I have divided this paper on research and methodology into three sections:
Speaking of Numbers
Excerpted Portions of Hawkins/Benard Discussion (w/
© 1999 John Perkins
I'm Alec Bings; I see through things. I can see whatever is inside, behind,
around, covered by, or subsequent to anything else. In fact, the only thing
I can't see is whatever happens to be right in front of my nose. --Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth
In my outline/mind map for this paper I have 36 nodes, and even supposing
I might limit myself to just a page or so per node, I would not have exhausted
all I want to say about "research." This paper looks at the concept
of "reflexivity" and how it illuminates the discourse and discussion
around the issue of illicit drug use and abuse prevention in the United
States. Reflexivity describes situations where our thinking or theorizing
affects how we participate in events theorized about.
Phrasing the focus of this paper as being about "drug prevention"
makes me uncomfortable. For it suggests some types of discussions would
not be appropriate because an obvious concrete connection between those
discussions and illicit drug use cannot be seen. Already I must expand how
I word the focus to say illicit drugs use prevention and the effort to foster
healthy institutions which then would support healthy living by everyone.
The tension I just presented in the preceding paragraph demonstrates the
tension in the discussion about what is the nature of the problem, who gets
to call the "facts" and relevant "research", and what
is to be done by whom to address the situation. The faction which looks
closely at the "drug abuse problem" focuses its attention testing
theories that social and environmental factors may put some people at "risk"
of becoming illicit drug abuser. This camp will be called the risk factor
or risk-focused school of thought.
But the facts which have such importance for risk-focused thinkers play
a dramatically different role for "resiliency" proponents. Where
risk-focused folks will point out, let's say, that a sizable minority of
youth with two alcoholic parents become alcoholics themselves, resiliency
folks counter that it is interesting that a clear majority do not. Risk-focused
people counter by saying that the non-alcoholic offspring of alcoholic parents
have a lucky resiliency trait; resiliency folks suggest that even the minority
who become alcoholic have been inadequately served by their relationships
to adults and the institutions run by adults: families, schools, court systems,
and so on. And round and round it goes.
I picked this discussion because I have the greatest intimacy with it professionally.
I could have chosen welfare, abortion, gun control, military spending, balancing
the budget, housing, wildlife preservation, race relations, class relations,
corporate responsibility-practically anything from the editorial pages of
the paper. This paper will define "presearch" and trace its influence
in the worldviews and methodology and conclusions of the "risk-focused"
and "resiliency" paradigms for abating drug abuse. Presearch precedes
both "search" -which includes for me both the methodology and
the patient passion to see it through-and "research"-the stage
where "data" are examined closely for any patterns they may hold.
It is during the presearch stage that reflexivity can play a strong role
in helping everyone ponder the interplay between the theories behind a research
effort and how people will make sense of them.
Presearch. I coined the term "presearch" to denote that
time of discussion and thought antecedent to decisions about research questions
and methodology. The field of participatory action research has done the
deepest thinking about these issues. Participatory action research insists
that researchers involve others in thinking about the purposes and values
of proposed research projects. Selener (1992) lays out the relevant presearch
questions related to "the practice of empowering participatory action
In what context does the research take place?
What is the researcher's theory of social change?
What is the participants' theory of social change?
How is the research going to be conducted?
Who controls the research process?
What are the power relations?
What type of participation is used?
What is the main intended purpose of the research?
What is the focus of the research?
What is the nature of the problem?
Who are the primary intended beneficiaries?
Who participates in the research process?
How do people participate?
What are the intended benefits?
What is the nature of implemented actions?
Who actually benefits or is harmed? (p. 354)
These are fundamental questions in all social research and always have an
answer, whether discussed or not. An important aspect of social research
and policy decision making not found in the natural sciences, is that the
framing and discussion of the issues and methods of research actually affect
the meaning and worth that "subjects," "researchers,"
and "decision makers" place on the results. Though the rest of
this discussion will focus on action research and philosophy, I have encountered
similar debates about purpose and "truth" in literature from the
fields of education (Dewey 1969), linguistics (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980),
and sociology (Spector and Kitsume, 1977).
Karl Popper philosophizes about the epistemology of the scientific method,
what it means and where it makes its contribution to our knowledge and understanding.
Popper sums up his epistemological results with nine theses:
1. There are no ultimate sources of knowledge.
2. The proper question is not about sources but whether the assertion made
3. In connections with this examination, all kinds of arguments may be relevant.
4. The most important source of our knowledge-quantitatively and qualitatively-is
tradition. Most of what we know we learned by example, books, being told,
5. Anti-traditionalism is futile because of #4.
6. The advance of knowledge consists, mainly, in the modification of earlier
7. There are no criteria for truth, but we possess, if we are lucky,
criteria to recognize error and falsity.
8. Neither observation nor reason are authorities. The most important function
of observation and reasoning, and even of intuition and imagination, is
to help us in the critical examination of those bold conjectures which are
the means by which we probe into the unknown.
9. Every solution to a problem raises new unsolved problems; the more so
the deeper the original problem and the bolder the solution. Our knowledge
can only be finite, while our ignorance must be infinite (1965, pp. 27-28).
Popper felt that for a society to continually improve, it must remain "open"
so that conjecture and refutation can be freely engaged in. Through this
process of thinking and correction we would grow our knowledge ever closer
to the ultimate Truth. But can societal "truths" be refuted in
the same way a scientific theory can?
George Soros believes that ultimate truths in social systems cannot be "known"
in the same way truths in the sciences can because they are of a different
order of reasoning. Soros claims to have used Karl Popper's ideas about
epistemology to make his fortune. He has certainly made a fortune-the foundations
he has founded annually give away over $350 million. Financial articles
which reference him always put "superstar" before his name. But
it is in the area of philosophy that he would like to leave his contribution.
Soros, writing in the Atlantic Monthly about Popper's ideas about the Open
Society, said this about the vexing difficulties of refuting social theories:
I was driven to delve deeper into Popper's philosophy and to
ask, Why does nobody have access to the ultimate truth? The answer became
clear: We live in the same universe that we are trying to understand, and
our perceptions can influence the events in which we participate. If our
thoughts belong in one universe and their subject matter in another, the
truth might be within our grasp: we could formulate statements corresponding
to the facts, and the facts would serve as reliable criteria for deciding
whether the statements were true.
Soros wants us to leave the binary, two value thinking of true and false
by introducing his third value, reflexive:
[Beyond the natural sciences] the relation between statements and facts
is less clear-cut. In social and political affairs the participants' perceptions
help to determine reality. In these situations facts do not necessarily
constitute reliable criteria for judging the truth of statements. There
is a two-way connection-a feedback mechanism-between thinking and events,
which I have called "reflexivity" (1996: 46-47).
Soros suggests that to act in the world means we blend knowledge with something
else, beliefs. We must act with imperfect knowledge, so our beliefs support
action in the face of incomplete knowledge. When we act, by subtracting
what we know from what it took to act, we are left with our beliefs:
How does this fit in with our generally accepted notion of truth? It seems
that we need more than the two recognized categories-true and false. The
logical positivists asserted that statements which are not true or false
are meaningless. I thoroughly disagree. Theories that can affect the subject
matter to which they refer are the opposite of meaningless. They can change
the world. They express the active role that thinking can play in shaping
reality. We need to adjust our concept of truth to account for them. I propose
that we need three categories: true, false, and reflexive. The true value
of a reflexive statement is indeterminate. It is possible to find other
statements with an indeterminate truth value but we can live without them.
We cannot live without reflexive statements. I hardly need to emphasize
the profound significance of this proposition. Nothing is more fundamental
to our thinking than our concept of truth. (Soros, 1995, Internet).
This I find exciting, and I want to race around my library looking into
articles and books and see how adding reflexivity resolves the strain they
labor under trying to understand reality with only the categories of true
and false. Since the approaches and methods of organizational development
often get used in the field of drug prevention (though it usually traces
its terminology from public health) I will limit myself to two articles
which have confused me for almost two years. Can Soros's concept of reflexivity
resolve my befuddlement?
