Sunday, 18 July 2010

Getting myself a practical theory?

The thing about theory is - it's a simplification of reality. It's a way of describing and working with complexity so that it begins to be possible to understand it, to analyse it and to use it to explain. I know the reality of working in children's services (like any work environment) is complex, so I'm striving to hit the right balance between oversimplification (on one hand) and 'fancy theory' on the other hand, which is about ego and impressing people. I've always been about application, so although I want to better understand how people's identity and practices changes as they work with others, it has to be usable and rooted in reality.

I guess it's naive to expect that I will begin my PhD journey with a polished theoretical framework - although it's tempting in one respect, the learning is in the journey and the (doubtless many) revisions to my thinking along the way. This is a vulnerable process, because it challenges me to truly reject the basis of 'expert knowledge'. Simply saying I'm learning new things, as this blog does, admits that. In my professional academic world, however, people like 'experts'. I'm just saying we all are on a journey - I know life is about more than me.
An enjoyable part of my journey has been finding theory that addresses concerns I have about the limitation of theories I've found so far - but don't quite 'capture it'. If you've been reading this blog, you might remember that my 'base camp' has been in the pragmatist / interactionist / interpretive world of Mead, Blumer et al. I liked the recognition of individual agency (our perceptions, choices and actions are important) but I also felt that I wanted to develop a perspective that also recognised the role of the context beyond purely the subjective. I valued Polyani's perspective which held in tension the subjective and personal with objective reality. I know being 'objective' is not academically fashionable, but never mind. Along those lines, I've found Gidden's theory of structuration (1979) and Bourdieu's theory of practice (1972) both a way of moving in that direction without ditching what I've picked up so far. How satisfying.

So, to go back to a previous post, I though it would be entirely fitting to provide you with a couple of (very rough) pages from my notebook which capture a few points which I think will prove useful as I work this theoretical frame up.