Tuesday, 15 June 2010

From experience to theory

One of my early challenges has been to find ways to think again about my own experiences of professional transformation (for want of a better phrase). Like many of us, I was able to reflect on my professional journey, but simply recounting experiences wasn't the aim here - it was to make sense of the experiences and choices I have made. I really value my diverse career to date, and this variety has afford me different perspectives on working with children and families in all sorts of contexts.

So: I practiced what I lecture, which is to use theory to prompt a deeper insight and to help me develop a language around the theme of changing professional identity and practice. I've spent a good year reading around before I even prepared by PhD proposal identifying perspectives, testing them, considering limitations and contradictions and wondering what sort of 'hybrid' perspective might give me a useful frame of reference. Although it's early days, here's a few steps in (one branch) of my journey towards a specific frame of reference:

  • I've started with sociology: that is, I'm interested in social activity. For now, it might just be useful to say that within the very broad field of sociology I'm relating to Weber's (1864 - 1920) interpretive sociology, which aims to relate to a group or culture on their own terms or frames of reference.
  • OK, so to be a little more specific, I found that pragmatism offered some useful perspectives and gave more insight into 'social worlds'. Associated with theorists such as John Dewey (1859 - 1952) Pragmatism suggests that a) we all interpret our environment, b) knowledge is learnt and used in so far as it's useful to us, c) we only notice what we want to or what we see as useful, d) studying people's actions is significant.
  • A step further was to look at the theoretical propositions around symbolic interactionism. This perspective was developed by George Herbert Mead (1863 - 1931) and his student Herbert Blumer (1900 - 1987) amongst others. I found it helpful as a perspective because it suggests a) social interaction leads us to do what we do, b) people are not just 'acted upon' by others or society, we think and act, c) people define the situation they are in (supportive by interaction and thinking), d) the cause of action is a response to the present situation, even if it draws on perspectives shaped in the past.
So, that's a really simplified version of that particular part of the journey.