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Chapter Nine

#[p170] Chapter 10. Identity and research.

Chapter 9 outlined my efforts around carrying out a mini-project to investigate identity and its relationship with research. In this chapter I extract certain aspects of the results of that inquiry: I lay claim to, and illustrate, a number of identities. I also argue that the tensions between these identities helped shape the project. However, a wide range of questions is raised by these apparently simple assertions and some exploration of these questions concludes the discussion.

The first four sections below describe the tensions apparently arising from different sub-groupings of the collection of eight identities claimed. A number of these have their roots in the autobiographical account earlier, such as "unconfident middle class with working class origins", others are of more recent origin, such as "researcher", again others have been, in a way, re-discovered, such as "scientist". Section five covers some more minor aspects. Section six turns to the problematic issues which this work raises.

I adapt as a working definition of identity, Hogg & Abrams’ (1988) description. Their approach is seated in a particular theoretical position of the psychological development of individuals within groups, however, I feel their offering is succinct enough, yet appears broad enough in application, to meet most needs as a starting point (issues around definition are discussed later)

people’s [many and very varied] concepts of who they are, of what sort of people they are, and how they relate to others (ibid p.2, phrase added to emphasise the multiplicity of identities).

In the sections below, I spend some time establishing my claim to various identities, partly in response to criticism mentioned in chapter 9.

1. The tensions between identities of "believer in the Eric Harvey method", "professional" and "researcher".

A. Eric Harvey identity.

From the start I was a very committed "believer in the Eric Harvey method" and the parent interviews which formed its heart. For me, this was not simply a belief of the kind #[p171] where I might believe a particular piece of information to be true. This was a vital aspect of my work, an aspect which gave me purpose. This was where I felt that I, by my own efforts, could achieve something. I recall, only half jokingly, discussing with one colleague that psychologists could be split in to two camps: those who supported the Eric Harvey approach and those who did not. As a crude distinction, I valued most, as people and as professionals, those who fell into the former camp. I had a powerful feeling of "being" an Eric Harvey worker. It was not just a belief, it was a part of "me", a long-standing and highly valued part of me; something which "coloured my outlook" / "gave me a perspective"; but more than that, it was part of how I viewed myself: a "Harveyian". It was part of how I would account for myself to others. It was an identity.

A major emphasis in the Eric Harvey method was on the parent-child interactions, and a great deal of time was put aside in case work to tackle these. Changing the parents’ beliefs was a key to this work and this required a carefully thought out strategy. I will not in this paper address the validity or otherwise of these interventions, hopefully teacher and psychologist colleagues will engage in that debate at some point. However, as well as working with parents, part of the job involved working with teachers. I was "a believer in attention seeking" (the concept at the heart of Eric’s approach) but found others (often the teachers) were not. In addition, many of the teachers seemed greatly stressed by the behaviour of the referred child "I feel like screaming. I feel like it’s my fault. I’m just drained at the end of it" (Art teacher, quoted in Mellor 1997a, p.6).

Through the habit of focusing on the parents I generally allocated time for only a brief discussion with these stressed teachers. Yet in addition to their emotional state they were also potentially holding very different views about the causes of the child’s behaviour. I was continually frustrated in my efforts to bring about change within the conceptual framework I was offering. Again, the rightness or otherwise of such attempts is not an issue I can consider here, what is important, however, in the present context is that I found my practice wanting.

These short sessions with the teachers were totally inadequate to the task and ran the risk in any case of appearing to blame them for the children’s problems. Reflections on #[p172] casework consistently highlighted this issue. One solution seemed to be to find another way of putting across the ideas, in a more teacher-friendly way. Thus my research into practice was sidelined as I began to put together material on attention seeking for teachers (Mellor 1997a) (similar books for parents and psychologists are in preparation). Teachers could then examine my ideas in depth and at leisure, when and if they chose to.

Through this writing I also wanted to create an agenda to counterbalance a powerful medical model which often seemed to lurk in the background, currently much reinforced by discussion of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) - a confusingly similar label with radically different implications. Consideration of ADHD and other, at times, conflicting explanations for emotional and behaviour difficulties is covered in Mellor (1997a), I will not explore the arguments here. My point is to do with identity. Commitment to an Eric Harvey identity inevitably led to employing attention seeking as a key concept in the method of working with many clients. The resulting desire to do this effectively, led to writing the book having priority over the research project as a whole.

