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Chapter Four


#[p72] Chapter 5. Method before the paper "Notes from a method"

Part II: additional issues.

In this chapter I consider some concerns beyond those to do with the immediately practical and problems of getting started. One which I had great worries about and thought would be very prominent, the impact of the project on my family, in the end turned out to be of minor concern. Ethical issues, however, did become quite central and they are examined here and followed up in the final chapter.

A number of techniques became important to me, serendipity and incubation in particular; because of their rather unusual nature I spend some time exploring these. Throughout the research I was, however, dogged by the feeling that I "should" have a clear, ready made method. My gradual coming to terms with the evolving method of the present study is described partly in the fourth section. Chapter 6 also illustrates this concern.
 
 

1. Family concerns.

Initially I thought these would loom large. I saw myself as a committed parent and felt guilt about putting the research before the children. Although this issue did surface from time to time, it seemed to fizzle out. Perhaps we reached an understanding. In any case, my daughter Kate went off to university Sept 1996 and had been quite settled with her A level course from Sept 1994. My son Joe seemed more interested in his friends than his father. To begin with, however, there were some family concerns.

Got really heavy with my kids saying they must not touch any of my tapes or my paper in my room as I was panicking about them going off and singing duets into the tape recorder and using the paper for scrap. This is all part of anxieties to do with losing material and keeping endless copies of everything on disks all over the place. I had heard horror stories about disks being wiped, disks being left on trains. Computers getting viruses in. Whole theses being left on tubes. Also neurosis about burglars coming in, getting annoyed and burning the place down or smashing up all the material just for the hell of it. (5.ll.93.)

#[p73] Spent the evening tidying up notes from the course. Went into a bit of a panic because I couldn't find the bits I wanted. Got rather ratty with Kate about coming into my room. Poor soul had actually been quite well behaved all evening. Felt guilty that I hadn't gone out to the bonfire night celebrations. Joe had gone with his cousin D. but Kate had originally said she didn't want to go. When the evening came, however, she wanted to go but I didn't push the matter but felt bad about it, putting silly research in the way of a bit of time with the kids. Realised that I hadn't been keeping a record of how family events impinged on the research particularly. Obviously not a very good feminist. (5.ll.93.)

Rather distracted this morning as the kids seem ratty and bad tempered. Managed to settle down to some dictation however, about 9.3O am.

Didn't feel too guilty about neglecting the kids when I remembered that Mary was going to spend all this weekend writing a paper and she had been off to Chesterfield a couple of weeks ago, and had nipped down to London for a meal to discuss important matters and was planning a great programme of reading, writing and research and political activity for the next 3 or 4 years. Lots of dishes were not going to get washed by anybody. (6.ll.93.)

One issue which did, however, turn out to be much more significant than I at first imagined, was that of ethics.

2. Ethical issues in research.

Dessent (1992) raises some of the stresses in casework around children displaying emotional and behavioural difficulties:

effective individual casework is often the most stressful and difficult part of the [EP’s] role... [psychologists need] to engage with complex personal, ethical, economic and sometimes political issues ... often ...strong emotions and feelings [lurk] somewhere in the background. The strong emotions rarely belong to the pupil. More often they belong to the head teacher, the teacher, the parent, the social worker etc. (p.41).

I was prepared for many of these pressures but I had not expected ethical issues to be quite so prominent, either in practice areas or research areas.

A number of ethical issues concerning research arose early on in the project. Some of these were anticipated and had been addressed, such as obtaining consent. Following guidelines of the B.P.S. a letter was drawn up similar to Robson (1993) p.299 to obtain #[p74] "informed consent". For each case, general permission from the head teacher was obtained, then specific permission from the parents and teacher(s) involved. The form explained the project and the participants right to withdraw at any time.

