Author Interview: Claudia Ruitenberg and Denis C. Phillips

We spoke to Claudia Ruitenberg and Denis C. Phillips about their recent collection Education, Culture and Epistemological Diversity: mapping a disputed terrain (Springer, 2012).

Why did you decide to edit Education, Culture and Epistemological Diversity?

CR: As we recount in the Foreword, we developed the book after we discovered, during the 2008 INPE conference in Kyoto, that we had a shared interest in the preponderance of terms such as “epistemology” in educational scholarship, though not always in ways immediately recognizable by those schooled in the area of philosophy known as epistemology. One of the reasons we decided to co-edit this book is because we are such an unlikely pair of co-editors! Rather than try to settle or compromise between our respective views on questions of epistemological diversity, we have deliberately maintained two separate voices in most parts of the book to highlight that we are asking different kinds of questions, and that neither kind should eclipse the other.

DCP: Claudia is right about our main motivation. But – at least in my case – another, related, motive was lurking in the background. Most (if not all) books that introduce philosophical issues to non-philosophers aim to get these folk to understand the issues just by reading, and I have been interested in how one can get the intended audience to understand by getting them to be active – to actually get them to do some philosophizing as they read along. The organization of the book attempts to do this, by presenting multiple perspectives on the core issues and by stressing that these matters are not yet settled, and by allowing some philosophical interaction between the authors/editors.   

What’s the main aim of the book, and why is it important now?

CR: The main aim of the book is to open discussion about what is gained and lost in educational research when conversations about “epistemology,” “ways of knowing” and so forth use conceptions of epistemology and knowing that are different from the dominant conceptions.

DCP: And to sensitize our colleagues in education (but who are not philosophers) that they should recognize – and respect – intellectual traditions from outside their own areas that have been pursuing relevant issues for millennia! None of us would be brash enough to sally forth and make pronouncements about Quantum Theory without first attaining some knowledge of this field, yet it seems that there are “no holds barred” when it comes to epistemology.

And what is it that draws you (personally) to this area of research?

CR: My personal interest in this area is mainly related to what we do with language, and what language does with us. For example, I can observe that colleagues and students frequently speak of “my epistemology” or “multiple epistemologies” when they seem to be referring to something other than rationalism, empiricism, constructivism, or other epistemological perspectives as these have been understood by traditional philosophy. However, rather than discussing whether these uses of the terms are correct or incorrect, I am interested in what they do, what effects they bring about. Some of these effects may well be imprecision and confusion, but other effects may include the claiming of academic credibility or even the resignification of the term.

DCP: One of my main interests for many decades has been epistemology, and so it has been important for me to come to grips with the criticisms that have emerged and to try to assess them. (On this issue, at least, Popper was right…one ignores criticisms at one’s peril.)

What sort of reaction do you hope the book will get?

CR: I primarily hope the book will stimulate discussion. I am less interested in whether readers agree with the particular arguments put forward — although I think several very good arguments are put forward in the book — and more in whether they will see the topic as a worthwhile one to think about and discuss more in Faculties and Schools of Education, for example in graduate courses.

DCP: Claudia hit the nail on the head here.

What sort of audience did you have in mind when writing the book?

CR & DCP: The book is aimed at colleagues and students in philosophy of education and educational research more generally.

What’s your current project? What’s next?

CR: My most urgent project is to finish up a book on education in an ethic of hospitality. In addition, I have recently become a Scholar at the Centre for Health Education Scholarship, where I look forward to practising a situated philosophy of education, asking philosophical questions about educational phenomena in the health professions.

DCP: I am working on two projects that are coming to a climax:  First, for about two years I have been editing The Encyclopedia of Educational Theory and Philosophy for SAGE; it has about 300 entries, and the authors come from several dozen countries, and PESGB is well-represented. Second, with several colleagues from the International Academy of Education I am working on a book that comes out of our work with deans and senior researchers in education in Mexico, where there is a serious effort being made to revamp their doctoral research training programs. I have learned an incredible amount from these two projects.

What is philosophy of education and why does it matter?

CR: I see philosophy of education as a practice and field of educational scholarship that asks philosophical (e.g., conceptual, ethical, existential) questions about educational theories, policies, practices, and discourses, or that introduces new concepts to help us think anew about these. I tend to talk about philosophy of education as a form of educational research, to secure its legitimacy in the “research-intensive” university, but a form of research that seeks to bring about thinking more than knowledge.

DCP: All I can add here is that your very question implies an answer: in asking “why does it matter?” you are asking for reasons, presumably good reasons, and philosophy of education helps us to sort out good reasons from bad ones, and (I would say, more importantly) clear reasons from confused ones.