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Mind, Culture, and Activity


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Reflections on CHAT and Freire's Participatory Action Research From the West of Scotland: Praxis, Politics, and the Struggle For Meaningful Life
Chik Collins
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University of the West of Scotland

Available online: 05 Apr 2011

To cite this article: Chik Collins (2011): Reflections on CHAT and Freire's Participatory Action Research From the West of Scotland: Praxis, Politics, and the Struggle For Meaningful Life, Mind, Culture, and Activity, 18:2, 98-114 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10749039.2010.484098

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Mind, Culture, and Activity, 18: 98114, 2011 Copyright Regents of the University of California on behalf of the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition ISSN 1074-9039 print / 1532-7884 online DOI: 10.1080/10749039.2010.484098

ARTICLES
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Reections on CHAT and Freires Participatory Action Research From the West of Scotland: Praxis, Politics, and the Struggle For Meaningful Life
Chik Collins
University of the West of Scotland

This article offers a perspective on the relationship between cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) and one particular strand of action researchFreirean participatory action research (PAR). It reects on a research collaboration conducted two decades ago with a community organisation and seeks to show the interaction of CHAT and Freirean PAR in ongoing reection on that collaboration. It argues that the two are strongly compatible and complementary and suggests that Freirean PAR offers an orientation toward politics, ideology, and social justice that can help in connecting CHATs underlying emancipatory intent more fully to the problems confronting people in todays troubled world.

INTRODUCTION: CHAT AND ACTION RESEARCH While the cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) and action research (AR) traditions connect at their respective roots, the subsequent evolution of the traditions has seen the emergence of diverging approaches within each of them. This is particularly true of AR, which has not coalesced around the work of one particular theorist or group in the way CHAT has coalesced around the contribution of Vygotsky and his coworkers. McNiff and Whitehead (2010) observed that today,
Action research seems to be everywhere, and much of what goes by the name . . . would probably not be recognised as action research by Lewin [and other inuential gures]. . . . This situation raises considerable problematic issues, concerned with how action research is perceived and how it is used. (p. 26)
Correspondence should be sent to Chik Collins, School of Social Sciences, University of the West of Scotland, Paisley Campus, High Street, Paisley PA1 2BE, United Kingdom. E-mail: chik.collins@uws.ac.uk

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Somekh outlines how in dealing with this heterogeneity writers have grouped ARs various approaches into different categories. Grundy identied a hierarchy of technical, practical, and critical approacheswith the latter, at the peak of the hierarchy, promoting emancipation. Noffke, eschewing such a hierarchy, identied professional, personal, and political dimensions in ARwith the latter concerned with social action to combat oppression. In each case there is a tension between orientations that are more expressly political or critical as against others that are less so (Noffke & Somekh, 2005). In light of this heterogeneity, the question of the value of AR for those engaged in CHAT is liable to raise a further question: The value of what kind of AR for CHAT? A full workingthrough of the relationship of the diverse strands of AR to CHAT is beyond the scope of this article. It aims to contribute to the discussion by exploring the relationship between CHAT and the critical tradition of AR, particularly as inuenced by the work of Paolo Freire.

FREIREAN PAR AND CHAT: A CASE FOR EXPLORATION The particular focus on Freire perhaps requires some justication. His version of participatory action research (PAR), emanating from South America, might be said to be similar to, or running parallel with more than centrally part of, the main body of AR. Freirean research is also distinctive within the strand of AR that is PAR. While sharing the broader PAR emphasis on the phenomenology of lived experience, Freire adds a strong ethico-political vocation of humanization through liberatory transformation. On the other hand, Freires work has in practice become quite closely linked to AR in general and to PAR in particular (de Koning & Martin, 1996). This is true not just in developing or southern nations, but also for instance in the United Kingdom and the United Statesin elds like community work and increasingly health. For this reason alone it would seem important to include Freires PAR as part of the exploration of the relationship between AR and CHAT. Moreover, it is apparent that the distinctiveness of Freires work in the wider AR/PAR tradition tends to heighten its relevance and interest for CHAT. If Engestrm and Miettinen (1999) are correct in saying that the appropriation and creative development of central ideas of activity theory presuppose a careful and critical study of Marxs work (pp. 45), then Freires own creative appropriation of Marx, which in its foregrounding of praxis clearly overlaps that of the CHAT tradition itself, marks it out as a potentially very important interlocutor for CHAT. Indeed this has been observed by Stetsenko in developing her own view of the CHAT tradition. Observing a profound commonality in respective grounding assumptions in CHAT and Freires PAR, Stetsenko (2008) sees the lack of co-ordination between them as particularly ironic: Freireian and Vygotskian projects have so much in common that it is truly a mystery how their shared roots, ideas and commitments could be left unexplored for so long (p. 475). Stetsenko goes on in the same article to outline a theoretical case for Freire as a vital (actual and future) contributor to an expanded view of Vygotskys (CHAT) project. I return to Stetsenkos theoretical case later. In the meantime this article seeks to contribute to the exploration Stetsenko advocates along different lines. It provides an exploration rooted in something central to both CHAT and AR taken as a wholecollaborative practice and reection upon that practice. Specically, it is rooted in a research collaboration I was involved in almost two decades ago with an organisation representing an impoverished and stigmatised community

