Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Kenneth R. Howe

Second Advisor

Daniel P. Liston

Third Advisor

Michele S. Moses

Fourth Advisor

Terri S. Wilson

Fifth Advisor

Janice Peck


This dissertation comprises three independent but related papers (chapters 2-4), framed by an introduction (chapter 1) and a conclusion (chapter 5). The main theme of the work is that democracy should be seen as foundational to – prior to – education research. Drawing on pragmatism and feminist philosophy of science, I make the case that democracy is threaded into the constitutive fabric of good education research and, indeed, of good social science in general. The benefits of democratic values for education research are at once ethical and epistemic. Education research suffers when it is not thoroughly permeated by democratic values. But many education researchers continue to neglect the epistemic significance of democracy for education research. They chase after “pure” education research, insulated from moral and political values, to set education research on absolute foundations. I contend that the hunt for pure education research should be abandoned once and for all: it is unattainable, grounded in a fatally flawed conception of social science, and would prove, in any case, undesirable in democratic society. I argue that neoliberalism, in particular, has powerfully incentivized the quest for pure education research, pushing many education researchers to adopt a prestigious but wrong-headed and anti-democratic model of social science.