A further area concerned use of professional time and the LEA's resources. The research was planned to fit round normal daily activities and to have existing practice as its focus, rather than to examine, for instance, some (artificial) experimental arrangement. No permission was sought to take extra "research time" within the working week. This was a useful discipline. I had, for instance, to be very careful in the use of time. I could justify informal discussions with colleagues for instance (these are accepted "custom and practice") and reflections on casework (which although not a routine part of the job, seemed particularly healthy additions). However, I felt I could not justify a session in the office analysing these. Some weeks I felt I had over-strayed the boundaries and given undue attention to the project. I generally made a rough "conscience easing" calculation and worked over-time to balance up.

Phone calls and photocopying were recorded and paid for. Occasional letters to head teachers relating to the project and other very minor administrative matters were completed at work. Secretarial time relevant to typing case notes is part of normal work. Typing of reflections on case work, although not common practice traditionally, I included in normal office time on the grounds that such comments could and should form part of normal good practice. Secretarial time for the reflective diary and interview transcription was paid for separately, outside work.

I noted, however, at the time of writing my M.Phil/PhD transfer document, November 1995, a tension between the role of practitioner and researcher: "My feeling is that I should not carry out lines of investigation which I cannot claim are benefiting the clients, simply because they are of academic interest" (extract from transfer document). Several examples arose at that point (see below). The first may appear relatively minor and my thinking around it somewhat tortuous, I have included it here, however, to illustrate the #[p75] sometimes subtle (and unclear) nature of the issues which B.P. S. guidelines did not seem to cover.

The decisions could be contested (and some may seem rather trivial), the point is, that I felt it necessary to face them. For me they felt like ethical issues, but with the lack of detailed guidance I was thrown back on my own judgement, my own "moral values"[1].  As Homan (1991) points out, in any case, "[ethical] [c]odes may have the effect of closing the discussion of ethical principles rather than of stimulating it" (p.179) and "[a] variety of methods approved as ethical involves the off-loading of moral responsibility from the researcher to the researched" (ibid p.179). He goes on to argue that "professionals are encouraged to believe that they are behaving in a morally responsible way if they observe the letter of the law ... text book counsel on field methods is often ethical without being moral" (p.181) and in exploring this "dichotomy of ethics and morality" (p.182) there is "little talk of morality in the literature treating the ethics of social research" (p.182). I do not claim to have solved the problem, only to have "kept it alive", as the following examples illustrate.

Examples of concerns over tensions between researcher and practitioner interests.

(A) Eliciting children’s views on matters which may be only of "academic" interest.

I found while examining interviews with the children that this was a prime area where I felt my work was generally weak. While searching for "better" approaches I experimented with some Adlerian notions. I produced some "vignettes" of behaviour for the children to comment on. These were designed to obtain children's views on Adler's ideas of the "mistaken goals" of behaviour (see for instance Balson 1982). I was delighted to find that some of these elicited descriptions of attention seeking. This seemed potentially very relevant to my research on attention seeking, however, I felt at the time that these comments, although interesting, were of little practical use to the parents or #[p76] teachers. What were they to do with this knowledge? My practitioner and researcher interests were at odds.

I dropped these vignettes from the research but three years later, after a further period of trying to develop my practice with children, restored a (different) set of stories with the same purpose. I had by then, in any case, published a book on attention seeking without using the original information, consequently I felt that my continuing focus on better ways to elicit knowledge about the children was not "contaminated" in any way by desires to pursue what I saw as a self-serving "academic" research interest around the concept of attention seeking.

(B) Distributing "research" materials to teachers.

A difficulty arose with the written back-up materials I had produced for the teachers I was working with. At one point, colleagues wanted to use these to help train the special needs co-ordinators across the authority. I initially wanted to keep them "pristine" to use with each new case, to "show the effectiveness" of my casework. I was at that point still influenced by some idea of an experimental design. Eventually I overcame this reluctance, which had posed a moral dilemma for me, to the extent of publishing a book, for which the authority held the copyright and received the royalties. I was able to distribute this at reduced rate.

