#p Appendix B : off-shoots
Six off-shoots are described here. The seventh, concerning reflection, is covered in chapter 7 and refers to the accompanying article "On reflection" reproduced in appendix C. The rationale for including these "diversions" is described elsewhere.
Initially I was attracted to various "scientific" designs, but gradually became more confident in moving away from this mode of thinking.
Action research offered a starting point but my emphasis on what I thought of as "mess" took me, I felt, too far beyond its prescriptions.
Chaos and circular epistemology were of little use in developing methods but helped to reinforce decision making on when to abandon topics.
Interviewing psychologists could have been a productive line of inquiry, particularly for practice related issues such as in exercising discretion over when to initiate casework.
Schönís reflection-in-action offered some initial, tentative ideas for a model for the method of the project. In my reading of Schön, however, employing reflection-in-action requires the knowledge of an expert professional in order to "see as", to mould the situation to known examples; and then to evaluate the "back talk" from attempts to intervene, in the light of previous experience. In my casework practice I could do that. In my research, I could not.
Off-shoot 1 : a "scientific" investigation of practice.
Diary entries from the early days of the project record my imaginings of a neat design, influenced strongly I suspect by my psychology background. Several variations came to mind. One fantasy I had was to somehow recruit a friendly psychiatrist, psychotherapist and social worker and split a number of referrals between us to compare the
#[p242] "effectiveness" of our different approaches to children with emotional and behavioural difficulties.
I abandoned that rather impractical scheme, but not the "scientific" thinking behind it. I realised it would be ludicrous to attempt to compare effectiveness by using different approaches myself. I could compare the use of green manures with chemical fertilisers on my allotment, a classic design, but it would be at the very least dishonest to pretend that I could deploy different approaches to parents, in a kind of randomised controlled trial. However, this kind of science-based thinking later surfaced in a plan to compare families, drawing on attribution theory to generate a hypothesis.
The, to me, superficially reasonable idea was that parents who were "closed minded", with fixed and limited attributions for the causes of their childrenís problems, would show less change in approach, and the children show less change in their behaviour, than parents with fluid, varying, perhaps self-questioning attributions. I even went some way initially towards collecting evidence of parentsí views and factors such as age, social background and occupation which might have some bearing on the matter; drew up a complex coding form; and spent several months diligently filling these in, with the plan of subjecting it all to some gigantic statistical analysis.
Eventually I rather reluctantly jettisoned these ideas (I quite enjoy statistics) as I began to move further and further away from my notion of a "scientific method" and began to search, blindly, for a new "mind set": "[p]rogress is made by the almost deliberate casting off of existing knowledge" (Thomas 1998 p.152). However, part of my initial motivation in seeking a qualitative approach was somewhat banal: I just wanted something different. I did not want to tread the same familiar path of quantitative methods. It was only much later that I came to value the creative potential of, and enormous effort involved in, "unlearning".
Off-shoot 2 : action research.
#[p243] The action research community provided me with a very tolerant way-station as I wrestled with methodology. In part the study is a kind of action research as I examine and change some aspects of practice. I am sure, however, my eventual thinking departs too far from their principles to count as action research. My colleague, Tina Cook, can readily support a concept of "mess". Recounting our focus group discussions (see Cook 1998 for details of its make up) she explains how "we did not have the words to explain" (Cook 1998 p.105):
Tina describes how she feels her action research can accommodate "mess":
#[p244] Off-shoots 3 and 4 : Chaos and circular epistemology. 
I will only mention these here only very briefly as illustration of deviations which were not very fruitful.
Off-shoot 3: Some writing in the field of chaos, as I understand it, raises the image of systems circulating around two alternative final states, never repeating the same path (see Gleick 1987 p.140 on "attractors"). My research seemed to flip between the "scientific" and the "non-scientific" and I seemingly endlessly cycled around these two poles, modifying my course and my ideas of both, at the same time.