Action - Knowledge = Beliefs
In his article on research into organizational innovation, Richard Wolfe
(1994) wanted to contribute to the development of a more cumulative knowledge
base. Wolfe provided clear mission instructions: "Innovation researchers
must have clear sets of concepts about the objects of their study"
and "Given the complex, context-sensitive, nature of innovation, it
is incumbent upon the innovation researcher to minimize ambiguity in all
aspects of his/her research" (p. 406).
Adding reflexivity offers some insight into innovation. Not only must an
organization master new mechanical or social system procedures, it must
also master the meaning of that change for its members. Those at the top
cannot impose a meaning, indeed, they have their own grappling to do with
what an innovation may mean, and what it says about the organization (reflexivity).
Should a formal (officially promulgated) or informal meaning not fit, or
take a while to become accepted, the process of innovation will be altered
from a straight line. Once one organization has shown that an innovation
can be incorporated, it becomes easier for succeeding organizations to try
it. Why? Some of what it means for the organization and industry has been
worked out. Note this comment from Wolfe:
When a simple innovation is borrowed or adapted from an external
source, stages tend to occur in the expected order, while when innovations
are complex and/or originate within an organization, stages tend to be muddled
and overlapping. The appeal of stage model research, that of providing an
organizing framework, can be deceiving as innovation is not simple or linear,
but is, rather, a complex iterative process having many feedback and feedforward
cycles (p. 411).
The second article which puzzled me tried to place action research within
the community of scientific disciplines. After 400 years of debate about,
and practice with, the scientific method, many social researchers has accepted
its hypothethico-deductive method as their preferred means for building
knowledge by putting "reality" to the test via experiments. Within
the first two paragraphs of an article attempting to demonstrate the similarities
between action research and the scientific method, Aguinis (1993) clearly
states why they divulge on philosophical grounds, without intending to do
so: "Some disciplines do not use the hypothethico-deductive method
because some of its assumptions may not be tenable in all circumstances.
The scientific method does not include aesthetic features or moral values,
and this characteristic impedes its use with any discipline that involves
moral or aesthetic judgments" (p. 417). But social policy decisions
are all about picking one action as better (a judgment) than another.
Though Aguinis clearly states that action research and the scientific method
are closer philosophically than other writers would have us think, I believe
he missed the point at issue. The action research approach builds meaning
as well as learning for the group using it. "Learning" for a small
group may or may not be the same as "knowledge" which has universal
applicability. To add reflexivity as a measure of the worth of a statement
will mean the abandonment of universal applicability as an acceptable concept
to transfer from the natural sciences to the so-called social sciences.
Action research-and especially participatory action research-is a reflexive
process for at least three reasons: (1) it requires broad discussions at
all stages and invite researchers and participants to consider the meanings
of their actions and what can be learned from them; (2) the course of action
is expected to change as the nature of the challenge and the skills of the
group become clearer to the researcher and participants: and (3) "hypotheses"
may be abandoned or reconceived several times during the course of the research
The criteria for the success of an participatory action project must rest
with those involved, first and foremost. They live the experience and understand
better than anyone else what it mean to them. Their knowledge, although
expressible in a word or phrase, cannot be extracted and plopped down someplace
else, or pinned neatly on a timetable of the history of some idea. Any learning
this intimately bound up with the people and processes involved may not
be applicable to any other group or organization. Lessons and learning will
be abundant, but knowledge may not accumulate in ways analogous to knowledge
accumulation in the natural sciences.
Even Aguinis returns to the world of values (reflexivity) and speaks about
Thus it seems that it may be detrimental for the field of organization
development (OD) to be excluded from the scientific community as a nonscientific
field because power struggles within the scientific community may lead to
the stigmatization and consequent isolation of the discipline (p. 427).