Interestingly, as the project evolved, I began to notice a shift away from wanting to collect "good cases" (which made me feel successful and confirmed the value of my approach) towards wanting to explore more the "bad cases" (i.e. to find ways of understanding my work more and possibly improving).

(C) Questioning parents about past causes.

#[p77] A third area concerned interviews with parents. These were designed very carefully, following the Eric Harvey tradition. There appeared to be several vital elements to these interviews; two, particularly relevant to the present discussion, were placing emphasis on guilt reduction and dealing with the present. The effect of these constraints was to place little weight, when questioning parents, on possible past causes of the children's difficulties (at least as seen through the parent's eyes). Work was very much directed at the here and now (although information about the children's general development was obtained throughout a lengthy interview which deliberately ebbed and flowed in emotional content to achieve rapport).

One of my early "research" interests was around a nature/ nurture debate on the "causes" of emotional and behavioural difficulties, thus, parents' views on early "triggers", seemed potentially quite relevant. Unfortunately, to pursue these meant dwelling on history and, by implication, stressing the importance of "triggers". Such emphasis on the past would run the risk of giving rise to an "It’s all our fault" guilty reaction from the parents. These could have undermined the positive, forward-looking tone of the interviews. I did not follow this line of inquiry.

(D) Overall research design.

My account of how the research focus shifted around during the project is partly related to questions of values. To begin with I was intimidated by methodology. I wanted "to get it right" - to find some conventional formula which would easily withstand external scrutiny, some accepted way of "doing research". "Scientific" validity dominated my early thinking, but this became increasingly interlaced with injections of more flexible ideas from qualitative methods.

The final resolution of the issue, partly influenced by considerations of personal moral values, was to try to develop a from of inquiry which allowed the demands of practice to dominate. The research became a hybrid: a kind of case study of my casework, but

#[p78] casework which changed as I saw fit. A kind of action research, in that I felt the duty to improve practice, but where understanding rather than change was the driving force behind at least part of the study. A piece of research carried out in (almost) zero extra work time. An inquiry into practice which became an inquiry into inquiry but where the effects on practice were the ultimate constraint.

(E) Attention seeking and its related dilemmas.

A separate area of concerns centred on my anxieties over attention seeking and the child who may have been abused. My practice diary records several instances of uncertainty over whether the Eric Harvey approach, which potentially presents a powerful tool to change behaviour, could simply be "covering up" symptoms of abuse (of course a range of other potential interventions could fall into the same trap). There were, in fact, very few cases where these doubts surfaced, however, I had long discussions with colleagues inside and outside the profession on the subject. My final position was to proceed as normal, with consultation with colleagues over suspect cases (as is usual good practice). To be constantly alert to the danger, but not to see demons that were not there. To refer on to others where doubts were significant.

Related to this was the question of, whether or not we can change a particular child's behaviour, is it right to do so. Stainback and Stainback (1980), pose the question : Do we as a society in the end "need" the children who are different? Also, in a very practical sense, does attaching the label "emotional and behavioural difficulties" to a child simply disguise the need for the adults to change? And what of the wider political implications of relying in particular on the parents’ need to change? My diary records my concerns for this as a question for society:

Because some parents can be helped to change their behaviour towards the children, and [thus] help the children's behaviour, then results of my research could be used to show that this was all that was needed for all parents i.e. just change your management of the children. [This] neglects all the other pressures parents are under like unemployment, bad housing, separation, abuse, alcoholism, poverty etc. etc. There are a vast number of other difficulties which people experience #[p79] which make changing their management of children's behaviour either impossible or rather irrelevant given all the other pressures they are under...

