Gerardo del Cerro Santamaría
Neoliberalism—the prevailing model of capitalist thinking based on the Washington Consensus—has conveyed the idea that a new educational and university model must emerge in order to meet the demands of a global productive system that is radically different from that of just a few decades ago. The overall argument put forward is that the requirements, particularly the managerial and labor force needs of a new economy—already developing within the parameters of globalization and the impact of information and communication technologies (ICTs)—cannot be adequately satisfied under the approaches and methods used by a traditional university. Neoliberalism affects the telos of higher education by redefining the very meaning of higher education. It dislocates education by commodifying its intrinsic value and emphasizing directly transferable skills and competencies. Nonmonetary values are marginalized and, with them, the nonmonetary ethos that is essential in sustaining a healthy democratic society.
Ming Chee Ang
Despite the fact that Mandarin is not accorded official language status in Malaysia, and that ethnic Chinese communities accounted for less than 30% of the country’s overall population, Malaysia is the only country outside China and Taiwan with a comprehensive and complete Chinese education system. It is also the only country in Southeast Asia that has perpetuated the Chinese education system established during the colonial era.
The prolonged endurance of the Chinese education system in Malaysia is the result of many factors: heavy brokerage and lobbying efforts by ethnic Chinese political leaders; incorporation of vernacular schools into the Malay-dominated national education system in the backdrop of the Malayan nation formation stage; social mobilization of the Chinese education movement in Malaysia; and the increasing significance of Mandarin proficiency in the world.
In particular, the assimilation policies for nation building by the Malay-dominated regime have threatened the cultural distinctiveness of the Chinese-speaking communities. Resistance from the Chinese speaking minorities is manifested through their support of the Chinese schools. Moreover, the elimination of English schools during the 1970s has unintentionally favored the Chinese primary schools. Despite their standing at that time as the “second-best” option after the English school, Chinese schools that offered the benefit of trilingual education, stricter discipline, and more competitive academic performance enjoyed an accelerated boost in student enrollments. More importantly, many parents who do not speak Chinese began to appreciate the quality of Chinese schools, and the enrollment of non-ethnic Chinese students has continued to rise ever since.
Above all, China’s rapid economic ascendancy and growing political influence since the 1990s has enhanced the importance of Mandarin as a global language. This has added value to the importance of Chinese schools as language and cultural learning institutions for Malaysian. Such opportunity has enabled the Chinese school model to become one of the most successful and inclusive educational institutions for multicultural Malaysians.
In South Africa, new legislation and policies on inclusive education in the post-apartheid era since 1994 have placed a strong emphasis on equity, equality, and human rights, as defined in the South African Constitution. As a result, a White Paper on building an inclusive education and training system was published in 2001. It acknowledges the failure of the education system to respond to the barriers to learning and development experienced by a substantial number of learners, including diverse learning needs caused by, for example, language, socioeconomic, or gender issues as well as disabilities. This policy document describes inclusive education as being based on the ideals of equity and equality and as a result recognizing and respecting learner and learning diversity within mainstream schools. As stated in the policy, in practice this means identifying and removing barriers in the education system to ensure that the full range of diverse learning needs are met in mainstream classrooms as well as providing support to learners and teachers in addressing barriers to learning and development.
Research studies on the implementation of inclusive education in South Africa, however, are finding that despite the development of a wide range of implementation guidelines since 2007, complex interrelated issues continue to complicate the development of successful inclusive schools. These issues include a continued divergence of views of inclusive education with a continuing strong belief in special education and separate educational settings by most teachers, therefore leading to a resultant lack of clarity regarding the implementation of inclusive education at the level of local practice in schools and classrooms. These differences in the understanding of inclusive education and its enactment in diverse school contexts also bring the question of power and agency into South African debates about inclusive education: who should decide which version of inclusive education should be the goal of the development of inclusive education in a specific school district or a specific school. Furthermore, contextual issues including the lack of financial and human resources, for example effectively trained teachers, effectively functioning district educational support teams for schools in specific school districts, lack of textbooks, and overcrowded classrooms, play a dominant role in the development of effective inclusive schools.