B. Professional identity.

During the project I began to want an inquiry which allowed me to look at this method of working, but not necessarily change it. As Schön (1983) explains, this was a technique I was "good at undertaking" (p. 318). I was worried (perhaps unnecessarily) that, opening up the interviews to close scrutiny would lead to my becoming self conscious about the process. The interviews involved telling stories to create a therapeutic relationship and give insight; becoming self-critical about these I felt might somehow undermine the "magic" of the technique. I could lose the confidence which in chapter 3 I argue is vital to the therapeutic process. Any changes I worried could be for the worse: "[t]o believe that reflection and inquiry are always good is another common fallacy" (Hammersley 1993 p.443 n.20)[1].

However, at the same time, I was conscious of being a serious practitioner, a professional with a responsibility to the clients. As I looked, with my professional eye, I found things to alter. I began, for instance, to break the interviews up much more, to give more room #[p173] for the parents. I also produced written materials for teachers and enlisted the children more directly as agents of change. There were many other alterations in practices with the parents, teachers and children (see chapter 4). Thus my Eric Harvey identity was not rigid, not fundamentalist, fixed in stone, I had an over-riding commitment to the well being of my clients. I would have been shocked to have caught myself acting consistently otherwise; it would have caused, I believe, a kind of crisis of identity. Not that I can claim that each minute action I ever took could be ethically sound in this respect, that would be inhuman, but I would not expect to discover a consistent gap between my espoused values and my values in use.

My surprise at finding myself, even in my informal, private diary notes, dismissing a client as a "no-hoper"[2] (see appendix B) led me to an ongoing examination. It was not just the demeaning label (which I could try to rationalise away, successfully or not, as a unique, momentary slip amongst hundreds of pages of notes), important though that label might be, but the much larger issue of the basis on which I make decisions over time allocation in the often frenzied and uncertain world of everyday professional practice.

However defined, being a "professional" felt like having an "identity". It was not simply an abstract notion, a qualification, a handy title, a bargaining chip for better wages; it was central to the lived experience of working life.

C. Researcher identity.

As the project evolved, I gradually began to think of myself as a researcher. Given the subject matter, me, and the unusual method of inquiry which developed, confidence in asserting this as an "identity" was very slow in coming, however, from the beginning I wanted to be true to the path I had embarked on in spite of constant doubts. Despite these anxieties, in the course of the study I was clear that "something" was different in the way I was viewing myself. With the level of commitment necessary to maintain this "messy" approach, the time and emotional work involved and the far reaching (and seemingly permanent) consequences for my ways of thinking, it came to seem reasonable to apply the label identity to this facet of myself. What kind of researcher (I have tried to forge an #[p174] understanding of what it means to me to be a practitioner researcher) and how good a researcher are just two of the questions which render this label, like the others, problematic, not concrete or easily explained (see also chapter 11).

The research was shaped in part by tensions between these three identities. Having an itch to understand, without a great urge to change, met some of my "researcher" and "Eric Harvey" identity needs, but in practice I could not avoid change, arising from commitment to my "professional" identity. These changes in fact occurred from the very beginning of the project.

My identity as a "believer in the Eric Harvey method" and my desire to explore and promote the concept of attention seeking meant that my identity as "researcher" (with a commitment to wider exploration of issues around practice and its study) took second place for a while. Somewhat ironically, in order to improve one aspect of practice (working with teachers) I felt the need to reinforce another, possibly more contentious aspect (by publicising attention seeking). This is not to say that I have a "blind faith" in attention seeking and the Eric Harvey model. I am continuing to change and critique my practice (Mellor 1998a) and striving to obtain critical reviews of my thoughts on attention seeking. I hope others will investigate the field and very much welcome dialogue.

2. Identities of " unconfident middle class with working class origins", "counsellor", "researcher" and "believer in the Eric Harvey method ".