It occurred to me also that I don't want the Eric Harvey stuff to be used as a stick to beat parents with and say that all the ills of society can be cured if you just get parents to look after their kids properly. This is an issue that I have been worrying about for some time, as at one point I had thought about trying to get a Home Office grant or some such thing; but if I got one then the research would not be under my control and [given the political climate] it would definitely be used to say it is all the parents’ fault. (l3.ll.93)

Although I continue to worry over the topic, the one consolation for me of the attention seeking model (particularly in my latest understanding, see chapter 3) is that it embodies a broad systems approach: I am looking for alterations in any and all parts of several systems (at least in those parts I can have some influence over) involving the child, the teacher, the parents and the school (through in-service training). Although the child may become "labelled" at first, the ensuing work requires all parties to change. Perhaps adults may come to accept their own need to change by adopting a label which initially seems to make the child the focus of concerns. I hope to continue to keep this concern alive through discussions with colleagues and in the light of reactions to the book "Attention Seeking" (see for instance Todd 1998 and earlier limited consideration in chapter 3).

(F) General practice related concerns.

Some dilemmas seemed clearly more related to practice than research (the project gradually evolved into studying research). I note for example in Mellor (1998a), in my reflections around a piece of casework with a boy who had anxieties about attending: was using "counselling", partly employed simply to keep him in school, justifiable? :

It feels better to "engage" with the child rather than have the usual quick one-off conversation, but am I being deceitful by deliberately organising this at school and using activities and interviews as a "reward" i.e. a fun time to encourage him to be at school...

I wonder if it is right to use one reasonably ethical procedure (counselling, playing counselling games, working on life story etc.) for another equally but different ethical goal (getting him into school). Does the end justify the means? (p.172)

#[p80] The form of reflection on casework I adopted was able to address such topics. I will return to the issue of moral values later when considering practitioner research (see chapter 12).

3. Serendipity, incubation and other techniques used to support research.

The research relied on a range of techniques to take me through the confused space I found myself in. Most of the techniques were taken-for-granted parts of any study, such as reading scholarly works (although I have some comments about this reading aspect later in chapter 8), attending lectures and conferences, analysing data, keeping a systematic diary, searching for references and so on. I will focus here on a number of areas which may seem a little more unusual, particularly serendipity and incubation. I explore these in brief but conclude by simply accepting their enigmatic nature and settling for using them as "black boxes".

(A) Serendipity.

Fine and Deegan (1996) trace the term to the eighteenth century novelist Horace Walpole who used it to refer to "the combination of accident and sagacity in recognising the significance of a discovery" (p.434). They emphasise the role of chance in science:

Probably the majority of discoveries in biology and medicine have been come upon unexpectedly, or at least had an element of chance in them, especially the most important and revolutionary ones. It is scarcely possible to foresee a discovery that breaks really new ground, because it is often not in accord with current beliefs. (Beveridge 1957 cited in Fine and Deegan 1996 p.435).

The authors (and Roberts 1989) provide a collection of instances drawn from many scientific fields. As they point out, however, "chance only favours the prepared mind" (Pasteur cited in Beveridge/Fine and Deegan 1996 p.435).

Fine and Deegan go on to explain that "[t]his view of discovery underlines the recognition that scientific work is a "messy" process" (ibid p. 435) and offer an interpretation: "It is #[p81] not that they accidentally stumble on the truth, but that they can find accounts that others find useful in making sense of the world" (ibid p.435 my emphasis). Rejecting a positivist position they explain: "serendipitous insight provides the opportunity for constructing a plausible story" (p.438). Taking examples from sociological fieldwork, they explain, however, that "traditionally ethnographers were reluctant to discuss their errors and chance occurrences ... perhaps fearing that it would confirm the belief that ethnography was truly dilettantism" (ibid p.437) but that now, frequently arising from "confessionals", the process is an accepted part of accounts. They then seek to explore this part of the those "‘disorderly’ ‘messy’ features of the research process" (ibid p.437) and explain that "insight is not a treasure at the end of the road ...it is one that unfolds with every twist and turn in the road" (ibid p.438).