Hannu Simola, Jaakko Kauko, Janne Varjo, Mira Kalalahti, and Fritjof Sahlström
The international debate on Finnish educational “success” had made relevant a cultural and historical analysis of Finnish education, with a focus on the effects of the ongoing preoccupation with the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results on basic education. Such international comparisons demand a strong theoretical approach, in part because the contrastive analysis of empirical “facts” and “realities” requires that they be situated in relation to their local and, in this case, national systems and contexts. It may be assumed that the quantitative indicators agreed on in intergovernmental negotiations between senior bureaucrats do indeed provide valid comparisons of education systems, as is the conventional wisdom in the field of economics. Nevertheless, these remain value-loaded collections of indicators of development that offer at best parallel lines of comparative analysis. The Finnish case argues for strong theory-based conceptualizations as the basis for, first, complex comparison and, second, shared models of policy action and intervention.
The comparative education field faces four interlinked challenges. First, there is a lack of theory building and development in the field, where politically and ideologically motivated investigative large-scale assessment practices are defining the state of the art. Second, the focus of the studies tends to be on empirically measurable end products instead of documented processes, which makes it possible to generate competitive rankings but reveals little about specific and shared developmental processes in educational systems. Third, although complexity and contingency are widely accepted in the social world on the general level, they appear to seldom reach empirical studies; the vast majority of standard approaches still advocate simple explanatory models. Finally, and paradoxically enough, there is a form of intellectual nationalism that inhibits the conceptualization and understanding of the relationship between, for example, transnational processes and nation-states. In this regard, comparative education needs a strong and ambitious theory-based framework with the potential to incorporate sociohistorical complexity, cultural relationality, and sociological contingency. Without a strong theory-driven approach, it is hard to go beyond merely listing the similarities and differences that facilitate the rankings but blur the processes.
At the research unit for Sociology and Politics in Education (KUPOLI) at the University of Helsinki, a new conceptualization was formulated in early 2010s and an ambitious research plan, Comparative Analytics of Dynamics in Education Politics (CADEP), was launched. The thesis was that to progress beyond the state of the art and arrive at a comparative understanding of educational systems, it would be necessary to focus on dynamics, with a view to grasping the fluid and mobile nature of the subject. This heuristic starting point echoed relativistic dynamics in physics, characterized as a combination of relativistic and quantum theories to describe the relationships between the principal elements of a relativistic system and the forces acting on it. It is curious that, though on the conceptual level the dynamics of a system are constantly referred to as being among its key attributes, there has been little progress on the analytical level in the social sciences since the seminal work of Pitirim Sorokin in the 1950s. The CADEP develops conceptually the theoretical understanding of dynamics to resubmit a specific social field of education to scrutiny by analyzing the relations between the main actors and institutions and essential discursive formations and practices. It is assumed that given its connection with relations and movement, the concept of dynamics will not reduce a mobile and fluid subject of study to a stagnant and inanimate object. There are four constitutive dynamics that make the Finnish educational success story understandable. Success and failure in basic education seem to be relative, and to reflect intertwined dynamics in policymaking, governance, families’ educational strategies, and classroom cultures. The emphasis of the understanding is on the contingent, relational, and complex character of political history.
