Practice-near, real life and some mixed methods: A post on finding new terms

This is yet another blow-by-blow diary style post.

Yesterday morning I had the idea of dedicating the day to trying to find articles in social work journals that bore some resemblance with what I hope to do in my project. Searching for terms was only getting me so far so I started reading through contents lists. I discovered two things. Firstly, social work journals appear to like to have special issues on spirituality. Secondly, there is a thing going on in a small number of programs called ‘practice-near’ research.

Now, pretty much my complete view of practice-near research comes from one special issue of the Journal of Social Work Practice: Psychotherapeutic Approaches in Health, Welfare and the Community (23:4), and even then I have not read all the articles in this special issue. However, in true style for me I am going to suggest my initial reaction and then we can see if I end up with a more considered opinion with time.

Practice-near research (using my words, not theirs) calls for research methods that use some element of participant-observation and draw on ethnographic data. The rather clumsy (and non-conducive to key word adoption) name of ‘practice-near’ is contrasted with ‘practice-far’ research, which I assume would be people who look at inefficiencies on paper and seek to come up with plans for improvement without finding out what the real world consequences are. I imagine it is only a matter of reading through enough of this material before I will find an argument about real life being irreducibly complex, and so any research that seeks to inform practice needs to be undertaken in an environment complete with real world indeterminacy.

Unsurprising seeing as these articles appear in a journal about ‘psychotherapeutic approaches’, many of the authors engage reflexively and emotional experiences are a significant part of data collection. While not everybody would use these methods, I wonder if any researcher would claim that their work was ‘practice-far’. I am leaning towards suggesting that practice-near research could serve as a strong critique of the notion of ‘best practice’.

Yesterday morning was useful, but it was the afternoon that brought my week full circle. A fellow student from last year pointed out the connection between this practice-near work and ‘real-life’ research (thanks Giri!).

Needless to say, ‘real-life’ research has received a few digs. While I have yet to get to some more substantial published works, I did get onto the ‘Vital Signs: Researching real life’ conference website from 2008 and was able to download the text of a talk given by Ingold about why things need to be considered as things rather than objects. I have not been able to find anything online linking practice-near and real-life research and while I am tempted to go on a rant about how far we are from an interdisciplinary world, it is also really hard to do searches with such commonly used phrases. If I ever coin a term I will be sure to make it Google Scholar friendly.

Returning to the Vital Signs conference page, further down the page I found an entire section which was called, “2c. New ways with surveys and Mixed Methods”. Mixed methods?!? Wow, either the people writing on mixed methods are putting their hands up for every conference going, or there must be some connection between mixed methods and real life. Or wait, maybe all social research is connected with real life? When I read some of the work linking mixed methods and real life perhaps I will be in the position to write a more considered post about mixed methods. Perhaps, if what mixed methods is really about is keeping at the centre of research an awareness that the social world can be irreducibly complex and that meaning is not self evident, then there could be something in it as a movement.

EDIT: There is also a term in cultural geography of non-representational/ more-than-representational (Lormier). This seems to be about looking at what happens in ordinary life practice as multi-sensual and not just textual. (22/04/10)

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