Many of these unplanned happenings "stem from one’s own hands" (ibid p.444) and Fine and Deegan underline "the powerful role of mistakes leading to insight: a messiness that stems from the investigator" (ibid p.444). For them "[l]earning how to learn from mistakes" (ibid p.444 emphasis in original) is vital and they explain how the researcher needs to "[expose] oneself to the unplanned" (ibid p.445). However, there is an emotional cost to this, an "angst": "[w]hen a researcher prepares to enter a field setting, the worry exists that nothing interesting will be discovered" (ibid p.445 emphasis in original).

Building on Merton’s (1968) account of events which are "unanticipated, anomalous and strategic ( i.e. with implications for the development of theory)" (Fine and Deegan p.438) they offer an alternative breakdown: temporal serendipity, serendipity relations and analytic serendipity. Temporal serendipity they describe as "happening upon a dramatic instance" (ibid p.438) which throws up crucial insights. The researcher, however, is not just casting about in the dark but has a shrewd idea of "where the action[is]" (ibid p.439).

Serendipity relations "the unplanned building of social networks" (ibid p. 438) arise when the researcher "us[es] her wits to build rapport" (ibid p.441) with potential "key

#[p82] informants" using the opportunity provided by, often unplanned and potentially threatening, events.

Fine and Deegan offer four features of analytic serendipity "discovering concepts or theories that produce compelling claims" (ibid p. 438) :

(i) The researcher is embedded in an academic culture - "theory never develops out of thin air, but is responsive to those intellectual currents that are in circulation" (ibid p. 442) , and this culture may include fiction as well as academic works. Often the most powerful impact comes from those chance readings during, rather than prior to, the project.

(ii) "[T]he data themselves [may] speak to the researcher ... an unexpected similarity or dissimilarity may provoke an ‘ah-ha’ response" (ibid p.442). Anomalous data suddenly "fit" by relating to other data or the literature - "[o]ne example shines a light upon another" (ibid p.442)

(iii) Arguing that we rely on metaphorical and other devices in conceptualising problems in a new light, Fine and Deegan highlight the chance discovery of, for instance, dramatic metaphors which then have a "power... to generate insights" (p.443)

(iv) Finally, the researcher is part of a social world of other scholars and non-scholars - "an invisible college" (ibid p.443) who all have impact on the course of the study, such that "the final product would be a very different piece of work without these contacts" (ibid p.443). These relations provide us with a system which "provide[s] us with ideas, emotional support, and material pleasures" (ibid p.443)

For me, Fine and Deegan’s account in large part rings true "who we are is related to how we do in qualitative fieldwork" (ibid p.444). Some elements remain obscure - what, for example, leads to data "suddenly fitting"? My current feeling, however, is that what I do in research is, to some extent, to consciously and actively harness these various processes, to "embrace" serendipity, to deliberately seek the unexpected, to wish for the unforeseen. I have, for instance, purposely drawn on a vast network of others, inside and outside the academic field, and a constant input of material from many sources: fiction, newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and so on. Some reading was triggered by current articles or contacts. Some times "reading" was simply "dipping" into likely books, reading which ever page opened.

Dipped into Social Researching by Bell and Roberts. Nice article by Nikki James about problems of planning a Phd project. (13.11.93)

#[p83] Chased up [the journal] Child Development, a couple of articles which I thought were going to be good, the one about the supermarket and the one about the coercive parents [which in the end weren’t useful]. However, flicking through some later issues found two articles on parents’ beliefs although this was mainly on IQ it seemed to touch a little bit on to behaviour...