A. Unconfident middle class with working class origins identity.

One aspect of the research I found most difficult to deal with, as explained in chapter 9, was simply listening to tapes of my parent interviews. I found I had a long-standing problem with hearing my own voice. I was very conscious of my accent and at times not proud of my working class origin, as displayed by this accent. Although in many ways solidly middle class (by income, house and profession) I lacked confidence in this position and my autobiography traces such conflicts back to early adolescent years. Oddly, they have never been the subject of counselling. At other times, however, I did value my #[p175] working class background, for instance, with regard to my job I felt it enabled me to cross cultural barriers and relate to a range of clients. My position was contradictory, neither securely middle class nor securely working class[3] yet the experience was one of identity (albeit confused and at times stressful) which I have used the phrase "middle class with working class origins" to try to capture. Again, the reality was far beyond the mere "having of a label"; the few instances cited in this project do not capture the many ways in which this identity was experienced in day to day life.

B. Counsellor identity.

I trained in co-counselling in the mid 1980s. Part of the attraction of the approach for me was the sharing of time as counsellor and client. I feel I became a better counsellor by tackling, as client, issues which could have intruded into my counsellor role[4]. Insights as counsellor in their turn helped me to be a "better" client (in co-counselling both parties strive to tackle problems together, the client is not seen as a passive recipient and needs to become comfortable with a range of techniques). Basic training led to further training, workshops and residential courses with continuing individual counselling sessions between.

Although some of the more unusual strategies of co-counselling would be inappropriate to use in daily work or in daily life, the general counselling experience, of careful listening and being largely undisturbed by expression of emotions, I count as invaluable in a range of settings. I can explain much behaviour, at least to myself, in counselling terms. It is not a question of overtly "going about being a counsellor" - that would be distasteful, it is more an embracing of a certain way of being, but one to be drawn on when the occasion requires it, not in the shops or on the allotment or at the theatre; much of life just "goes on" with little need of therapy or intrusion. "Counsellor" has, however, for me the feel of an identity[5].

Throughout my project I constantly relied on counselling to support me in times of uncertainty and to guide my decisions. I strongly valued my counsellor identity as a constant touchstone and resource. Being "true" to this identity I realised this concern #[p176] with accent and class, highlighted by listening to the tapes, was not an issue I could sweep under the carpet. I could not hide the problem away by pretending that listening to tapes was only a minor part of my project which could be safely overlooked, particularly as I wanted to use the tapes in another publication around the Eric Harvey/ attention seeking ideas and potentially this could cause me much embarrassment.

Thus anxieties arising from my class identity led to conflict with desires arising from both my researcher identity and my Eric Harvey identity, and these conflicts raised issues which, as counsellor, I could not ignore. Following counselling sessions, I now feel able to examine the tapes without dragging up emotional "noise". In fact, I now quite like the person I hear on the tapes.

Unlike Converey (1996) then (see later), I did not rely on trading off one identity for another when difficulties arose, I could address directly the anxieties that different identities threw up, by counselling. In fact, counselling throughout the project enabled me to explore areas which deeply troubled me (with, I trust, a fruitful outcome) such as developing a model of research very different from that of my scientific training. And that model, as illustrated, allowed for identity tensions to mould the project.

3. Identities of "honest man" "scientist" and "messy methodologist".

A. Honest man identity.

I reflected on my practice but during the project continued to reflect on the research process itself. I kept very extensive diaries as I struggled to find a method. However, from the beginning I decided to be honest about my confusions. To some extent these arose from the nature of the enterprise I had undertaken "working without rules" (Appignanesi & Garret, 1995, p.50). Some of the confusion arose from a predilection for "messy methods" in my everyday life (see Mellor 1998b).

It was also important to me to maintain my account of errors in writing the article "On reflection", but this frankness was not some artefact of the research, some temporary #[p177] expedient rustled up to complete a degree. Without sounding priggish, I regard myself as honest, in more than this one sphere of research. Honesty is important to me, in the small change of life and in the more weighty matters (although I confess I often fall from grace in this respect). Still, I regard it as more than a Reader’s Digest recipe for a happy life, or a vague ideal to be followed only when needed. It is an identity, not lightly to be discarded, not easily to be maintained.

B. Scientist identity.

As the current study demonstrates, this aspect of myself permeated the project from its inception. My youth and early adulthood strongly reinforced a scientific stance. I still take great pleasure in matters "scientific", but I came to have doubts. The identity became blurred, partly as I worried about the side effects of modern science. I deliberately opted for a "non-scientific" approach to this inquiry, where by non-scientific I refer to my original, perhaps limited, view of what constituted scientific inquiry. Some of the pleasure of this study has been the recovering of this identity, although in a rather different, more questioning, form.

