‘Wild Learning’ –

The Beginning of Practice Research with a Project Combining Social Work, Staff Training, and Institutional Reform

Published in German as Nissen, M. (2002). Wildes Lernen. Nachlese als Vorbereitung. Forum kritische Psychologie 45, 97-122

Morten Nissen



1. Introduction

In this paper, I will reconstruct the development of some theoretical ideas that I have been working on for some years, in order to clarify the way I approach the beginning of a new empirical and practical research project.

The empirical research is a cooperation with an entirely new social work development project that calls itself  “Wild Learning” (see www.vildelaereprocesser.dk ). In that field, I am working together with Line Lerche Mörck who is investigating ‘Life and learning across contexts’ (Mørck, 2000) . The reason why we both investigate the same field – apart from the obvious advantages of cooperation – is that our approaches are supplementary. Mörck views the project primarily from the point of view of the participants, whereas my focus is on the organization and its discourses and methods; I view participants from the point of view of the project. In Mörck's approach, the organization is seen as a learning environment with learning resources for participants; whereas to me, it is a methodical pedagogical practice.

Of course, the prehistory of this research cooperation isn’t just theoretical considerations. I’ve been dealing with forerunners of this particular development project since 1990. In that sense I shall be talking about findings and conclusions, and my considerations will be also practical reflections. I like to conceive of research as an ongoing development of interrelated practices, rather than seeing research projects as small linear plots within the great plot of scientific progress. This not only implies that beginnings are also endings, but it also means that 'empirical' and 'applied' research transform into something that may be called practice research (see also Nissen, 2000).

Apart from describing and preparing that research project, in the context of non-scholastic learning, what I aim to also do is contribute to the ongoing discussion of what is the meaning of the concept of non-scholastic learning[1].

This has to do with what Wild Learning is about – in a sense, we can claim to investigate Learning "in the Wild".


2. Description of the project

The project is called Wild Learning because it organizes learning in social work among young people who wouldn’t object to be called wild. It is a newly outgrown branch of a Copenhagen social work project called The Wild Young[2]. The youngsters are wild in the sense that they are socially excluded, criminals, street kids, drug-users etc., but also, as the term suggests, full of energy and a kind of pride in their ability to survive the urban jungle.

The pride of the young people is important, because the strength of the project is its ability to mobilize them as participants – something which the more traditional clubs and institutions fail to do. This ability to mobilize the otherwise excluded led, eventually, to an ability, also, to mobilize political, financial and bureaucratic support in the context of the current reforms of the welfare system in the direction of what is called ‘The Active Society’ – the society of individuals and other private agents outside of the welfare state yet assuming resonsibility for themselves and each other (Dean, 1995) – to form a rather stable, but also constantly developing alignment.

What has emerged, then, is a kind of loosely defined network of social workers, bureaucrats, local volunteers, wild youngsters – and researchers, we shouldn’t forget – that organizes three levels of learning: The learning to live that takes place among the wild young in various activities, institutions etc.; the learning of methods and development of identities as social workers; and finally, the organizational learning connected to the overall development of the system of social work institutions in question in Copenhagen. The levels are intermingled in numerous ways, e.g. wild youngsters are trained as staff, learning social work is also learning an art of living, staff training is also a means to institutional reform, and the ‘budding’ of projects is itself an important social work method (as will be explained below) etc.

The project will consist in a network of social workers committed to learning and to change, and also a resource center to support those social workers’ development of their everyday practice. In that sense, the project is itself a ‘project hatchery’, apart from being a place where problems, methods, ideas etc. can be taught and discussed.


The form of a loosely defined network is paraphrased in the name of the structure that is planned to be the central community of the project: The Lodge. At present, the Lodge is emerging. The key person is gradually collecting the people to take part in it.


Following which criteria? Persons who are said to be ‘good’, i.e. have some pedagogical and organizational capability, autonomy and reflexivity. Who are interested in learning and development. Not necessarily scholastic or theoretical, but prepared to discuss what they do. And people who can initiate things. Which implies that it is also important that the institutions they represent contain possibilities. That way, the Lodge is a network whose participants, by themselves and by their home fields, represent resources for each other. From this follows the appropriateness of some representation of important city areas and types of institutions. But they are not ‘representatives’ of institutions who negotiate and coordinate. They are not the people in power, but rather the upcoming people (does that mean that the Lodge is a hatchery of future leaders – a subversive strategy or just power politics?). Even if the Lodge is not a coordination of institutions, the question arises after all: can Wild Learning use the (manpower) resources of partaking institutions, can it promote each institution, and will that lead to conflicts about the profile that is promoted? Those invited, surely, are people with a certain attitude and style – it is not that all must agree or be alike, not by far, but still, some people will not be invited, because what they are involved in isn’t worth supporting or will give rise to discussions that are not fruitful. Also, both men and women are invited, and it is important to have people who work with the body…


(Field notes from the second meeting, 990421)

A Lodge, generally, is the opposite of a rational organization. The purpose of the gathering is so  mysterious that it may be reduced to simply saying that the people who happen to be members help each other. It is only slightly different from an ancestor network who called themselves ‘The Family’. In both cases, the self-ironic allusions to traditional (Italian-style) nepotism and underground autocracy are evident.

To be sure, that doesn’t seem to qualify Wild Learning as the kind of practice or development project which two scholars of non-scholastic learning should explore. But in fact, the way concrete persons and situations seem to take precedence over principles and methods does make it a relevant kind of pedagogical practice, or learning environment to look into. To account for that, I need to go back some years into the research cooperations that form the background of this one.


3. Non-therapeutic healing and the ideological reproduction of the local cultural organization

From the point of view of theory, my approach to this field has been related to the problem of the contextuality of practices. Since around 1987, I have been gathering pieces to the puzzle of how to conceptualize action contexts or distinct forms of social practice, such as teaching, psycho-therapy etc. That is also what I am doing here.

Speaking of more practical issues, I first worked with the problem of what could be called non-therapeutic healing. 

 What is non-therapeutic healing? Well, I suppose that among scholars working on a theory of non-scholastatic learning, it will be accepted that the definition remains largely negative. It is when we look for that which in the context of therapy was known as healing, or cure, but, since it was in certain ways limited or distorted by this contextuality, we seek it outside of that context.

Healing and cure makes sense in the context af therapy, related directly to the diseases that are developed as the entities of professional (medical) practice.

Non-therapeutic healing, then, has to do with the movement towards a focus on illness, that is to say, the way in which diseases can be transformed when construed as entities in the everyday life of the people directly involved. This re-contextualization changes the objects that are dealt with profoundly. The concept of illness may appear a direct translation of disease into the everyday life, but at a closer look,  this is far from innocent. So, breaking out of the practice of medicals or psychologists, healing can no longer be kept within the boundaries of the negative. In the contexts of everyday life, illnesses, problems and obstacles are directly viewed in relation to qualities of life. Thus, it is closely connected with the conceptual movement towards health as a positive goal, rather than merely as the opposite of diseases. And health is not, in its positive formulation, a clear-cut aim in a definite professional practice, but is much more directly related to the 'good life' and the art of living.

In the field of what we called psycho­-social practice – social work, psycho-therapy etc. – I studied user influence and user perspectives starting from an interest in the conceptual paradox inherent in the idea: recognizing those who used to be 'patients' and 'clients' as 'users' is, in a superficial view, directly opposite to the clinical tradition of imputing irrationality. How can the views of those whose irrationality needs treatment be taken at face value? Yet at a closer look, ever since Freud, psychotherapy has entertained the notion that the individual subject should himself rationally confront his own irrationality, in the context of clinical interpretation.

What I seemed to find in various traditions of psychotherapy – that is, inside the context – was different ways of handling, but never transcending, that contradiction. The user perspective which was supposed to overturn paternalistic expertise in the interest of the empowerment of ordinary people was immediately absorbed in the interpretative form of ever new professional arrangements of contextuality. One way to understand psychotherapy was to see it precisely as that – as the clinical reappropriation of the non-clinical par excellence[3].

So I went 'outside', so to speak, to see if I could find new ways of handling and reformulating human problems in connection with which the clinical individualization and imputation of irrationality could be overcome.

I found it, to a relevant extent, in the social work development projects called Brugerservice and Sjakket whom I cooperated with between 1990 and 1996[4].


