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Chapter Eight

#[p148] Chapter 9. A mini-project around identity.


The article "Notes from a method" gave me a somewhat rough and ready "tool" with which to understand my research processes. I borrow the concept of a tool[1] from Ravetz (1971), who underlines the craft-like nature of science. In the category tools he includes physical apparatus, means of analysis, surrounding information and language. He explains how using any particular tool involves "shaping the work around its distinctive strengths and limitations" (p.93) My business, however, was not only to research, but to research my researching. I wanted to explore the technique I was developing, to refine this research tool. I went about this by trying to apply the method to two new areas.

Initially the developing method had been grounded in my practice. I trust my allegiance to this work is evident. I was "fired up" with enthusiasm throughout the project by this on-going commitment. However, there was also an area which was developing in parallel, the fascinating but tremendously challenging subject of self-investigation. The method was thus born in rather unusual circumstances. Could it have currency elsewhere, or was it a curious "one-off"? The opportunity came to test this out in studying the topics of identity and the process of "making sense". I have entitled these "mini-projects" and distinguish them from "off shoots". These projects were quite central to the main study and were conscious "test beds" for the developing method as well as inquiries into the topics of identity and making sense in their own right. The off-shoots became less central (or were simply abandoned) and did not have their research methods as a conscious focus.

This new, mini-project of identity is described below. In a later chapter I extract the key issues about the method employed in this and the mini-project of "making sense" (see chapter 8), and, building on the platform of understanding afforded by the article "Notes from a method" i.e. chapter 6, present a final synthesis. This further refined understanding is outlined in chapter 11 "Method after the paper ĎNotes from a methodí ".

[p149] The current chapter illustrates an application of the "messy method" to the topic of identity, with a "proto-question" rather than a curiosity as the starting point. Concerns over this have already been explored in chapter 8. The mini-project below carries an expanded view of the role of counselling and relates this to research through discussion of "managed subjectivity" rather than through counselling literature as such. This mini- project provides evidence of three additional identities: scientist (briefly), counsellor and writer. These are considered along with other identities in chapter 11 regarding their influence on research. During the present discussion I begin again to question the notion of validity.

1. A mini-project on "identity and research": introduction to the project.

In September 1997 I had discussions with my supervisor, Colin Biott, about the fourth version of the article I was trying to finish for Educational Action Research (EAR4 as it is called below, which eventually became "Notes from a method" Mellor 1998b), outlining my understanding of the study so far. Colin raised the topic of identity (which he had mentioned before, but I had not been able to listen to at the time, struggling as I was). I agreed to see whether identity had anything to offer to my developing understanding and tried to shoe-horn the topic into the article on method in a few weeks, after some sketchy reading. It did not work. Using a favourite metaphor of his from Seamus Heaney about digging potatoes, the ideas were just not ready:

Gave [Colin] EAR4 a couple of weeks later with ID [identity] in, then on 9.10.97 said I couldnít [really] fit it into the EAR4 article - [it was] just a sop! So agreed to take it out and do it over the next 12 months - not yet ready to dig [my] potatoes - [I] had not [even] planted [them] yet. (9.10.97).

I decided to continue, but with a longer time scale. However, I recall beginning this mini-project to look at identity with a heavy heart. Here I was, some four years into the PhD and starting a totally new area to which I had only limited loyalty. It did not enthuse me in the way my original interest in attention seeking and the Eric Harvey approach had. This felt more like I imagined contract research would be: I had a job to do. But, in that sense, it possibly offered some measure of "testing" the "messy method". Whether or not this method was at the end of the day a "valid" approach (and that was still to be

#[p150] decided), any "results" of my initial studies could have in some way been a function of my enthusiasm at the time and a unique combination of me and the subject matter. This was a chance to see if I could work in the same way, and productively, with a new topic.

Of course, whatever the standing of this "test", I could not avoid the problem that it was me carrying it out, not another. If the "test" was in any sense a "success", it could still be that the "method" was simply something to do with the way I worked, it would thus be of limited interest to anyone else:

N.B. ID research does not confirm my method! It might just be something to do with me or perhaps the topic (2.5.98 3.00 p.m. walking)

However, my hope was that reactions to the "Notes from a method" article would eventually lay my ghosts: the worries over whether its ideas were simply relevant only to me, in one place at one time, or whether they had more general application, whether others felt a resonance with them (later thinking around the issue of "validity" is covered in chapter 11). In the meantime, this mini-project on identity was one more step on the way to, at the very least, convincing myself that I had something worth recounting. It also provided an opportunity to develop the ideas further.

