Educational research through cultural lenses

The average person is not aware of their cultural lenses, or that their view of the world is shaped by a set of acquired “cultural truths”. We learn this through our society, our schools, our news, our entertainment, but rarely do we reflect on it.

Unless, of course, we are researchers, in which case such reflexivity is crucial.

According to Lincoln, Lynham, & Guba (2011), “reflexivity is the process of reflecting critically on the self as researcher” (p. 124), and in my opinion it is important to engage in this in every step of the research process. When doing educational research, it is useful to clarify our own cultural lenses, and how we feel about education.

We cannot escape our culture or our perspectives. All we can do is be aware of them.

Our own experiences shape our views whether we are aware of them or not. Denzin and Lincoln (2011) refer to these views as perspectives, stating that while “paradigms represent belief systems that attach the user to a particular worldview (…) perspectives are less well developed system, and it can be easier to move between them” (p. 5, emphasis added). If we are made aware of our cultural lenses, we can change them (or at least attempt to see the world through the eyes of the other).

We cannot escape our culture or our perspectives. All we can do is be aware of them. Research without personal perspective is impossible, and any positivist that claims differently is simply not self-aware enough. I studied biology and chemistry, and have done a lot of “pure scientific” research. Even in this type of research, however, we must take into account the cultural lens of the researcher. No research is neutral, in my view. This is not necessarily negative, however. What is hard data without interpretation and analysis? And how can anyone interpret and analyze without automatically carrying with them their worldview in the process?

References:

Denzin, N. & Lincoln, Y. (2011). Introduction: The Discipline and Practice of Qualitative Research. In Denzin & Lincoln (Eds.) The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research. London: Sage.

Lincoln, Y., Lynham, S., & Guba, E. (2011). Paradigmatic Controversies, Contradictions, and Emerging Confluences, Revisited. In Denzin & Lincoln (Eds.) The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research. London: Sage

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