Brugerservice organized various local self-governed activities in the name of occupational rehabilitation (Danish: “revalidering”) and supported by state development agencies at the time of the breakthrough of the 'workfare' social politics in Denmark. What I had found in Brugerservice was a kind of implicit pedagogy that had been, at the outset, conceptualized as a kind of counter-stigmatization through a social work that, rather than explicitly working on specified social problems, parenthesized them and organized practices that could be seen as productive in ways that allowed for untraditional and extended concerns for participants. The pedagogical practice consisted in the continuous creation and revision of communities whose practices were both objectively meaningful and made personal sense. This combination allowed for both an implicit indexical regulation of the activity on the ground of its substantial rationality – and thus, forms of legitimate participation, rather than contexts which symbolized and maintained marginalization – and also the ongoing practical conceptualization and externalization of pedagogical concerns in the form of the concrete productive activities and their conditions. Thus, the pedagogical practices did not unfold within given contexts or frameworks; they consisted in creating them. And further, the contexts were not designed by professionals for the benefit of users; rather, the continuous revision of action contexts, and the equally unrelenting process of ‘budding’ – the branching off of new activities from the existing – as basically inherent to the activities themselves and only reflected and discussed with direct reference to them, provided implicit ways in which participants’ influence and pedagogical concerns for participants were mediated. This also meant that concrete networks of activities and social relations were formed that connected participants' everyday life and participation in the project in ways that were variable and visible, and thus pedagogically accessible, but still without the stigmatizing forms of social control connected to social work.

This was far from an exclusively pedagogical practice, though – it  was, rather, the creation and maintenance of local cultures:

…practices intentionally organized as local production-consumption-cycles, yet at the same time forming and interpreting their relations (conditions and impacts) to society at large. For example, the civic canteen was part of an ‘ecological’ network in which to varying degrees ‘work’, ‘education’, ‘politics’, and ‘family life’ were integrated in a logic of its own. The potential for integration thus issued from the self-defined and often-revised character of their goals, and from their particular and intentional organization of their members' daily lives.

                                    (Nissen, 1997, p. 52f)

The idea was that in the civic canteen, an ecological rationality could include concerns for a ‘social sustainability’ in the concrete form of how the kitchen work was organized, what were the relations to customers etc. This became very evident, retrospectively, when the people in the canteen decided to begin to service a day school centre that resided in the same building. What had before been the collective efforts of a network of partly marginalized people to feed each other and themselves, embodied in the canteen project, changed to a commercial service delivery to a market of strangers, a form of production that soon required two increasingly separated pedagogical practices: The kitchen work training, and the social work and counselling about ‘private’ matters. Concerns for participants and ecological sustainability were no longer internal to the practice; they only made products more expensive.

But the point is, also, that in order to overcome marginalization and stigma, what was needed was no less than new relations between individual and societal reproduction, that is, new forms of labour. This materialist understanding of a pedagogical practice was, to an important extent, from the beginning informed by the political critique that the whole idea of 'workfare' suggested pedagogical solutions to structural problems and therefore effects a stigma no matter what kinds of pedagogical methods are used.

The only way out of this predicament would be if the local practice is itself the embodyment of a different societal structure. This presupposes that such can in fact be created and maintained at the level of a local community in a political sense. The local community of practice must gather itself to gain and hold on to power. This, again, however, implied the existence of some mechanism for social integration, some non-conventional rationality, and some principles for the alignment of resources, which is to say, some explicit local ideology. The reproduction of the local culture required a collective self-consciousness, as well as an organized form. Paradoxically, then, the feasability of an implicit pedagogy in a constantly rearranged organization was dependent on a very explicit formulation of the identity of an organization.

This feature was more directly observable in Sjakket[5], another social work project partly growing out of the same network as Brugerservice, since in that project, the parenthesizing of stigma had been abandoned and replaced by a proud self-stigmatization as ‘street kids’. In 1993, I was hired by the University of Copenhagen to do an evaluation of Sjakket on behalf of the Ministery for Social Affairs, from which Sjakket had recieved a considerable funding.

Sjakket was a large self-established community of people working to ‘help marginalized young people’. Its governing body was the weekly meeting of all participants. The actively engaged network would count about 200 persons; actual membership (i.e., informally regulated: those who could participate in the general meetings without being considered guests) was around 60-70 persons, out of whom approximately 30 would take part on a daily basis. Even if the ‘target group’ was street kids, i.e. the very ‘wild’ young people, the organization (deliberately) comprized young people of many kinds in its local cultural community.

The explicitness of Sjakket’s social work aspirations made me reformulate the concept of local culture:

Instead of a goal-directed organization, behind the surface of show-bizz and political expression was a core network of people who lived in Sjakket as what I have termed a local culture, which is to say a unique cultural structuring of societal positions, and, thus, a comprehensive organization of sense, kept together by a local ideology. People didn't just participate as volunteers, and they didn't merely spend their time in Sjakket; they defined, in important respects, their personal identities through Sjakket, and all the more so because they were in fact able to make a living, although far from Danish income average, as so-called 'resource-persons' in Sjakket, due to Sjakket's political power. The local culture, in its form, was a kind of neo-hippie extended youth subculture, a broad-minded individualism with the significant addition that extensive and politically conscious collective efforts were invested in the support of its participants.

                                    (Nissen, in press)


This formulation of the idea of local culture also implied a different emphasis in the ideas of its pedagogical qualities. Prominent here was the formation of identity through not only participation, but in a relation that could be characterized by Althusser's concept of interpellation (1983): the way in which the subject is constituted as a self-conscious participant in the form of the self-image of the collectivity[6]. That requires a little explanation.

What I encountered in interviews and meetings in Sjak­ket were young people who, themselves still heavily or very recently engaged in crime, drugs, and other problems, proudly presented themselves as participants in Sjak­ket and talked about 'young people' or 'street kids' in the easily identifiable general terms of the organization. Their 'awakening' as responsible (accountable) persons, so to speak, was formed in the image of the organization's ideology. For intance, in 1993 Sjakket involved more than 200 youngsters in the production of the show ‘Overlever Twist’[7], using Dickens' play as a framework for numerous activities attractive to the kids (dance, rap music, stunt show etc.); the preparations and the public performance was a rather direct collective interpretation of the life of street kids, oppressed by bureaucracy, psychiatric coercion, criminal organizations, emotionally restricted parents etc. – as well as the organization itself, Sjakket, as the answer to all of these problems.

But in doing that, the young people were not merely helping themselves or learning. Rather, they were directly and significantly contributing to the reproduction of the organization and the power field it held. The political and professional recognition of Sjak­ket – and thereby, its power to create and maintain local cultural activities – was significantly dependent on its users' performances of support. Government and municipal officials and politicians were present in the audience to the play, directly witnessing some of the otherwise ‘incorrectible’ youngsters dancing, playing etc.  Even if what they were expressing was a very bitter critique of the social system, the kids were also vouching for Sjakket as an institution of the ‘active society’. This relation was also clearly expressed in the Government demands that my evaluation must base on the "needs and the wishes of the users".

This 'explicit pedagogy' phenomenon could also be seen as a kind of “ZPD of self-consciousness”, if the Vygotskian concept of a Zone of Proximal Development is understood, not as a pre-structured didactic space for socialization, but as a living social practice in which appropriation is a trajectory of participation, and a transformation of conditions and power relations, rather than mere reproduction[8]. This practical and ZPD quality was immediately apparent in Sjakket in the many activities with a propaganda or campaign character, like the organizing of festivals, theatre shows, street happenings, printing posters etc. But it was also a special instance of the above mentioned 'implicit pedagogy' in the sense that the often rather superficial pride or self-help image of the participants was substantiated in practice.

What was only a self-contradiction became a line of development. The proudly superficial self-help spokesperson presented herself as a fully rational member and at the same time a socially excluded. This contained the above mentioned surface contradiction of the user perspective, the 'rational perspective of the irrational'. I was constantly presented with versions of the young people's personal problems that reduced them to unimportant  externalities such as habits, boredom, bad luck, and above all, pedagogical malpractice. The person’s very idea of such a simple solution to such problems proved how complex they must be in that person’s case. Thus, the contradiction that was bracketed in the merely implicit pedagogy came to the fore.

At the same time, though, the organization was presented as mediator, as the practical reconciliation of the contradiction. When the young person was encountered, not as an isolated individual, nor an autonomous user, but as a participant of Sjakket, the appearance of irrationality could be transcended. Rather than some irrationality, what could then be seen was a not-yet fully unfolded ideology, identifiable as a kind of embryo version of the organization's. It was a fully legitimate peripheral participation in the practices that constituted Sjakket’s self-consciousness. Through the street kid moving into becoming more fully participant, the rationality of her self-image was restored.

