Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 15

This article was downloaded by: [University of the West of Scotland]

On: 08 November 2014, At: 07:28


Publisher: Routledge
Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number:
1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street,
London W1T 3JH, UK

British Journal of Sociology


of Education
Publication details, including instructions for
authors and subscription information:
http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cbse20

Taking Sides in Social


Research: Essays on
partisanship and bias
Sara Delamont , Mike Oliver & Paul Connolly
Published online: 28 Jun 2010.

To cite this article: Sara Delamont , Mike Oliver & Paul Connolly (2001) Taking
Sides in Social Research: Essays on partisanship and bias, British Journal of
Sociology of Education, 22:1, 157-169
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01425690123902

PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE


Taylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all
the information (the Content) contained in the publications on our
platform. However, Taylor & Francis, our agents, and our licensors
make no representations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy,
completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Any opinions
and views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of
the authors, and are not the views of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis.
The accuracy of the Content should not be relied upon and should be
independently verified with primary sources of information. Taylor and
Francis shall not be liable for any losses, actions, claims, proceedings,
demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever
or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in
relation to or arising out of the use of the Content.
This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study
purposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution,
reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in any

Downloaded by [University of the West of Scotland] at 07:28 08 November 2014

form to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms & Conditions of access


and use can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-andconditions

British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol. 22, No. 1, 2001

Downloaded by [University of the West of Scotland] at 07:28 08 November 2014

REVIEW SYMPOSIUM

Taking Sides in Social Research: essays on partisanship and bias


MARTYN HAMMERSLEY, 2000
London, Routledge
196 pp, ISBN 0-415-20287- 6
Reviewed by Sara Delamont, Mike Oliver & Paul Connolly
Imagine it is the 2000 BERA Conference. In one of Cardiffs fashionable cafe bars, two
women are relaxing over mocha lattes. Eowyn, an educational ethnographer is down
from Glasgow[1]. Zenobia, who was her Ph.D. student, is now working on a project in
Kent. They have caught up on the personal news, and fall to discussing academic
matters.
Zenobia:

Have you seen Martyn Hammersleys new book? Fenella is a great fan
and says I must read it.

Eowyn:

Im reviewing itin a symposium with three men.

Zenobia:

Oh dearyou cant win that battle. If you raise any feminist issues
you look like a single minded bore with a one track mind.

Eowyn:

And if I dont, they dont get raised at all, because I know none of
the men will deal with them.

Zenobia:

But by asking you the review editor must want a feminist angle on
the book.

Eowyn:

I hope so. Im going to make some feminist points, but there are
other important things about the book.

Zenobia:

Whats the book about?

Eowyn:

Revisiting some classic sociologists to explore partisanship and bias in


social research. He starts with The Enlightenment and comes up to
current debates.

Zenobia:

OhSusan Haack versus Patti Lather and Sandra Harding. Really


exciting. I need a good secondary source to help me deal with them.

Eowyn:

NoMarx, Weber, Mills, Gramsci, Althusser, Becker and Gouldner.


Haacks and Lathers major books arent cited.

Zenobia:

What! When Haacks (1995) Evidence and Inquiry is the big defence of
objectivity in a modern context and is a mega best seller?

Eowyn:

Yes: and I think Haacks position is very similar to Hammersleys so


it is a real pity he doesnt engage with her. And he doesnt deal with

ISSN 0142-569 2 (print)/ISSN 1465-334 6 (online)/01/01015713


DOI: 10.1080/0142569002003084 6

2001 Taylor & Francis Ltd

158

Review Symposium

Downloaded by [University of the West of Scotland] at 07:28 08 November 2014

Lathers (1991) Getting Smart or any of her work since 1993, or


Hardings since 1992, or Liz Stanleys since 1983. It is very out of
date in its coverage of any women who support Hammersleys
position, and even more so in its discussions of any feminists who
disagree with him. Stanley (2000) has shown how Hammersley fails
to keep up to date with the publications of women on partisanship in
her major discussion of Mills and Gouldner. But Hammersley doesnt
engage with any feminists. Just Marx, Weber, Mills, Gramsci,
Althusser, Becker and Gouldner.
Zenobia:

Whos Gouldner? I dont think Ive ever heard of him. Should I have
read him?

Eowyn:

Hes dead. He was a big name in the USA in the 70spointed out
the many limitations of Parsonian sociology. Stanley (2000) deals
with his ideas too. He isnt taught or read very much these days. He
founded Theory and Society, because he wanted a journal fully engaged
with the social world. Hammersley is interested in his debate with
Becker about Whose side are we on? Hammersley gives Becker and
Gouldner a chapter each.

Zenobia:

So a dead white male book. No wonder Fenella insists I read it, her
version of sociology of education is based on re-thinking Weber.

