Inside Companionship

Authors: Alfredo Berbegal, Fernando Sabirón and Patrick Boumard

Setting up the project

1. Setting up the research

Prestigious handbooks show us that Ethnography is being accepted as the most accurate and the one that fits better to scientific study of socio-educational phenomena (Agar, 1985; Aguirre, 1995; Atkinson et al., 2001; Bryman, 2001; Cohen et al., 2001; Denzin & Lincoln, 2002; Guba, 1990; Hammersley, 2002). The ethnographic model of research permits a grounding theorization of praxis, comprehensive and explanatory from multiple points of view. So, this design is pertinent to put in context our object of study: the educational companionship for minor offenders.

1.1. What epistemological choices?

Nevertheless, in my case, the choice for this research design was not inspired by the nature of the research object. From the beginning, I did not have an object of study. My election was the result of a process of socialization in a political dimension of the social epistemology (Kuhn, 1962). My first ethnographic affiliation aspired to become “medium” in search of an humanistic epistemology which admits its physical, psychological, sociological and political dimensions (Bachelard, 1971) and shapes a critical deconstruction of certain scientific representations of educational phenomena (Boumard & Bouvet, 2004; Sabirón & Arraiz, 2001, 2005). My epistemological evolution: Phenomenology, Constructivism and Complexity.

Troubles: Allocating myself and my ethnography inside this invertebrate epistemology of person and not reducing this debate to its methodological effects (quantitative vs. qualitative). Possible Weaknesses: “Over argument” composition, lack of critical thinking, “sur-implication” (Lourau, 1997), progressive disappearance of research object, epistemological and methodological stench.

1.2. Why Deviance and Education?

One can give two reasons for professing this “Sympathy for the Devil”:

  • Critical Educational Intention. Outlying realities, outsiders, misfits... Do they represent the output of a particular social machine? How is this machine working? How could Education break it? How could we link this critical attitude with some critical scientific representation, but without falling in demagogy (Boumard, 1999)?
  • Critical Epistemological Intention. Understanding Good implies understanding Sin, and vice versa. This is one of the most important consequence of the socio-constructivist perspective and the prolific viewpoint of the Chicago School (Lemert, 1967; Becker, 1963; Goffman, 1963; Matza, 1969) and the Ethnomethodology (Cicourel, 1964; Ogien, 1995). Deviance and Rule build them in a solidarity way (vid. Diagram nº 23, p. 6).

Troubles: Exotic or “folkloric” construction, landscape of trivialization of the Other, false critical thought or disguised imposition of rationality. Possible Weaknesses: “Person” may be absent, reduced to “actor” or “subject”, and stretching “person” notion implies a dizzy reflexivity between method and research subject.

Both epistemological choices and socio-educational deviance sensitivity are the letter of introduction of the European Society of Ethnography and Education (vid. ESEE  Research Group ETNOEDU links). My demand analysis was born in this context.

1.3. What fieldwork?

The fieldwork as “situation-in-life” means that the whole research and the progressive research subject construction should be driven by this “situation-in-life” itself.

This adventure started on the 12th August 2004. My last day, on the 28th June 2005...

  • Access. I had access to the fieldwork by a job interview, as any potential employee. I was a covert observer. From the beginning, this was the best way for conducting my research, since a hostile atmosphere stemmed from the institution and everybody managed sensitive information.
  • Played Roles. The final research nature normally depends on the ethnographer position in the fieldwork (Adler & Adler, 1987). In early research period, I stood in for permanent workers (holidays or sick leaves). I worked as educational worker in the correctional institution and, as workshop manager, I belonged to the Work Department where I oversaw courses and activities. Finally, I became a member of the staff, as counselor of vocational training for the educational area of Juvenile Court.
  • Stay. In my case, developing and maintaining the fieldwork meant keeping my post and adapting to work routines: assistance, management, relationships, institutional functions, etc. My ethnographic aim... Going “native”!!
  • Leaving. It was a living decision, not a logical or technical research manoeuvre. Leaving the fieldwork was a living situation and it also revealed aspects of the social reality. After a working year, I resigned from my post because of a research fellowship.

Troubles: Covert Ethnography put me in ethical tight corners (vid. Section 5.1). Possible Weaknesses: Research might mistake the “social beingh and the gsocial scientisth (Bourdieu, 1990) and an intersubjective knowledge production was seriously threatened (vid. Section 4.2).

Maybe this mistake was not a grave danger: the fieldwork was carried out in terms of attitude (Boumard, 1989) – existential involved –, and Ethnography was thought as method (Sabirón, 2006) – specific scientificity of knowledge. 

The data

The research was based on Participant Observation and Descriptive Writing (Research Diary). I recorded professional competences and obligations, informal interviews or ongoing talks, conflicts, obstacles or problems, kinds of interpersonal relationships, prescriptive institutional actions, profane descriptions, institutional organization, motivations, participants' reactions, personal tensions and dilemmas. I worked inside, as “member”, and straight afterwards, I did outside, as ethnographer. Consequently, I had to face up to a “dissociative description”: member description (primary description) and witness description (secondary description). For this reason, Description became an “imperative” (Ackermann et al., 1985) and it was worth spending time explaining it... Wittgensteinian paradox (1969)!! Among other things, Description was the key to understanding how social world was going to organize itself.

2.1. Participant observation

To make things!! Participant...

To see, look, watch what is happening!! Observation...

Is Participant Observation so simple?

On the one hand, my first Description was very closed to ethnomethodological program (Cicourel, 1964; Garfinkel, 1967). Membership was the conceptual pillar to articulate a phenomenological cosmovision and an ethnographic approach. Thinking (reflexivity) about this gradually shaping identity, about my ethnomethods and implications, revealed important social features (vid. Diagram nº 2, p.1).

On the other hand, my Description had to distinguish between my psychological, political and epistemological implication. The point was the last one, but forever depending on the other ones (Devereux, 1980; Hunt, 1989): intentional behavior, attitudes, intuitions, emotions, ideals, desires; values and believes, interests; notions and perceptions, capabilities, communications... all of them were relevant for the psycho-socio-anthropo-educational knowledge production. This implicational perspective, as understanding approach (Schwartz & Jacobs, 1984), was focused in the subject through the subject, but avoiding any tempting simplification (therapeutic narrative, autobiographical work).

The most important for me was how Participant Observation could deal with the integration of research and “life-world". My fieldwork Participation was neither technical – ritual or ceremonial –  nor methodological –  strategy to access significances and informations. Research was gradually thought from theoretical participation – resignation of simple familiarizing with the situation – to epistemological one – rejection researcher neutrality and active implication (Boumard, 1989).

“Actor” condition had to take advantage of “Author” one. Classical dimensions EMIC –  ETIC (Harris, 1976) were deliberately mistaken. My Observation was producing “Information”, since my Participation, as actor, subject, professional, person... was creating new reality, singular and dialectic (Ibáñez, 1989). I was both producer and product of this self-eco-organizing reality (Morin, 1986). And if I was concerned about this dynamical construction (entropic-negentropic social organization), I had to be extremely sensitive to my place in this co-production.

Thus, I constantly was weaving the relationship between my intervention and my implication (Reflexive Participant Observation), as well as deciding its effects and specific weights in the whole of knowledge production.

2.2. Research Diary

In situ or after some time had elapsed, observations and reflections were written on my field notebook: accounts of experiences, events, behaviors and activities; physical settings; reconstructions of conversations, verbatim or categorized; quick, key words and symbols; details, notes about specific and predetermined themes, and so on. I carried out an exhaustive thick description (Geertz, 1973). But reader... Let me emphasize you some issues about my Research Diary. It was the way to reflect the articulation Observation-Participation inside the “Lebenswelt” fieldwork  (Husserl, 1931, [1936] 1990; Merleau-Ponty, 1958; Schütz, 1970). My ontological axiom defended that social world organizes itself through description and interpretation of itself (Berger & Luckmann, 1966). So, two important questions were in the core of my diary: 1) the nature of the world that I belonged to;  and 2) the nature of its organization and construction that I took charge of (vid. Section 4.1.). 

Attention, please!! My Data were not collected by either theoretical models or consolidated methodological paths. My Information was produced by an epistemological attitude towards a “situation-in-life” which allowed me to achieve an emergent knowledge production. My diary helped me and made it possible.

Working with data

The most important challenge in this phase was how not to make discontinuous what is continuous. To be very formalist and define our categories and linkings without doubts and paradoxes only deadens our obsessions and anxieties. Social, personal and professional situations are dynamical, not static, not fix. Inside the own life of fieldwork, working with Data was a rizomatic (Deleuze & Guattari, 1977), non-linear and anarchic (Feyerabend, 1975) process. This revealed the natural incompleteness of our research subject, its complexity.

3.1. Data divisions

Any “definition of situation” was forever fed by my precedent Observation-Participation game. Such Data divisions was made from my research texts, afterwards thoroughly organized:

  • First Division. My Three Texts. I managed three kind of diaries: my research diary, my personal diary (Lourau, 1994) and my training diary. All of them were separately analyzed.
  • Second Division. Institutional Texts. I also included other texts like legal documents, section diaries, implemented social and psychological programs, evaluative annual reports... I had to know its effects and its constrictions according to multiple events, situations and practices.
  • Third Division. Multiple subtexts. Inside the research diary, I made a lot of subdivisions. These were not categories, but subtexts to be analyzed later. Firstly, my partitions were inspired by one of the most visible rationality, the instrumental one (Weber, 1944): institutional working; activities, times and spaces; sections descriptions; security measures; institutional controls; sanctions and disciplinary measures; minors' routines; problems, conflicts and controversies; institutional tensions... roles and relationships between them.
  • Fourth Division. Residual subtexts. Precedent subdivisions were very simple and elemental and I had to polish my analysis. I added three divisions called “Reflexions” where I included: professional representations, minor perceptions, companionship perceptions, existential reasons for institutional intervention and  ruptures in the social theory of roles. The principal aim was to grasp the imaginary of this professional context, but exploring other kind of rationalities. I kept precedent divisions, but I was modifying their boundaries.

3.2. Discontinuity articulation

Mywild” texts presented a sequential narrative, with a temporal, lineal and irreversible structure. Everyday, I described situations and I reflected on them. It is true that my writing changed considerably, becoming more reflexive and less descriptive because of my progressive conversion.

Precedents divisions and subdivisions were not absolutely comprehensives. Those only intended to respond to a technical question: the analysis. Those partitions were a strategy to start to think. Only that. However, my research was always threatened: the analysis itself could kill the life I just wanted to understand. Divisions could impose a dead reason (Lourau, 1988; 1997; Sartre, 1967). In this way, I was my own hangman. I had to avoid being seduced by the certitude and to be extremely sensitive to the incertitude, variation, to the different points of view, “listening” what the fieldwork tried to say to me.

I constantly changed relations and linkings (Fielding & Fielding, 1986). Categories and analysis units were defined across all the texts and all kind of artificial division. This allowed me to naturalize my analysis, to criticize my absolutist reason and, very important, to keep open my mind to the contradiction of what I eventually was conceptualizing.

This process was always split between the fieldwork – where the significance was in the heat of the moment – and my “cosmovision”, scientifically speaking and in a completely nonmystical sense – where signification desperately sought its referent (Kauffman, 1995; Kluger, 2008; Morin, 1986, 1990). Obviously, if this “cosmovision” tried to stretch the notion of person (Rogers & Stevens, 1967) and its social and psychological analytical rationalities, working with Data got really more unstable.

Just a few words about the use of some qualitative software for working with Data. All these texts were imported into NVivo software (Richards, 2002). Nevertheless, I have to recognize that I used this software as an interactive big folder or a filing cabinet. I ordered texts, subtexts, divisions and sub-divisions. I moved and recovered them according to my new and “floating” criteria. But I could not say that I managed my analysis by this software.  

Analysis process 

In Qualitative Research, Data Analysis has to be conducted by several scientificity rules: credibility, confirmability, dependently and transferibility (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Nevertheless, the point is how these rules are applied, not rules themselves. We can not only apply well-known analytic methodologies in an automaton way, like Constant Comparison Methods and its subsequent Grounded Theory (Hardy & Bryman, 2004; Strauss & Corbin, 1990). Scientificity rules ought to be created in accordance with the whole research.

4.1. My analysis references

Analysis commenced early on the data collection. My Ethnography was something else that a traditional descriptive activity, achieved for later ethnological comparisons and anthropological theorizations (Lévi-Strauss, 1976). My Ethnography had not clearly defined its methodological function and my Data were not inspired in any a priori theoretical construction (Lapassade, 1991, 2001). So... what were my references? In my case, my interpretation of Data was formulated like a reflexivity process which took three important aspects into consideration:

  • Subjectivity Definition: How am I thinking myself as participant and interpreter? I became sufficiently acquainted with the world of people to understand their modes of discourse, communicate in their language and demonstrate appropriate behaviors (Harré, 1978). I was myself primary instrument of inquiry and exclusive investigative tool. For me, fieldwork entailed an unusually active, personal and intellectual commitment with important implications. Therefore, in my analysis I can detect four theories of the subject: 

      My Ethnomethodological Subject... Firstly, the aim was becoming the phenomenon            of study (Garfinkel, 1967; Ardoino & Lecerf, 1985).

                        My Institutionalist Subject... Secondly, I carried out my Participant Observation, and I                   balanced the “intervention-implication” tension (Ardoino, Boumard & Sallaberry,              2003; Lapassade, 1966, 1975; Lourau, 1970, 1997).

                        My Interactionnist Subject...  My third subject was near to the notion of  “definition                      of the situation” (Blumer, 1969; Mead, 1934).

I eventually suggested a professional and complex thinking with new boundaries between            subjectivity and objectivity conceptions (Rosen, 2000): my Complex Subject...??? Each subjectivity emphasized particular intelligibilities (Berthelot, 1990), that is, different social significances.

  • Meaning “life-world”: How am I thinking the “situation-in-life”? I tried to understand an educational context, its paradoxes. I was simultaneously looking for an open intelligibility to fit together scientific posture and educational thinking (Peyron-Bonjan, 1998). Analysis showed me multiple significances in many of my “situations-in-life” and I had to deal with a theoretical research into the concept of “life-world”, that is, the ontology of the social reality I was living.
  • Emergence of Research Object: How am I defining my object of study? My object research suffered from a “progressive focusing”. Fieldwork cosmovision and subjectivity formulations drove me to a not predefined identity of my research object. Focusing on the “complexity” of the person promoted an explosion of epistemological languages (Ardoino, 1998). Emergent features were lawful in their own right.

As a result, Analysis detected three main dimensions of companionship ( vid. Transubjectivity diagram, nº 22, p. 5)

  • Companionship I. An institutional and instituted action, which included three functions: assistance, control and institutional mediation;
  • Companionship II. This was the action as pharmakon. It helped to accomplish some therapeutic objectives: affective and effective relationships construction and socio-cultural animation working;
  • Companionship III. A social action, a profane action. It responded to a shared situation, natural and profane, an off-centre interaction and a lasting coexistence.

The point was how to create my research subject and, at the same time, another and more humanist scientifity demarcation (Mainzer, 1997; Morin & Le Moigne, 1999; Nicolis & Prigogine, 1989; Prigogine & Stengers, 1979; Weaver, 1948) (vid. Transubjectivity diagram, nº 22, p. 5).  These dimensions were the result of a conversation between my object research and the professional-research situation.

4.2. My big weakness

In this process, I found some hurdles to overcome... How did research manage the intersubjectivity production when the ethnographer exclusively used a covert participant observation? 

Methodologically speaking, there was not Data restitution, neither accountability feed back nor contrast control. Nevertheless, the important feature of triangulation is not the simple combination of different kinds of data. It is naive to assume that the use of several different methods necessarily ensures the validity of findings. In my case, even though people (participants) were not present to help negotiated the script, a complex image of them continued to mediate the researcher's interpretation of the Data.

What, then, constitutes the scientificity of my research? My challenge was to manage the subjectivity and intersubjectivity senses and to shape them in a social-scientific way. Maybe I did not achieve this huge goal.

Reporting the research

First and foremost, ethnographer is a writer (Lapassade, 2001). Nowadays, ethnographic worries about writing, authorship, textual representation, rhetoric language, rationalities translations, etc. leads to an explosion of deliberate textual inventions by postmodernist (Reynoso, 1991), on the one hand, and natural consequences of the method of participant-observation by ethnographers of experience, on the other. The result is a great proliferation of new genres, experimental and experiential ethnographies (Clifford & Marcus, 1986). I avoided these interesting debates. In my report, I wished to link the reality I researched and what I wrote. Not only my research demanded an reflexive epistemology (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992), but also an educational engagement.

5.1. Ethical issues

Crimes, drugs, sexual abuses... plus...

psychological and social difficult situations... multiplied...

by minors... divided...

research... in base...

covert-researcher system...

equals... Cocktail-Molotov!!

I was not a mole. I did not feel like one. I got involved as professional. My research and my practice were articulated in a symbiotic way. The Other was not a stranger for me. In any case, I was a stranger for myself. However, I had a great ethical dilemma: anyone could not be identified in my work. I eliminated any explicit or implicit reference to any minor or professional. The name of the correctional institution and its location (city, village) remained anonymous. The final analysis became my doctoral thesis, addressed to the Academia, my first and exclusive audience (Richardson, 1992). You can view the Full Text Digital Doctoral Dissertation published by the University of Zaragoza, Spain. So, I revised all my diaries and entered participants' names under pseudonyms.

5.2. Multiple writer

My Participant-Observation formulation can be depicted by the following ethnographic foci (Poewe, 1996): 1) Data (information): ethnographic self; 2) Empirical Data (doing): native ethnography, auto-ethnography; 3) Experienced Data (heeding and happenings): fieldwork memory, diary; 4) Both (doing & happening): ethnographic autobiography (experiential ethnography). Such focusing influenced on my writing, a writing for three voices:

  • My “I”. First person singular. Disassociated Self. My methodical doubt (reflexions) and my suspended doubt (impressions). My experiments and my experiences. My theoretical dissertations and my therapeutic digressions. I was not a witness. I was one of the major figures of the story. The consciousness.
  • Our “We”. First person plural.  The Companions. It was not only my alter ego. It was the Other like me, and me like the Other. Sometimes, I bore witness to his point of view. Another times, I questioned my place in my relationship with him. There, where I was seen as, I saw myself as and/or where I saw the Other as “member”. The life.
  • Their “We”. Third person singular. The Academia. Authority and authorship. The distance. The language to translate “life-world”. The impossible translation, but the necessity of drawing its important limits and its desperate attempts. The second order of reality. The scientificity demarcation. The non-reduction of “person”, but without making “it” trivial. The politic, but as ideological reflexion. The analysis.

Personal, professional and institutional situations were not mutually exclusive. One was produced by and producer of the other one.    

5.3. The gap

This Ethnography of Education was interested in a rationality that allowed me to question not only the method, but also the professional educational thought (Aguado, 2003; Peyron-Bonjan, 2003;  Sousa, 2000; Wulf, 2002). In the final report, this double compromise was eventually more theoretical than practical. But, what is really the difference? My research had been formulated by an intuitive epistemology of complexity and yet, at the same time, this formulation had been orienting my own socio-educational intervention and my own professional socialization. Consequently, my final proposal was defined in terms of professional macro-competences (vid. diagram, nº 24, p. 5


  • Macrocompetence 1. The interaction. Different levels of inter-subjectivity were produced and regulated by specific interpersonal interactions (professionalized, institutional, profane).
  • Macrocompetence 2. The companionships play. The companionship implies always a dilemma-situation. It required a “polyglot” intelligibility. Assistance professionals was constantly “before” (I guide), “next to” (I am) and/or “behind” (I exist).
  • Macrocompetence 3. The multi-referential deviance.  Professional intervention was predefined by an aprioristic deviance (pathologic, universal, correctional). Nevertheless, it was necessary a comprehensive multi-reference to settle the minor into the deviance universe.
  • Macrocompetence 4. The trust relationship. This is usually a situation of non-knowledge and the starting point is always the distrust. Trust was one of the fundamental notions to discuss further educational opportunities.
  • Macrocompetence 5. The communicational action. Strategic, psychological and technical communication processes, natural conversations... the research wondered about complex alternatives to surpass the well-known dichotomy system and life-world (Habermas, 2001).

In other words, I could say that there was a reincarnation of a particular “attitude” in the praxis, even when I wanted to understand the praxis from that “attitude”. This was the link between educational research and professional practice. This really was my writing commitment.


Ackermann, W., Conein, B., Guigues, C., Queré, L. & Vidal, D. (1985). Décrire: un impératif? Description, explication, interprétation en sciences sociales. Paris: EHESS

Adler, P.A. & Adler, P. (1987). Membership roles in field research. SAGE University Paper series on Qualitative Research Methods (Vol. 6). London: SAGE

Agar, M. H. (1985). Speaking of Ethnography. Sage University Paper series on Qualitative Research Methods (Vol. 2). Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE

Aguado, M.T. (2003). Pedagogía intecultural. Madrid: McGraw-Hill

Aguirre, A. (1995). Etnografía. En Aguirre, A. (Ed.) Etnografía: metodología cualitativa en la investigación sociocultural (pp. 3-20). Barcelona: Marcombo

Alaoui, D.A, (1996). L’apport de l’analyse institutionnelle et de l’ethnographie interactionniste à la nouvelle recherche-action, Pratiques de formation/Analyses, Socianalyse et Ethnosociologie, 32,

Ardoino, J. (1998). Vers la multiréférentialité. In Hess, R. & Savoye, A. (Ed.) Perspectives de l'Analyse Institutionnelle (247-258). Paris: Méridiens Klincksieck

Ardoino, J. & Lecerf, Y. (1985). Ethnométhodologies. Pratiques de Formation (analyses), 11-12

Ardoino, J., Boumard, P. & Sallaberry, J. C. (2003).  Actualité de la théorie de l'institution. Hommage à René Lourau. Paris: L'Harmattan

Arraiz, A. & Sabirón, F. (2001). Pode a abordagem etnográfica produzir conhecimientos pertinentes nas ciências sociais?. In Estrela, Ferreira (coord.). Investigaçao em educaçao: Métodos e técnicas (153-165). Lisboa: Educa

Atkinson, P., Coffey, A., Delamont, S., Lofland, J. & Lofland, L.H. (2001). Handbook of Ethnography. London: SAGE

Bachelard, G. (1971). Épistémologie. Paris: PUF

Becker, H.S. (1963). Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance. New York: The Free Press

Berger P. & Luckmann, T. (1966). The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise its the Sociology of Knowledge. New York: Anchor Books

Bertalanffy, L. von (1975). Perspectives on General Systems Theory. Scientific-Philosophical Studies. New York: George Braziller

Berthelot, J. M. (1990). L'intelligence du social. Paris: PUF

Blumer, H. (1969). Symbolic Interactionism. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall

Boumard, P. (1989). Les savants de l'intérieur. Paris: Armand Collin

Boumard, P. (1999). L'école, les jeunes, la déviance. Pairs: PUF

Boumard, P. & Bouvet, R.M. (2004). “Comment le travail de terrain peut changer les savoirs sociologiques allant-de-soi: un exemple en Pologne”. Iª Reunión Científica Internacional sobre Etnografía y Educación, 12-14 de julio 2004, Centro de Estudios Universitarios, Talavera de la Reina, España

Bourdieu, P. (1990). Fieldwork in Philosophy. In Other Words: essays towards a reflexive sociology (p.3-33). Cambridge: Polity Press

Bourdieu, P. & Wacquant, L. (1992). An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Bryman, A. E. (ed.) (2001). Ethnography (I, II, III, IV). London: SAGE

Bylaws of the Council on Anthropology and Education. A section of the American Anthropological Association, May 15, 2007. In [November 18, 2008]

Cicourel, A. V. (1964). Method and Measurement in Sociology. New York: Free Press

Clifford, J. & Marcus, G. (1986). Writing Culture: the Poetics and Politics of Ethnography. Berkeley: University of California Press

Cohen, L., Manion, L. & Morrison, K. (2001). Research Methods in Education. London: Routledge Falmer

Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1977). Rizoma. Valencia: Pre-textos

Denzin, N.K. & Lincoln, Y.S. (2002). The American Tradition in Qualitative Research (I, II, III, IV). London: SAGE

Devereux, G. (1980). De l´angoisse à la méthode dans les sciences du comportement. Paris: Flammarion

Feyerabend, P.K. (1975).  Against Method. London: New Left Books

Fielding, N.G. & Fielding, J.L. (1986). Linking Data. Sage University Paper series on Qualitative Research Methods. London: SAGE

Fino, C. N. (2008). A etnografia enquanto método: um modo de entender as culturas (escolares) locais. In Escallier, C. & Veríssimo, N. (Org.) Educação e Cultura (43-53). Funchal: DCE – Universidade da Madeira

Garfinkel, H. (1967).  Studies in Ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall

Geertz, C. (1973). Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture. In The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays (3-30). New York: Basic Books

Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the Management of a Spoiled Identity. New York: Simon and Schuster

Guba, E.G. (1990). The Paradigm Dialog. London: SAGE

Habermas, J. (2001). Teoría de la acción comunicativa, vol. I y II (3ª. Ed.). Madrid: Taurus

Hammersley, M. (2002). Educational Research. Policymaking and Practice. London: Paul Chapman Publishing

Hardy, M. & Bryman, A. (ed.) (2004). Handbook of data analysis. London: SAGE

Harré, R. (1978). Accounts, actions and meanings: the practice of participatory psychology. In Brenner, M., Marsh, P. & Brenner, M. (eds.) The Social Context of Method (44-66). London: Croom Helm

Harris, M. (1976). History and significance of the EMIC-ETIC distinction. Annual Review of Anthropology, 5, 329-350

Hunt, J. C. (1989). Psychoanalitic aspects of fieldwork. SAGEUniversity Paper series on Qualitative Research Methods (Vol. 18). Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE

Husserl, E. (1931). Méditations Cartésiennes. Paris: Armand Colin

Husserl, E. ([1936],1990). La crisis de las Ciencias Europeas y la Fenomenología Trascendental: una introducción a la filosofía fenomenológica. Barcelona: Editorial Crítica

Ibáñez, I. (1989). Perspectivas de investigación social: el diseño en las tres perspectivas. En García, M., Ibáñez, J. & Alvira F. (Dir.) El análisis de la realidad social: métodos y técnicas de investigación (49-83). Madrid: Alianza

Kauffman, S. A. (1995). At home in the universe : the search for laws of self-organization and complexity. Oxford [etc.]: Oxford University Press

Kluger, J. (2008). Simplexity : why simple things become complex (and how complex things can be made simple). New York : Hyperion

Lapassade, G. (1966). Groupes, organisations, institutions. Paris: Gauthier-Villars

Lapassade, G. (1975). Socianalyse et potentiel humain. Paris: Gauthier-Villars

Lapassade, G. (1991). Ethno-sociologie: les sources anglo-saxonnes. Paris: Méridiens Klincksieck

Lapassade, G. (2001). L'observation participante. Ethnography and Education European Review, 1, 9-26

Lemert, E.M. (1967). Human deviance, social problems, and social control. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall

Lévi-Strauss, C. (1976). Elogio de la antropología. Buenos Aires: Ediciones Caldén

Lincoln, Y. S. & Guba, E. G. (1985). Naturalistic Inquiry. Beverly Hills: SAGE

Lourau, R. (1970). L'analyse institutionnelle. Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit

Lourau, R.(1988). Journal de recherche: matériaux d'une théorie de l'implication. Paris: Méridiens Klincksieck

Lourau, (1994). Actes manqués de la recherche. Paris: PUF

Lourau, R. (1997). Transduction, Implication. Paris: Anthropos

LeCompte, M. D., Millroy, W. & Preissle, J. (ed.) (1992). The Handbook of Qualitative Research in Education. San Diego: Academic Press

Mainzer, K. (1997). Thinking in Complexity: the Complex Dynamics of Matter, Mind and Mankind. Berlin: Springer-Verlag

Matza, D. (1969). Becoming Deviant. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall

Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, Self and Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Merleau-Ponty, M. (1958). Les Sciences de l’homme et la phénoménologie. Paris: Centre de Documentation Universitaire

Merleau-Ponty, M. (1960). De Mauss à Claude Lévis-Strauss. Signes (143-157). Paris: Gallimard

Morin, E. (1986). La méthode: La Connaissance de la connaissance (t. 3). Paris: Le Seuil

Morin, E. (1990). Introduction à la pensée complexe. Paris: ESF

Morin, E. &  Le Moigne, J.L. (1999). L'intelligence de la Complexité. Paris: L'Harmattan

Nicolis, G. & Prigogine, I. (1989). À la rencontre du complexe. Paris: PUF

Ogien, A. (1995). Sociologie de la déviance. Paris: Armand Collin

Peyron-Bonjan, C. (1998). Essai de lecture épistémologique des Sciences de l'Éducation. Les Cahiers de l’année 1996, 3, 101-126

Peyron-Bonjan (2003). Pour l'art d'inventer en Éducation. Paris: L'Harmattan

Poewe, K. (1996). Writing Culture and writing fieldwork: the Proliferation of Experimental and Experiential Ethnographies, Ethnos, 3-4, 177-206

Prigogine, I. & Stengers, I. (1979). La nouvelle alliance: métamorphose de la science. Paris: Gallimard

Reynoso,  C. (1991). El surgimiento de la antropología postmoderna. Barcelona: Gedisa

Richards, L. (2002). NVIVO: Using NVIVO in Qualitative Research. Melbourne: QSR

Richardson, L. (1990). Writing Strategies: Reaching Diverse Audiences. SAGE University Paper series on Qualitative Research Methods (vol.21). London: SAGE

Rogers, C. R. & Stevens, B. (1967). Person to Person: The Problem of Being Human. London: Souvenir Press

Rosen, R. (2000). Essays on life itself. New York: Columbia University Press

Sabirón, F. (2006). Métodos etnográficos de investigación en Ciencias Sociales. Zaragoza: Mira editorial

Sabirón, F. & Arraiz, A. (2005). El trabajo de campo en investigación etnográfica. Ethnography and Education European Review, 4, 11–25

Sartre, J. P. (1967). Questions de méthode. Paris: Gallimard

Schütz, A. (1970). On phenomenology and social relations. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press

Schwartz, H. & Jacobs, J. (1984). Sociología cualitativa: método para la reconstrucción de la realidad. México: Editorial Trillas

Sousa, J. M. (2000). O professor como pessoa. Lisboa: ASA

Strauss, A. & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of Qualitative Research. Grounded Theory. Procedures and Techniques. London: SAGE

Wacquant, L. (2004). Critical Thought as Solvent of “Doxa”. Constellations, Vol.11, Num. 1, 97-101

Weaver, W. (1948). Science and Complexity. American Scientist, 36, 536-544

Weber, M. (1944). Economía y Sociedad. México: FCE.

Wittgenstein, L. (1969). On certainty. Oxford: Basil Blackwell

Wulf, C. (2002). El Otro como punto de referencia para la educación en Europa. Revista Española de Pedagogía, 221, 5-26

Looking Back


In a way, this text is two texts. The reader is invited to choose one of the following possibilities:

The first text should be read the usual way. It becomes one text through a lineal reading of its three sections.

This is a text aimed at a ‘first reader’, a novice reader who wishes to assess the progress of the research project without going into great detail.  

The second text should be read by skipping between the first and the second section. Adopting an autobiographical style, a ‘hors-texte’ is interspersed that, in meaning and form, expresses a scientific-social analysis of the development of my academic/professional project. It is the life story of my research project, condemned to co-exist with my own life story. The text deals with the following points: 1) my new professional context (Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Education of Zaragoza Spain); 2) my project within the university structure (University of Zaragoza Spain) and the research structure (Etnoedu Research Group and my university reference group Socioconstructivism); 3) the crisis of my research worldview and its moderate reaffirmation; and 4) five important reflexions which helped me to mature in my position as a social researcher regarding methodological individualism, the person, the search for reference, trans-disciplinarity, and complexity and training implications.

This second text is aimed at a ‘second reader’ who is more experienced and who wishes to look into what lies beneath ’the narrative’ of the first text. This ’hors-texte’ is entitled ‘The Life Story of my Research Project – Section I”’.

1. Three years on: research developments

For both kinds of readers, I propose two concise answers to the question posed in this first section:

  1. My research does not present continuity, if by that we understand the strict development of the study subject: social-educational intervention in the field of minors in social conflict. As the ’second reader’ will see in the life story of my research project, a set of circumstances will hinder the strict development of the research topic.
  2. My research presents continuity, if by that we understand the development of the underlying problem of the study: the way of thinking of educators. The life story of my research project also underlines that improving the intelligibility of this problem will present me with an ethical demand of the highest order.

In any case, four major milestones emphasise the development and dissemination of my research project in the last three years:

  • The coordination of the double edition 78 of the Ethnography & Education European Review, a monograph about ‘Ethnography and Science’ (Berbegal, Boumard & D´Armento, 2010b). The reaction to my research from segments of the scientific community inspired the tackling of this project. It gave me the chance to assess other studies and to analyse my research within the parameters of this problem. This is the complete preamble.
  • The epistemological analysis of my project research, published in my work entitled ‘A Naïve Ethnography: Epistemological Opening and Indolence’ (Berbegal, 2010c), also translated into Italian (Berbegal, 2012e). Many of the self-criticisms outlined in this work questioned my research worldview, developing it and later consolidating it over recent years. You can read the whole article in Spanish and/or the complete chapter in Italian.
  • International communication at the 8th International Qualitative Research Conference at Bournemouth University, Talbot Campus, 68 September 2010: ‘Linking Ethnographic Knowledge and Professional Know-How: An Attempt at Socio-Educational Intervention in Deviance and Minors’ (Berbegal, 2010a). This was the first public presentation of my project at an international conference. The reflexion regarding the connection between the generation of knowledge from ethnographic research and its influence on practical knowledge and the enrichment of the thinking of education professionals was especially important. This is the full presentation.
  • My participation as a speaker in training courses about Community Mental Health, organised in partnership with the National University of Distance Education (Madrid – Spain), the Department for Employment and Social Affairs of the Regional Basque Government and the Beti Guizartean Foundation (Vitoria – Spain). It seemed that the way that the social-educational accompaniment had been analysed in my project could contribute substantially to the training of educators and professionals that accompany people with mental health problems and at risk of social exclusion. The result of these courses was published as a book, outlining my participation in one of its chapters (Berbegal, 2012d).

Next I will present the reader with an account of how I would deal with my first research project if I had to carry it out now. But if you are a ‘second reader’, please, read this before reading the second section.

2. In hindsight

If you were to design and conduct that project now, what would you do differently? Why?

To facilitate the reading, I will follow the order of the sections in the previous publication. 

3 Setting up the research

The main changes would be justified through the key aspects analysed in the text ‘The Life Story of my Research Project - Section I”’. 

What epistemological choices?

In general, they would be the same. However, some would be intensified and others would be clarified as follows: 

  • An initial questioning of my methodological individualism (Leca & Birnbaum, 1986) in order to focus the research on the treatment of inter-subjectivity.
  • The maintenance of an ethical individualism (Muguerza, 1990; Morin, 2004) that takes the person as the highest reference of social-scientific research, with an identity that goes beyond notions of ‘subject’, ‘actor’ or ‘individual’, that is existentially plural, ambiguous, non-linear, fragmented and non-contradictory (Elster, 1985; Lapassade, 1998; Boumard, Lapassade & Lobrot, 2006) and through which a vital attitude would be inspired for the understanding and possible transformation of researched social and educational realities.
  • A responsibility for clarifying the ambiguity of the reference, between what defines the direction (the meta-theoretical and ethical reference of research) and what defines the meanings (theoretical and practical multi-referentiality in the construction of social reality by its protagonists). This clarification would affect both the way of conducting the analysis processes and the way of proposing new creations and approaches for the maintenance and/or transformation of personal and social realities.
  • A deeper study of the production of trans-disciplinary knowledge when placing the person and the most vital meanings of social realities at the centre of research. These approaches would explode the traditional disciplinary demarcations and would therefore free social reality from approaches with ways of thinking and managements of knowledge that often disregard it (Nicolescu, 2002). This need would become clear due to the strength of the natural demands of social reality itself.  This means replacing disciplinary fields with a social-scientific ‘way of listening’ and ‘way of seeing’, with an attitude of ‘being with’ social reality. The intelligibility of social reality would only be constructed through its own emergence and not through the carrying out of the checking, verification and comparison of epistemological constructions that are already closed, abstract and sterile. Therefore, trans-disciplinarity would be applied, being used in a way that goes beyond the philosophical concept. 
  • The adoption of Complexity as an intuitive meta-theory that makes it possible to embrace the vital and multiple nature of personal and social realities (a reference of ethical direction that is detached from sceptical or nihilistic positions).  Complexity would offer me an alternative way of developing a realistic constructivism (Morin, 1986; Cilliers, 1998, 2005) that would enrich intelligibility of the social realm, overcoming the sterile dichotomies between the individual and the group, the subjective and the objective, the actor and the structure.

The research, now freed from the conditioning aspects of a doctoral thesis study (Berbegal, 2008), would avoid a theoretical infection that, at the time, guaranteed the dreaded recognition of its scientificity. In a way, this defensive position led me to excessive justification that partly dissected the vital nature that personal and social realities have. Through approaches based on social reflexivity and a sociology of sociology as a guarantee of scientific rigour (Bourdieu, 2001), I flirted with ‘over-involvement’. Perhaps I lost the strength of my study subject in an attempt to protect it. 

Therefore, I believe that it is necessary to reconsider the place of social reflexivity and the researcher in the construction of the study subject.

Why deviance and education?

The choice of the field of study suffered from a certain degree of childishness, imitating the research topics and fields of a new social science that was revolutionary and critical. Today I would keep the line of study but I would not attempt to impress so much, but rather to understand, inform and transform.

Although research demand comes from the ‘system’ (society and institutions can block our entrance to research subjects), our responsibility is to re-direct it towards the person. In this sense, the (social) constructivist approach would be guided by this responsibility. This would demand that I support a realistic constructivism that adopts a critical position to populism and folklorism (Berbegal, Sabirón & Arraiz, 2009) that consecrate popular, dominated cultures (a caricature of its symbolic self-sufficiency through a reaction to a legitimate rejection by experts or dominant cultures) and give them a certain dominant centrism (for being dominant, superior and hierarchical structures) (Grignon, C. & Passeron, 1989).  

In my previous research, an exotic construction led me to a certain trivialisation of the ‘Other’ and a criticism that was non-existent or one-way. My epistemological radicalism implied an ambiguous constructivism, and I was proud of producing an epistemology of injustice, which was not very clear if it arose from epistemological, moral and/or cultural relativism (Putnam, 1990; Hollis, 1994; Goodman, 1996; Rorty, 1999). 

Today I would keep the field of study and analysis of the ontology of structures and of the intervention models, as well as a moderate position regarding multi-referential deviance (Berbegal, 2012a). However, I would moderate and clarify this position, being aware now that the radical version blocks criticism between the various forms of recognised intelligibility and the plurality of scientific discourses. Allowing voices to speak that until now have been silenced, through a deconstruction and reconstruction of social reality does not mean that these voices are free of all criticism, or that they become, through a rebound effect and using the constructivist argument, the only voice or the most ‘true’ voice.

What fieldwork?

Now I would not use an ‘entryist’ and undercover approach to the fieldwork.

At the time, this was excused by the sensitive nature of the educational field and the hostile nature of the institution. These seemed to be sufficient reasons for why an intrusion, with a somewhat dandy intention, was not well received.

My fieldwork also brought with it a certain scientism that nowadays I would avoid. Having found a solid foundation in socio-phenomenology (López, 1994; 1995), my attitude moved towards ethnomethodological aspects more interested in social order as it is produced by actors, and by a head-on opposition to any type of social determinism (Garfinkel, 1967; Ardoino & Lecerf, 1986). 

Therefore, I never considered breaking this cryptic frame of mind. I ensured that other people did not discover my condition as institutional traitor. In phenomenological terms, I settled on a technical attitude, afraid at the idea of opening it to a political attitude, which was more uncertain and volatile for the production of knowledge.  Deep down, a lack of courage led me towards a self-prepared trap, by filtering the meaning of the social realm exclusively through the process of the conversion of the researcher (Berbegal, 2010b). This intellectualist approach resulted in a concept of fieldwork as a stage of ‘actors’, ‘subjects’ and ‘individuals’ and not as a world shared by people.

My current research would attempt to organise itself through interactions (including the involvement of the researcher) to guide the fieldwork towards the question of the meaning of the social realm, in and with its own protagonists. The fieldwork would not be undercover. Either in the access or in its course, I would try to find alternatives, institutional ‘doors’ or chances for negotiation that would provide me with the opportunity to deal with an inter-subjective production of knowledge.

Obviously, participation as the recognised researcher would partly alter the natural reflexivity of the protagonists. However, from this new perspective, the description of situations (Thomas, 1923) would be openly commented upon and then restored to the participants, thereby producing new ways of questioning, of intervention and, therefore, other sources of knowledge. 

I do not know if an open research project would have blocked my access to the institution.

I also do not know if I would have been expelled in the first week.

What I do know is that without negotiation, there was no inter-subjective production of knowledge.

In general terms, I do not believe I will ever carry out undercover fieldwork again.

I now think that it is necessary to exhaust all other channels before proposing undercover research:  1) to analyse the reasons that could mean the fieldwork is difficult to access, 2) to search ad infinitum for all possible strategies and negotiations, 3) to put them into practice, and 4) if we try and it seems that we are continuously blocked, to give up and abandon it and explore other similar, more accessible types of fieldwork.

In any case, undercover research is no longer an option.

In my previous project, perhaps I could have tentatively explored inter-subjectivity through some of the following options:

  • Once the work was well advanced, I could have finally revealed it to the institution in strictly ethical and educational terms.
  • I could also have returned the analysis to the people with whom I had had a good professional relationship and friendship.

The reason for avoiding undercover research would not be as a response to ethical reasons regarding the researched people, who are nearly always easily controlled by the researcher/spy.   I would rather put forward guiding ethics that revive an epistemological commitment from social-scientific research into inter-subjectivity. 

My data

From here on, everything would change.

The reader should bear in mind that we are witnessing emerging designs. This means that the research process would be redirected through the individual nature of the social reality to be researched, through the socialisation processes that arise from the fieldwork itself. Altering my assumptions would mean carrying out completely different fieldwork, with the possibilities for action becoming transformed into sources for the production of knowledge and, therefore, the strategies, techniques and instruments to be put into practice. We would ‘listen’ another way of organising the social realm. And it would be this way of listening, the inter-subjective experience itself, that would inspire us in our way of understanding it.

Participant observation

I can state that I would keep a similar idea. 

Something I can flatter myself about in my previous work is the way I matured as an ethnographer and researcher when putting into practice a reflexivity that was rigorously organised and well-focused (Berbegal, 2004b). The step from a participatory observation to observatory participation was made at a high level of intellectual honesty and theoretical study (Berbegal, 2004a). 

Participant Observation would be kept through the ‘accompaniment’ of people and the researched situations, so that the ‘being with’ the social realm would be presented as a source of privileged knowledge, guiding the method of carrying out the fieldwork, its methodological possibilities and the intermediate and final analytical processes (Ardoino, 2000).

If the research is prepared another way, then the ethnographer would occupy a very different position in the fieldwork and therefore the accompaniment process would vary considerably (Lapassade, 2001).   However, in the light of these variations, my research would now continue to favour the reflexivity of the researcher as a multiple, non-contradictory being (Elster, 1985; Lapassade, 1998; Boumard, Lapassade & Lobrot, 2001). Nevertheless, this reflexivity would now be radicalised by integrating the corporeality of the researcher and the unpredictable results of interaction with other people.

Research diary

The diary, however, would contain major changes.  

My previous research found it to be an easy way to put the analysis from the fieldwork into practice. The radical ethnomethodology found in the diary its way of passing from the experienced reality to conceptualisation, from witnesses descriptions to theoretical reflection.  In turn, I settled into undercover research, delegating practically all of the conduct of the research into the diary. The diary was my refuge.

My project would now keep the same way of dealing with reflexivity in the diary, if by that we understand a way of critical distancing (Elias, 1987; Lincoln, 1991). I would also maintain a similar epistemological vigilance to ensure that it would not be reduced to a therapeutic space or to replacing the analysis with the descriptions given there.

However, re-reading it now I notice a certain uncomfortable tension in its text (Berbegal, 2005b). My reflections wanted to, but could not reflect, an interactionist and inter-subjective production of meaning.

Today I would free it of this tension. I would moderate the demand that it assumed as a training ground for phenomenological reduction and I would unburden it of a somewhat neutral theoretical rhetoric that protected me from the conflict of interpretations and from certain volatility in the production of knowledge. Its influence in the research would therefore be much diminished. It would cease to be a research diary and would become an on-board log. This change would allow me to explore a much more lively text that would facilitate both a more involved researcher text and inter-subjective production (Guba, 1990).

I would assume that the diary would be a reflection of testimony that would not have any value unless compared to other testimonies.

Other considerations

This other approach, consistent with the life itself of fieldwork, would perhaps make me reconsider other mechanisms for data collection. The revealing of the role of the researcher could consider, who knows, the carrying out of in-depth interviews with key informants (coordinators and tutors) and discussion groups with certain professional sectors (educators, workshop teachers, watchdogs, psychologists and psychiatrists). Even seminars or conventions could be organised to put internal analysis into practice.

However, considering the tough, absorbing work of the professionals involved, it would be difficult to find the time and effort to concentrate on thinking and reflecting about institutional reality and professional practice itself (demand would be external and would be presented by a stranger or by a member not recognised as experienced). Also, I would not know how to specify to what extent a methodology aimed at minors could be put into practice: perhaps it would be boycotted by the institution (the protection of minors and their data) or by the minors themselves (surprise and distrust of my condition as researcher). 

In general, open research could mean that research mechanisms are seen as threats in a micro-society that is permanently shrouded in suspicion and vigilance, under pressure by its very high level of responsibility to minors and to society as a whole. Of course, all of this would lead me to understand that research should not unsettle the institution by applying the analysis until making it enter into crisis (Lapassade, 1971).

Perhaps the psychological obstacles that I suffered at the time in revealing my research intentions were related to some of these questions.

Apart from all this, a guiding idea would be kept regardless of the research design: the methodological implications (techniques, strategies and instruments) would not be simple methodological questions, as behind them we would always find an epistemological position (Ibáñez, 1989). 

The more sensitive to the person as a privileged reference and to fieldwork as a world with its own life we are, the more our method would demand that we treat it in an increasingly ethereal way (Berbegal, 2010c).  The priority would not be to carry out a correct execution in terms of triangulation or comparison. It would be about connecting method and methodology through an attitude towards the vital and the complex nature of what we research, in order to cause and promote the production of meaning.  

Working with data

In a strict sense, there is no linearity in research design, especially when we wish to maintain the pulse of fieldwork as vital as possible. Research processes are not procedures.  It is rather an adventure, a journey, a path.

It is necessary to make this distinction because this and later phases are developed in tandem with preceding phases.

If I do not organise my data during the fieldwork then I cannot redirect it.

If I do not analyse my data in the fieldwork, I cannot propose new ways of analysis before abandoning it. 

Although there may be a centre of gravity for data management and analysis, these processes must necessarily be inspired by the implementation of the fieldwork itself and by an accompaniment of the social realm.

In this sense, we would keep a similar idea to the research already carried out. The processing of my data should to some extent be in response to the course of the researched situation itself, in a non-linear, rhizomatic and to a certain extent anarchic way, adapting to the way that the social realm is constructed in the fieldwork. Only this way would we guarantee the emerging potentiality of our design and, therefore, of the meaning. In my new research, sensitive to the person and to inter-subjectivity in its highest expression, this would radicalise the approach adopted in my previous research project: to avoid the continuous becoming discontinuous.

Adapting to this approach is quite difficult. I am aware of the problems, especially the psychological ones that we researchers have in maintaining a calm, open attitude to emergence, especially when we begin to organise our data. We usually become stressed in the light of what a priori does not appear to be easily controllable nor formatted in scientificist terms. We need to be patient. 

Data divisions

The new research approach would mean working with other data and with other organisations.

In my previous research, the territoriality of the data was very well-defined and, to a certain degree, was easily controllable. These would be almost exclusively limited to my research diary (Berbegal, 2005b). However, guiding the new research through interaction and inter-subjectivity would inevitably mean a dispersal of my data, a plurality of information sources and a much broader range of collection strategies, techniques and instruments. The surveying of the data, their management and organisation would no longer be subject to places and times, situations, anecdotes and reflections centralised in the diary. In turn, the nature of the data would not be interpreted exclusively through the logic of the researcher and therefore would not be directly presented as intelligible. We would be faced with data whose intelligibility depended primarily on the logic of other people.

The separation of the data would become complicated insofar as my research would attempt to adapt to the course of the interactions and to the conflictive production of meaning. Greater sensitivity to this dispersal would enrich the production of knowledge considerably, but it would require me to decentralise my approach in order not to represent or organise the data from just one source.  

In this sense, perhaps it would be appropriate to make greater use of and improve the potentiality of data management and analysis software, such as the NVivo program.

Discontinuity articulation

In my previous research, the possibility of making the discontinuous continuous was limited, as this was done from a primary discontinuity: the awareness of the researcher. Now we could say that the person, even when deliberately attempting to respect this figure, becomes blurred in the representation produced by the researcher, the only way of organising and improving meanings. My new research would not represent the person, but rather integrate it. The possibility of continuity would be an attempt to avoid this primary limitation of discontinuity.

Data analysis

Untangling the confusion between an ethical and methodological individualism and redefining the person as the primary reference would force me to search for an analytical attitude that would attempt to open meaning. This commitment to opening meaning would be an ethical commitment to freedom (Muguerza, 1990). 

In my previous research, analysis was pressured by the limitations of methodological individualism and by the psychological pressure of protecting knowledge in the context of a doctoral thesis. Now, going against a heuristic trend, I would adopt an eminently hermeneutic position. This would lead me to study the metaphysics of meaning (Ortiz-Osés, 1989) that is inevitably overlapped by the embodied person and with an ontology of the production of the social realm.   

Now I would not be afraid that knowledge would escape me through a prior conceptual network. Above all, it would now be value that would guide my analysis.

My analysis references

I would therefore keep an ethical approach in the analysis, a meta-theoretical reference, the person, at the same time as exploring the multi-referential ‘way of listening’ for meaning.  Therefore, an ethical realism towards the secondary constructs (conceptualised by the researcher) would necessarily require an epistemological relativism towards the primary constructs (experienced and described by the protagonists and by the researcher). Therefore, it does not appear that a post-structuralist immersion in meaning (humanist in its rebellion against all universalistic and static references) would make us lose sight of a privileged direction (the ethical and responsible acceptance of the researcher and of the social sciences as a whole towards people and societies) (Cilliers, 2005).

This exploration would again make me ask a key question that usually drives all researchers crazy.  It is about the scientificist justification of interpretation. In other words: where do we get the analysis units and categories of our research from?

The answer appears simpler for an ethnography guided by an ‘accompaniment’ of the social realm than for qualitative research carried out from the outside. In my case, the units and categories would come from the accompaniment itself, from the way in which people produce meaning in their lives and from the social realm. Therefore, categories would not be defined through the sterility and abstraction of a prior theoretical corpus. They would be created and then compared. Not searched for and then verified (Olivier de Sardan, 2008).

This would demand a humanistic cultural approach that would enable us to transcend the omnipotence of classical theories or other fashionable theories and not to fall into the temptation of directing our analysis based on the latest interpretations. This would be a culture that would enable us to listen to the field and not hear solely what is most familiar to us, what is most comfortable or most persuasive when translating it into a recognised scientific rationality.

Therefore, faced with an epistemology of the ‘seeing’, my analysis would expand towards an epistemology of ‘listening’. I would be committed to escaping the paradigm of a representation that submits meaning to a tear, deterioration or loss.  My intention would be to ensure that meaning is not repressed in the name of disconnected, abstract logos. 

Therefore, my analysis would not be dialectic, as this would condemn us to a sterile approach of internalising the outside and externalising the inside (Sartre, 1963). Following the approach of Complexity, meaning would become a dialogue and would embrace its axiological perspective (Morin, 2004). Some of the contradictions arising from this perspective would not have to be placed on the same level of reality and, therefore, it would be impossible for us at times to oppose them and then transcend them absolutely and satisfactorily later (Berbegal, 2012b; 2012c).

Through this new approach of inter-subjectivity, meaning would represent a relationship. Analytical reasoning would reappraise the irrational as something that better defines the rational and that would free meaning from a formal dialectic between the systemic and the vital, sensitive to the plural rational, existential and political forms of the person. Meaning would be complex even once we have defined it. It would not represent perfection, just complexity.

This way of approaching my analysis would allow me to truly explore trans-disciplinarity. 

This concept of analysis would also prevent the fall into a naive ethnography (Berbegal, 2010c; 2012e).  