But, very importantly, as this unfolded, the organization had to change in order to realize it. Rather than teaching how false the self-image was, or mirroring it, or replacing it, the idea - and the hard work - was to make it come true.

For instance, Jeanette, one 16-years-old girl with heavy drinking problems, became an activist in Sjak­ket. She felt welcomed and immediately at home. She took part in some odd political demonstration or other, but mostly she would just hang out. She very soon was so overwhelmed with solidarity that she wanted to save a boy she fell in love with from heroin addiction. Perhaps surprisingly, Jeanette was then supported in understanding her relation to him in terms of help: that is, in terms of the organization. When he finally broke with her – very violently, as it turned up – she was able to interprete that incident in the generalized framework of Sjak­ket's ability, or, rather, lack of ability, to provide for people with problems like his. Her personal trauma was generalized in the collective discussion of this problem - and that very process helped change her 'social worker' attitude from a problematic self-delusion into a truth.

Shortly thereafter, she met another man, soon got pregnant, and announced that this would mean the turning point, the point where she finally quit the drinking. Again, the reflexes of any social worker would turn on the red warning lights. To be sure, there was plenty of reason to worry. But Jeanette's situation also became one of the important reasons for establishing a new project activity named "Mom in the Bar" centered on infants and small children and their mothers, part of Sjakket, but also with its own funding and network. In this project activity, Jeanette was able to engage as a 'resource person'; and she did in fact quit drinking.

As she grew as a resource person, she developed the dream of organizing a Sleep-In-facility in Sjak­ket. In the early days of Sjakket, it had been de facto an around-the-clock place. This had proved too much for the central hard-working resource persons to manage, and also, the City officials were strongly against the idea (since they broke all the rules in the book). So after a time, Sjakket was closed in the nighttime. Most of the kids, then, continued to share the shelters they had access to, and often, the ressource persons would help them; but it was no longer the total obligation of Sjakket as such. Like many others among the street kids, Jeanette didn't agree with this policy. Even if it would lead to serious problems with 'the system', and even if it were quite chaotic, in her eyes, a Sleep-In-facility would really symbolize how Sjakket's basis remained the needs of street kids. With that facility, she thought, Sjak­ket would once again become what it really is, a helping and self-helping organization for street kids.--

With this reconstruction of the non-scholastic pedagogical qualities of the development projects that can be seen as ancestors to ‘Wild Learning’, I arrive at a point where a methodological consideration is needed. Dealing with potentialities, with realities that may not be, but can be made true, is rather puzzling and intriguing, even if it is theoretically necessary to the understanding of development.


4.   Subjectivation, everyday life, and action research

With the concept of local culture, I had struck on a strange combination of practice, action research, and everyday life. From the outset, I was concerned that everyday life should not be allowed to remain a residual category, a notion of the innocent wild with which the scholastic and the clinical could 'colonize' our lives (see below). In the shape of local culture, and, above all, the local cultural organization, the project, everyday life was endowed with both subjectivity and objectivity. It became embodied in places and activities, and it would also have the capacity to speak out for itself. This is, in fact, hinted at in the word 'project'. Strictly rationally speaking, a project is a time-limited attempt to be evaluated by the standards that were projected from the beginning. As a living everyday reality, on the other hand, a project, in the language of the local communities in question, might be something one belongs to, as well as a place to be.

It is the implications of this which are the theme here, beginning with the question of subjectivity and ideology in the context of action research methodology.

I was very much concerned with the recognition of the ideological reproduction of the organized practices studied. In a sense, I had taken the step from seeing practice as something characterized by ideal actors, fixed aims, instrumentally rational means etc. into recognizing the subjectivities of practices. This equals a broadening of scope of the meaning of the first word in the term action research, far beyond the notions in Lewin's (1973) version of the methodology. 

The first thing one relates to in action research is the local community of practice, the project, as an organization which deals with the researcher from the point of view of a totality of concerns. The totality of relevant concerns for any organization to reflect always comprize more than the narrow aspects of one or other specific aim or interest which may be the theme of research. To approach that totality of concerns was essential if the indexical interactions of the organization's participants, aims, means, and conditions were to be studied and related reflectively to the action research joint venture. On top of that, the ways in which 'the project' could shift from one goal to another were crucial, even if traditionally, that very ability was scorned as 'opportunism' – crucial, because in fact, this could be a genuine methodology of development. Finally, the self-interest of a project was basically a prerequisite for managerial and, as discussed above, also pedagogical qualities.

This all pointed to understanding the organization as a subject, a self-reflecting and self-reproducing agent, of its own, in direct opposition to the (actually, somewhat double-binding) rationalistic message to development projects: "You should be absolutely uninterested in surviving and concentrate on the cause, that is, stick to preformulated goals – if you want the money to survive!"

This subject approach to a project should not, of course, lead to pure apologetics. We still need to be able to ask: Should this project necessarily survive? What good does it do? What characterize the ways in which participants are spokespersons of the project – or of their own lives? etc. But the alternative to taking a pre-given particular subjectivity for granted is not attempting to neutralize or idealize it, or simply to deny it. Instead, it should be questioned.

Questioning subjectivity means looking at the ways in which the organizations and the participants mobilize, reproduce, and define each other, or, in a word, looking at subjectivation. Subjectivation, in the theory of Foucault (1977, 1978), is the constitution of subjects through power relations – that is, in the deployment of discourse where the object of practice is also a subject, and thus, a relation of “actions upon other actions” is present. Foucault's approach to subjectivity as teleological, that is, as determined in relations of aims, means, actors, and objects – also in the case where the object is itself an actor – needs to be supplemented, in my view (as one will see from the above considerations), with an approach to the particular subject as constituted in relations of intersubjectivity, participation, and interpellation (see also Nissen, in press ).

This also, significantly, implies that research must be done both from a standpoint within and without, so to speak – in a critical formative process that transcends the ideological form with which the subjects in question reproduce. What has, in the tradition of Critical Psychology (Holzkamp, 1983), been termed the ‘generalized subject standpoint’, emerges in this formative process. It is only through the (politically, ethically etc. directional) involvement in such concrete developments that the ‘standpoint of humanity’ can be at the same time the ‘first person’ standpoint of the subject in everyday life (cf. also Nissen, 1998, 2000, In Press).

Focusing on the constitution of subjects in practice – that is, the ongoing formative subjectivation and emergent self-consciousness of both organizations and participants – provides a very different approach to practice research than constructivist hermeneutics or any other dialogical action research methodologies, in which, no matter how much reality is questioned, subjects are alway taken to be pre-given (see, e.g. Argyris, Putnam, Smith, 1985, Guba & Lincoln, 1989, Krogstrup, 1997). Here, the actors involved are the only entities excepted from de-/construction: a precondition which matches the action research immediacy of an alliance which must base on trust since formal rationalities of both research and practice are transgressed. Thus, the constructivist/hermeneutic action research tradition leaps, as it were, across the abyss to the other side of a very traditional dichotomy between subjectivity and objectivity. Questioning subjectivity (as in positivism) seems to presuppose 'objectivity', that is, a fixed rational standard; and questioning objectivity (as in  constructivism and hermeneutics) seems, equally, to presuppose a fixed constellation of subjects.

But focusing on subjectivity, subjectivation, should not be counterposed to studying objectivity, objectivation. Recognizing the subjectivity of practice, in fact, also implies that objectivity is widened, if that is understood dialectically as a process of transcending local or idiosynchratic standards (Jensen, 1987, 1992). Objectivity remains the objectivity of subjective practices, something that never escapes subjectivity, but which must nevertheless be mediated by objectivation (see further below).

Again here there is an opposition to traditional evaluative notions. The project is not only a subject, but also a set of conditions for its participants as well as for others. Looking at the often slobby and messy locale of social projects seems to confirm the idea of those conditions merely being embodiments of the project as rational idea: the bare necessities; low impact technology; the seeming insignificance of aesthetics. All signs of the embodiment of a raw modernism. But the American English word, 'the projects', that signify certain slum city areas that were once 'housing projects', the worn-down buildings that provide the unhomely residence of the poorest, is a grim reminder of the ways in which the objectivity of modern social work projects returns in the form of material conditions.