2. A brief account of the development of the "identity and research" project.

With the help of a couple of references from Colin, in October 1997 I began following up leads and tackling Andy Convereyís PhD thesis "Identity in the Conduct and Reporting of Teacher Research" (Converey 1996) which looked a good place to cast off. I also started talking to whoever would listen and began "dipping" into books and journals, allowing my new "lens" of identity to pick out likely papers, and relying partly on "serendipity" to provide the material. However the process seemed slow to get going and the angst mentioned earlier, the not-knowing if there was anything to know, quickly set in

Re: ID very confused and anxious this morning having read a bit and dipped (Andyís PhD, Pahl [1995], latency [Colinís article in Educational Action Research, Biott 1996]), because I donít know the end point of this bit of the research, I donít know how to get there, which direction to go in, what it will look like when I get there. [There is] this ... state of research angst. Itís still very hard to view this positively as "creative mess" as Iím not sure Iíll get through it. Mary [my partner] chuntered on about ID and feminism. I couldnít take it on board. I have to "know it myself". (5.11.97 7.30 a.m. emphasis in original)

#[p151] Unusually, thoughts about the research, especially negative feelings about how I was going about it, intruded into work:

Depressed today at work. Donít know anything about ID. [Iím] about [at] O-level standard. Nothing coming through. No serendipity. No one to talk to. The process isnít working. I donít know what Iím looking for. I canít do it! ( 5.12.97 9.30 a.m.)

But relying on serendipity, and looking through the new "lens" of sensitivity to identity issues, gradually began to produce results:

Flicking through E.P.i P. [educational psychologyís house journal] found [an article saying that] ed. psychs have a dual professional identity [teachers and psychologists]. (5.12. 97 3.00 p.m.)

Popped into library to look for Giddens and other books on ID. Couldnít get anything. Poked around education [shelves] for reviews of my [attention seeking] book. Picked up Cambridge journal of education - article on ID! (Friday 19.12.97 flexi half-day).

Got reference off Bob L. on history [I was looking into historical methods] ... therefore Thursday night [began] looking up "History" [but] found "Identity" (approx. 26.2.98)

Saw Jessica [at campus] popped into library. Found ID book [Head 1997] on [new booksí] shelf [found]: identity [has a] confused definition (30.3. 98)

Struggling in ID article with what to call mixture of traditional and post-modern ID. Went to library for reading day on bereavement [part of staff development at work] opened [Walter 1994, on bereavement] found "neo-modern" as mixture of traditional and post-modern. (28.5.98 2.00 p.m.)

During this period I was of course following up references in a more conventional manner also. However, I became more and more aware that what I saw in articles often depended on what I was looking for, as in the comment below on tackling volumes of the journal Educational Action Research. A new "lens" seemed to highlight new material which, in its turn, modified the lens:

I am re-reading E.A.R journal through the lens of ID ... as "theory" develops a new "lens" develops thus the data are seen in a new light - which then adjusts the "lens" or "theory". (2.2.98 8.00 a.m.)

3. The research question.

#[p152] When studying practice, as I explained earlier, I came to accept my starting point as simply curiosity, not a " research question" as such. That came much later. My starting point in this mini-project, however, quickly became what I was to call a "proto-question": a relatively unformed query which simply linked, in a loose way, identity and research. I recorded this in my diary as it came to me in the rather mysterious form :

{?} {identity} {?} {with respect to my research} (21.10.97).

This eventually resolved itself into the question below (my concerns about this are recorded in chapter 8):

{How does my understanding of the concept of} {identity} {illuminate my understanding of the research process?} (5.4.98 1.00 p.m. in park).

I planned to present something to the Monday lunch time discussion group a few months later at Northumbria University as a spur to focus my thoughts, while pursuing the rough direction afforded by this question. Gradually an idea began to develop that this final phase of the project would work in two ways (1) an exploration of identity and (2) a further exploration of the method, using research into identity as the focus:

I use my method to examine ID and I use ID to examine method (6.3.98)

4. Identity and its definition.

My early concerns began to coalesce around the subject of definition (see chapter 10 for the working definition adopted in this study). Having read a number of articles linking research and identity my initial impression was that they tended to limit discussion to one or two "identities" such as "researcher" or "practitioner". As my diary notes, this seemed unnecessarily restrictive (the extracts below also illustrate the on-going serendipity process with ideas coming first thing in the morning, in the bath, from the radio):

Is it a problem of "sloppy definition" ? i.e. if we define ID to include love, sense of humour, parenting/children, taste in music, honesty, courage etc., then researchers would not leave it to work and research. (21. 11 97 7.30 a.m. emphasis in original)

#[p153] When Iím worried about Joe and Kate [my children], Iím a dad. (2.1.98 8.30 p.m. in bath)

On "Pick of the week" Radio 4 3.30 [they played] extracts from interviews with grandson of Verwoerd, [who was] involved in running the South African truth commission, [he was] talking about the current position of white people in South Africa : "African is not a noun, its a verb. It means actively working to identify with Africa". (25.1.98)

Apart from this desire to expand the definition I also began to need to address the confusion I felt over the bewildering number of terms which could be associated with or substitute for identity such as a self, subjectivity, individuality etc. This took me into a massive literature bridging psychology, psychiatry and sociology. My feeling was that, although possibly of great academic interest in some quarters, most practitioner researchers, unless particularly concentrating on such points, would be mightily put off by a survey of this enormous material. Although important, it could easily consume much of the present thesis. I decided that this particular off-shoot of an off-shoot would best be abandoned on purely practical grounds. In retrospect, struggling with the detail of this literature meant that I missed the important question: was "identity" the right focus? (see chapter 8).

