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Social Movements and Educational Research: Toward a United Field of Scholarship


by Tricia Niesz, Aaron M. Korora, Christy Burke Walkuski & Rachel E. Foot

Background/Context: Educational research addressing social movements appears to be growing rapidly but, with a few exceptions, this body of literature has remained largely isolated in pockets stretched across myriad fields of educational scholarship. Awareness and dialogue across researchers is limited because social movement-focused educational research lacks the structure, identity, profile, and networks of a field of scholarship.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The purpose of this article is to explore how educational researchers have addressed social movements in their scholarship. Through presenting the findings from a wide-ranging literature review, we aim to generate greater awareness of social movement-oriented educational scholarship and argue for a more united field of research on social movements and education.

Research Design: We conducted an extensive review of educational scholarship with an explicit focus on social movements. Our sample included more than 370 publications from myriad fields of educational research, including adult education, higher education, social foundations of education, and other fields addressing K12 schooling.

Findings/Results: We found that most of the educational literature addressing social movements can be grouped into one of two categories: the study of education and learning in social movements, and the study of the influence of movements on formal education. The first category of scholarship, produced primarily (though not entirely) in the field of adult education, has the appearance of a research program, with researchers engaged in scholarly conversation with shared theoretical touchstones. The second category of scholarship does not have the appearance of a research program, as it is produced across a number of fields that do not appear to be in dialogue. Although there is little sign of mutual awareness across these two large categories of literature, we found that researchers on both sides of the divide have much in common, including theoretical, methodological, and topical interests.

Conclusions/Recommendations: We conclude the literature review by arguing for the establishment of a more united field of research on social movements and education. We posit that an interdisciplinary and multi-perspective field devoted to understanding the educational dimensions and implications of social movements would not only benefit researchers and their scholarship but also pose and answer new and important questions related to formal, non-formal, and informal education. A more united field of inquiry related to social movements and education would also raise the profile of this scholarship such that it could have greater influence on educational policy and practice, as well as on social movements themselves.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 3, 2018, p. 1-41
http://www.tcrecord.org/library ID Number: 22084, Date Accessed: 9/23/2018 12:18:12 PM


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