This material quality of the project holds a tension, not only in relation to rationalist notions of methodology, but also in relation to the issue of ideology. As it appears, focusing on subjectivation alone leads to the assumption of a consistent ideology and a well-defined, self-relying practice in the form of an organization. Even if pregiven ideological forms are overcome or transformed, the very orientation towards such forms leads easily to an unfounded assumption of consistency of form. But the local cultural organization, actually, provided a puzzling combination of consistency and inconsistency. The above description of Sjakket as a "neo-hippie extended youth subculture, a broad-minded individualism" etc., is far from uncontroversial, even in this vague form. What emerged as the ideology of the organization, in the ongoing processes of internal and external ideological mobilizations, were in fact curious and contradictory mixtures of discursive elements, each constantly indexically renewed and each very much contingent or non-necessary. Mostly, what could be pinned down as a common denominator was either various critiques of traditional forms of social work and traditional values, or (more or less utopian) ideals that were sought realized in brand new project activities[9].

This was yet another  challenge to the notion of some distinct ideology, whether  embodied in rational agents or, for that matter, only in the boundered organizations which appear indispensable for action research. If the rationality of the practice to which I attributed method consisted in precisely the transcending of boundered and homogenous rationality and in intentions to realize utopian ideals, I began to fear that my task as a researcher became too easy. There was every possibility that I would find some rationalization in words that could serve as self-deceptive ideologies in both Sjakket and my own networks, but not necessarily in the same meaning, as long as our common language was merely the negative (the ‘concrete’ as abstraction, the non-scholastic or non-clinical, the non-traditional), and as long as we referred to possibilities rather than realities.

All the more so, since the pedagogically important potentialities – so central to the notion of ZPD – far from routinely were connected with changes in real practice. The ideals, generally, were not simply 'realized' as such. Rather, such realizations were always embedded in a flow of changes in the situation that led to revisions of the ideals. The above mentioned externalization of pedagogical concerns in practical activities and their conditions did in fact take place, but it was always concretely situated and re-interpreted in some ideological form directed at the future.

The above example of Jeanette's pregnancy is a case in point. And if I went now to Sjakket to ask Jeanette what became of her Sleep-In-Facility, she would probably find it long since outdated.

I often did that, in fact: returning after, say, 6 months, with the fieldnotes, the tape or transcription version of our latest interview, or whatever, freshly in mind, I would ask people what had become of their ideas. Often, they would find it a challenge to even remember a time when such strange things had been on their minds. When reminded, events in the everyday life of themselves or of the organization, and very often both, would be presented to explain how the situation had changed.

Rather than conclude that the ideologies of Sjakket and its members were 'mere beliefs' – the inconsistencies typical of everyday life etc. – this phenomenon led me on to focusing more on the general problem of everyday life.


5.   Everyday life and objectivation

The Otherness of Everyday Life

Everyday life, as a residual category, can be very unsatisfactory, since it often resembles giving a name to something we cannot describe or determine further. Delineation, determination etc. seems to spoil the character of the concept. It is a bit like wanting to see darkness itself: no lighting device will help you see it any better. It is always the rest which is everyday life. The only way out of this dilemma is to somehow reflect residuality itself relative to determination.

In general, one can say that everyday life became a problematic concern, an object of scientific inquiry, with the rise of modern state forms and modern capitalism. Before that, everyday life had been merely the unspecified ‘Other’ to rational scientific thinking, those lay knowledges and practices from which philosophy or science must first distinguish itself. In many ways, that distinction remains a central concern in all sciences. But from absolutism and on into capitalism, it has been increasingly important to manipulate, regulate or create forms of mundane life, and so, the Other is also specified as object. The first scientific approaches, thus, appropriated everyday life into projects of governance in the shape of its various objects: the ‘social’, the ‘people’, 'reproduction' etc.  Everyday life, for more than a hundred years, has been the province of sociology, ethnology, economy etc.

The second phase in the approaches to everyday life is signalled by the realization and inquiry into the identity which lay implicit in the very difference that constituted science - the "Sameness in Otherness", as it were. Having established themselves in their foreign territories, the social sciences began to turn back on knowledge and science itself. The idea of a sociology of knowledge would not only challenge philosophy's claim to epistemology (as did psychology, albeit in a different manner, with its notion of cognition), rendering it mundane and practical; it would also recast everyday life in the shape of knowledge, communication, or information. Everyday life, in the traditions of critical theory, phenomenological sociology, interactionism, and 'modernity theory', was to be recognized in its own right, as a foundational anchor point of a critique of the Enlightenment projects that had first produced it; as it appeared, the critical movement was one of 'going native', so to speak.

Yet 'colonization' lurked precisely in how that new identity was achieved, as 'life-world', 'natural attitude', 'ethnomethods' etc. were predominantly or normatively construed as the exchange of meaning through communication.

The general consequence was a renewed dualism. What is characteristic of an approach to social theory that bases on communication is that system or structure and action or agency tend to fall apart. The ideal of a duality of structure, to paraphrase Giddens (1984), can be declared, but not realized, when agents may negotiate, but never actually produce life circumstances. Evidently, if the objectivity of social structure and language, in the end, hinges on pure convention, the result must be rather conservative. As a result, human actors are depicted as striving always for status quo in everyday life (ontological security, recognition, moral order etc. - with or without psychological underpinnings) while transformation is alienated as a feature of the social system, outside of the scope of the life-world and its actors, if reflected at all. Thus, the sanctuary of the life-world allowed for a strange convergence of utopian Marxism with pragmatic conservatism. This state of affairs became increasingly acute as 'community', towards the end of the 20th century, gained weight as an object of governmentality (Rose, 1999, Bauman, 2001).

In the face of such problems, the category of everyday life can always be rejected as outside the purview of science, or reduced of its challenging Sameness/Otherness and reappropriated into science as some new sociological / governmentality category, as indeed the (reappearing) concept of 'community' would suggest.

Another route to follow, at this point - and a more promising, I would contend - would be to look for conceptualizations of everyday life that might overcome the dichotomies of life-world / system and agency / structure through developing the idea of objectivation.


The concept of objectivation comes, as far as I know, from Hegel and Marx, and it has been very important in the tradition of the cultural-historical psychology, or activity theory, from Leontiev and Rubinstein and on into Critical Psychology. The idea of externalization and objectivation of human activities into artifacts, which Marx (1974, p. 193) called “the book of human essenses” – without opening which no psychology could ever become a real science  – always formed part of a cultural-historical psychology, and for nearly as long that same idea was meant to surpass the above mentioned dichotomies. It is through the material externalization of meaning that convention, and thus, the system/agency dichotomy, can be transcended. But the concept of objectivation hasn't been taken much into account in the attempts within the tradition of Critical Psychology to theorize everyday life.

As it appears, this can be easily explained by the fact that it was not until the fairly recent attempts of Holzkamp (1995), Dreier, (1994, 1997), Haug (1999), and Osterkamp (2001)  that the efforts have been directed explicitly towards everyday life. The general sequence in the approach of the social sciences to everyday life was repeated on a smaller scale in Critical Psychology. At the outset, everyday life was construed as the lay ideology from which a critical science must distinguish itself. In the course of 70'ies, it was rephrased under the general concept of reproduction  (in the framework of the - in many ways problematic - theoretical scheme of a relation between the individual and the society, cf. Dreier, 1994). That is, everyday life appeared as object, both as a sociological universal, and as the ideological constraint that opposed the subject of social transformation. As the implications of developing a 'subject-science' were unfolded, everyday life was gradually shifted to the side of the subject, and given increasing attention in the process, in the shape of a notion of 'conduct of life'. The question is, however, to what extent the general potentials in the tradition to overcome the above mentioned problems have been in fact realized.

In order to gain a vantage point for this discussion, I would like, first, to introduce the idea of objectivation as it is presented in one of the most advanced versions of an interactionist sociology of knowledge, that of Berger & Luckmann (1966). 

