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Sociology as Method
Dowling is using the term, forensics, to refer to approaches to research that claim to uncover truths about the world that are somehow independent of the means of their uncovering. For some time, now, such approaches have been widely regarded as naïve, but it is not clear that the implications of this recognition have always been adequately or...
Dowling is using the term, forensics, to refer to approaches to research that claim to uncover truths about the world that are somehow independent of the means of their uncovering. For some time, now, such approaches have been widely regarded as naïve, but it is not clear that the implications of this recognition have always been adequately or appropriately taken into account. In attempting to do just that, Dowling presents a mature exposition of his organisational language, social activity method (SAM) in dialogue with a wide range of cultural settings, texts and technologies. SAM has been developed over a period of some twenty years via the transaction between a fundamental, theoretical principle and empirical data. This principle asserts that the sociocultural is to be understood in terms of strategic, autopoietic action directed at the formation, maintenance and destabilising of alliances and oppositions and the alliances and oppositions that are themselves emergent upon such action. This anti-forensic constructive description understands data texts, not as products of generative structures that lie behind them, but as instances of the organisational language, SAM, that will, ultimately, describe them and that is, in a sense, in front of them. Dowling describes himself as a theory engineer. The productivity of this work is in its potential to generate principled and articulated descriptions of empirical settings and texts, new ways of looking at them, not to direct, but to interrogate other practices relating to these settings and texts, to ask questions that would otherwise be left unasked. The origins of SAM lie in the analysis of mathematics education texts in the late 1980s and early 1990s and one of the chapters in this volume is again concerned with mathematics (and science) education in the first part of the twenty-first century. Other settings that come under scrutiny include classrooms, film, art, literature, knowledge in various domains, the internet, and so forth. The book also includes fundamental engagement with forensics, in particular, the work of and work inspired by Basil Bernstein. Paul Dowling is Professor of Education at the Institute of Education, University of London. Before joining the Institute in 1987, he had taught mathematics in secondary schools in and around London. His other publications include The Sociology of Mathematics Education: Mathematical Myths/Pedagogic Texts (1998, Falmer Press) and Doing Research/Reading Research: Re-interrogating education (with Andrew Brown, Routledge, 1998 and 2009). For more information, see homepage.mac.com/paulcdowling/ioe.
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