The eventual resolution of these concerns, following efforts to write and present a paper, was to restrict my main investigation to what seemed to be the more important task of examining the link between the complex and conflicting identities I uncovered, and research. One of these identities centred on me as counsellor. As counselling may be seen as a rather unusual aspect of research, I will expand this area before returning to the topic of identity. Exploring the definition of identity, however, I will leave to chapter 10.

5. Counselling.

In this section, I will explore the ways in which counselling made a strong contribution to the project, and to my identity (further comments on the role of emotions in research are in chapters 4 and 10). Some background is provided first on co-counselling and the formative influences of my teacher.

#[p154] Co-counselling developed in the 1950s under the influence of Harvey Jackins and John Heron (see Springer 1998 for a history). Following disagreements between them the movement split. Jackins continued with Re-evaluation Counselling (RC) and Heron with Co-Counselling International (CCI). The description of counselling which follows refers mainly to RC although in many respects the two differ very little. I do not offer a critique of the approach or attempt to relate it to other counselling styles, but simply provide a very brief description so that the reader can understand the later discussion.

The basic premise of RC is that emotions may cloud ones thinking[2].  We experience "hurts" throughout our lives. Those hurts cause unpleasant emotions ("distress") such as fear, shame, anger. At the time we may not be able to express these. They then may become tucked away as "recordings". At some later date, a similar event can trigger these distress recordings and provoke a reaction, often out of scale to the event (as in the over-reaction to oneís partner leaving the top of the toothpaste). Thus present time activities dredge up these old, un-resolved emotions and they prevent us reacting more appropriately to the situation. In the counselling session, the old distress recordings are deliberately triggered, in a safe, accepting setting, so that once released ("discharged") the client is left free to decide how to respond without the confusing influence of, often very powerful, emotions.

The client is encouraged to cry, become angry, shout, feel fear, celebrate and so on and the counsellor employs a number of special techniques to facilitate this, such as going back to early childhood memories or using role play. In a typical one hour session a pair will take turns as "counsellor" then "client" (hence the common description of the method, co-counselling). Because of the nature of the process, both members of the pair will be trained co-counsellors, working with each other. This is different to the more normal set up of experienced counsellor working with naive client, although, with care, co-counselling techniques and training can be brought in to conventional counselling settings. Co-counselling does not seek to suppress or reject or decry emotions but simply to provide a mechanism for dealing with their influence, when and if the "client" experiences this influence as a "problem" (for further description see for instance Jackins 1965 or the more readily available Ernst and Goodison, 1981).

#[p155] In chapter 1 I mentioned my counselling teacher, Joyce. She provided a powerful model of counselling practice. Co-counselling, particularly her example, became very important to me during the last 12 years. Observing Joyce closely over a great many sessions I gradually began to appreciate part of the secret of her work: it was to do with listening. Intense listening, "active" listening, is presumably a strong component of most counselling schools. But Joyce seemed to go a step further. She listened with her body. I can explain it in no other way. She seemed to "melt" towards the client, to shape herself. She listened with total acceptance and her posture, her expression, all the myriad non-verbal signals reinforced this. Yet this was not a "becoming one" with the client. Enough distance has to be maintained to see behind the distress, to think creatively and seek ways to discharge this, while maintaining trust.

Such work may be found in the counselling literature, I will, however, turn to other sources in drawing out some lessons for the research setting rather than the counselling session. While there may be a multitude of mid-way positions and alternative routes to handling subjectivity I will concentrate on two articles. These brought into sharp focus the need to clarify my thinking in this field and chimed with developing ideas around counselling and research. The two are selected as illustration of two contradictory positions: one refers to managing subjectivity in inquiry, the other, in opposition, refers to embracing participatory consciousness. The first seeks to control subjectivity, the second to harness it[3].

6. Managed subjectivity and participatory consciousness.

In considering research, Peshkin (1988) asserts that "subjectivity operates during the entire research process" (p.17). Rather than seeing this as a disadvantage, however, he regards it as a virtue "[subjectivity] is the basis of researchers making a distinctive contribution, one that results from the unique configuration of their personal qualities joined to the data they have collected" (p.18). He explains how he decided to "actively seek out" his subjectivity in research (ibid p.18) by noting "[w]hen I felt my feelings were aroused" (p.18). As a result of such monitoring, he discovers six "I"s in one particular #[p156] project and advocates the "enhanced awareness that should result from a formal, systematic monitoring of self" (ibid p.20). However, he describes this as "a tuning up of my subjectivity ...[and] a warning ... so that I may avoid the trap of perceiving just that which my own untamed sentiments have sought out and served up as data" (ibid p.20). He seeks to control his subjectivity "I do not thereby exorcise my subjectivity. I do, rather, enable myself to manage it - to preclude it from being unwittingly burdensome" (ibid p.20).