China’s higher education system witnessed quite a few dramatic institutional changes in recent years. The state has been making a series of attempts to increase the quantity of higher education opportunities through massive expanding of higher education’s capacity (also referred to as the massification of higher education). Meanwhile, the system experienced marketization and privatization, in which the funding for higher education institutions (HEIs) increasingly depends on the non-state sector and student payments for tuition fees. The private (minban) HEIs and Sino-foreign HEIs began to develop in China. With a strong conviction to enhance the global competitiveness of top universities, master plans for developing world-class universities and disciplines were initiated, and talent programs were adopted to attract global high-skilled talent to HEIs in China to enhance the teaching and research capability of HEIs. In recent years, HEIs have been granted larger institutional autonomy with greater accountability. Higher education in China has experienced dramatic institutional changes in recent years and has made great achievements and gained international acclaim. Given such capacity, HEIs became one of the largest systems in the world. More and more higher education opportunities have been provided for students, and an increasing number of leading scholars in the world have been attracted to HEIs in China. However, the development of higher education has encountered several challenges—in particular, unequal opportunities for higher education attainment, difficulties for college graduates in finding employment, and the unequal development of higher education among disciplines, between universities, and across regions. Critical reflections on the development of higher education in China and the notion of broadly defined educational equality are required.
Roseli R. Mello, Marcondy M. de Souza, and Thaís J. Palomino
Self-determination of the original peoples of any nation, preservation of their territories, preservation of traditions, and negotiation of customs facing national cultures are central themes in the debate about and among indigenous peoples in the world. School education is directly linked to such themes as an instrument of acculturation or self-determination and emancipation. As in other countries of the globe, throughout history, what happened and is happening in Brazil is not isolated fact. Current conditions are the product of colonization processes, the development of industrial society, and more recently of globalization. Such historical processes bring struggles, confrontations, transformations, and solidarity. In the legal sphere, international conventions, declarations, and treaties have influenced more or less directly the norms and laws on the subject: from the papal bull and treaties between colonizing kingdoms, to the Declaration of Human Rights, to Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization, the Brazilian indigenous issue, like that of many other countries, is also based on, supported by, or held back by actions, debates, and international interests.
But what makes the case of Brazil worthy of relevance for thinking about indigenous education? Two elements make up an answer: the specific way the governors establish relations with the original peoples, and the fact that Brazil has the greatest diversity of indigenous communities.
James H. Williams
This article looks broadly at the intersection of education, development, and international cooperation. It discusses trends in international cooperation in education for developing countries as well as ongoing challenges. Education has expanded rapidly throughout the world. Even so, the industrialized nations are decades if not generations ahead of parts of the developing world in terms of enrollment and learning attainment. For reasons of equity and economic development alone, it is imperative that all efforts be put to the task of achieving universal school enrollment and learning. To achieve such a goal in the context of what some researchers have termed a 100-year gap requires efforts on the part of national governments and international cooperation on the part of all nations of the world. International cooperation in education includes: (1) the institutions and architecture of international organizations; (2) development assistance, which is closely related; and (3) international agreements to promote education and other development goals. In a broad sense, these initiatives can be seen as moving toward increasingly cooperative relationships between wealthier nations and developing countries. International institutions involved in education include various agencies of the United Nations (UNESCO, UNICEF, ILO, UNHCR) as well as multilateral development banks (the World Bank, IMF, IDA, etc.); regional development banks (Asian Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, etc.); and bilateral development agencies. Development assistance is provided in the form of technical and financial assistance to national governments by bilateral development agencies, the multilateral development agencies, UN agencies, as well as an increasing number of non-governmental agencies (NGOs). The UN Declaration on Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child are foundational documents laying out the rights of all children to education and the obligation of governments to ensure children have access to quality education. Several global initiatives have led the way toward increasing educational participation in developing countries, including Education for All, the Millennium Development Goals, the UN Global Education First Initiative, and the Sustainable Development Goals. The article concludes with a listing of trends in educational development.
Shibao Guo and Yan Guo
China has experienced major shifts from a centrally planned economy to a market economy, from centralization to decentralization, from state ownership to privatization, and from a decisive state to a weakened state. Despite China’s economic miracle, the country also faces unprecedented challenges, including rising social inequality, rural-urban divide, regional disparity, environmental degradation, declining health and education conditions, and polarization between the rich and poor. China’s profound socioeconomic and political transformations have led to significant fundamental changes to education in China, as manifested in its decentralization, marketization, and privatization. One significant paradigm change relates to the devolution of education power and policy from a centralized governance model to local governments. With the privatization and marketization of its education system, China has adopted a market-oriented approach with the orientation, provision, student enrollment, curriculum, and financing of education. There is sufficient evidence to suggest that there has been a withdrawal of the mighty state from its paternalistic role in the provision and subsidy of public education. Unfortunately, the market economy has further increased education inequalities. The maldistribution of resources and education opportunities raises important questions about issues of social justice and equity regarding who gets how much education as the social good.