Ah, there's the rub-a fear and a pleading for status-and there are no methods
anywhere which can solve it. Notice the reflexive ambiguity Aguinis makes:
OD is both within the scientific community (otherwise how can it be excluded)
but cannot influence its power struggles, which places it outside of the
community. Some action researchers will want to remain within the scientific
method traditions, some will not. Action researchers can reflect upon all
of this, that is, publicly try out reflexive statements about the discipline
of action research and its place in the tradition of the scientific method.
Because the will be reflexive statements they cannot be judged as either
true or false about the field.
I cannot leave this discussion without touching upon Aguinis's fear that
to be non-scientific is to be somehow stigmatized or demeaned. By whom?
Who has this authority, and why would action researchers grant anyone that
power? Action research may actually have found a new terrain of knowledge
and may want to make its own claims on how knowledge can be built. Zuñiga-Urrutia
(1992) in her dissertation, Views and Issues in Action Research, states
that "action research practice entails a marked departure from conventional
social science." She adds
Reflexively speaking, it may be good for action researchers to leave the
scientific community to its power struggles because the scientific method
and worldview lacks enough complexity for the "realities" action
researchers face. To quote from Soros:
Action research challenges "distanced" forms of inquiry and "neutral"
observer positions. It violates the prevailing division between theory and
practice. And it humanizes the research "subjects" by developing
"collaborative" relationships at different points throughout the
research process. Such partnership is a largely uncharted field of practice
and has serious implications for social science theory, research methods,
and the social organization of human inquiry (p. 7).
Reflexivity raises questions about the relevance of scientific
methods to the study of human and social phenomena. Popper maintained that
the same method and criteria apply to both social and natural science. He
called this the doctrine of the unity of method. I have some doubts about
this doctrine I argued [in The Alchemy of Finance] that the expression "social
science" is a false metaphor and events in which the participants'
imperfect understanding plays a significant role cannot be explained and
predicted by universally applicable laws. I now believe that I carried my
arguments too far It is possible to apply the methods and criteria of natural
science to social phenomena and they may produce worthwhile results within
their terms of reference. We must merely remember that their terms of reference
exclude, by definition, events in which imperfect understanding plays a
significant role (1995, Internet).
The metaphorical force field of "science" is so strong that Soros
cannot escape it though he tried. The metaphor of science is used to bridge
our understanding from the natural to the social domains of knowledge. Lakoff
and Johnson (1980), in Metaphors We Live By, suggest that metaphors "allow
us to understand one domain of experience in terms of another" (p.
117). Generally we seldom make a systematic and explicit comparison of the
two domains to determine how much alike-and how different- they are. (see
Neustadt and May, 1986, for a discussion of the value of doing this). But
since no two domains of experience are fully equivalent, the metaphors we
use both help and trap our thinking:
New metaphors, like conventional metaphors, can have the power
to define reality. They do this through a coherent network of entailments
that highlight some features of reality and hide others. The acceptance
of the metaphor, which forces us to focus only on those aspects of our experience
that it highlights, leads us to view the entailments of the metaphor as
being true. Such "truths" may be true, of course, only relative
to the reality defined by the metaphor Though questions of truth do arise
for new metaphors, the more important questions are those of appropriate
action. In most cases, what is at issue is not the truth or falsity of a
metaphor but the perceptions and inferences that follow from it and the
actions that are sanctioned by it. In all aspects of life, not just in politics
or in love, we define our reality in terms of metaphors and then proceed
to act on the basis of the metaphors. We draw inferences, set goals, make
commitments, and execute plans, all on the basis of how we in part structure
our experience, consciously and unconsciously, by means of metaphor (Lakoff
and Johnson, 1980: 157-158).
The metaphor "social science" does need to be recast because it
misfocuses our thinking and therefore our research and, ultimately, our
actions. At the moment I have nothing to replace it with, so I will place
"science" in quotes to remind us that it is a metaphor.