Eowyn:

Well the book raises important questions. Hammersley is bothered


that scholars are not articulating the case for value neutrality, or
defending value neutrality; rather its obsolence is being taken for
granted. So he has revisited what he sees as the classic texts
advocating partisanship, to see what they actually say, as opposed to
what they are believed to say.

Zenobia:

Does it deal with the disputes over qualitative research on race in


UK schools?

Eowyn:

Yeah. Chapters 5 and 6 are about that. Chapter 6 is written with


Gomm, and the book is dedicated to Fosters memory.

Zenobia:

I never understood that debate. If you read Beckers Whose side are
we on?, and grasp his concept of the Hierarchy of Credibility, that
whole debate just melts away. Foster was reporting the rational,
objective, facts about a school from the top of the hierarchy of
credibility, while Gillborn, Wright, Sewell, and Mac an Ghaill were
collecting the perspectives of the group at the very, very, bottom of
the hierarchy of credibility.

Eowyn:

You mean Afro-Caribbean boys are the lowest group in that hierarchy?

Zenobia:

Yes. That debate illustrated Beckers point perfectly. Should I read


the book?

Eowyn:

Yesbut I dont think you will enjoy it. It is dense, and not easy to
read. The topics are important, but they do not really come to life.
I would have liked more examplesmore discussion of how these
classic theorists are directly relevant to current research problems: to
things we are all currently gathering data on.

Downloaded by [University of the West of Scotland] at 07:28 08 November 2014

Review Symposium
Zenobia:

Like the collapse of B.Ed. recruitment, or the impact of loans on HE


[higher education] access, or the expansion of medical student
numbers, or the governments failure to get rid of Clause 28 in
England?

Eowyn:

Yesany empirical topic really. I would rather read a book of new


research than another exegesis of famous gures who wrote in
another country a long time ago. In the end its the empirical work
that really matters to me: Gouldners study of industrial bureaucracy,
Beckers ethnography of medical students. I wish Hammersley himself would do more empirical work and write it up, rather than keep
revisiting dead white males.

Zenobia:

Empirical work on schools?

Eowyn:

Ideally on something outside education: elder abuse, or CJD or why


people like Alton Towers or why visitors go to Althorpe: anything
empirical to get away from the library, anything away from education to help challenge the familiarity of schooling. (Delamont &
Atkinson, 1995)

Zenobia:

You sound jaded.

Eowyn:

Sorrythe issue of research bias is important. I just wish I had


enjoyed the book more. It is hard to stay engaged with books that
just ignore womens work as if it never existed even when it bears
directly on their argument.

Zenobia:

Such as?

Eowyn:

Well, Hammersley gives a potted history of the Chicago School (pp.


7577) from 1890 to 1970. It is taken from classic male authors, and
is all about men [2]. He ignores Mary Jo Deegans (1988) account of
how the separation of pure research from reform and politics was
accomplished by driving out all the women from the sociology
department, and expunging them from the historical record, like
Stalin wiping opponents out of the Soviet photographs. Then he
ignores all the discussion in Fine (1995) about the same exclusion of
women happening in Beckers era. He discusses The Fantastic Lodge
(Hughes, 1961) without mentioning Helen McGill Hughes.

Zenobia:

Whats The Fantastic Lodge? Ive never heard of it.

Eowyn:

A life history of a woman who is a heroin addict. Becker did the data
collection, but Helen Hughess name is on the book. Well worth
reading.

Zenobia:

Maybe Hammersley disputes Deegans (1988, 1995) accounts?

Eowyn:

Well then, he should say so. By ignoring it he disses Deegan, leaves


out an important issue (can there be high status, objective sociology
if there are women researchers involved?) and perpetuates the male
chauvinist history of Chicago so his readers will never know there is
a feminist alternative to that orthodoxy.

Zenobia:

OK, he has neglected feminist re-readings of intellectual history.


Where does he stand on critical ethnography?

159

Review Symposium

160

Eowyn:
Zenobia:
Eowyn:

Downloaded by [University of the West of Scotland] at 07:28 08 November 2014

Zenobia:
Eowyn:
Zenobia:
Eowyn:

He does not engage with Wexler or Carspecken so Im not sure.


And he must hate postmodernism?
It is a very muted presence in the book. There is no Denzin as sole
author after 1990, no Judith Butler, only one citation to Flax and no
Lather since 1993. Stronach & MacLure (1997) is not cited.
So Hammersley isnt living in the seventh moment? (Denzin &
Lincoln, 2000).
De nitely not. But then who is except Denzin himself?
Well we are. This is a seventh moment book review, isnt it?
No. Its only a fourth moment review of a second moment bookwe
should get back to the conference.