Heshusius (1994) provides a criticism of this "procedural subjectivity": "how to be in charge of oneís subjectivity, how to handle it, restrain it, account for it" (p.15). She sees "management of both subjectivity and objectivity ... as sharing the same alienated mode of consciousness" (ibid p.15) and relates this to attempts to model research on science "[i]n borrowing methodology from the natural sciences, we borrowed the idea of distance, the idea that the knower is separate from the known" (ibid p.16). This distance was regulated first by an "objective methodology" and now by "a methodology of [controlling] subjectivity" (ibid p.16). In view of the failure of this more "objective" stance to get to the heart of matters (she cites in example a particular researcherís misunderstanding of an alien culture) she advocates, instead, "participatory consciousness ... the awareness of a deeper level of kinship between the knower and the known" (ibid p.16).

This participatory consciousness "requires an attitude of profound openness and receptivity" (ibid p.16). It involves "a temporary eclipse of all the perceiverís egocentric thoughts and strivings, of all preoccupations with self and self-esteem. One is turned toward other ... Ďwithout being in need of ití " (ibid p.16 emphasis in original).

Heshusius describes the deep passion and identification "that does not want anything, but ... in the total turning of the attention while releasing all egocentric thought, opens up access" (ibid p. 17 emphasis in original). She points up the danger in trying to manage subjectivity "[i]n resisting the undue influence of values and emotions ... one can cut oneself off from the real Ďfeeling/ knowingí" (ibid p.18) and end up with "fragmented knowledge" (ibid p.18). She talks of "dwelling and indwelling, of extending oneself non-verbally, of letting go of self and attending a larger reality" (ibid p.18) and the need for science to become "enchanted" again (ibid p.18), to "heal the split between rational and #[p157] somatic knowing" (ibid p.19). Peshkinís call to manage subjectivity she sees as arising from "a fear to merge" (ibid p.19) and as a result of such anxiety "we create the idea of distinctly separate "Iís" within one person: the "I" that is doing the restraining and the "Iís" that need the restraining" (ibid p.19). However, in employing participatory consciousness researchers "did not get Ďlostí in some symbiotic participation that robbed them of their ability to engage in reasoning, conceptualisation, categorisation and so forth" (ibid p. 20).

How do these two papers bear on the current project? Heshusius describes what I feel is an account of the kind of listening which can be employed in counselling: an embracing of the other without becoming lost, a deep knowing. I could see that in Joyce. After much training, I can experience something of this myself when counselling. If my study were a study of others I would like to think I could explore in the way Heshusius describes, in interacting with these "others". But my project is a study of myself. The constant challenge is to do just what Heshusisus deplores in conventional research: to achieve some distance. To observe myself "dispassionately". To "wander around in my mind" (Hampton 1993 p. 264). This is not fear driven, certainly not fear of the other as Heshusisus describes. It is more a realistic need to exercise some control over what could easily become a morass, an infinite regress. In this context, some concept similar to Peshkinís managed subjectivity seems essential, although we are still left with the conundrum of who is the "I" who does this managing. For now I will return, however, to the subject of counselling as it occurs in the current project.

7. Counselling and research.

Many authors point to the emotional stresses of research (e.g. Dadds 1993, Rowland 1993), few describe counselling experiences as part of the way of dealing with these. Heron (1996), exploring co-operative inquiry, explains how researchers "will need to take time out ... to monitor for the distorting effect of their own fear and hidden distress" (p.151). He describes, for example, one inquiry which included "three in-depth sessions of #[p158] emotional house cleaning, involving regression, catharsis and insight" (p.153). His work is, perhaps untypical, established as he is in a counselling background.

I counselled regularly before the project, there was no special effort needed to bring this into the research arena. Most of my early counselling around the project had been to do with worries of the type "Where am I going", "I canít do it" etc. and these continued in various guises throughout. One rather mysterious diary note summed up some of my thinking after one session with Mike, my current counsellor, and provides an entry into the way counselling worked for me in research:

Research =Poetry. I donít count. It does! (31.3.98 9.15 p.m. at Mikeís)

This referred to memories of struggles around the first public performance of my poetry a few years previously. It was in a large venue. I was very worried the audience would reject the poems, and thus reject me. My own self esteem was tied up in the success or failure of the venture. Counselling allowed me to dissociate my identity concerns from the material. I tried to imagine myself as just the "poor vehicle" for the "great work"[4]; I was just a "conduit" to bring them out. What counted was presenting the material as well as I could. I had a duty as an "artist" to give the poems life, they could (to employ a metaphor) then "run around on their own without me". I did not count, they did.

In the same way, I overcame my fears around presenting a paper on identity. The ideas were what counted, not my personal kudos (or lack of), thus, as far as the research is concerned, I got to a stage of feeling, "I" donít count, the ideas do.

