Chapter Three: Methodological Choice—Case-Based Evaluative Inquiry (CBEI)
I have, to this point, followed a trail from related theoretical perspectives in curriculum thoughts to educational sociology, followed by a brief introduction to an archetypal empirical epistemology in curriculum research. To some extent this offers a general idea with regard to the social function of schooling, the increasing complexity in curriculum study and certain perspectives of how to look at the complex process of curriculum. Many issues and ideas may await evidence, but through what means? This chapter first examines some critical methodological concerns over the politics of knowledge and the ensued challenges. This will lay the bedrock for my methodological choice.
The Major Methodological Concern: The Politics of Knowledge
“The essential political problem for the intellectual is not to criticize the ideological contents supposedly linked to science or to ensure that his own scientific practice is accompanied by a correct ideology, but that of ascertaining the possibility of constituting a new politics of truth. The problem is not changing people’s consciousness—or what’s in their heads—but the political, economic, institutional regime of the production of truth”, Foucault said in 1980 (p. 133). I quote Foucault here because it is of critical importance to clarify my perception of the politics of knowledge, from which many problems arise, before arguing for what might be appropriate methods.
The contemporary discourse on knowledge revolves around several issues and the first of three that concern me is about what ‘knowledge’ means, given fundamental changes that the concept of knowledge has undergone in the course of the twentieth century (Weiler, 2002, 2006, 2009). Providing a universally accepted definition of the notion of knowledge goes beyond the scope of this research, but this research at least demands attention be paid to the politics of the question.
When it comes to “whose knowledge matters”, recognising the fact that knowledge and power are closely and symbiotically related is nothing new; this notion can be found in different forms in the works of Marx and Engels (1972), Karl Mannheim (1955) as well as in those of Emile Durkheim (1984) and Max Weber (1992)—and, in the field of curriculum study, by MacDonald (1976) and Weiler (2009). In summary, four facets of the close relationship between knowledge and power can be highlighted: the hierarchies in the existing knowledge order, the reciprocal legitimation between knowledge and power, the transnational division of labour in the contemporary knowledge order, and the political economy of the commercialisation of knowledge. Specifically, in this research I would like to draw attention to the three concerns regarding ‘hierarchies’ and ‘division of labour’.
First of all, politics exists substantively in this research when viewed from the perspective of ‘hierarchies of knowledge’ and a ‘transnational division of labour’ in academic research. For example, in an era of globalisation, today’s world, aided by technology, has seen an increasingly universal flow of information that holds significance for many. What is worth noting is that there exist global disparities in access to both the production and the consumption of knowledge. Taking qualitative inquiry (QI), for example, as pointed out by Weiler (2009), there is a particular division of labour existing: key intellectual tasks, such as setting theoretical agendas and methodological standards, are the prerogative of a relatively small number of groups and institutions that play a disproportionately important role in this system (media controllers, universities).
China, as Hsiung (2012, 2015) identifies, has been in a peripheral position in terms of methodological discussion when viewed from a global perspective. Most of the textbooks in Chinese university teaching addressing how to conduct social and curriculum research are the translation of works by Western scholars, which unintentionally fail to address the issues embedded in Chinese context (Chen, 2016). Being in the methodological “periphery”, China is learning from the “core” in qualitative social inquiry; the political dilemma thus lies in what to prioritise in this structure of authority and power—whose knowledge counts in the research, the Western theories or research action in the Chinese local context? How can we create possibilities of dialogue between Chinese curriculum wisdom and Western curriculum theories and form a dynamic relationship between the two?
I believe it wise to take the initiative to ameliorate this situation, endeavouring for a shift in the current division of labour that sees scholarship in the core, producing theory and methods, while those in the periphery consume and reproduce it. As a means of developing a globalised qualitative inquiry (GQI), it is worth attempting a study focused on the locality of the Chinese context while maintaining informed globally.
Secondly, also as a result of power and knowledge there are tensions between theory and practice: what should be prioritised in the research—action or theory? This is a choice which lies at the root of how I inquiry: should my action in the field be framed by the theories from the literature review or should I do the research first and then justify my methodology by drawing on the literature? Will it be the application of a theoretical framework, or the development of a framework following Swedberg’s style (2009, 2010, 2012, 2014, 2016)?