Even if, at a superficial glance, it may appear contrary to social constructionism, Berger & Luckmann (1966) make a strong point that the dialectics of the social world include externalization and objectivation. Their starting point is the Schutzian everyday life concept of a 'natural attitude', the taken-for-granted-ness from which any phenomenological analysis sets off, and to which it now, as sociology, returns. In Schütz’s view, the intersubjective world, “common to us all”, is an ontological a priori. Berger & Luckmann, on the other hand, unfold the idea of a 'social construction of reality' as objective in the sense of  “accessible to both producers and others as parts of a common world” (ebd., p. 34), thus reconstructing the evolution of a social system as a human construction. The development of a differentiated social reality is seen as intrinsically linked to the objectivation of meaning in institutional structures and the reproduction of their legitimacy in socialization. Thus, the concept of objectivation is genetically fundamental, yet it appears to be increasingly at odds with everyday life in a differentiated society. It still does not seem to be something intrinsic to the natural attitude. Rather, objectivation departs from the natural attitude, which, from then on, appears to treat society as alienated. The ongoing human practice of objectivation has left the scene and the 'always already' objectified, or reified, has entered. In addition, objectivation seems a neutral medium of subjective meaning, through which it moves essentially unaltered. In fact, it is only institutional differentiation and (lack of) socialization that, in the end, account for the subject/object distinction at all. Otherwise, material reality is a perfect externalization of human activity – and, conversely, socialization is a perfect internalization of culture, that is, of the ideologically given.

In this theoretical framework (which, of course, I have only sketched here), we encounter the above-mentioned dichotomization of agency and structure, as well as the related reduction of practice to communication: the notion of objectivity has been reduced to that which is common to actors in social interaction, and the fact of externalization has become completely subsumed to that interaction, as an epiphenomenon. In this critique, we recognize Marx' critique of Hegel's concept of Objective Spirit[11].

Indeed, when seen from the vantage point of the Marxist activity theory, the constructionist concept of objectivation is at first sight rather strange. In the essentialist realism which underlies much Activity Theory, objectivity is intuitively understood as sensuously real things, the qualitative contours and the constraints of a given material reality. From that perspective,  the idea of a 'social construction of reality as objective' appears a crude idealism. Thus, while Berger & Luckmann neglected the material side, the essentialistic epistemology of Activity Theory ignored the social side of objectivity.

But behind this difference lies the paradoxical fact that the concept of objectivation in Leontiev and Rubinstein can be said to be actually much closer to the conservative Hegelian notion – and, thus, to Berger & Luckmannn’s – than to the Marxist[12]. The point of difference is still the idea of an identity of Spirit in its subjective and objective form, versus Marx’ emphasis on its transformation through materiality. In the Activity Theory framework, power issues were abstracted from the idea of appropriation, and creative material transformations became the privilege of actors in the spheres of politics and production, outside the scope of empirical psychology. Theoretically overstepping the boundaries of 'communication', 'interaction' and ‘knowledge’, thus, did not lead to transformations in the sphere of everyday life. The dispute with the interactionists was displaced to the Industry and History, places that are always somehow different from where 'everyday life' unfolds and reproduces. The conservatism of phenomenological sociology could thus be criticized, while that same dispute in the domain of everyday life was abandoned – because an external motor of development could always be presented: the Productive Forces, Science, and Revolution. The subjective forms objectified in these spheres were then to be subsequently re-appropriated 'with no fuss' by every individual (see also, to this point, the critique of Leontiev's and Davydov's concept af activity, in Axel & Nissen, 1993).

What resulted, then, was, ironically, a cleft quite similar to Habermas’ view that while the symbolic reproduction of the life world can be understood in the framework of communicative action, its material reproduction is mediated by instrumental action (1987, p. 138). Somehow, the disturbingly transformative qualities of material production are still kept apart from the 'merely social' or ‘merely reproductive’ in everyday life.

Objectivation and everyday life in Critical Psychology

While, in Critical Psychology, these functionalistic tendencies in Leontiev's theory of activity and appropriation were criticized, that critique was generally conceived in terms of ideology and power, in the concept of action potence. Critical Psychology made the trope of placing everyday life on the side of the subject, and thus, the cultural materialism of the overall theory of human life did not directly form the outset to the approaches to everyday life in the works on conduct of life and action contexts.

The result is that these have tended, I would claim, in their first formulations, toward a return to the dichotomy between the body and the symbolic / discursive, in the absence of material culture. In Dreier’s (1994) action contexts, intersubjective constellations are conceived primarily as movements of bodies in time-space. In Holzkamp's sketch of a theory of the conduct of life (1995), the everyday life component is seen as founded in the cyclic routines of life – counterposed to the 'really meaningful' spheres of life.

In short, there is a tendency to de-culturalize everyday life. Haug (1999) even de-culturalizes culture:

“By culture, or better: by the cultural, I mean the way in which the individuals appropriate society, transform conditions, endow them with life, and find a sense in which they can confirm themselves as humans” (1999, 68)

That is: Culture, here, is the (form of the) process.  What has happened to that which Leontiev called the “5th dimension”, the cultural sphere of materially objectified meanings? What became of “objective spirit”?

In my opinion, it is Haug who has made the most thorough and fruitful attempt to approach everyday life. When even Haug’s understanding of everyday life suffers from a body / discourse-dichotomy, this is probably a result, not only of the fact that this form of thinking is prevailing (as in much of the anthropology that is currently influencing [social] psychology), but also of the intention to place everyday life on the side of the subject. It is the subject’s actions and struggle for action potency which is everyday life. This includes, in principle, the transformation of conditions, to be sure, and it is still very much this awareness that importantly distinguishes the approach of Critical Psychology[13]. But the transformation of conditions is often reflected only in terms of the political project of relating the standpoint of the subject in everyday life with the standpoint of humanity (see Nissen, 2000). ‘Expansive’/’generalizing’ action potency becomes attached to the processes that constitute the identity of Critical Psychology in (research) practices. Correspondingly, the objectivations that appear directly in Haug are the texts of her memory work (1999, 66). In a sense, then, Critical Psychology, also with its move toward everyday life, represents a ‘modernizing’ trope of ‘purification’, that is, establishing a virgin ground putatively free of the ancient bonds of cultural history, in the interest of emancipation.

Some ( (Osterkamp, 1999a) , (Schraube, 2003) ) have been inspired by Elaine Scarry’s phenomenological account of body and artifact, in which the principle of objectivation is discussed extensively. In my view, even if Scarry’s analyses are immensely rich and thought-provoking, they mislead in important ways. First of all, Scarry’s phenomenological humanism posits a dichotomy of culture and body which in a strange way mirrors that of psychoanalysis: with Scarry, the body represents pain (in the image of ‘sentience’), rather than pleasure (‘libido’), but building culture is just as much a process of disembodiment as is sublimation. Secondly, recognizing objectivation seems to equal misrecognizing subjectivation, in that issues of power (including war) are reduced to a ritualized symbolic world-making or un-making[14].

Agnes Heller's theory of objectivation

To me, it was the Danish sociologist Bech-Jørgensen (1994), who pointed one possible way out of the problem. She was herself developing an understanding of everyday life from a Schutzian framework, but unsatisfied with the conservative implications of the concept of the natural attitude and the dichotomy between everyday life and other forms of action. To overcome this problem, she introduced Agnes Heller's theory of objectivations and everyday life.

In Heller’s account (1981, 1985), Hegel’s methodological framework of An Sich (in-itself), Für Sich (for-itself), and An und Für Sich (in-and-for-itself), when applied to objectivations, is a key to the puzzle of the heterogeneity and the spontaneous, yet rational character of everyday life. Objectivations in-itself is “the backbone of everyday life”, the ongoing, productive dealing with three inseparable kinds of objects: tools, norms-and-rules, and language. Reason is immanent in intentional actions, but not in the form of consistent reference to a single rational (normative and instrumental) yardstick, rather as indexically situated, constant re-appropriation and re-production of objectified possibilities or meanings. The human-being-as-a-whole is precisely the result of the comprehensive inconsistency of actions in and between situations. Whereas human wholenesses, the homogenous and consistent constructions of meanings are objectivations for-itself, developed most fully in science, philosophy, and arts, and in that sense (that is, in the sense of applying and providing some standard to discipline actions) also objectivations of reflective self-consciousness. Objectivations for-and-in-itself are the societal institutions – at once embodiments of systematic rules and ideals, and materialized into the ‘external and overpowering’ life conditions of the everyday, either to be reduced to an alienated in-itself, or to be re-appropriated and reshaped in a process she calls objectivations for-us.

Heller stresses the relative character of the concepts, so that it is always a question of perspective and relevance (to a living social practice) whether any object is seen or treated as in-itself or for-and-in-itself etc. The life world, thus, was always already colonized by countless system worlds in history; and any system world is subject to the grindings and transformations of countless life worlds and contexts of situated actions.