C. Messy methodologist identity.

Partly from my science background, and partly to reduce my anxiety around the uncertain procedures I had developed, I endlessly yearned for a nice, clear-cut "scientific method", a kind of "storybook" science (Mitroff 1983 p.8). It was four years before I had the confidence to accept the "messy" path I had followed as legitimate form of inquiry and to identify myself as a "messy researcher". The phrase refers to more than a research method for one time-limited project, however. I can work in a systematic, logical way, others may do so constantly, but in many separate areas of life I find that I have a manner of approach to problems which I can only describe with terms such as "messy", "muddling through", "feeling my way"[6] etc. The current project has tried to give some substance to these ideas, to what could be so easily dismissed as lying outside the domain of "real" research. The approach is by no means easy, but it feels a natural part of me. I claim #[p178] "messy methodologist" as an identity, although one that may or may not be triggered or experienced each day - much of existence can be quite routine.

My identity as "scientist" (perhaps innocently, a believer in a rational and ordered approach) conflicted with my identity as "honest man" as I tried to decide how to write about my project. Could I be honest and risk rejection? It was a long time before I began to unearth "confessionals" and the "true" stories of research and began to reconcile my image of research with the "chaotic and creative procedure" ( Kupferberg 1996 p.236) and acquire the confidence to air my views. I gradually began, however, to feel I could describe a kind of research relevant to me as an experienced practitioner/ naive researcher and judged, perhaps, by practitioner researcher standards (see chapter 11).

An important aspect of such a work for me would be honesty: honesty about "mistakes", diversions, dead-ends etc. As Devereux (1967) describes "it took me more than three decades to fight my way through the tangle of my own preconceptions, anxieties and blind spots, to whatever truths this book may contain" (p. xiv). He discusses these blind spots openly and has the courage to celebrate them "the admission of one’s human limitations is not only not self-degrading but actually useful" (p.42).

My approach to research encourages diversity and fluidity rather than focus. I have, for example, explored attention seeking, reflection, reflection-in-action and methodology as well as diversions into circular epistemology, chaos theory, attribution theory and others. I want to be open about these. My position is that a frank description of these twists and turns adds to the credibility of the account rather than detracts from it.

Thus once more a (different) set of identity tensions seemed to influence the course of the project. As "scientist" (my understanding of the term went through many variations) I wanted a logical, methodical path. As messy methodologist I wanted to work with mess and confusion and "off-shoots" (which I came to value - see chapter 11). As honest man I wanted to be open about this error-laden business but feared the rejection of other "scientists" if I was.

#[p179] 4. Other identities.

The above discussion covers the major identity conflicts I noted, others appeared less prominent such as the impact of being a parent on restrictions on when and how much to research. During the final stage of the project I also began to see more clearly the influence of another identity: that of writer (touched on in chapter 9).

I had always enjoyed writing, and in a variety of genres. One of my developing positions was that the current text should achieve a balance between academic rigour and readability. It was important to my developing sense of being a practitioner researcher to be able to speak to those outside the academy as well as to satisfy those within. Lincoln and Guba (1985) for instance, as mentioned in chapter 9, suggest that the writer (of case studies - we could view the project as a case study of one researcher’s work) should be able to write like the author of a good novel:

...he or she should possess above-average writing skills ... the plot line should be exciting and should unfold in skilful ways ... someone who does not have considerable skill in creative writing will not make a good case study reporter. (Lincoln and Guba 1985 p.364)

To tell a good story, although of a "muddled", messy, incomplete idea was my ambition. I felt a need to adopt the conventions of referencing, footnoting, and partly of voice, all of which influenced the tone of the work. However, some of the fiction writer’s tricks I wanted to use conflicted with the needs of academic presentation. Two examples will suffice.

First, rather than sticking to one fixed term which I had carefully defined, such as "research", throughout the text, to relieve the tedium of repetition I would want to switch between, research, project, investigation, study and inquiry, leaving them all slightly unclear. Second, as rough rule of thumb, in fiction writing I would want to "keep ’em guessing", not give too much away, too early; to not be predictable, although not inconsistent either; to preserve some element of tension, of the possibility of the unknown. In academic writing, on the other hand, I would want to "tell them what I’m going to say; say it; then tell them what I’ve said". Thus I am in some conflict with Linclon and Guba.

