This paper presents findings from a multi-case study of social studies educators which focused on the impact of institutional requirements on social studies teaching as phronesis. The concept of phronesis, or practical wisdom of human values, occupies a central space in this study, acting as both the theoretical and methodological framework. As a theoretical framework, Aristotle’s articulation of phronesis, and its distinction from the intellectual states of episteme and techne, guided the development of research questions and acted as an entry point for analysis of participant data concerning the impact of school-based requirements on social studies teaching. As a methodological framework, this study is grounded in Flyvbjerg’s (2001) argument for a “phronetic social science,” which envisions social science work as contributing to dialogue about human values, rather than a vain attempt of strict prediction and explanation. I merge these considerations with the value and utility of qualitative case study, which functions as the study design. Based on this framing, I sought to gain an in-depth understanding of the role that schools play in the development or control of teacher’s practical wisdom and socially-minded educational goals. Answers to this question are discussed through the examination of four different cases of social studies teachers from Alabama. Through a thematic analysis of qualitative data, I illustrate that institutional teaching requirements largely constrained “phronetic” possibilities for social studies education. The major findings indicate that, rather than supporting professional teacher judgments and fostering socially conscious goals, school-based requirements pushed participants to implement technical pedagogies in order to meet pre-determined outcomes. I conclude with a discussion that critically evaluates the nature of contemporary educational reform and considers the place of social studies in this climate.


Phronesis, Episteme, Techne, Phronetic Social Science, Case Study

Author Bio(s)

Dr. Austin Pickup is an assistant professor in the Doctor of Education in Leadership, Curriculum & Instruction, and Adult Learning program at Aurora University. He holds a Ph.D. in Educational Research and an M.A. in Secondary Education from The University of Alabama. His research interests focus broadly on philosophy of education, philosophy of science, critical research methodologies, and social studies education. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: apickup@aurora.edu.

Publication Date


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.





To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.