Sunday, 26 February 2012

A suitable methodology for CE research

In what A. R. Luriya regarded as his third and final major individual case study, on his own professional life, his concluding summing up of his long career leads off as follows –

At the beginning of the twentieth century the German scholar Max Verworn suggested that scientists can be divided into two distinct groups according to their basic orientation toward science: classical and romantic. These two basic orientations, he noted, reflect not only the scholar's general attitude towards science but his personal characteristics as well.

Classical scholars are those who look upon events in terms of their constituent parts. Step by step they single out important units and elements until they can formulate abstract, general laws. These laws are then seen as the governing agents of the phenomena in the field under study. One outcome of this approach is the reduction of living reality with all its richness of detail to abstract schemas. The properties of the living whole are lost, which provoked Goethe to pen
Grey is every theory, but ever green is the tree of life.
Romantic scholars' traits, attitudes and strategies are just the opposite. They do not follow the path of reductionism, which is the leading philosophy of the classical group. Romantics in science want neither to split living reality into its elementary components nor to represent the wealth of life's concrete events in abstract models that lose the properties of the phenomena themselves. It is of the utmost importance to romantics to preserve the wealth of living reality, and they aspire to a science that retains this richness.

Of course, romantic scholars and romantic science have their shortcomings. Romantic science typically lacks the logic and does not follow the careful, consecutive, step-by-step reasoning that is characteristic of classical science, nor does it easily reach firm formulations and universally applicable laws. Sometimes logical step-by-step analysis escapes romantic scholars, and on occasion, they let artistic preferences and intuitions take over. Frequently their descriptions not only precede explanation but replace it. I have long puzzled which of the two approaches in principle, leads to a better understanding of living reality.

The dilemma is a reformulation of the conflict between nomothetic and idiographic approaches to psychology...

(pp. 174-174)

Simple observations and description have their shortcomings too. They can lead to a description of immediately perceived events that seduces observers into pseudoexplanations based on their own phenomenological understanding. This kind of error jeopardises the essential role of scientific analysis. But it is a danger only when phenomenological description is superficial and incomplete. Truly scientific observation avoids such dangers. Scientific observation is not merely pure description of separate facts. Its main goal is to view an event from as many perspectives as possible. The eye of science does not probe 'a thing', and event, isolated from other things or events. Its real object is to see and understand the way a thing or event relates to other things or events.

I have always admired Lenin's observation that a glass, as an object of science, can only be understood when it is viewed from many perspectives. With respect to the material of which it is made, it becomes an object of physics; with respect to its value, an object of economics; and with respect to its form, an object of aesthetics. The more we single out important relations during our descriptions, the closer we come to the essence of the object, to an understanding of its qualities and the rules of its existence. And the more we preserve the whole wealth of its qualities, the closer we come to the inner laws that determine its existence. It was this perspective that led Karl Marx to describe the process of scientific description with the strange-sounding expression,'ascending to the concrete'...

My efforts to revive the traditions of romantic science resulted in two books, The Mind of a Mnemonist (1968) The man with a Shattered World (1972)...

(pp. 177-8)

Brief commentary

In the passages quoted above Luriya offers a rather more elegant and relevant methodological distinction than the much-parroted 'quantitative' vs 'qualitative'.

This book's editors faced an unenviable task, and came up with a less than satisfactory solution to the English-language problem of science/scientists as apparently different from scholarship/scholars. This passage would read much better in Luriya's main languages of Russian and German, as readers of those language would make no such distinction. (Nor incidentally would Hungarian readers if there were a Hungarian edition.) I can think of no way of solving this translation problem for English-speakers (or should that be English-thinkers?) other than through a cumbersome footnote. This matter has already been addressed more than once in Conductive World.

Goethean science has also been addressed on these pages.

The Mind of a Mnemonist and The Man with a Shattered World were on my reading lists when I used to teach psycho-pedagogy to student-conductors. I think that some students might have read them. I do hope that some remember, especially when the talk turns to 'research'.

These two books might reasonably be described as major 'qualitative' studies, not merely in their scope and depth but also their contribution to knowledge. Those looking for an appropriate methodological model for 'Conductive Education research' would do worse than adopt this model to their purposes – indeed many have done worse, much worse. Oliver Sacks has won enormous respect for his own line of romantic science. *

The wholly legitimate calls for 'CE-research' are all to easily drowned out by loud assertions that there is only one possible way to respond, of the kind that Luriya refers to here as classical, reductionist. There is another way, and one could not wish for more authoritative support in arguing it...


Luria, A. R. The Making of a Mind: a personal account of Soviet psychology, Cambridge, Mass, Harvard University Press

* Sacks on Luriya and romantic science:


  1. Those interested in the 'wholisticness' of Conductive Education, and wishing for a fairly gentle historical-philosophical introduction to the pool of ideas out of which Vygotskii and Luriya and You-know-who owe at least part of their beings, might like to take a quiet half an hour looking though Andy Blunden's amiable essay from 2008, 'Goethe’s Romantic Science', mentally ticking familiar names and ideas:



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