Thursday, 9 April 2015


Do some yourself

More research is needed, so they say. Well maybe, or maybe not. If more indeed be needed then one sense in which to understood this need is for more kinds of research – including a contribution open to anyone who might be involved in Conductive Education, at any level and in any role.

How might that be? Let me suggest the method of testimonio, a post-modern research concept with strong roots in the liberation movements of Latin America.

Let me also offer Ralph Strzałkowski's and George McDowell's recent books as prime extended examples of testimonio in Conductive Education. There are other, shorter examples that might also count as such, in collections in the series 'Library of Conductive Education' published by Conductive Education Press  – though I doubt that many of those involved in producing these would proclaim themselves as post-modernist qualitative researchers. Maybe they should.

John Beverley has described the testimonio as follows –
Testimonio is by nature a demotic and heterogeneous form, so any formal definition of it is bound to be too limiting. But the following might serve provisionaly: A testimonio is a novel- or novella-length narrative, produced in the form of a printed text, told in the first person by a narrator who is also the real protagonist or witness of the events she or he accounts. Its unit of narration is usually a 'life' or a significant life experience. Because in many cases the narrator is usually someone who is functionally illiterate or, if literate, not a professional writer, the production of a testimonio generally involves the tape-recording and then the transcription and editing of an oral account by an interlocutor who is a journalist, ethnographer, or literary author.... (pp. 536-7)

This is not to suggest of course that Ralph Strzałkowski and George McDowell are 'functionally illiterate'. Far from it, they express themselves in writing in highly articulate ways. Rather, as John Beverly carefully qualifies his words, neither is a 'professional writer'. Their writings (respectively a blog and a diary) were already written, and merely awaited their interlocutors.

John Beverley's definition continues –
...the contemporary appeal of testimonio for educated middle-class, transnational publics is perhaps related to the importance given in various forms of 1960s counterculture to oral testimony as a form of personal and/or collective catharsis and liberation in (for example) the conscious-raising sessions of the early woman's movement, the practice of 'speaking bitterly' in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, or psychotherapeutic encounter groups. (p. 556)

Testimonio is just one form of narrative enquiry:
Narrative inquiry uses field texts, such as stories, autobiography, journals, field notes, letters, conversations, interviews, family stories, photos (and other artifacts), and life experience, as the units of analysis to research and understand the way people create meaning in their lives as narratives.

Here is something that those directly involved in Conductive Education, in whatever role, can take for their own, and get on with for themselves with for themselven. Indeed many are doubtless already laying the groundwork, without realising it.

Doing it already

The march of technology broadens the range of means for collecting and recording narratives ever wider. Data in new media (video and messaging spring to mind) lie around on the public record without collation or analysis, with much more doubtless outside the public domain. Being personally a product of the quantitative tradition, and very much not a postmodernist person, I became aware of the idea of testimonio only in 2001, through supervising the undergraduate dissertation of student-conductor Susanna Wong. Susanna was a lifetime diarist, and she wanted to use what she had written that was relevant to her transition to becoming a conductor. We hit upon the testimonio.

Maybe there are other diarists in Conductive Educations. For the most part, only they know. There must be potential interlocutors out there too.

On diarist who met an interlocutor was George McDowell. His interlocutor (and publisher) was Susie Mallett:

Blogs can do many things. They often serve as diaries too, and as tools for reflection of life, past and present. Such a blogger is Ralph Strzałkowski, who has blogged in some detail about his childhood with cerebral palsy, his education at the then Pető Institute in Budapest, and what this has meant to him as an adult. I served as his interlocutor and helped publish the resulting book:

Services too

Not just individuals keep a diary. Institutions do may as well.

Certain CE centres, particularly in France, maintain online diaries, records over time of what happens there, who does what, how their conductive programmes fit into the wider year. I do not know the status if qualitative research in France – they usually think of things very differently there anyway – but if they find the right interlocutors they could find themselves sitting on useful data.

I know of blogged centre diaries because they are published. I have no doubt that there are others that I have missed, in other languages, an incomparable records of what CE centres actually do...

'Research', a wider vision

'Research' is far more than just empirical outcome-evluations. At the very least, 'researchers' have to have some idea what empirical outcomes might be! Otherweise they risk falling victim to that old snare of measuring only what they have tools to measure with, rather than attending to what people (maybe including themselves) consider important and relevant. Then there is the old question of the 'ownership' of research, much discussed in all sorts of contexts over the years but little aired in Conductive Education.

In the late 1990s Rony Nanton and I would have liked to establish a research programme that constituted a self-renewing qualitative-quantitative cycle. This was not to be. Maybe someone, somewhere, some time...


Beverley, J. (2000) Testimonio, subalternity, and narrative authority, in D. Denzin and Y.S. Lincoln (eds), Handbook of Qualitative Research, Thousand Oaks, California, Sage Publications, pp. 555-565

McDowell, G. (2013) George's travelogue/Urlauberebnisse von George McDowell, by George McDowell (parallel texts in German in English, Nuremberg, Conductor Nürnberg

Strzałkowski, R. (2013) Never, never quit, Birmingham, CEP

Three collections from the Library of Conductive Education that include a variety of personal narratives:

Look out for French online CE-service diaries:

Previous mentions of testimonio on Conductive World:

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Anonymous Andrew Sutton said...

Tsad Kadima is already running its own:

Saturday, 11 April 2015 at 20:23:00 BST  

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