chapter  1
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This book aims to show how a meta-theory of critical realism can be applied to empirical research about pedagogy in the changing landscape of higher education in England. It provides an introduction to some of the key ideas of critical realism and its potential to clarify complex issues when used to under-labour empirical research in education. This book draws on a critical realist study of structure-agency interactions in three contrasting higher education institutions. Seven case studies of tutors and lecturers, over the three universities, are considered in order to explore the interplay of global, national and institutional structures and processes in their everyday working lives and the extent of their agency in these settings. For readers with no previous knowledge of critical realism, this book will provide information about developments in pedagogy in the context of the current restructuring of higher education in England. Pedagogy is under pressure from changes in the global, national and institutional environments at a time when the state provision of higher education is being eroded and there is a shift towards marketised higher education (Bourdieu, 2003). This is a time when the public education sector is being opened up to privatisation (Ball, 2012; Brown and Carasso, 2013). In spite of structural changes occurring in material resources, social roles and relationships, and the cultural environment in higher education in England (Barnett, 1999; Macfarlane, 2005), this work shows that there is still a profound level of richness and depth to some lecturers’ development of pedagogy. At a time when, in the UK, almost half of people aged over 25 have attended some form of higher education (Furlong and Cartmel, 2009; Kearney, 2000), faculty have gained much experience and many insights into pedagogical possibilities in unique conditions. These insights are in danger of disappearing as universities struggle to cope with withdrawals in government funding by turning to other sources of income, and while student loans replace state provision of higher education (Holmwood and Bhambra, 2012). Universities respond to pressure as higher education becomes redefined as a commodity and reduced to a series of marketable products to be branded, kite-marked and sold to those who can afford to pay for them (Tuchman, 2009). At the same time, monitoring and performativity regimes (Ball, 2012) are distorting the very identities of lecturers and tutors (Shore and Wright, 1999).