Amy Price Azano, Jayne Downey, and Devon Brenner
Preparing pre-service teachers for rural schools has been a challenge in the field of education for more than a century, and issues specific to the rural teacher workforce remain a persistent and salient challenge in the United States and globally. This task is complex and multifaceted, conflated with a wide range of contextual variations in salaries, community amenities, geographic or professional distances, technology access, health disparities, and poverty rates. Additionally, institutions of higher education have wavered in their interest in and commitment to rural teacher education, though there is a growing awareness of the need to attend to the experiences of students in rural communities and the educators who teach them. The literature and research on rural teacher preparation has typically been organized around the three challenges of preparation (post-secondary education), recruitment (youth aspirations to teach, would-be career changers interested in teaching, and division-level efforts to staff schools with effective teachers), and retention (providing pre-service and new teachers with learning experiences and support that increase the likelihood of remaining in the profession in rural schools).
Literature on rural teacher preparation and evidence related to “preparation, recruitment, and retention” can be repositioned to offer new insights focused on solutions. Three focus areas—Curriculum, Context, and Conveyance—serve to answer the question: What makes a teacher preparation program rural? Curriculum serves as a core component for preparing rural teachers. A rural curriculum for a teacher education program includes introducing students to content and experiences, including field experiences, that have been designed to support their professional and personal success in rural schools and communities. Context is understanding the strengths and assets of the rural places, communities, and cultures in which pre-service teachers are preparing to live, learn, and teach. Context allows us to consider the unique environments in which rural teachers live and work. Conveyance is the means by which potential teachers have access to teacher preparation programs, that is, how programs are delivered and structured to provide access to potential teachers in rural communities (online, in person, alternative and traditional programs, etc.). A focus on Curriculum, Context, and Conveyance allows school leaders and education researchers to resist deficit ideologies and to consider how rural communities are asset-rich environments, ultimately increasing resources that prepare teachers for, and build from the strengths of, rural communities.
This article is about School-Based Initial Teacher Training (SBITT) programs practiced in the USA and the UK. The article briefly discusses how US teacher-training programs began in 1839, as Normal School in New England. They then later became university based traditional teacher-training programs across the country. Then it shows how a gradual change in teacher training came into the U.S. in the 1980s with the introduction of school-based teacher training as an alternative route. Although most teachers in the U.S are still trained in colleges and universities, the paper shows that many states still pursue alternative routes to teacher credentialing and focus on school-based training
The next part is a brief narration of the history of school-based teacher training in the UK, which began in the early 19th century. In the later part of 1800s, teacher training was favored at universities in the UK and more colleges were opened to facilitate training teachers at higher education institutions (HEI). In the late 1900s, there was an emergence of School-Based Initial Teacher Training (SBITT) programs developed as a result of a shortage of trained teachers. Finally, a variety of different SBITT programs became the most prominent method of initial teacher training. In 2017–2018, 53% of teachers favored a school-based teacher training program, while 47% preferred a university-based teacher training program
Diana Gonçalves Vidal and André Paulilo
Over the past several decades, scholars have focused special attention on the relationship between schooling and culture. The first forays focused on curriculum matters, trying to understand how educational policies affected the selection of content and its dissemination in schools. More recently, the concept of school culture has emerged as a frame for researchers, thanks to its ability to problematize how teachers and pupils experience school in terms of time and space. Placing these individuals in the center of the schooling process, the concept of school culture enables scholars to create a more comprehensive analysis of what happens inside classrooms and schoolyards. This tool offers an opportunity for researchers and teachers to debate the merits of tradition and innovation in education, pay attention to material culture as a part of school practices, and consider school community as a social actor. The concept has become commonplace in the academic production in many areas, such as educational sociology, history of education, educational anthropology, philosophy of education, and educational psychology.
