Harvard Educational Review
  1. Beyond Binaries in Education Research

    edited by Warren Midgley, Mark A. Tyler, Patrick Alan Danaher, and Alison Mander

    New York: Routledge, 2011. 278 pp. $44.95

    In their book Beyond Binaries in Education Research, Warren Midgley, Mark A. Tyler, Patrick Alan Danaher, and Alison Mander compile a series of eighteen chapters that aim to identify, describe, and dismantle dichotomies that are common in the field of education. These dualisms, they argue, tend to create and reinforce social hierarchies. Although the editors admit that not all binaries are inherently marginalizing, they maintain (and illustrate throughout their book) that binaries tend to situate one end of the binary as the norm and the other end as deficient. 

    The book is organized into three interrelated, not mutually exclusive, parts. The first part brings to the forefront the choices and binaries academics must engage with in their role as researchers, such as deciding to use Western versus non-Western methodologies, determining author voice versus participant voice, and engaging in reflective practices that place the researcher as the observer versus observed. The second part switches the reader’s attention to the participants themselves, highlighting the binaries researchers must consider when engaging with them. Here, notions such as adult versus child, liberal versus citizenship education, and Confucianism versus Western ideologies are addressed. The book concludes with a third part focused on dichotomies found in various contexts, including ability/disability binaries in higher education and minority/majority, native/international student categories in universities.

    Beyond Binaries in Education Research poses essential questions researchers should ask themselves, especially when working with marginalized communities. It challenges those conducting research to reflect on their roles and the power dynamics that exist throughout their work—from data collection and analysis through to publication. In chapter 2, Akihiro Saito guides the reader through the dilemma he faced when applying his training in Western research methods to the non-Western setting of his home country, Japan. Saito problematizes the Western/non-Western dichotomy by placing his dilemma within a historical context and acknowledging that his pursuit of knowledge required an “imported foreign fabrication” (p. 20): the taking and borrowing of concepts, theories, and methods from the West and adjusting them to local contexts to create new cultural meanings. In this way, the research process is neither Western nor non-Western but a constantly evolving paradigm that inherently blends different perspectives in search of understanding. In chapter 8, the mother-daughter team of Shelley Kinash and Kirsten Kinash problematize the privileging of adults over children in the production of knowledge: “Why aren’t children encouraged and acknowledged as authentic authors of scholarly publications?” (p. 100). They assess the assumptions that keep academia from privileging student voices and discuss the real-life challenges of having child authors (e.g., privacy issues, concerns of adult influences on student writing, the perceived incompetence of children). Ultimately, Kinash and Kinash advocate for the recognition of children as capable of being scholarly authors. In chapter 10, Lindy Abawi brings the reader’s attention to yet another important stakeholder group in education research: teachers. She delves into teacher and researcher roles and argues that the two need not be mutually exclusive. She describes both roles as being part of a symbiotic relationship in which researchers and teachers benefit from one another. As a teacher and emerging researcher, Abawi reflects on her own preconceptions of what constitutes a researcher and what constitutes a teacher. After years of conducting an action research project with a group of teachers, her ideas of the researcher/teacher perspectives shift from a binary to a partnership in which each share overlapping roles that ask hard questions, focus on student outcomes, and ensure the other is grounded in both the big picture and the local context.

    On the whole, Beyond Binaries in Education Research does an excellent job of articulating the various binaries at play in education research—from the choices researchers make to the categories in which students are placed in various educational contexts. Unfortunately, it ultimately falls short on the social justice implications that frame the book and on the ways that such binaries can be minimized or reconceptualized. Several of the chapters spend a disproportionate amount of time describing the binaries at play and less time illustrating what it would mean or look like to move beyond them. Other chapters are unable to present detailed, concrete examples of how a particular program or strategy is able to effectively resolve the tensions found in an identified binary. In some cases, the authors’ arguments seemed forced into a binary framework, presenting an already complex and nuanced topic as if it were a simplistic binary in the field. In acknowledging the different dimensions already present in a particular topic, the questions remain: how does one move beyond that, and how can education researchers help dismantle hierarchies that marginalize communities?

    Though much of the framing regarding social justice and challenging deficit thinking is lost throughout most of the book, the questions posed in Beyond Binaries in Education Research are important nonetheless. Indeed, shifting a paradigm or making sense of the often complex social processes found in education research is no easy feat. Midgley, Tyler, Danaher, and Mander, in conjunction with their many contributing authors, provide a good first step in that direction. Education researchers would benefit from taking on these editors’ challenge to change the conversations in education research from ones that reinforce social inequities to ones that have the potential to transform society in a positive and sustainable way.
    s.b.
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    Book Notes

    Beyond Binaries in Education Research
    edited by Warren Midgley, Mark A. Tyler, Patrick Alan Danaher, and Alison Mander

    Educational Experiences of Hidden Homeless Teenagers Living Doubled-Up
    Ronald E. Hallett