The relation between academics' epistemic stances and culture

Kathryn Bartimote Aufflick

PhD thesis, conferred 2016

In this thesis the relationships between epistemic stance and culture are examined. Epistemic stance is the personal theory one holds in relation to knowledge and knowing, and represents an integrated system of beliefs in relation to several important issues in epistemology.

Stance was studied as an unordered categorical variable, assuming all stances hold equal merit. The framing of the study and the methodology were informed by critical realist ideas. This added to the richness of this quantitative exploration of potentially formative cultural communities and experiences for academics. The relationship between the epistemic stances of academics and a range of sociocultural factors was explored via a person-centred analysis approach, using data collected via a survey developed for the study.

Complete responses were received from 462 academic staff members and PhD students from four large research-intensive Australian universities across eight disciplines. The results indicate that the family, religious groups, disciplinary communities, organizational structures (e.g. university departments and institutions), and university courses are all potentially formative environments for academics’ epistemic stances. Further, some experiences of remaining or moving between cultural communities seem important, as do experiences of continuity within one cultural community versus experiences of multiplicity. Discipline had the closest linkage with epistemic stance, followed by family and religion. An academic’s current discipline was shown to be important, but also previous disciplines they had taught or researched in, as well as their undergraduate major area. Only three out of the eight disciplines studied here were dominated by one particular stance. The limitations and affordances of taking a critical realist stance in this thesis are discussed, along with an elaboration on the key findings. In particular, it is noted that when considering groupings of academics we need to go beyond disciplinary boundaries. It is proposed that epistemic stances themselves provide potentially useful groupings, and could be seen as untapped and disconnected cultural communities.

Supervisor: Professor Angela Brew