This made me think flicking at random was often more productive than chasing what sounded like good articles which in the end turned out to be rubbish. However, flicking is demanding (just reading straight through a book is less high energy and less stressful) and also prone to [the problem of] finding material and then losing it, as you don’t keep notes i.e. frustrating. (11.10.94)

There is much potentially to research in the serendipity process which I did not pursue:

It occurred to me maybe flicking through articles "fires up" the thought processes but they come to fruit the next day "in the bath" [or "on a walk"]. Here’s a mini experiment - today I flicked through Adler’s work on the inferiority complex and Fine on maladjusted children and up to September 14 flicked through Stott on delinquency in human nature (nuisance attention), Baldamus on serendipity and annual reviews of psychopathology on maintenance factors. Need to see if any of this crops up in the future. (12.10 98)

The topic of serendipity continued to arise in the project. The others topics I deliberately set up above did not. This (very limited and very poor) experiment raised more questions than answers. Was serendipity a process which could not be "controlled"? Was the sample too small? Did my interests simply turn to other matters, was this an "artificial" set-up? Was the experiment simply badly conceived: is bias at work, do I normally only perceive positive instances? I did not investigate further (Garratt 1998 for example considers whether serendipity can always be considered a helpful process : "it can be blinding and constraining" p.234). I decided simply to use the process, whatever it was, as a "black box". There is much more research to be done here.

(B) Incubation.

"Creativity defies precise definition" claims Torrance (1988 p.43) although "if we are to study it scientifically, we must have some approximate definition". In reviewing attempts to define creativity, Torrance explores, amongst others issues, that of "process", in

#[p84] particular the four steps identified by Wallas (1926) : "preparation, incubation, illumination and revision" (ibid p. 45):

First, there is a sensing of a need or deficiency, random exploration, and a clarification or "pinning down" of the problem. Then ensues a period of preparation accompanied by reading, discussing, exploring, and formulating many possible solutions ...[then] a flash of insight, illumination. Finally there is experimentation to evaluate [the outcomes]. (ibid p.45)

Hadamard (1945) identifies similar stages "which seem to occur in every documented case of scientific insight" (Langley and Jones 1988 p 180). The preparation stage may solve the problem, if not, "one eventually ‘gives up’" (ibid p.180) and turns to other issues, at which point the unconscious mind takes over. This later "incubation stage" may last "anywhere from seconds to years, but eventually the solution ‘proposes itself’" (ibid p.180). There may of course be "false insights" (ibid p.198).

There are other models of the process of gaining insight (e.g. based on gestalt-like re-structuring or information processing and "chunking" or memory triggered by analogy- see Langley and Jones 1988). My aim here is not to subject these to critique, but rather to illustrate that, even such an, at first sight, apparently ineffable process, can be given some "scientific" scrutiny (Langley and Jones describe a number of different predictions which can be explored). The point is, for me, not that I could give a clear model of what happened, but that I could use the process, what I came to understand as an "incubation" period. Ideas came during the night (I kept paper and pencil to hand); first thing in the morning; in the bath; in the pub; and most frequently, in the park. Almost never "at work" in my job. Evidence of this is littered throughout the diary and appears in some of the extracts, although these extracts are not presented in any manner to be representative of this distribution. I have made no attempt to collect the instances together- the numbers would be large and the events very repetitious "2.30 in park, 3.00 in park, 4.00 in park" and so on.

I divided up my study days so that "conventional academic" activities fell in the morning : "reading", "writing", "analysing" (the quotation marks arise from my views on the

#[p85] complexities of these common-place actions, see chapter 8). In the afternoons, my habit came to be walking through the park, initially simply to let the morning’s efforts "settle" and my mind to clear. I gradually came to realise, however, that these (and other similar "inattentive" moments) were the key periods when intuitions came. It required no effort. In fact, the process seemed to need an absence of effort. If I tried to "think" about an issue, insight seemed to evade me. As Phillips (1992) describes, in emphasising the distinction between the contexts of discovery and justification in science: "[p]rocesses involved in... the making of discoveries ... may not be involved - and might be counterproductive if allowed to intrude - when the discoveries are ... critically evaluated" (p.77)[2].  Unfortunately, the outcomes of these meditative strolls, although usually, were not always, productive: "not one idea" (22.6.98 8.30 in park).

(C) Other techniques and resources.