Another pleasing image was that of "self-similarity" - the way in which, if I have it correctly, many irregular shapes or systems resemble themselves in terms of irregularity at what ever level of "magnification", such as clouds, coastlines, changes in stock prices, electrical noise, river floods (see Gleick 1987 chapter 4). I could draw a parallel with the current research - in broad terms the messy method could be applied at many levels: to studying a difficult article, a book, a part of my practice, a mini-project such as identity or the whole thesis.
While both pictures, attractors and self-similarity, were pleasing, I realised my knowledge of chaos was very shallow as I began to read round and look at applications of chaos in other fields. I abandoned further work on these as outside my field of competence and leading to more problems, not fewer (see chapter 7).
Off-shoot 4: Attention seeking, as described in chapter 3, can in some ways best be understood by replacing notions of linear causation with those of circular causation. That is both its strength (in providing a powerful model for change) and its weakness (in the difficulties of weaning others way from the linear causation of much everyday thinking). Circular processes have been a mainstay of some approaches to family therapy and once exposed to this way of thinking, like Hoffman, a celebrated writer in the field, it is easy to begin seeing circular interactions everywhere "I only saw circles, timeless circles" (Hoffman 1990 p.2).
#[p245] There seemed to be circular processes at the heart of attention seeking; reflection-in-action (see later in this appendix); "double fitting" (see chapter 8); and science ( "the logic of science is necessarily circular" Hesse 1980 p.173; science is "essentially circular" Carr 1987 p. 59). I began to see circles everywhere and tried to develop an article on "circular epistemology". But I quickly realised my knowledge of epistemology was not up to the task and abandoned the effort. However, my early attempts to explain circular causation seemed to "strike a chord" with my critical friend, Ann:
Off-shoot 5: interviewing psychologists.
During 1994 and 1995 I collected a series of questions to ask psychologists, with some intention, I recall, of thereby improving my practice and perhaps making these interviews an integral part of the project. The questions (recorded as part of my diary notes) were, for example:
"How do you use [test] materials in a non-standard way" (18.10.95)
"How do you protect time for therapy?" (16.11.95).
"What is the most effective change you ever made to a child yourself?" (20.3.94); "What do you base your ideas on when giving advice to teachers, parents etc." (Ann F. had said all her advice came from her teaching experience, not the psychology 17.11.94)
"What are the barriers to getting teachers to change their approach? (21.2.95)
"What about Ďhopelessí cases?"( 4.2.95)
"How do you go about deciding whether to Ďget stuck iní or not?" (6.2.95)
#[p246] One colleague, Lois T., agreed to be interviewed. This revealed
her uncertainties about the job, which re-assured me about mine (although
as she was leaving the post, she may not have been a good example). The
extract below is taken from some way into the interview. It centres on
decisions when to get involved or not in cases, and has resonance for me
in my own work. I return to this point in chapter 10. The interview has
not been subjected to the kind of "analysis" or "making sense" of the diary
notes, as it is not the main data source. I have simply picked out what
seemed to be the relevant point, concerning decision making.
Nigel: I'm interested in how psychologists make the decision to become involved with a particular case. Not so much what you do when you get involved, or not so much how you stop getting involved at the end, but how you go about deciding to get involved and how much flexibility. Do you have any choice? What do you take into account when you make the choice, is the problem clear? Just tell me a little bit about how you go about getting involved and making a decision.
Lois : I think it's probably very fuzzy and unsystematic. I think I do have quite a bit of choice but not complete choice. Just an example of how I do have choice -I've decided that I probably wasn't going to do any in-depth counselling with teenagers because I felt my skills were too rusty after being [away] for three years and a lot of the problems that they give me, I just felt that if I was getting into really heavy family problems with teenagers. I would just feel a bit scared and out of my depth and worried about getting involved with that and I'm a bit worried about the way we do counselling without having other people to talk about it to and semi-supervision. I don't think it's very healthy for us to be doing it like that without anybody else that we're sharing our cases with. So I more or less decided I wouldn't do that, more from a confidence point of view than anything else
Then along came a case of a girl who had had some pretty hairy problems ... I somehow decided actually this is somebody that I'd quite like to support ... So that was a totally unsystematic and idiosyncratic, deciding to be involved with somebody because I just wanted to be involved with that particular kind of case. (22.3.95 interview extract)
... Have I got the right to choose? ... all year long Iím compromising and choosing - where to work, which school/ child to work on, what to specialise in, when a report is "good enough" etc. Should I just be a "taxi rank"? ... social services have protected case loads, we donít. (2.2.95 9.00 in bath)
Off-shoot 6 : reflection-in-action.
