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The role of reflective practice in educating about race, identity and difference

Patel, Rajesh (2015) The role of reflective practice in educating about race, identity and difference. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This thesis sets out to examine how the supposed ‘transformative’ qualities of reflective practice that are cited largely uncritically in education and health literature, viewed as a panacea, might be applied to race and difference. Central to this is the work of Donald Schön on reflection-in-action, which elevates practice above theoretical knowledge that Schön casts as a product of ‘technical rationality, influenced by the growth of higher education. Schön’s work through its pre-eminence on action gained much greater exposure, in contrast to Boud and Mezirow who placed a greater emphasis on the role of emotion and through this to draw attention to differing types of knowledge offering more holistic ways of knowing. The study is influenced by critical lenses from institutional ethnography (Smith 1987, 1990, 2005, 2006) and critical race theory (Delgado and Stefancic 2001) that draw on intersectionality in drawing up nuanced constructions of race and difference embedded in ‘texts’ forming everyday racism and sexism in the workplace, preventing educators from actively opposing institutionally discriminatory practices. Work on race, viewed in this study as a series of moments, has most recently seen the ascendancy of post-racism, suggesting that ‘authentic’ racism is a relic of the past. This has accelerated the stripping of critical spaces to examine race in education, both for trainees and also current practitioners. Work on race and difference in particular though needs to produce critical examinations of structure and agency in work settings. Space, resources and expertise for this are being denied, replaced by simplistic calls for an uncritical ‘meritocracy’ in education underpinned by a neo-liberal managerialist approach, focusing on efficiency and achievement discourses. Both IE and CRT build data from the ground up using informant perspectives to map the flows of power rather than through a ‘sociological’ critique of policy to produce narratives examining how ‘ruling relations’ are embedded in everyday taken for granted work processes. Drawing on visual methods, as well as interviews and observations this study produced rich, deeply descriptive data to uncover ruling relations, evidenced in policy as well as everyday practice. Methodological reflexivity produced a critique of the use of NVIVO as a data processing and reducing tool. Increasingly regarded as an indispensable part of the qualitative researcher’s ‘kit’, it leads to a predilection for grounded theory and therefore misses more nuanced readings of data. ‘I-poems’ provided entry to power relations of race, gender, age, class and religion in the settings via a richer alternative hermeneutic process. Producing narratives which gave access to emotions in the workplace and in relation to race highlighted how the presence of bureaucratic systems for ‘handling’ difference and the presence of multicultural ‘performance’, a facet of post-race work have resulted in producing an illusion of ‘race work’ with little informed examination, buttressed by strong, emotional constructs. This results in reflection being used for solitary, internal contemplation as a palliative rather than being a site of collaborative, critically informed, transformative action.

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