In a reflexive context, everyone struggles to make sense of what they experience
(Argyris and Schön, 1978). I am pointing out, in the tradition of conjecture
and refutation that philosopher Karl Popper posits as the process of knowledge
building, that the old, non-inclusive, research-subject construction of
research ignores the reflexivity of our lives together. One way to correct
for the partial and imperfect knowledge of any single person (researchers
included) is to include as many of the people as possible who might benefit
from the research directly in the research process-which brings us full
circle back to participatory action research. I am not saying that inclusiveness
will be easier. We will need to think in fresh ways, we will need to learn
new skills, all of us, and this will be painful because of the old, deeply
scored ways. Feminist researcher Marion Martin presents the challenge:
When people are familiar, as most of us are, in working within
hierarchical organisational structures, learning to work in a more egalitarian,
co-operative and trusting manner takes time. It involves risk-taking and
demands a high degree of personal and collective commitment. It cannot be
assumed that these qualities are present or that the organisational environment
will 'allow' them to emerge (Martin, 1994:140-141).
Can this presearch discussion suggest criteria for identifying or discussing
reflexive statements? I feel it can in four ways. There may be many ways
to assay potentially reflexive statements; these will serve to begin my
considerations of competing theories in the drug prevention field:
1. What meanings are placed on "loaded terms"?
2. What is communicated about alternative perspectives and the people who
3. What is said about how to process or handle the tension of disagreeing?
4. Does the statement attempt to "open" the discussion to fresh
possibilities or attempt to "close" off further debate?
Reflexivity and the War of Words about "Drugs"
I have probably worked or volunteered in the areas of promoting positive
human development or preventing drug use and abuse for over 15 years. I
have a lot I could say. To set some boundaries to what I will attempt to
do next, I will limit myself to discussing my four assay questions for reflexivity.
Using comments and quotes from a debate between researchers identified with
two competing paradigms in the drug prevention field, I will show how these
assay questions help to understand the debate. For brevity, I will use the
single term "drugs" to mean alcohol, tobacco, illegal drugs, and
the (misuse of) prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
At the Eighth Annual National Prevention Network (NPN) Research Findings
Conference in 1995, the leading proponents of the risk-focused and the resiliency
models debated one another. The risk-focused model mimics the public "health"
model (sic, because it really addresses public illness). It theorizes that
the cause of an individual's misuse of drugs can be traced to his or her
exposure to multiple "risk factors," that is, stress from his
or her environment (families, schools, and communities) or genetic deficiencies
increase his or her likelihood of becoming drug misusers. It is meaningful
to note that the NPN itself has adopted the risk-focused model as its preferred
model. So that model began with a bit more of an advantage because it was
the "official model" of the debate sponsors.
The resiliency model states that we need to hold conversations that look
first in the mirror, and address our deep values and how we express them
in our lives and institutions. It takes a human development approach to
working with adolescents and avoids labeling people or their communities.
Bonnie Benard, the resiliency model proponent, spoke first. Benard works
as a prevention researcher at the Center for Drug-Free Schools and Communities
in San Francisco. David Hawkins, the risk-focused factor proponent, is professor
and director of the Social Development Research Group at the University
of Washington. Each had about twenty minutes to speak. This was followed
by questions from the conference participants. Excerpts from this presentation
can be read in the appendix.
To hold our attention on reflexivity, I will use my four assay questions
to measure some of the comments from this debate. Line numbers for quotes
from the transcript will be shown in parentheses like this: (223-225).
Assay Q1. What meanings are placed on "loaded terms"?
"Loaded terms" mean one thing to those of one perspective and
something different to those of a different perspective. Reflexively, a
group holding a discussion has the challenge of finding a process for discussion
of terms with the hopes of locating a common meaning. This process challenge
will be considered under question 3.
Two of the most loaded terms in this debate turned out to be "resiliency"
and "research." The table on the following page summarizes some
of the their comments about "research" and "resiliency."
|Table 1: Comments from the Debate about
Resiliency and Research |
|Term ||Benard/Resiliency ||Hawkins/Risk-Focused
|resiliency ||Resiliency is all about relationship.
