Navigating the Meta-World of Theory and Concepts: The Diversity and Heterogeneity of KPP’s Research

Edmund Hurssel looking into a Microscope as an Oil painting
This Image was created with the assistance of DALL·E 2

By Professor Steve Watson

Co-convenor of the Knowledge, Power and Politics Research Group

The Knowledge Power Politics Research Group (KPP) aims to promote and develop the scholarship and production of knowledge among its members, associates, and collaborators, including established researchers, early-career researchers, and students. One of the main questions that KPP must address is how to effectively achieve this goal. To understand the challenges of this, it is useful to consider the distinction between basic and applied research (Stokes, 1997). Basic research is focused on understanding underlying principles and concepts, whereas applied research is focused on solving specific problems or issues.

The production of knowledge is based on the idea of distinguishing between what is true and what is false, or between valid and invalid knowledge claims. This process of interpretation and validation draws on paradigms of the scientific method and experiment, as well as theoretical and philosophical approaches. However, it has become clear that the idea of universal and eternal validity is unlikely or impossible, especially in light of recent developments in quantum physics. This has led to a general abandonment of grand theory in many fields, particularly in anglophone sociology where the focus is on mid-range theory and a critical tradition driven by moral purpose. This is also true in the field of Education, where applied research is often prioritized due to its practical relevance.

KPP operates at the level of basic research, which has a strong philosophical and theoretical motivation. Basic research asks questions about the nature of concepts and conducts an ontological critique of the distinctions that allow theory and concepts to take form. This takes KPP into a meta-world of abstraction and the need to contemplate grand theory. However, the research being undertaken by members of KPP is diverse and heterogeneous, with different contexts, themes, and conceptualizations. This means that there is no singular purpose for KPP, and that research projects and scholarly themes are unique and contingent. Despite this diversity, it is possible to convene a collective dialogue across different research themes at the level of basic research.

Stokes, D. E. (1997). Pasteur’s quadrant: Basic science and technological innovation. Brookings Institution Press.

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