Reflection 2 on the practitioner-scholar divide: a case where it was the thinnest of veils, unknown to any of us
I will answer this from my preferred pragmatist and action research perspective
I believe most interesting problems originate in the practitioners world, and that most chief decision-makers (who approve projects, set priorities and allocate resources) MUST be practitioners first, if only to satisfy political and social constraints.
I believe our action groups that solve problems are well served by adding an appropriate dash of theory to get them well started and keep them well informed.
I believe that in order to get a satisfying mix of both theory and practice into service, that practitioners need a respect for and a willingness to listen to and apply good theory.
Scholars need a working knowledge of the context of the practitioners situation in order to find elements of theory that are appropriate, meaningful and acceptable to the population being served.
The best theory that cannot be applied is not the best theory for that moment and those people.
I don’t think it is feasible or reasonable to expect that we can get common understanding and shared insights between practitioners and theoreticians in all fields, in all places, and at all times. The time and effort commitment is too large, and when routine operations are satisfactory then practitioners can simply keep executing their normal plans as informed by their current understandings.
This outlook requires coordination to maintain a working knowledge of the other domain by key members of each domain. Perhaps a set of scholar practitioners, as we aspire to be, can provide cross-domain translation and introductions as needed, and be the bridge, or catalyst, between the domains. Maybe we can help forge the multidisciplinary teams needed to solve/manage/survive complex problems. In many, many cases complex problems are not “solvable”, only manageable.
It is not necessary for every practitioner to be fully engaged with every deep nuance of theory nor for scholars to be immersed in the grit of the practitioners’ situation for each side to be able to help the other.
here is a story about a coming together of practitioners and theory that happened to me today in regards to the practitioner oriented technique that I describe in the following 5 minute video on You Tube which you might enjoy.
Spoiler alert: it turns out that these 4 questions and this technique, which were developed in a Participatory Action Research inquiry with me and a group of my students, is connected at a very deep level with scholarly education theory espoused by Dr Stephen Brookfield.
I was unaware of this connection until a fellow instructor here at Ft Leavenworth, whom I had shared this video with, showed me a scholarly journal article on this very topic in a textbook for his Adult Ed Masters program at 5 Pm as I was heading out.
This is a case of practitioners having a deep theoretical knowledge already in their head, unknown to us all. The theory-in-use (a grounded theory) was generated thru action research, and found a connection to deep theory through a narrative, which was launched to help others understand their world. The good intention was rewarded. All quite unintended and both satisfying and surprising.
Here is more on Dr Brookfield: http://www.csom.umn.edu/Page6748.aspx
I will be writing up the narrative of this story as a piece of 1st person AR, as part of the qualitative data portion of my mixed methods dissertation. The power of narrative and Voice in this case is quite remarkable, to me anyway 😀
the point I will conclude with is that the divide between practitioners and scholars was made of the thinnest cloth and only needed a slight nudge to make the veil separating the 2 domains disappear. it started with an interesting question and was energized by some persistence and human engagement.
Imagine: making this movie on Saturday at Colorado Tech, sharing it to my fellow instructors on Monday and discovering the connection to deep theory that same afternoon, on a piece of practical “theory in use” created almost a year ago.
Blows me away. You tell me where theory ends and practice begins.
I conclude by saying that I am not confident in our ability to characterize the real gap between practitioners and scholars in a meaningful way. I think Weber has it right that we should get on with it and work together by design.