#[p180] This tension came to the fore in some of the responses to my first draft of the thesis. I had been writing partly as a writer of fiction, keeping some of the best bits for surprises; letting the work flow and develop, with few intermediate summaries or recapitulations. I eventually adopted a style nearer the academic, following advice to be kinder to the reader. Some final writing issues appear in chapter 11.

The identity tensions I have selected above, however, in making the main case for one type of influence on research direction: inter-identity tensions, seem to raise as many questions as they answer. I turn to these next.

5. Some questions[7] raised by the above discussion of identity.

A. It is not at all clear even when the label identity can be applied. At a simplistic level (ignoring for now the potential fluidity of each identity outlined below) I drive, garden, cook, make music, get depressed, enjoy languages yet I do not think of myself as driver, gardener, cook, musician, depressive or linguist. Others may of course allocate me certain identities from their own standpoint, but what about me? For those aspects of myself I feel strong affinity with, is it sufficient for me to assert an identity, with suitable emphasis, for it to be so? And if I cannot make that judgement, who can?

B. How unified must an identity be to be considered as such? How much contradiction and shifting around can be tolerated before the label becomes meaningless? Kehily (1995) argues that "identity can be seen as fluid and fragmented" (p.30) and Grossberg (1996) describes how "identities are ... always contradictory, made up out of partial fragments" (p.91). Griffiths (1995a) explains how "[i]t is not unusual for a self to be surprised by itself" (p.181). Many writers subscribe to this complex view of identity. Hall (1996), for instance, emphasises not only the multiple and fluid nature of identity but also its potential for internal contradiction:

Identities are never unified [but] ... increasingly fragmented and fractured; never singular but multiply constructed across different, often intersecting and antagonistic, discourses, practices and positions. (p.4)

While this complexity may appear to open up the doorway to confusion as "Western conceptions of the self have been grounded in notions of coherence" (Haywood & Mac #[p181] an Ghaill 1997) it seems that we can readily function without a single, coherent identity : "people can live happily with multiple identities" (Featherstone 1995 p.9).

C. Is there any limit on the number of identities? Converey (1996) and Biott (1996) place an emphasis on two or three aspects of identity such as on teacher and researcher or on researcher, occupational and social identities. Harry (1996) considers four aspects (Afro-Latino, Third world mother, inclusion standard bearer and advocate)[8].  However, an enormous number of candidates offer themselves as potential members of the class of things we call identity : sexually active woman, parent, teacher, working-class parent (Kehily 1995 p.29). Thomashow (1996) describes an ecological identity. Emmison & Western (1990 ) in their Australian study uncover sources of identity formation which may include reference to: being a family group member or being ‘Australian’ or to gender, occupation, ethnic background, state/town/district, religion, supporter of sports club, race, age, member of professional association, supporter of political party, social class, member of a trade union.

Does the term begin to become meaningless? "Smart" chemicals may have a unique identity[9].  The BBC shipping forecast refers to weather systems "losing their identity". There are examples of identity defined by handicap (Bunn 1987), by travel (Neumann 1992) by what you buy (Warde 1994), what you eat (Woodward 1997), what you wear (Giddens 1991) or even by the Christmas cards you send (Longrigg 1997) together with the host of variations discussed earlier.

Within each of these "sub-categories" of identity there may, however, be little agreement between those who nominally subscribe to them. MacLure (1993a) for instance, discussing teachers, points out "There is ... a lot more variability in the identities that people fashion for themselves, than we are always willing to recognise for research purposes" (p.382). and "people may even characterise themselves in different and inconsistent ways on a single occasion" (p.382). Other writers echo this in areas of race, creed, gender, class etc. e.g. Chaudhry (1997) exploring her multiple identities during her research describes how

#[p182] ... my Muslim identity is both a site of rebellion and resistance. There is no such thing as a pure uncontaminated brand of unmediated Islam. Your California Islam is different than mine" (p. 444).

The present study reveals fairly "worthy" identities. There may be other more disreputable identities lurking; my feeling is, however, in terms of the argument I am presenting, these would only add to its strength - presumably these identities would themselves cause other tensions in the research. The question remains, however, how many identities is it sensible to claim?

D. Questions which arise from this very brief literature, and my own study, run right to the heart of what we mean by identity. Discussion of identity spans extensive psychological and sociological works. I will not attempt to summarise these. According to Maslow (1968) "[i]t means something different for various therapists, for sociologists, for self-psychologists, for child psychologists" (p.275). Hall (1996) describes it as a concept that is no longer usable in its original form but "without which certain key questions cannot be thought at all" (p.2).