Two further notable sessions illustrate the counselling style and how it related to the study. One concerned the paper "Notes From a Method" I had just posted to the Educational Action Research journal (EARJ), the other concerned the training tape I was trying to develop.

8. Counselling about the paper.

#[p159] In some ways the issue here might be seen by an outsider as trivial: worries over how some distantly connected academic might react to my paper. Counselling may, however, be more to do with the force of our perceptions rather than any "objective" measure of the size of the problem. In any case, this first example provides an introduction to the "feel" of the counselling method, although resolution of problems through counselling is not always as immediate as this example implies.

In the EARJ paper I was making the argument that truthful accounts should include all the side-tracks and confusions of research. I had a sudden horror that the journalís (prestigious) editors would take this to mean I was saying all their past work was an academic fiction. What was I to do? Ask the post office to rescue the envelope? I was in something of a panic and unsure how to proceed. Emotions were clouding my judgement and decision making. The notes of the counselling session show how, using a suggestion offered by my counsellor of role-playing an imaginary confrontation, I bring out the problematic emotions ("discharge") and then begin to think more clearly.

The facilitating process:

I imagine myself in a room full of high-powered academics. I read my paper to them and repeat several times the offending phrase [about tidy research being fraudulent and dishonest] from Wilson (1997). Keith B. [a particularly renowned and, on first contact, fearsome researcher; name changed] barks at me "Youíre calling me a liar?".

The discharge:

I feel real fear and shake.

My subsequent thinking [when the emotion evaporates]:

(a) I donít want to say "all your past work was lies" rather, this is a "new paradigm" lets move on....

(b) Iíll re-read some EARJ [articles] because I suspect they do put [this kind of] mess in [more than I think]. (20.10.97)

My claim for discovery of a "new paradigm" here may seem more than a little foolish, perhaps a new method would be nearer the mark, and "re-reading some articles" may sound a rather mundane outcome, the point is, however, I was able to help the thinking along and leave the worry behind. The details of the foolish or trivial thoughts involved in the process are less relevant than the subsequent result of clearing out the emotional block.

#[p160] 9. Problems with the tapes.

My first counselling session with Mike in the last phase of the research, raised a basic question around the definitions of identity and self which I recorded as "Where does ID = self?" (29.9.97). That question of definition was to be addressed in preparing the later article. The most challenging issue at that time, however, concerned my tapes.

In an early phase of the project I had a tentative fancy around analysing my parent interviews in some very detailed way which would require transcripts (I had been reading studies which used grounded theory). I recorded a number of interviews with this in mind but in the end decided that such an approach was not going to be the focus of the inquiry. However, for a long period I had avoided listening to these tapes as I concentrated on trying to untangle the methodological quandaries arising from the project as a whole. At the beginning of the identity research this omission suddenly came to the fore. The notes below are presented in some length as they set out most of the agenda for my concerns over the following year.

To begin, I started to realise the tapes actually presented a powerful emotional issue for me, tied up with not liking the sound of my own voice[5].  As I hoped to produce a commercial training package with these as the centre piece, this was more than a little local difficulty.

Why not listen to the tapes? Its like the two parts of the project are separate - "practitioner" and "researcher". Also:

- Donít like the sound of my voice. Old hidden hurts of class, and stammer. THIS FEELS EMOTIONALLY CHARGED. Need a counselling session.

- Donít know quite what to do with [the tapes] (if anything). But N.B. [Iím] going to make a "book and tape" [training package] so will need to listen! (30.9.97 6.00 a.m. emphasis in original)

Simply reflecting on the concerns did not resolve the matter:

Perhaps [Iím] not listening to tapes because its the accent I donít like because it [implies Iím] "thick", which is odd when [Iím] doing a PhD. Except part of the motivation may be to "prove" Iím not "thick" (If someone says I like your accent that doesnít help, like Cyranoís nose - it just emphasises it). Although note [for the] last few months [Iíve been ] thinking [it] doesnít matter whether I actually "pass" the damn thing or not!

#[p161] Oh dearie me, its like the old horror movies "Just when you thought you were safe..." i.e. [I had] a nice tidy thesis with [a nice simple bit of research into] "ID" as the last bit. So "ID research" needs a health warning. (30.9.97 6.00 a.m.)

Below are the notes of counselling sessions in November 1997 and February 1998 when I took tapes along to listen to and deal with the emotions arising from. In the first session I listened to a tape for about fifteen minutes and counselled for about fifteen minutes. The second (briefer) session shows my much more positive attitude well established.

10. Counselling about the tapes.

1st session 10.11.97.

The diary notes below are a re-construction of the counselling session, written down later at home. In the session I return to an early memory, in this case of a speech therapy session (one of the co-counselling techniques is to work on the first memory of a particular problem). I then switch roles, talking to myself as adult then child; again, part of the techniques used to trigger the emotion.

