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Education and the 'New Totalitarianism': How standards for reporting on empirical studies of education limit the scope of academic research and communication

Ward, S.C.



P. Smeyers

M. Depaepe


Advances in our understanding of human cognition highlight the utility of the arts to create an inter-subjective feeling of unity, which arises when our minds attune plastically to each other and jointly attend a single event (Brandt PA, Form and meaning in art. In: Turner M (ed) The artful mind: cognitive science and the riddle of human creativity. Oxford University Press, Oxford, p 172, 2006), making the arts highly appropriate for empirical studies of the social impact of education. Although guidelines for empirical social science research published by the American Educational Research Association (AERA, Educ Res 35(6):33–40, 2006; AERA, Educ Res, 38(6):481–486, 2009) and the UK Research Excellence Framework (REF, Research excellence framework: workshops on the impacts of research in the practice-based creative and performing arts, the humanities and social sciences. Retrieved 8 Oct 2012., 2010) make room for diverse methodological forms, they encourage educational researchers to follow the ‘logic of enquiry’ (AERA, Educ Res 35(6):33, 2006). Thus, in contrast to the artist’s intentional orientation of an audience towards a shared unique instant (Brandt, ibid), AERA (ibid, p. 35) suggests that evidence should be ‘described’, rather than experienced. These standards for reporting on empirical social science are modelled on forms of representation of other sciences, and are ostensibly motivated by the benign aim to provide guidance about essential information. This chapter argues that the proponents of scientific standards are in fact serving a socio-political agenda that seeks to atomise society by denying the possibility of collective human experience, e.g. the privileging of description over experience is bound up with the isolation of the learner as an autonomous economic unit in an education marketplace. It argues that efforts to identify standards in the reporting of educational research should be resisted as a manifestation of the ‘new totalitarianism’ in which oppositional discourses are silenced through the regulation of academic communication. Using the example of UK filmmaking, this chapter demonstrates how the development of the ‘new totalitarianism’ in academic research is part of wider social changes, and identifies the value of arts-based educational research as a means of resistance to the imposition of market values in education and society.


Ward, S. (2014). Education and the 'New Totalitarianism': How standards for reporting on empirical studies of education limit the scope of academic research and communication. In P. Smeyers, & M. Depaepe (Eds.), Educational research : material culture and its representation (71-85). Springer Verlag.

Online Publication Date Nov 12, 2013
Publication Date Feb 21, 2014
Deposit Date Jun 3, 2014
Publisher Springer Verlag
Pages 71-85
Series Title Educational research
Book Title Educational research : material culture and its representation.
Chapter Number 5