How Do We Explain Our Educational Influence in Living Our Democratic Values?
Jack Whitehead, University of Bath
Jean McNiff, University of Limerick
A presentation to the AERA Annual Conference on Demography and Democracy in the Era of Accountability, 13 April 2005, Montreal. Session 40.041 Action Research in Higher Education.
In this paper we set out how we hold ourselves accountable for our educational influences in our local and global contexts as we offer our action research stories of educational theorising. Our accountability is grounded in a process of democratic evaluation (1). In this paper we will show how clarifying our ontological values such as freedom, truth, beauty and justice, transforms them into living epistemological standards of judgement for the new scholarship of teacher education (2). We explain our understanding of the generative transformational nature of emergent processes of action research, both at the practical level of the formation of social relationships and also at the theoretical level of the formation of conceptual relationships, and the relationship between the two. In our presentation, using linguistic and visual representations, we show how we are able to explicate the meanings that are embodied in the kinds of productive work and loving relationships (3) that animate our lives, and by which we justify our local, national and global influence as we aim to exercise our educative potentials for social transformation.
In holding ourselves to account, in relation to our values, understandings and educational influences, we work with a process of democratic evaluation that accepts Bernstein’s definition of the conditions for an effective democracy:
“First of all, there are the conditions for an effective democracy. I am not going to derive these from high-order principles; I am just going to announce them. The first condition is that people must feel that they have a stake in society. Stake may be a bad metaphor, because by stake I mean that not only are people concerned to receive something but that they are also concerned to give something. This notion of stake has two aspects to it, the receiving and the giving. People must feel that they have a stake in both senses of the term.
Second, people must have confidence that the political arrangements they create will realise this stake, or give grounds if they do not. In a sense it does not matter too much if this stake is not realised, or only partly realised, providing there are good grounds for it not being realised or only partly realised." (Bernstein, 2000, p. xx).
Following MacDonald (1976) we see the basic value of democratic evaluation as being an informed citizenry. We also believe that democratic evaluation can assist, at times that have been characterised in terms of paradigm proliferation (Donmoyer, 1996), in determining the adequacy and explanatory power of educational theories. We are thinking of educational theories such as our own that claim to have the capacity to explain the educational influences of individuals in their own learning, in the learning of others and in the education of social formations. Like Macintyre we value the ideas of the adequacy and explanatory power in our search to make contributions to educational knowledge.
"The rival claims to truth of contending traditions of enquiry depend for their vindication upon the adequacy and the explanatory power of the histories which the resources of each of those traditions in conflict enable their adherents to write." (Macintyre, 1988, p. 403)
In our paper we explain how, throughout our lives of educational enquiry, our aim has been to reconceptualise the nature, development and use of educational theory through the development and legitimation of action research (4, 5). This has meant critiquing traditional forms of social science theory that are grounded in propositional analysis and engaging instead in generating transformational forms of education that are grounded in real lives. It has involved our coming to appreciate the damaging potentials (6) of traditional forms of propositional theory and learning how to transform those potentials into life-affirming processes by incorporating the insights from traditional theories into our own living theories (7).
The need to reconceptualise educational theory emerged over twenty years ago from the recognition of a mistake in the view that educational theory was constituted by disciplines of education, such as the philosophy, psychology, sociology and history of education. This mistake was recognised by Paul Hirst, one of the original proponents of the ‘disciplines’ approach when he said that much understanding of educational theory will be developed:
"… in the context of immediate practical experience and will be co-terminous with everyday understanding. In particular, many of its operational principles, both explicit and implicit, will be of their nature generalisations from practical experience and have as their justification the results of individual activities and practices.
In many characterisations of educational theory, my own included, principles justified in this way have until recently been regarded as at best pragmatic maxims having a first crude and superficial justification in practice that in any rationally developed theory would be replaced by principles with more fundamental, theoretical justification. That now seems to me to be a mistake. Rationally defensible practical principles, I suggest, must of their nature stand up to such practical tests and without that are necessarily inadequate."