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in the locality of my institution (the town of Paisley in west central Scotland). The research was undertaken while I was very much a novice, with little supervision or prior theoretical or methodological reection. It turned out, perhaps partly (but by no means primarily) for these reasons, to be a shocking experience, but also one that opened up a penetrating perspective on the dynamic of social and political change far beyond the locality. Although the research was completed in a 6-month period in 1991, it has retained a strong relevance to ongoing developments nationally. This has prompted continuing reectionincluding reection on the relevance of both CHAT and Freirean PAR to the experience. This led me some time ago, and independently of Stetsenko, to the view that CHAT and Freirean PAR are both deeply compatible and strongly complementary (Collins & Lister, 1996). In what follows I seek, rather than presenting this as a wholly theoretical argument, to show it in the way CHAT and Freirean PAR interact in relation to the empirical matter. I present two accounts of the research: rst a largely narrative account of what happened and then a progressively more contextualised and theorised account reecting my subsequent attempts to grasp what had happened.1

NARRATIVE ACCOUNT: THE ABSTRACT At the end of 1990 I was beginning a doctoral studentship in the west of Scotland. I had previously studied some of the available English translations of both the Vygotsky and Bakhtin circles. I had also studied some of the best known works of Freire. Moreover, I had previously undertaken a postgraduate student placement working in Ferguslie Parka deeply impoverished community in the town of Paisley, which had long suffered from a very negative reputation. This meant I was known to the local community and to its main organisationthe Ferguslie League of Action Groups (FLAG). FLAG was a widely known campaigning organisation, with a mission to pursue social justice on behalf of Ferguslies 5,000 residents. The organisation needed help to produce a report and decided to approach me. The immediate context was this: In 1988 Ferguslie Park had been designated as one of four Scottish communities to be involved in a high-prole, UK government programme that aimed to show how long-standing problems of urban poverty and stigmatisation could be solved. The programme was called New Life for Urban Scotland. Central government was to set up ofces in the four communities and lead the efforts of various public, private, and voluntary sector organisations. Crucially, these organisations were to work in a new kind of relationshipa relationship of partnership. They were to work in harmony to transform local communities. In part this would mean changing the way in which the communities were perceived in the wider world. The programme was to run for 10 years and establish a new model for urban regeneration. The local residents were to be partners in the programmeindeed it was said that their full participation was essential. FLAG was identied as the community partner in the Ferguslie Park Partnership (FPP). Its activists, who were almost all unemployed local people, set about trying to give effect to the communitys role as a partner. But soon FLAG was having serious problems. Other partnersespecially UK government and big property developerswere driving rapid social,
1 This parallel accounts approach has been used in action research previously with some success (Somekh, 2006, p. 48), and I seek to build upon it here.

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organisational, and physical changes. The FLAG activists could hardly get community concerns registered. When they sought to raise this larger concern, other partners had called for a report on the situation. But FLAG feared that it would be used not to address the problem but to identify FLAG as a problem. So FLAG wanted a report of its own, which would document its experience with a view to defending itself. I agreed to collaborate. Starting in early 1991, I gathered documents, attended meetings and events, spoke to people individually and in groups, conducted tape-recorded interviews, and tried to understand the contextboth locally and more widely. I got access to some of the other partners and conducted interviews with them too. By the summer the report, in which I had been asked to include recommendations, was complete (Collins, 1991). It recorded the experiences of the FLAG activists in extensive, though not directly attributed, quotations from interviews. At best these indicated the lack of any serious attempt by the FPP to allow FLAG to play its partner role. At worst they indicated sadly predictable attitudes of contempt toward local people, together with clear strategies to circumvent and deceive FLAG. At their very worst, they told of threats against anyone who might challenge such manipulation. I did not discover this through analysis it was reported to me directly in interviews, including interviews with FLAGs partners. Also reported was an emerging plan amongst the latter to replace FLAG with a new organisationa community forum. The main recommendation of the report was that FLAG withdraw from the FPP until a new understanding could be reached. In one of the three other partnership areasCastlemilk in nearby Glasgowthe community organisation had already done this. So, were FLAG to withdraw, it would not be alone. It was also recommended that FLAG seek to broaden participation in community life in Ferguslie Park, which had been narrowing for some time, and that it reemphasize the campaigning orientation for which it had previously been well known. I delivered the report and was to present the main ndings at a special FLAG meeting some time later. But, prior to that, I got a phone call from the Partnerships Implementation Team asking for a copy of the report. I said it would be distributed after the presentation to FLAG. The caller was displeased. I then got a further call from the government ofcial leading the Partnershipits Chief Executive. I gave the same answer. This caller got very angry, and declared, Youd better be very careful how you handle that information. Then wheels went into motion. The Partnership convened an extraordinary meeting of the local community on the evening before the presentation of the research report to FLAG was due. Only some of the FLAG activists were invited. Many nonactivists, with little or no experience of what had been happening, were brought along. Hospitality was being provided. A report of the meeting was later circulated by the FPP. It recorded how the problems with community participation were blamed not on the operation of the FPP but on FLAG. What Ferguslie needed, it was suggested, was a new kind of organisation that could allow the activists to do better. This would be a community forum, which would have one of the Partnerships own Implementation Teamhimself a former leading FLAG activistas its Chief Executive. This new structure, it was explained, would allow for local unemployed people to obtain paid employment linked to their role as community representatives. FLAG could then go back to being the kind of campaigning body it had previously been. A vote was taken and it was all approved. At the next evenings presentation of the research report to FLAG, some key activists, who had previously participated actively in each stage of the research and who had attended the previous evenings meeting, were absent. They were reported to have gone shing. All present conrmed

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that the report accurately described the communitys experience. Those present who had attended the previous nights meeting felt that the situation had now changed and would allow for a much better way forward for the community. Others, who had not been invited to the previous nights meeting, felt this nave. They believed the new arrangements would end the possibility of the community exercising any real inuence for the foreseeable future. Within a matter of weeks the new Community Forum had been created. Soon, a number of the activists, all of whom had attended the FPPs extraordinary community meeting, had secured paid employment in projects linked to the FPP. Others dropped out of activism and soon left Ferguslie to live elsewhere. Thereafter FLAG was left to wither before being formally wound up.

