The Impracticality of Practical Research

A History of Contemporary Sciences of Change That Conserve
Thomas S. Popkewitz
Understanding the nature of knowledge in the quest for the good life


There is a daunting and alluring desire in contemporary social science for research to find the practical knowledge that enables one to live a good life in a just and equitable society. This desire haunts the 19th-century emergence of the social sciences and became more pronounced in the postwar mobilizations of research. Today the desire for this knowledge is captured in the structured assessments of national school systems and in the professional education pathways that inspire governments to modernize school systems and provide for people’s well-being. American policy and research are thus linked by reforms that are verified as “scientific, empirical evidences” about “what works.”

The Impracticality of Practical Research explores the idea that practical and useful knowledge historically changes over time under the guises of educational reform, instructional improvement, and professionalization. The study of science draws on a range of social and cultural theories and historical studies to understand the politics of science and scientific knowledge that are concerned with social and educational change. Can research change social conditions to make a better life, and make people’s conduct embody the qualities and characteristics of that better life—the good citizen, parent, or worker? Thomas Popkewitz explores how the research to correct social wrongs paradoxically is entangled with the inscription of differences in its efforts to be inclusive.

Thomas S. Popkewitz is Professor of Curriculum and Instruction in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 298pp.
  • 12 figures, 1 table.
Available for sale worldwide

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  • Hardcover
  • 2020
  • Forthcoming
  • 978-0-472-13173-0

  • $85.00 U.S.

  • Paper
  • 2020
  • Forthcoming
  • 978-0-472-03774-2

  • $34.95 U.S.

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  • cultural history of science; scientific practices; practical sciences; research on educational change; the politics of knowledge; social exclusions and abjection; The History of Present; science/society relation