Correspondence: Sara Delamont, Cardiff School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University,


Glamorgan Building, King Edward VII Avenue, Cardiff CF10 3WT, UK.
NOTES
[1] Eowyn is named after the woman warrior in The Lord of the Rings, and appeared in Delamont (2000).
Zenobia is named after the third-century warrior queen of Palmyra, and is a new character.
[2] There are two basic stories about what happened to Chicago sociology after 1920. In the dominant, male
versions of the story, three men of perspicacityFaris, Park and Burgessinherited the department,
puri ed it, and created modern sociology there. That is, they separated academic sociology as an objective
scienti c discipline from social administration, social policy, social work, home economics and political
activism of all kinds. The minority feminist version of the story casts Park as a villain who could not work
with women and was not prepared to recognise their scholarship in his history of the department. Deegan
(1988) shows in considerable detail how Mead, Dewey, Thomas and Small were all able to work with
women, and shared some of the social and political concerns of Abbott, Addams, Breckinridge and Talbot.
Two organisational changes, an ideological division, and the malign in uence of one man (Park) explain
for Deegan why these women were excluded from the historical record of sociology (Delamont, 1992).

REFERENCES
DEEGAN , M.J. (1988) Jane Addams and the Men of the Chicago School (New Brunswick, NJ, Transaction Press).
DEEGAN , M.J. (1995) The second sex and the Chicago School, in: G.A. FINE (Ed.) A Second Chicago School?
(Chicago, IL, Chicago University Press).
DELAMONT, S. (1992) Old fogies and intellectual women, Womens History Review, 1, pp. 3961.
DELAMONT, S. (2000) Confessions of a ragpicker, in: H. HODKINSON (ed.) Feminism and Educational Research
Methodologies (Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University).
DELAMONT, S. & ATKINSON , P. (1995) Fighting Familiarity (Cresskill, NJ, Hampton Press).
DENZIN, N. & LINCOLN, Y. (Eds) (2000) Handbook of Qualitative Research, (2nd edn) (London, Sage).
FINE, G.A. (Ed.) (1995) A Second Chicago School? (Chicago, IL, Chicago University Press).
HAACK, S. (1995) Evidence and Inquiry (Oxford, Blackwell).
HUGHES , H.M. (1961) The Fantastic Lodge (Greenwich, CT, Fawcett).
LATHER, P. (1991) Getting Smart (London, Routledge).
STANLEY, L. (2000) Children of our time, in: H. HODKINSON (Ed.) Feminism and Educational Research Methodologies
(Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University).
STRONACH, I. & MACLURE, M. (1997) Educational Research Undone (Buckingham, Open University Press).

It is not until the nal paragraph in this book that Hammersley comes clean and rmly
states that the purpose of the book is to defend the proper operation of research

Downloaded by [University of the West of Scotland] at 07:28 08 November 2014

Review Symposium

161

communities on which the pursuit of social scienti c knowledge necessarily depends (p.
166). These research communities, he believes, are under attack from those like me who
seek to rede ne the goals of enquiry as the promotion of some practical or political
cause and that the only defence is to develop a proper understanding of the nature of
error and bias in social enquiry.
It does not, of course, come as a surprise to anyone familiar with Hammersleys
previous work to nd that he is continuing to promote the idea of value-free, objective
social research and the university as the key institution to carry out such work. However,
this book is less convincing as well as less interesting than his previous attempt
(Hammersley, 1995). In The Politics of Social Research, he at least attempted to provide a
critique of many of the ideas and issues that underpin participatory and emancipatory
research, and while ultimately I found his arguments to be unconvincing, they were
arguments that had to be dealt with rather than ignored. Unfortunately, his arguments
in the book are irrelevant to the development of participatory and emancipatory
research.
There are a number of stages to Hammersleys argument in Taking Sides in Social
Research. Initially, he quite rightly points out that one of the goals of social research since
its beginnings has been to improve social conditions and hence bring about social
change. Thus, in one sense, he suggests that research has always been partisan and value
based, and that some of the dif culties this raises have been resolved by Weber (1949)
through his advocacy of the position of value neutrality in the pursuit of objective
knowledge about the social world we are seeking to change. He then goes on to provide
a critique of the work of three sociologists on whom, he assumes, most emancipatory
researchers rely as justi cation for their political activities.
Wright Mills, he argues, does not provide a convincing case for the committed political
sociologist. Beckers work can be read in a number of different ways including, in
Hammersleys own reading, as a defence of value neutral research. Gouldners critique
of Becker, he suggests, is ambiguous because it fails to distinguish between value
neutrality as an occupational ideology or as a methodological principle. Finally, he
suggests that emancipatory researchers fail to deal with critiques of their work advanced
by those he calls methodological purists, simply refusing to get involved in the tediousness
of having to reply to criticisms from this quarter.
He is, of course, right to suggest that much social research since its inception has been
about attempting to bring about social change and to improve the conditions of peoples
lives. What he does not point out, however, is that, by and large, it has been unsuccessful
in this enterprise. As a consequence, there has been growing disillusionment with social
scienti c social research and, in the past 30 years, we have seen attempts by academics,
supported and often led by disempowered and excluded groups, to reconstruct the whole
social research enterprise in an entirely new way. What he fails to understand, however,
is that this new participatory and emancipatory research has not emerged by building
upon the past history of social research, but by actively rejecting it.
As a consequence, yet more discussions about whether Wright Mills reputation really
does outweigh his intellectual contribution, whether Becker really was on anyones side
except his own, or if Gouldner had applied his critique of others to his own work would
he have been equally scathing about it, seem rather irrelevant. Issues such as these may
well be fascinating to those of us who are paid merely to think or teach about social
research, but they do not have much much practical relevance to attempts to build a
genuinely participatory or emancipatory research paradigm in the here and now. Some
years ago (Oliver, 1992a), I accused certain academics who endlessly revisited theoretical

