Not quite how I should describe my conceptual framework

So I thought I had a go at writing about my conceptual framework. While it was an interesting exercise, it turns out that it is not the right thing to put in my 8,000 word proposal for confirmation. It might still end up in there, I am running out of time. However,  I better at least try to do a better job. Posting it here, so at least I feel like it has been used for something, will make me feel better about deleting it and getting to work on something less abstract and more directly related to my project. Here you go!


This project seeks to understand the context that makes certain strategies of action both valued and possible. With such an aim, this project not only sits within a critical social theory but demands reflexive empirical inquiry, and particularly enquiry into relational phenomena in social space. In seeking to capture both actual and the ideals for social interaction within a suburb, this project can step beyond asking whether or not community can be realised in the suburbs to provide insight into on whose terms do we get the dominant (and dominated) understandings of community. As has been proven useful in the empirical discipline of anthropology, this project takes a ‘middle ground’ or ‘toolbox’ approach to theory (Knauft 2006).

A ‘middle ground’ approach still demands conceptualising the project in such a way that it has feasible and useful limits. In taking tensions in the policy literature as a starting point, and seeking to explore these through the collection of empirical data in a particular administratively defined place, the scope for the project has emerged without the strong theoretical basis seen as defining the field in Burawoy’s (1998) extended case method and prior to an in depth understanding of the field has been developed, as called for in Glasser and Strauss’ (1967) grounded theory (see Tavory & Timmermans 2009).

A review of current literature has demonstrated the conceptual value of Bourdieu’s work, particularly his notion of habitus (Bourdieu 1977), for such a project (e.g. Wacquant 2009: 144). In this particular project, Bourdieu’s work provides a useful starting point through highlighting the need to simultaneously collect information about individuals, as well as groups, about the social, economic and cultural aspects of life. This provides an opportunity to bring different perspectives into comparison with each other to explore which representations or whose capital is accepted. It has also been shown that such an approach can allow the researcher to work with enough of a critical, theoretical perspective in order to begin to unpack what remains unsaid and unchallenged. More generally, Bourdieu’s emphasis on the relational aspects of social space (Bourdieu 1989; Wacquant 1992: 15), demonstrates the conceptual significance of Bourdieu’s work for this project.

A ‘middle ground’ approach lends itself well to a focus on ‘practice’, which is ‘a symbol’ around which are clustered ‘a variety of theories and methods’ (Ortner 1984: 127), including the work of Bourdieu. The practice near research agenda which has been advanced through the Journal for Social Work Practice, sets out to ‘provide us with in-depth understanding of our complex psycho-social world.’ (Cooper 2009: 440). Just as Ortner’s discussion of practice theory highlights the potential for a focus on practice to explore the relationship between systems and action, partly in order to understand the systems better (Ortner 1984: 146- 148), Andrew Cooper situates the practice near research agenda with the theoretical perspectives of Anthony Giddens and Roy Bhaskar in order to attend to the significance of structural principles that are not deterministic (Cooper 2009: 440).

For Andrew Cooper, ‘‘Practice’ is about people, relationships, and organisations and social systems such as teams and networks made up of people and relationships. If we want to ask what it might mean to get ‘near’ to practice then we might rephrase the question as ‘what happens when we get close, emotionally or physically, to people?’’ (Cooper 2009: 432). Recent work which is positioned as being part of the practice near research agenda draws on psychoanalytic theory in both its understandings and its methods, in such a way that the experience of the researcher is interrogated and used to get near to the experience of the research subjects (e.g. Aymer 2009; Cooper 2001; Cooper 2009; Hingley-Jones 2009; Hollway 2009). While this project does not draw as explicitly on the same theoretical perspectives, and the experiences of the researcher are not to be interrogated using psychoanalytic theory, the conceptual framework for this project has been heavily influenced by the demonstrated potential for a practice near approach to unpack social policy as it is written, implemented and evaluated (e.g. Copper 2005; Cooper & Lousada 2005; White, Broadhurst, &et al 2009). The use of psychoanalytic insights is not a fringe element in social research, and need not be limited to situations using psychoanalytic methods, as demonstrated by the work of Wacquant and even to an extent that of Goffman (Manning 2009: 771).