One of my concerns had been that the tape might demonstrate a poor interview style. This "professional" concern, however, had been drowned in the sea of "personal" concerns about my accent. The clear thinking at the end is where I start to see the tape in a different light, free from the emotional "noise" I can begin to appreciate some of its strengths.

The facilitating process.

Re: [my] accent : [it sounds] stupid, thick, ignorant. [I] recall a speech therapy session about age 12 [when I had to listen to a tape of myself]. [The] speech therapist didnít notice my reaction to [hearing] my voice.

The discharge.

What sort of world is it where you have to think about that. What have they done to you?

[Speaking as adult to my younger self:] Youíre all right son, its OK. You shouldnít have to think about it at your age.

[my younger self talking] Look Iím only twelve, for ****ís sake. What have I done to deserve this? Iím just slobbing about like the average twelve year old, Iíve #[p162] done nothing wrong. Bastards! it shouldnít have to be like this! Its not right. Iím only twelve.

Lots of tears and sharp pain between eyebrows.

Subsequent thinking.

Tape is nicely broken up!!! [I had been concerned about monopolising the interviews]. (10.11.97 extract from notes of session, emphasis in original)

Second session 2.2.98.

These are again my notes recalled at home in my diary. The actual counselling involved listening to a different tape for about fifteen minutes. I had not listened to any of the tapes in the meanwhile. An unexpected period of "celebration" followed, rather than any "discharge" of negative emotions. The earlier session appears to have helped clear out the emotional baggage. I record below just this celebration.

I liked the interview! I liked me interviewing. That was good work! I can see whatís going on - the quality of communication, the skill involved. I was mirroring mumís speech (quite naturally), "counselling" [her], making jokes - putting her at her ease, building trust. Thereís a lot going on there. Anyone who canít see that, who just hears "the accent", rather than the quality of the interaction, is not in a position to criticise.

I could perhaps have a different accent - BBC posh? It might work better. But it might not! I might like it more, but my priority is the parents (and the child) and if what I do now is effective, Iím not going to change it. Anyway, listening to me now, Iím comfortable with me. I can relate to me. And Iím doing a good job. I can sell this tape! (2.2.98 extract from notes of session, emphasis in original)

During August 1998 I began to make up a training package for psychologists based round one of the interviews (see appendix A for a copy of the relevant part of this tape, the main parent interview). During the pilot phase I asked colleagues to comment on the taped material, without feeling any anxieties around my accent, just (quite appropriate) concerns around whether the material would be effective or not. The unhelpful emotions around listening to myself seemed to have been overcome and I could concentrate on more practical matters. But worries about method persisted.

11. Continuing concerns over identity and method.

#[p163] Much of my identity thinking had been around practitioner and researcher aspects. Gradually, other identities came to prominence, although not always through counselling. For instance, at one point, just in the course of my routine reflections, I discovered a re-confirmation of an older identity, that of scientist:

I now realise (although this may be an older selfís meanderings) that at one point, through the discipline of maths, my younger self had some insight into how one tiny corner of the universe works. And I count that realisation as more precious than all the philosophy and psychology I have ever read. (25.2.98 9.00 p.m. in bath).

I return to this identity in the concluding chapter, and carry on below with concerns over method.

Despite having had an encouraging response to my article on method from EARJ in July 1997, I was still not sure that it would finally be accepted, that confirmation did not come till May 1998. My confidence in the approach (and whether I could complete the research) remained somewhat shaky, being so different from my scientific training:

Been scared all week. Its like training for the Olympics in running a mile on your hands. Can I do it? [and] Will some judge accept it as a valid race? (6.7.98)

However, at the same time, during the year, I gradually began to feel my own "acceptance" of my own approach. This roller-coaster of accepting and doubting the method appears throughout the project.

I am more confident embracing "uncertainty" [in my approach to] identity, (29.6 98 3.30 p.m. at work)

I am confident to call this study "research" like I became confident to call my style of writing poems "poetry". It may not be good research (or poetry) but it is research. (12.9.98 4.30 p.m. in bath, emphasis in original)

So, during the identity project I continued to experience worries about, and to shape my understanding of, the approach I was taking. I allowed this new lens of identity to develop, while aiming for another stage of understanding to consolidate.

I went for a first attempt at writing an article [on identity] based on one or two articles Iíd read and Andy [Converey]ís thesis and chats to Colin [Biott]. This gave me a "platform of understanding" (and possibly many naive/wrong ideas e.g. trying to criticise narrative research). (18.2.98 1.30 p.m. after lunch)

#[p164] Later in the same extract I also recall an example of an experience of "not seeing" material on another topic, "ill-defined problems", as I did not have the lens with which to see :

How am I going about this business [identity research]? I could have (should have) looked at my data in a kind of "grounded theory" way and saw what emerged. But I didnít feel I can do this until I have some clearer concepts - what is ID/self/ role etc. (remember I didnít "see" something in Eraut [1994 p.45] about "ill defined" problems, till I began much later to develop a concept of "ill defined problems" through [other] reading). (18.2.98)