INTERLUDE It had been a shocking experience for a novice researcher. A well-established community organisation had been killed off for trying to perform the role that its partners ostensibly wanted it to perform. Manipulation, threats, and inducements were clearly in evidence. Over the next few years, I was struck by the UK governments continuing determination to disseminate the same model of regeneration partnership that had helped to produce these outcomes in Ferguslie, and that was known to have been deeply problematic elsewhere too. At the same time, ofcial research reports were nding that the new structure in Ferguslie had, as some of the more sceptical activists had argued would be the case, completely failed to deliver any real inuence for the community. My desire to grasp what had happened was further stimulated by even more shocking revelations. The broader restructuring of community organisation to t with the requirements of the FPP had led to the creation of a local community enterpriseFCB Enterprise (Securities) Ltdwith substantial start-up funding from the government. In 1995 it became apparent that these resources had funded serious criminality (drug dealing and money lending). Gang warfare had developed around this and was leaving bodies on the streets. This story was projected in both the broadcast and print media at the UK level, because it had become linked to rivalries between local members of the Westminster (London) Parliament, and now one of these, and a number of local government gures, were in real fear for their lives (see Collins, 2008). This was catastrophic for the aim of the FPP to transform Ferguslie and its reputation, and also for its residents. The labelling of the latter, which had long been damaging both individually and collectively, became worse than ever.

CONTEXTUALISED AND THEORISED ACCOUNT: THE CONCRETE In trying to grasp what had happened, I turned to both CHAT and AR. In respect of the latter, I thought of Freire, for it seemed that I had witnessed the domestication of a communitythe radical undermining of its capacity to actively engage with and transform its situation for the better, such that it became rather passive in the face of external domination. Yet for Freire such domestication is not uncommon: Why in Ferguslie had it been accomplished in such a hasty and messy manner? In reecting on this I returned to the research data. It showed the FLAG activists repeatedly suggesting that their problems were connected to politics and policy at national level. So I set out further to reconstruct the wider context of the FPPthe emergence and development

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of the wider New Life programme in the Scotland of the later 1980s. In doing this it became apparent how that programme was itself a crucial element of a broader agenda developed by Mrs. Thatchers Conservative Party for implementation in Scotland after its third consecutive UK general election victory in 1987. The Thatcher government had set out from 1979 to radically transform British society using neo-liberal shock treatmentforcing deindustrialisation and creating mass unemployment as part of a broader attack on trade union organisation and the postwar welfare state. Consequently, it massively increased inequality and poverty. Its housing policies also contributed very substantially to the concentration of poor households in particular localities that were seen as undesirable. Such areas were subject to degeneration and developed very signicant social problems. Scotland was disproportionately vulnerable to and affected by these developments, and Ferguslie was amongst the areas worst affected. All of this made the Thatcher government increasingly unpopular in Scotland. However its relative popularity in England, particularly southern England, together with the then still heavily centralised system of government in the United Kingdom, meant that the Scots continued to be governed by it. At the 1987 election the Conservatives won a large parliamentary majority across the United Kingdom but lost more than half of their already diminished Scottish representation. Now the government was obliged to try to address its unpopularity in Scotlandwhich, amid growing calls for devolution and independence, was increasingly threatening the unitary nature of the United Kingdom. The government took the view that its unpopularity in Scotland reected a national cultural deciencya culture of dependency rooted in excessive reliance on the state. What was needed, the government concluded, was a shift in the relationship between the public and private sectors in producing the nations life. The aim was to replace the dependency culture with a private-sector-led enterprise culture. The idea of partnership was to be used to proceed in this direction. Increasingly the private sector was to take the leading role in national life, whereas the public sector would be restricted to the role of its enabling partner. The New Life programme was in the vanguard of this agenda. Not for the rst, or the last, time, urban policy was used to forge an implementation path for neo-liberalism. The aim was for neo-liberal policies to be seen to be tackling dependency where it was most severein the poorest communities, with very high unemployment and extensive reliance on the welfare state. If partnership could be portrayed as meeting the challenge of dependency in such places, then it could be portrayed as a model for the life of the nation as a whole. However, the Conservative government could not at that stage leave elected local governments in Scotland to lead the implementation of the New Life programme. These were generally under control of the Labour Party, which was at that time strongly connected to the trade unions, supportive of the welfare state, and not very keen on the idea of the public sectors enabling role. So central government had to lead the implementation itself. But this was going to produce questions about democratic legitimacy. Here linguistic presentation had become very important. The rhetoric of partnership, working in harmony, and community participation had been invoked to give the New Life programme an aura of consensus in a context that was profoundly dissensual. Legitimacy required that communities had to be seen to be partners who would participate in determining a future that had in fact already been determined.