William T. Pink
From a comprehensive analysis of the extant educational literature on school change, it is evident that two activities are essential for the successful reform of schools in the United States. While the focus in this article will be on the programmatic shifts implemented in U.S. schools, the danger of exporting these same failed programs to other countries also will be noted. The first requirement is a systematic critique of the major school reform strategies that have been employed since the 1960s (e.g., the Effective Schools model, standardized testing and school accountability, the standards movement, privatization of schools, charter schools, and virtual/cyber schools). The major conclusion of this critique is that each of these reform strategies has done little to alter the connection between schooling and their production of labor for the maintenance of Western capitalism: beginning in the early 1970s an increasingly strong case has been made that the design and goal of U.S. schooling has been driven by the need to produce an endless supply of differentiated workers to sustain the U.S. economy. Moreover, while both equality and equity have entered the conversations about school reform during this period, it becomes evident that the relative position of both poor students and students of color, with respect to their more affluent White peers, has remained at best unchanged.
The second essential requirement is the exploration of an alternative vision for school reform that is grounded in a perspective of equity, both in schools and in the society. Beginning with the question “What would schools look like, and what would be the role of the teacher in a school that was committed to maximizing equity?” such an alternative vision is built on the concept of developing broadly informed students able to play both a thoughtful and active role in shaping the society in which they live, rather than be trained to fit into a society shaped by the interests of capital. From this exploration of the literature emerges a new role for both schools and teachers that repositions schooling as an incubator for social change, with equity as a primary goal. Also addressed is the importance of inequitable economic and public policies that work to systematically inhibit student learning. A key element in forging a successful transition to schools functioning as incubators for reform is the ability of preservice teacher preparation programs to graduate new teachers capable of doing this intellectual work, and for current classroom teachers to engage in professional development to achieve the same end What is clear from a reading of this literature is that without this re-visioning and subsequent reform of schooling, together with a reform of key public policies, we must face the high probability of the rapid implosion of the public school system and the inevitable escalation of class warfare in the United States.
Since the late 1960s and early 1970s, lot of criticism has been made about the colonial heritage of early ethnographic research. In the past decade of the twenty-first century, scholars have also raised concern also about the colonial heritage of comparative education. Erwin Epstein defined comparative education as “the application of the intellectual tools of history and social sciences to understand international issues of education.” Hence it is important for comparative education as a global field of study to engage with the recent debates in social sciences to generate deeper understanding about educational problems embedded within specific international contexts. The dominance of Northern theory in analyzing research data from the Global South has been increasingly critiqued by scholars in a number of scholarly publications since Raewyn Connell published her book Southern Theory in 2008. They have argued that Northern theory arising out of the colonial metropole is provincial in nature and, therefore, provides incomplete interpretation of data and generates misunderstanding or limited understanding of social phenomenon occurring in the hybrid contexts of the Global South. Therefore, lately scholars have been debating about postcolonial comparative education to argue for the relevance of Southern theory in conducting postcolonial comparative education research for both analytic (ideological), as well as hermeneutic (affective historical) engagement with research data. Drawing on the methodological insights from an empirical case study, this article demonstrates why Southern theory drawing on Tagore’s philosophy of education was found more suitable to analyze research data arising out of a case study designed to conduct an institutional ethnography in a particular international context. It demonstrates how contextually relevant Southern theory helped to provide deeper comparative understanding (verstehen) of a social phenomenon, i.e. inclusive pedagogic work of an old colonial school within a particular historical, geopolitical and cultural context in postcolonial India.