The draft article led on to another platform:

I then sought a higher platform of understanding from the questions and confusions raised in the first draft through further reading. I abandoned further reading when feeling overwhelmed with material (and becoming aware of the potential of becoming engrossed in side-issues which may not be vital to the main direction e.g. stuff on ID and culture). I felt the need to distil another draft - another platform of understanding (always intending to interrogate the "data" when I felt sufficiently sufficiently confident of the concepts I was employing - in particular what is "identity"). (19.2.98)

The inquiry had potential to take many shapes. I started to realise this more clearly, and my approach to the concept of validity (see chapter 11) also began to be more flexible. Here, in the following extract, I am referring to the different ways I could have used my casework material in the early part of the project, as a parallel for the many ways the research as a whole could have panned out:

I could have taken many paths through the reading. To a large extent the path I took was chance. Another path would (may) have given a different handle on the topic, perhaps radically different. Which of these paths is the correct one?

In the same way, I could have approached my "cases" in many different ways (discourse analysis etc.) and the thesis would have been a very different animal.

But remember even I could not "replicate" the research, never mind another researcher - as in T.S. Eliot "xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

xxxxxxxx" [an approximation to p. 35 line 139 of Eliot 1959]. Perhaps the notion of what is the most "valid" interpretation of the "data" is superfluous. Many interpretations could be made, each one "valid " in a sense: coherent [in itself] and resonating [with other people] - there is no "correct" path through the forest, just a variety of different walks, each "true to itself". (18.2.98 1.30 p.m. after lunch)

This note fairly neatly summarises several aspects of the method and my changing understanding of it. Baldamus further illustrates this chance/contingent nature of research #[p165] in quoting other researchersí confessions (see also Hart 1995 p.219 on the number of different "stories" data could generate):

There are so many questions which might be asked, so many correlations which could be run, so many ways in which the findings can be organised ... that a thousand different studies could come out of the same data. (Davis quoted in Baldamus 1972 p. 292)

During this period I continued to rehearse to myself some of the arguments of chapter 8 where I came to view the "data" as theory laden. Chalmers (1982) argues that even the most mundane of observations "Here is a piece of chalk" is theory laden and fallible (p.30). Whatever the truth of this more general proposition, it seems clear that I could not separate the "analysis" of the data from my attempts to discover concepts in the data (and my reading) with which later "to see" the data. For instance, until I had come across the concept of "ill-defined" problems in other material, it did not register in my first reading of Eraut. Although I only pursued this idea of ill-defined problems in a limited way the instance was quite salutary for me.

In addition to this "learning to see"[6]  there was again a large element of "serendipity", exemplified in the many paths I could have taken, depending on, for instance, the influence of my reading around the topic. Some of the time was taken in exploratory "probes" or off-shoots, such as beginning to examine culture and its link to identity ("Why and how do contemporary questions of culture so readily become highly charged questions of identity" taken from Hall and du Gay 1996, jacket blurb). When these began to become "bogged-down" in endless side issues, or began to move too far from the main path, without themselves becoming the main path, they were abandoned.

12. The production of the article.

I delivered the paper on identity at the BERA annual conference in Belfast at the end of August 1998. The audience asked several questions, mainly to clarify points. The questioning was not hostile, in fact a number of those attending, including the chair of the session, seemed enthusiastic and all twenty copies of the article were taken away. I had crossed one hurdle in making the knowledge public. One comment I took on board #[p166] concerned my rather dismissive tone about research being used as therapy (from Somekhís 1995 paper). I later modified this.

The article was not, however, the article I wanted to write; it was the one I felt impelled to write. It was defensive writing, seeking academic credibility with a wall of references (not that they were irrelevant or in some way simply padding). Rather than being woven in as part of the paper, they broke it in two. Much of the writing felt heavy. It was not me. As my diary records a little later, I felt the content of the research could not be separated from its form. It had to be authentic for me, then it might speak to others: "... on the plane back from Belfast on Sunday I was almost in tears. There is a way I want to write, that has wings" (diary note 3.9.98 emphasis in original). The text did not please me, although it was not until November, following discussion with Colin, that I fully realised this problem: it was associated with another "recovered" identity which the research had thrown up, that of writer (see also chapter 10).

This writer identity underlined a tension in the project: how was I finally to present the material (the thesis and later articles arising from it) - in formal "scientific" style, or in my own voice[7]? Both courses appeared risky. The first might achieve "academic" respectability but lose a more "authentic" voice. It might gain in validity in one sense, and at the same time, lose it in another. The second would create a better tale: the form and the content of the thesis would be one, the nature of the text, its readability, would add to its validity in the way I conceived validity, but would that be acceptable to the academy? The resolution of this tension, the choice of writing style, should now be evident; questions of validity I will postpone till later.

