Revue Européenne d'Ethnographie de l'Education vol:7-8 issue:7-8 pages:291-305
In 1995 the Centre for Intercultural Education was founded at the University Of Ghent (Dutch-speaking part of Belgium). The very first research project, intensive school ethnography, deeply influenced the concept of intercultural education of the newborn Centre.
This concept very much relied on assumptions of the ethnographic tradition, especially the inclination to an ongoing social construction of ‘reality’. From this perspective intercultural education can be different in each specific situation as the implied meaning of diversity can shift from context to context. I joined the Centre at the moment the research team engaged in evaluation research requiring overall context generalizations. The challenge then was to maintain a context-related dynamic perspective in a research design more familiar with the empirical-analytical tradition than with naturalistic research. We made important concessions to the demands of the commissioners of the studies, undermining essential assumptions from the ethnographic tradition. These assumptions are elaborated in the first section of the article. The next chapters explore the tensions in applying these assumptions in evaluation research. Evaluation supposes a clear definition, if not a theory about the subject under investigation. On top the commissioners demanded general statements, going far beyond the observation of the particular individual teacher in his specific context. I claim that the problem of theory (section 2) and generalization (section 4) are not proper to the confrontation of inquiry cultures in our research, but are already inherent to tensions within the ethnographic tradition. Section 3 presents a comparison of two of the involved evaluation studies. The first of them is presented as an example of the incompability of competing inquiry paradigms. The second one on the other hand shows an interesting attempt to re-introduce context-awareness in a context-hostile research design. Each of the discussed evaluation studies applied ethnographic techniques and concepts. But the application of techniques and concept does not suffice to regard the basic assumptions of the ethnographic tradition. Ethnographic inspired research should at least take the different and shifting interpretations of the evaluated program into consideration. But if in the discussed studies the different interpretations of participants were taken into account, than only to measure to which account they met a ‘correct’ understanding of the program. As such the evaluation studies neglect the dynamic of shifting meaning in a multi layered cultural reality. And they even negate the own definition of intercultural education as an open ended process.