"Criticalists," as Carspecken calls critical researchers, are concerned with the social inequalities of human society and conduct research with the idea of pursuing positive social change. We focus on the nature of the structures both within and between societies and cultures and the agency of human actions and interactions within these structures.
While the focus of much of the lay discussion of critical research is on the value assumptions and the drive for empowerment and equity, Carspecken argues that the essence of critical research is in epistemological concerns rather than the values that drive the researcher.
Carspecken outlines several assumptions of critical research, based on the work of Kinchloe and McLaren. Research supports efforts for change. That is, by identifying the nature and mechanisms of power relationships, that avenues for empowerment become defined. Groups also have different privileges within these structures. Privileges are not always obvious or neatly delineated. They can be subtle and taken for granted. Research should uncover these subtleties of oppression in one of the vast number of forms it takes and challenge these subtleties. The neutral objectivity sought by most research favors the extant power structures by taking them as givens rather than questioning the role that the power structures has on the research subjects. In this way mainstream research supports oppressive power structures. This idea is behind one of my favorite quotes from critical educator Paulo Freire:
Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.Research that ignores the entrenched power structures ignores the fact that some people are oppressed in these structures.
In my dissertation, the teachers are the oppressed class. As more standardized instruction comes with the promise of greater federal money and the concept of tenure becomes more vilified by politicians and a certain caste of reactionaries masquerading as reformers, the teacher becomes a low grade factory worker, subject to similar oppression to line workers and coal miners at the turn of the twentieth century. By exploring the ways these teachers use social networking for the exchange of professional knowledge and political organization, my research can explore the way teachers can escape the oppressive state that the current political climate enforces.
Carspecken, P. F. (1996). Critical ethnography in educational research: A theoretical and practical guide. New York: Routledge.