Chapter 3: Meta-theoretical Foundations
The purpose of this chapter is to clearly outline the meta-theoretical foundations that have underpinned this research. This chapter begins by justifying why this research is informed by critical theory and critical realism, and how these ontological and epistemological foundations explain suppositions about the social world and the conditions for knowing and knowledge production. Building on this meta-theoretical foundation, this chapter briefly returns to chapter two’s discussion of globalisation to justify why Robertson and Dale’s (2015) theorising of a Critical Cultural Political Economy of Education (CCPEE) provides a conceptual framework that is particularly suited to examining the globalisation of LCE through open education. This chapter puts forth the argument that a Strategic Relational Approach (SRA) provides the conceptual and analytic tools to investigate the relationship between structure and agency through a critical realist lens. Finally, this chapter concludes by briefly introducing Bernstein’s (2000) pedagogic code theory, demonstrating how his theorising of the pedagogic device allows an examination of power and control and its relationship to education and the social world.
Horkheimer (1982) perceived theory as being critical when it sought to “liberate human beings from the circumstances that enslave them” (p. 244). Through the awakening of consciousness, critical theory is positioned to activate this liberation by orienting itself towards critiquing and changing society (How, 2003; Kincheloe, McLaren, & Steinber, 2011). Critical theory provides an important epistemological foundation for this research because it seeks to understand the political, economic and cultural agendas that influence the globalisation of LCE. This section provides a brief historical overview of critical theory before justifying the meta-theoretical alignment with this research.
Critical theory is a tradition of intellectual thought that has significantly influenced the intellectual landscape of the Western world (How, 2003). Critical theory was born out of what is now commonly referred to as the ‘Frankfurt School’. The Frankfurt School’s unique positioning as an independent institute in Germany in 1923 divorced it from the intellectual dogmatism of universities as well as from the agendas of social class interests and political parties. Members of the institute had relative intellectual freedom to consider and expand on the ideas and influences they found to be productive. However, Horkheimer’s appointment to the Institute’s directorship in 1930 saw the Frankfurt school begin a gradual shift towards developing and changing the Marxist assumption that economic life is reflected in every aspect of society (Bronner, 2011; How, 2003).
There are central tenants that distinguish and establish critical theory as an intellectual tradition. As a point of departure from the positivist assumptions that had framed the appearance of reality, critical theory rejects the notion of research being value-free and researchers assuming a “disinterested observer” position (How, 2003, p. 3). Critical theorists are concerned with understanding the relationship between the facts and argue that facts cannot be interpreted in isolation. They maintain that it is the network of relations and historical context in which these facts are located that provide an explanation of significance (Bronner, 2011; Felluga, 2015; How, 2003; Kincheloe et al., 2011). Similarly, critical theorists also challenge the ontological basis of interpretivism. Interpretivism holds a more subjective view of reality by arguing that the social world is a lived experience, creating multiple realities that are socially constructed (Bryman, 2012; Merriam, 1998). Critical theorists put forth the argument that interpretivism is ahistorical, thus failing to identify and expose the ideologies in which social existence is experienced (Hammersley, 2015). Consequently, critical theorists assert that both interpretivism and positivism work to eliminate genuine subjectivity (Bronner, 2011). Critical theory therefore concerns itself with how things have come to be as they are and it seeks to understand the truth behind what is currently seen (Bronner, 2011; How, 2003).
Critical theory maintains that social realities are based on assumptions and theorists argue that it is of importance to interrogate these assumptions to expose and challenge these socially constructed “ways of knowing” (Kincheloe et al., 2011, p. 169). Critical inquiry seeks to expose ideology, hegemony and class oppression and challenge injustice within society with the intention of empowering individual agents or a collective group of actors to challenge the current status quo (Bronner, 2011; Cohen, Marion, & Morrison, 2011; Felluga, 2015). Speculation is a vital element of reason within critical theory (How, 2003). How (2003) explains that “the speculative person is one who does not dogmatically accept this or that appearance as being all there is, but recognises that appearances mirror a particular historical relation between subject and object” (p. 3). Thus, the transformative potential of critical research rests in its engagement with the political economy and its relationship with “emancipatory consciousness” (Kincheloe et al., 2011, p. 342).
Critique is a central foundation on which critical theory is established. Early critical theorists, such as Horkheimer, argued that criticism bases objection on the critics subjectivities (Felluga, 2015; How, 2003). They argue that these subjectivities are ideologically constructed and serve the interests of the dominant class, and thus emphasis needs to be given to understanding the historical conditions for such identity formation alongside considering the alternative model of subjectivity, which failed to gain dominance (Felluga, 2015). Critical theorists point out the importance of historically grounding points of critique and considering the purpose and importance of the criteria in which such critique is determined. Justifying or grounding critique has been a persistent theme within critical theory. Alongside this, critical theory also aims to be dialectical by facilitating an iterative process of dialectical reasoning (How, 2003). This dialectical reasoning creates a process that facilitates a “unity of opposites” (How, 2003, p. 4) which are not only opposed but are also interlinked. It is the work of critical theory to interrogate these related dialectical opposites and determine a “more rational state of affairs” (How, 2003, p. 4). It is for this reason that Felluga (2015) argues that critical theory must involve critique that is politically engaged.
