Nothing More Practical Than A Good Theory

We are almost in the middle of our EdD last course and diving down into the fine detail that will inform our piece of research/thesis/gift to the world.  At the moment we are wrestling with defining our theoretical framework before heading for our comprehensive exams in June.

Being of a positivistic bent – or at least coming from a profession that is newly academic, and mainly unconsciously atheoretical, I struggle with the concept of theory. Theory means something quite specific in science – something you test, a hypothesis.  Scientific principle tells us that everything is infinitely testable (like quantum field theory that ultimately underpins the practice of radiation therapy).  But “theory” or “a theoretical framework” in the social sciences, and indeed in grad school, is something different, a tool that no good researcher should be without.  My current bedtime reading Introducing Critical Theory (literally a cartoon book about Marxism – which is the only way I can deal with it) tells me sternly that an undertheorised student is a failing student, and our UBC Profs tell us that theory is a lens through which we examine the world.  On the other hand, there is the view that theory is for those with the luxury of being able to sit and reflect (perhaps in their ivory towers), not busy practitioners who are out there in the “real world” (wherever that may be). But figure this out and pick a theory I must!

Most of us in the EdD program are there to try and make our little bit of the world a better place. This aligns with the aim of the EdD, which is geared towards practice, examining it and ultimately improving it. A critical theory lens takes an emancipatory, roll-up-your-sleeves-and-do-something-about-it stance and accepts that “there are dirty problems like racism, sexism, classism, homophobia and poverty to be solved” (Sikes p.45). If we look at the world and see that “mainstream research practices are generally, although most often unwittingly, implicated in the reproductions of class, race and gender oppression” (Kinchloe and McLaren, p. 304) we turn to critical theory for help – be it feminism, race theory or critical lesbian and gay theory (my wheelhouse). There are other broad theories/paradigms which we could use – ones that aim to deconstruct current ideas, or understand them – and there is good old fashioned positivism which is all about prediction. For a closer look at this try here. But I think I am a critical theory girl at heart ♥

One thing is sure, once you start looking at (any kind of) theory there are a LOT of “doctoral-level” words that need to be nailed down. I hope to have a few of these impressively roll off my tongue before the comps in June. To help you recognize them in class, impress your love object and to encourage you to sprinkle a few on your grad work, here is your free Valentine’s Day EdD bingo card. Enjoy!



Sikes, P. (2006). Towards useful and dangerous theories. Discourse : Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 27(1), 43–51

Kinchloe, J and McLaren, P. (2005) Rethinking critical theory and qualitative research. In Denzin, N and Lincoln, Y (Eds) The handbook of qualitative research. 3rd ed. pp. 303-342. Thousand Oaks, CA. Sage.


6 months in….shifting frameworks, Foucault and procrastination

So….this summer I started a professional doctorate (EdD at UBC) and after a lot of prevarication, perseveration and procrastination I have decided to write about it. A bit. Or parts of it. When I feel like it…..OK – let’s just see how this goes!

My grand idea was to explore complex themes of reflexivity and subsequently mine meaningful nuggets of wisdom from the blog to inform my world-changing doctoral thesis. In all likelihood it will be yet another form of displacement activity and comprise of observations about being a middle-aged student on a campus filled with hipsters – possibly sprinkled with insights about Foucault (I have none at the moment, but that man seems to pop up everywhere).

To say that it’s been a mind-blower would be an understatement. The program is designed for people working full time in educational leadership roles. Most of the participants are in K-!2 or higher education-type roles – a whole new vocabulary and frame of reference for the lonely two of us in health care (social work and radiation therapy). So far it’s been an uneasy juggling act of writing papers, group work, actual work-work, family stuff, binge-eating and panic. Already the subconscious whisper of “you should be writing”  manages to flavour my (so-called) leisure activities*.  The program format is 8 courses (including 2 electives), exams then the dissertation – in theory over 3 years (although average completion time is 7). Having gone the DCR (diploma) – end on degree- radiotherapy Masters route beloved of those trained in the UK in the 1980s (and before) I have very little experience of critical theorists like the lovely Monsieur Foucault – or concepts like neo-liberalism (hint – not a good thing) and (I am rather ashamed to say) even philosophers like Plato (a frequent guest star in our ethics course). But I am glad to report, it is all rather wonderful to consciously shift away from the technical focus of my day job and look at such questions as ‘what makes a good life’ in the company of 10 wise, kind and experienced people. It’s a luxury and a privilege to be able to tackle these ideas, and better late than never!

My probable area of investigation is the experiences of health care professionals (HCPs) who are gay, lesbian and bisexual (GLB) in the cancer care system – I am really interested how their sexual orientation plays into (or doesn’t) their relationship with patients. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about GLB patients in our system – we could definitely make some improvements in helping them access care and feel welcome. Most of the research examining HCPs looks at the work environment – at homophobia for example. I would love to look at where the patient and HCP’s ‘horizons of understanding” meet (a concept from Gadamer illustrating the need to fully understand the other in a relationship). Does it make a difference? Does it matter? Does sexuality affect the fusion of horizons? Will I pick Gadermarian phenomenology as my critical framework – do I really know what it means yet? Stay tuned – more to come!


*Currently consisting of trying to keep up with my tyrannical FitBit, mess around with #MedRadJClub and binge watch Brooklyn 99. Oh….and Dr. Who.