Many authors writing in the field do not attempt a definition, sometimes explicitly so. Strauss (1959) is happy to work with an "admittedly vague" term (p.9) and Michael (1996) refuses to give "a simple overarching definition of ‘identity’" (p.7). Part of the difficulty in definition may be the thick crusts of meaning accreted over the long history of (Western) ideas about the self. Donald (1996), Hall (1992) and Taylor (1989) for example trace how the notion of self /identity has developed from ancient times : "we come to think that we ‘have’ selves as we have heads. But the very idea that we have or are ‘a self’ ... is a linguistic reflection of our modern understanding ... it was not always so" (Taylor 1989 p. 177).

Having an exact definition may not always be vital; that adopted at the beginning of the chapter may not be ideal, however, my feeling is that the implicit, default definition carried by some authors may revolve around notions of a unitary identity or at most, a collection of one or two elements. As a result, in considering say, the impact of identity on research, the possibility of multiple impacts from multiple identities may be

#[p183] overlooked. Despite all these provisos, however, we are still left with the problem: how do we define identity?[10]

E. What is the most helpful view of, or metaphor for, identity? Griffiths (1995a) conceives of identity as a web "marked by competing constraints and influences" (p.93) and constructed under conditions not of our choosing. She later likens the making of the self to the making of a patchwork. Somekh & Thaler (1997) describe how the "constructed self caught in overlapping group identities whose constraints are built by systems of symbols of which language represents one form" (p.144). Following the language theme, MacLure (1993a) views identity as an argument "to claim an identity is to engage in a kind of argument, which brings together all sorts of disparate concerns into a single structure of oppositions" (p. 381) and "identity claims can be seen as a form of argument - as devices for justifying, explaining and making sense of one’s conduct, career, values and circumstances" (MacLure 1993b p.316 emphasis in original).

Somers & Gibson (1994), reviewing many studies across a wide variety of disciplines, see identity as a kind of narrative (I will not pursue how far argument and narrative overlap). They conclude:

...stories guide action; that people construct identities (however multiple and changing) by locating themselves or being located within a repertoire of emplotted stories; that ‘experience’ is constituted through narratives; that people make sense of what has happened ... by attempting to assemble ... these happenings in one or more narratives; and that people are guided to act in certain ways ...on the basis of ... cultural narratives." (p.38)

Does the metaphor depend on the purpose of the study, and is that a problem?

F. Is it possible, or indeed necessary, to reconcile identities "in strife like cats in a bag" (Somekh 1995 p. 348)? Bem (1973) asserts "[m]y own suspicion is that inconsistency is probably our most enduring cognitive commonplace" (p.334).

G. Turning to emotional issues, Devereux (1967) presents a detailed account of the way in which the behavioural sciences (he mainly explores anthropology and psychoanalysis) throw up material which troubles the investigator. He criticises the researcher who avoids such sensitive topics and "seeks to protect himself (sic) against anxiety by the #[p184] omission, soft-pedalling, non-exploitation, misunderstanding, ambiguous description, over-exploitation or rearrangement" (p.44) of anxiety provoking material. Devereux argues that, rather than burying them, such anxieties can become a rich source of further material. Thus he advocates the use of anxieties as further data to study and urges researchers not to pretend to be more "objective" by simply avoiding such areas.

If we choose to, we can make our feelings an integral part of the study and there is strong support for this in some feminist approaches as I understand them: "emotion ... is equally as capable of yielding knowledge as conventionally ‘rational’ intellectual behaviour" (Stanley &Wise 1993 p. 202). There may well be a legitimate place for research as a kind of "therapy" (a role which Somekh 1995 criticises, although I am not sure of the frequency with which it occurs). My inclination, however, is to take my feelings to my counsellor. Research may draw strongly on feelings, but need not become the vehicle to deal with them.

