Denise Shelley Newnham

Denise Shelley Newnham


Bath University Department of Education, SCAT, Bath, BA2 7AY, United Kingdom

The title of speech for school:

Change laboratory in a social situation: is there a crisis?

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I am very interested in attending the first ISCAR International Summer School for Graduate Students. I am a PhD candidate at the University of Bath, Bath, UK. I am at present in the writing up phase of my PhD under the assistance of Prof. Harry Daniels. I am a distance part-time student and received a three year scholarship. My three years terminated in October 2009. I have attended many international conferences as well as ISCAR 2005 and 2008.

I am at present fully employed by the DWR and activity centre in Helsinki as a field researcher in Botswana. The project (2005-2010) has as an objective to transform existing pedagogies in order to enhance the insertion of ICT’s into the schools. We work with 10 pilot schools on a workshop basis and are conducting Change laboratories within 4 strategic schools around the country. The last school opted for a school-community design in order to overcome a heightened lack of interest in the proposed form of schooling.

My thesis is entitled ‘Change laboratory method in a social situation: is there a crisis’. The research delves into the dilemmas of change and development within a voluntary project entitled ‘Accompangement Mere-Enfant’(Mother – child facilitator). This project has as its object the facilitation of the integration of displaced mothers into the surrounding socio-cultural environment. The tool or mediating factor is homework around which a voluntary person intervenes on a 2 hourly weekly basis with a child of a displaced family (mothers) that is encountering difficulties at school. A change laboratory was conducted on a two hourly monthly basis for the period of 10 months with the persons that conceptualized the above project.

I have conducted research on the problematic of displaced families and schools for the past 9 years. Initially I was a voluntary facilitator within the ‘Accompagnement Mere-Enfant’ project. After several months the voluntary facilitators reports made it apparent that the project had several problems. The method of change laboratory has as its function to facilitate change within an activity or between activities through overcoming historically embedded contradictions by designing new ways of working. My main interest of running a Change laboratory within this research climate was to observe change and development around the thematic of integration. My fundamental analytical approach explores a central theme of cultural diversity in general and more specifically the ‘strategic point’ where several cultures meet. Much research on integration is top down (Newnham, 2006). Change laboratory is a method that works horizontally and vertically from the inside and the outside I therefore needed to find a way of analyzing this process that maintained its dialecality. In order to understand the construction of the concept of integration I began with Leontiev’s (1981), words: ‘consciousness is not given from the beginning and is not produced by nature: consciousness is a product of society: it is produced….Thus the process of internalization is not the transferral of an external activity to a pre-existing, internal “plane of consciousness’: it is the process in which this plane is formed’. It therefore stands that perception of otherness is a socio-cultural construct. Under such light it would appear pertinent to address a meeting point (strategic point) between cultures around a theme which is central to a society as such a theme should theoretically house a dominant social consciousness which would inevitably transcend other activities. In the socio-cultural-geographical area within which this research was conducted, ‘doing homework’ is just that kind of theme. The emerging contradiction did not find itself in the mediating tool but in the overarching perception and place of otherness. Through the process of Change laboratory the subjects of the activity became significantly confronted by its emerging contradiction which the research revealed as being rooted in collective memory (Middelton & Edwards, 1997), and social discourse (Hasan, 1996). The project creators came to the conclusion that their project was embedded in a socio-cultural system that had to accept refugee persons due to international conventions but that desired them to remain invisible, in other words ‘we have to have you but we don’t want to see you’. This contradiction was becoming painful in the form of the school children. Whereas parents could be maintained invisible, school children were visible and partially representative of the education systems productivity (Nouvelist, results of Pisa, 2003). Furthermore they only had theoretical understanding of what the refugee mothers experience on a day to day basis and finally the voluntary persons working as facilitators in the mother child dyad were mostly retired and had constructed their concepts of otherness during a historically period when the region was relatively closed to the outside world partially due to its geological construction.

Historically, radical social change has only taken place once the actual situation became untenable for the participants. I tentatively suggest that the project creators were not confronted with such a situation. While new designs of their activity were created, these revolved mainly around tangible tools and to a lesser degree of their psychological disposition towards the mothers’ socio-cultural worlds. They could not engage with the notion that the mothers’ concept of integration was not synonymous with those of the project. Furthermore, the voluntary workers had difficulty conceptualizing that ‘doing homework’ was not a central socio-cultural theme to the mothers and found them lazy or lacking in initiative.

My interest in your summer school lies on the hope that I will find a way to analyze my research in accordance to the cultural historical perspective and furthermore to discuss what publications could ensue out of my data.

  1. Newnham, D.S. (2006). To be or not to be: Late adolescent and young adult peer group formation in an international hotel management school. IJCHM journal.
  2. Newnham, D.S. (2006). Critique on: Serpell, R. Baker, L. & Sonneschein, S. (2005). Becoming literate in the city, The Baltimore early childhood project. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. In Akkari, J. (ed)Informations et pratiques d’enseignement en question. Approches interculturelles dans la formation des enseignants: Impact, stratégies, pratiques et expériences. Revue des HEP de Suisse romande et Tessin. Imprimeries Réunies SA, Lausanne No.4/2006/pp.299-303.
  3. Newnham, D.S. (2005). ‘Les solutions ne s’achètent pas au supermarché’. Educateur, 2005, Imprimerie Montfort SA, Monthey

Denise Shelley Newnham “Change laboratory in a social situation: is there a crisis?”