When we talk about strength-based and a spirituality-meaning-centered approach,
that is what resiliency is about. (17-18)
Definition of resiliency (from Robert J. Lifton, The Protean Self: Human
Transformation in Times of Change): "Human resilience is our innate
capacity for transformation and change." This is programmed into
all of us (45-47).
I think resiliency is really about love, it may sound fluffy, but that's
what's there. That's our challenge. (60-62)
Resiliency gives us a sense of hope (167).
|And it is very
interesting that when Bonnie and I speak about resiliency how differently
we talk about that word. Because resiliency-as I read the research of Emmy
Werner and Michael Ruther and Norm Gurnsey-is in fact a characteristic of
individuals-that is a characteristic of being able to bounce back from difficult
situations. To, as Bonnie said earlier, to be able to be flexible and responsive
in situations; to adapt to new situations. But this is, in the research
as I understand it, a characteristic of individuals (249-255). |
||[in reference to the longitudinal research conducted in Baltimore
(48-59)] If we are going to evaluate it, we must learn how to evaluate things
like love and caring. That's what we got to look for. (61-62)|
Spiritual connectedness is really what it's about [from the research]
|We must use all the knowledge currently available to
us to move prevention beyond being a movement to being a discipline. There
is and has been developed a discipline of prevention called prevention science
in the last few years in this country (191-195). |
issue of predictability. As we know from longitudinal studies,
over and over we see a pattern. At least 50 percent, often closer to 70
percent, of the kids coming from very serious high-risks environments and
trauma and adversity do become confident, competent, caring adults, to use
Emmy Warner's words. So that means focusing on what protective factors
bring is a far more predictable approach (148-153). (emphasis added)
||When we are talking about preventing problems before they
happen, we must find a way to intervene in a process that has not yet occurred.
And the best approach for doing that, according to prevention science, is
to identify the things that predict that problem statistically and
to seek to reduce those statistical predictors, and to seek to identify
factors that have been shown to inhibit the problem statistically, and
to enhance those protective factors (201-206). (emphasis added) |
Assay Q2. What is communicated about alternative perspectives and the
people who hold them?
Clearly, Benard and Hawkins disagree on many points. Interestingly, Benard
and Hawkins used contrasting rhetorical styles for making their case. Benard
used a narrative style, and lots of quotes about the meaning of relationships;
Hawkins used "empirical" research with numbers and charts. Benard
engaged the audience with a short exercise; Hawkins presented slides with
numbers and graphs depicting his research.
Listening to the tapes and reading over the transcript, I became aware of
a growing sense of annoyance with Hawkins's presentation. He did several
things rhetorically which created a sense of incongruence within me about
his presentation, though others might feel it brought congruence to it.
First he collapsed Benard's entire presentation to a single symbol: resiliency
(352-353). Next, he gave it a definition of his own and did not ever use
it again as Benard, the advocate for the concept, did. Finally, he dismissed
it and downgraded resilience, as he defined it, as not researched (395-396),
as a special individual characteristic (249-255)-rather than an universal
inborn trait as Benard defined it (45-47)-or as a subset of his own model
(403-405). He really hammered away at it being an inherited special trait,
referring to it that way at least eight times (noted with a bold #x in the
transcript). He got so worked up that he even redefined it 180 degrees from
what Benard meant, by claiming that becoming a drug dealer would be a "resilient
response" to growing up in the ghetto (378-380)!
Because there were no rules for this discussion he got away with it. But
that does not help resolve the difference. The fairest approach would have
been to accept the use of key terms as each perspective presented them,
and then to compare and contrast how the data would be understood from various
Does Benard do a better job of being fair about using concepts claimed by
risk-focused researchers? (A note about biases: I have had wonderful experiences
in settings using the resiliency approach.) At lines 116-117 she stated
her view of the goal of risk-focused prevention: with risk-focused prevention,
the approach is to identify kids, families, and communities to help allocate
services. Hawkins agreed, though he stated it in the negative, by noting
that with Benard's approach "there is no reason to focus prevention,
and no way to allocate resources" (386-389).
