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EDUC 896: Topics in Discursive Research (Summer 2007)

Queen's University

Understanding and Interpretation in Educational Theory and Research

Professor: James Scott Johnston.
Office # A318 Duncan McArthur Hall
Phone #: 78395
Email address:
Office hours: TBA.

Course Description:

This course examines the social-theoretic and philosophical background of interpretation in educational theory and research with emphasis on the ‘classics’ of the last century. Issues discussed include hermeneutics, both existential and textual; phenomenology; the methodology of the social sciences, the nature of understanding, meaning construction in educational research; validity claims in educational research; problems of agency and subjectivity in educational research.
Readings will include selections from Ludwig Wittgenstein, Peter Winch, Charles Taylor, Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Paul Ricoeur, Max Weber, Clifford Geertz, Margaret LeCompte, Yvonne Lincoln, Patti Lather, David Jardine, Leslie Roman, Max Van Manen, and Hilary Davis.

Course Materials:


Note: We are unlikely to get through the entire copypack. Extra items are for research and assignment purposes. A ranking of priority will be provided as we work through the copypack. I strongly suggest reading at least one week’s worth of material in advance of the course starting date.


There are 2 assignments for this course. The first is a mini-presentation led by a student. After a brief review of the author’s arguments, a specific issue or problem in the reading is addressed and this opens the discussion. Each student will (ideally) have two opportunities to lead the class. The final is a 3,000-7,000 word paper discussing in detail, student research in relation to one or more of the topics covered in the class. Possible topics include meaning construction in educational research: the question of validity claims; problems of agency or subjectivity within one’s research design; or critical interrogation of the epistemic assumptions of one’s research programme.

The classes are presented in seminar format: Attentive reading of the texts is stressed and the discussions will lend towards the practice and policies these may/do, require.


I use the Graduate School’s Grading System of Letter Grades.

Mini-presentations (2) 50 percent (25 percent each)
Final Paper 50 percent

For an ‘A’ (80-100) grade, a 5,000-7,000 word paper (20-25 pages) is required.
For a ‘B’ grade, (75-79) a 3,000-4,000 word paper (12-15 pages) is required.
Note that this applies to the length of the papers, not the quality. If the quality is insufficient, this will be reflected in a lowered grade.

Please note that I do not generally accept extensions: All work must be turned in for a grade by the last day of the term.

Topic One: Interpretation in Educational Theory and Research

Class One: Interpretation Theory, Sociology, and Anthropology

Max Weber: Economy and Society, Vol 1. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968.

Clifford Geertz. Thick Description. In The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books, 1973.

Classes Two-Three: Interpretation Theory and Philosophy

Ludwig Wittgenstein. Wittgenstein Lectures and Conversations on Aesthetics, Psychology, and Religious Belief. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

Peter Winch: The Idea of a Social Science. London: Routledge, 1958.

Charles Taylor. Interpretation and the Sciences of Man. In Philosophical Papers Vol. 2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985, pp 3-58.

Classes Four-Five: Interpretation and Educational Theory and Research

Yvonne Lincoln and Ernest Guba. Is Being Value-Free Valuable? In Naturalistic Inquiry. Newbury Park CA: Sage Publications, 1985, pp 160-186.

Patti Lather. Research as Praxis. Theory into Practice, 1992.

Margaret D. LeComte et al. Ethnography and Qualitative Design in Educational Research. San Diego: Academic Press, Inc, 1998.

F. Michael Connelly and D. Jean Clandinin. Stories of Experience and Narrative Inquiry. Educational Researcher, Vol. 19, No. 5, 1990, pp 2-14.

Leslie Roman. Double Exposure: The Politics of Feminist Materialist Ethnography. Educational Theory, Vol 43, No. 3, 1993, pp 279-308.

Topic Two: Hermeneutics and Phenomenology in Educational Theory and Research

Classes Six-Eight: Hermeneutics, Phenomenology: Classic Statements

William Schroeder. Continental Philosophy: A Critical Approach. New York: Blackwell, 2005. Introduction to Hermeneutics; Phenomenology

Martin Heidegger. Being and Time. Introduction. SUNY Press, 1994.

Hans-Georg Gadamer. On the Philosophic Element in the Sciences and the Scientific Character of Philosophy. In Reason in the Age of Science. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981, pp 1-20.

---. Hermeneutics as Practical Philosophy. In Reason in the Age of Science. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981.

Paul Ricoeur. From Text to Action. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1984.

Classes Nine-Ten: Hermeneutics, Phenomenology, and Educational Theory and Research

David Jardine. Awakening from Descartes’ Nightmare: On the Love of Ambiguity in Phenomenological Approaches to Education. In Studies in Philosophy and Education. 10, 1993, 211-232

Yedulla Kazmi. Teaching Knowledge as Conversation: A Philosophical Hermeneutical Approach to Education. In Studies in Philosophy and Education 11, 1993, 339-357

Hilary Davis. The Phenomenology of a Feminist Reader: Toward the Recuperation of Pleasure. Educational Theory, Vol 46, No. 4, 1997, pp 473-500.

Deborah Kerdeman. Hermeneutics and Education: Understanding, Control, and Agency. Educational Theory, Vol. 48, No. 2. 1998, pp 241-266.

Max Van Manen. Researching Lived Experience: Human Science for an Action Sensitive Pedagogy (2nd ed). London, ON: Althouse Press, 1998.

Classes Eleven-Twelve

Catch-Up: Discussions, questions and concerns regarding Final Paper