Critical reflection follow-up post 2

You ask a great question that hits right at the heart of the value of reflection.

“If you can turn back time, would you approach the situation differently?”

When Fook[JS1]  and Gardner (2007) talk of risk, they use examples from social work. In these contexts, the meaning of risk is significantly different from that of an educator. As with many caring professions, the meaning of risk extends to the possibility of the practitioner taking life-threatening decisions. Thankfully, this rarely happens in classrooms in Japan (although see Aspinall [2015] for a description of the number of deaths occuring in Japanese school judo classes). The notion of risk for educators, however, carries implications of less serious yet still dangerous threats, including losing face, respect and in my case, friendship.

Clearly, my discussion failed. Van Manen (1977) describes three kinds of reflection: ‘production and technical control’ (p. 225), encouraging me to consider the technical means I used during the discussion; ‘communication and interpretive understanding’ focussing my attention onto “a value commitment to some interpretive framework” (p. 226), the underlying assumptions and purposes of the conversation; and ‘emancipation and liberation’ to the ‘to the question of the worth of knowledge and to the nature of the social conditions necessary for raising the question of worthwhileness in the first place” (p. 227). Although this tripartite division seems clear cut with its parts independent, the choices of words used (a technical aspect) are intimately related to the goals (interpretative), which in turn speaks to social values and attempts for inter- and intra-personal change (emancipation).

So let’s take things in reverse order as that seems the most profitable. I wanted to change my relationship with my colleague as I believed that strengthening my social capital inside the faculty would be advantageous. At this level, there would be no going back in the past to change. I was acutely aware of both interlocutors ‘communication and interpretive understanding’ during the conversation. I can’t see how that can change. At the level of technical control, I could perhaps have begun the topic by asking for my interlocutor’s opinion. However, without any framing, it’s difficult to see how the topic could be broached as there was no way he would bring up the subject. I didn’t know that he would be sensitive to the situation in which a foreigner talks about Japan. Upon reflection, pun intended, the ‘best’ approach would have been not to invite him for a conversation or limit the discussion to mindless topics. As it stands, to him I’m ‘one of those foreigners who think they know Japan’, and to me he is ‘another of those Japanese who are unable and unwilling to entertain the possibility that their country is not as opaque as they wish it to be’. Upon reflection, no pun, it may be for the best that the conversation happened the way it did and that we can go along our respective ways.


Aspinall, R. W. (2015). Children’s rights in a risk society: the case of schooling in Japan. Japan Forum, 5803(December), 1–20. doi:10.1080/09555803.2015.1076871

Fook, J., & Gardner, F. (2007). Practising Critical reflection. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

van Manen, M. (1977). Linking of ways of knowing with ways of being practical. Curriculum Inquiry, 6(3), 205–228.

About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a national university.
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