On occasions I used a random word from a dictionary to break a conceptual log jam, borrowing from de Bono (1987 p.151-2 ). I drew on a wide range of resources, published and personal contact. One of my favourite metaphors for research, the banyan tree, came from a work of fiction (see chapter 6). Strong support for my growing confidence in the "messiness" of the process came from a PhD chemist now in senior management in industry. What Fine and Deegan flag up but do not explore, however, is the emotional side to all this, the angst, the uncertainty that anything is there to be discovered; coupled with the worry that this will all seem "dilettantism", in an arena where some notion of "the scientific method" may be deemed the acme of inquiry. My constant contact with a counselling community (see chapter 9), was, I believe, a vital element in "keeping my nerve" in employing and honestly acknowledging, such methods, methods which may often be "hidden from history".

4. The Holy Grail of method.

#[p86] From starting out with a relatively clear plan for the project, centring on parents and attribution theory, matters quickly became muddied:

Round about this point the project has become much more diffuse. I seem to be envisaging talking to lots of different people e.g. teachers, parents, children, welfare officers, other psychologists about "behaviour" with no great clear idea about what would come out of this or what the purpose of this conversation would be. (1.11.93)

Much of the study (and most of my anxieties) centred on my search for a method and how I came to understand that there was no Holy Grail of a ready-made method out there that I could take "off the shelf". It only gradually dawned on me that the process of searching for a method was, in fact, the method I had been looking for all along. To see that, however, I had to unlearn a great deal, although at the time I am not sure that I appreciated the nature of that process that I was "inside". One of my early habits to unlearn arose from the belief that methods should be in place at the start of a study. I gradually began to free myself from this constraint and accept that my wanting to be more flexible was a valid position:

Had an idea that what I really wanted to do was to follow a methodology that allowed me to read and think of ideas and methods as I went along (as I couldn't stop to take a year off) and I didn't want to get stuck with a specific methodology such as grounded theory which (a) looked very technical and (b) might not be the best one. (3.4.94)

This developing flexibility, however, was much influenced by my general reading. In the extract below, I am hovering between a reflection-in-action model (building on Schön 1983, see appendix B) and an action research stance. The glimmerings of an understanding of developing an individualised approach are evident:

An important part of research is dealing with anxiety and uncertainty. I’m in the dark with regard to the subject matter, the methodology i.e. who’s [method] to copy and also the aims of the research: "where I’m trying to get to". [But] in a strange way I feel as though I know where I’m trying to get and what I’m looking for with regard to the methodology especially for the reflective practice bit. If I could write it down it would look something like this:

(a) Muddle through in the dark, read bits, talk to people, analyse bits, go on courses, think about bits, with an initial idea of aims and methodology.

(b) Come up with a clear idea of methodology and aims and purposes etc.

#[p87] (c) Write a bit -in my case I did do that with the RDCO2 document [an early thesis outline].

(d) Carry on as in (a) a bit clearer, a bit different.

(e) Come up with a better idea of methodology... and write a bit more about it (that would be the PhD transfer document).

(f) Recycle through this procedure several times until (i) time runs out (ii) methodology [and its name] are "what I like" i.e. as Schön [describes in reflection-in-action].

At the end of the day if I never come up with the "perfect" methodology then that’s okay as I’m a practitioner therefore I can only do what I can do. Thus the results I get will be consonant with my position as a practitioner researcher. The whole purpose of which is to get better as a practitioner and as a researcher, and this idea of developing you skills as a researcher doesn’t seem to occur particularly in the action research [literature]. (21.11.94. 6 p.m. in the bath)

My views changed almost daily:

Received article this morning on attention seeking which I had sent away for. Felt "it's been done" therefore I can't "have a scoop" so I felt pretty disappointed. Therefore I needed to play down attention seeking. Perhaps that changes the focus of research. Perhaps I should look at action research or something to look at practice.

