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Educational research: the importance of the humanities

Smith, R.D.

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It is one sign of the lack of understanding of the value of the humanities, to educational research and inquiry as well as to our world more widely, that such justifications of them as are offered frequently take a crudely instrumental form. The humanities (which in this essay are not distinguished from the arts) are welcomed insofar as they are beneficial to the economy, for example, or play a therapeutic role in people's physical or mental well-being. In higher education in the UK, they are marginalized for similar reasons, on the grounds that they neither appeal to the lucrative overseas student market nor constitute a significant source of grant income from research councils, industry, or other funding sources. While their place in educational research is still defended in many quarters, the increasing demand that research should have “impact” can leave the humanities appearing ineffectual. Furthermore, the very idea of research is widely taken to mandate empiricist and “scientific” approaches. Although there are no easy solutions to this state of things, Richard Smith argues in this essay that those of us who value the humanities in and for themselves might adopt two approaches in particular: to pursue vigilant criticism of the rampant instrumentalism and scientism of our time, and to emphasize the importance of that distinctive feature of humane inquiry: interpretation.


Smith, R. (2015). Educational research: the importance of the humanities. Educational Theory, 65(6), 739-754.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 24, 2015
Online Publication Date Dec 24, 2015
Publication Date Dec 24, 2015
Deposit Date Jul 29, 2015
Publicly Available Date Jun 24, 2016
Journal Educational Theory
Print ISSN 0013-2004
Electronic ISSN 1741-5446
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 65
Issue 6
Pages 739-754


Accepted Journal Article (382 Kb)

Copyright Statement
This is the accepted version of the following article: Smith, R. (2015), Educational Research: The Importance of the Humanities. Educational Theory, 65(6): 739-754, which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance With Wiley Terms and Conditions for self-archiving.

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