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But the community groups in the four areas progressively saw through this. As indicated earlier, by 1991 the community partner in one of the other areas had begun a well-publicised boycott its local partnership. Had FLAG done likewise, then this could, particularly given the high-prole and broader signicance of the New Life programme, have led to far-reaching questions about the reality behind the language of partnershipnot simply in one or two communities, but as the central motif for the governments wider agenda for Scotland. The government ofcial leading the Castlemilk Partnership had already been recalled to the government ofces in Edinburgh. A seemingly positive career moveleading a high-prole projecthad ended in failure. And this explains the phone calls, panic, and rapid intervention that followed the circulation of the report in Ferguslie Park. An area that had been selected as a greenhouse for the governments wider neo-liberal agenda had become something more like a pressure cooker. Now, what happened in this one marginal and stigmatised community had become important to the perceived legitimacy of government in Scotland as a whole. Ferguslie could not be allowed to go the way of Castlemilk. In the early summer of 1991 this latter outcome was a distinct possibility. Yet the haste of the intervention to prevent it suggests that its imminent likelihood was something of a surprise to the FPP. What is even more intriguing is that the FPP had recruited some local people to help them to handle FLAG and avoid such surprisesincluding the former leading FLAG activist within the FPPs Implementation Team. These were individuals who were thought to know Ferguslie and its people inside out. How could they have been caught out so badly? It seems that they were caught out by the rapidity with which the activists had developed their critical appraisal of the FPP through participation in the research. This had involved the activists comparing the ofcial language of partnership with their actual experience. Through this process, signicant changes in the activists thinking had taken place. They had begun speaking in new ways. Their consciousness of their situation was clearly changing, and with this their activity. All of this led back to the CHAT tradition, but also to Freires PAR.

CHAT AND FREIRES PAR With respect to the CHAT tradition, I returned to the work of Vygotsky and explored its relationship to the later work of Leontiev (1978, 1981). In doing so I sought to develop a cultural-historical basis for theorizing the movements of activity and consciousness in what was a somewhat unusual context for contemporary CHAT researchthat of an overt power contest over the nature and purpose of urban policy, which was in turn tightly connected to a much broader dynamic of social and political conict and change. In Vygotsky there was a focus on the movement and development of human consciousness in different sociohistorical contexts of human activity and of the deep signicance of linguistic meanings in that development. In Leontievs work, particularly in his account of meaning and personal sense, there was a rather more developed account of the nature of that development in the context of capitalist societywith its characteristic divisions and conicts. I linked all of this to the work of Bakhtin (1975/1981, 1979/1986) and Volosinov (1929/1973) and utilised the concepts of dialogism, speech genre, theme and meaning, and evaluative accent to analyse the ways in which the movement of meanings in the process of the FPP had both registered and in turn impacted upon the developing situation, both locally and more widely.

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I have reported both the theoretical and the applied aspects of this work elsewhere (Collins, 1999a, 1999b, 2000). Theoretically, I found that a rather special perspective on language emerged. CHAT, it transpired, had the resources to grasp linguistic processes in all their inextricable connections with the real-life activity in this complex situation. Grasping the language, it became clear, required a broader grasp of the real historical development of human activity out of which the language had emerged. And it was only on this basis that the profound signicance of the linguistic processes could be comprehended. Ironically, as some other CHAT writers have observed (Engestrm, 1999; Jones, 2004), inating the determining force of language in processes of social development and change, which was very much in vogue with the broader linguistic or discursive turn in the social sciences in the nal decades of the 20th century, could only undermine the ability to grasp its truly signicant role. The CHAT tradition, it transpired, was rather better equipped in this regard than someincluding CHAT proponentsseemed to have realised (Collins, 2008; Collins & Jones, 2006). Yet in trying to grasp the way in which the activists participation in the research collaboration had affected the movement of meanings and consciousness in this situation, it was necessary to return to Freires PAR. The research collaboration, it was apparent, had fuelled a rapid shift in the activists mind-set and, with that, equally rapid progress in the situation toward crisis. Here, there seemed to be strong similarities with the process Freire identied as the opposite of domestication. This is the process of conscietizationthe process of people engaging critically with their real-life situation in ways that encourage the identication of contradictions as possibilities for liberatory change and transformation. The design of this conscietization process, however, came not from myself but from the community activists. On reection, it became apparent that they had sought me out as a tool in their own process of what Freire called problemposing education. And in engaging me as such, they were themselves consciously activating the subsequent development of their experiences (Lukacs, as cited in Freire, 1972, p.28). Based on his work in Latin America, Freire stressed that the starting point for participatory collaboration has to be not some incomers preconceived plan but the active concerns of people in their real situation.
The point of departure . . . must always be with men in the here and now, which constitutes the situation . . . from which they emerge and in which they intervene. Only by starting from this situation . . . can they begin to move. To do this authentically they must perceive their state not as fated and unalterable, but merely as limitingand therefore challenging. (Freire, 1972, p. 57)

Freire develops a method for achieving such a point of departure in collaborative work, but in the case of the Ferguslie research, the activists ensured it themselves. They dened the nature of the collaboration in terms of their here and nowtheir present, existential, concrete situation (Freire, 1972, p. 68). They clearly perceived this situation as challenging but also as alterable. Crucially, on this basis they did begin to move. Moreover, that movement was along the lines Freire describes. He highlights what he calls the wording of the world and how critical development of consciousness unmasks the deceptive wording that makes oppression more difcult to perceive, confront, and challenge. Critical engagement involves posing such wording as a problemsomething that does not serve peoples needs and interests and that demands development toward a better, perhaps even true, wording of the world. Such unmasking is always, Freire insists, simultaneously practical and intellectuala praxis, an active, conscious engagement that changes both the world and the acting subject.

