What is action research and how do we do it?

In this article, we explore the development of some different traditions of action research and provide an introductory guide to the literature. contents: what is action research? · origins · the decline and rediscovery of action research · undertaking action research · conclusion · further reading · how to cite this article. see, also: research for […]

Chris Argyris: theories of action, double-loop learning and organizational learning

Chris Argyris: theories of action, double-loop learning and organizational learning. The work of Chris Argyris (1923-2013) has influenced thinking about the relationship of people and organizations, organizational learning and action research. Here we examine some key aspects of his thinking. contents: introduction · life · theories of action: theory in use and espoused theory · […]

Pierre Bourdieu on education: Habitus, capital, and field. Reproduction in the practice of education

contents: introduction • Pierre Bourdieu – life • habitus • field • capital • exploring reproduction • developing practice • conclusion • references and further reading • acknowledgements • how to cite this piece Pierre Bourdieu’s exploration of how the social order is reproduced, and inequality persists across generations, is more pertinent than ever. We examine some […]

Researching education, learning and community: building theory

Researching education, learning and community: building theory. In this piece we examine the process of generating theory. We ask ‘what is theory?’ We also look at the process of analysis, integration and imagination. For the last of these we pay special attention to the work of C. Wright Mills. Contents: introduction · what is theory? […]

Calling and informal education

Calling and informal education. The notion of calling, once rather unfashionable, has re-emerged as an organizing idea within education. Michele Erina Doyle examines calling and vocation, and sets them in particular within Christian discourse. She argues that fulfilling our calling as informal educators means we work with others for the processes of knowing, testing, naming, […]

Jean Lave, Etienne Wenger and communities of practice

Jean Lave, Etiene Wenger and communities of practice. The idea that learning involves a deepening process of participation in a community of practice has gained significant ground in recent years. Communities of practice have also become an important focus within organizational development and have considerable value when thinking about working with groups. In this article […]

Developing critical conversations about practice

In this 1995 article Mark K Smith explores the use of study groups by practitioners to deepen and extend their practice. It looks at how we may transcend individualized responses through building ‘critical communities of enquirers’. contents: preface · introduction · collective explorations of practice · the mechanics of study groups · exploring practice collectively: […]

Developing youth work: Informal education, mutual aid and popular practice

Developing Youth Work (1988) was an attempt to construct a coherent and distinctive understanding of youth work. It looked to informal education and association (mutual aid) as the core of the work, and argued that the youth service was in terminal decline. We publish the complete book. Contents preface introduction chapter 1: enter youth workers […]

Developing youth work: Preface

This book began life in 1982 as an attempt to construct a coherent and distinctive understanding of youth work. While it would be nice to claim that the thinking reported in these pages has matured and developed through constant reflection over the intervening years, the truth is that it has had a stuttering existence, competing […]

Developing youth work: Introduction

So much of what is said about youth work either seeks to conceal or is the product of lazy or rhetorical thinking. The ahistorical, apolitical and anti-intellectual attitude of many in this area has meant that practice is peculiarly prone to influence by moral panics, fads and fashions. As such, the work is further threatened […]

Developing youth work: Chapter 1 – Enter youth workers

contents: introduction · little ladies at home · the making of modern leisure · threats from within and without · psychology – the final piece of the jigsaw · the new provision · there will be drill · ennobling their class · bourgeois youth work · further reading and references This chapter has a strong focus […]

Developing youth work: Chapter 2 – The making of popular youth work

In this, the second chapter of Developing Youth Work, Mark Smith explores the emergence of working class and more community-based forms of youth work. In particular he looks at the development of work within chapels and other associations in the nineteenth century, and the development of practice in the 1930s and 1940s. contents:  introduction · […]

Developing youth work: Chapter 3 – Definition, tradition and change in youth work

In this the third chapter of Developing Youth Work, Mark Smith explores the clusters of key ideas that appear to inform the ways in which youth workers see their tasks. Six broad bodies of customs, thoughts and practices are identified – and the power of tradition explored. contents: introduction · traditions in youth work · […]

Developing youth work: Chapter 4 – The demise of the youth service?

