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Approaching Research and Research Approaches in Education and Social Work

by Faculty of Education and Social Work, The University of Sydney

The Faculty of Education and Social Work invites you to participate in a colloquia series on contemporary research approaches and inter-disciplinarity across the education and social work domains.


The disciplines informing Education and Social Work face unique challenges in defining the nature and purposes of research. Both areas have applied research approaches from many, often apparently incommensurable, disciplines of inquiry — psychology, sociology, policy studies, anthropology, history, linguistics, and so on. The increasing complexity of applied research contexts and heightened expectations concerning the role of research in practice and policy formation have led some commentators to advocate for problem-based, outcomes-oriented, cross-disciplinary research, arguing that mixed approaches are better adapted to the study of practical ill-structured problems. Further, collaboration across disciplines of inquiry is considered an important feature of contemporary and future research agenda. Amid these collections of specialist interests, research designs and analyses must maintain scholarly integrity, robustness and trustworthiness.

This raises a number of questions, including:

  • How are research approaches governed or affected by demands on the researcher to produce certain kinds of knowledge?
  • What is the optimal level of commensurability of techniques, data and findings from different paradigms around shared applied problems?
  • What level of sophistication can mixed-method applied approaches achieve without losing integrity and legitimacy?
  • What is the ethical context attendant to different methodologies and their assumptions?
  • How can the Faculty’s research effort be more than the sum of these parts?
  • Finally, how can we provide research students with the knowledge and experience needed to understand, judge and integrate methods and techniques from multiple disciplines of inquiry?

Drawing on its disciplinary diversity, the Faculty of Education and Social Work already claims expertise in a range of areas that are at methodological frontiers and thus has a distinctive potential for further enhancing its research by intensifying its collaborative efforts. The colloquia aim to create intellectual space for constructively challenging the established and contemporary methodological practices and innovations; and discussing the possibilities to combine and enrich them with methodological propositions and techniques from other approaches.

Being mindful about the issues and challenges of Research Higher Degree supervision and education, the sessions will be open for staff and RHD students. They will provide opportunities to participate in scholarly methodological debates and access additional resources on contemporary methodological issues and techniques.


The main colloquia aims are to foster greater awareness of why certain methodologies are favoured in certain research contexts and to gain a greater appreciation of challenges and opportunities for “mixed” or “blended” approaches. A key outcome will be in understanding opportunities for collaboration among social science researchers representing different schools of inquiry. Thus, the presentations and responses won’t be solely descriptive of techniques and outputs, but rather will raise the fundamental questions and facilitate an open and constructive discussion around the critical conceptual, methodological and practical issues between related, but typically methodologically distinct schools of inquiry. Presenters and respondents are also invited to consider how the demands of the knowledge economy and knowledge production affect the methodology and types of knowledge that research produces; how digital technologies shape this research approach and outputs; and how the tensions between applied and fundamental knowledge affect this methodology.


The Faculty will initially host a series of 9 colloquium-style presentations running from March 2009 through to December 2009. Each colloquium will include a methodological presentation, invited critical and constructive response from a related, but not necessarily the same, methodological domain and open discussion. A blog space with resources, including audio file of the presentation and discussion, references and relevant literature will be made available following each session.

Topics for the 2009 colloquia include:

  • action research
  • classroom interaction and ethnomethodology
  • comparative research
  • critical ethnographies and post-structural inquiry
  • design based research
  • eResearch
  • historiography and historical analysis
  • quantitative analysis and modelling
  • policy analysis

See the full schedule here. Alternatively, bookmark this blog to keep up to date with the debate "Bridging and Blending Disciplines of Inquiry: Approaching research and research approaches in education and social work"


If you wish to attend the colloquia please email the Research Manager, Patrick Brownlee (p.brownlee@edfac.usyd.edu.au). Indicate which sessions you will be attending for catering purposes. Please RSVP 2 weeks prior to the date of the colloquia. For the first event on March 5th, we request you RSVP by 19th February


Steering group:
  • Jude Irwin, Deb Hayes, Susan Groundwater-Smith, Aek Phakiti, Andrew Martin, Patrick Brownlee.

Organised and sponsored by: