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«People Matter: A hermeneutic exploration of reflective practice and facilities management Melanie Bull A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of ...»

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There is a need to fully explore and explain my philosophical position to enable me to carry out research that is valid from my position, that means something to me, but also to ensure the strategy and method meet my preferences (Saunders et al, 2009). There also needs to be consideration of who I engaged in the research and why. Therefore this chapter also explores the method of engagement with my social actors. The term 'social actors' draws upon the philosophy of social research and from the work of Schutz (1962) and Hughes and Sharrock (1997) who suggested that the interpretation is based on individuals being conscious and their activities relate meanings to their social world. This further reiterates the use of life histories to discover more about the individuals engaged within the research. The discussion also includes the specific method used along with ethical considerations.

My ontological and epistemological view

In my own expression of understanding of ontology this is “how we see the world”; does the world exist in hard fact? For me, yes, the world does exist and this would perhaps represent a realist ontological perspective (Johnson and Duberley, 2000); however I don’t believe that we all see the world in the same way. The world is a basis of subjectivity created by our own understanding of language, culture, beliefs and values alongside our own individual cognitive processes. We can only engage with the wider world from our own perceptions and as stated by Bozarth and Temaner Brodley (1986) as cited in Mearns and Thorne (1988:17) “to understand a person one must attempt to grasp his or her way of perceiving reality”. This concept comes from the positioning of person centred counselling created by Carl Rogers in the 1930s and 40s, a psychologist and therapist whose ideas have transferred into other fields such as management and education. Epistemologically, I believe that we can never be completely neutral when taking on knowledge as we have prior experience and our own sets of values and beliefs. (Johnson and Duberley, 2000).

I recognise that at this point my beliefs are that whilst there is a world in real time, we can never truly know this world without some form of cognition and consciousness - and in line with Kant's (1781) argument that reality is never knowable. Epistemologically, I feel that we can never look at knowledge neutrally as we have our own sets of values and beliefs that will place our own perception on discourse. I also feel that we would need to be empathic with our research to have any chance of understanding another person's perspective, but even then we are still influenced by our prior understanding and knowledge.

In relation to human nature, as with the further discussions below in relation to social constructionism and constructivism, I do believe that our actions are determined by our social environment and our own cognitive processes which do not necessarily require external stimuli. And lastly in relation to the methodology, I feel that there is greater interest for me in understanding people as individuals as opposed to a physiological scientific perspective, hence my hermeneutic approach.

As I am trying to be open and reflexive in my thinking I have explored some of the philosophical theories and will endeavour to illustrate why I agree or disagree with the concepts. Taking this in to account I am a strong believer in Carl Rogers’ school of thought and I recognise that I cannot be truly objective as I have my own subjective viewpoint, however I will try to be empathic with the concepts (Mearns and Thorne, 1988).

Constructivism and Social Constructionism

I have explored these two concepts to try to understand where I feel I am more actively engaged. As described by Young and Collin (2004), constructivism focuses on an individual’s cognitive engagement with the construction of knowledge whereas social construction claims that knowledge is based on a historical and cultural construction through our social processes and action. I can understand why, as Young and Collin discuss, that the two get confused.

Whilst I believe strongly in an individual thought or cognitive process, hence noone can see the same as me exactly; social constructionism also makes sense in that we are influenced by our interactions and social processes with others.

From my interpretation of my readings it would appear that constructivism is quite closely aligned with psychology and social constructionism with sociology, however Raskin (2002) refers to the two together as plural constructivisms.

Within this train of thought there are more radical and moderate users of constructivism such as von Glaserfield (1993) for the former believing that the individual mind constructs reality and the latter being Kelly (1955) and Piaget (1969) who believed that the individual cognitive process still had a relationship with the external world. Vygotsky (1978), however, referred to social constructivism linking social relationships as an influence to our individual cognitive processes. Social constructionism relates more to social processes and interactions, and less to the individual cognitive processes (Gasper, 1999).

According to Young and Collin (2004) both constructivism and social constructionism relate to Kant’s ideas, first published in Critique of Pure Reason in 1781, Kant suggested that we can only understand the outside world by our prior experiences (a priori) and our senses. This concept links to Gadamer (1976) and his "horizons". His concept of reflection and reflexivity to thinking about our own thinking further rationalises the ideas of the individual cognitive processes as discussed above. Kant’s concept of there being no such thing as “theory neutral observational language” also reinforces the social constructionist argument of being influenced by prior experience but also social interaction.

Edley (2001) suggests that the confusion in relation to social constructionism is that the two elements, ontology and epistemology are confused together.

Edwards (1997) states there is a difference between the ontological and epistemic senses of social construction. The epistemic social construction orientates around the notion that any attempt to describe the nature of the world is subject to the rules of discourse. Our discussions therefore create the reality of our own worlds. However as Edley argues, this can sometimes be confused as being the ontological standpoint, which is untrue. He argues that when social constructionists state ‘there is nothing outside the text’ they are talking from an epistemic point and not what the world is really like. This makes it clearer for me to understand that again people are taking on someone’s discourse and seeing them from their own philosophical perspective. So for a positivist, this is an absolute statement whereas for a social constructionist they are merely stating that reality is the product of discourse from an epistemic point of view, in that we can only understand the reality from our discussions as a subjective view point, for my reality would be different to another person’s.

To further discuss the ambiguities between the two philosophies, the main point of difference is whether construction is an individual cognitive process or a social process. From my perspective I believe that, as individuals, we can make a choice to do something through our cognitive process, but our social construction influences that thought process. Burr (1995) suggests that they are both from an extended family and are very similar in approach and belief. I would concur with Burr that whilst they are not exactly the same, for me there is an element of believing in individual cognitive process and a sense of self but with a social influence.