Feedback from BERJ, the journal I eventually submitted the article to, left me with a quandary: how to incorporate their comments in the time scale I had left. I decided to follow the advice of one of the referees and to set aside for now further attempts to develop a theoretical position on identity. In addition, the original article had given only a brief description of the various identities I described and the referees criticised me for not giving sufficient material from the rest of the project to illustrate claims about possessing these identities. I decided to incorporate a very modified version of the paper into the #[p167] thesis so that the more extensive "evidence" for the various identities would not be divorced from the discussion of their influence on research. This heavily amended revision of part of the paper, and the outstanding questions it raises, appear as chapter 10 rather than as a separate article.

13. Key points emerging from the chapter.

The messy method was applied in this mini-project. I began with a proto-question which in this case crystallised too quickly.

The example of careful listening of my counselling teacher led me to a consideration of the place of subjectivity in this research.

To highlight the need to maintain "distance" in self-study (although not in the study of others) I was attracted to Peshkinís "managed subjectivity" rather than Heshusiusí "participatory consciousness"

While not rejecting the positive value of emotions, I used counselling to deal with some of the emotional stresses arising from the research.

In addition to practitioner, researcher and counsellor identities I rediscovered a scientist identity and a writer identity. The next chapter considers multiple identities.

During this mini-project, while still doubting the "messy method" I note a parallel increasing of my acceptance of the overall approach, which went through several platforms of understanding.

I noted how easily the research could have followed many different paths and appreciated again how my observations were theory dependent.

#[p168] Feedback from a draft article on identity and research led me to focus on displaying the evidence for claiming multiple identities.


[1] MacLure (1995) criticises the use of the term tool as an engineering metaphor, in her exploration of post-modern thinking about research. I use the term here acknowledging the potentially misleading image it may conjure up.

[2] I am not rejecting the value of emotions here. Emotions may be a positive force. Dadds (1995) and Polanyi (1958 e.g. ch.4), for instance, support the idea of "passion" in inquiry. For simplicity I also make no distinction between emotions and feelings in the discussions.[BACK]

[3] My attention was drawn to these particular papers by an un-named referee of my paper on Identity and Research and I am indebted to the person for this. Further discussion of subjectivity is continued in debates which I do not explore, see for example, Barone 1992, Clark 1994, Heshusius 1989, Lenzo, 1995.[BACK]

[4] I would like to stress that I am not claiming the work was, in fact, brilliant. The point is to do with how I got round my anxieties: by taking responsibility as an artist for the material and putting my "self" concerns to one side.[BACK]

[5] In addition, I had worries that looking too closely would somehow spoil the "magic" of the Eric Harvey method. There was also a lingering desire to carry out some gigantic statistical analysis of the transcripts. I focus here on what seemed the biggest "block" at the time.

Blocks may not be uncommon. Dadds (1993), for example, describes how one teacher was unable to examine her video tapes as she "had been unable to detach her feelings about the wider professional context from her feelings .... about the video images" (p.292). Maisch et al (1997) describe one researcher being "blocked by her feelings of pain" (p.53). My counselling solution to such problems is just one that researchers may wish to consider.

[6] Chalmers (1982) describes in some detail the theory-dependence of observation, borrowing from Polanyi (which is quoted at length here as it captures for me the feeling of "learning to see" so well):

Think of a medical student attending a course in the X-ray diagnosis of pulmonary diseases. He (sic) watches, in a darkened room, shadowy traces on a fluorescent #[p169] screen placed against a patientís chest, and hears the radiologist commenting to his assistants, in technical language, on the significant features of these shadows. At first, the student is completely puzzled. For he can see in the X-ray pictures only the shadows of the heart and ribs, with a few spidery blotches between them. The experts seems to be romancing about figments of their imagination; he can see nothing that they are talking about. Then, as he goes on listening for a few weeks, looking carefully at ever-new pictures of different cases, a tentative understanding will dawn on him; he will gradually forget about the ribs and begin to see the lungs. And eventually, if he perseveres intelligently, a rich panorama of significant details will revealed to him: of physiological variations and pathological changes, of scars, of chronic infections and signs of acute disease. He has entered a new world. He sees only a fraction of what the experts can see, but the pictures are definitely making sense now. (Polanyi 1958 p.101)

In my study (as in other research), of course, there was no "expert" to show the way, to mould the developing perceptions. It was a "boot strapping" affair of creating the concepts and learning how to see with them, both at the same time.

[7] Griffiths (1998) examines several meanings of voice, compares it with empowerment and relates the two to working for social justice. I am employing voice here loosely to mean using "my own style of writing". In chapter 11, however, I refer to "giving myself voice", again loosely, as a type of self-empowerment i.e. overcoming my lack of confidence in asserting my own knowledge. Confusingly, this may involve using my own style of writing i.e. voice in the earlier meaning.

In chapter 3 I refer to "giving voice" as describing an area I am familiar with (the Eric Harvey method and attention seeking). In chapter 9 my "voice" is simply my speech. I will not pursue these variations in meaning of voice any further.

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Chapter Ten