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Freire develops a method to try to engage this unveiling of reality and to catalyse the emergence of consciousness and critical intervention in reality (Freire, 1972, p. 54). It is a process through which people deepen their understanding both of the forces shaping their lives and of their capacity to change them. Freires description of it has strong resonances with the Vygotskyian idea of co-constructing zones of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978) and Ilyenkovs (1960/1982) thinking about progressively penetrating the causal dynamic of social processes. However the process should not be seen as some crass version of vanguardist politics. It is not the bringing of some external, theoretical truth to people, or an attempt to win them over to a particular political programme (Freire, 1972, p. 67). It is, rather, the elaboration through dialogue and, in a situation of ongoing activity and learning, of a new and deeper understanding of the world and how it can be changedfor all participants.

THINKING, SPEAKING, AND AFFECT As in CHAT, the practice of Freirean PAR requires a particular focus on thinking and speaking within the ongoing activity in a situation. Thus, in seeking to develop a Freirean collaboration, it is necessary to ascertain, through dialogue, both the participants objective situation and their awareness of that situation. At this stage in the process, the object of the investigation is . . . the thought-language people use to refer to reality, the level at which they perceive that reality, and their view of the world. Then, as the collaboartion develops,
A given moment of expression will differ from an earlier moment. . . . From the investigators point of view, the important thing is to detect the starting point at which people visualize the given, then verify whether or not during the process of investigation any transformation has occurred in their way of perceiving reality. (Freire, 1972, pp. 69, 79)

This is also closely mirrored in the Ferguslie collaboration, but, again, because of how the community activists set up the collaboration. They perceived the false nature of the governments language. They saw that it did not serve their needs or interestsincluding their need to grasp their real situation. But they struggled to nd their own true wordsto put their nger on it or to sum it up. The expropriation of the words of the government and its partners was, in Bakhtins (1975/1981) terms, a difcult and complicated process (p. 294). Yet, in establishing the collaboration, they posed for themselves that precise challenge. And they had me do for them in my research report what Freire poses as the task of his PARto represent to the people their own thematics, in systematized and amplied form. The thematics which come from the people return to themnot as contents to be deposited, but as problems to be solved (Freire, 1972, p. 94). Through this, the community activists own distinctive wording of the world increasingly emerged, and it emerged through a reworking and reevaluation of received language. In interviews the activists were tryingand failingto use the governments language of partnership and participation to make sense of their circumstances. In Volosinovs (1929/1973) terms, the key positive words in the governments language were being transposed to another evaluative contextthat of the activists experiencing the real implications. An increasingly open contest over the evaluative meaning of key words ensued. Consequently, word meanings changed. Perhaps most symptomatically, partnership itself became a dirty wordspoken with increasing distaste,

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and ultimately more spat than spoken. From a Vygotskian perspective, this said it all: The word is a microcosm of consciousness, related to consciousness like a living cell is related to an organism, like an atom is related to the cosmos. The meaningful word is a microcosm of human consciousness (Vygotsky, 1934/1987, p. 285). Moreover, as part of the broader reevaluation that was taking place, FLAG began not just to reject the language of partnership and participation that was so crucial to the legitimacy of both the New Life programme and to the governments broader neo-liberal agenda but to return to a language of campaigning and struggle, which had been to the fore in FLAGs previous development, and to speak it anewin ways that overtly challenged both the legitimacy of the governments intervention in their community and their broader agenda for changing Scotland as a nation. In Bakhtins (1975/1981) terms, something rather closer to voice supplanted what had previously been rather more like ventriloquationthe voice of government speaking through the activists. The research collaboration, then, seemed to accelerate a process of emergence, which was already under way. It precipitated a step changeone that came as a surprise even to the people who had been recruited to the FPP because of their thorough knowledge of the locality. But this was not just an intellectual processit was laden with affect, and in no small part with apprehension and fear. People feared that dangerous talk would have consequences. AFFECT: THE FEAR FACTOR But why were the activists quite so fearful? They had been recognised by the government as the legitimate voice for their community, and this had seemed to offer the prospect of at least some empowermenteven accounting for the realities of the situation. How was it that they were manipulated with such ease and the situation so quickly stabilised? These questions require us to understand a little more about FLAG, and here there is a further connection with AR. The FPP was not the rst major urban policy intervention in Ferguslie. It had gured in the project which in the United Kingdom inaugurated what we now call urban policythe Community Development Project (CDP), initiated in 1969 by the (social democratic) Labour government of Harold Wilson. Ferguslie was one of 12 areas in the UK-wide project that aimed at nding ways to deal with concentrations of deprivation, seen by government as somehow resistant to the best efforts of the welfare state to abolish poverty. The areas became the sites for AR projects looking for solutions. However, the CDPs soon moved beyond the limiting assumptions of their government brief. They found that poverty was largely not concentrated in poor areas. It was geographically widespread. They found the explanation not within poor communities but in the political economy of capitalist restructuring. The CDPs ended by seeking to support the emergence of community organisations that could assert the needs and interests of local people, particularly by linking up with other communities and with progressive sections of the trade union movement (Craig, 1989). This is how FLAG was bornwith an increasingly critically orientated action research in the role of midwife.2 The CDP galvanised local organisation in Ferguslie leading to the creation

2 Perhaps this is why, at a later stage, FLAG instigated a collaboration that in key respects closely resembled a critical form of action research.