Downloaded by [University of the West of Scotland] at 07:28 08 November 2014

162

Review Symposium

debates about labelling theory while the education system continued to label thousands
of kids, inappropriately, of being intellectual masturbators: I had a similar reaction after
reading Hammersleys book. Masturbation is a pleasurable but ultimately pointless
activity and thats how I felt after reading this book.
The reason why the kind of research Hammersley advocates is ultimately pointless, I
would suggest, is precisely because he wants to keep separate the pursuit of objective
knowledge through social research and other activities whether they be what he refers to
as propagandising or advocacy. While he argues that this separation is fundamental to
the preservation of social research, I would argue that it is for this reason that social
research has failed those communities it was supposed to serve. But, more importantly,
this is not just an argument between academics; those failed communities themselves
have begun to express a view on the failures of research and researchers.
In the area in which I work, disabled people have become increasingly vocal about the
kind of work that Hammersley advocates, arguing that it distorts the experience of
disability, its ndings are often irrelevant to the lives of disabled people, and its practices
are often exclusionary and oppressive. Such criticisms cannot be properly addressed by
re-reading dead, non-disabled sociologists, but only by a proper engagement with the
worlds of people coming to hold such views. This engagement can only be operationalised in my experience, by dispensing with objectivity and the commitment to
science on which it is based.
Hammersley goes on to argue that it is perfectly reasonable to be both a researcher
and a political animal but that we should not be both at the same time. What I
personally nd hard to understand is how it is possible to maintain that distinction, both
in light of my own experiences as a social researcher and as a disabled person. I am both
at all times and, while contexts may effect the importance of each, I nd it impossible
to be an objective social researcher one minute and a political disabled person the next.
It is simply not a cognitive split that I can maintain.
I would not deny that, when I began my career in the 1970s, this was a distinction
I tried to maintain. I was socialised by my teachers and constrained by my funders to
operate as if the undertaking of objective social research was a feasible goal. It did not
take me long, however, to realise that while the pursuit of such a goal was essential to
building my career as a researcher, it was the road to nowhere as far as improving my
life as a disabled person. It was only after some early encounters with feminism and its
nascent attempts to build a different kind of research enterprise that I came to realise that
there was another way.
I suppose that one of the functions of objectivity in social research is that it enables
researchers to remain aloof from exploitation that is often involved in researching other
peoples lives and detached from the feelings of outrage when confronted with the
conditions under which some people are forced to live out their lives. I see no evidence
in this recent book, or in any of his other works, that Hammersley is aware of any of this
or that it has effected the way he works as a researcher.
If I re ect on my own intellectual journey as a researcher, I started out believing that
objective social research was both desirable and possible before moving on to believe that
all that was necessary was to render an accurate and faithful account of peoples lives in
order for the world to change. From there I stalled for a while before moving on to
believe that it is possible to create a genuinely emancipatory social research enterprise.
Through this intellectual journey, my own practices as a researcher also changed as
I moved farther away from the academy and closer to my research subjects before nally
attempting to turn my practice on its head by changing the social relations of research