(Hirst, 1983, p. 18)
Our main criticism of constituting educational theory as a propositional theory is that such theories abide by the Aristotelean Law of Contradiction that eliminates from theory the possibility that two mutual exclusive statements can be true simultaneously. In our understanding of an educational theory it must have the capacity to explain our educational influence in our own learning, in the learning of others or in the education of a social formation. In our explanations, of our educational influences in our own learning, we recognise the significance of our existence as living contradictions as we explore questions of the kind, ‘how do I improve what I am doing?’ In understanding and explaining our learning as living contradictions we feel the absurdity in attempting to explain this learning in terms of any propositional theory that eliminates contradictions from the explanation. In saying this we recognise the truth of power that is sustaining the 2,500 year old cultural legacy of Aristotelean logic in the Academy.
In both our doctorates (McNiff, 1989, Whitehead, 1999) we demonstrate how we have created our own living educational theories as explanations of our educational influences in our own learning as we explore the implications of asking, researching and answering questions of the kind, ‘how do I improve what I am doing?’ In producing our explanations for this learning, within our dialogical and dialectical enquiries we drew insights from several propositional theories in such a way that our examiners could see the necessary extent and merit of our work, as well as our originalities of mind and critical judgement, to recommend the award of our doctorates.
Our focus on the development of living educational theories has meant coming to understand the nature and development of our own lives of enquiry (8) as we find ways of producing accounts of practices that will inform the education of social formations ( 8, 9, 10, 11), recognising the centrality of the explicit articulation of the validation processes involved that enables practitioners to hold themselves accountable for their work.
In developing our living educational theories as explanations of our educational influences in the education of social formations we draw ideas from two social theorists who have analysed social formations. From Bourdieu we understand the idea of the power of the habitus in analysing social formations:
“…. social science makes greatest use of the language of rules precisely in the cases where it is most totally inadequate, that is, in analysing social formations in which, because of the constancy of the objective conditions over time, rules have a particularly small part to play in the determination of practices, which is largely entrusted to the automatisms of the habitus.”
(Bourdieu, p. 145, 1990)
For Bourdieu the habitus is embodied history. It is internalized as a second nature and so forgotten as history and is the active presence of the whole past of which it is the product. The habitus is what gives practices their relative autonomy with respect to external determinations of the immediate present. Bourdieu says that this autonomy is that of the past, enacted and acting, which functioning as accumulated capital, produces history on the basis of history and so ensures the permanence in change which makes the individual agent a world within the world. The habitus is a spontaneity without consciousness or will, opposed as much to the mechanical necessity of things without history in mechanistic theories as it is to the reflexive freedom of subjects ‘without inertia’ in rationalist theories. (Bourdieu, p. 56, 1990)
The academic habitus we inhabit supports the truth of power of Aristotlean Logic, or as Marcuse describes it, the logic of domination (Marcuse, p.105, 1964). When we write about our educational influence in the education of social formations we are referring to our influence in the pedagogisation of living educational theories in higher education. We have drawn this idea of pedagogisation from Bernstein’s analysis of the importance of pedagogy in his work on pedagogy, symbolic control and identity:
Pedagogy is a sustained process whereby somebody(s) acquires new forms or develops existing forms of conduct, knowledge, practice and criteria from somebody(s) or something deemed to be an appropriate provider and evaluator - appropriate either from the point of view of the acquirer or by some other body(s) or both (Bernstein, p.78, 2000).
When Bernstein writes about pedagogy he refers to pedagogic relations that shape pedagogic communications and their relevant contexts. He distinguishes three basic forms of pedagogic relation, explicit, implicit and tacit. We focus on explicit pedagogic relations where we have a purposeful intention to initiate, modify, develop or change knowledge and where those in an educational relationship with us define the relation as legitimate (p.200). By this we mean that the explicit educational intention in our pedagogic relations is to support the generation of testing of the living educational theories of other practitioner-researchers as well as of each other.
In our recognition of the centrality of the explicit articulation of the validation processes we use that enables practitioners to hold themselves accountable for the educational influence in their work, we are mindful of the influence of three ideas from the work of Habermas on social validation, learning and justification in moral discourses.
