Quantitative educational research

When considering qualitative and/or quantitative methods I find that I may reflect the prevalent view reflected in the education research literature that encourages interpretivist approaches. This may be partly based in my introduction to new (to me at any rate) ideas of insider/outsider research, subjectivity, constructions and reconstructions,  suggested as acknowledging limitations in the positivist paradigms of scientific experimentation (my erstwhile lack of any affinity with any subject that required the wearing of a lab coat may also be important). When reading Bryman (2006) and Gorard, Rushforth and Taylor (2004) I am not particular disposed to alter my views.

As a Professor of Organisational and Social Research in the School of Management at Leicester, Bryman has authored a range of papers on the subject of quantitative/qualitative research, often with a leadership or organisational focus. His linking of ‘evaluation research’ and ‘applied research’ (pp.98) further underlines his focus. He identifies a lack of rationale (or at least a mismatch with practice), ‘lack of attention to research question’ (pp.110) and other inconsistencies, notwithstanding the part serendipity might play, as being prevalent limitations of disorganised mixed methods. Throughout he is concerned that a pre-planned approach is important with careful delineation of the boundaries of qualitative and quantitative instruments, methods, analysis and above all justification are in place a priori rather than more emergent approaches. In concluding he nails his colours to the mast with an open plea refuting the assumption that qualitative research lacks the potential for gaining insights.

Gorard, Rushforth and Taylor looked at the evidence to support more quantitative methods in their 2004 paper. Gorard is now Professor of Education and Well-being at Durham and has focused on evaluation, often advising Government committees on policy. Rushforth is exploring the quality and effectiveness of private tuition and Taylor is in the Education Policy Analysis Research Group at Cardiff. In their paper many participants bemoan the lack of qualitative research without being specific and where quantitative research has been undertaken, for example in ‘implementing central Government analysis’ (pp.382) the lack of experienced researchers has been a problem.  ‘The issue of causality, being able to test propositions’ (pp.379) cuts across quantitative and qualitative methods but suggests a deterministic driver to see what works and measure success. At the same time it is suggested that researchers may reject such a ‘methodological identity’ (pp.383). Which takes me back to the start.

Bryman, A. (2006) Integrating quantitative and qualitative research: how is it done? Qualitative Research, 6 (1) pp.97-113.
Gorard, S., Rushforth, K. and Taylor, C. (2004) Is there a shortage of quantitative work in education research? Oxford Review of Education, 30 (3) pp.371-395.


‘ebookinaday’ and meeting practitioners

Student teams meeting the 'ebookinaday' challenge

Student teams meeting the ‘ebookinaday’ challenge

The SolentPR course welcomed Stephen Waddington (President Elect of the CIPR and Digital and Social Media Director at Ketchum) to take on the challenge of developing an ebook on peer-to-peer PR in a day. 45 students worked in teams on chapters covering contemporary themes in PR, very often the topic was both evaluated and applied in generating the content e.g. Crowdsourcing. Stephen wrote about the event on his blog, Two-way Street.

Students meet practitioners at the Meet the Professional event

Students meet practitioners at the Meet the Professionals event

Later the same day, the students joined practitioners in a Meet the Professionals event arranged with Wessex CIPR. The ‘speed-dating’ style event allows students to practice their elevator pitches and make contact with people they may have already linked with through social media. It is one of the ways the profession reaches out to emerging talent.

Relating Bourdieu’s concepts to key concepts in educational research

I’m trying to keep an open mind on methodological approaches as I work towards the next assignment but as I explore more deeply and with broader perspectives and interpretations I am hoping that there will be room for a range of ‘inductive, interpretive, positional and historical modes’ (Pouliot, 2012), particularly as I am increasingly (and thanks to Julien for pointing me in the right direction) aware of the distinctive positional and dispositional logics of habitus and field which I had rather naively coalesced.

