From the scientistic to the humanistic in the construction of contemporary educational knowledge

David Bridges, Christiane Thompson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


The starting point for this article is a lecture given fifty years ago by C.P. Snow under the title ‘The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution’, in which Snow critiques what he sees as the damaging intellectual division between the arts and humanities on the one side and the sciences on the other. Fifty years later this problem is, perhaps, better considered in terms of the hegemony of science, or, more accurately, in terms of a very restricted notion of science which the author refers to as ‘scientism’. Scientism privileges a very narrow empiricist view of science and in particular experimental methods which allow the measurement of physical and, by extension, human and social phenomena. The article illustrates a number of ways in which such scientism operates to exclude alternative perspectives on experience rooted in the humanities from social and educational enquiry and discourse. It challenges scientism in two ways. First, it argues that it represents an impoverished view of science itself, which, properly understood, draws on a much wider range of methods and methodologies, some of which bring it much closer to humanistic forms of enquiry than the narrow empiricism that is popularly advanced as its defining characteristic. Then the article begins to illustrate, more positively, the sort of contributions to educational understanding that draw essentially from the academic traditions of the humanities. These include: (i) the exploration of human conscious experience and intentionality; (ii) narratives (including auto/biography); (iii) descriptive writing; (iv) normativity; (v) literary, perhaps even ‘romantic’, sensibility.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)304-317
Number of pages13
JournalEuropean Educational Research Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011

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