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Engaging with postgraduate research: education, childhood & youth
Engaging with postgraduate research: education, childhood & youth

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1.2 Theory, practice and research

Based on the reflections of the role of theory in everyday practice considered so far in Section 1, it is possible to conclude that no practice is ‘theory-free’. Even if you are not aware of the theories you are drawing on moment to moment as you go about your daily practice, the ways in which you work are, in fact, shaped by theory. Not only that, but theories – about the nature of learning, or the needs of children and young people – are constantly changing and open to contestation and debate. In order to be critically aware and effective practitioners, you need to be aware of the theories that shape practice and be ready and able to challenge and change your own and others’ assumptions.

The same is true when it comes to research. Academic research can also be seen as a ‘practice’, a set of activities informed, either implicitly or explicitly, by a set of assumptions. These assumptions can ultimately be traced back to theories, which are, once again always up for debate. There is no one ‘right’ way to do research, and the ways in which researchers decide to explore a topic will always be guided by particular theories, for example about the nature of knowledge.

Theories on what constitutes knowledge about the world and the best way of going about gaining it will determine the kind of research questions that a researcher decides to explore, and the methods they select in order to explore it. Those theories will also shape the way they analyse any data they collect, and how they reflect on their own role in producing knowledge from that data.

The next section will explore some of the theories that are important in research, and the role they play in the research process.