Heller's theory, of course, needs to be appropriated critically to be useful in a development of the theoretical framework already presented. The critiques of Osterkamp ( (Osterkamp, 1999b) ), and Haug ( (Haug, 2002) , 52), have focused mostly on the normative, evolutionist tendencies in Heller. In my opinion, they do not take Heller seriously enough to capture the ‘rational core’ of her work, and thus, the critiques have been also quite narrow. Here, I shall mention only a few supplementary critical points. 1) Heller ignores concrete locality, claiming to focus exclusively on 'Gattungsmässige' objectivations as distinct from mere situations, thus reserving for herself a 'God's Eye' privilege to decide what counts as objectivations. 2) She still very much thinks in terms of 'the individual' and 'the society', reproduction and socialization, so that the issues of social transformation and subjectivation are rendered almost completely epiphenomenological (as, indeed, objectivations for-us gradually drop out of the conceptual framework). 3) The Hegelian backdrop makes it particularly curious that the state only appears sociologically as specialized institutions, and never as a concrete-general formation; perhaps this results from the position of a 'critical' modernity theory. 4) In general, the crucial dialectical points are often overclouded by stipulative and schematic grand-theory ambitions.

In this context, it is the dialectical relativity of the concepts which is at the center of attention, even if, at many points, Heller herself tends to treat the concepts of forms of objectivation as distinct 'spheres'.

Specific Unspecificity: The Stuff of Social Practice

Paradoxically, the specificity of everyday life is its unspecific character. 'Unspecific' is here meant as that term is used in Critical Psychology (e.g. Holzkamp, 1983); but we must place this 'unspecificity' at the right level. Everyday life is 'life', of course, but this does not mean that it should be reduced to biology, or even repetition, reproduction, cyclic routines etc. Everyday human life is productive and self-transforming; it generalizes meaning and it breaks immediacy. The 'everyday' character lies in the unspecific nature of productivity itself when seen as culture, that is, as forms of objectivation (in the unity of process and product). It is in that sense that objectivations-in-itself is the 'backbone of everyday life'.

This speaks to the important conceptual distinction between ‘culture’ and ‘cultures’. The concept of culture in activity theory and critical psychology is almost exclusively the general, and thus, unspecific form. By contrast, much cultural theory starts with the difference between one culture and another. This very starting point very easily leads to a dominant focus on reproduction, to cultural functionalism, and sometimes even to ‘culturalizing’ social inequalities etc.: there are good reasons, it seems, for the tradition of rejecting ‘cultural explanations’. However, if we do take ‘culture’ seriously, we also must engage with ‘cultures’. Otherwise, we can only understand subjects through creating putative universals that are themselves exempted from analysis (not altogether irrelevant as a self-critique of Critical Psychology, cf. Nissen, 2000). Whether in the shape of ‘life modes’ (Højrup, 1996, Schriewer, 1993), ‘local cultures’ (see above), ‘youth subcultures’ (Hall & Jefferson, 1977) or other conceptual frameworks, this implies a specification in a coherent, meaningful form. This way, the specific unspecificity of everyday life is lost – and the impetus to regain it by reducing human life of its productivity is thus understandable (but still problematic).

A culture becomes determinate in objectivations-for-itself which, according to Heller, provide human life with ‘meaning’, that is, a coherent and accountable meaningfulness. This notion of ‘meaning’ is, however, very far from phenomenological or narrative conceptions of ‘meningfulness’ as the coherence of a subject’s conduct of life or life trajectory. Allow me, to explain this, to re-introduce Leontiev’s concepts of ‘meaning’ and ‘sense’ (Leontiev, 1985, 169)  to capture the dialectical moments of the unity of self-reproduction and self-transformation of a subject through participation: objectivation is the production of meaning, while subjectivation is the production of sense (a fuller account is given in Nissen, in press).  The search for coherence, then, is not a turn from ‘meaning’ to ‘sense’, but, rather, a drive from everyday life to objectivations-for-itself. It is only in the absense of production that coherence becomes substituted for sense when approaching the ‘meaning of life’ – the coherence which is, perhaps, an important criterion guiding and motivating the researcher him/herself, and allowing her to experience a kind of ‘human wholeness’ which is then projected onto the ‘subject’ in her theory. In general, what makes sense is not necessarily consistent; in fact, it can be shown that sense, when considered in abstraction from meaning – in other words, the ideology with which a subject reproduces – is necessarily dichotomic. The productive overcoming of ideological, or ‘deutende’ dichotomies (and thus the ‘generalizing’ reconstruction of the unity of self-reproduction and self-transformation), on the other hand, also does not necessarily imply consistency, since this can precisely be realized in objectivations-in-itself. Action potence realized in conduct of life thus differs in principle from what Heller calls ‘rationality of intellect’, that is, acting according to a consistent ethical yardstick – action potence, in other word, is everything but sacred.

In my own process, Bech-Jörgensen’s use of Heller’s ideas was striking and useful relative to my question of local cultural projects. She described how isolated unemployed young women routinely, or in disrupted routines, shaped their everyday conditions as meaningful. Under conditions of restricted economical resources, and of a forced isolation, it was in actions such as shopping and the tidying or messing up of the home that the women’s lives were externalized and then taken for granted as conditions, or normatively judged, reproduced or changed. As cultural symbols, linguistic expressions or arrangements of furniture etc. can be said to carry a 'surplus meaning'[15], but primarily because they are at the same time simply material conditions in which people’s lives are immersed.

Another (fictuitous) example may illustrate the point: when I wake up in the morning, the smell that first meets me is yesterday’s party; the cigarette butts and half-empty wine glasses not only have shifted their sense, but also must be cleaned up before I can have my breakfast. Such conditions are inherently objectivations of societal relations: my cupboard and refrigerator are empty; if I am unemployed, I am under close surveillance by my bank clerk, and since the grocer now has an electronic VISA card machine with direct connection to the bank, I can’t overdraw my account, so I need to collect re-cycling bottles to get money for butter and bread, unless I can perhaps persuade the grocer to give me credit. Etc.

In this approach, the fundamentally dialectical quality of living in and changing material conditions is put back on its feet. Everyday rationality is as far from an application of cognitive schemata as one can get; not, however, because it is not 'instrumental', but because instruments, as objectivations, are basically, in themselves, heterogenous and overwhelmingly cross-contextual. The 'cunning of reason', then, as a cornerstone of cultural historical development, works through the routine and everyday externalization of human activity in material conditions. Rather than counterposing the everyday character of human life versus a notion of production as the externalization of spirit - or thinking etc. - in its self-conscious, logical form, these are understood as dialectical moments of the same ongoing social practice. Thus, the category of everyday life has shifted from being a residual sphere upon which consistent meaning must – or must not! – be transferred, and into being a determination of the general character of human life in its undetermined form - in Jean Lave's words, "the stuff of social practice".

Everyday life and societal change

Yet, Bech-Jörgensen found it hard to see concretely how everyday life might change societal conditions in more general terms, over and above some restricted sphere of private life. She needed to invent a heuristic notion of something she phrased "the powers of everyday life" for that - a potential for resistance and creation of meaning that somehow emerges in the social interplay of cultural meanings "between taken-for-grantedness and chaos". In this aspect of her work, it seems to me, Bech-Jörgensen came close to a return to a residual everyday life. As I see it, this was a consequence of the material structure of wage labour within which her women were unemployed. It is also this structure which produced the suburbs with the flats in which the women were isolated, the nearby malls where they could only spend their time in a restricted shopping, the distant cities and industrial quarters, etc. Had they been unemployed and at the same time, say, farmers’ wives (as in Höjrup's life mode theory, 1996), their situation would be completely different: home activities would be directly part of the domestic production (in terms of a simply commodity production, and the unemployment benefit would be perhaps a welcomed contribution to the maintenance of the farm. Had they been, say, participants of Sjakket, their everyday life activities could perhaps be reformulated, or re-cognized, as volunteer methods of social work.

In other words, the societal form of labour is also a certain form of the generality of everyday life objectivations. As certain societal forms, they constitute objectivations-for-itself. While Bech-Jörgensen could point relevantly to objectivations-in-itself, she was also caught in the ideological immediacy of the form of objectivation, the for-itself; in this case, the unemployment and the wish to overcome it. So even if the unemployed women were constantly engaged in generalizing objectivations, Bech-Jörgensen viewed their unemployment against an ideal of empowerment. This way, a political ideal, that is, an objectivation for-itself was taken as a yardstick for a ‘progress’ that counted as 'real' change, and against the background of which the actual everyday life was reduced to defensive routines.

