All entries for Sunday 21 January 2018

January 21, 2018

Conceptions of the Relationship between Society and Education: Problem Solved (Apparently!)

To Recap

In the previous blog post I talked about the way I was approaching the discussion of society, culture and the relationship between society and culture in the first chapter of the literature review. I began to talk about certain definitions of society that caught my attention and I was beginning to offer initial evaluations and critiques of them. I then offered initial discussions of the characteristics of society, of the definitions and characteristics of culture, and of the relationship between society and culture.

This was progressing fine until I started to discuss the relationship between Society and Education. Two aspects observed in the literature began to puzzle me. Firstly, I was finding that authors would talk about the relationship between a specific type of Education and a specific type of society (e.g., Higher Education in the context of a ‘Learning Society’ and other papers would focus on Higher Education in the context of a ‘Post Modernist Society’). Going into the idea of a ‘Learning Society’ further, I half expected conversations to be based on the promoting of particular learning processes and learning contexts and pedagogies. What I found was different: a ‘Learning Society,’ at least from the papers I was reading, revolves around a complete change in social structures and social institutions and their interactions in order to bring into existence the principles of LifeLong learning. But whilst this perspective has some role in my research, it’s not a complete whole. Why was the Learning Society being viewed as some huge transformation of social structures and social institutions, and not based on the activities within a particular classroom? There appeared to have been little talk of this and I was beginning to wonder if I was viewing Society from an incorrect perspective, or simply reading the wrong papers.

It turned out I was doing both………

Shaping the Views of Society

A particular paper that I have unfortunately misplaced (if I find it I again somewhere on my computer or favourites folder I shall amend this as necessary) clearly defined and made clear to me that the relationship between Society and Education can be viewed from two different perspectives: the Macro and the Micro. This is where, along with other literature I read through as follow ups, I realised that I was actually viewing the relationship from an incorrect perspective: the Macro perspective. The Macro perspective or Macro analysis deals with society at the level of the institution and high level social events, such as social change. The Macro perspective deals with the role of and relationships between institutions, analyses the impact of institutions on each other, analyses the way that changes to an institution affects others, and investigates the way in which institutions have power over and change individuals. Institutions, therefore, have power value and those who carry out Macro based analysis believe that institutions have real power over individuals and that individuals have no agency and therefore have no influence over the construct and function of institutions.

In the example of Education, a Macro perspective would deny that learners have any power-enacting agencies and therefore have no ability to change their institution because they are powered and controlled by institutions. A Macro perspective would also look at the impact that other institutions have on Education and the role and function of Educational institutions (e.g., employment institutions impacting policy and curricular at schools, colleges etc., and University based research) and, therefore, the way that changes to an institution impacts Education.

A Macro perspective for my first literature review chapter is fine insofar as it is useful for describing changes to society, the economy etc. over the decades that gave rise to the need for a change to occur in classrooms, tutor-learner relationship etc. and for the need of and to explore a particular learning phenomenon. However, the Macro does not deal with what happens within classrooms, online learning groups, tutor-student relationship, student-student interaction and other social interactions and processes. For that, a Micro perspective is required.

The Micro perspective, as you have probably guessed, focusses on an individual, interaction between a couple of people, or interactions within a group of people within an institution. The Micro perspective does not necessarily deny that institutions and other large social structures have an impact on individuals, but argues that individuals are power-enacting agents and therefore do have a force and power to change institutions and society. But on the whole, the Micro perspective is interested in the smaller units of society instead of large, giant social structures.

The relationship between society and Education through the Micro perspective is quite diverse, from what I can currently understand, and can be taken in various directions. You can focus on the interactions between the teacher or tutor and the learner, interactions between a teaching assistant or specialised SEN tutor and the learner, the interactions between a specialised SEN tutor and the teacher, or the interactions between students carrying out groupwork in a classroom. Interaction itself is a complex process which can involve sociological and / or psychological processes and can take place within a range of classroom environments, pedagogies, different types of social technologies, different task designs, and different learning goals and purposes. The key characteristic of micro analysis, from what I can currently understand, is that it focusses on interactions, and that it views individuals as power-enacting agents who can bring change to their institutions and social structures.

Where am I going with all this?

That is a wonderful question………

Ok, the research questions, the research context, the fact that the focus is on a social learning phenomenon, and the nature of the problem all necessitates a micro perspective. This, therefore, impacts the research design and the methodology that is used because I am using the methodology from a micro analysis perspective (something that my supervisor briefly mentioned in an email ages ago, which I happened to have just remembered!).
The Macro perspective, however, is useful for the first literature review chapter because it is here I building a platform upon which I can discuss, evaluate, analyse and critique literature related to the learning phenomenon of interest in subsequent literature review chapters. In the first literature review chapter I shall be talking about the relationship between society and Education from that macro level, before progressing towards the changes to society that invoked changes to the Education system, and the way that society is still changing now that, in my belief, invokes the need for, the investigation of, and new thinking of the learning phenomenon. This chapter is yet to be fully restructured and quite frankly the structure might change anyway as I rewrite the chapter, as is the nature of research!

In summary: the Macro and Micro perspective offer completely different views of society, and I was getting myself into a muddle because I was trying to understand the relationship between society and Education from a Macro perspective instead of also thinking about the Micro perspective. Both perspectives now make much more sense to me, and I can now associate each perspective with different parts of the thesis. As I explore the relationship between society and Education further, I might be able to think about more Macro level discussions in further chapters e.g., possibly showing the way that the particular learning phenomenon can provide power-enacting abilities within learners, who can challenge authorities and perhaps bring changes to their environment.


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