In this essay, I propose the notion of critical distance to investigate some issues involved in personal change. I define Critical Distance as the distance that emerges when a current self (Self A) enters a transformational period and that distance between the evolving Self B and proximal relationships. This locus is a crisis in psychological space representing potential tensions that may develop between the individual and their relevant others, i.e. family and friends, close work colleagues and others in their community of practice. We do not remain the same person as a result of our learning as Barnacle points out; “The notion of becoming contains an implicit temporal dimension. … a becoming other than what one is already” (2007, p. 179). Relationships consist of expectations between individuals and proximal groups. When individuals alter psychologically into a Self B, they generate differences in relational expectations amongst those involved. Figure 1 shows the increasing critical distances over time during a period of personal growth. A key assumption in this figure is that only the self changes. If proximal others also change, the overall state of relationships is dynamic, fluid and unpredictable.
Figure 1. Critical Distance
Three types of change are described: social change, where notions of cultural and social capital come into play (Bourdieu, 1977); praxis change, in which situated learning engenders increasing expertise (Lave & Wenger, 1991); and personal change that describes “the journey into the self” (Wellington et al., 2005, p. 30).
Social change utilises concepts of status and widening influence as an individual’s upward mobility allows increasing access to instruments of power (Aman et al. 2015). In “The Expanding Circle”, the utilitarian Singer explains a mechanic of change: “The capacity to reason is a special sort of capacity because it can lead us to places we did not expect to go” (1981, p. 88). The self at the centre, then outwards towards proximal relationships and into the wider community, the socially expanding circle mirrors the impact of personal reconstruction on our communities. Lave and Wenger admonish traditionalists who view learning as purely the acquisition of knowledge domains (1991, p. 52). Rather, in becoming proficient–which is accomplished through deep contact with experts, i.e. through legitimate peripheral participation–we undergo a process in “becoming a different person” (p. 53), a transformation that potentially induces tensions in critical distance. The personal changes that Ruth powerfully recalls (cited in Lee, 2008, p. 27) point to an increased maturity, cognitive skills improvement and emotional stability.
Tensions induced by critical distances may arise in various manners. Agentive change on the part of the self may create tension with the forced and passive change in the other. Families share in the tripartite changes accompanying Self B, but they love Self A. How willing are they to accept the new? Pressures include the possibility of jealousies between the evolving spouse and the static partner, fear of the unknown, questions about Self B personalities (e.g. Will the father (for example) be the same father or become a different one?) and so on. And many critical distance issues also occur in the individual as an intrapersonal conflict between Self A and Self B. Doctoral candidates are simultaneously experts and novices (Lee, 2008). Wellington’s advice to “becom[e] comfortable with the uncomfortable” strikes true as candidates experience anxiety when dealing with the multiple realities of self (Wellington, 2005, p. 32). Critical distance, if objectified, may be a key tool in epistemologising concerns during times of personal growth.
Aman, J., Ahmed, H, Petros, A, AlSaghbini, H, & Amann, W. (2015). Team A summary; Week 4 forum. Liverpool University EdD Module 1 April 2015 Cohort.
Barnacle, R. (2007). Research education ontologies: exploring doctoral becoming. Higher Education Research and Development, 24(2), 179-188.
Bourdieu, P. (1977). Outline of a theory of practice. (trans. R. Nice). Cambridge: CUP.
Lee, N. J. (2008). Achieving your professional doctorate. Berkshire: Open University Press.
Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambdrige: CUP.
Wellington, J. J., Bathmaker, A., Hunt, C., McCulloch, G., & Sikes, P. (Eds.). (2005) Succeeding with Your Doctorate. London: SAGE Publications.