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Inaugural conference challenges trend toward one kind of research

Craig Chamberlain, News Editor


CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The definition of good research is being constricted by politicians and funding agencies in the U.S. and many other countries, and to the detriment of research and scholarship in many fields, says professor Norman Denzin.

So he and others are raising their voices to object.
Their objection takes the form of a new conference, the First International Congress of Qualitative Inquiry, coming May 5-7 to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Presenters from more than 45 nations are expected to attend, presenting more than 650 papers over the three-day event. The theme for the conference is “Qualitative Inquiry in a Time of Global Uncertainty.”

Many governments are enforcing a quantitative, “evidence-based,” biomedical model of research, which emphasizes controlled experiments and number-gathering, said Denzin, a professor in the Institute of Communications Research at Illinois, and the congress director. They are restricting funds for qualitative research, which emphasizes observation and often seeks to record the voices of marginalized populations, he said.

“These regulatory activities raise fundamental issues for scholarship and freedom of speech in the academy,” he said, and the issues cut across fields as diverse as education, communications, health care, social science, business and law.

The “No Child Left Behind” legislation in the U.S., with its requirements for frequent testing and pressures on schools to raise test scores, is probably the most prominent example of this trend, Denzin said.

Without qualitative research that looks into the workings of schools and classrooms, teachers are pressured to ignore new ways of teaching, and “the whole student’s voice in the schooling process gets sort of erased and replaced by just a test score,” he said.

But the trend is not limited to education or to the U.S., Denzin said. “That’s why we’re getting such a global response to this conference. Scholars around the world in different national contexts are experiencing these same pressures. There’s a concern about this top-down governmental approach that’s being applied in many nations.”

Denzin said he hopes the conference will provide a “leading voice” in a movement to reverse the trend. “We want a national and international conversation about how we want science to play out in the public arena in these critical times. We don’t want to be marginalized. We feel we have an important voice, and under current legislation we are not given that voice.”

The conference schedule, along with information on speakers and presentations, can be found at the conference Web site.