Last week I received an email from a prospective doctoral candidate (or someone wanting to switch supervisors). I was working through my usual questioning when recruiting, not just taking on, doctoral researchers and ensuring that the candidate had done their homework (see Pat Thomson on this here).
Something that jumped out for me was that after going away and reading some of my work, the potential mentee wrote me an email that said:
I have actually taken the time to read your perspectives on ‘leadership’. Don’t agree but fascinating insights.
Apart from the frustrations of not knowing exactly what she disagreed with, and missing the opportunity to engage around that (despite asking I got no reply), this raised an interesting point for me. Unlike other fields, educational leadership, management and administration does not generate much dialogue among researchers.
Sure there are some tricky questions at conferences, but often these opportunities are more an experience of talking to those already on your side. As I have argued previously, there is a well identified lack of meaningful engagement across research traditions (Blackmore, 2010), and a state of tacit agreement where those with whom we disagree, we treat with benign neglect (Donmoyer, 2001; Thrupp & Willmott, 2003).
Journals, and maybe this is the result of substantial delays in the publication process, rarely feature responses to articles. This removes that core business of scholarship built of argument, refutation and logic.
I feel that we are seeing less and less research programmes – those which articulate and defend a position – in educational leadership, management and administration. Instead we are seeing the rise of ‘activity’. More and more projects and papers, but less dialogue. The resulting parallel monologues do contribute to the body of knowledge, and this is not a slight on their quality. However, as a disciplinary space, we are losing an opportunity to seriously engage with contemporary thought and analysis.
There are no simple or easy solutions to this – and this makes some assumptions that what I long for is desired at scale. Arguably it calls for some new models of journals or communication of research in the field. But I believe that if we are to meaningfully engage with one another’s research then we benefit both individually and as a collective. I am not suggesting some form of group think, rather a concerted effort to engage with one another and ask questions. Every scholar I know seeks rigour and robust work, what better way to do that then to put our work out there and defend it. We keep what is defensible, modify that which is not. In doing so we accept that scholarship is dynamic and building a research programme is an enduring endeavour.