Analysis should also consider to what extent the meaning given by people has on the theoretical effect, that is, on the influence that the interactive classes and classifications used by the social sciences have been able to exercise in the creation of social reality (Hacking, 1999). A constructive realist would understand that this reality is objectified and internalised by people through the learning and socialisation processes inherent to social practices themselves, configuring their own and shared ways of ‘seeing’.  Therefore, the analysis would consider both the subjective world (sensitivity, perception and representation) and the objective world (words, objects, rules and institutions handed down by previous generations). Therefore, those situations where social practices alter the individual course of action of people would be the subject for reflection, by analysing the process through which said practices move from a subjective epistemology to an objective one (Searle, 1995).

Having overcome my crisis, this moderate position would not mean a trend towards social determinism, favouring objectification and the power of structures. I would continue to give priority to an approach based on interactions with structures. The tension between determinism and freedom would cause an original production of knowledge. The process of deconstruction and reconstruction of said tension would create new alternatives for action and new margins of freedom.

Reporting the research

In my new research I would consider several processes prior to the final definition of the research report.

After the data analysis, I would prepare partial reports for certain people and groups that would be drafted in an intelligible way for them. This would be about reaching some partial conclusions from a multireferential perspective. Comparing the similarity of the reports would not be the most important objective. My main aim would be to enable inter-subjective analysis, by developing new meanings in the light of the new interpretations. Therefore, the reconstruction would mean a process of dialogue, a negotiation of meaning (Guba, 1990).

The final report would include this interaction between the researcher’s analysis and the analysis of the people involved. 

In addition, being aware that the report finally reflects the intelligibility of the study subject, I would also question its structure and drafting. For example, regarding the notion of the transient and historic nature of the person and societies, I would not automatically assume an evolutionary nature and, therefore, a linear presentation of the production of the social realm.  Although these structures may be more comfortable for us in order to organise and justify our analysis, accepting them automatically could force us to renounce a plural concept of the person and of societies. Being open to another way of understanding the social realm would mean recognising the discontinuity, the fragmentation and the disassociation of people’s identity and of the lives of our societies, making it possible to define a way of understanding that is less controllable but also less suffocating and more humanistic.

Multiple writer

Unlike my previous research, the multiple writer would cease to be a disassociated writer.  The different voices of one sole writer would now become the voices of several writers. The new research would enable the people involved to become authors. The writer would be the transcriber and translator of these voices, but not the only author. 

The Gap. Articulating applied research

Although certain social-scientific positions could conceive of the production of the social realm as being falsified by the disinformation and the insignificance of people, understanding the social realm could be recognised as a process that, above this suspicion, assumes that social reality is produced through these limitations. Very often, this primary suspicion is nurtured by a certain status of theoretical and practical knowledge that could lead us to perspectives akin to technocracy and social engineering and the belief that certain professional identities, implications and projects by experts and researchers are reinforced by underpinning and maintaining, rejoicing in the epistemological division between the two types of knowledge. In the controversial relationship between the academic form of knowledge about social reality (the expert) and the common and profane ways (people), my approach would be interested in what brings them closer.

From this position it would be viable to play with the possible theoretical effect of the research itself, which would be open and half way between ethnography and research-action. The research process itself, which would be interactive and inter-subjective, would generate reflexive knowledge that would be inactive before the analysis. 

The theoretical approaches, the inescapable responsibility of all applied research, would support a deconstruction of the given so that we could later consider whether to keep it or transform it. Analysis can be a form of intervention in itself or can generate and define forms of direct intervention. In any case, this interventionist effect would never admit a technical idea, as this would again mythologise the theoretical status of all approaches.

The social sciences should admit that we are producing a kind of society that is full of uncertainty, produced by human action itself. Reflection about our critical and thinking capabilities – about the unpredictable – demands an analysis from us that requires new categories, methods and theories (Beck, 1996). Therefore, admitting an inter-subjective reflexivity is not just an instrument that guarantees us scientificity (or another kind of scientificity), but is also an instrument with emancipatory potential. Demonstrating the unthinkable about the social realm allows us to gain independence. Freedom would be a direct consequence of this inter-subjective reflection. And the recognition of a plurality of discourses that present the intelligibility of the social realm in a dispersed and organised way would be an inevitable beginning. Therefore, adopting the total generalisation of social-scientific knowledge, by recognising in it an exclusive scientific quality, is a perverse possibility. 

The new approach, in the heart of a conflictive production of knowledge, would match the individual nature of the researched situation and would be subordinate to a higher reference: the benefit of the person.

I would return to the reflections of the previous section, warning of the problems that would have to be faced to maintain a balance between this worldview and the survival of my academic-professional project within institutional and research structures already analysed (The Life Story of my Research Project - Section I).

4. Software tools

Looking back, could you have used qualitative software more effectively – and how? How would current software tools have helped?  (The answer may be simple – e.g., not at all! – or quite complex, if new tools have appeared to do what you were unable to do 3 years ago.)

During these three years, I have not studied the potential of the qualitative software in depth in order to carry out the research more effectively. Being aware of this, my concerns have been focused on clarifying what is before the practical or technical question of the qualitative data processing. My condition as a novice researcher would require the development of these aspects.

However, over the last year I have had the opportunity to introduce the students of the master's degree in educational research in the Faculty of Education at the University of Zaragoza to the Nvivo software (Berbegal, 2013). The publication by Lyn Richards (2009) and the ‘Methods in Practice’ experience (Berbegal, 2009) have helped me greatly in dealing with this new educational challenge. Always insisting on a basic inter-dependence between epistemology and methodology, I have explained the logic of this software to them so that they can use it in their first research projects. 

Author profile: Alfredo Berbegal Vázquez

I was born July 6, 1978 in Zaragoza, Spain. As an educational professional, I initially worked part-time as a teacher of violoncello. I taught basic musical abilities and the violoncello to young amateur people. After my Graduate Studies at the University of Zaragoza (BA in Education Studies, 2001; MA in Psychopedagogy, 2003) and my Doctoral Training in France (University of Haute-Bretagne Rennes-2, University of Paris-8, 2004), I worked as social educator in a correction center for young offenders, monitoring assistance and reeducation, and also as vocational training counselor for the Juvenile Court. This professional experience was captured in an Ethnographic Case Study, receiving a European PhD in Philosophy and Education Sciences (June 24, 2008). As part of my Doctoral Research Fellowship (20052008), I have worked in the Department of Education Sciences, Methods of Research and Diagnosis in Education, University of Zaragoza. During this fellowship, I have also visited the Education Research and Documentation Centre of the Spanish Ministry for Education and Science (2005). In 2013, I completed a Master of Theoretical and Practical Philosophy, mention in History of Contemporary Philosophy and Thought, by the National University of Distance Education (Madrid, Spain).

I held a post of assistant lecturer until 2012, when my position, fulfilling the demands of national assessments and accreditations, became that of Ph.D. Assistant Lecturer in the Faculty of Education, University of Zaragoza, Spain. Here, I have begun to redirect my educational duties prudently and responsibly in the teaching of primary and nursery degrees and master’s degree in educational research. In this sense, my worldview and its slow maturity had to serve a key idea: How do I see the training of education professionals and of future researchers in this field? What kind of social and educational discourse do I have? And how could this discourse be made operative in social and educational research?

Some of these issues are discussed in the following pages. Currently, these considerations are driving me to fascinating disciplinary contradictions and perpetual controversies in certain humanistic and ‘dirty’ pragmatic theoretical approach and material critic militancy in Social Sciences, which have to take responsibility for reconstructing-studying a new rationality and creating-discovering another subject in order to understand and face the challenges of our cultural, social and personal cross-global configurations. Great debate that I would not like to enter alone!!!

Contact details

Alfredo Berbegal Vázquez

University of Zaragoza - Faculty of Education

12, Pedro Cerbuna 50009 Zaragoza - Spain

Dpt. Sciences of Education

Methods of Research and Diagnostic in Education

Tfn. (+34) 976 761000 (ext. 844851)


website: ResearchGate research