Specifically, it is how to manage the tensions between “knowing what” (the technical knowledge from the textbooks and supervisors) and “knowing how” (the practitioner’s tacit knowledge and ability to deal with life’s contingencies and exigencies). Placed within the framework of power relations in knowledge, this is another political dilemma as it asks for practitioners to choose whether to be challenging or submissive to knowledge hierarchies; that is, it is a choice whether to take research as the “sources of scepticism toward the victorious systems of knowledge” and “means of recovering and transmitting knowledge that has been cornered, marginalized or even defeated” (Nandy, 2000, p. 118). It is a choice either to relegate my experiential knowledge derived from fieldwork, or to have it take the lead.
Rather than confining and prescribing practice, I take the stance that theories should serve practice. By Stenhouse’s (1975) analysis, educational research has as its overriding aim the support of educational acts, thus it is not ‘pure’ but ‘applied’. Eisner also proposed that most ‘pure’ research cannot inform educational practice because people have ignored the fact that most changes in practice preceded rather than followed the findings of educational research (Eisner, 1984; Lagerman, 2000). This implies that the fundamental task of educational research is to find approaches to research which produce theory that is of “use to both practitioners of education and to practitioners of educational research and which enables both to act in the light of systematic intelligence” (Stenhouse, 1980, p. 1).
Given the situation where many disciplines in social research are newly developed in China, I cannot be assured of the applicability of the introduced theories from Western educational sociology, including the methodological theories I am using in this case, in a Chinese context. I need to enter the field and learn while testing the theories; I have to learn from my experience, a learning process reciprocal to top-down approaches. This will help to build indigenous knowledge from the bottom up.
The last concern, but probably the most daunting one, arises at the level of the relationship between the researcher, their participants and the audience. Wherever knowledge hierarchies occur, they reflect structures of authority and power, dictating higher and lower ranks in a given order, domination and subordination, greater and lesser value, prestige and influence, and thus the essence of politics. This raises a root problem: how much authority should the researcher claim in the research? Out of this root branch other problems: How much ownership of the participant’s data can the researcher claim? To what degree could validity and generalisability be contested by participants and audience? Who should decide whose priorities are addressed by the research and whose values are voiced during the inquiry? If the research is to look at the quality of a social programme, who is qualified to judge, against what standard, and who should set the criteria for the judgement? Whether and how these questions are raised remains controversial; however, they are worthy of exploration.
What seems urgent, at this point, is a germane strategy to address concerns that are endemic in the research—the politics of knowledge, for instance—and other possible but unknown issues of applying introduced methods in the Chinese field. This calls for a research ethos of power sharing and I am drawn to responsive/democratic evaluative inquiry.
Power-Sharing Ethos from Democratic and Responsive Evaluation
Evaluation has only recently been accepted as a form of research. Evaluation Tree by Alkin and Christie (2004) describes the historical development of evaluative inquiry and includes almost all the main schools in this field. In Evaluative Research (1967), Suchman first distinguished between evaluation as a common-sense usage, referring to the “social process of making judgments of worth” (p. 7) and evaluative research that uses scientific research methods and techniques. Guba and Lincoln (2001) categorised evaluation as one of the three basic forms of disciplined inquiry—the other two being research and policy analysis. The study and discussion in this field within Western academia has been dynamic and illuminating. To cope with the challenges arising from the politics of knowledge, I choose to follow democratic evaluation (MacDonald, 1979) and responsive evaluation (Stake, 2001) for their advocating of power sharing in the inquiry process.
In the 1970s, MacDonald and his colleagues had been wary of the power structure involved in social research. Research is primarily concerned with the creation, organisation and dissemination of knowledge. But, conventionally, as MacDonald and Walker (1975) observe, dissemination comes last in the order, and in some cases it is omitted altogether in educational research. Partly as a result, education has become a long-standing mythology, where “at all levels of the system what people think they are doing, what they say they are doing, what they appear to others to be doing, and what in fact they are doing, may be sources of considerable discrepancy” (Macdonald & Walker, 1975, p. 8). MacDonald and Walker thus propose that knowledge dissemination should be prioritised to “knowledge creation and knowledge organization” in the planning and conduct of educational research, because “knowledge is the basis on which many forms of power are legitimated and, in the case of education, the medium through which power is exercised” (p. 6).
