Mod 4 Week 9 Initial Post

I had a powerful realisation during these five weeks of no continual discussion. The team work weeks are the time for doctoral skills development. The structure of the discussion weeks is gone, and there is the chance to relax OR to take the bull by the horns and use that time for real personal development. I did that. More anon.

This week we returned to a regular discussion. The theme was a complex one. There is a difference between academic and practitioner research. The Ed.D. is a professional doctorate and students are expected to conduct practitioner research for our thesis. This brings up so many issues; of workplace relationships, of academic discipline expectations, of relevant research types and so on. Our mandate was to think about what kind of research we see ourselves doing in the future (read: for the thesis). I’m changing my job in a few weeks and moving to a national university. This complicates what I could write this week. I hope that the post is self-explanatory.

On April 1, I begin a new position as a tenured associate professor at a national university in north Japan. In this remaining month, I can explore issues that will affect my future research and professional identities in the new faculty. The overriding consideration will be how to position myself inside the faculty [1]. That I should be a researcher is beyond question. Boyer makes the normative judgement that all members of a US faculty “should establish their credentials as researchers” (1990, p. 27, emphasis in original). Japanese faculties focus on research more and less on teaching than 13 other countries reported by Fukudome (2015). Furthermore, Arimoto (2015) identifies five features that characterise the Japanese [2] professor, including “the pursuit of scholarly productivity” (p. 2). These statements raise questions about the definitions of researcher and scholarly in general, and for me in particular in the new faculty, especially in light of Hogan, Dolan and Donnelly’s (2011) assertion that statistical approaches (which inform Fukudome’s and Arimoto’s arguments) hide critical details of organisational processes and mechanism.

There is, perhaps, an overall pressure to conform to the expectation that scholarship equals research and that research is more pure than applied. Many of the essays in Arimoto, Cummings, Huang and Shin’s (2015) study of academia in Japan point to this definition. As a foreigner, I am not sure how much I need to fit in, but I can say that, anecdotally, a foreign researcher in a local institution was advised to desist in his continuing activist research that included information that could be construed as attacks on his institution (Mulvey, personal communication). Questions remain whether this was a reaction against perceived negative publicity, or a symptom of a genuine internal schism, or an indication of the general Japanese tendency of conflict avoidance (Poole, 2010). If I am to undertake any activist research, I must first establish the cultural boundaries of acceptance in order to minimise tensions in my workplace (Drake, 2011). Taking the anecdote and Drake’s insight together, it seems likely that any non-purely academic research, i.e. any practitioner research that carries implications beyond my own immediate domain, will echo Drake’s observation that my “research can never be ‘clean’, ‘neutral’, ‘objective'” (p. 35).

A related issue that may prove troublesome is the notion of epistemological diversity (Pallas, 2001) and how that mediates academic tribal allegiances (Becher & Trowler, 2001) in relation to my ‘becoming’ in the faculty. Lee defines ‘becoming’ as “coming to know—and coming to be—a certain kind of authorised researcher identity” (Lee, 2011, p. 154). The keyword here is ‘authorised’. I need to find out who does the authorisation and what the parameters are. Different ‘tribes’ may feel threatened (Pallas, 2001) by the potential cultural clashes that I embody. As well as the obvious international culture difference, Bergquist and Pawlak (2008) describe six academic cultures. No doubt I have absorbed much academic culture from my present institution through participation in that community of practice (Pallas, 2001) which I identified as having a strong managerial tendency in Module 3. I can only assume the likelihood of the new faculty being different. Initially, however during my honeymoon stage, I expect to be seen as a ‘broker’ (Pallas, 2001), someone who bridges two academic cultures. However, there may be a normative force in the new faculty that impedes my sense of self-efficacy (Rhodes, 2013) as my newness fades.

Finally, I must record a possible tension between the needs of my doctoral identity on this course with the perception that Japanese academics engage in universal, public intellectual directed research. This Ed.D. is primarily a practitioner focussed professional doctorate. How this influences my future research plans is something to wait for.


Arimoto, A., Cummings, W. K., Huang, F., & Shin, J. C. (2015). The Changing Academic Profession in Japan. Cham: Springer.

Becher, T., & Trowler, P. R. (2001). Academic disciplines. In Academic tribes and territories: intellectual enquiry and the culture of disciplines (pp. 41–57). Buckingham: Open University Press.

Bergquist, W. H., & Pawlak, K. (2008). Engaging the Six Cultures of the Academy. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered. New York: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Drake, P. (2011). Approaching Grounded Methodology. In Practitioner research at doctoral level: Developing coherent research methodologies (pp. 33–46).

Fukudome, H. (2015). Teaching and Research in the Academic Profession: Nexus and Conflict. In A. Arimoto, W. K. Cummings, F. Huang, & J. C. Shin (Eds.), The Changing Academic Profession in Japan (pp. 169–183). Cham: Springer.

Hogan, J., Dolan, P., & Donnelly, P. (2011). Approaches to Qualitative Research: Theory and Its Practical Application – A Guide for Dissertation Students. Cork: Oak Tree Press.

Lee, A. (2011). Professional Practice and Doctoral Education: Becoming a Researcher. In L. Scanlon (Ed.), Professional Practice and Doctoral Education: Becoming a Researcher (pp. 153–169). Dordrecht: Springer.

Pallas, A. M. (2001). Preparing Education Doctoral Students for Epistemological Diversity. Educational Researcher, 30(5), 1–6.

Poole, G. S. (2010). The Japanese Professor: An Ethnography of a University Faculty. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Rhodes, C. (2013). The Transformation of Educational Practitioners into Educational Researchers: A View Through a Different Lens. International Studies in Educational Administration (Commonwealth Council For Educational Administration & Management (CCEAM)), 41(3), 3–19.

[1] The term ‘faculty’ has different connotations around the world. In Japan (as in the UK), ‘faculty’ refers to a structured organisation of teaching staff above the individual department level and below the college, or school, level. I present the following table to avoid any confusion in terminology.


Faculty 1

Faculty 2

Faculty 3

Faculty Dean

Faculty Dean

Faculty Dean

Department 1 Department 2 Department 1 Department 2 Department 1 Department 2
Department Head Department Head Department Head Department Head Department Head Department Head
Staff members Staff members Staff members Staff members Staff members Staff members
Table 1. Typical Japanese university organisational chart

[2] I use ‘Japanese’ to refer to any nationality working within the Japanese professoriate, although Arimoto’s scope is unclear.

About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a national university.
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