Downloaded by [University of the West of Scotland] at 07:28 08 November 2014

Review Symposium

163

production (Oliver, 1992b). For me, this has meant nothing less than attempting to put
my skills, knowledge and experience under the control of disabled people, and has led
me to withdraw from funded research because, despite recent rhetoric to the contrary,
funding bodies are not willing to take risks and support user-controlled research.
From discussions with and through the reading of other researchers accounts of their
experiences, I know that they have been on similar journeys, and I simply nd it
incredible that Hammersley seems unaffected by any of his own experiences as a
researcher, at least to the point of writing about them or changing his practices. It is a
pity that he chose to re-engage with the past work of the dead rather than the current
work of the living. In his own area, exciting progress has been made in articulating,
debating and actioning participatory and emancipatory approaches to educational
research (Clough & Barton, 1995, 1999). What is more, perhaps, the cloak of objectivity
with which he surrounds himself is better protection against the reality of our own
failures as researchers than I thought, and that I discarded it too quickly.
Hammersley also expresses concern that partisan or biased researchers are unwilling
to engage in discussions of their work with their academic critics, or methodological
purists, as he calls them. What he fails to understand is that emancipatory researchers
are much more concerned to orient their work to the needs of the groups and
communities they are seeking to serve than they are to the academic community,
whatever that may be. If I have to choose between doing practical and politically useful
research and that which is methodologically pure, give me practical and useful every
time.
But there is more to it than rational choice; struggling to work in emancipatory ways
is such a dif cult, demanding and energy-sapping task that usually there is little left for
engaging in mastabatory debates with fellow academics. Furthermore, such work is far
less likely to attract large-scale funding so the emancipatory researcher does not have the
luxury of engaging research assistants and Ph.D. students to do the hard graft of eld
work and analysis while the methodologically pure researcher endlessly debates the
epistemological basis for their work.
Ultimately, what is disappointing about this book is that, while Hammersley recognises
the collapse of what he calls foundationalism under a welter of attacks from feminists,
constructionists and postmodernists, he fails to adopt their solution and to opt for radical
epistemological alternatives. Instead, he reverts to the past and tries to resurrect
foundationalism by re-reading if not rewriting the history of social research. It is a shame
that he did not engage with the present and grasp the future by reading some of the
exciting new work that is beginning to emerge from participatory and emancipatory
approaches. Had he done so, the book might have made a genuine contribution to the
potential development of social research rather than become a bystander at its possible
demise.

Correspondence: Mike Oliver, Professor of Disability Studies, University of Greenwich, UK.


REFERENCES
CLOUGH , P. & BARTON, L. (Eds) (1995) Making Difculties: research and the construction of SEN (London, Paul
Chapman Publishing).
CLOUGH , P. & BARTON, L. (Eds) (1999) Articulating with Difculty: research voices in inclusive education (London, Paul
Chapman Publishing).

164

Review Symposium

Downloaded by [University of the West of Scotland] at 07:28 08 November 2014

HAMMERSLEY, M. (1995) The Politics of Social Research (London, Sage).


OLIVER, M. (1992a) Intellectual masturbation: a rejoinder to Soder and Booth, European Journal of Special Needs
Education, 7.
OLIVER, M. (1992b) Changing the social relations of research production, Disability and Society, 7, pp. 101114.
WEBER, M. (1949) The Methodology of the Social Sciences (New York, Free Press).

Since the early 1990s, a debate has taken place in the UK over the issue of evidence in
educational research. At one level, the debate has centred around what constitutes
suf cient evidence to prove, beyond reasonable doubt, the existence of discriminatory
processes within schools to account for the educational inequalities that exist in relation
to race, gender and social class. It has been a debate stimulated by the late Peter Foster
through his systematic critique of many of the key ethnographic studies on racism and
education in the UK conducted over the previous decade (see, for instance, Foster, 1990,
1992, 1993). Without exception, he concluded that each study did not offer suf cient
proof of teacher racism as a factor in uencing the schooling experiences of minority
ethnic students. By the mid-1990s, Martyn Hammersley and Roger Gomm joined this
methodological project of Peter Fosters, and the project itself was extended to encompass research on gender and social-class inequalities in education as well as race. In
1996, it culminated in the publication of a book jointly authored by Peter Foster, Roger
Gomm and Martyn Hammersley (Foster et al., 1996), in which they challenged much of
the research that currently existed on educational inequalities.
Inevitably, the debate soon became polarised. While Peter Foster and his colleagues
were keen to focus narrowly on debates about research evidence, many of their critics
drew attention to the political nature and implications of their methodologically purist
project (Gillborn & Drew, 1993; Troyna, 1993, 1995). Indeed, some argued that their
approach was racist in consequence by its tendency to bolster the status quo and to
frustrate attempts to address racism in schools (see Gillborn, 1995). This debate over the
relationship between politics and social research was one that Martyn Hammersley
appeared to be particularly interested in at the time (see Hammersley, 1993a,b 1995,
1998) and one that, subsequently, has led to the production and publication of this
present volume.
Taking Sides in Social Research itself represents an outline and critique of the arguments
forwarded in favour of what Hammersley terms partisan research. It provides a detailed
review of some of the classic sociological texts that are often used in support of
politicising the research processincluding those of Mills, Becker and Gouldnerand
also an assessment of the arguments and claims made by contemporary anti-racist and
feminist researchers. Throughout the book, Hammersley maintains that the politicisation
of social research is not only misguided, but inherently dangerous, and that an intelligent
and sceptical commitment to the principles of objectivity and value neutrality must
remain an essential feature of social research (back cover).
In reviewing this volume, it needs to be stated from the outset that I have also been
implicated in these debates (see Connolly, 1992, 1996; Connolly & Troyna, 1998) and
would be characterised as one of those who has been extremely critical of the work of
Foster, Hammersley and Gomm. It should therefore not be surprising to note that I do
not nd Hammersleys arguments particularly convincing. However, I do feel that the
present book makes an important contribution, especially in offering a clear and
accessible consideration of many of the key arguments involved. It certainly provides an