Having read the concepts of social constructionism and constructivism, I led myself on to the concept of conventionalism as these concepts seem to sit under the banner of socialisation of science. As Johnson and Duberley (2000) discuss we are not passive receivers of information and therefore our social constructs help us to make sense of what we see. Kant suggests that we give meaning to our world based on our a priori and our own cognitive process, which again merges the two ideas of social constructionism and constructivism together. I feel more closely aligned with Kant’s ideas of rational reflection and thus being able to know what the past experiences are and how these impact on our understanding of our own sensory inputs (Johnson and Duberley, 2000);

this again aligns me with the hermeneutic approach in that the researcher needs to engage in self-reflection to better understand the role that they are taking as the researcher, with full self-disclosure (Smythe et al, 2008). Smythe et al (2008: 1391) state that as a hermeneutic researcher we "must live the experience, drawing from who one is and is becoming".

Grondin (1995) discusses the different approaches within the study of hermeneutics and the humanist perspective, with Heidegger and Gadamer taking different approaches. Grondin discusses a difference in religious beliefs which may have had some influence to their chosen paths. Gadamer being a protestant with a more humanistic upbringing, and Heidegger having a strong religious position within a ‘provincial form’ of Catholicism and more hostile to humanism. Humanism is related to the Renaissance and focused on human achievements (studia humanitatis); to the Englightenment which related to man as a being who constantly strives for improvement of himself (this was closely linked with German authors such as Goethe and Lessing; or as authors such as Werner Jaeger stated to be brought up in a humanistic way relates to having studied Latin and the Classics. (Grondin, 1995:112) There are further links to Kant (1781) from the discussion of the German authors of the Enlightenment period when they referred to man as wanting to perfect himself against “any heteronomous tutelage of reason”. Kant draws on heteronomy as a form of self-imposed tutelage or more strongly stated ‘slavery’ of humans to their own delusions (Grondin, 1995).

The discussion of humanism continued post WWII with the consideration of whether this could still exist after the inhumanity of the Nazis. Goethe and Schiller expressed humanism as “the concern that man can become free for his own humanity and in so doing find his dignity”. There are further views of man needing to constantly educate himself to “subdue the animality”. Gadamer and Heidegger again disagreed on the approach to humanism, and Gadamer, in my view, tried to bring this forward to an approach that challenged the Kantian idea, and also that of his own mentor, Heidegger, drawing away from an exact science and the methodical model of knowledge to one of understanding (verstehen). (Grondin, 1995:115).

Drawing on the concept of critical hermeneutics Apel (1973:48) investigates ‘the possibility of a philosophical hermeneutic guided by the regulative principle of a progress in knowledge’. Apel draws on emancipation as a part of the hermeneutic process allowing individuals to further develop from the reflections from their own will and consciousness and allowing a critique of ideology.

(Bleicher, 1980). For the purpose of this thesis, whilst there is understanding from biographical discussions from the social actors there is no relation to power and emancipation and I still maintain an approach of interpretation to lead to understanding.

Habermas (1970) critiques Gadamer’s approach and discussed the need to be aware of the material and political-ideological preconditions. Bleicher (1980:155) refers to Habermas’s (1970:289) ‘systems of labour and domination which, in conjunction with language, constitute the objective context from within which social actions have to be understood’. As above, the critical view tends to draw on aspects of power and dominations and this is not the route I am taking through my research, nor does this represent my own philosophical paradigm.

However, I do concur with Habermas’s view of the use of hermeneutics in social sciences to ‘combat the objectivism in scientific approaches to the social world.

(Bleicher, 1980: 158).

Ricoeur (1973) shares a similar view to Gadamer in relation to hermeneutic philosophy however his main difference is to the rejection of Gadamer’s truth and method in that it prevents ‘doing justice to a critique of ideology as the modern and post Marxist expression of the critical approach’ (Ricoeur, 1973:52).

As Bleicher (1980) discusses Ricoeur critiques both sides of the arguments from the existential to the critical hermeneutics, but he focuses on the need to ‘graft’ phenomenology to the philosophy to enable there to be a deeper analysis of the experience relating to both the structures and the properties through reflection. Bleicher (1980) also refers to the need for the interpreter, when engaging in hermeneutical research, to be aware of their own constructs, and to ensure they are engaged in reflection throughout the process.

In summary, drawing on Gadamer’s and to some extent Ricoeur’s concepts, humanism is the acknowledgment that as finite beings we never cease to learn.

Given that philosophical humanism is nothing but the modest openness to truths that can help us raise our understanding, hermeneutics is a humanism.

(Grondin, 1995, 2011). It is the reflection on the phenomenon of understanding and interpretation and this is the focus of my research to understand how our students engage with reflective practice in the workplace. (Bleichner, 1980).

Research paradigm

To take the philosophical position further, I would suggest that I am within the area of interpretive sociology; however, unlike Burrell and Morgan (1979), who believe their paradigms are mutually exclusive I would argue that there are levels of each, and therefore a possibility that you could be on the border of two.

For instance, the concept of radical humanism and interpretive sociology could cross over and did in relation to Kant's (1781) theories. As a human being I recognise my need for my own cognitive processes, but can also recognise the idea in the radical humanism paradigm in that this can sometimes constrain us;

this again for me evidences Vygotsky's (1978) theory of the cross over and alignment with constructivism and social constructionism. Therefore I maintain my stance that I am unable to place myself certainly in a box, but somewhere along the line between radical humanism and interpretive sociology.

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