PARADIGM: Research in the Teaching of English

Larson, Richard L.,  “Competing paradigms for Research and Evaluation in Teaching of English”  PDF

Larson, early on, defines paradigm and uses such definition as re-evaluate the supposed paradigm shift from a product orientation to a process orientation suggested by Maxine Hairston. Defined, paradigm “embraces…an entire set of beliefs about the world, about what is ‘real’ and can be ‘known,’ about how securely one can ‘know’ the world, and about how one ‘knows’ (283). Later, he offers more concrete language: each paradigm (referencing Guba) has characteristics of ontology (“its view of what constitutes the ‘knowable’; the ‘reality’), epistemology (its view of the relation of the inquirer to the knowable), and methodological (its view of how the inquirer finds knowledge)” (287). As Larson claims, in claiming the shift from product to process was paradigmatic may have been an exaggeration. As he explains, People’s worldviews, views of what a person could know, of how one could try to know, perceptions of how writers work, writers’ perceptions—all had not changed. What had changed for researchers was “a focus of attention from the writer’s finished text to how the writer ‘made’ that text” (284).

What Larson offers, instead, is what a paradigm shift would look like and references the Lincoln and Guba’s Fourth Generation Evaluation who discuss knowledge, paradigmatic shifts in the science community. Lincoln and Guba offer a constructivist, interactionist approach whereby “the stakeholders literally talk a project through at their own pace under the guidance of a trained leader, Everyone’s views are heard and considered. One those features of the project about which consensus can be reached through hermeneutic (exploratory, interpretive) dialogue, the consensus is record and action then proceeds” (285). And of course, consensus is not always reached and the process is often slow yet interactive. This appears to constitute changes ontologically, epistemologically, and methodologically. He invites the field more widely to compare such a paradigm shift to composition, English studies (see connection to Fleckenstein et al).

Berkenkotter, Carol, “A ‘Rhetoric for Naturalistic Inquiry’ and the Question of Genre” PDF

Berkenkotter’s piece, like others in this special issue, also sees Guba and his colleague’s discussion of paradigm and paradigm shifts as an opportunity to think about the role of knowledge, genre, and disciplines. Berkenkotter summarizes her focus into two central concerns: (1) “relationship between disciplinary community’s epistemology and its member’s discursive practices” (294), taking particular note of the “intimate connection that exists between researchers’ use of rhetorical conventions and their tacit assumptions about the nature of knowledge” (295). And (2) she’s concerned with “the relationship between a discipline’s discourse conventions and its epistemology, or world view” (295). Specifically, she looks at the comparisons between positivistic paradigms and constructivist (or naturalistic) paradigms. In the context of paradigm shifts, she questions “how one goes about replacing one set of textual conventions with another set within discourse communities whose textual practices are the historically instituted semiotics by which the field constitutes itself” (296).

Genre—or conventionalized textual practices—plays an intimate role in the formation and function of disciplinary communities. She points to three functions:

  1. “They are the means through which members of a field communicate with one another through professional forums such as conferences and journals;”
  2. “They are also the means through which professional writers position their studies within the intertext of that field”
  3. They also transform “the scientist’s or scholar’s archetypical experiential activity into a seamless, textualized account” (297).

This third function is of central focus for Berkenkotter. The 4-section structure of the experimental article—Introduction, Methods, Results, and Discussion—creates a symbolical representation of coherent events in spite of the messiness of research or data-gathering. This kind of critical examination of the textual conventions of the given field is often reserved for established researchers of the field within established genres. Berkenkotter, for example, aligns the socialization of a given field’s body of knowledge, objects of study, and methods of inquiry alongside the genres and forms of exposition that will be expected of them.

Succinctly, “these conventions have evolved over time and they are intimately connected with the processes through which disciplinary knowledge becomes institutionalized through the development of common discursive practices and literary forms” (300). Given the way genres are socialized, Berkenkotter writes in her concluding remarks that genres are both constantly adapting to the “sociocognitive needs of communities of users” while at the same time “appear to be curiously impervious to the winds of reflexivity blowing across the academic landscape. Perhaps this is because institutions—unlike nature—do not change by leaps” (301).

Hayes, John R., “Taking Criticism Seriously” PDF

Hayes first confronts Guba’s claim that there became a marked paradigm shift in the 1970’s or 1980’s from a positivist to post-positivist paradigm. He offers what Guba claims comprises the positivist paradigm (the world exists and can be known with certainty, must observe phenomenon without bias, and operates with experimental-interventionist methodology) and the post-postivist paradigm (the world exists but can only be incompletely understood, complete objectivity cannot be realized, and a focus on methodology in natural settings). However, Hayes argues that Guba’s distinction is not nearly as clear—in fact, there is historical basis in the features of a supposed post-positivist paradigm being part of research in the timeframe of postitivist’s central reign (from Newton to now).

After grounding this claim historically, he challenges the critiques of positivism made by Emig and Mishler: “one begins to suspect that there are no positivists. Rather, positivists are an imaginary foe invented for the familiar rhetorical purpose of name calling” (313). In other words, positivism becomes a kind of straw man used against proponents of including empirical, quantitative research in literacy studies: “clouding the discussion by calling empirically-oriented scholars positivists and attributing properties to them that they do not have cannot really be in the best interest of the field of literacy studies” (313). In fact, as Hayes writes, there are certain kinds of knowledge and information that can only be attained through empirical quantitative methods/methodologies.

Solsken, Judith W., “The Paradigm Misfit Blues” PDF

Solsken questions—or rather is suspicious of—paradigm’s potential disconnection or abstraction from everyday practices of research. She, in particular, points to two places where she diverges from the premise of paradigm-thinking. First, “using paradigm labels to describe my history as a researcher is, like all claims to knowledge according to poststructuralists, a ways to give momentary stability and coherence to what is dynamic, contradictory, and historical” (319). In other words, in everyday research practices, she often encounters or is guided by multiple ontologies, epistemologies, and methodologies: “paradigm labels are free-frames of stories that are already interpretations; the labels become abstract and reified, disconnected from the everyday world of doing research” (320). Second, referencing Bakhtin’s notion of hetreoglossia, her application of key concepts or terms are always imbued with the intentions of others as well as her own intentions. Paradigm labels, then, serve her research as “instruments of negotiating my relations with other people…in our mutual separate everyday worlds of schools, universities, and professional associations” (320).


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