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of FLAG, which acquired a wide reputation as an effective campaigning organisation. At this stage FLAG was more feared and fearless than fearful. So how did that change? It changed in the context of the neo-liberal shock treatment visited on the United Kingdom in the early 1980s by the Conservative government. Ferguslie was hit very hard. Local government, which was controlled by a still social democratic Labour Party, faced severe reductions in its budgets and found it increasingly difcult to manage the consequences. Relationships with the local community became very bad. Local government responded by trying to strike a new kind of relationship with the community. This involved re-presenting local government as the ally of the community in offsetting the worst effects of UK government policies. The result was the development, with FLAG heavily involved, of projects and initiatives to ameliorate the worst effects of Thatcherism. On this basis FLAG, during the mid-1980s, moved from being a campaigning body toward becoming in respects more like a street-level bureaucracy, working with ofcialdom and increasingly seen by some within its local community as part of ofcialdom. So now there were two FLAG identities in play: a historic one, linked to popular mobilisation, which had been in a sense shelved as part of a conditional agreement with local government, and a more recent one, linked to interfacing with bureaucracy in a way that saw FLAG losing much of the vitality of its connection with its broader community basis. FLAG had shelved its historic identity for so long as it felt able to play a serious role in decisions about Ferguslie. However, the experience of the new Partnership led FLAG to conclude this was no longer the case. Consequently, it was inclined to reassert its historic identityFLAG the fearless. Yet the 1980s development had changed something very important to the latter. FLAG had allowed its capacity to mobilise people to decline very seriously. This meant that the prompt backing that FLAG could at an earlier time have expected in a crisis from signicant numbers of local people would now be much more difcult to obtain. Were pressure to be brought to bear on FLAG, it would not now be borne across many shoulders; it would be borne, at least initially, almost entirely by the activists. This explains the fear of the activists. It reected their sense that the logic which pointed to the reassertion of FLAGs historic identity also pointed, in the circumstances, to a great pressure being brought to bear on them personally. They also understood that the pressure would be exerted through the agency of local individuals, operating on behalf of the Partnership, who knew Ferguslie very well. Weaknesses and vulnerabilities would be exploited. So, although the activists seemed driven to understand and change their situation, they simultaneously feared the reaction that their unveiling of reality would elicit. This also allows us to respond to the question about the activists being so easily manipulated. The lack of broader community mobilisation, which rendered the activists fearful in confronting the Partnership, also meant that there was too little in the way of broader community scrutiny to seriously discourage the taking up of inducementspaid employment for activists who would accept the new rules of the game. This was one of the vulnerabilities that could be, and was, exploited. In this way FLAG found itself replaced as the street-level bureaucracy, and sent off, ostensibly to rediscover its campaigning roots, but without most of the activists required to do that. Some of these were now paid employees of the FPPand not allowed to do campaigning.

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SOME SELF-CRITICAL REFLECTION Freire (1972) stated that there is no true word that is not at the same time a praxis. Thus, to speak a true word is to transform the world (p. 60). But here the statement might seem hollow; true words were spoken, and in the end there was just an oppressive outcome. But the reality is more complex. The true words were more whispered than spokenspoken sotto voce, in interviews with myself and conversations amongst FLAG activists. It was the research report that inserted them, albeit anonymously, into the public domain. Some of the activists decided, for reasons previously outlined, not to declare ownership of them. In this sense the words never quite came to be spoken. Yet, even then, these words did transform the world. The transformation did not elude the clutches of the Partnership, but the Partnership acted in the knowledge that processes were under way which could very easily have done that. Moreover the stabilisation achieved was more apparent than real. Within a few years the broader reengineering of the community in Ferguslie Park was seen, not just to have eliminated the possibility of meaningful community participation but to have been at the root of the aforementioned FCB scandal. The FPP had managed to engineer a certain kind of enterprise culturebut ultimately one that led to its own catastrophic failure. Now the hardest question of all: Clearly the collaboration here reported was motivated by good intentions. But did the collaboration actually contributeperhaps even in ways that might have been anticipatedto the bad outcomes that emerged? The unfortunate answer is that perhaps this is the case. The collaboration inserted into the public domain a critique that had a force that FLAGs organizational strength at that point could not match. And here more awareness of Freire might have served the collaborators well. He warned that although collaborative intervention needs to reect the real situation of acting subjects, it should not necessarilyor even usuallybe conducted in the open, as that would only provoke the fury of the oppressor and lead to still greater repression (Freire, 1972, p. 41). Had such a warning been to the forefront of the collaborators minds, then the collaboration may have proceeded differently. It might have matched the force of its public critique of the FPP rather more closely to the organisational strength FLAG then possessed, and might have sought to establish some better ground for a more overt contest at a later stage. At such a stage FLAGs true words could have been spoken out loud. But as things stood, the report served to provoke the fury of the oppressor leading to still greater repression. FLAG had been brought to life through critically orientated action research. A little more awareness of some of the insights of that tradition might have helped to prevent it being killed off. That, in turn, might have helped to avert some of the worst consequences of the partnership agenda in Ferguslie Parkand beyond.

