You have to find multiple and competing perspectives, I told my students; the aim is to look at your chosen issue from a variety of standpoints. But, a student asked me, what if I can only find one? What do I do then? Perhaps, I replied, you try to imagine another point of view?
We have been looking at visual sources of information this week, analysing them for content but also discussing their reliability as a way of knowing. Sources based on visual rather than verbal data, it is claimed, can be helpful as a way of understanding those whose ‘voice’ it might otherwise be hard for us to hear: very young children, for example, or people who (for various reasons) don’t use language to communicate.
Inevitably, while discussing this, I thought of Dylan. Without recourse to language I have had to understand him through a sort of visual anthropology. I have scrutinised videos and photos of him and observed his actions and interactions. I have watched each body twitch and facial gesture, logged his outbreaks of frustration and anger. It is with these visual sources of information I build my theories of Dylan: how he feels, what makes him anxious, why he sometimes becomes aggressive. It is by such methods I make my claims.
One of the claims I have made recently is that three factors have been crucial to the success of Dylan’s move to residential care. The underpinning assumption that Dylan’s placement is going well is based on empirical observations of the sort made by anthropologists or ethnographers; in this instance, that there has been a significant reduction in Dylan’s ‘challenging behaviour’ and an increase in his positive behaviours. What evidence is there, however, that the three factors which I cite are responsible for these changes in behaviour?
This week, as I urged my students to find ways of considering competing perspectives, I asked myself whether I had really done this in relation to Dylan. If I were to test my claims, I reflected, I might need to look at what Dylan has lost as well as what he has gained. It may be the case that he is calmer because of the benefits his new placement brings. Another way of looking, however, might consider whether there was something in Dylan’s life, previously, which was causing him distress? And that, I told myself as I cleared my desk for the weekend, would be a challenging standpoint.