Higher Education

, Volume 33, Issue 2, pp 195–212 | Cite as

Deconstructing deep and surface: Towards a critique of phenomenography

  • Graham Webb


The notion of 'deep' and 'surface' approaches to learning is critiquedalong with phenomenography, the associated methodology and theory ofknowledge. A number of reasons are suggested to explain why the deep/surfacenotion has attained what is tantamount to foundational status within highereducation research, practice and development. These include its ability toboth cohere with the past while at the same time enabling a new generation ofresearchers to rise within the discourse; the contemporaneous growth ofeducational development centres and staff developers within higher educationinstitutions; the simplicity, universality and power of the metaphor.

Some elements of a critique of phenomenography are suggested followingboth postmodern and philosophy of science objections regarding theobservational and interpretive neutrality of the researcher. These point tothe importance of the understandings of researchers in the construction ofresults. It is also suggested that the 'qualitative' nat ure of the researchis undeveloped and does not exhibit the hermeneutical values usuallyassociated with 'human' as opposed to positivist science.

The idea of deconstruction is then introduced and the deep/surfacemetaphor discussed in terms of the post-structural critique of binaries.Finally, the question of power within the higher education developmentdiscourse is raised.


High Education Science Objection Development Centre Positivist Science Foundational Status 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Graham Webb
    • 1
  1. 1.Higher Education Development CentreUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand

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