chapter  1
12 Pages

Linda’s story: A new teacher’s tale

ByLESL EY WAL KER

There may be no better description of a common effect of academic publishing on the subjectivities of research participants than that afforded Leopold Bloom, the main character of James Joyce’s Ulysses. In ‘Ithaca’, a section of the novel which parodies the nature of scientific inquiry through a series of blankly worded (and yet madly pedantic) questions and answers, Bloom is dissected thus: ‘Reduce Bloom by cross multiplication of reverses of fortune, from which these supports protected him, and by elimination of all positive values to a negligible negative irrational unreal quantity’ (Joyce 1992: 855). It might come as a surprise to some readers that we begin a research text with a quotation that threatens to bite the hand that (under)writes us. For the quantitative-analysis-gone-mad that was lampooned by Joyce in 1922 is of a kind prescribed to educational research as recently as 2000. Then Secretary of State for Education and Employment, David Blunkett suggested in a speech to the Economic and Social Research Council the need ‘to be able to measure the size of the effect of A on B. This is genuine social science’ (in Hammersley 2002: 83). Reverses of fortune apart, the fact that his tenure as a cabinet minister dissipated in less time than it took Joyce to complete his masterpiece, might in some small part be explained by his perception of ‘genuine social science’ as being derivative of the methodologies employed rather than the positive values achieved. Certainly, it was as a strategy to remain relevant to the experience of our audience for at least as long as it takes to read Ulysses, that the Early Professional Learning project pursued both qualitative and quantitative methods of inquiry. And in the chapters that follow, we attempt to demonstrate that a distinctive

result of such methods is that statistics of specific curiosity can be cross-referenced with contextualizing insights from the individual narratives in the project’s associated qualitative database. That is to say, we refute the so-called ‘worthless[ness]’ of ‘correlations based on small samples from which it is impossible to draw generalisable conclusions’ (ibid.: 84), and take instead the view of case researchers in seeking both what is commonplace and particular about a case, with the possibility of portraying something of the uncommon (Stake 2000), as opposed that is to the irrational unreal.