It is also necessary to explore why this research aligns with a critical theory paradigm. Critical theorists believe that knowledge and the nature of knowing is facilitated by socially and historically constructed power relations (Kincheloe et al., 2011). This research demonstrates this in the way that it seeks to interrogate the historical and socially constructed power relationship between LCE and open education. Secondly, critical theorists focus on revealing the oppression that subordinate groups encounter (Kincheloe et al., 2011). This research aims to identify the ‘winners and losers’ from the globalisation of LCE through open education which demonstrates its intent to expose any oppressive structures that may impact on subordinate groups. Finally, the rejection of researcher neutrality is central to critical theory with critical theorists taking a reflexive stance to acknowledge their bias in the struggle against injustice (Kincheloe et al., 2011). In the context of this research, the researchers positioning was detailed in chapter one, which disclosed the intent to take a critical stance in examining the globalisation of LCE through open education. This research locates this study within the critical theory tradition in the way that it questions rather than accepts assumptions about pedagogy and open education, and through its intentions to expose underlying agendas, interests and ideologies.
Building on this epistemological foundation, this section considers the ontological basis that informs this study. Meta-theoretically, the field of comparative and international education has tended to be dominated by empiricist and interpretive approaches (Tikly, 2015). More recently, there has been an increasing push for comparative and international education research to be informed by a third meta-theoretical approach, that is, critical realism (Robertson & Dale, 2015; Tikly, 2015). Critical theorists and critical realists both agree that sources of ideology can be found in the nature of reality (Lopez & Potter, 2001). They concur that identifying and exposing these sources of ideology and domination is a necessary step in emancipation (Lopez & Potter, 2001; Manicas, 1998). However, it is the transformational potential of human agency that distinguishes the ontology of critical realism from critical theory (Lopez & Potter, 2001). Critical realists argue that human agency enables actors to not just reproduce but to also challenge and transform social structure (Bhaskar, 1989; Manicas, 1998). This section explores these transformational characteristics of critical realism before justifying why critical realism provides an important ontological foundation for this study.
Critical realism is frequently referred to as the middle-ground between interpretivism and empiricism (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011; Tikly, 2015). Bhaksar (1989) explains that critical realism opposes empiricism, idealism and pragmatism by perceiving that the world is “structured, differentiated and changing” (p. 2). Ontologically, critical realism makes the assumption that there is an external reality that rests beyond what is perceived, both in the social and empirical sense (Bhaskar, 1989, 1998; Lopez & Potter, 2001). Critical realists argue that existence is not necessarily determined by what is observable as there is a realm of “structures, properties and practices” (Robertson & Dale, 2015, p. 4) that remain unseen. Social phenomena are, consequently, a product of a “plurality of structures” (Bhaskar, 1989, p. 3) and the existence of social structure is considered to be necessary for human activity (Bhaskar, 1989). It is only through identifying the structures that are at work in generating certain discourses and events that the social world can be firstly understood and then changed.
Lopez and Potter (2001) suggest that realist ontology is ‘thing’ centred and these ‘things’ can refer to “powers, forces, mechanisms, characteristics or sets of relations” (p. 11). Bhaskar (1989) adds to this by saying that these structures are not readily observable and it is only through theoretical and practical investigation that such underlying structures can be identified. These structures are aligned with certain mechanisms, which have causal powers. Bhaksar (1989) explains that agents who reproduce or transform their activities are themselves heavily constrained by pre-existing structures of power, which may include domination, alienation and oppression. These social structures seek to limit the range of choices an agent can act on, or even think (Lopez & Potter, 2001). Therefore, critical realists argue that context is an important element in deciphering understanding as it not only shapes the social world of actors, but it also exposes the conditions that the structures govern (Bhaskar, 1989). Such critical perspective is considered necessary to identify, challenge and transform the status quo (Bryman, 2012).
Alongside the view that these structures have powers and characteristics of their own, critical realists also propose that human agency has its own power and characteristics to rise against the causal powers of these mechanisms and structures. Critical realists argue that social emancipation is dependent on the transformation of these reproducing structures, and thus this emphasises the integral role of human agency in the emancipation of society (Harré, 2001; Lopez & Potter, 2001; Manicas, 1998). Social structures, such as the family, the state, the economy, and language are dependent on social relations, which may include labour and capital, parents and children, and ministers and civil servants (Manicas, 1998). Critical realism draws attention to these structures of social relations, both as a way of explaining trends and social events, and as a way of awakening self-consciousness and emancipation of the oppressed and exploited (Bhaskar, 1989). Importantly, it is the dialectic between structuralism and agency that characterises critical realism from the position of early critical theorists (Manicas, 1998). Critical realists maintain that social structures are not simply reproduced but they are reproduced and transformed through the agency of actors, thus challenging the early position that critical theorists held regarding the reproductive nature of structuralism (Bhaskar, 1989; Manicas, 1998). Consequently, researcher self-reflexivity also features as an important aspect of critical realism (Bryman, 2012). Tikly (2015) argues that such reflexivity requires researchers to critique their own value and theoretical system, which may, inadvertently, contribute to the reproduction of hegemonic research practices.
