Whistle stop tour of different knowledges social pedagogues rely upon in their work
Updated: Jun 26, 2020
I work for a charity that provides accommodation and support for children and young people in and at the edge of care. During the lonely introductory walk through academia that is a PhD I have been really challenged and encouraged to think about the different kinds of knowledge that come to play within my professional environment.
On the other hand, one of the nagging worries I have had during this walk was that I would retreat into more and more abstract and convoluted thinking... Despite some of its drawbacks, I have always valued my position as a full time participation worker as well as a part time PhD student.
Recently an opportunity to bring those two parts of my professional and intellectual life closer together arose when I was asked to present some of the learning from my PhD to the senior managers in my place of work.
I decided to take them on a whistle stop tour of epistemology (how do we know what we know and why is it important) so that they could understand how different types of knowledge are at play when working as a residential care worker, a manager or when dealing with commissioners. I believe this awareness allows for a more nuanced response to the sometimes contradictory demands social pedagogues have to respond to in their everyday practice. This post is based on the content of those sessions with the team.
Departure Lounge: The "raw data" from the fieldwork.
I would like to start this discussion with an invitation to listen to the audio extract from the "data" I've harvested during the fieldwork for my PhD. (Just click on the photo below).
It's hard to understand, it isn't it? Well this is the "raw data" I base all of my analysis upon. However, it's not even the original sound file. I had to do quite a lot of work on it in order to anonymise it. I also cut some parts of the discussion that were not relevant to Rex's and Cicely's point. This is part of the process of publication, of taking the data and making it available to a wider audience. Without this, I would be misusing the trust the participants put in the process.
In the next few paragraphs, I would like to take you on a tour of the transformation this raw data was subjected to in order to turn it into something that can be used as "knowledge" that can be used by practitioners in residential care.
1st Stop: Going abroad...turning sound into written material
The first step of the processing is transcription to get written documents. As you can imagine some of the discussions on the audio are quite hard to catch, so the written transcript misses out some snippets of conversation. All names and identifying information have also been removed. This is what it looks like. Reading this with the audio running in the background helps a little bit with the understanding, but still something is missing....
2nd Stop: The tourist spot, where local context has disappeared
After this first transformation of the "data", can you really understand what they are talking about? Only if you know what the ASI questionnaire is.... and if you know who Ron and Kelly are.... I would think it's much more likely you can answer yes to the first part of the sentence. It is because the process of anonymising has taken away all the contextual knowledge that comes with this extract and this contextual knowledge is only evident and available to those who were involved in the fieldwork, it is what made it possible for me to write the transcript. Imagine having to guess who is speaking at each turn if you haven't lived through the workshops?
To move forward in our journey we need 2 pieces of information: one about the ASI and the other about who the people involved are.
So the ASI stands for Attachment Style Interview. It is a clinical test that is used in residential care and fostering to understand how a young person forms attachment with the adults around them...
And Ron is a young person living within the residential children's home. Kelly is the deputy manager of the home. She has been trained in order to be able to do the interview with Ron.
Final Destination: knowledge that can be used in different residential settings....But don't you miss home sometimes?
So now, can you work out what is the point that Rex is making? Here is the condensed quote that is ready for publication and can be used in different contexts and settings.
“This is the point I would have made, I don’t think it’s helpful at all. To have them, [the ASI] because even if you’ve got like […] even if you’re perfectly ehm if you’ve got this perfect rapport with someone’s personality, with their likes and dislikes and everything, you can’t use and apply it with them, because you don’t have the right to do that.[…] So you have to, it doesn’t matter who you are, you have to work start from scratch with anyone you work with, you can’t just say like oh, I know you, so I’ve got this [...] this information
Rex, Session 4 00.36.32 to 00.37.10
This is quite a transformation from the actual experience of being and contributing to the workshop, wouldn't you agree?
But the reason why I chose this quote is that Rex is explaining why it is relevant, withing residential care, to be drawing a line between two different types of knowledge:
Tacit knowledge; a knowledge that's embodied and embedded into the textures of our lives. It is often just below conscious awareness and belong to a specific time and place;
Scientific knowledge is more decontextualised, is generic and relies on commonalities between different aspects of realities. This is where its oppressive power lies as it can negate individuality, differences and experience.
Rex is talking about ethics, about his "Haltung". He explains why he feel he doesn't have the right to use the knowledge created through the ASI to build his relationship with Ron. If you listen further to the extract, you will hear that Cicely agrees with him. What both Ron and Cicely comment upon is the fact that the experience of doing the interview has changed Kelly and Ron's relationship for the better; however Cicely, Rex and anybody else have to "start from scratch" when building their relationship with Ron. Otherwise they would be imposing onto Ron knowledge that's decontextualised, that breaches confidentiality and that tells Ron he is an object, something that needs to be studied. The level of intimacy that the knowledge gained from the ASI brings ( such as feelings of abandonment, rejection or anger) would be at odd with the lived experience of the space in between Ron and Rex, Cicely or anybody apart from Kelly. This is because this intimacy only gradually arises between people, and this is an individual process.
I would argue that ignoring the distinction between tacit and more scientific; decontextualised knowledge is damaging for the relationships we so carefully attempt to build with the young people living in the residential homes where we work.
This distinction is often ignored, and I have recently started to realise the full extend this has on my life; from attempts to build a trauma-informed environment to my experience of the place where I live, I would encourage you to hone your awareness of this.
And this is this experience of the effect of the type of knowledge we use on our relationships that led me to finally understand Paulo Freire when he talks about epistemological curiosity (being curious about what we know, how we know it, why we know it and how we use it) as the first step to understanding others.
So my question is, would you like to become epistemologically curious?
As a first step, do you think you can go back over the experience of understanding the "raw data" from my fieldwork, and work out what kind of knowledge was needed at different steps through the process?
If you're interested in this, I will take this further in another post.... Watch out for it!