Review Symposium

165

Downloaded by [University of the West of Scotland] at 07:28 08 November 2014

opportunity for both sides of the debate to think through and clarify the basic premises
of their positions and, it is hoped, for a more fruitful dialogue to begin to take place. With
this in mind, I would like to use the remaining space in this review to respond to some
of the key points raised by Hammersley and to attempt to clarify my own position in
relation to these.
Before doing this, however, it is important to make a more general point about the
nature of the debate. This can be illustrated by Hammersley arguing in the present book
for a constructive debate between the two sides but resigning himself to the fact that the
prospects of productive debate actually taking place do not seem good (p. 149, original
emphasis). This is because, as he goes onto explain:
the critical approach is structured in such a way as to treat those who do not
accept its fundamental assumptions as not just mistaken, and therefore in need
of persuasion, but rather as witting or unwitting agents of an unjust social
system that must be resisted or overthrown. This is encouraged by its emphasis
on the unity of theory and practice, which blurs or even erases the distinction
between political struggle and academic discussion. This perhaps explains the
fact that for the most part the critics of methodological purism have refused to
engage with its arguments in any detail, preferring to denounce it as ideological, immoral, etc. For instance, one of the early responses to methodological
purist criticism begins by complaining about the tediousness of having to reply
to criticism from this quarter and explicitly refuses to respond to each of
the criticisms, on the grounds that this would allow the methodological purists
to de ne what is important in relation to research on race and ethnicity
(Gillborn & Drew, 1993, pp. 354355). This refusal to engage with the
arguments of the other side undercuts the possibility of fruitful discussion. In
this way, it seems to me, the critical approach disquali es itself as a form of
academic research: it turns sociology into a political morality play
This quote is certainly indicative of how the debate has become polarised. However, it
also highlights one of the root problems underlying that debate. It is a problem
characterised by the dif culty each side has in appreciating the epistemological perspective of the other. For my own part, it is certainly the case that I have given little
consideration to the detail of Foster, Hammersleys and Gomm position, tending to
believe, as does Gillborn in the earlier quote, that to engage with it point by point is to
accept and be bound by their epistemological agenda. However, Hammersleys criticism
cuts both ways. The methodological purists have also failed to accept or be particularly
drawn upon our criticisms of their work, particularly in relation to its political implications. For the most part, they simply refuse to accept that politics has any in uence over
what they do and, as in the presented quotation from Hammersley, often tend to
caricature our position and/or simply dismiss it out of hand.
For a fruitful debate to take place, therefore, both sides need to engage seriously with
the perspectives of the other. To avoid and/or denigrate the legitimate concerns of
critical researchers simply is not good enough. With this in mind, and in an attempt to
help move the debate on, I would like to try to respond constructively to Hammersleys
arguments. In particular, Hammersley identi es a number of issues that each side in the
debate need to address. The core one he raises for critical researchers is to respond to
the claim that critical research is likely to involve systematic error because it is concerned
not just with producing knowledge but also with pursuing political goals (p. 146). Given
the limited space available, all that can be offered below is a brief outline of the three

166

Review Symposium

Downloaded by [University of the West of Scotland] at 07:28 08 November 2014

key principles underlying my own position, offered with the aim of demonstrating that
bias need not be a feature of critical research [1].
The rst principle relates to the need to accept that all research is political in its
inception. Simply by choosing a research problem, a political decision has been made.
This is a point recognised by Weber when he wrote of the need for research to be value
relevant in ensuring that it addresses the questions and problems that matter within
society. It is also a point accepted by Hammersley. Interestingly, however, Hammersley
is at pains to distance this rst principle from the more radical and caricatured partisan
research that he attempts to construct in his book. As he explains:
research can be partisan in the limited respect that problems must be
selected for investigationand explanations, theoretical evaluations and prescriptions constructedso as to be of direct relevance to particular practical
values, and thereby perhaps to the interests of speci c groups or categories of
actor. Despite this, the term partisan is probably better reserved for views that
allow a larger and non-conditional role for practical values within research. (p.
19).
This dispute over words may seem rather trivial yet it is extremely important. As seen
earlier, much of Hammersleys critique of partisan research is judgemental in tone
attempting to contrast his own reasonable, objective and neutral approach with the
unreasonable, irrational and politically-rabid one of his opponents. However, here is a
case where one of the core principles underpinning the critical research perspective is
denied it, and a much more caricatured and untenable position imposed upon it instead.
The sense of creating straw dolls to then knock down is certainly evident here.
In practical terms, this rst principle requires critical researchers to be acutely aware
of the decisions they make when selecting topics for research. In relation to anti-racist
research, for example, this commonly means choosing research problems that aim to
address issues of racism and racial inequalities.
The second principle underpinning my own position is the need to take responsibility,
as far as possible, for the political implications of research that is published. This is
certainly a point that Hammersley would appear to disagree with and yet it is something
that may not be incompatible with his own position. To explain, there are at least two
ways in which researchers need to take responsibility for the work that they publish. The
rst is in relation to how it is likely to be interpreted by others (whether the media,
politicians, civil servants and so on). At one level, most researchers seem to accept
responsibility for this as witnessed by the care usually taken in discussing their research
ndings, clarifying what can be legitimately concluded from these, and the many
different caveats and numerous provisos added to the claims that they do make.
However, what is needed is to extend such efforts to include not only a concern for the
internal conherency of a research report, but also to attempting to limit the ways in
which that research may be misinterpreted and/or misused by others once it has been
published. Of course, if someone is intent on misrepresenting what has been written then
there is little that can be done to address this. Rather, I am thinking of cases where it
can be reasonably anticipated that either there is likely to be a genuine misinterpretation
of what has been published or where the political climate is such that it can be
anticipated that the research ndings are likely to be intentionally used and misrepresented by others. What is at stake in both cases, then, is no more than a legitimate
concern that research ndings are correctly and accurately interpreted and understood.
In relation to anti-racist researchers, for example, this commonly means being aware of