What is problematic about all this, of course, isn't the impetus to change, but its mystification. Developing ideas of everyday life on the basis of the concepts of action potency and the generalized subject standpoint in Critical Psychology, and the focus on subjectivation as participation, does also, as already stated above, imply a normative, that is, value-laden and non-neutral perspective. This means that any action research / practice research project is necessarily faced with the dialectics of objectivations in and for itself. Only when the aims of societal change which it contains assume the form of utopian ideals, it becomes likely that the for-itself is dichotomized from the in-itself, and thus, a residual everyday life is produced.

Out of these considerations, in sum, my intention was to analyze the local cultural project in a triple view:

1.      As the practical attempt to realize new forms of social work and new forms of labour, in concrete societal conditions

2.      As a local ideologically reproduced organization of living social practice, and

3.      As a continuously revised objectivation for-and-in-itself of methods, ideological standards etc.

6. Objectivation in Sjakket

A glimpse of this approach in practice will lead us on to address the issue of non-scholastic learning and the new project called ’Wild Learning’ more directly.

Objectivations in Sjakket consisted in the continuous flow of ideals and situations in which Sjakket was reproduced and also developed. As 'socially constructed', but also overpowering and heterogenous material situations, they were objectivations-in-itself; as embodyments of Sjakket's ideology, they were objectivations-for-itself; and as the living, in­sti­tu­tional reality which always both contained an ideological rationality, and transcended that same rationality, they were objectivations-in-and-for-itself.

These movements were clearly visible in the physical structures. The addresses, the constant changes in interior arrangements of furniture etc., the fact that the places were nearly always messy but every single thing was there with someone's purpose, the lack of expensive items, the dominance of signs, posters, pictures - all of that and more symbolized Sjakket and formed conditions for Sjakket.

But of course, the idea of objectivation shouldn't be thought of as only realized in 'things'; it is also the construction of conditions in terms of materialized social structure more broadly speaking (that which Heller divided into the categories of tools, norms-and-rules and language).

A club called the Bull's Eyes was established and recognized as part of Sjakket as a place for a group of people who were involved in hashish trade and other criminal activities. In order to make it possible, negotiations had taken place, in which a couple of the users were accepted as members of Sjakket and then dealt with the municipal authorities together with Sjakket's more experienced resource ­persons. Through Sjakket, they were recognized as doing a kind of preventive social work with each others as target group. This recognition was evident, not only in meetings and papers, but also simply in the fact that the place was open for the public. The very rough immediate appearance, with the painting of a tearful signorita on the wall, and the existence of a dark, hashish-smelling basement room, proved it the home of a more hard-core and more masculine group than the rest of Sjakket. But this was also the obvious place to arrange meetings to plan a coming local festival, for geographical reasons and because one from the group was given the key responsibility for the festival. This changed what the club meant to the locals: providing rooms for meetings of one of the local networks, the club was no longer a self-isolating deviant group, but part of 'our community'. This, in turn, was one of the factors that contributed to Sjakket's increasing focus on this part of town: an investment of energy that was necessary to back up the process, and which proved possible, etc.

The recognition to do social work was perhaps the most important form of both subjectivation and objectivation in Sjakket. The ways in which people could move around positions in an organization that was recognized to do social work was in itself - and, by the way, often also for-itself, that is, intentionally established - a realization of principles of the implicit as well as explicit local cultural pedagogy. The political recognition made it - to some extent - possible for Sjakket to control internally the relations between what the individual did and the resources she controlled. 

One of the important instances of this for-and-in-itself was the annual discussions about the five wage paid positions that the cooperation with the government - the recognition as an official development project - had provided. After a short period of struggle, Sjakket politically overpowered the municipal administrators who had seen these positions as a kind of bridge head to professionalization. In effect, Sjakket's weekly common meeting controlled those resources, too, and decided to review them once a year. This meant often heated discussions in which political strategy, general values, personal abilities, job requirements - all mixed in and beamed out from the concrete decisions about persons. Should someone be paid an income who deserved it? Or rather those who needed it most? Or should the jobs be used to secure stability in certain tasks? The conclusion would mostly be a curious mixture - a few got themselves what resembled steady jobs, others split in two or took shifts in ways that fit the periods of their workfare obligations, etc.

7.   Wild learning – in-itself and for-itself

The interplay of the systematically realized and the situated bricolage - the for-itself and the in-itself of learning - is directly at issue in our new research cooperation with the Wild Learning project.

One of the weak points in Sjakket in terms of some conscious strategy was learning, when viewed as something distinct, or as the reproduction of the most central group of resource persons. Even with both an implicit and and explicit pedagogy, these self-conscious efforts had been directed more at the immediate activities and the local cultural everyday life than at the organization and its participants. What was learnt was not so much a job, a profession or a set of skills, as a way of life. The more specific question of securing 'cadres' for the organization was to a large extent neglected. This often gave trouble, e.g. in the form that a few people were constantly overworking.

Even if in principle, and also once in a while in reality, people could advance all the way from street kid to one of the central resource persons, mostly, the trajectories of participation should be viewed in a much broader perspective. They were personal developments in the larger social and cultural networks in and around the organization. Some would remain inside the larger network, a feature which gave it almost a family quality, others would come or go. All kinds of young people came in, and all kinds of participants dropped out of the organization. Changes in conditions effected that process directly, for instance how ’workfare’ was administered, or the living conditions of students. All of these things were for the most part out of the reach or influence of Sjakket.

The process of reproduction of participants was also never objectivated in the form of some formalized pattern of steps or the like, like in some self-help movements. In my analysis, this was a god sign and a great advantage, since that would have proved a form of alienation. The great variety of trajectories, the very wide cultural ideas about what it means to learn to live, and the lack of formalization, was connected to how Sjakket was a local cultural organization. In short, there was a sound reluctance to pin down 'learning'.

The reason why all of this is relevant in terms of the beginnings of a practice research project, is that I expect that problem to also emerge in our cooperation with the Wild Learning project. Here, the personal development processes that take place are explicitly termed 'learning'. A lesson is learnt from Sjakket, so to speak. The learning concept looks like it's going to be quite broad-minded and non-scholastic. 'Looks like', because it's in the process of becoming at present, and probably, we researchers will have some say in how it will be shaped. That is also a kind of objectivation, but that is another story. Anyway, the learning resources which Mörck will be investigating will be very far from a narrow idea of teaching.

All the same, a tension will remain in the intention to facilitate and institutionalize wild learning. On the one hand, it is learning to live - in the contexts of local cultural networks and projects. It is a gathering of resources to facilitate an implicit pedagogy. It is the realization of an idea of learning that always transcends any specific curriculum, a truly non-scholastic learning. It is the appropriation of objectivations-in-itself, or, perhaps one can say, a learning in-itself.

On the other hand, those same learning processes are also disciplinary subjectivations if they are in any way consciously reflected and facilitated as such. They must be the learning of something special, and as such, they must be culturally mediated and self-/consciously established as a kind of learning for-itself. A process that is intimately related with that which is 'scholastic', that is, contextual arrangements of practices with objectivations for-itself. No matter how wild and indexically unfolding the learning processes are, some objective standard must be applied here to help define what counts as learning.

What counts as learning is by no means an innocent or arbitrary terminological question. Rather, learning for-itself, or perhaps we could term it specified learning[16], begins with the question of consciously establishing the learning problematic. This was the  important insight in Leontiev's determination (following Elkonin) of 'learning activity' by 'the conscious learning motive'; and it was also the crucial point in Holzkamp's theory of learning (1993; 182 ff.): establishing the learning problematic in the context of intentional learning, rather than incidental learning (Mitlernen). The question was overdetermined by the general issue of subjectivity. The activity theory approach, following the general Marxist rejection of the notion of isolated individuals, ended up in a normative functionalism that blurred the issue altogether. Holzkamp, on the other hand, in my opinion, in his latest works, tended toward a dichotomy between self-determination and discursive forms of control. The concepts of learning in-itself and for-itself, perhaps, may provide a way to discuss learning that does not rely on a preliminary choice between two equally awkward positions: the socialized or the autonomous subject.

