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Copyright Nigel Mellor
From exploring practice to exploring inquiry:

a practitioner researcherís experience.

Nigel Jeffrey Mellor

A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment

of the requirements of the

University of Northumbria at Newcastle

for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.

April 1999

From exploring practice to exploring inquiry: a practitioner researcherís experience.


This thesis is concerned with my experiences as a full-time educational psychologist, engaged initially in an examination of practice which gradually transformed into an examination of the research process itself. It is offered as a contribution to the field of practitioner research methods.

The project was triggered by my enthusiasm for a particular approach to working with families of children referred for emotional and behavioural difficulties. The first part of the account sets this work in its personal and professional context and includes both published material and material in preparation, as illustration.

The second part focuses on efforts to develop a research method. The exploration draws on diaries kept in a systematic manner during a six year period, recording my activities and my reflections on these. The diaries provide the main data for the study. The project and its methods evolved during this time as I sought to understand my own research processes. I describe an unfolding inquiry which is likened to the growth of a banyan tree.

The third part of the thesis describes further refinement of the research method as it is applied to two topics: identity and making sense. A number of identities are claimed and tensions between these are held to shape the research path. Some of these identities are already existing or uncovered during the research; others, such as practitioner researcher are newly emergent.

The complex process of inquiry, involving a wide range of techniques, is called "messy method", where messy is taken to mean difficult, not careless. It involves a cyclical form of analysis or " making sense" of the data and a process of reaching platforms of understanding as I interact with the literature and my own data.

#[piii] During the project I follow many side issues, what I call "off-shoots". An account of such diversions I argue adds to the "strength" of the work, where strength is seen as an alternative term to validity.

The final part of the work includes some critique of the process and a drawing out of three main aspects of practitioner research from this experience: the importance of mess, values and communication.


I am extremely grateful to Colin Biott and Sandy Wolfson of the University of Northumbria. They brought the creative tension of contrasting perspectives to the study, and gave unfailing support. Without them I would not have found a path.

Thanks is also due to an extensive circle of friends, relatives, counsellors and colleagues, academic and professional, without whose constant emotional and intellectual input I would not have been able to meet the immense challenge this work presented me.

Finally, I would like to record in particular the constant encouragement of my partner Mary and the tolerance of my children Kate and Joe.



PART 1: Concerning myself and my practice.

Chapter 1. A story of myself. p. 12

Chapter 2. On practice. p. 24

Chapter 3. The Eric Harvey approach and attention seeking p. 34

PART 2: Evolving a method.

Chapter 4. Method before the paper "Notes from a method" p. 49

Part I: the beginnings.

Chapter 5. Method before the paper "Notes from a method" p. 72

Part II: additional issues.

Chapter 6. Notes from a method. p. 90

PART 3: Refining the method.

Chapter 7. Off-shoots. p. 111

Chapter 8. A mini-project: making sense. p. 118

Chapter 9. A mini-project around identity. p. 148

Chapter 10. Identity and research. p. 170

Chapter 11. Method after the paper "Notes from a method". p. 190

PART 4: Concluding thoughts.

Chapter 12. reflections on the project. p. 223

Postscript. p. 236


Appendix A. p. 240

Appendix B. p. 241

Appendix C. p. 255

Appendix D. p. 271


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