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DISCUSSION: PRAXIS , POLITICS, AND THE STRUGGLE FOR MEANINGFUL LIFE I have been seeking in this article to contribute to the exploration of the relationship between CHAT and Freirean PAR. I have sought to present their relationship as mutually compatible and complementary, not simply theoretically, but by showing that relationship as emerging out of the experience of ongoing reection on a particular example of collaborative practice. Making

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sense of what happened in and around that collaboration involved drawing on and integrating the resources of both CHAT and PAR. The resulting combination, I would suggest, generated important insights, which would otherwise have been difcult to obtain, about the nature of societal development and change at a crucial juncture in Scotlands recent history. From CHAT came the tools required to grasp the crucial role of language or discourse in an important process of social changenot simply by situating or embedding language in its context but by grasping it concretely in its internal relation to the movement of a system of activity and consciousness. From PAR came a perspective on the evolution of the participatory research collaboration itself as an active element within the movement of that systemseen as a system of power, domination, and resistance. It also provided a perspective on the role of FLAG itself in creating and developing the collaboration in a way that provided for all of this. It could be argued, of course, that all of this relates to a single experience of collaboration and need not have much broader relevance. But that is improbable, for the relationship between CHAT and PAR is ultimately rooted in the inspiration each derives from Marxs perspective on human activity as practical-critical activityas praxis. This is a profound perspective. It is also not widely shared amongst those who seek to understand human development and learningeven amongst those who take a broadly sociocultural approach. This observation is the basis for Stetsenkos call for active exploration of the shared roots, ideas and commitments of the Freirean and Vygotskian projectswhich was highlighted at the beginning of this article. Stetsenko (2008) further observed that even where Marxs praxis perspective is fulsomely embraced, its implications and potential are as yet incompletely grasped. In this light, recognising, exploring, and developing the relationship between traditions that do embrace it seems important. CHAT and Freirean PAR are perhaps the two main such traditions. Stetsenko, as indicated earlier, has in recent years developed an expanded view of Vygotskys (CHAT) project to which Freire is seen as a particularly important contributor. In this project CHAT absorbs the Freirean ethical and political vocation of humanization through liberatory transformation, whereas Freirean PAR absorbs CHATs more systematic account of anthropogenesis and ontogeny. As Stetsenko (2008) put it,
In this project the centrality of a value-laden ideological/ethical commitment as a natural grounding for development . . . in both ontogeny and epistemology is arrived at by way of a systematic historical, developmental investigation. However, the reverse is also true in that this naturalistic investigation is grounded in ideological commitment to the revolutionary project of changing society in an aspired direction of social justice and equality. (p. 487)

Reection on the Ferguslie collaboration led me, in collaboration with a practitioner in the community development eld, to a conclusion which is in line with this view (Collins & Lister, 1996). Where Freirean PAR would seem to have particular value for those engaged in CHAT, I would suggest, is in terms of how it engages with issues of politics, ideology, and social justice. Here, moreover, the suggestion is not made in relation to those strands of CHAT that are already more explicitly orientated toward these issues. As Stetsenko was also clearly arguing, the issues seem central in working through the grounding assumptions that the CHAT tradition as a whole, with its roots in Vygotsky, takes from Marxs understanding of human activity. Such issues as politics, ideology, and social justice are, it must be observed, not prominent in Vygotskys writings. James Wertsch (1991) has seen this as somewhat ironic for someone interested in formulating a Marxist psychology (p. 46) and perhaps even as indicative that Vygotsky,

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despite his extensive reference to Marx, took on board little that emerged specically from that engagement. But perhaps a more convincing explanation is that Vygotskys immediate context that of postrevolutionary Russialed him not to foreground the kinds of problems and concepts that relate most specically to Marxs analysis of capitalist societies. As indicated earlier, a much more explicit focus on the dynamics of capitalist society is to be found in Vygotskys collaborator Leontiev (1978, 1981). The most relevant passages have been somewhat neglected in versions of CHAT propounded in secondary texts. In these passages Leontiev explores the very serious, indeed potentially catastrophic, consequences of capitalist social relations for the integrity of human consciousness. This is no casual discussion, and its relevance has grown since it was writtenfor capitalist social relations have spread much more widely across the globe, penetrating new areas of social life and repenetrating areas from which they had previously been excluded. The discussion is most explicit when Leontiev (1978, 1981) wrote about meaning and personal sense. Social meanings, which exist independently of individual subjects, develop in the activity of those subjects and take on psychological characteristics. Functioning in the process of activity and consciousness of concrete individuals, social meanings take on personal senses (Leontiev, 1978, pp. 8990). Under capitalist social relations this movement has a particular charactera fracturing or alienation of meaning and sense that emerges from the contradictory dynamic of those relations. In this context, living a meaningful life becomes a real challenge, a struggle, one that is full of dramatic effect, to avert a disintegration of consciousnessa psychological catastrophe (Leontiev, 1978, pp. 9394). The process involves torments of consciousness, which are painfully difcult but which nevertheless represent a striving for true life and the adequacy of consciousness (Leontiev, 1981, pp. 258262).
In its most naked forms the process about which we are speaking appears in the conditions of class society and struggle for ideology. . . . . This makes it possible to introduce into the individuals consciousness and impose . . . distorted or fantastic representations and ideas, including such as have no basis in . . . real practical life experience. . . . But even dispelling them does not lead to averting disintegration of consciousness or its inadequacy, in itself it creates only a devastation capable of turning into a psychological catastrophe. It is necessary that there take place a reshaping of personal subjective meanings into other more adequate meanings. . . . [This] takes place under conditions of the struggle in society for the consciousness of the people. (Leontiev, 1978, p. 93)

This passage could serve as an outline description of the process of the FPPfrom the arrival of central government in the area, with its promises of partnership for new life, to the activists critical appraisal and rejection of these promises, to the denouement that saw Ferguslie and its people labelled in UK broadcast and print media as belonging to an alien world of corruption, violence, and criminality. But the relevance of the passage and those closely related to it is much more general. They indicate that in connecting to and foregrounding questions of politics, ideology, and social justice we are talking not about some detail or aspect of language and consciousness as seen in CHAT but something very much more basic and perhaps (as indicated by the current crisis of neo-liberal globalisation, on one hand, and the epidemic of mental illness, particularly in the most neo-liberal regimes, on the other) more relevant now than ever. Yet it seems this most relevant of insights is somewhat overlooked in much of contemporary CHAT. Issues and interventions that seem clearly to connect to issues of politics and policy, ideology and power, inequality and social justice, are often explored within constraints that seem

