A brief extract on a single idea



22 FEBRUARY 2010

NO 1545


The concept of praxis has enjoyed a resurgence of late and has been enthusiastically taken up by theorists and practitioners working across a diverse range of academic disciplines. The notion of praxis occupies a central place in the professional literature of many of the human caring professions, including teaching, nursing, health care and social work (Carr, 1987; Dorazio-Migliore, Migliore and Anderson, 2005 Nelson, Poland, Murray and Maticka-Tyndale, 2004; Tarlier, 2005 In many people's minds, the term praxis refers to the integration of knowledge and action (theory and practice), which is indeed a core feature of the concept. It is however much more than that. Briefly, praxis is a concept that finds i t origins in Greek philosophy, particularly the teachings of Aristotle. For Aristotle, praxis was "guided by a moral disposition to act truly and rightly; a concern to further human well being and the good life" (Smith, 1999). Friere (1970) also wrote extensively about the place of praxis in emancipatory education, highlighting the role of values, respect, dialogue, and action in the effort to "make a difference in the world." Schwandt (2002) following from Habermas, suggests that "Praxis does not require knowledge of how to make something, but knowledge of how to be a particular kind of person; it is 'action-oriented self-understanding"' (p. 49).

While the term praxis roughly corresponds with contemporary understandings of practice, there are a few unique and important features that distinguish praxis from commonsense understandings of practice. Specifically, theory and practice are integrated and one does not precede nor hold greater value than the other (Carr, 1987). Praxis is creative, "other-seeking" and dialogic (Smith, 1999). It is the place where words and actions, discourses and experience merge (Stacey, 2001). Praxis includes conscious reflection both on and in practice (Tarlier, 2005). Praxis is expressed in particular contexts and thus can never be proceduralized or specified in advance (Schwandt, 2002). Finally, praxis is guided by practical wisdom (Schwandt) and is expressed through committed moral action (Carr) and practices of accountability (Stacey, 2001).

Picking up on some of the core features of praxis identified by these theorists, for the purposes here I am defining praxis as ethical, self-aware, responsive and accountable action. In other words, praxis involves knowing, doing and being. The use of verbs is deliberate and signals the active and dynamic character of praxis. Within the field of CYC, there are diverse ways of knowing, doing and being and these actions always get expressed within specific historical, sociocultural, political and institutional contexts. Language, context, values, situated meanings, dialogue, relationships and multiple interpretations all play a role in the approach I develop here, revealing its decidedly postmodern character (Bohman, Hiley and Shusterman, 1991; Fishman, 1999; Gergen, 2000). Many of these ideas will be taken up in a later section.

First however, I need to situate this particular contribution within a rich theoretical and practice tradition that has been actively shaped by the contributions of many gifted CYC educators, practitioners and scholars (Anglin, 1992; Beker, 2001; Denholm, 1990; Fewster; 1990; Garfat, 2003; Krueger; 2004; Maier, 2001; Mattingly, 1995; Nakkula and Ravitch, 1998; Pence, 1987; Ricks, 1989; VanderVen, 1991). Their diverse contributions have laid the groundwork for the emergence of a distinct, multi-vocal community of practice which, to take but one contemporary example, is regularly made visible through the lively, diverse and thoughtful discussions currently underway on the CYC-Net ( By building on this rich foundation, I am engaging in a form of theorizing that could best be described as "imaginative reflection on possible modifications of practice" (Bohman et al., 1991).

One other point of clarification is in order. I am writing this from the perspective of a relative newcomer, that is, someone who is joining a scholarly discussion that is already in-progress-a position which can be both risky and (hopefully) facilitative. I am carrying with me my own intellectual traditions and disciplinary training (psychology, counselling, education), practice experiences (residential child and youth care, child and youth mental health, prevention and health promotion, community development) and personal life history and social location (white, heterosexual, middle-class, 4th generation Canadian) as I embark on this task.