A critique of Bourdieu’s concepts with reference to Pring’s key concepts of educational research:


“If habitus brings into focus the subjective end of the equation, field focuses on the objective” (Bourdieu, 1998 pp.15)

“Bourdieu’s social science attempts to capture such subtleties, by working across and between ‘subjectivist’ and ‘objectivist’ accounts” James (2011)

Theory (as a challenge to common sense):

“The language of atoms and particles needs to be related to the language of tables and chairs’ Pring (2010, pp.88)

Perhaps Bourdieu is criticising scientific approaches when describing social agents and capital:

“Social agents are not ‘particles’ that are mechanically pushed and pulled by external forces. They are rather bearers of capitals, and depending on their trajectory and on the position they occupy in the field by virtue of their endowment (volume and structure) in capital, they have a propensity to orient themselves actively either toward the preservation of the distribution of capital or toward the subversion of this distribution.” (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992 pp.108-109).

Truth (described through language):

Pring suggests that language used in description may be flawed because of the many different ways in which we might describe or conceptualise what we see which may mean what is true for one person may not be true to another (2010, pp.72), or ‘picture theory of meaning’ (2010, pp.74) but that the shared recognition of the description as truth relies on there being a shared reality. Bourdieu recognises a similar concept in his critique of his own research method:

“… language is both common to the different classes and capable of receiving different, even opposite, meanings in the particular, and sometimes antagonistic, uses that are made of it.” Bourdieu (1984, pp.192)


“And there might well be a causal explanation for the acquisition of particular dispositions.” Pring (2010, pp.69)

Pring argues that social reality is constructed through the interaction of: unconscious social forces and structures, conscious inherited social understandings and transformations of these understandings as part of wider cultural change (Pring, 2010, pp.60) and by the use of ‘tightly defined theoretical language’ as a ‘substitute for ‘we ordinarily explain why people act as the do’ (2010, pp.82-83). This might be related to the Bourdieu’s concept of dispositions:

“a system of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures, that is, as principles which generate and organize practices and representations that can be objectively adapted to their outcomes without presupposing a conscious aiming at ends or an express mastery of the operations necessary in order to attain them” (Bourdieu,1990, pp.53).


The concept of habitus has been criticised for being deterministic, what Pring might call ‘false belief in causality’ (Pring, 2010, pp.64)

[Bourdieu] “should open up his system, avoid deterministic descriptions of stable reproduction, and give voluntarism its due” Vandenberghe (1999, pp.62).

Bourdieu, P. (1998) Acts of resistance: Against the tyranny of the market. New York, New Press.

Bourdieu, P., and Wacquant, L. (1992) An invitation to reflexive sociology. Cambridge, Polity Press.

Bourdieu, P.(1990) The logic of practice. Stanford, Stanford University Press.

James, D. (2011) Beginning with Bourdieu in educational research, British Educational Research Association on-line resource. Available on-line at: <http://www.bera.ac.uk/resources/beginning-bourdieu-educational-research&gt;
Pring, R. (2010) Philosophy of Education Research 2nd Ed. Continuum.

Pouliot, V. (2012) Methodology: Putting practice theory into practice. In: Adler-Nissen, R. ed. Bourdieu in International Relations: Rethinking Key Concepts in IR. Abingdon, Routledge, pp.45.

Vandenberghe, F. (1999) The Real is Relational: An Epistemological Analysis of Pierre Bourdieu’s Generative Structuralism. Sociological Theory, 17(1), pp.32–67.

Capital bonding


There was a top notch opportunity for students and staff from Solent to meet the Southampton Creatives network last night. In a regular event that Steve Cross from Rareloop has been central in developing, local agencies Carswell Gould, Etch3 Men & a Suit and fivebyfive (to name but four) were generous in spending time with students and a number of internship opportunities were discussed. The maze game that had been developed by a team from 3 Men & a Suit that day at #hacksoton (an event hosted at Etch) proved to be the perfect ice-breaker. These events are a great example of the inclusive micro-culture in Southampton where creative agencies from a range of disciplines are keen to support emerging talent and to represent the vibrant community of practice as a real alternative to going up to London. Opportunities like this serve to further enrich the social capital of our students, particular in developing bonds with local practitioners and to enable them through advice and opportunity to move from the ‘pre-periphery’ (Fuller, 2007).

Fuller, A. (2007) Critiquing theories of learning and communities of practice. In J. Hughes, N. Jewson and L. Unwin, Communities of Practice: Critical Perspectives, pp. 17-29. Oxford: Routledge.