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unduly to limit discussion in these terms. There is, perhaps, no great mystery in thisacademic institutions and disciplines, even in democratic societies, face subtle (and sometimes less subtle) pressures to avoid or limit critical engagement with politics. Even in elds where the relevance of politics is clearsuch as public healththe academic literature, abounding with references to social, economic, and cultural forces, makes much more limited reference to politics. Scholars who do make such references are not infrequently held at arms length by others working in the eld. However, much more so than many scholarly traditions, CHAT has an underlying emancipatory commitment. And in this light, as Stetsenko also argued, Freirean PAR can serve, amongst other important purposes, an overarching purpose in helping CHAT more fully to connect that underlying emancipatory intentwhich has attracted many to the traditionto the substantive problems of our contemporary world. There are two particular aspects of Freirean PAR that I would emphasize in this regard. First, CHAT research, and sociocultural approaches more generally, correctly emphasize the contextual and situated nature of social learning. However, PARand indeed, for one commentator, AR more generallyaims to go beyond largely local or institutional contexts to broader historical, political and ideological contexts that shape and constrain human activity at even the local level, including economic factors and international forces such as the structuring power of globalization (Somekh, 2006, p. 8). As the Fergulie case has illustrated, this kind of broader perspective on context is vitally important in grasping the logic of evolving activity locally, but it is also vital in grasping potentialities for changeboth locally and rather more widely. This is why such a fulsome treatment of the broader historical, political, and ideological context was necessary in reecting on the Ferguslie collaboration. Some may nd it tedious, but the case for context, to a substantial extent, has to be made concretely. Moreover, crucially, the stimulus to reconstruct the context of the Ferguslie collaboration reects the way in which FLAGwith its own origins in critically orientated ARframed the research collaboration.3 Second, AR generally, and Freirean PAR in particular, emphasizes the dialogical nature of learning and development. So too does CHAT. In thinking about politics, ideology, and social justice, this is a very welcome impediment to any tendency to reduce collaborative interventions to some crass version of vanguardism. As indicated earlier, Freire is particularly clear on this issue. CHAT, as indicated, has talked rather less often and less clearly about the political. Much as the writings of Leontiev serve as an insightful reminder about its importance, he is less consistently effective than Freire in countering the danger of a tendency to a less dialogical version of learning and development in political life. For, as well as the insightful account about the struggle for meaningful life in the conditions of class society, there are also comments about scientic socialism as developed by people who know science, who are eminent scientists and about the Marxist teaching on the inculcation of socialist consciousness in the spontaneous workers movement (see Leontiev, 1981, p. 264). This no doubt reects something of the nature and limitations of Leontievs context. The danger in judging them harshly might be that we reject the real insights that he offered, and their contemporary relevance. Connecting them to Freires
3 This is not to say that CHAT research systematically lacks such a focus on context. Some of the earliest contributions to the tradition very clearly did exemplify it (e.g., Luria, 1976), and some more contemporary work also engages critically with broader historical, political, and ideological contexts. However, the latter kind of orientation is not characteristic of contemporary CHAT.

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contribution helps us to avoid that outcome. It does so, I suggest, because Freire grasps deeply the nature of the kinds of engagements that are involved in people learning and developing in contexts where there are stark inequalities of wealth and power, and where they are seeking, practically and intellectually, to grapple with and address the consequences of those inequalities for their lives. Moreover he tries to provide practical and ethical guidelines for researchers who want to think about their own work as contributing, even if modestly, to such engagementsnot as omniscient parties, but as collaborators who are also, in Leontievs terms, striving for true life amidst social relations that tend to make that very problematic.4

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CONCLUSION In this article I have been seeking to suggest that the CHAT and Freirean PAR traditions are both deeply compatible and strongly complementary. From the CHAT perspective, Freirean PAR would seem to have a special value in terms of how it links its conception of human activity as praxiswhich it takes from Marx and shares with CHATto issues of politics, ideology, and social justice. This is similar to the view that has been argued in recent years by Stetsenko. However, here the case has been presented primarily to reect the way in which it was reached, independently of Stetsenko, through reection on the experience of a collaborative research project with a poor community in the town in which I work. Out of that experience comes a more general suggestion, which is that across a much broader range of collaborative projects, engaging with diverse areas of human activity, Freires contribution can serve a valuable purpose in helping CHAT more fully to connect its underlying emancipatory vision and purpose to the problems confronting people in todays troubled world.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS This article is based on a paper presented at the rst ISCAR Congress in Sevilla, Spain, in 2005. It was included in the symposium, Lessons from Vygotskys Project for Sociocultural Practices Today: Issues of History, Ideology and Social Justice. My sincere thanks to Anna Stetsenko, as the symposium organiser; to my co-presenters, Eduardo Vianna and Edward Muthivhi; and to all who attended and participated in the discussions. Further thanks to the anonymous reviewers of MCA who provided welcome and useful feedback, and to Bridget Somekh and Morten Nissen, who as co-editors of this special issue provided very welcome guidance.

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4 For one very useful example of an attempt to provide such guidelines, see Action Research: A Methodology for Change and Development (Somekh, 2006).

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