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Who says? A biographical study of educational psychologists’ beliefs about ‘reliable evidence’

Burnham, Simon James (2009) Who says? A biographical study of educational psychologists’ beliefs about ‘reliable evidence’ University of Southampton Doctoral Thesis , 168pp.

Record type: Thesis (Doctoral)


This thesis describes a biographical research study in which eight educational psychologists took part in interviews with the researcher, who is also an educational
psychologist, on the subject of 'reliable evidence'. As part of this process participants were asked to discuss the personal and professional influences that have shaped their epistemological positioning and practice as applied psychologists.

The research is located within broader themes in the literature that encompass debates about the relative merits of qualitative and quantitative approaches, the
scientific tradition in psychology, evidence based practice, and the turn towards standpoint perspectives in the social sciences. It is argued that a broadly positivist
epistemology remains dominant within psychology as a professional discipline and that this creates tensions for many practitioner-psychologists who find its assumptions
incompatible with the majority, if not all, of their work.
Thematic analysis of the interviews reveals that the participants see only a very blurred boundary between their personal and professional lives and that this
influences their positioning on questions of methodology and the establishment of knowledge claims. There is scepticism amongst the participants about the value of
concepts such as 'reliable evidence', and concern that 'science', as the British Psychological Society has defined that term, is of relatively limited use to them and
their colleagues in educational psychology.

Participants feel that the generic practice of educational psychologists - work that is principally with individual children and young people, parents, teachers and other
professionals - is not valued as highly within their profession as research and systemsbased work that seeks to bring about change at an organisational level. This is because the generic practice of an educational psychologist requires a highly pragmatic 'real world' approach, whereas research and systems-based work are widely perceived to offer more opportunities to implement a rigorous and scientific methodology capable of generating 'reliable evidence'.

The thesis concludes by proposing that a pragmatic epistemology can be applied to the research and generic practice elements of the work of educational psychologists
through the adoption of the 'bricoleur' model, which could help address the disjuncture that educational psychologists perceive between those two aspects of their

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Submitted date: July 2009
Organisations: University of Southampton


Local EPrints ID: 143595
PURE UUID: 892ccca0-c257-4c26-9e4a-a4bd047f4960

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Date deposited: 16 Jul 2010 13:40
Last modified: 18 Jul 2017 23:09

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Author: Simon James Burnham
Thesis advisor: Gill Clarke

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