Downloaded by [University of the West of Scotland] at 07:28 08 November 2014

Review Symposium

167

and attempting to avoid the possible ways in which their research may unwittingly
reproduce racist stereotypes or assumptions and/or be mis-used in order to bolster
support for existing policies or practices that tend to reinforce racial inequalities.
The second way in which researchers need to take responsibility for the work that they
publish relates to more ethical considerations. It is interesting, for example, that most
researchersincluding Hammersley and his colleagueswould accept that ethical considerations should have a legitimate role in in uencing what is and/or is not acceptable
in terms of research. In this sense, there is an acceptance more generally that there is a
limit to the pursuit of truth in relation to when it may adversely effect the wellbeing of
others. However, such ethical considerations are usually limited to individual concerns
(i.e. the individuals right to privacy, con dentiality, etc.) and are much less likely to be
broadened to consider the concerns of particular groups of people who may be effected
by the research. And yet, if the consequence of research being published is that it is likely
to have an adverse effect on a particular group (whether that group be women, minority
ethnic people, people with disabilities, etc.), then this must surely be an ethical matter
that the researcher needs to consider. Moreover, as with the case of more individualistic
ethical concerns, it is also a matter that could legitimately lead to certain research not
being pursued and/or published because of its likely effects on a particular group. It is
accepted that this is a very dif cult issue to resolve, especially in terms of what would
constitute research that has a detrimental effect on certain groups. However, the fact that
it raises extremely dif cult and demanding questions does not provide an excuse for
simply ignoring the issue. There is certainly a need for such ethical issues to be open to
scrutiny and debate. It is something that is expected within critical social research, for
example. To take the case of anti-racist research again, it means being acutely aware of
and attempting to avoid situations where the research process itself may adversely impact
upon those minority ethnic groups being researched, as well as how the publication of
the ndings may negatively impact upon them.
The third and nal principle underlying my own position is a commitment to the
rigorous and systematic use of methods within social research. While there are many
different goals that can underpin critical social research, one that has increasingly come
to dominate is the use of research ndings to challenge social inequalities by in uencing
and applying pressure on those in positions of power and responsibility. In relation to
anti-racist research, for example, one of its aims has been to document and highlight the
nature and extent of racism, and to assess and evaluate differing strategies employed to
counter racial inequalities. In this sense, there is little point producing research reports
that are clearly regarded as biased and/or partisan. If the effectiveness of such research
is in its ability to convince others of the signi cance of the issues raised, then there is a
need to provide research evidence that is generally acceptable among academics,
policy-makers and practitioners. This, in turn, requires careful and rigorous use of the
fundamental methods of social research. In this sense, while political and ethical
considerations play a central role in the choice of research topic and in how the ndings
are later to be presented and used, the methods employed to actually collect and analyse
the data need to follow the generally accepted principles of social research. In other
words, the evidence presented should be convincing whatever the political position of the
reader.
As with ethical considerations, this is not to deny that there is considerable controversy
over what counts as suf cient evidence to support a particular claim. Indeed, this is
where we began in the debate with Peter Foster and others. While such a debate suggests
that there may never be complete agreement over the issue of evidence, a general