All research has the potential to cause anxiety as we wallow in data, lose time and struggle for theories. We could celebrate other emotional knowledge and the use of "feelings and experience as the basis for explicating the personal and everyday" (Stanley & Wise 1993 p.175). Personal research may make emotional work almost unavoidable as we begin to confront our selves. We then have to face the choice between avoiding and addressing the very real personal worries that such research is likely to throw up once we enter these murky waters. The researcher may find counselling supports and even liberates the research exercise and facilitates the link between "rigor and reason ...[and]... emotion and intuition" (Roseneau 1992 p.181) although this area requires much further investigation. My interest is in co-counselling. Like so many movements, co-counselling groups can become a tad messianic and other approaches can do the same trick. What I do know, however, is the value of tears in moving stuck thinking on.

There is thus, potentially, a mid-way course, neither using the anxieties for further research nor ignoring them nor attempting to resolve them through "research as therapy". As illustrated earlier, in the discussion of listening to tapes, I could attempt to approach anxieties "head-on", through counselling, to resolve underlying concerns and leave myself #[p185] more free to make decisions without the potentially distorting effects of my emotions coming in to play. I am not proposing here some holistic search for harmony (MacLure & Stronach 1989) nor a supplanting of the role of critical friend by professional therapists. We still need critical friends and insights from others. We can also draw upon other identities (as for instance a head teacher might use skills from her management self to circumvent troubles in research).

Nor am I suggesting a move towards some "scientific" "dispassionate" inquiry, which has been freed of feelings. My decision was to deal with such issues, in a sense, "outside" research (in counselling sessions) and re-introduce them at my time of choosing, as material "dealt with" rather than material which I was "driven by".

While recognising the turmoil of emotions which may be stirred up by this, or indeed any research, how far may researchers be encouraged to draw on counselling to deal with these?

H. Should we, as with Foucault (1977) seek not "the roots of our identity ... but ... its dissipation" (p.162)? Simons (1995) proposes transgressive work using guidelines from Foucault such as "do not be more true to what you are now ... but detach yourself from your identity [note the use of the singular] and become someone other" (p.124, comment added). Lenzo (1995) also explores the transgressive self through examining the efforts of another researcher’s "experimental representation of researcher-as-selves" (p.23). These works, in their different ways, take us into the arena of transformation. Griffiths (1995a) considers the role of the individual in their own change, but also the importance of the political and social context. If change is the focus, how far can I change myself without the help of others?

I. When exploring one’s own identities, "who" is doing the exploring? How far can one self/ one identity observe another (see Griffiths 1995a chapter 10)? And what does it mean, in this context of multiple identities having multiple views, to have (possibly conflicting) knowledge? Is there some central arbiter?

#[p186] J. Peshkin (1988), discussing subjectivity rather than identity, although the argument seems apt, describes how it leads to a more individualised study as "personal qualities" (p.18) interact with the data (see discussion in chapter 9). Focusing on identity, certain personal qualities, in the widest sense, may not be in harmony. I believe, however, we can creatively use, and even celebrate, those "fruitful tensions [which arise] as we cross lines between ... selves" (Biott 1996 p.182). By allowing identities to come into conflict during research I argue that we may generate additional fertile forces that help to mould our inquiry in novel ways.

In exploring opposing elements in her own study, Atkinson (1998), building on McNiff’s (1993) description of a dialectical model of knowledge production and Whitehead’s (1989) "living contradictions", explains "there seems to be a particular energy which arises from the existence of the contradiction itself" (p.14). The nature of this "energy" and its production remain, however, obscure and deserve investigation which cannot be undertaken here. Apart from use as a convenient metaphor, however, what does it mean to say identities "cause" tensions and that these tensions help shape the research? Which of the many identities experiences these tensions?

As I explained earlier, I decided to curtail the investigation of identity for reasons of time. The questions raised above deserve a much fuller treatment than I can provide. To feed some of my thinking of these last two chapters back into the overall project, I will include, (in addition to comments on the proto-question and enthusiasm for research, or its lack), as a gross simplification, in my final description of the "messy method" the phrase "tensions between identities helped form a unique research path" (see chapter 11).

Key points emerging from the chapter.

1. I claim a number of identities and propose that tensions between these help shape the project. Certain identities, such as parent and writer, seemed to play a more minor role.

#[p187] 2. As an example of why I might use the term identity, these are some of the associations around considering myself a "believer in the Eric Harvey method": This was a vital aspect of myself; it gave me purpose. I felt I could achieve something useful in this work. I valued others who thought this way. It was a long standing part of me. I had a feeling of "being". It gave me purpose. It was part of how I viewed myself and accounted for myself to others.

