Academic Research and Global Education: From Mount Olympus to the Agora.

The words of the title of this editorial quite clearly refer to the centre of a debate that is highly typical of the socio-educational field. It is a reference to the uneasy and controversial relationships between Theory and Practice in Education, especially in Global Development Education.

This is a complex and significant debate, but at the same time also an interesting and motivating one, since it affects every aspect of education activity: the purposes and goals of education, the profiles, duties and identities of the educators, the role of research, the foundations and ways of generating knowledge and the ways of sharing and spreading it.

Furthermore, this all takes place within a context in which distrust, belittling of others and incomprehension prevail in the relationships among the diverse participants involved: educators, trainers, researchers and also, why not, political administrators. Thus, we find ourselves in a situation in which research and education, far from forming a continuum, are split, taking place most of the time in separate worlds. Educators view researchers with mistrust, considering them to be theorists that are completely ignorant of reality in education. In turn, researchers underestimate education professionals as being unaware and incapable of including “scientific progress” in their activities. And, in the middle, political administrators tend to make their decisions without truly taking into account either of the other two groups.

In addition to this reality, we have a worldwide economic crisis situation that has a particular impact on the development and endeavours of educators and researchers, especially if we focus our attention on Global Citizenship and Global Development Education. The most obvious consequence is the separation between the two roles, as if they were unacquainted neighbours living in the same place.

We do not want to miss this opportunity to say that this split is having consequences that, in our opinion, are highly worrying: in recent years a certain “anti-Pedagogy” movement has been arising among educators and educational administrators that has also started to creep into the views of society in general. It is not that the academic world should not be held responsible for this, but, of course, we feel that nothing good can come from such a viewpoint in the future.

In sum, as indicated by the title of the editorial, academic research on and in Global Development Education (and education in general) must find and further develop formulas that make it possible to integrate the two roles, that of researcher and that of education, into the same reality/field: Global Development Education. In other words, we must spark the transformation and transition from an “Olympus” model of pure science free of contamination from practice, to create an “Agora” model of research done through and for actual education. We must begin to replace the solitary work done at the “academic summit” with the noise, the din and the dynamism of the marketplace in which the exchange of ideas, proposals and experiences give rise to social and global change.

We feel that in order for this transition to take place (or rather, to continue taking place) it is necessary to delve deeper into two essential issues:

• The first is in relation to the need to truly accept, acknowledge and contemplate the diversity of conceptual approaches on the generation of knowledge in Global Development Education.

• The second focuses on avoiding and replacing simplistic, mechanical and linear frameworks in the relationship between research and educational practice.

Regarding the first issue described, we shall take as the starting point the now classic recognition of different intellectual traditions on research and their interests and goals:

• The empirical analytical tradition, which focuses on research out of technical interest.

• The hermeneutical or symbolic tradition in which the interest in knowledge is practical in nature.

• The critical tradition which, based on a premise similar to the previous one, focuses the interest on the emancipatory nature of knowledge.

Even though traditionally, academic research has been associated with the first tradition, and rightfully so, it is worth noting that in recent years the other perspectives have gained ground in the university world. For some time now, work from phenomenological and critical viewpoints has been done at universities without any problems in a supplementary or alternative manner to more classical positivistic research. In fact, it is precisely in the educational field, and quite particularly in Global Development Education, where processes such as Action-Research and Participatory Action Research, among others, have taken root most strongly. This is certainly due to the need felt by educators to support innovative and reflective activities to enhance educational practice from within and transform it.

Thus, the most qualitative approaches that conduct research from a practical context, seeking preferably the meaning and transformation of reality, no longer appear as “unfamiliar elements” at universities and research institutions. The fact that the prevailing model used to define the funding and interest for and feasibility of research projects continues to draw from the sources of a more quantitative viewpoint, which seeks certainties than can be standardised and the accumulation of proven knowledge, is another story.

Therefore, an endeavour is made to progress in the recognition of the diverse ways we have of generating knowledge on and in the educational reality. An endeavour is made to seek the complementary nature of these approaches without establishing predominance, but demanding rigour and consistency in the ways that each one follows their theoretical proposals.

This pretension leads us to develop the second element that we must work on to facilitate the transition of academic research from Mount Olympus to the Agora: overcoming simplistic and linear frameworks in the relationships between educational practice and research. Traditionally, universities and research institutions approached these relationships following a classic and simple framework:


This is a system in which research is done (and knowledge produced), the results attained are published, applicable developments are generated and this ends up generating, quasi-automatically, good practices. The results of this model are familiar to all, creating a profound separation between the world in which research is supposed to be done and the context in which educational practice takes place. In fact, this split and ineffectiveness has become especially evident in the specific field of Development Education and Global Citizenship, due to both its educational contents and the contexts in which it acts and the institutions through which it acts, and finally, because of the transformation goals its proposes.

We must progress towards non-linear models, given that the relationships between the production and the use of knowledge are much more complex in education. We must progress towards more interactive models, models in which emphasis is placed on global interdependence, the fundamental processes of the system, mutual influences, transformational cooperation, experience and social and global transformation in search of critical and emancipatory education. And, above all, the diverse participants involved in the production, mediation and use of knowledge must be able to integrate these roles. In the end, the aim is for the borders between the users and the producers of knowledge to be anything but clear and precise, and for this blurring to increase. And the relationships created between all the participants who research, develop and act in the field of Global Education should be based on the importance of group work and the growing link to praxis (universities, non-profits, educational centres and the academic world) in this reality. A praxis focused on the field work of Development Education and Global Citizenship as a tool for global transformation and the generation of theoretical knowledge and new approaches and paradigms toward emancipatory education.

These networks, in turn, become synergies that foster encounters between the contexts and traditions of the diverse stakeholders that participate in educational processes for development and global citizenship. Spotlighting the fact that the aim is not to create institutional networks (although that too), but to learn to work as a network, in order to build hubs that strengthen the scope and meaning of the different activities in an open, creative, participatory and egalitarian manner.

Thus, we will be in a position to set up working and research models that are more flexible, contextualised and participatory. Models that are open to diverse ways of generating and transmitting knowledge that will enable us to know how to:

• situate ourselves and better understand the contexts of our activities

• help the groups we work with to better interpret and situate themselves in their realities

• act better and with more meaning in and with the territories and persons that are at the centre of the educational processes we are involved in

• empower citizens

• and, in sum, so that, together we can transform reality to make it more just, supportive and humane

This is the type of networks in which we define the project supported by this magazine. A project in which universities, educational centres, Non-Governmental Development Organisations and Popular Education Movements participate in an interdisciplinary and international fashion. A network that seeks to foster serious, high quality research through diverse theoretical and conceptual approaches to what it means to do research. A network that is a space for institutional stakeholders with things in common and great diversity deriving from cultural, linguistic and contextual differences. A space that requires its inhabitants to constantly question themselves in their interaction with others, thus building complex and tremendously generative syntheses through dialogue. A network that can discuss editorial quality indicators of a scientific magazine and impact indicators in the Journal Citation Report, just as easily as it can talk about practice standardisation processes as an exercise in producing critical knowledge through practice. A space in which we focus on depicting approaches and perspectives regarding pedagogical innovation and appropriate methodologies with Pure Research and Assessment and Standardisation processes.

The space formed by this type of network is a creatively constructive, innovative, dynamic and warm place. An AGORA in which research has an important role to play, beyond the cold summits of Mount Olympus.