (2004) Wounds and Reinscriptions: schools, sexualities and performative subjects, Discourse, 25(4): 477-493.
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Post-Structural-Feminist and Queer Action Research. London: TLRP. Online at http://www.tlrp.org/capacity/rm/wt/youdell (accessed