In chapter 4 of developing youth work Mark Smith explores the situation facing youth work and the youth service in the late 1980s. He argues that the youth service will whither away, but that youth work in different forms will develop, but not necessarily grow. contents: introduction · growing inequality and a new social condition […]

Developing youth work: Chapter 5 – Beyond social education

This chapter (5) from Developing Youth Work (1988) explores the notion of social education – and how it came into usage in the British youth work tradition. Mark Smith argues that there are particular problems around the personalist orientation that it involves, and the extent to which the idea of selfhood involved is ethnocentric. He […]

Developing youth work: Chapter 6 – Good purpose

Here Mark Smith, in chapter 6 of Developing Youth Work, explores what might lie at the heart of youth work. He underlines the educational nature of the work. He also returns to notions of human well-being and suggests that educators are concerned with enlarging people’s appreciation of it, and developing their ability to act. Smith […]

Developing youth work: Chapter 7 – Informal education

In Chapter 7 of Developing Youth Work (1988) Mark Smith argues for the rehabilitation of the notion of informal education. He critiques dominant, administrative definitions and instead looks to process. contents: introduction · informal education and its alternatives · what is informal education? · critical dialogue · informal education and problems with curriculum · in […]

Developing youth work: Chapter 8 – Developing popular practice

In chapter 8 of Developing Youth Work (1988) Mark K. Smith explores the possibilities of popular practice. He sets out some of the elements that will need to be attended to if work that looks to mutual aid, conversation and informal education are to be realized. contents: introduction · the potential of popular practice · […]

Developing youth work: Bibliography

The complete bibliography for Mark Smith (1988) Developing Youth Work Abercrombie, A. and Turner, B.S. (1982). ‘The Dominant Ideology Thesis’, in Giddens, A. and Held, D. (eds). Classes, Power and Conflict. London, Macmillan. Adams, R. (1988). ‘Finding a way in. Youth workers and juvenile justice’, in Jeffs. T. and Smith, M. (eds). Welfare and Youth […]

Dialogue and conversation for learning, education and change

Dialogue and conversation  for learning, education and change. ‘Dialogue’, Freire says, ‘is the encounter between men, mediated by the world, in order to name the world’. Here we explore this idea – and its roots. Contents: introduction · Gadamer – horizons of understanding · emotions and virtues · Habermas: dialogue, power and distortion · Bohm on […]

Elliot W. Eisner, connoisseurship, criticism and the art of education

Elliot W. Eisner, connoisseurship, criticism and the art of education. Elliot W. Eisner has deepened our appreciation of education in a number of areas. Here we examine his argument that education involves the exercise of artistry and the development of connoisseurship and criticism. We also assess his contribution to the debates around school reform. contents: […]

Evaluation for education, learning and change – theory and practice

Evaluation  for education, learning and change – theory and practice. Evaluation is part and parcel of educating – yet it can be experienced as a burden and an unnecessary intrusion. We explore the theory and practice of evaluation and some of the key issues for informal and community educators, social pedagogues youth workers and others. In […]


Experience. Is there is a difference between ‘having an experience’ and ‘knowing an experience’? ‘Experience’ can be quite is a problematic notion. It is a well-worn term that is often used with little attention to meaning. In the twentieth century is, arguably, the work of John Dewey has done much to help rescue the notion […]

Using focus groups in evaluation and research

Using focus groups in evaluation and research. Focus groups have been part of market research for many years. Their popularity in advertising and marketing – and their use to find new ways of getting us to buy particular products or ideas – puts off a lot of people. However, they are a very useful tool […]

Helping relationships – principles, theory and practice

Helping relationships – principles, theory and practice. In this article we explore the nature of helping relationships – particularly as practised within the social professions and informal education. We also examine some key questions that arise in the process of helping others. In particular, we focus on the person of the helper. Contents: introduction · […]

Writing and keeping journals. A guide for educators and social practitioners

Writing and keeping journals. A guide for educators and social practitioners. Educators are often encouraged to write journals – especially when they are training – but what does journal writing entail, what benefits can it bring, and how can we go about writing one? Contents: introduction · what is a journal? · the benefits of […]

Aristotle on knowledge

Aristotle on knowledge. Aristotle’s very influential three-fold classification of disciplines as theoretical, productive or practical remains an excellent starting point for exploring different forms of knowledge. Contents: introduction · the theoretical · the productive · the practical · further reading and references · links · how to cite this piece Aristotle, along with many other […]

David A. Kolb on experiential learning.

