I would probably read much more quickly if I made less detailed notes or if I didn’t have this constant desire to stop every few minutes and after making a cup of coffee write in my DayOne Journal or blog. But having been reminded of Ball’s (2006) paper, The necessity and violence of theory – I couldn’t not re-wind and re-read it. I’m glad I did. Ball offers a personal account of how and why he has developed his interest in the work of Foucault (like Foucault Stephen Ball is not a Foucauldian) and Bourdieu. He also offers a run down of how and why Bourdieu’s writing on class is so important to educational researchers.
If there is a binary that seems to permeate education discourse it is this division between theory and practice. As educational researchers we are – supposedly at least – locked into practice rather then theory. What is education after all if not a practice driven enterprise. I think this is an important and revealing strain in educational discourse – one that frequently reveals itself. To describe oneself as a ‘theorist’ is an attempt to assume an elevated position above the murky grimy handed ‘practice’ of education (how else can I interpret it in the light of Bourdieu’s notion that all our social interactions are driven by a thinly disguised lust for power and ascendancy).
And yet, as Ball (2006) has reminded me this morning:
Bourdieu sought to work between binaries rather than be constrained to make false choices between poles—his social model is articulated between objectivism (construction of a discourse within which to converse with other sociologist about the object) and subjectivism, his epistemology is enacted between scientism and theoreticism, which implies that one can grasp reality without “touching it” (Karalayali, 2004, p. 365).
More importantly – as Ball’s paper so strongly illustrates – it’s impossible to understand the world from within one or the other lens alone. To be locked into theory (madness) or locked into practice (foolishness) is to touch reality without grasping it. Or else to grasp something other than reality.
In a week where the right wing press likes to inform us that we no longer need the Labour Party – Stephen Ball’s discussion of recent developments in class theory and more specifically Bourdieu’s writings on class and their relevance for educational researchers is a welcome necessity.
Ball, S. J. (2006). The necessity and violence of theory. Discourse: studies in the cultural politics of education, 27(1), 3-10.
Karakayli, N. (2004). Reading Bourdieu with Adorno: the limits of critical theory and reflexive sociology. Sociology, 38(3), 357/368.