Assay Q3. What is said about how to process or handle the tension of
Benard welcomes debate, both by claiming to have opened the discussion (19)
and by framing the occasion of her facing Hawkins as a chance for a "forum
for dialogue" (31).
Recall that reflexive statements are neither true nor false, but meaningful.
Because he hammered away at it so thoroughly Hawkins must have known that
he was reclassifying the term "resilience", and therefore mis-classifying
it from the resiliency perspective (see Fearnside and Holther, 1959, p.
33-40 about fallacies produced from faulty classifications). Paradoxically,
and reflexively, his efforts to cast suspicions boomerang back onto himself.
Hawkins appeared to claim not to be part of a discussion among equals, but
rather the arbitrator of rules and definer of terms. In other words, he
presented himself as higher ranking than Benard.
This raises some reflexive questions: Should the field respect the work
of someone who argues using fallacies of their own creation and who deliberately
misrepresents the views of others? If this is how he treats Benard in a
face-to-face encounter, how does he treat disagreement with him in scholarly
literature? Can Hawkins tolerate the multiple perspectives involved in a
field which should have lots of lively debates on a wide range of issues?
This multiplicity of views is a problem to him, but he avoids claiming it
as a personal one, and projects his anxiety into Congress, whom he claims
is "laughing at us" (411) because this field debates important
Assay Q4. Does the statement attempt to "open" the discussion
to fresh possibilities or attempt to "close" debate?
At the end of his prepared statement, Hawkins expressed concern that an
emphasis on a "paradigm shift" was "creating divisions where
none need to be" (403-404) while appealing to the group to "come
together as a field" (411). He then unfavorably compared the situation
to the "leftists in the sixties" because the field is "arguing
among ourselves about small differences of opinion in wording and telling
each other that it requires a paradigm shift" (412-413).
Benard, the advocate for this shift, naturally prefers that the topic remains
open, and that people continue to discuss and think about the differences
between the perspectives.
The tape of this discussion failed to record my own comments from the floor
at the NPN conference. I said that I felt the discussion between proponents
of all available models must be sustained. I have worked in setting using
community-involved resiliency approaches, and I know that they "look
and feel" completely different than anything I see most institutions
doing, especially institutions running risk-focused programs. Places I have
worked in, such as The Door: A Center of Alternatives in New York, the Encampment
for Citizenship in San Francisco, and Partners in Prevention Team-Building
Camp in Western Washington, all view the resourcefulness of the staff and
young people as practically unlimited when properly engaged.
Resiliency-based institutions do not separate their clients in any way.
They do not run "programs" at all for limited sets of their clients.
What they make available can be used by all and clients make their own choices.
The Door, for example, received public funds for drug intervention and prevention,
but drug-using youth did not get publicly identified. The only way to find
out was if a youth mentioned it, if her counselor mentioned it confidentially
during staff meetings, or if I looked in the youth's chart (and had to keep
it confidential). This forced staff to deal with each youth as a complex
and growing person. Another, different, example related to the staff: when
funds temporarily dried up, the entire staff voted to work fewer hours and
seek second jobs-everyone shared the downs and ups in the fortunes of the
This does not mean that resiliency is the ultimate truth. All current theories
and approaches for prevention efforts have major flaws. Both resiliency
and risk-focused models are silent on how to account for human choice and
thought. There are many youth who can confidently-and accurately-predict
that they will not smoke cigarettes, for instance. How do we explain how
they have learned to gauge themselves and know what their decision is?
A second flaw is that the theories do not account for deliberate harm sponsored
or permitted by governments. They do not discuss the suspected role of the
police and FBI in the dismantling of political and social institutions in
poor communities. Without the sustained efforts of these institutions to
transmit a positive culture communities became susceptible to gang and increased
drug use. They do not address suspicions that the CIA may have deliberately
imported drugs as a way of derailing the civil rights and black power movements.
What does it "mean" when community leaders suspect that institutions
with policing powers may have sponsored the drug trade? (See U.S. Government
Office of Technology Assessment (1994, Internet) for a description of how
drug laws have been used to harass and oppress groups.)