Mirjamaija Mikkilä-Erdmann, Anu Warinowski, and Tuike Iiskala
Finland has gained increasingly more global interest among educationalists and politicians because of its excellent results on large-scale international student assessments like the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). An interesting question is how a small country in the Global North with only 5 million inhabitants has managed to develop a school system that has gone from undistinguished to top-performing in two decades. The reasons for Finland’s successful and egalitarian school system can be investigated from many perspectives. One view regards teacher education, with the assumption that it has special characteristics that contribute to the success of Finland’s educational system. Factors include systematic selection, a progressive curriculum design that supports teachers’ learning of content knowledge, and the creation of teachers’ didactic skills. In addition, systematic teaching practices in special schools, called training schools, are used to help students integrate theoretical understanding and the practical skills needed for the teaching profession, especially those related to individual student learning in everyday classrooms. Furthermore, the role of empirical research skills in facilitating the development of teacher expertise is essential in Finnish teacher education. Generally, the concept behind Finnish teacher education seems to work very well. However, the system will face challenges in the future, such as how to develop new research-based methods of student selection that are valid and reliable. The educational path—from academic preservice teacher education in a university context to in-service teacher education—is developing and offers the newest research-based knowledge for all teachers, but there is still a lot work to be done in order to link all teachers within official continuous learning systems with universities throughout their careers. Finland’s teaching profession offers a great deal of autonomy and freedom, and the quality of school learning is based on teachers’ evaluations, not standardized tests. Like other countries, Finland is rapidly changing. Hopefully the most important feature of the Finnish educational system, the transparent dialog between the educational research community, the government, teachers, and parents, will carry over into the future. Without dialogue, educators cannot learn about the shared values supporting current and future schools.
Edmund T. Hamann, Juan Sánchez García, and Yara Amparo López López
While teaching and therefore teacher education in Mexico can, in one sense, be traced back to pre-Conquest Aztec military academies, the first significant expansion of Western-style schooling in Mexico occurred in the early 19th century, while the first substantial national efforts at teacher education date to the Porfiriato in the late 19th century. In the 100-plus-year history of teacher education in Mexico, attention has been episodic, has often reflected national refractions of ideas originating elsewhere, and has been centrally intertwined with national governmental efforts to shape what it means to be Mexican. Variously, teacher education has been buffeted by attempts to be Catholic, modern, secular, socialist, neoliberal, and globally competitive economically. In all of this, there has been a tension between centralist (focusing on Mexico City) and nationalist impulses, on the one hand (making teaching patriotic work and the teachers’ union part of the national government), and attention to regional variations, including Mexico’s indigenous populations, rural populations, and economic diversity, on the other. While Mexico’s more than two million teachers may all work in the same country, where one is trained (i.e., which escuela normal, or normal school), where one works (from public schools in affluent and stable neighborhoods to rural telesecundarias where resources are scarce and teachers are not expected to be content area experts), how many shifts one works (it is common for Mexican educators to work at more than one school to compensate for limited salary), which state one works in (funding varies significantly by state), and what in-service professional development one has access to all mean for variations in teacher preparation and teacher praxis.
Teacher education in New Zealand for the school sector began as the British colonists started a formal schooling system in the late 19th century. Teacher preparation for early childhood educators followed in 1988. Beginning with a pupil–teaching apprenticeship model, teacher education for the school sector in New Zealand has shifted from schools to tertiary institutions, and then from stand-alone colleges of education to mostly to faculties and departments in universities following deregulation and the opening of a “market” for teacher education in 1989. Teacher education today also happens in institutes of technology and through private providers. Teacher education is now provided for people who want to teach in early childhood, primary, and secondary settings. Early childhood and primary teachers can undertake a three-year degree or a one-year diploma if they already hold a degree qualification. Secondary school teachers must hold a degree in a subject taught in secondary schools and then complete a one-year diploma in teaching. In 2015 post-graduate teacher education was introduced in the form of one-year Masters degrees. Teacher education in New Zealand has been subject to continual review and reform proposals since its inception. These reviews, coupled with periodic teacher supply crises, make teacher education unstable and problematic. In particular, the shift into universities caused a significant shift in the work of teacher educators. Research imperatives have caused changes in who teacher educators are and what they do, but have also focused attention on scholarship in teacher education.
