Skip to main content
University of Gothenburg

REE 2021- Focus and Theme

The conference theme "The Role of Politics in Educational Research" will highlight is the role of educational ethnography for studying the challenges faced by education, in the politicized and polarized landscape of today.

About the conference focus and theme

International researchers are also asked to consider the new challenges ethnographers face as they study educational and social processes in the dynamic social and technological educational contexts, together with their epistemological perspectives and methodological decisions they make as they explore complex educational practices, perspectives and contexts. For the perspective of the ethnographical researcher politics is always an integrated part of the educational practices that we study. In a similar way, as researchers with social interest and often commitment, we are seldom fully detached from the same practices. We study the world we ourselves live in. Today, politics in different ways have become a hot topic in ethnography, for the simple reason that politics and political events have over the last decades had a growing impact of the educational practices that we study, and challenged what it means to be an ethnographical researcher committed to education. In at least three different ways politics has had a large influence on the current situation in education: 

  1. As been researched and shown in a large number of studies, the neoliberal politics in educational policy has had a challenging, and in most cases a negative, impact on educational systems, and on students and teachers’ day-to-day activities. With Sweden as an example it is hard to not be aware of the declining school results, and the accelerated social segregation that has followed in the path of the neoliberal educational politics. But, all over the world educational systems has been influenced by processes of commodification, commercialization and privatization that has threatened educational equality, teachers work and learner outcomes. Private stakeholders, together with governmental officiates and participants from the public sector have participated in the formation and discourse-production of public education and education reforms. Neoliberal politics has been normalized through continues reforms to a degree that it nowadays seems to be the only, or most “natural” solution to social and educational difficulties.
  2. There is also a second and somewhat related political aspect of today’s society that directly concerns the ethnographical researcher in education. That is the continuing process of digitalization that in quick paste reshapes society and everyday lives for teachers, students and their classroom practices. Of course, this digitalization process is not a question of politics solely. Perhaps this process is better viewed as artefact-driven cultural revolution in par with the invention of the printing press. Social practices throughout society are concerned, and have successively changed. But even thou digitalization not only is a matter of politics; it is indeed also that. There is a tremendous amount of resources; economical as well as personal, invested in the implementation of digital tools and working habits in schools, supported and fuelled by large international cooperation’s and other international agents. While these resources could have been directed to solve other problems within the educational system, or to develop other aspects of education, putting even more emphasis on digitalization and ICT seems like “the only” or most “natural” way to go. 
  3. There is also a third aspect of today’s political environment that call for the attention by the ethnographical researcher committed to educational research. Besides the well-researched consequences of the neoliberal discourses occupying more and more of the social institutions globally, there are also other threats to research, democracy, and to equal and fair education, that has found its way to the political scene. Today, people with origin from other parts of the world then the western hemisphere, as well people with non-heterosexual preferences, are under heavy stress in many European countries. Being socially secure could not be taken for granted, neither equal treatment within political systems. Worldviews that stretches the concept of democracy to its utter limit are manifested in policy documents, and put to social work in many countries. Teachers, school leaders, pupils and students at every level in the educational systems are put under strong pressure in their everyday lives and professional activities.

Taken together this constitutes a part of the background for the conference theme, which in turn leads into the main focus on this conference, namely, how do we – as researchers – deal with politics in our research? The perspectives we establish above when describing the current situation in society as well as in education, should by many, and maybe by most politicians, bureaucrats, but also researches, be viewed as a political position; as we by our description is no more neutral or unbiased then the educational practices or systems that we research. The question is therefore, should we try to be as neutral and descriptive as possible, and as far as possible avoid taking sides. Or should we instead let social commitment and political stand be a starting point for our research, and clearly demonstrate our position? Or should we seek for a position in-between. Or maybe, should we try to set parentheses around politics, and avoid focus on the political side of things? The potential answers to these questions, of course dig deep in questions concerning world-view, and not the least on views on science and research. In this conference we have no intentions of contribute to solve these matters, but to put the light on them within the field of educational ethnographical research, and therefore contribute to theoretical and methodological development within the field.