In seeking to strengthen the validity of living educational theories we agree with Habermas’ point about the importance, for social validity, of ensuring that the accounts are comprehensible, that sufficient evidence is provided to justify the assertions, that the normative background of the account is made explicit and that the accounts are authentic in that the writer shows over time and in interaction that they are committed to what they claim to be committed to (Habermas, 1976).
Like Habermas we focus on the importance of learning in the creation of living educational theories. In his work on the legitimation crisis he points to an autonomic inability not to learn as the fundamental mechanism for social evolution.
'It is my conjecture that the fundamental mechanism for social evolution in general is to be found in an automatic inability not to learn. Not learning but not-learning is the phenomenon that calls for explanation at the socio-cultural stage of development. Therein lies, if you will, the rationality of man. Only against this background does the over-powering irrationality of the history of the species become visible.' (emphasis in original) (Habermas, p. 15,1975)
He continues to stress the importance of learning in his theory of communicative action where he points out that theory generation:
“…. must orient itself to the range of learning processes that is opened up at a given time by a historically attained level of learning. It must refrain from critically evaluating and normatively ordering totalities, forms of life and cultures, and life-contexts and epochs as a whole. And yet it can take up some of the intentions for which the interdisciplinary research program of earlier critical theory remains instructive.
Coming at the end of a complicated study of the main features of a theory of communicative action, this suggestion cannot count even as a “promissory note.” It is less a promise than a conjecture.” (Habermas, 1987, p. 383)
In our focus on living educational theories that can explain educational influences in the education of social formations we also bear in mind Habermas’ idea that the private autonomy of equally entitled citizens can only be secured only insofar as citizens actively exercise their civic autonomy:
"The dispute between the two received paradigms - whether the autonomy of legal persons is better secured through individual liberties for private competition or through publicly guaranteed entitlements for clients of welfare bureaucracies - is superseded by a proceduralist concept of law. According to this conception, the democratic process must secure private and public autonomy at the same time: the individual rights that are meant to guarantee to women the autonomy to pursue their lives in the private sphere cannot even be adequately formulated unless the affected persons themselves first articulate and justify in public debate those aspects
that are relevant to equal or unequal treatment in typical cases. The private autonomy of equally entitled citizens can only be secured only insofar as citizens actively exercise their civic autonomy." (Habermas, 2002, p.264)
In producing accounts of educational influences in learning we are mindful of the theoretical resource of Rorty where he writes of narratives that connect the present with the past, on the one hand, and with utopian futures, on the other. We agree with Rorty about what he calls the contingency of language – the fact that there is no way to step outside the various vocabularies we employ to find a metavocabulary which somehow takes account of all possible vocabularies, all possible ways of judging and feeling (Rorty, 1989, p. xvi). When Rorty advocates a general turn against theory and toward narrative we understand him to be writing about propositional theories. Rather than seeing our work as a turn against such theories we prefer to embrace insights from propositional theories and to see our narratives, in which we explain our educational influences in learning, as our living educational theories.
Our own accounts of practice, including this paper, contain the descriptions and explanations we offer for our collaborative learning practices as we encourage other educators also to produce descriptive and explanatory accounts of their practice. These accounts, including our own, contain the personal I-theories of education (12) that make clear the philosophical base of practitioners’ work. We show how those theories are generative and transformational in nature, and mirror the generative transformational nature of the living practices of educators as they strive to live their educational values in their practice.
We are thinking here of our doctoral theses (McNiff, 1989; Whitehead, 1999) and the living theory theses flowing through web-space from:
If you browse through this titles and abstracts of these theses you will see accounts of personal I-theories of education that have been awarded their doctorates of philosophy for the generation of original contributions to educational knowledge. Each thesis clarifies the philosophical base of the practitioner-researcher’s educational enquiry in the explication of the ontologies, epistemologies and methodologies at work in the enquiry. The theses are transformatory in the sense that they demonstrate the possibility of legitimating enquiries of the kind, ‘How do I improve what I am doing?’ in the Academy. Our doctorates mirrored the generative transformational nature of our practices as educators as we explored the implications of asking, researching and answering the above question. We believe that you will recognise this kind of question as one that you are asking yourselves as you strive to live your educational values in your practice. Our belief is open to your validation or refutation. We will return to this point about validation in the section below on data sources.