In the context of comparative and international education, Tikly (2015) argues that critical realism is particularly well-suited to comparative and international education research because it supports an emancipatory move within the process of research. Critical realism provides a way of identifying, explaining and understanding the structures and causal powers that create unequal educational and social outcomes. It also enables the facilitation of the emancipatory narrative that is centred within some comparative and international education research. Thus, through this actualisation, individual and collective actors have the power to act on such knowledge. Tikly explains that critical realism places learning at the core of the research process, and it is through this focus on learning that causal mechanisms can be considered in relation to learning. He maintains that it is the interdependence of these levels of learning from the global to the national, local and individual that critical realism is particularly well suited to examining. Tikly (2015) argues that it is the challenge for those who utilise critical realism to judge and determine which theories of learning are appropriate to determine “what works for who and under what circumstances” (p. 248). It is this redescription and recontextualisation of learning across contexts that makes critical realism particularly suited and relevant to the field of comparative and international education. It is possible to demonstrate how this research is informed by a critical realist approach by identifying, explaining and understanding the structures and causal powers embedded within pedagogy and open education.
Critical Cultural Political Economy of Education
Chapter two’s introduction to the debates about globalisation concluded with Robertson’s (2012c) concerns about the “thin ground” (p. xx) on which the conceptualisation and theorising of critical policy analysis in the field of global education is founded. This section addresses these concerns by exploring how the cultural, political economy can provide a way to conceptualise and theorise the globalisation of education (Robertson & Dale, 2015). As noted earlier, the complexity of studying globalising processes and projects and the way in which global cultural, economic and political processes interact at a structural, ideological, policy and practice level has rendered the favouring of economic and political over the cultural. This presents an incomplete and, at times, over-simplified account of these globalising processes. With this in mind, Robertson and Dale (2015) have built on the education questions proposed by Dale (2000) in his Globally Structured Agenda for Education (GSAE) to conceptualise the Critical Cultural Political Economy of Education (CCPEE) as an alternative theoretical approach to studying the globalisation of education. This approach intends to provide a way of interrogating assumptions within global education processes and framing global cultural, political and economic developments.
Chapter 1: Introduction
1.1 Setting the scene: A brief introduction to learner-centred, open education
1.2 Research aims
1.3 Introducing the case: The Commonwealth of Learning
1.4 Research questions
1.5 Importance of research
1.6 Chapter overview
Chapter 2: Literature Review
2.2 Setting the scene: Examining the foundations of aid and development
2.3 Education aid and the emergence of the Global Education Agenda
2.4 Theoretical foundations of aid and development
2.5 The quest for quality: Global education and the quality imperative
2.6 Learner Centred Education: Pedagogical preference or pedagogical guise?
2.7 Foundations of open education
Chapter 3: Meta-theoretical Foundations
3.1 Critical theory
3.2 Critical Realism
3.3 Critical Cultural Political Economy of Education
3.4 Strategic relational approach
3.5 Bernstein’s theory of pedagogic practice
3.6 Bernstein’s pedagogic device
3.7 Totally pedagogised society
Chapter 4: Methodology
4.1 Case study
4.2 Methods: Document research
4.3 Documentary analysis
4.4 Theoretical analysis
Chapter 5: Moment of the Politics of Education
5.1 The global education agenda and the field of global education
5.2 COL’s entry into the field of global education
5.3 Strategic partnerships
5.4 COL’s strategic response to economic influences
5.5 COL’s strategic response to political influences
5.6 COL’s strategic response to social and cultural influences
5.7 Chapter summary
Chapter 6: Moment of Educational Politics
6.1 Distributive rule
6.2 Recontextualising rule: Pedagogic discourse
6.3 Justificatory narratives for LCE
6.4 Evaluative Rules
6.5 Chapter summary
Chapter 7: Moment of Practice
7.1 Minimum standards for LCE
7.2 Key findings from ‘minimum standards’ analysis
7.3 Bernstein’s pedagogic discourse
7.4 Bernstein’s pedagogic coding: Critically analysing pedagogy within the ORELT
7.5 Regulative discourse in the ORELT modules
7.6 Chapter summary
Chapter 8: Discussion and Conclusion: Moment of Outcome
8.1 Moment of educational practice:
8.2 Moment of education politics
8.3 Moment of the politics of education
8.4 Moment of outcome
8.5 Critical Cultural Political Economy
8.6 Limitations of research and future research focus
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Unveiling global agendas: A case of the globalisation of learner-centred education