Serendipity. My favourite word and I enjoying recognising its catalysing effects. Having noticed L’Etang‘s Sports Public Relations in the library’s ‘new’ section, I signed it out to skim through over lunch. It fell open on the final chapter which considered a philosophical framework that applied habitus to the discipline and context in an appealingly direct way. This in turn led me to Ihlen (2007, pp.269-274) who has researched how public relations strategies might be used by organisations (actors)  ‘struggling and competing to position themselves in so-called fields with the help of different forms of symbolic and material resources, and L’Etang (in Edwards and Hodges, 2011, pp.17-24) who sees opportunities in investigating the ‘role public relations plays in the social construction of reality’ and encourages an anthropological approach in exploring ‘micro-cultural formations’. The theme is developed by  Edwards (2011) who reflects on public relations activities that are ‘felt deep within the fabric of society and affect our habitus: the beliefs, values and attitudes that we hold about our roles as consumers, voters, citizens, students…’. She goes on to critique public relations from a socio-cultural perspective and in particular the dominant values and acquisition of symbolic capital that are particularly suited to the dominant ‘PR personality’ and social circumstances. I hadn’t considered the impact of an organisation on the dispositions of publics in this way before – habitus was too intangible. It is encouraging to find related research and the readings have helped organise my thoughts around related concepts of field and capital. The final piece in today’s puzzle led me back to a employability capital compass model that Solent is developing and which is heavily influenced by ‘Bourdeauvian perspectives’ (to borrow from Edwards). In the model and using ideas developed by Puttnam (2000), social capital is further divided into bonding capital (links with people like me) and bridging capital (links with people unlike me) which very neatly coincides with some of my initial ideas on researching field habitus and takes me a little further forward.

Edwards, L. and Hodges, C. (2011) Public Relations, Society and Culture. London, Routledge.

Ihlen, O. (2007) Building on Bourdieu: A sociological grasp of public relations. Public Relations Review.

L’Etang, J. (2013) Sports Public Relations. London, Sage.

Puttnam, D. (2000) Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York, Simon and Schuster, 2000.

Makers teaching

Having had a little time to reflect on a presentation by Professor Susan Orr I have begun to consider some possible implications for my research. Particularly the role practitioners might play when engaging with students – or makers teaching (this borrows heavily from Susan’s ideas on making teaching/teaching making – the tensions in being a practitioner/educator and the status of practical subjects). These interactions often take place in agency boardrooms (see below) and provide a range of insights into the field habitus of the industry, or to borrow the idea of dichotomies – sites of experience/experiencing sites. The physical evidence helps define the personality of the agency from decor, displays of awards, examples of work or motivational exultations. A couple of years ago a female creative team were pitching their ideas to an agency to win an internship. They had seen that nearly all the team had beards so they drew on their own with markers before presenting. Of course they won and went on to work at the agency for 6 months before taking their next step.




In reading Dall’Alba and Barnacle (2007), I recognise the importance of added layers of meaning to what I have been doing so far. In particular how ‘ways of being’ builds on concepts of habitus (and particularly field habitus that chimes with ‘situating and localising knowledge within specific manifestations of practice’) and the suggestion that there is something more intrinsic than skills development. As I write this I am completing a Self Evaluation Document as part of Periodic Academic Review, which of course has a major focus on the acquisition of skills and the measuring of success through recruitment, retention and achievement. At the same time I am updating course blogs on activities last week that offered students the chance to meet alumni who had embarked on their advertising careers and who’s very attitude showed how in as little as six months they were becoming advertising creatives and planners and had moved on from the student habitus. The industry was letting them learn what couldn’t be taught. Through this lens I see planned Taster Day activities as an opportunity for applicants, in a temporary and limited way to learn a little of what it is to be a student, to sample the particular student habitus.

“An ontological shift means engaging with being-in-the-world differently. As dedicated learning environments, higher education institutions are ideally situated to do this. Not only can they provide a forum for challenging taken-for-granted assumptions, but also promote ways of being that integrate knowing, acting and being. Indeed, educational institutions cannot help but promote ways of being.” Dall’Alba and Barnacle (2007)

Dall’Alba, G. and Barnacle, R. (2007) An ontological turn for higher education. Studies in Higher Education 32 (6), December, pp679-691.