The field of educational administration has a long and embedded history of taking a critical approach to practice, research, and theory. While there are a range of reviews from within and external to the field, there is no comprehensive contemporary historical overview of the meaning and actuality of critical approaches. A novel mapping and codification project aims to fill this gap by providing six approaches to criticality in the field. Three are professional self–focused—biographical, hierarchical, and entrepreneurial—and three are focused on professional and policy issues as primary research projects—functional, realistic, and activist. An overview is provided for each with examples of field projects/outputs, followed by an examination of the trends in the field. The state of the field is identified as a site for intervention from non-education interests (e.g., business), where non-research forms of criticality, often allied with functional research, tend to be dominant.
The traditions of ethnography and participatory action research (PAR) have different roots and different priorities, but their trajectories have become entangled in educational research over the past halfcentury. In many ways, ethnography and PAR are compatible. Both make participants’ perspectives central to the research. Both rely primarily on qualitative methods. Both are ethically committed to appreciating cultural differences and promoting the welfare of the groups they work with. Taken together, each adds something important to the other: PAR offers ethnography a “stance toward research” that is more democratic and action-oriented than traditional ethnography; ethnography lends PAR legitimacy as a research approach. Nonetheless, differences between the two create contradictions and tensions when they are combined. While educational researchers remain enthusiastic about the potential of combining activism with cultural analysis, it is important not to collapse ethnography and participatory action research, or privilege one over the other, but to find productive ways to move forward with the tensions between them.