Downloaded by [University of the West of Scotland] at 07:28 08 November 2014

168

Review Symposium

consensus is necessary in order to allow meaningful dialogue to take place. In attempting


to reach and maintain a consensus, however, the focus of the debate needs to include
more than the very narrow, technical emphasis pursued by Hammersley and others. In
particular, there is a need to also review research evidence in relation to broader
considerations, including the possible effects of the political/value position of the
researcher, the impact of their own identity and experience on relations with those they
have researched and on how they have consequently interpreted and written-up their
data. These are issues that should be of concern to all social researchers. And yet there
is a sense in which those researchers committed to the notion of objective and value-free
research feel that their approach effectively absolves them from having to consider the
in uence of their own value-base on the research they conduct.
One nal consequence of this adherence to rigorous methods worth mentioning is that
it requires critical researchers to be re exive. While political considerations may play a
signi cant role in in uencing the research agenda, that agenda cannot be maintained in
the light of con icting research evidence. For example, during much of the 1980s,
anti-racist researchers and activists were keen to promote the concept of Black as a
political identity representing the shared experiences of racism of all non-white people.
While this was an important strategy at the time in raising the issue of racism onto the
research and political agenda, research began to emerge towards the end of the 1980s
that challenged this political construct and highlighted the great diversity that exists both
within and between different minority ethnic groups. Initially, such research was met
with signi cant resistance and criticism for being divisive and undermining attempts to
stress the importance and signi cance of racism. However, the fact that most anti-racist
researchers and activists now accept the issue of diversity is testament to their ability to
remain critically re exive and to allow research evidence to inform their work.
Overall, it has been dif cult to adequately provide an account of my own position in
relation to critical research in the space available. What I have tried to do is to sketch
out a response to Hammersleys concern that partisan research will inevitably lead to
systematic error and, thus, bias. While there is a commitment to ensuring that research
engages political goals, I have tried to show that this does not mean that the research
evidence that is produced will necessarily be biased. Indeed, I have argued that, for
critical research to be effective, it must produce evidence that is regarded as valid and
acceptable more generally and this, in turn, means applying the same standard tests of
validity and reliability as other social researchers. Ultimately, however, this review has
raised more questions than provided answers. There is currently little consensus over
many of the political and ethical issues raised or those surrounding what counts as
suf cient evidence in social research. This is where Hammersleys book is to be
welcomed as an important contribution to some of these debates. While we, as critical
researchers, need to begin to address the issues he raises seriously and constructively,
there is also an onus on him and those within the methodological purist camp to do the
same in relation to the concerns of critical researchers.
Correspondence: Paul Connolly, University of Ulster, UK.
NOTES
[1] It is important to stress that I am not attempting to present myself as a spokesperson for critical social
research. While many of my own arguments draw heavily upon and re ect those within the critical
research tradition, I can only present my own position here.

Review Symposium

169

Downloaded by [University of the West of Scotland] at 07:28 08 November 2014

REFERENCES
CONNOLLY, P. (1992) Playing it by the rules: the politics of research in race and education, British Educational
Research Journal, 18, pp. 133148.
CONNOLLY, P. (1996) Doing what comes naturally? Standpoint epistemology, critical social research and the
politics of identity, in: E.S. LYON & J. BUSFIELD (Eds) Methodological Imaginations (London, Macmillan).
CONNOLLY, P. & TROYNA, B. (Eds) (1998) Researching Racism in Education (Buckingham, Open University Press).
FOSTER, P. (1990) Cases not proven: an evaluation of two studies of teacher racism, British Educational Research
Journal, 16, pp. 335349.
FOSTER, P. (1992) Equal treatment and cultural difference in multi-ethnic schools: a critique of the teacher
ethnocentrism theory, International Studies in Sociology of Education, 2, pp. 89103.
FOSTER, P. (1993) Some problems in establishing equality of treatment in multi-ethnic schools, British Journal
of Sociology, 44, pp. 519535.
FOSTER, P., GOMM, R. & HAMMERSLEY, M. (1996) Constructing Educational Inequality (London, Falmer Press).
GILLBORN, D. (1995) Racism and Antiracism in Real Schools (Buckingham, Open University Press).
GILLBORN, D. & DREW, D. (1993) The politics of research: some observations on methodological purity, New
Community, 19, pp. 354360.
HAMMERSLEY, M. (1993a) On methodological purism, British Educational Research Journal, 19, pp. 339341.
HAMMERSLEY, M. (1993b) Research and anti-racism: the case of Peter Foster and his critics, British Journal of
Sociology, 44, pp. 429448.
HAMMERSLEY, M. (1995) The Politics of Social Research (London, Routledge).
HAMMERSLEY, M. (1998) Partisanship and credibility: the case of anti-racist educational research, in: P.
CONNOLLY & B. TROYNA (Eds) Researching Racism in Education (Buckingham, Open University Press).
TROYNA, B. (1993) Underachiever or misunderstood? A reply to Roger Gomm, British Educational Research
Journal, 19, pp. 167174.
TROYNA, B. (1995) Beyond reasonable doubt? Researching race in educational settings, Oxford Review of
Education, 21, pp. 395408.