It is my hope that by critically and respectfully engaging with a diverse range of resources and intellectual traditions that I will be able to offer a perspective that is creative, generative and useful to the CYC field. As others have noted,

Changing circumstances and encounters with other practices can nourish the imagination; and since no practice is defined for all possible situations, there is always need for imaginative projections and creative decisions in pursuing a practice. (Bohman, Hiley and Shusterman, 1991, p, 13).


White, J. (2008). The knowing, doing and being in context: A praxis-oriented approach to child and youth car. In Bellefeuille, G. and Ricks, F. (Eds.) Standing on the precipice: Inquiry into the creative potential of child and youth care practice. Edmonton, Alberta. MacEwan Press. pp. 111-113.


Anglin, J. (1992). What exactly is child and youth care work? The International Child and Youth Care Network, 14, 1-3.

Beker, J. (2001). Towards the unification of the child care field as a profession. Child and Youth Care Forum, 40, 6. pp. 355-362.

Bohman, J., Hiley, D. and Shusterman, R. (1991). The interpretive turn. In D. Hiley, J. Bohman, R. Shusterman (Eds.), The interpretive turn: Philosophy, science and culture (pp. 1-14). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Carr, W. (1987). What is an educational practice? Journal of Philosophy of Education, 21, 2. pp.163-175.

Denholm, C. (1990). Canadian child and youth care 1979-1989. Youth Studies, 9, 2. p. 51.

Dorazio-Migliore, M., Migliore, S. and Anderson, J. (2005). Crafting a praxis-oriented culture concept in the health disciplines: Conundrums and possibilities. Health: An Interdisciplinary Journal for the Social Study of Health, Illness and Medicine, 9, 3. pp. 339-360.

Fewster, G. (1990). Being in child care: A journey into self. Binghampton, NY: The Haworth Press.

Fishman D. (1999). The case for pragmatic psychology. New York: New York University Press.

Friere, P (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Seabury.

Garfat, T. (2003). Working with families: Developing a child and youth care approach. Child and Youth Services, 25, 1-2. pp. 7-37.

Gergen, K. (2000). An invitation to social construction. London: Sage Publications.

Krueger, M. (2004). Youthwork as modern dance. Child and Youth Services, 26, 1. pp. 3-24.

Maier, H. (2001). Should child and youth care go the craft or professional route? A comment on the preceding article by Zvi Eiskovits and Jerome Beker. Child and Youth Care Forum, 30, 6. pp.435-440.

Mattingly, M. (1995). Developing professional ethics for child and youth care work: Assuming responsibility for the quality of care. Child and Youth Care Forum, 24, 6. pp.379-39I.

Nakkula, M. and Ravitch, S. (1998). Matters of interpretation: Reciprocal transformation in therapeutic and developmental relationships with youth. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Nelson, G., Poland, B., Murray, M. and Maticka-Tyndale, E. (2004). Building capacity in community health action research: Towards a praxis framework for graduate education. Action Research, 2, 4. pp. 389-408.

Pence, A. (1987). Child care's family tree: Toward a history of the child and youth care profession in North America. Child and Youth Care Quarterly, 16, 3. pp. 151-161.

Ricks, E (1989) Self-awareness model for training and application in Child and Youth Care. Journal of Child and Youth Care, 4, 1. pp.33-41.

Schwandt, T. (2002). Evaluation practice reconsidered. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

Smith, M. (1999). Praxis: An introduction to the idea plus an annotated notebook. Retrieved January 25, 2007, from

Stacey, K. (2001). Achieving praxis in youth partnership accountability. Journal of Youth Studies, 4, 2. pp.208-231.

Tarlier, D. (2005). Mediating the meaning of evidence through epistemological diversity. Nursing Inquiry, 12, 2. pp. 126-134.

VanderVen, K. (199 1). How is child and youth care work unique - and different - from other fields? Journal of Child and Youth Care, 5, 1. pp. 15-19. 

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