Our accounts of practice, in which we foreground the need to make clear the evidence base of our validity claims, show the transformational processes involved in realising our educational values as real life relationships, and how those real life relationships then transform into the living manifestations of our ontological commitments. As we produce our accounts of practice, we show how those ontological commitments transform into the epistemological standards we use in our accounts of practice to judge the validity of our claims to educational knowledge.
The transformation processes we have in mind here involve an action research process in which we feel a tension and express our concerns when we are not living our values as fully as we think we could do. As we experience this tension our imaginations work to create an action plan that we believe will move us towards the fully realisation of our values. We act on this and gather data that we believe will enable us to make a judgement about the effectiveness of our actions in relation to our values. We evaluate our actions and modify our concerns, ideas and actions in the light of the evaluation. We produce an account of our educational influences in learning which we submit to social validation and continue with our enquiries into improving our practice.
In this process of explaining our educational influences in learning, we clarify the meanings of our values as these emerge in the practice of our enquiry. This clarification involves language. The process of clarification transforms our experience of our embodied values into the living and communicable epistemological standards of judgement we use to evaluate the validity of our explanations of our educational influence. If you would like more details of this process the following presentation to the British Educational Research Association is flowing through web-space:
Whitehead, J. & McNiff, J. (2004) Ontological, epistemological and methodological commitments in practitioner-research. Paper presented at the BERA 04 Symposium 17 Sept. in Manchester on: "Have We Created A New Epistemology For The New Scholarship Of Educational Enquiry Through Practitioner Research? Developing Sustainable Global Educational Networks Of Communication" Retrieved on 31 March 2005 from Education-line at http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/00003800.htm
In our educational enquiries we seek to remain open to the possibilities that life itself permits and our living educational theories recognise this openness in our resistance to explaining our educational influences in learning from within a logic of domination that creates a closed system of thought within a propositional theory. Here is what we said about our modes of enquiry in our original proposal:
We work as professional educators across a range of demographic and professional constituencies in England and across the globe. Our modes of enquiry are informed by a living theory approach to action research in which we ask, research and answer questions of the kind, ’How are we improving our practices?’ in the contexts our workplaces. These contexts influence our modes of enquiry as we encounter the different power relations that sustain different views as to what counts as evidence and knowledge in educational enquiries (13).
Examples of this can be seen in Whitehead’s analyses of the growth of his educational knowledge. In his 1993 text (http://www.actionresearch.net/bk93/geki.htm) Whitehead explains how context influenced his mode of enquiry as he encountered power relations that threatened his employment as an educational researcher and exercised the disciplinary truth of power in rejecting earlier doctoral submissions with the explicit denial of any right to question the judgements of examiners. He explained how such experiences moved his mode of enquiry into the theoretical writings of Habermas, Foucault, Bernstein and MacIntyre in his search for understanding.
In his 2004 multi-media presentation of the growth of his educational knowledge (http://www.arexpeditions.montana.edu/articleviewer.php?AID=80) Whitehead includes a multi-media, visual narrative of a performance text to communicate his passions for living justice, academic freedom, integrity and freedom in his work. This can be accessed from the AERA Action Research SIG Newsletter of March 2005 at:
In our mode of enquiry of a living theory approach to action research we have supervised practitioners in workplace settings around the world. We have analysed our educational influence in their higher degree enquiries as they investigate their practice and ask questions of the form, ‘How do I improve my practice here?’ (9). This work, spanning some three decades, has resulted in the development of a new knowledge base (14, 15) that has grown in educational importance. This knowledge-base comprises both the published accounts of practitioners, in the form of their masters and doctoral dissertations and theses that show how those practitioners can justifiably claim to have improved the quality of learning experience for themselves and others (16) in the growth and use of educational knowledge.
Examples of the living theory dissertations and theses we have supervised can be seen in the action research theses section of:
Examples of our analyses of our educational influences can be seen in:
McNiff, J., McNamara, G. & Leonard, D. (2000) Action Research in Ireland Dorset, September Books.