MacDonald (1976) in “Evaluation and the Control of Education” classifies evaluative inquiry under three ideal types in a political dimension: bureaucratic, autocratic and democratic. The principal questions that determine this classification are: who controls the pursuit of new knowledge, and who has access to it? Democratic evaluation is described as follows:
Democratic evaluation is an information service to the community about the characteristics of an educational programme. It recognises value pluralism and seeks to represent a range of interests in its issue formulation. The basic value is an informed citizenry, and the evaluator acts as broker in exchanges of information between differing groups. His techniques of data gathering and presentation must be accessible to non-specialist audiences. His main activity is the collection of definitions of, and reactions to, the programme. He offers confidentiality to informants and gives them control over his use of information. The report is non recommendatory, and the evaluator has no concept of information misuse. The evaluator engages in periodic negotiation of his relationships with sponsors and programme participants. The criterion of success is the range of audiences served. The report aspires to ‘best seller’ status. The key concepts of democratic evaluation are ‘confidentiality’, ‘negotiation’ and ‘accessibility’. The key justificatory concept is the ‘right to know’. (MacDonald, 1976, p. 134)
In sum, MacDonald (1978) argues that researchers should recognise “value pluralism” and that every social programme be taken as a microcosm of society, saturated with its values, authority systems, aspirations and constraints, and arguments and diversity of view. The main job for the evaluative inquirer is therefore to understand those different expectations and values, and to illustrate and represent them to readers and outsiders. This task incorporates the participants into the evaluator role: given that they live with the programme, they should be entitled to raise their judgement towards the quality of it. To elevate participants’ perceptions also demands new investigating methods and MacDonald advocates personal portrayal as research data (1977).
Historically, the ideas of responsive evaluation germinated from Robert Stake’s work of the late 1960s. Feeling unsatisfied with a quasi-experimental approach or correlational surveys in curriculum study, Stake strives for alternatives. In terms of ontology, Stake is more inclined towards relativism and he believes that social inquiry is more about constructing knowledge in a social context than discovering reality, as “there is no factual reality that can serve as a legitimate ground to validate different experiences and interpretations” (Abma & Stake, 2001, p. 17). Stake claims to be a “populist”, a “localist”, thus meaning in social research for him depends on where you are, whom you are working with, what the circumstances are, and the quality of a programme, in such a way as schooling strongly depends on the situation and context.
When it comes to curriculum study, Stake argues that curriculum research should pay due attention to the contingencies among background conditions, classroom activities and scholastic outcomes, and that refined methodology should be developed to reflect the fullness, the complexity and dynamic in education (Stake, 1967). Formal evaluation, which in Stake’s eyes is usually centralising and conservative, seems working more for the powers that exist than for the powers that should exist. He proposes evaluative inquiry being responsive.
Being ‘responsive’ requires the inquirer to take value pluralism, to be open, to come to understand what is going on in the field and to find more than the initial assumed issues and pay attention to issues that emerge in the evaluation context (Stake, 1975a, pp. 25-26). Stake says that “I admire most the modest evaluator, playing a supportive role, restraining his impulses to advocate, unlike the crusading evaluator, however honestly and forthrightly he announces his commitments. . . . I emphasize the facilitator-role more than deliverer of insights” (1975b, pp. 36–37). The inquirer serves “as knowledge facilitator”, but not the traditional expert role of the evaluator, and the responsive evaluator should not press for consensus that does not exist (Abma & Stake, 2001, p. 15).
As for the key problem of judgement and decision-making in evaluation, Stake disagrees with Scriven (1965). Scriven believes that the evaluator is best qualified to judge (Scriven, 1965), while Stake advises that the most important judge will often be someone other than the evaluator. Quoting Taylor and Maguire’s (1965) “well-identified” stakeholders in curriculum programme, Stake claims that the following five groups should be the “judges who should be heard” in curriculum research: spokespersons for society at large, subject matter experts, teachers, parents and the students themselves. As is developed in his concept of “naturalistic generalisation”, readers and audiences are actually also judges who are supposed to enjoy decision-making through a contextualised “vicarious experience” and reconstruction of quality. The key idea is that if readers will have to interpret texts and ideas themselves (in this case, Stake’s work), instead of being told how to understand them, they will perhaps be more willing to accept and use these ideas in their own contexts (Stake & Trumbull, 1982).
As for the concept of quality of social programme in evaluation, in “Representing Quality in Evaluation” (2001) Stake wrote that for constructivists, quality does not exist until people declare it so; and “the meaning of quality is formed by everybody …. The quality of a social venture needs to be seen partly as a function of the total experience of its stakeholders, and partly as the experience of individuals and subgroups”
To be more specific, the power sharing ethos encouraged by both democratic and responsive evaluative inquiry helps alleviate the issues out of the politics of knowledge. For example, this ethos legitimises the priority in this study of raising the voices of students and teachers, who are the ones who live the schooling life but who have long been marginalised in Chinese social and curriculum study. This ethos also justifies my tacit knowledge of Chinese school cultures as it endorses the centrality of local context in this research. This is significant because it allows my fieldwork practice to go beyond the theories in the textbooks. Furthermore, this evaluative perspective also encourages me to explore a fresh relationship with those who read my research report, while I work as a knowledge facilitator, and the reader is encouraged to make their own decisions about the quality of Chinese schooling.
