Researching assessment as social practice: implications for research methodology

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International Journal of Education Research

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Elsevier Ltd.


University of Cape Town

Recent educational journals on both sides of the Atlantic have seen a resurgence of debate about the nature of educational research. As a contribution to these debates, this paper draws on theoretical and methodological 'thinking tools' of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. Specifically, the paper explores what Jenkins [Jenkins, R. (2002). Pierre Bourdieu. London: Routledge and Falmer] refers to as Bourdieu's ""reflexive epistemological pluralism"" and its implications for research into higher education, with a particular focus on assessment as social practice. This particular theoretical and methodological understanding is used to critically reflect on a study conducted in 2005 on the impact of a policy on anonymous examination marking which was implemented at the University of Cape Town in 2004. The study collected both quantitative data of student examination performance pre and post-policy implementation, as well as interviews with course conveners. The paper argues that when viewed interdependently the data offers insight into some of the ""principles of vision and division"" [Bourdieu, P. (1996). The state nobilityP: Elite schools in the field of power. Cambridge: Polity Press] at work in assessors' judgment-making process. The assessors' deliberations expose ideological tensions between the dual challenges of equity and excellence in the context of a historically white liberal university under transformation.

This is the author's version of a work that was accepted for publication of the article: Researching assessment as social practice: Implications for research methodology. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in International Journal of Educational Research, VOL 47, ISSUE 3, 2008, DOI: 10.1016/j.ijer.2008.01.003.