PhD – Doctor of Philosophy…um didn’t think about that!

I have signed up to spend three years or thereabouts of my life in order to research healthcare quality.  It is a big passion of mine, I think mankind deserves the best healthcare we can create and afford, and when I say mankind, I mean all of us, not just the rich, or those with insurance or those in the West.   I will write more about these areas later.

However, now in my first few weeks of becoming a postgraduate doctoral research, it has dawned on me (should this have been obvious? am I one of the few who didn’t really realise this?) that it is actually a ‘PhD’, that is a Doctor of Philosophy.  So, unsurprisingly, in hindsight, I actually have to learn something about philosophy.  In particular epistemology, which I am now led to believe is the philosophy of knowledge.  So for the past few weeks I feel like I have been learning about the history of major advances in Physics during the 20th Century and the thinking the philosophers of knowledge of physics did about this.  So we have been learning about positivism, Newton, Einstein, and then really all the problems with that kind of ‘certainty’ of knowledge, leading to Popper’s conjectures and refutations, falsification and then even further into variants of a less and less strict nature.  Certainty to uncertainty really, as the twentieth century unfolded.  Then of course we also have ontology and I am still struggling with which one is which again?

Today I have been reading, for the first time some stuff about ‘Critical Social Science’.  And as this blog is partly to help me capture my reflections of my readings, and then my thinking, I will take my first tentative steps at doing that, rather than just talking around the subject.  Readers (if anyone reads this!), I haven’t done this before, and I have only read 3 chapters, so please be gentle if I have not really understood this and it is obvious in my writing, and let me know constructively!

So from what I read today, I would summarise as:  Critical Social Science is activist.  It assumes that humans can influence their destiny themselves and are not just passive and reactive to what happens in the world.  It assumes as a basis that humans want to reflect on what they have noticed, felt and learnt and may wish (that is have the potential) to change their inner beliefs and then maybe also their actions based on this reflection.  It thus also assumes that humans have this capacity.  It defines the elements of being active as having ‘intelligence, curiosity, reflectiveness’ and wilfulness’ (1987, Fay. Critical Social Science, p48).

Fay also goes on to say that Critical Social Science consists of three theories, theory of self, theory of society and theory of history, and critical social science should be able to fulfil elements of these theories concurrently. To me this means that humans can influence and take control of their own lives to change them and society for the better, and are not victims or circumstances or systems.

Critics of this way of thinking suggest that humans cannot be active and that they are subject to external pressures and these things create the behaviour rather than the individual or the social group the individual belongs too.  Some of the critics even suggest that mankind is not actually capable of reflection or that only an elite group is capable of that!  There is also a ‘conservative’ critique that suggests that the more radical transformation that may happen through such deep self reflection and changes in people or group behaviour is actually the cause of much social dissatisfaction as it has disrupted traditional ways of life!

This variant of philosophy of social science, resonates with me significantly, as I believe that people can change their life, work or organisation in a transformative way. I have spent some chunk of my life trying to help organisations to change. They can only really change, if they want to (?have to?), and also crucially if they reflect on what it is they are doing themselves know that is causing the very things they don’t like and cause dissatisfaction.  There is a similarly with improvement theory here, which also fundamentally believes that man (employees) and work, usually together, for the greater good and through that gain better work satisfaction and ‘joy and pride’ in work.

Would love to hear your thoughts on this?  How does this theory resonate for you or doesn’t it?


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