#[p248] I will spend some time on this off-shoot, as it was an important formative influence. While searching for a convenient method of research, I spent some time looking at grounded theory approaches. These seemed to offer a reliable, valid, systematic way of dealing with data but I began to question them. The first warning bells were sounded quite early on when I came upon Altrichter and Poschís (1989) critique, particularly their comment that, contrary to suggestions that grounded theory researchers should begin without fixed pre-conceptions, insiders could not (later reading, e.g. Melia (1996) on arguments between Glaser and Strauss continued to reinforce my doubts):
Schön argues that there is an awareness of the complexity of situations and "[m]anagers ... manage messes" (Schön 1983 p.16). Nevertheless, some managers display skills in dealing with these but "they have no satisfactory way of describing or accounting for [their] artful competence" (ibid p.19). He argues that the dominant view of professional knowledge is Technical Rationality i.e. "the application of scientific theory and techniques to ... problems of practice" (ibid p.30). Technical Rationality, however, according to Schön, describes the process of problem solving but not the process of "problem setting" (ibid p.40 emphasis in original). To construct a problem from its surrounding "mess" requires "a certain kind of work" (ibid p.40).
When dealing with these situations, Schön claims, professionals speak of "experience, trial and error, intuition, and muddling through" (ibid p.43). However, their skilful #[p249] actions reveal "knowing more than [they] can say" (ibid p. 51). The professional has tacit knowledge (Polanyi 1958) : " the workaday life of the professional depends on tacit knowing-in-action " (Schön 1983 p 49).
Much practice is carried out routinely. When, however, the relatively smooth flowing of every day action is interrupted, the practitioner (Schön explores these patterns in a number of profession) must switch to another mode of thought : reflection-in-action. This is very different from the process of reflection as commonly understood (which Schön confusingly labels reflection-on-action): the process of looking back over oneís work some time after the events in question.
A. The structure of reflection -in -action.
During reflection-in-action the practitioner adopts a kind of quasi-experimental approach which Schön describes as " a reflective conversation with a unique and uncertain situation" (ibid p.130). This process, which differs in many ways from a conventional "scientific" inquiry includes three stages: (a) Naming and Framing (b) Frame experiment and (c) Holistic evaluation.
(a) Naming and Framing.
This is the process of "problem setting" where "interactively we name the things to which we will attend and frame the context in which we will attend to them" (Schön, 1983 p.40, emphasis in original). As Schön explains, when "there is a problem in finding the problem he (sic) must Ďreframeí " the situation (ibid p.129).
(b) Frame experiment.
This involves a mini-experiment, testing out the definition of the problem while listening to the situation's "back talk" : the unintended effects of action (ibid p.79). The practitioner acts within the framework newly created but watches out for the consequences of this experiment. The situation, however, is not static, it "becomes #[p250] understood through the attempt to change it and changed through the attempt to understand it" (ibid p.132).
Not all the changes are as anticipated - the situation "talks back" (ibid p.131) through these unintended changes. The practitioner must not behave in a rigid way, clinging onto the initial conception, he or she must simultaneously work within the frame and listen to the back talk. As Schön describes it, we must maintain "double vision" (ibid p.164).
B. Reflection-in-action, technical rationality and day-to-day practice.
This somewhat circular process of reflection-in-action stands in contrast to a more conventional view of the approach of an "objective scientist":
In a practitioner's reflective conversation with a situation [however]... he (sic) shapes it and makes himself a part of it (ibid p.163)
He (sic) sees [the unique] situation as something already present in his repertoire (ibid p.138 emphasis in original).
The practitioner makes his hypothesis come true (ibid p.149).
They seek to make the situation conform to their hypothesis but remain open to the possibility that it may not (ibid p.150).