Personalised Methodology out of Case Study
Besides evaluative inquiry, case study methodology also appeals for its flexibility in dealing with uncertainty and emergencies in fieldwork.
Case study has a long history in many disciplines (Simons, 1980; Ragin,1992; Gomm, Hammersley & Foster, 2004; Platt, 2007), and a group of Western scholars have produced a variety of definitions and descriptions pertinent to case study: Adelman, Jenkins and Kemmis, 1976; Chadderton and Torrance, 2011; Cohen et al., 2007; Creswell, 2013; Duff, 2008; Dörnyei, 2007; Gibbert and Ruigrok, 2010; Johnson, 1992; MacDonald and Walker, 1975; Nunan, 1992; Silverman, 2005; Simons, 2009, 2014; Stake, 1995, 2005; Stenhouse, 1975,1978; Van Wynsberghe and Khan, 2007; Yin, 2003. Case study, however, has long been a contested terrain in social sciences research, which is characterised by varying and sometimes opposing approaches espoused by many research methodologists.
The definitions of case study vary with its user’s particular emphasis and direction for research. For example, Stake (1978, p. 6), drawing upon Louis Smith’s (1978) rendition, defines case study as “a bounded system” (p. 2); Merriam defines case study as “a thing, a single entity, a unit around which there are boundaries” (1998, p. 27); Yin (2003, p. 13) suggests that a case study is “an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon within its real-life context, especially when the boundaries between phenomenon and context are not clearly evident”; Hartley (2004, p. 323 ) states that case study “consists of a detailed investigation, often with data collected over a period of time, of phenomena, within their context,” aiming “to provide an analysis of the context and processes which illuminate the theoretical issues being studied”; Van Wynsberghe and Khan (2007, p. 80) define a case study as “a transparadigmatic and transdisciplinary heuristic that involves the careful delineation of the phenomena for which evidence is being collected (event, concept, program, process, etc.)”.
In relation to typology of case study, there are also variations. Stenhouse (1983 cited in Nunan 1992, p. 78) classifies case studies into four types: a neo-ethnographic case, an evaluative case study, a multisite case study and an action case study. Stake (1995) names three kinds of case study: an intrinsic case study, an instrumental case study and collective case study. Yin (2003) categorises case study as either an exploratory case study, an explanatory case study or a descriptive case study. Merriam (1998) identifies an interpretative case study and an evaluative case study.
Moreover, case study “is not assigned to a fixed ontological, epistemological or methodological position” (Rosenberg & Yates, 2007, p. 447). Philosophically, case study research can be realist or positivist-oriented. Yin himself describes his approach to case study as using a “realist perspective” (2014, p. 17). Although he recognises the descriptive and interpretive elements of case study, embedded within Yin’s case study design are the hallmarks of a postpositivist approach to research: seeking rival explanations and falsifying hypotheses, the capability for replication with a multiple case study design, the pursuit of generalisations (if required), and minimising levels of subjectivity. Yin’s case study focuses on maintaining objectivity in the methodological processes. Case study, however, can also be from the relativist or interpretivist perspective. Stake’s case study takes reality as being pluralistic and plastic, and certain layers of reality are unknowable; knowledge is therefore co-constructed between researcher and participants rather than discovered (1995, p. 99).
Additionally, several scholars have lifted case study from a research method to methodology (Hartley, 2004, p. 323; Titscher, 2000, p. 43). Stake puts it another way: “case study is not a methodological choice but a choice of what is to be studied. By whatever methods, we choose to study the case” (Stake, 2000, p. 435). In fact, case study as a research strategy comprises an all-encompassing method, which means that a number of methods may be used—either qualitative, quantitative (Doolin, 1996; Stake, 1994, Hartley, 2004, p. 324) or any mix of both (Yin, 2003a, pp. 14-15).
Exposed to this variety of paradigms and approaches that case study enables, I see the advantage case study offers to my study: I would have the opportunity to eclectically combine elements, research techniques and strategies, for instance, from each approach that best serves and supports the study. Specifically, the versatility of case study research to accommodate the researcher’s philosophical position would enable me to tailor designs and approaches to address the increasingly perplexing issues in today’s Chinese schooling, and the uncertainty of applying Western theories in a Chinese context.