Roza Valeeva and Aydar Kalimullin
Teacher training in Russia began at the end of the 18th century and has been transformed many times over the past two centuries. The reforms were connected with the development of a comprehensive school system, which became a mass phenomenon in the 19th century. The transformation was most active when the country went through social and economic growth. Up to 2011 Soviet teacher training traditions and principles strongly influenced the Russian teacher education system. It was the period of significant change of shifting from a 5-year program, called “specialist’s degree,” to bachelor’s and master’s degree programs as a response to the Bologna process. At the beginning of 2010 a range of organizational problems and content-related problems of teacher education arose: the reproductive character of teaching in higher education institutions implementing training programs for future teachers; the predominant single-channel model of the system of teacher training not providing students with opportunities to implement transitions between teaching and non-teaching areas of training; and the lack of the system of independent assessment of the quality of future teachers training. These problems prompted the government to start a reform of teacher education in the country from 2014 to 2017.
Teacher education in Russia in the early 21st century is a complex system of continuing teacher training which gives students a chance to enter the teaching profession through a number of different ways. The main structural levels of the system of continuing teacher education in Russia are vocational training educational institutions funded by local governments (teacher training colleges), higher education institutions (specialized teacher training higher education institutions, classical universities, non-governmental [private] universities, non-pedagogical universities), and educational institutions of continuing professional development and professional retraining. The types of educational institutions correlate with the degree levels.
The content of teacher education is based on the Federal State Educational Standards. All teacher training universities that provide teacher education programs follow these Federal State Educational Standards when they develop their educational programs.
Teacher education in Russia determines the quality of professional training in all social spheres. In the early 21st century, graduates from teacher training universities have started working in different professional areas, including social, educational, cultural, and administrative fields.
Fernando Hernández-Hernández and Juana M. Sancho-Gil
Researchers from various disciplines collect and generate field notes as a strategy to describe and reflect (through texts, photos, drawings, diagrams, or recordings) the complexity they face when addressing entangled and many-faceted phenomena. Field notes are as common research strategy not only to capture and amass instantly what researchers listen to, observe, think, and feel, but also to make explicit their reflexivity process, based on their observations and experiences. Field notes are not only a method for generating evidence, but a reflection of the ontological, epistemological, methodological, and ethical positionality that guide the researcher’s gaze. Paradoxically, although field notes are something most researchers use and are fundamental in their reports and publications, they are generally the hidden and idiosyncratic side of academic field work.
The preparation of field notes is an extremely intricate issue, as the very same meaning, purposes, and roles of field notes heavily rely on the ethnographer’s onto-epistemological positioning. It is useful, then to contextualize field notes within the tradition of ethnography, without ignoring the fact that they are used in a wide range of disciplines (including anthropology, deology, architecture, geography, ethology, archaeology, and biology). It is also important to problematize the practice of taking, collecting, and generating field notes by taking into account the fact that the traditional vision of field notes as written (alphabetic) notes is being challenged by the availability of mobile applications that enable researchers to create and organize multimodal information. It is important to note the relevance of the so-called “headnotes,” as there are many impressions, scenes, and experiences that cannot be written down or can be difficult or impossible to document. In addition, the text goes beyond the reflection of interaction by introducing the notion of intra-action to overcome the metaphysics of individualism underlying conventional understandings of “interactions.” The growing multiplicity of languages, modes, and means of expression and communication must be examined alongside the strengths and limitations of multimodal field notes. Finally, the practice of keeping field notes requires a recognition of the reflexivity imbedded in this process. Field diaries can be seen as the first step toward ethnographic reporting, and here reflexivity becomes a fundamental part of the analyses involved.