Whitehead, J. (1993) The Growth of Educational Knowledge, Bournemouth; Hyde Publications. Retrieved on 31 March 2005 from http://www.actionresearch.net/bk93/geki.htm
Our modes of enquiry into our educational influence include a discourse analysis that demonstrates the growing educational influence of this knowledge-base both at the practical level of supporting the continuing professional development of practitioners, and at the theoretical level of influencing what counts as educational theory and who counts as an knowing educator.
We are thinking here of a discourse analysis that focuses on the inclusion of ‘I’ as a living contradiction in educational enquiries of the kind, ‘How do I improve what I am doing?’ We are thinking of the use of the term living educational theories to refer to the explanations of educational influences in learning that are produced in such enquiries. We are thinking of the use of action-reflection cycles in the clarification of the meanings of embodied values and their transformation into living epistemological standards of judgement. We are also thinking of the inclusion of the idea of educating social formations in the creation of living educational theories.
One of the most impressive examples of the originality of mind and critical judgement of a living educational theorist, in demonstrating an educational influence in the education of a social formation, can be seen on Margaret Farren’s website at http://webpages.dcu.ie/~farrenm/ .
Clicking on the Educators section at http://webpages.dcu.ie/~farrenm/currentwork.html
brings you to the Dissertations section at http://webpages.dcu.ie/~farrenm/dissertations.html
where you will find examples of living educational theory theses, supervised by Farren and legitimated by Dublin City University. Those colleagues who wish to see such accounts of educational influence in learning, legitimated in their own Universities, may find inspiration as we do, from this demonstrate of what is possible on Margaret Farren’s web-site. In demonstrating her own originality of mind, Farren also shows our educational influence and in turn influences our own learning with her idea of the significance of development our pedagogies of the unique.
We will show how our modes of enquiry themselves are in transition, as we extend attention from a focus on supporting practitioners in the production of their educational accounts. Our focus moves to an understanding of how the dissemination of our findings can act as a form of social transformation that includes the interconnecting and branching networks of communication of the internet. We now turn to the data sources we will draw on in testing the validity of our claims to know the educational influence of our action research.
One of the great benefits of Information and Communication Technologies is that they permit access to data sources that are flowing through web-space and can be accessed by anyone, anywhere who has access to the web. If you viewing this presentation in a web-browser you should be able to access each of the data sources below by clicking on:
Our data sources are the results of our supervisions to successful completion over the last ten years of some 18 doctoral theses and 70 masters dissertations from the range of demographic contexts below.
These data sources include the successful completions of the following educational enquiries:
How can I improve my practice as a teacher in the area of assessment through the use of portfolios? – this data source is from an Irish context.
The art of an educational enquirer. – this data source is from Singapore.
How can I improve my teaching of pupils with specific learning difficulties in the area of language? – this data source is from an Irish context.
How can I help to enable sustainable educational development in our Action Research Centre at Guyuan Teachers College? – this data source is from a Chinese context.
How can I help the primary school children I teach to develop their self-esteem? – this data source is from an Irish context.
A Self Study Of A Higher Education Tutor: How Can I Improve My Practice? – this data source is from the context of a UK University.
How Can I Improve My Practice As A Superintendent of Schools and Create My Own Living Educational Theory? - this data source includes the development of a culture of enquiry within a large district school board in North America.
The Making of an International Educator with Spiritual Values. - this data source includes an analysis of educational influence in Western Samoa, Fiji, Mauritius, Singapore, Hong Kong and the UK.
Our data sources also include our self-study action research accounts of our educational influences and relationships in our enquiries:
How do we develop relationships that can be understood as free, truthful, beautiful and just?
How do we develop democratic relationships?
How do we inform the education of wider social formations by showing the educative potentials of personal relationships?
How do we show the educative power of the propensity for community?’
Our data sources include the linguistic and visual representations of these enquiries.
