This chapter describes a case study of a social change project in medical education (primary care), in which the critical interpretive evaluation methodology I sought to use came up against the “positivist” approach preferred by senior figures in the medical school who commissioned the evaluation.
I describe the background to the study and justify the evaluation approach and methods employed in the case study – drawing on interviews, document analysis, survey research, participant observation, literature reviews, and critical incidents – one of which was the decision by the medical school hierarchy to restrict my contact with the lay community in my official evaluation duties. The use of critical ethnography also embraced wider questions about circuits of power and the social and political contexts within which the “social change” effort occurred.
Central to my analysis is John Gaventa’s theory of power as “the internalization of values that inhibit consciousness and participation while encouraging powerlessness and dependency.” Gaventa argued, essentially, that the evocation of power has as much to do with preventing decisions as with bringing them about. My chosen case illustrated all three dimensions of power that Gaventa originally uncovered in his portrait of self-interested Appalachian coal mine owners: (1) communities were largely excluded from decision making power; (2) issues were avoided or suppressed; and (3) the interests of the oppressed went largely unrecognized.
The account is auto-ethnographic, hence the study is limited by my abilities, biases, and subject positions. I reflect on these in the chapter.
The study not only illustrates the unique contribution of case study as a research methodology but also its low status in the positivist paradigm adhered to by many doctors. Indeed, the tension between the potential of case study to illuminate the complexities of community engagement through thick description and the rejection of this very method as inherently “flawed” suggests that medical education may be doomed to its neoliberal fate for some time to come.
McKenna, B. (2015), "The Collapse of “Primary Care” in Medical Education: A Case Study of Michigan’s
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