3. I also viewed myself as a serious practitioner and researcher.

4. Commitment to the Eric Harvey identity led to conflict with demands arising from my researcher identity to pursue wider exploration of practice. This exploration was sidelined as I produced a book to disseminate, not interrogate, ideas on practice. Wanting simply to understand, not change, this successful work, satisfied some needs arising from Eric Harvey and researcher identities. This led, however, to conflict over pressure from my professional identity to change practice.

5. I noted a confused class identity, and a counsellor identity. Both of these influenced many aspects of life, work and research. As researcher and believer in Eric Harvey I wanted to explore and promote the tapes. As middle class/working class I felt uncomfortable about this. As counsellor I wanted to deal with this discomfort.

6. I saw myself strongly as an "honest man" and re-discovered an old identity of scientist, which itself was a site of conflict. I began to value the positive connotations of seeing myself as a "messy" worker. As scientist I hankered after a logical, organised approach. As messy methodologist I wanted to work with confusion and uncertainty. As honest man I wanted to be open about this error-laden messiness but feared the rejection of scientists.

7. These considerations raised many questions over, for example, the nature of identity and its definition; whether there is need to reconcile conflicts between identities or transform identities and how far counselling may have a role; which part of oneself is carrying out such explorations and what does it mean to have knowledge in this context. #[p188] Finally, there are a number of issues associated with claims about tensions between identities.


[1] In chapter 12 I consider a different, unexpected negative side-effect of the inquiry.

[2] As I discuss elsewhere, the expression "no-hoper" possibly reflects more my own feelings of helplessness. De Shazer (1985) offers constructive approaches to such apparently "hopeless cases" (p.119).[BACK]

[3] I am not implying "contradictory class location" here, as in Wright’s (1978) discussion of relationships to the means of production such as white collar workers having some control over some aspects of production. The "contradictions" I refer to are those subjective experiences which I attribute to class. Sennett and Cobb (1973) explore many similar "hidden injuries of class". Class as a useful concept has a dated feel but nevertheless may still have currency (see opposing arguments in Emmison and Western (1990) and Marshall and Rose (1990) ); it certainly has for me.

Whatever my class technically (and the definition is problematic) my feeling was strongly most of my life of being working class.

[4] As crude examples, consider how difficult it might be to counsel someone on their fears of public speaking or flying, their [feelings]towards their parents, their embarrassments over personal relationships and so on if sessions constantly trigger one’s own anxieties. Counselling training appears to vary in how much (or how little) counsellors carry on with their own clienting.[BACK]

[5] I do not wish to create some image of permanent calm and wisdom here. When over-stressed, which I often am, the counsellor role is not to the fore - I need counselling.[BACK]

[6] Descriptions of messy approaches in the general sense appear for instance in administration and management (Lindblom 1959, Pava 1986, Schön 1983) as well as research (e.g. Cook 1998 and Minkin 1997 amongst many others cited earlier).[BACK]

[7] I am indebted here to the referees of my original article for a number of the questions raised.[BACK]

[8] Other writers draw similar lists but may not refer to these as "identities". Barton and Clough (1995) for instance imply a set of identities but do not label them as such e.g. #[p189] researcher as change agent, critical friend, learner etc. Peshkin (1988), discussing subjectivity in research, refers to five "I’s": Ethnic-Maintenance I, Community-Maintenance I, E-Pluribus-Unum I, the Justice-Seeking I , the Pedagogical-Meliorist I, the Nonresearch Human I (p.18). Minkin (1997) describes several roles he plays in "the creative research process" (p.118) such as detective, watcher, juggler, patternmaker, chattering monkey, awkward sod etc. He appears not to regard these as identities. The problem of when to use the label identity is briefly explored later in the chapter.[BACK]

[9] The Guardian April 13 1998 p.11.[BACK]

[10] We may need to consider what it is that distinguishes "identity" from a host of other terms such as "individuality" (de Levita 1965) ,"personality" and the "subject" (Touraine 1995), "role" (Calhoun 1994) and "subjectivity" (Griffiths 1995a)? And what of terms such as self, self-identity, self-description and self-identification?[BACK]


[*] Added December 2001

I have made a small change here as the original wording gives the impression that I had some anger towards my parents. I had not. I had just introduced a clumsy way of making a general point about feelings.

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Chapter Eleven