When we say that our modes of enquiry are themselves living and in transition we have in mind our developing perspectives on inclusionality and collaborative living educational theories. Drawing insights from Rayner’s (2005) work on inclusionality we are developing our inclusional enquiries from an awareness of space and boundaries that are connective, reflexive and co-creative. The inclusion of space in our awareness, especially the connective potential of web-space, can be seen to be influencing our modes of enquiry in this presentation. Through the inclusion of web-space we are able to connect to each other in ways that were not possible some twenty years ago. The connections made to the work of Margaret Farren above will serve to make this point. This inclusion of web-space in our enquiries includes boundaries that are connective, reflexive and co-creative. These are shown in the resources flowing through the interconnecting and branching networks of communication of web-space. Our creative and critical responses to the learning opportunities opened up by the technology continue to support our educational influences in our learning and to enabling our modes of enquiry to be sustained, living and in transition.
We are also drawing insights from the work of Tian (2005) and Tian and Laidlaw (2005) together with their colleagues on the development of collaborative living educational theories at China’s Experimental Centre for Educational Action Research in Foreign Languages Teaching hosted by Guyuan Teachers’ College, where we are both visiting professors.
We hope that you will feel the educational influence of an inclusional awareness in your own learning as you access the living theory accounts at:
You will be able to access the photograph from the 30th September 2004 of the China Friendship awards with Wen Jiaboa, Premier of the State Council that shows the recognition of Moira Laidlaw’s contribution to education in China. The images of the award and accreditation as visiting professor, together with Dean Tian’s introduction to the first Annual International Conference of the Centre, serve to reinforce our own inclusional awareness. We believe that reading the accounts of teacher-researchers in China who are producing their own narratives with Chinese characteristics will do much to enhance the flow of values that may characterise our common humanity. As you browse down the list of accounts you may also find inspiration from reading Laidlaw’s accounts of her own learning as a teacher at Oldfield Girls School in Bath as well as her accounts of her learning with her colleagues at the Centre.
Peggy Leong’s research as a teacher and manager in the Academy of Best Learning in Education (ABLE) in the Institute of Technical Education in Singapore (http://www.ite.edu.sg/~able/)
may also inspire you. Leong’s living educational theory dissertation on the ‘Art of an Educational Inquirer’ is a delightful analysis of an individual seeking to sustain her sense of integrity in moving between the cultures of Singapore and the UK (http://www.actionresearch.net/peggy.shtml ). You can access the recent thinking of Leong and her colleagues at http://edt.ite.edu.sg/ite_conf/index.htm
We hope that our conclusions and thoughts below on the educational significance of our educational enquiries so far, will serve, alongside this presentation, to stimulate a communication with you that will help to enhance the flow of values that carry hope for the future of humanity and our own.
We believe that our lifelong research processes demonstrate ever-emergent property in the form of the ongoing realisation of an infinite capacity for learning, which in itself has infinite capacity for educative influence across multiple contexts. Our evidence shows how the practical development of individual awareness can transform into community activism (16); and how the theoretical development of one concept, for example ‘women’s ways of knowing, can transform into a new system of ideas (11). It also shows the interpenetrating nature of the relationship between practice and theory: how practice can act as the grounds for the creation of new theory, which can then feed back into practice in modified forms, which themselves have to be tested in relation to appropriate epistemological standards of judgement which, in our understanding, take the form of a practical realisation of educational values. Using the mode of enquiry of methodological inventiveness (17) we will analyse the development of an educational research methodology and epistemology that are grounded in our ontological commitments. This mode of enquiry includes our use of multimedia technologies in the creation of visual narratives of our educational relationships and influences.
We believe that the educational significance of our work lies in our capacity to clarify the processes we engage in as we explicate the meanings of our lives in educational relation with others. This clarification takes into account issues of power in rethinking domination and resistance (18). We believe that this capacity itself has generative transformational potential to influence the education of individuals and their social formations through the creation of cultures of enquiry (19). By explicating the processes involved we are able to demonstrate to others that these processes are available to all, so that they also can access the meanings they and others give to their lives. The narratives they can then produce, as they account for their practical enquiries, contain further transformative potential for the generation of new theories of education and social transformation (20, 21, 22, 23). We are claiming that the significance of our work lies in our capacity to explicate the ever-emergent processes of practical and theoretical enquiry that enable the realisation of values that can contribute to human wellbeing through social transformation.
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