Revisiting the use of Statement Archaeology in practice

Building on these questions relating to the theoretical framework, a number of important questions have been posed that might enter the minds of those considering how this approach would be helpfully applied in their own work. Here I will deal with the four questions most frequently posed.

Balancing the three criteria

How much balance should there be between the criteria of formation, transformation and correlation? There is no ‘correct’ balance between the three criteria. Here, for example, the most detailed section in Chapters 2 and 5 is on Transformation, whereas in Chapters 3 and 4 it is the Correlation section. The relative balance between sections will depend on the journey resulting from exploring the statement under scrutiny and will be guided by the answers to questions asked throughout the process (although it is often the case that the Formation section is the shortest). The important thing here is to focus on exploring the key questions for each criterion in sufficient depth to be able to answer them robustly and, ultimately, to be able to find answers to the question ‘how did x become possible?’

What is perhaps more essential than the question of balance here is the question of sequence. It is imperative that the three criteria arc examined in the order that the method sets out. Before considering the novelty and or programmatic nature of the statement, the researcher must be clear about the circumstances of its production. Comprehending the rules under which a statement was produced is vital in then exploring the nature of that statement, both its originality and also the degree to which it can be considered programmatic. Similarly, these parameters need to be well understood before a comprehensive exploration of how the statement relates to others within and beyond its own domain of discourse.

Using multiple starting points

The guidance in Chapter 1 says that you should identify one starting point, but in one chapter there are two! How many is too many? The general rule is that Statement Archaeology is undertaken from one starting point at a time. Chapters 2, 3, and 4 each take one statement as their starting point. However, Chapter 5 does indeed take two. The attentive reader will have noticed a number of things. Firstly, both starting points are taken from the Education Reform Act, 1988; secondly, the two statements arc both significant in terms of the specific question that Chapter 5 explores (How the did the very particular relationship between RE and the National Curriculum (expressed in Statement Four), and how did the prescription of the content of RE was included in the legal framework (expressed in Statement Five) become possible?). This exemplifies the possibility for some ‘how did x become possible’ type questions to become complex and multifaceted.

Further, the attentive reader will notice that in Chapter 5, there is not a single ‘Statement Archaeology’ carried out on both statements at the same time. Because the two starting points originate from the same source, there is a common criteria of formation, for example, but where the tracing of the statements diverges, the narrative follows each in turn and makes it clear which statement is being considered. Chapter 5, therefore, is better characterized as having two parallel ‘Statement Archaeologies’ within the same chapter; this is a deliberate choice by the author to demonstrate that this can be a legitimate practice.

Which avenues of investigation to follow?

Whilst the selection of ‘starting points’ has been discussed in Chapter 1 and augmented in the previous few paragraphs, there are also questions about which other sources to consider, whether in exploring the criteria of formation (where, when, by whom a statement was made), the criteria of transformation (especially when exploring the origin of a statement), and also when considering the criteria of correlation (comparing the statement with others within and beyond its own domain of discourse).

In the guidance offered on the use of Statement Archaeology' in Chapter 1, I set out Foucault’s suggestion that the researcher should ‘try to determine in advance which are the most representative elements’ by reading, as tar as possible, everything available for the domain of discourse under scrutiny. I also provided his counterpoint that this requirement is balanced with the ‘establishment of a principle of choice’; Foucault suggests that ‘sampling a coherent and homogenous corpora of documents’ can be legitimate, providing there is openness about the sampling approach employed.45 (Note, however, that one aspect of this ‘legitimacy’ is that the sources need to be relevant-, in the consideration of the criteria of transformation, one would not look for correlations with completely unrelated discourses—unless, of course, there was a good reason to.) Thus, the question of which material to use is answered in part by insisting on an openness of the approach employed. As the reader will see in some chapters here, an explanation of why a certain body of material has been considered for comparison or elucidation has been included. For example, in Chapters 2 and 5 it is explained that when considering statements appearing in legislation, the most sensible starting point is the Bill that led to the specific Law in question.

When explorers set out to find the source of a newly identified river, for example, they might start their expedition at the sea. As they sail upstream,

Applying Statement Archaeology 163 they are faced with numerous choices; each time the river forks, they must decide which path to follow. Sometimes this is easy; a tiny tributary meeting the main river will most likely not reveal the source of the main river, so it can be noted, but not followed. At other times the decision might be harder and a major tributary may be followed upstream for a while. Different explorers therefore might make different—albeit equally well-intentioned—decisions, leading to different conclusions and assertions over the ‘real’ source of a river. As we see, these kinds of explorations can lead to contentious discoveries; for example, there is no agreement on where the true source of the River Nile is located.

The material point here is that such evaluations are actively made each time. Even if taking exactly the same starting point, two researchers might legitimately trace different routes of transmission of an idea, identify different relative beginnings and, therefore, determine different moments of differentiation of new practices. This will be discussed more fully in the next section.

Interpretation of artefacts

In terms of how to appropriately and transparently interpret the findings resulting from Statement Archaeology, we turn back to the practice described by Foucault. He suggests that the objects of study should not be interpreted at all but should be treated as an archaeologist treats a monument, with the primary focus being on the configuration of the site in which the specific ‘monument’ is found (this is why such importance is placed on the criteria of formation in this approach).46 As asserted in Chapter 6, it is from the assessment and comparison of the archaeological slices exposed by the method that the broader story can be told. Therefore, the question of how to accurately analyse statements is perhaps better considered in terms of how to rigorously describe statements and the ways in which they are generated, taken up, repeated, marginalized, adapted, and normalized in the quest to answer the ‘how did x become possible?’

This also underlines the importance of transparency over the interpretative frameworks used in the discussion of the artefacts unearthed. Throughout this volume, I have used the Foucaultian lens of ‘Normalization’, together with the notions of Indoctrination, Ideology, and Instrumentalization as frameworks of interpretation. Where these have been introduced, they have been explained and their choice justified. Other frameworks could have been used. When the project began, it was set within an interpretative framework based on Louis Althusser’s Ideological State Apparatus.47 However, this lens was found to be inadequate on the basis that it had a number of significant weaknesses in relation to comprehensions of‘the state’ and ‘education’, and in its failure to deal with the issue of individual agency.48 Specifically, this framework pays no attention to the potential for resistance or rebellion, yet—as seen in Chapters 3, 4, and 6—this issue is of great importance in the historiography of English Religious Education.

Fundamental to this emphasis on description and (picking up the thread from the previous section) the multiple possible routes from any given starting point is the recognition that for many (possibly even most) questions about ‘how x became possible' there is not one single ‘correct’ answer. Adele Clarke, for example, asserts that ‘there is no one right reading. All readings are temporary, partial, provisional, and perspcctival—themselves situated historically and geographically’.49 As Clarke points out, the ‘empirical world’ is characterized by ‘inconsistencies, irregularities, and downright messiness’; our role is to embrace this, not to ‘scrub it clean and dress it up for the special occasion of a presentation or publication’.50 Thus, the narratives unearthed through the use of Statement Archaeology need to be presented with a degree of provisionality, perhaps even humility. Whilst the rigour and relentlessly forensic approach of the method means that those things unearthed are valid and can contribute to an ever more detailed understanding of how things became possible, they are not the final word. As Foucault said, ‘I don’t write a book so that it will be the final word; I write a book so that other books are possible, not necessarily written by me’.51

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