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Theoretical Framing

Crotty (2010, p. 4) outlines four elements for carrying out research. These four elements inform one another and due to the structure they provide will be used to guide this research (see figure 1). A Transformative Theoretical perspective will be used and this was developed from Critical Theory by Mertens (2005). In Critical Theory the aim is emancipation whereas in Transformative Research the researcher works with participants for personal and social transformation. This research will draw on Mertens (2009) for its epistemology, theoretical perspective and methodology. Figure 1 Epistemology

Theoretical perspective

Methodology

Methods

Epistemology Epistemology is the assumptions about the nature of knowledge and the relationship between the researcher and stakeholders needed to achieve accurate knowledge (Mertens 2009, p. 49). With regard to the research elements outlined by Crotty above that are being used to guide this study three epistemologies can be identified objectivism, constructionism and subjectivism (Crotty 2010, p. 5). For the Transformative Researcher, understanding the culture and building trust with the community is essential (Mertens 2009, p. 57). In Crottys model this best fits with constructionism as he defines it as: It is the view that all knowledge, and therefore meaningful realitity as such, is contingent upon human practices, being constructed in and out of interaction between

human beings and their world, and developed and transmitted within an essentially social context (Crotty 2010, page 42). In the context of this research knowledge will be constructed in and out of children (including those identified as being on the autism spectrum) and other key stakeholders within the social context around the school environment. I am adopting the view that meaning is not discovered but constructed. Meanings are constructed by humans as they engage with the world they are interpreting and prior to human existance to give the world meaning, no meaning at all. Mertens argues that in the transformative epistemology, the researcher should have an interactive relationship with the community and demonstrate an understanding and awareness of its culture (Mertens 2009, pp. 56 and 57). From the perspective of construcionsim, I am adaopting the views put forward by the anthropologist Clifford Geertz in Crotty (2010) about the construction of knowledge due to culture. He argues that culture is a system of significant and meaninful symbols and this acts as an indispensible guide to human behaviour. For him culture is seen as the source rather than the result of human thought and behaviour. Humans are born into a system where these siginificant symbols are already in existance and remain so during and beyond their life in some form. In Transformative Research, the epistemological viewpoint is that knowledge is seen as neither absolute nor relative. Knowledge is socially and historically situated with issues of power and privilege addressed explicitly. Objectivism and its need to produce value neutral scientifically valid knowledge is rejected because it views things in a mechanistic way rather than an organic one. Cohen (2004) cites Ions (1977) who argues that serious concern should be shown for the way in which quantification of human behaviour is used. He proposes that quantification is a form of collectivism and thus facilitates dehumanisation. If quantification becomes an end in itself then it becomes a branch of mathematics rather than a tool for studying the human condition (Cohen and Manion 2004, pp. 17 and 18). Instead it focuses on building on and developing our personal, living knowledge as opposed to throwing it away in the search for objectivity (Mertens 2009). Ontology Ontology is the nature of what exists, the nature of reality. Transformative Research rejects cultural relativism and acknowledges that multiples definitions of reality are possible. It interrogates issue of power and requires a concious awareness on the part of the researcher that some individuals occupy a greater position of power than others. In keeping with its roots in critial theory and emancipatory research, it has a political agenda that aims to move from opression and inequality in society towards social justice, equity and equality (Cohen and Maninon, p. 32). From a power perspective I hope to empower those individuals identified as being on the autism spectrum by avoiding viewing them from a deficit perspective. Harris (2006) in response to her attendance at a conference for deaf people where their needs were not actually taken into account argued for the need to decenterise in order enable everyone to view the world from the perspective of different people and cultures. I aim to decentre the concept of children on the autism spectrum as being in deficit

but rather as having their own language a language that can be easily accessed by this research, the school community and beyond when the right attitudes and beliefs are applied. This can only be done by decentering the concept of neurotypical thinking and applying methods that allow for this. I must resist the temptation to empower this group more than other groups within the study as this will be counter-productive. It would be easy to do this since their voice has been missing from the research at primary school level. However, in line with the Transformative Framework outlined above, I will ensure care will be given to this issue throughout especially when gathering and analysing data. A good illustration of this is gathering data via pupil diaries. Initially, I was tempted to provide additional methods for only pupils identified as being on the autism spectrum to record their diaries but on reflection this excludes other pupils who might be equally motivated or benefit from recording their diaries in one of the alternative ways presented decenteringhere had benefits for the whole community. I therefore provided methods of diary recording that can be accessed by everyone but take into account the communicative strengths of those identified as being on the autism spectrum. Methodology Consistent with the underlying epistemological and ontological assumptions of the Transformative paradigm outlined above, Mertens (2009) provides a general Transformative Methodology to support which will be utilised in this study. In the Transformative Methodology, qualitative methods are seen as critical. She also provides the possibility of using a mixed method approach but I am firmly sticking to qualitative methods due to my small sample size. It does not have a specific set of methods of its own but methods that are both particiaptory and qualitative methods will allow for the guidelines set out by Mertens (2009) to be met. Such methodology also fits well with the wider aims of this study which is to involve children as participants in the research.