Put another way, the versatility endorsed by case study empowers its user with the capacity to deploy a methodology of Individualism. “Individualism” here has three layers of meaning. It first of all means individual case study. In the study I propose, in addition to its idiosyncratic background and context described in the previous chapter, disconnection and isolation of individuals (the students, teachers and other schooling staff) from their living and working context would be imprudent for this quest; proper attention, therefore, is needed towards the contingent, dynamic and transient aspects of classroom life. This study encompasses humanistic and naturalistic perspectives. In addition, if taking the concept of a case being a ‘bounded system’, the studying process seems analogous to a boundary exploration—is there any boundary of schooling life? Or, how far can Western theories travel?
Secondly, “individualism” refers to the individual researcher. Case study encourages the researcher’s perceptions and interpretations as part of the research and, as a result, a subjective and interpretive orientation flows throughout the inquiry (Crewell, 2014). Subjectivity is openly acknowledged, and to manage this, the researcher embraces a reflexive stance within the study, adopting methods, such as memo writing and journaling, that support this position (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011; Miles et al., 2014, Stake, 2006; Yin, 2014). Kushner identifies that there is seamless continuity between the researcher and the methodology s/he chooses (2000, p. 64). As the uniqueness arising from each particular context asks for special attention, there are personal preferences and constraints or bias that I, as a researcher, bring to this work and which will influence my methodological options. I believe it wise to have these reflected in my study.
Table of Contents
Introduction of the Thesis
SECTION ONE: Introduction of the Research
Chapter One: Research Rationale and Background
1.1. Why This Research
1.2. The Research Background
Chapter Two: The Research Questions and Literature Review
2.1. Research Questions and the Significance of the Research
2.2. Literature Review
Chapter Three: Methodological Choice—Case-Based Evaluative Inquiry (CBEI)
3.1. The Major Methodological Concern: The Politics of Knowledge
3.2. Power-Sharing Ethos from Democratic and Responsive Evaluation .
3.3. Personalised Methodology out of Case Study
Chapter Four: Guanxi and Access to the Field School
4.1. Cases of Guanxi
4.2. Meeting to Request Access
4.3. A Conversation on Guanxi
Chapter Five: The Local Context and Field School
5.1. M City
5.2. Compulsory Conditions for “Compulsory” Schooling
5.3. The Field School
Chapter Six: Life in M School
6.1. The Dormitory
6.2. “Sign-in” and Office Hours
6.3. The Lounge
6.4. Flag-raising Ceremony
6.5. Sport Areas
Chapter Seven: Life in Classroom 6, Year 10
Episode 1. Military Training and Class Committee in C6
Episode 2. The First Meeting with C6, Year 10
Episode 3. The Piles of Books
Episode 4. Twenty-four-hour Surveillance Classroom
Episode 5. Hide and Seek on Winter Solstice
Episode 6. Morning Reading
Episode 7. Breaks
Episode 8. Class Time
Episode 9. Min and her Sport Ethos
Episode 10. Physical Education
Episode 11. Evening Classes
Episode 12. Monday Class Meeting
Episode 13. The Parents-Teacher Meeting
Chapter Eight: Individual Student Cases
8.1. Jiao and her Left-Behind Experience
8.2. Gao and the Malfunction of Schooling
Chapter Nine: The School Staff
9.1. Han—A Principal’s Theorising on Power and School Management
9.2. Jun—A School Gatekeeper
9.3. Mr Qin—A Teacher’s Story
Chapter Ten: “评估/Pinggu” in China—Formal and Informal
10.1. The Language of ‘Evaluation’ in the Chinese Local Context
10.2. A Cold Gust for Schooling Equality and Quality in M School
10.3. Quantified Youth
10.4. The ‘Winners’ and ‘Losers’
Chapter Eleven: Schooling and State Will in China—A Case of Hidden Curriculum
11.1. The Left-behind and Schooling Enrolment Policy
11.2. Gaokao Meritocracy and Schooling Losers
11.3. The Reform-Reality Disconnection and Resignation
Chapter Twelve: A System of Social and Curriculum Study in China
12.1. How to Look and What to See
12.2. Chinese Social Science Inquiry (CSSI) against Methodological Individualism
12.3. The Local Context and Inquiry Ethics
12.4. Validity and Generalisation
GET THE COMPLETE PROJECT
Getting to Know School as a Window on Contemporary Chinese Society