While reading Fenge (2010)

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LeeAnn Fenge (2010) Sense and sensibility: making sense of a Professional Doctorate, Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 11:5, 645-656 

The frequent way of framing the professional doctorate – in contrast to a doctorate that does not carry a qualifier – is that it is more concerned with ‘practice development and change’ than with ‘pure’ research’. The indication being that research concerned with ‘practice and change’ introduces an impurity. There is surely more than a faint echo here of the academic vs vocational divide.

What troubles me most about this is that when this is used in reference to education, it is hard to see how the distinction holds. Unlike sociology, psychology or mathematics – education is an applied field of study. It draws on various disciplines but in itself is non-disciplnary. What then in a field like education might be considered as pure research and what night be considered as practice development?

In addition, it treats ‘practice development and change’ as something that is unproblematic. The EdD assumes those who participate in it are practitioners, professionals who are working as teachers, managers or college governors; this is its defining feature. But the insistence that their intellectual output has to be restricted to ‘practice development and change’ is to so severely narrow its purpose that the qualification becomes meaningless at doctoral level. ‘Practice development and change’ places the doctoral researcher in an untenable position. It treats the practice as something that needs to be developed; it treats change as something that is in the gift of the professional. It divorces the EdD researcher from educational research. Both stances implied by ‘practice development and change’ are derivative of policy assumptions.  The perpetual insistence that practitioners are better, bigger, improved, assured and inspected. That headline figures must inexorably rise until everybody participates in ubiquitously perfect practice. To place yourself ‘against perpetual practice development and change’ is to place yourself beyond a normative framework that confers a valued professional status. Who celebrates the mediocre. Who wants to be ‘ok’. Who gets the power of definition?

These are necessary questions for the doctoral researcher; they are nuisance questions for the professional seeking ‘practice development and change’.

Sociologist Howard Becker points out If you want to write about what’s going on – you have to really know what’s going on. This is good old fashioned sociology; people don’t live their lives according to a series of pre-defined variables. My suggestions that the EdD is uniquely positioned to make a contribution to knowledge about education, not just practice.  Becker based his sociology on his experience of being a musician. If you are going to write about art, it makes sense to know something about the doing of Art. If you want to write about education, it pays to know something about the doing of education.

Becker, H. S. (2008). Writing for social scientists: How to start and finish your thesis, book, or article. University of Chicago Press.

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