David A. Kolb on experiential learning. David A. Kolb’s model of experiential learning can be found in many discussions of the theory and practice of adult education, informal education and lifelong learning. We set out the model, and examine its possibilities and problems. Contents: introduction · david a. kolb · david kolb on experiential learning […]

The learning organization: principles, theory and practice

The learning organization. Just what constitutes a ‘learning organization is a matter of some debate. We explore some of the themes that have emerged in the literature and the contributions of key thinkers like Donald Schon and Peter Senge. Is it anything more than rhetoric? Can it be realized? contents: introduction · the learning society […]

The constructivist / social constructivist orientation to learning

Photo by John Salvino on Unsplash The constructivist / social constructivist orientation to learning. With its roots in the work of Dewey, Vygotsky, Bruner and others, this approach involves learning culturally shared ways of understanding and talking about the world. Coming soon

Fred Milson – Growing with the job: youth worker’s progress

In this popular pamphlet from 1968, Fred Milson makes the case for attending to the growth and development of workers – and the special setting in which they are working. Youth leaders either learn to deal with the problems they encounter by the development of their own resources of ‘patience, understanding and ingenuity’ or they […]

Participant observation: A guide for educators and social practitioners

Participant observation: A guide for educators and social practitioners. In this piece we examine the nature of participant observation, the various social roles that researchers can take; and some classic problems of participant observation – especially around questions of access and ethics. Contents: introduction · what is participant observation? ·  participant observation – the question […]

Exploring practice

Developments within different areas of work Association, democracy and civil society: exploring civil society, civic participation, the development of community and association, and the activities of educators and animateurs. Christian youth work and youth ministry: exploring the development and current experience of Christian youth work and youth ministry. Community learning and development: exploring the development, […]

what is praxis?

Few educators speak of praxis. Those that do tend to link it to the work of Freire. Yet while praxis may not be part of many workers overt vocabulary, practice, a pale derivative, is. So what is praxis and why should educators be concerned with it? contents: · theory and practice · practical reasoning · […]

Reflection, learning and education

Reflection, learning and education. What constitutes reflection – and what significance does it have for educators? The contributions of Dewey, Schön and Boud et. al. assessed. Contents: Dewey – and How We Think · Boud et. al. – reflection: turning experience into learning · Schön – reflection in and on action · further reading When […]

Donald Schon (Schön): learning, reflection and change

Donald Schon (Schön): learning, reflection and change. Donald Schon made a remarkable contribution to our understanding of the theory and practice of learning. His innovative thinking around notions such as ‘the learning society’, ‘double-loop learning’ and ‘reflection-in-action’ has become part of the language of education. We explore his work and some of the key themes […]

Richard Sennett: Class and the new capitalism, craftsmanship, cooperation and cities

Over 50 years Richard Sennett (1943-) has contributed to our understanding of the experiences of class, capitalism and the life of cities – and our appreciation of Homo faber – humans as makers, users of tools and creators of common life. Sennett is variously described as a sociologist, urbanist, planner and polymath. He is also […]

The functions of supervision

The functions of supervision. Examining the different functions of supervision throws up various questions and issues. These questions include asking ‘in whose interest does supervision work?’ Confusion also arises concerning notions such as ‘mentoring’, ‘practice teaching’ and ‘clinical supervision’. Here we explore Alfred Kadushin’s model of supervision and the insights it brings to these questions. […]

M. Joan Tash, youth work and the development of professional supervision

Joan Tash made a lasting contribution to our understanding of the process of youth work and informal education. She pioneered the use of supervision; deepened our appreciation of detached and project-based youth work; and made a number of innovations in the training and development of youth workers and informal educators. contents: introduction · life · […]

Writing up research and evaluation

Writing up research and evaluation. What is involved in writing a research report or study? Here we explore ‘writing up’ as an integral and ongoing element of the research process – and explore what some of the implications for practitioners may be. Contents: introduction · writing and theorizing · who, what why? · readers’ experiences […]