The phenomena that he (sic) seeks to understand are partly of his own making (ibid p.151).
he (sic) shapes it and makes himself a part of it (ibid p.163)
...the restructured material lends itself to the kind of intervention that the practitioner is good at undertaking (ibid p.318).
C. Some critical comments on reflection-in- action
Eraut (1994) outlines the difficulties arising from the phrase "reflection-in-action" in Schön's work, and centres these on the term reflection: "it has caused nothing but #[p252] confusion" (p.148). Criticism of Schön from a number of perspectives has also been raised e.g. for lacking consideration of a critical dimension (Thompson 1995, Carr 1995); being conservative/ not radical (Fish 1989, McFee 1993); not distinguishing between knowing -in-action and reflecting-in-action (Brown and McIntyre 1993); being reactive rather than proactive (Brubacher et al 1994); implying the automatic development of reflective skills in experienced professionals (Rudduck 1992); lacking empirical investigation (Munby and Russell 1989); not considering the role of emotions (Dadds 1993); underestimating the complexity of professional life and its embededness in a political arena (Hart 1995, Newman 1996) and lacking a collaborative dimension (Converey 1998, Hart 1995).
The important point that I feel may be missed by some of Schön's critics, however, is that reflection-in-action is, to my mind, a specialised routine which experienced professionals can apply. In my reading of Schön (as outlined earlier), the practitioners initially fashion situations to fit their preferred ways of working - the ways they are experienced in and most comfortable with. "Back talk" will then either confirm or refute the stance. Although Munby and Russell (1989) for instance find no evidence of these "expert" routines in their research with new teachers, perhaps in this instance they were simply looking in the wrong place.
However, this point about the "expert" dimension was relevant to the project in another way. Altrichter and Posch (1989) complete their article by advocating reflection-in-action as a model for inquiry. Whatever other criticisms could be lodged against this suggestion, from my reading of Schön it posed for me one major problem as researcher: at that stage I was a novice researcher, I had no familiar routines to fall back on. I could not "see as and do as". I had no preferred lines of investigation with which to experiment in a "reflective conversation" with the troubling (research) setting. I thus felt I could not develop reflection-in-action as my research method. I had to move on. My diary at quite an early stage emphasises this predicament:
2. I donít have a framework for analysing practice [choices] e.g. if I wanted to [select]... different approaches to a problem (like for instance the Eric Harvey approach or a Freudian approach or a rational emotive approach or counselling approach or whatever). I donít have the framework to decide how to tackle the problems that choices of approaches brings up. Perhaps the person to do this would be [for example] a very experienced psychologist who had got into lots of different approaches, if such a person existed i.e. something like a professional practice consultant [they could apply reflection-in-action to this problem of the choice of method].
3. The third level is having a framework for analysing problems of research i.e. answering questions about "how is my practice to be researched?" and [ideally I need] to be able to see that within a framework [where] I know how to go about the business of solving research problems i.e. as a professional researcher. Such a person would have a framework for analysing research problems and then could apply Schönís method [to the current problem. I could not]. (1.10.94 emphasis added)
 My latest position on such a hypothesis would
be to see a number of possibilities, one being that a matrix of half understood,
"confused" beliefs may actually be as resistant to change as one clear
position, see discussion in chapter 3. I do not pursue this line of inquiry,
The term circular epistemology appears to have evolved in the field of family therapy, drawing on the work of Gregory Bateson. For a fuller description see Gurman et al (1986). Other writers decry its use, seeing the phrase as part of the "semantic pollution" (Bogdan 1987) of the field; and seeing epistemology as being used in unconventional ways in family therapy (Held and Pols 1985). As I do not develop the idea, I will not expand on this debate, and stress again that the discussion touched on here is not part of the arguments of the thesis.[BACK]
 Schönís later work on "Educating the Reflective Practitioner" (1987) in part appears to confirm this reading, but does not emphasise the point in the way I have taken it here. In this later book he focuses mainly on students. These display a range of capabilities from novices with little skill in the professional field, and little associated ability to reflect-in-action, to quite competent "students" taking master classes who can both perform and reflect-in-action well.[BACK]
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