It follows that such a conceptual framework is underpinned by a commitment to epistemic reflexivity. Reflexivity is not necessarily torn down with straw man accounts of post modern theory (Wacquant 2009: 145). Taylor and White talk about the importance of doubt in social work practice (Taylor & White 2006), which is not discredited by Sheppard’s critique of Sue White’s promotion of reflexivity. Sheppard’s concern that, ‘The result is that we have no way of identifying one particular approach as being preferable to another.’ (Sheppard 1998: 776) certainly does not stand up in the context of social policy research. History is full of examples of the terrible injustices committed when we fail to unpack on whose terms we decide which is the preferable approach. Therefore, a reflexive approach is a conceptual strength in this project. While this is certainly not his argument, it is a way to address Hammersley’s concerns about how can we know when we commit ‘theory abuse’ when  researchers are subject to what at times are contradictory demands of assessing the validity of interpretations of data and the validity of theories used to interpret the data (Hammersley 2008: 63& 65). This is so if, as Wacquant’s account of Bourdieu’s work suggests, ‘Far from encouraging narcissism and solipsism, epistemic reflexivity invites intellectuals to recognize and to work to neutralize the specific determinisms to which their innermost thoughts are subjected and it informs a conception of the craft of research designed to strengthen its epistemological moorings.’ (Wacquant 1992: 46). In this way, a middle ground approach underpinned by reflexivity forms a useful conceptual basis for this project.

List of References

Aymer, Cathy. “Reflections at the Waterhole: Black Professionals Researching Together.” Journal of Social Work Practice: Psychotherapeutic Approaches in Health, Welfare and the Community 23, no. 4 (2009): 443 – 50.

Bourdieu, P. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Translated by Richard Nice. Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

Bourdieu, P. “Social Space and Symbolic Power.” Sociological theory 7, no. 1 (1989): 14-25.

Burawoy, M. “The Extended Case Method.” Sociological theory 16, no. 1 (1998): 4-33.

Cooper, Andrew. “Hearing the Grass Grow: Emotional and Epistemological Challenges of Practice-near Research.” Journal of Social Work Practice: Psychotherapeutic Approaches in Health, Welfare and the Community 23, no. 4 (2009): 429 – 42.

———. “The State of Mind We’re In: Social Anxiety, Governance and the Audit Society.” Psychoanalytic Studies 3, no. 3/4 (2001): 349-62.

———. “Surface and Depth in the Victoria Climbie Inquiry Report.” Child & Family Social Work 10, no. 1 (2005): 1-9.

Cooper, Andrew, and Julian Lousada. Borderline Welfare : Feeling and Fear of Feeling in Modern Welfare, Tavistock Clinic Series. London ; New York: Karnac, 2005.

Glaser, Barney G., and Anselm L. Strauss. The Discovery of Grounded Theory; Strategies for Qualitative Research. Chicago,: Aldine Pub. Co., 1967.

Hammersley, Martyn. Questioning Qualitative Inquiry : Critical Essays. Los Angeles ; London: SAGE, 2008.

Hingley-Jones, Helen. “Developing Practice-near Social Work Research to Explore the Emotional Worlds of Severely Learning Disabled Adolescents in €˜Transition’ and Their Families.” Journal of Social Work Practice: Psychotherapeutic Approaches in Health, Welfare and the Community 23, no. 4 (2009): 413 – 28.

Hollway, Wendy. “Applying the ‘Experience-near’ Principle to Research: Psychoanalytically Informed Methods.” Journal of Social Work Practice: Psychotherapeutic Approaches in Health, Welfare and the Community 23, no. 4 (2009): 461 – 74.

Knauft, BM. “Anthropology in the Middle.” Anthropological Theory 6, no. 4 (2006): 407-30.

Manning, P. “Three Models of Ethnographic Research: Wacquant as Risk-Taker.” Theory & Psychology 19, no. 6 (2009): 756.

Ortner, Sherry. “Theory in Anthropology since the Sixties.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 26, no. 1 (1984): 126-66.

Sheppard, M. “Practice Validity, Reflexivity and Knowledge for Social Work.” British Journal of Social Work 28, no. 5 (1998): 763.

Tavory, I, and S Timmermans. “Two Cases of Ethnography.” Ethnography 10, no. 3 (2009): 243.

Taylor, Carolyn, and Sue White. “Knowledge and Reasoning in Social Work: Educating for Humane Judgement.” Br J Soc Work 36, no. 6 (2006): 937-54.

Wacquant, L. “Habitus as Topic and Tool.” In Ethnographies Revisited: Constructing Theory in the Field, edited by William Shaffir, Antony Puddephat and Steven Kleinknecht, 137-51. London: Routledge, 2009.

Wacquant, Loïc J. D. “Toward a Social Praxeology: The Structure and Logic of Bourdieu’s Sociology.” In An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology, edited by Pierre Bourdieu and Loïc J. D. Wacquant, 1-59. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

White, Sue, Karen Broadhurst, David Wastell, Sue Peckover, Chris Hall, and Andy Pithouse. “Whither Practice-near Research in the Modernization Programme? Policy Blunders in Children’s Services.” Journal of Social Work Practice: Psychotherapeutic Approaches in Health, Welfare and the Community 23, no. 4 (2009): 401 – 11.



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