Book Review: Methodologies for Researching Cultural Diversity by Smyth and Santoro

Methodologies for Researching Cultural Diversity in Education: International Perspectives (2014)
By Geri Smyth and Ninetta Santoro

Smyth’s and Santoro’s exciting new edited collection is aimed at educationalists researching diverse cultural contexts from a critical perspective. The selected papers, with underlying themes of social justice and educational equity, together point towards an increasingly globalised world where educationalists (trainee teachers, established teachers working on professional development and researchers of education) can enhance their critical awareness about working with diasporic communities and settings.

One major concern in social research is that researchers mainly tend to come from the “hegemonic cultural mainstream” (pxii), which requires that as researchers we refine our reflexive approach to methodologies and ethics of research. The book, therefore, usefully includes accounts from researchers about how they work to ensure that research methodologies they employ are ethically and methodologically sound and appropriate to culturally diverse communities.

Distinctive methodologies are advocated to achieve the important goals of social justice and social equality: Dewilde, for instance, discusses how she used ‘Discursive Shadowing’ which involves “the study of individuals over a period of time by means of participant observation and audio recordings” (p1) in order to learn about an under-researched group with low status – bilingual teachers – in the Norwegian educational system. She came to realise that ‘discursive shadowing’ worked effectively if she was “moving around the school with them, instead of trying to pin down collaboration through the formal meetings and joint lessons” when collecting data (p10).

Critical participatory action is shown to be a democratic methodology in Schmidt’s account of researching immigrant teachers in Canada’s education system. Teachers in Manitoba, Canada were involved in “co-operative inquiry” (p15) – research, thus, involved “actively engaging them in designing, co-constructing, and carrying out the research” (p17). Post-structural ethnography, in this case in rural Australia, is shown to be an excellent tool to empower research participants and to provide rich detailed description about issues of difference and exclusion in schooling: Edgeworth outlines ways in which post-structural ethnographies can “construct counter-narratives of belonging” (p38). Research in Pakistan by Shah demonstrates the complexities of insider and outsider research: “Who does the research has effects on data collection and analysis” (p44).

Smyth’s chapter outlines research in Scotland to empower diverse research participants through collaborative pedagogies which “give voice to the researched while also offering strategies to develop their skills or social networks” (p58). Santoro investigated indigenous teachers in Australia using a longitudinal case study and the methodology of Situational Analysis: “…useful for researchers working in culturally diverse contexts because it makes visible” (p88) what researchers may have missed.

Students, taking an active role in the research process, as action researchers investigating immigration and integration, within a critical pedagogy framework, are discussed by Gagne and Gordon who outline the advantages of this methodology: student-researchers improved their language and communication skills, and developed confidence and friendships. Fassetta also considers how school students can be actively involved in collecting data through the popular mode of photography: child-led photography focuses on issues of whose eyes we are seeing things through, as well as matters of power and agency.

The collection of chapters in this book beautifully illustrates the importance of considering how we can become more open, more democratic, and more just in how we seek to present the voices of culturally diverse and often silenced students and teachers. To work hard to become ethically sound and methodologically adventurous may be the goals of many qualitative researchers, like me, as we become involved in new projects within culturally diverse contexts.

This important book helps early career researchers, like myself, in working through issues of how to ensure students and teachers are not mere research participants, but directly active in the research process, thereby fulfilling the conditions of ethically sound research.


Sadia Habib is a doctoral candidate currently researching British identity in the Educational Studies Department at Goldsmiths, University of London.  Prior to this she taught English at Key Stages 3,4 and 5 in Manchester and London.

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