The application of a theoretical framework for the purpose of gaining depth of insight into a pedagogical research problem

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It would appear, based on recent reviews of manuscripts submitted to LitNet Akademies (Opvoedkunde), that less-experienced researchers and authors of articles do not yet possess the ability to develop the conceptual and theoretical frameworks required for their studies. This impression was recently confirmed by an author who has presented a relatively large number of article-writing seminars over the past 17 years and also by research done seven years ago regarding reasons for articles having been rejected by another respectable South African journal. The research revealed that most articles had been rejected because of the lack or inappropriateness of a conceptual and theoretical framework. Rejection also followed because an author assumed that only a literature study would be sufficient or that a diagram, figure or model of a particular education system could be expounded in lieu of a conceptual and theoretical framework.

The purpose of this article is to address this problem by demonstrating how the construction of a conceptual and theoretical framework could indeed assist an educationist to acquire a greater depth of understanding of and insight into a pedagogical problem. Using “citizenship and citizenship education” as an example of a topic to research and report on for the purpose of this article, the research question formulated was: What depth of insight could an educationist acquire from a literature study or review regarding citizenship and citizenship education with the assistance of a self-constructed conceptual and theoretical framework? The authors then constructed this article as a demonstration of how to construct a conceptual and theoretical framework consisting of a number of steps also involving the application of interpretivism and constructivism as a heuristic.

The first step in the procedure is a limited literature study consisting of five scholarly articles centring on the topic of global citizenship and citizenship education. The study yields a number of perspectives regarding global citizenship education, two of which are of major significance, namely that the field of global citizenship education is still beset by considerable conceptual confusion and a lack of consensus, and that there is no clarity as yet about which philosophical route to take in planning this form of education (whether a liberal, an assimilationist, a multicultural, a transformative or a maximalist approach, for example, should be followed).

Since, as indicated, a mere literature study cannot be offered in an article in lieu of a conceptual and theoretical framework, the data and insights produced by the limited literature review on citizenship and citizenship education have to be processed still further for purposes of constructing a conceptual and theoretical framework. The next step in the procedure, therefore, is to invoke two standard theories to serve as a theoretical lens through which the results of the literature review can be viewed and evaluated. For purposes of this exercise, use is made of Van der Walt’s Social space and ethical action theory and Sen and Nussbaum’s Capability theory. These two theories are used in tandem to create a theoretical lens consisting of a set of 20 criteria or points of interest on the basis of which the results of the literature survey can be examined and evaluated. This exercise yields not only a number of relatively “new” insights into (global) citizenship (education), but also a set of at least 20 “new” key concepts regarding (global) citizenship and citizenship education. These “new” key concepts are, among others: the social space in which citizenship and citizenship education occur; the social actions taken by those involved in such social spaces; the coherence among social spaces; the unique mandates of the respective social spaces in which citizenship / citizenship education occurs; the responsibility and accountability of those involved; respect for others who are different; diversity; insistence on morally justifiable behaviour; the application of moral imagination; providing space for the unfolding of human potential; allowing space for people to do and be what they wish to do and be, to do what they regard as meaningful in their lives; the imperative of contributing to the good life and to the common good and general well-being; being open to change; and the need to produce change agents. It is clear from this list of key concepts that a relatively new conceptual framework emerges when all of these concepts are circumscribed and conceptually interconnected.

The final step in the procedure is the challenge of creating a “new” theoretical framework regarding citizenship (education) on the basis of this conceptual framework and the insights produced by the five sources in the limited literature study discussed above. In this particular case, the theoretical framework consists of the following core ideas:

Firstly, citizenship and citizenship education always occur within a particular social space (even if such a space consists of a series of flows). Secondly, citizenship (education) always entails some or other action on the part of those involved. Thirdly, effective citizenship education is characterised by a number of features, such as that it provides space for the unfolding of the potential of young people to become useful, active, transformative and maximal members of their own communities, their nation-states and also of the global world. Each of these core ideas can be expanded considerably.

A “new”, personally constructed theoretical framework, such as the one just outlined (indented above), enables the researcher to proceed to a more elaborate literature review or survey. It enables the researcher not only to consult other sources from the vantage point of a particular scholarly or theoretical frame of mind but also to examine and evaluate critically the information and data produced by a more elaborate literature survey. Further development can also be expected, namely that the researcher’s own newly constructed conceptual and theoretical framework will develop and expand and will become ever more refined as the research into a particular research problem continues.

Seasoned researchers might find the procedure described above slightly too mechanistic or recipe-like. It should be kept in mind, however, that this article is directed at the needs and requirements of novice researchers and article writers. The construction of conceptual and theoretical frameworks comes as second nature for most experienced researchers; in their case, the construction of such frameworks commences from their very first encounter with a new pedagogical research problem.

Keywords: capability theory; conceptual and theoretical frameworks; evaluation of research; social space and ethical function or action theory

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: Die bou en benutting van ’n teoretiese raamwerk om verdiepte insig in ’n opvoedkundigenavorsingsprobleem te bekom

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