Part of doing this is looking at research generally, so part of action research is developing knowledge of concepts and theories as well. So I worked out a diagram with (a) practice [in the centre] (b) a cycle around that to do with an action research focus on practical aspects and associated theories and concepts, (c) with cycles round that to do with reflection or something and the theories and concepts interacting with practice, and then (d) a big cycle round the whole damn lot, which is action research or reflection cycles or naturalistic inquiry etc. on the process and methodology of practitioner research. (29.11.94)

Got totally confused about what I'm trying to do in terms of methodology, aims of the research and focus of research i.e. pretty basic stuff. I find that the bloody thing keeps shifting just when I've tied it down. I thought I had it earlier this weeks when I decided I was doing action research and then I made the mistake of actually reading some action research stuff in Robson's (1993) book and got put off. (Saturday 3.12.94 - 12 o'clock)

The following chapter (a copy of a paper to appear in the journal Educational Action Research) gives an account of my "platform of conditional understanding" (Hampton 1993 p.269) of the research process at the time its writing, early spring 1998. I present it now to help along the developing story of the inquiry and because, for me, it was a landmark in #[p88] my understanding of myself. As we shall see later, however, my position moved on somewhat.

5. Key points emerging from the chapters 4 and 5.

A host of factors came into play in triggering the start of the project and throughout I drew on a wide range of sources (academic and popular) and personal contacts.

From the earliest days, although struggling with a "scientific" model of research, there are embryonic signs of what I was later to describe as a "messy" method, which seemed to have parallels with my views of aspects of my own, everyday "thinking processes". Early plans constantly shifted between "conventional" and emergent ideas on methods but there was no separate stage of working out a research design: the inquiry began before any clear method was in place.

Many emotional issues came into play, from making the decision to begin, to anxieties around examining practice and developing an unconventional mode of inquiry. I relied on counselling and my counselling experience reinforced the value of keeping a diary. Diaries eventually became the core of the research.

Ethical issues pervaded the project.

I struggled with existing models of inquiry, such as action research, but found myself with an ambivalence towards change (because of commitment to an aspect of practice), although change seemed unavoidable. I reflect on one impact of these changes in chapter 12. Some changes that I desired seemed to take an inordinately long time to establish.

As well as more routine research procedures, I came to rely in part on less commonly acknowledged activities such as serendipity and incubation (along with other techniques). While searching for a method I gradually came to accept that there was no off-the shelf #[p89] approach ready and waiting. My searching became the method. And this searching involved unlearning as well as learning[3].

Notes.

[1] I do not intend to explore in greater depth any distinctions between ethics and morals, and philosphers may not accept the breakdown used. Following Homan (1991) I use the term moral to refer to those areas of judgement not clearly covered by professional ethical codes, deliberately to highlight the uncertainties of the issues. Thus, following this definition, an action may be judged by some to be ethical but immoral (vivisection for example) while another may be judged to be moral but unethical (reporting the criminal behaviour of interviewees). See discussions in Homan (1991) and Robson (1993).[BACK]

[2] Feyerabend (1975), of course, denies this distinction, between discovery and justification, the distinction which proposes that "Discovery may be irrational and need not follow any recognised method. Justification, on the other hand... proceeds in an orderly way" (p.165 emphasis in original). He (along with others such as Chalmers) points out that "a determined application of the methods of criticism and proof... would wipe out science as we know it" (ibid p.166). Chalmers (1982) for instance illustrates how "[e]arly work on a research programme takes place without heed of or in spite of apparent falsifications" (p.83). My purpose, however, is not to engage with this debate over the nature of science (see short forays in chapters 8 and 11), but to explore my own process of "discovery". I return finally, and very briefly, to science in the postscript to chapter 12. [BACK]

[3] In polishing up these two chapters in 1998/1999 I identify certain elements which in practice did not become fully apparent at the time of first "analysis" of the "data" such as unlearning and the label invisible college. I introduce them here, however, somewhat anachronistically, to aid later understanding. [BACK]


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Chapter Six