Invited lecture 24.9.2008: Professor Stephen Kemmis

"Researchers should tell uncomfortable truths"

“Researchers should speak truth to power!”, demands professor Stephen Kemmis. “They should be capable of asking uncomfortable questions rather than achieve conformity with what the policy makers intend!”

Stephen Kemmis will have an invited lecture on critical educational science in the Finnish Institute on Educational Research of University of Jyväskylä on Wednesday, September 24th 2008.

According to Kemmis, nowadays researchers often solely implement government policies or programmes, without subjecting their intentions, their presuppositions, and their frameworks of justification to critical examination. These tacit presuppositions sometimes seem to contradict with some of the basic values of democracy. For example, in Kemmis’s view, the western powers are sliding towards tyranny along with their enemies, as evidenced in national security laws proposed in some countries in response to the terrorist outrages of 11 September 2001.

“Taking the given presuppositions for granted, it is impossible to create bodies of evidence capable of challenging existing modes of thinking”, says Kemmis. “This kind of research is likely to produce conformity and compliance to authority rather than a critical evaluation, asking questions about the aims and values of society; school or university education.”

“As researchers, we should open communicative spaces in which ‘the way things are’ is open to question and exploration”, suggests Stephen Kemmis. “Participatory action research aims both to understand reality in order to transform it, and to transform reality in order to understand it. But transforming realities is not always comfortable. It frequently requires confronting powers-that-be. It may require each participant to confront the others in a work setting or a collaborative group.”

Kemmis aspires to a social and educational critique aimed at transformation of the way things are: “This may demand the telling of unwelcome truths that require what was called parrhesia in the ancient Greece: bringing bad news; to speak with the greatest courage and conviction we can muster when the time comes to speak honestly to the tyrant, the assembly, the head of the department, or our friend. Inevitably, then, it requires a pluralistic outlook, a sense of one’s own fallibility, and, in respect of others, civility and courtesy.”

Professor Stephen Kemmis is a Professor of Education and Director, Murray-Darling Education Consortium, Charles Sturt University, Australia. A key aspect of his work since the late 1970s has been in developing the theory and practice of educational action research. Together with colleagues, he has advocated “emancipatory action research” as a participatory form of research and evaluation which embodies the aspirations of a critical science of education. Stephen Kemmis has published widely on action research for more than 20 years. One of his books, Becoming Critical, written together with Wilfred Carr, has become a raison d’etre in the field of educational action research.

Stephen Kemmis will have an invited lecture “Speaking Truth to Power: Participatory Action Research as a Critical Edge?” in a seminar held in Finnish Institute for Educational Research, Opinkivi YOL 143, on Wednesday 24th 2008, 13.00 - 15.00. In the seminar, invited comments will be given by docent Rauno Huttunen from University of Joensuu, and docent Petri Salo from Åbo Academi. The seminar will be chaired by docent Hannu L. T. Heikkinen from the Finnish Institute for Educational Research.