Led by Professor Maggie MacLure

Developing theoretically-informed applied research

This group is dedicated to the development of theory and methodology in applied educational and social research. Its core members are leaders in the field, and key participants in international collaborations. However its work is also distinctive in being firmly grounded in ESRI’s collective experience as practicing researchers, educators, evaluators and policy analysts. We not only work to develop better theory, but also put theory to work to do better research. The group organizes and hosts the international Summer Institute in Qualitative Research which attracts delegates from around the world for an intensive week-long programme of study and discussion with leading theorists.

The group aims: (a) to strengthen the knowledge claims and evidence base of research; (b) to critically interrogate the production, use and control of research knowledge; (c) to understand and improve relations between theory, practice, policy and the public interest; (d) to lead international debate on future directions in theory and methodology.

The group also supports and draws together the contributions to theory and methodology of ESRI’s five other research groups.

Some of the questions that we ask

  • What kind of theories do we need to understand contemporary conditions of rapid educational and social change?
  • How is research knowledge produced, used and controlled?
  • How can theory inform social action?
  • How can theory challenge taken-for-granted views, and tackle power and inequality?
  • How do different theories define what counts as knowledge?
  • What is research ‘evidence’ and how is it used?
  • What is the relationship between research, policy, practice, and the public interest?

The theoretical approaches embraced by group members span action research, evaluation theory, poststructuralism, psychoanalysis, discourse analysis, critical realism, ethnography, critical race theory, art theory, multimodal theory, feminist materialism, Deleuzian theory, case study, cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT), postcolonial theory, and multi-methods research.

The group has produced a large number of influential monographs and collections on theory and method. These include Discourse in Educational and Social Research (MacLure, OU Press, winner of the Critics’ Choice Award from the US Educational Studies Association); Qualitative Research Methods in Education (Sage 4-volume Major Work, Torrance); Theory and Methods in Social Research (Lewin & Somekh, Sage); Handbook of Educational Action Research (Somekh & Noffke, Sage); Reframing Educational Research (Farnsworth & Solomon, Routledge); Theory and Practice in Action Research (Somekh & Co-authors, Symposium); Knowledge Production: Research Work in Interesting Times (Somekh & Schwandt, Routledge); Regulative Discourses in Education, A Lacanian Perspective (Brown et al, Peter Lang); Interviewing and Representation in Qualitative Research (Schostak, OU Press); Action Research and Postmodernism (Brown & Jones, OU Press); Understanding, Designing and Conducting Qualitative Research in Education (John Schostak, OU Press). Torrance edits the OU Press Series Conducting Educational Research (13 titles in print) and edited a special issue of the International Review of Qualitative Research on ESRI’s work (6, 3, 2013).

The group regularly convenes high-profile international seminars on new directions in theory and methodology. They are key participants in international colloquia, providing keynote lectures and featured symposia to bodies such as the International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry, the American Educational Research Association, the Australian Association for Educational Research, the European Educational Research Association, the British Educational Research Association, the New Zealand Association for Research in Education, the Collaborative Action Research Network, and Discourse, Power, Resistance.

The group are committed to supporting the next generation of educational and social researchers. Members have hosted advanced research training workshops and expert seminars for the Economic and Social Research Council and the British Educational Research Association, and contribute to ESRI's Masters in Research degree programme (Course leaders, Holmes and Whitton).

Core Members
(The group operates across ESRI's other research groups; therefore many members contribute to its work, in addition to the core list below)

Sylvie Allendyke
Geoff Bright
Tony Brown
Stephanie Daza
Rachel Holmes
Liz Jones
Maggie MacLure
Alexandre Pais
Cathie Pearce
John Schostak
Harry Torrance