Volume 8 Issue 2 (2012): New Approaches to Psychodynamic Research
Main Articles

Practice-Near and Practice-Distant Methods in Human Services Research

Lynn Froggett
University of Central Lancashire
Stephen Briggs
University of East London
Published December 16, 2012
  • research framework,
  • research paradigm,
  • practice-near method,
  • practice-distant method,
  • experience-near method,
  • experience-distant method,
  • psychosocial research,
  • reflective practice,
  • scenic composition
  • ...More


This article discusses practice-near research in human services, a cluster of methodologies that may include thick description, intensive reflexivity, and the study of emotional and relational processes. Such methods aim to get as near as possible to experiences at the relational interface between institutions and the practice field. Psychoanalytically informed approaches to research are particularly fruitful here. In this article these are discussed in relation to the reflective practice and critical reflection traditions which have been widely discussed within social work, healthcare, education, and allied fields. Drawing on Clifford Geertz's distinction between experience-near and experience-distant inquiry, this article also discusses the relationship between practice-near and practice-distant approaches. These may be used in parallel to investigate different but related objects of interest and can be used to triangulate different data when focussing on the same object; finally practice-near and practice-distant methods can be combined in interpretive procedures which depend on an oscillation between immersion within and distancing from the field. It is within such interpretive activity that habits of attention and interpretation developed in clinical settings, and described in the work of Wilfred Bion, can be brought to bear usefully on data analysis.