What I suggest here is that one way to approach that issue is to see the learner's motivated and self-conscious determination of a learning problematic, a “learning-for-itself”, in the unity of self-reproduction and self-transformation (in other words, in terms of an 'expansive learning'), also as a unity of subjectivation and objectivation. The subject is continuously constituted in the application and transformation of objective standards, or in other words, in the interplay of meaning and sense. The establishment of a learning problematic, a learning for-itself, is not merely a discursive deployment; nor is it the autonomous choice of a pre-given subject. Rather, I would suggest, it is a form, or an aspect of a social practice in which individuals participate and become subjects (cf. the above discussion of the "ZPD of self-consciousness") in concrete power relationships.

The question is related, also, to the issue of whether the concept of learning, even in non-scholastic versions, remains limited to focusing on the development of pre-given subjects. Somehow, it seems to me, there is a mechanism in the increasing use of this concept as a general term to signify human development which may be in a relation of mutual confirmation with a tendency in pedagogical practices / organizations like Wild Learning to overlook or downplay the normative/value-laden aspects of formative processes[17]. Similarly, when Lave (1997; following Packer) states that  learning theories conceptualize the telos of learning, the subject-world relations, and the mechanisms of learning, she specifies a theoretical problematic which precisely leaves out the question of the formation (Bildung), or constitution, of subjects. A question which Lave herself repeatedly stresses, in the form of a notion of formation of identity as vitally integral to any trajectory of participation.

In general, if this latter aspect is neglected, for instance, in some description of a non-scholastic learning that denies how it is connected to a reflected pedagogical practice in a self-conscious community (a learning putatively free of teaching), it will be hard to see it in an ideology-critical light. We will not be able to see and discuss whether what is learnt is perhaps the ethics of the New Left, or rather that of Neo-Liberalism, for instance. And thus, the ways in which an objective standard is in fact applied will be likely to be unreflected - e.g. in the use of the concept of 'learning' as a deployment of the discourse of 'the Active Society'.

That is why my contribution to the investigation of Non-Scholastic Learning in the Wild Learning project will be very much pre-occupied with the ways in which the wilderness is, after all, tamed, conceptually as well as practically and organizationally. Even if, on the other hand, again, the tamed wilderness will probably not resemble any distinct ethics or pedagogy or method directly, realized and objectivated as it will be in everyday life and thereby transformed.



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[1] This paper was originally given at a conference of the Network for Non-Scholastic Learning in June, 1999. The NNL was an international and inter-disciplinary research network which convened between 1997 and 2000, and which included researchers engaged in transcending the traditional scholastic approach to learning, such as among others, Ole Dreier, Jean Lave, Uffe Juul Jensen, Yrjö Engeström, David Middleton, Hubert Dreyfuss.

[2] See Malmborg & Nielsen, 1999, and www.devildeunge.dk

[3] This was all before I realized the extent to which that re-appropriation has also taken the form of an overall discourse, re-contextualized into, and thus transforming, everyday conversations with its structure imposed / adopted as rhetorical forms – something which, among an almost infinite number of examples, can be seen in how the rôles of therapist and client reappear smoothly in every Oprah Winfrey show

[4] See Nissen, 1997,1998a, and Nissen, 1998b, 1999, respectively

[5] ’Sjakket’ means ’the crew’, i.e. informal language for a small unit of shop-floor workers

[6] Althusser’s concept of interpellation isn’t very clearly unfolded. It is constricted by it being the part of a theory of an ideological state apparatus, in itself rather functionalistically concieved, even if counterposed to the organized working class in the shape of the party. This means that the working of ideology is directly the reproduction of class positions, alienated as religion. In spite of these problems, the concept is useful to understand how subjects are constituted as participants of communities that are themselves particular, self-reflecting subjects, such as states. The person is baptized in God’s name, as ’always already’ the subject of a superior subject. Subjectivity is as naturalized as the community is alienated. This problematic is currently explored in an inter-disciplinary research project called Life Modes and Welfare State at a Crossroad. See also Nissen, in press,  Højrup, 1995

[7] Literally: ”will Twist survive?”

[8] See, e.g. Engeström, 1987

[9] Together with the subsequent realizations, critique and utopian ideals are the phases in the so-called ’future workshops’ (Zukunftwerkstätten, Jungk & Müllert, 1981). This method, and the ideas behind it, in my view captures important elements in the workings of ideology without really transcending it. Perhaps the form of generalizing, or transcending, was taken for granted (as ’emancipation’) in the context of critical pedagogy of the 70’ies and 80'ies.

[10] A note on terminology: I use the term 'objectivation' here, following (the translations of) Agnes Heller's works on everyday life. Another choice could be 'objectification', but it seems to be often conflated with 'reification', either as a purely negative, alienated reduction of subjectivity, or at least emphasizing primarily the'freezing' of process and relations into delienated objects, downplaying the creative aspects and the production of subjectivity.

[11] Marx states that Hegel, while pointing to labour as the source of human knowledge, also reduces labour to an externalization (Entäusserung) of mere abstractions: "It is no wonder that a living, natural being, endowed and gifted with objective, i.e. material powers (Wesenskräften), also has real natural objects of his essense (Wesen); and that his self-externalization is the determination (Setzung) of a real – even if in the form of externality, that is, not belonging to its essense, and overpowering – objective world, is only natural. There is nothing inconceivable and mysterious about that. Rather, the opposite would be mysterious. But that a self-consciousness, when externalizing itself, only determines thingness, i.e. itself only an abstract thing, a thing of abstraction, and no real thing, is equally clear. It is further clear that thingness thus provides nothing autonomous, essential in relation to self-consciousness whatsoever, but remains a mere creation, something determined by it, and the determined, rather than confirming itself, only confirms the act of determination, for one moment fixing its energy as a product, only to by accorded the rôle of an autonomous and real being in the appearance, and only for a moment" (Marx, 1974 (1844), p. 239 – the translation is mine, MN).

[12] According to Keiler (1997), Leontiev presumably first inherited his concept of objectivation from middle to late nineteenth century Neo-Hegelians, including Dilthey, and only later, after the publishing of Marx’ Ökonomisch-Philosophische Manuskripte, could refer it to Marx – in a way, however, that ignored the extent to which Marx' concept 'Vergegenständlichung' derived from Ludwig Feuerbach, and thereby also reduced Vygotsky's theory of its Feuerbach-inspired understanding, in which living social practice was far more prominent than the 'objective spirit' of culture. Other scholars, e.g. Veresov, are, for different reasons, busy proving that Vygotsky himself should be read as a Neo-Hegelian rather than a Marxist. In any case, of course, we are reminded, both that Marxism should not be inferred from a declaration of Marxist intentions, and, perhaps in particular, of the continuity in the dialectical tradition which has been so often been broken or covered on account of the political implications of 'Marxism'.

[13]A more fully developed expression of the problematic of relating discourse and body, in the Danish context, is Söndergaard's theoretical development, from pointing to the problem of a misrecognition of 'reproduction' in critical psychology (1986), to a full-fledged constructionist / symbolic interactionist interpretation of the gender issue that struggles with the issue of the body as itself an objectivation of cultural 'codes', while at the same time constituting the pre-given actor (1996).

[14] My own attempts to introduce immanently material discourse as a mediating link, a cultural objectivity that should be combined with the local materiality and intersubjectivity of action (see Nissen, 1998b) – though an adequate intention, I would maintain – have raised many problems. One issue, here, is that the otherwise very productive concept of subjectivation, derived from poststructuralism, tends to construe the subject-as-object  as precisely a docile body to be either disciplined by or freed from given cultural forms (see Nissen, in press) - and thus, once again, an inconsequential materiality is construed. Another issue would be the question of how to digest the incompatible background inspirations to 'discursive psychology', the theoretical frameworks of poststructuralism and situated social theory (and with it, pragmatism, ethnomethodology etc.).

[15] Here, Bech-Jörgensen refers to Paul Willis

[16] The German 'Bestimmung', 'bestimmt' conveys nicely the double meaning: it opens to the question of who decides (wer bestimmt)

[17]This is particularly obvious if one looks into the discussions about pre-school pedagogy. Only two decades ago, learning was taboo, since the children were thought to have a universal need to go through a period of play before beginning to learn (that is: in school; Lehrlernen). Now, the child is no longer considered in need of formational education - her or she is a 'competent' and 'self-determining' child, and kindergarden discourse swarms with learning processes. The neo-liberal ideological  implications of the discourse of the 'competent child' are rarely discussed.