Three years ago the Washington State Division of Alcohol and Substance Abuse
(DASA) indicated that it wanted to adopt the risk-focused model as the model
of drug prevention efforts in the state.
The prospects of having only one model for designing and evaluating programs
alarmed many people working in King County in the drug prevention field.
We held our own training program on models of prevention, and we lobbied
DASA to either have no preferred model or add the resiliency model as another
appropriate model to use. We learned a lot, but DASA locked in on the risk-focused
When a governmental agency adopts any one perspective as the official one
(rather than fostering healthy debate and taking no official views) it writes
it into grant proposals and evaluation criteria. Between risk-focused and
resiliency models, what matters and what needs to be counted are mutually
exclusive at critical decision points. State agency policy supporting risk-focused
thinking becomes a reflexive statement, and begins a self-fulfilling cycle
of letting out grants which fit this point of view and then evaluating them
within the terms of the model officially supported. This affects questions
placed in questionnaires and surveys and even how the news media reports
our experience with "reducing drug abuse." It has become fairly
predictable to see banner head lines on the front page like "Cocaine
Use Among High School Seniors Shot Up in the Past Year." It even became
an "issue" in Presidential politics.
The resiliency model states that the quality of all relationships makes
the most telling difference, so it would measure its success with a different
set of questions. Benard is serious when she says we must learn how to measure
love and caring (62). Ever see headlines like this: "Teenage Diary
Writing Increased 5 Percent Last Year" or "Parents At the Patton
Elementary School Feted for Being the 'Most Loving' In the District"?
That we do not see these types of headlines does not mean that resiliency
does not work or exists, it means that the research machinery of governments
and universities has yet to ask resiliency determining types of questions.
Official decisions in preference of the risk-focused model become self-fulfilling
and make learning how to measure caring and love more difficult, if not
impossible, because the risk-focused model does not deal with those concepts.
As I re-read these closing comments it occurred to me that there may be
other, more telling assay questions for getting to reflexivity. For example,
"Would the theorizers accept the application of their own theories
to their own lives?" A different way to ask this is, "How would
people feel and think about themselves, the research project-and the researchers-when
they learn how they have been identified and the conditions for their participation?"
In other words, "If no extra services came with the "label",
would anyone volunteer to be identified 'at-risk'?"
There can be no ultimate "true" answers in the experience (data)-theory-action-perception(thinking)
spiral because theories and "policies" affect what we think and
do. Reflexive situations-where we attempt to develop our theories about
ourselves and other thinking humans-cannot have an unambiguous solution.
Why? Because any theory affects the thinking of the people involved in implementing
it or interpreting it. Because the "presearch" which precedes
evaluations-and the evaluations themselves-hold tremendous "meaning"
for any field which theorizes about thinking beings, reflexivity calls for
a participatory action research style of evaluation. Theories can only be
disproved, never fully proved, and this is even more the case where theory
has the power to change the perceptions and behaviors of all: the researched,
the researcher, the politician, the reporter, and the voter. I can support
Soros and Popper's preference for "openness" and assert that this
debate between risk-focused theory and resiliency theory is good for the
field of drug prevention.
A lot is at stake. The world-wide market for illegal drugs runs into the
billions of dollars, which does not include the governmental costs of police,
jails, courts, medical care, and treatment. On top of this, when we add
similar categories of costs associated with the misuse and abuse of legal
drugs (for adults) such as prescription and over the counter drugs, alcohol,
and tobacco, we begin to sketch out the immensity of the financial stakes
involved. The costs in terms of the disruption of lives and communities
cannot be measured.
Should this field let itself "settle" for any single theory, it
would have accepted its ultimate infertility as a field. As long as it has
good theories like these to think about and discuss it will remain a vital
and growing field. Another way to reframe the discomforts caused by these
unresolvable ambiguities is to say that they are signs that we are alive.
Speaking of Numbers
Excerpted Portions of Hawkins/Benard Discussion (w/