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consciousness and the environment

The basic premise being acted on was that by manipulating Barry’s environment in the fullest sense I would change his consciousness. Therefore I did not try to act on him directly as an individual. The knowledge which I needed was of the environment and the things that went on in it. I needed this knowledge at all levels, of the activity itself and of the way that any activity would then fit into the world. In the basic four stories of the lizard, the troll, the cupboard doors and the work with Rose, I had enough knowledge of both the environment and the thing being done to facilitate the process for him.

As Barry progressed he became much better able to do increasingly complex tasks. However the carpentry tasks were essentially ‘closed’. They could tell him what to do for the duration of the task, but they did not lead on seamlessly to the next task. It was especially the case that once he got a supported employment position that the connections began to flow. The tasks that he did in this job might have been very simple, but the job stayed the same so that he knew what to do whenever he came in. The ‘rules’ were such that he was able to get the hang of it and could ‘know how to go on’.


One of the things which I quickly realised about Barry was that he had the ability to do also do relatively complex tasks when he was given the support to do so. In each of the tasks that he did Barry had no problems in recognising and following the rules inherent in what he was doing. The cupboard doors really had to be hung correctly, both for himself and for Rose. In following the rules of what needs to be done, Barry himself disappears. His labour incorporates itself with its subject. There is no sign of the brain-injured Barry, with all his problems in the things which he did. The last thing that anyone wants to see is a sign of the individuality of Barry if this individuality takes the form of cupboard door which are not hung correctly.

He obeyed the natural laws of the craft when he was hanging the cupboard doors. There is clearly the idea of ‘achieving a preconceived result by means of consciously controlled and directed action’. He was involved in planning what he did and he ensured that it was planned in a way which fitted the conventional idea of what he was doing. Therefore, in putting up Rose’s cupboard door, he ensured that it was put up in a manner in which all the other cupboard doors were put. He transformed raw material into a finished product.


Most of what I did with Barry in the core stories falls under the definition of work or craft, but this is not the case with the final story, where I describe the beginning of his supported employment situation. There were two sides to the work which Barry did, which could be categorised as work and labour (Arendt 1958) or as work and a job (Green 1968). The handyman tasks were the work element in what he did and the supported employment situation was the labour / job aspect. They both gave different things to him.

The handyman activity engaged in by Barry was a ‘work’ activity in the sense outlined by Arendt and specifically a craft activity outlined by Collingwood. As a piece of work it produced an enduring object and the things that he made took on a life of their own. Part of this life that they had was the way that they began to demonstrate his own capacity back to himself. In a very small way they began to create a space where he could be honoured for what he was capable of doing.

This is different in kind to the companionship which he got from the labouring part of his existence. The supported employment work that he did at the Students Association has given him a whole range of things which he could never get from working as a handyman. It allowed him to work alongside and to take part in the shared meanings and commonality that labour and an ordinary job can give. Those simple jobs can give a satisfaction that is different in kind from the work of making things. It is repetitive and obvious, it is something that is consumed and consuming. Putting up posters and taking them down again when they are out of date is not inherently very meaningful, but it is a necessary thing. Putting up posters must be done over and over again, the effort put into it never frees him from repeating it over and over again. It may however be satisfying to be engaged in something that relates to a necessity, especially when you are disconnected from your own maintenance needs as someone like Barry. The fact that he earns money for the job that he does might not ever enter Barry’s head at a conscious level, but the fact is that he is doing that kind of thing that other people do to earn a living. This is a very profound step towards bringing him in touch with his own subsistence needs, which he has been alienated from by the compensation package which he has been granted. This employment gives a peer group in a way that work never can, work being essentially isolating in this sense. The supported employment position therefore fits in with Green’s definition of a ‘job’ as something which was done for remuneration. It also, fits in with both Arendt and Green’s definition of labour.

Both the labour and the work aspects of his existence are very necessary. Green believes that the point of education is to help people to find out what their life work is. I could not be so bold as to think that I have found Barry’s life work, he hardly exhibits the love and passion which would make this the truth. But I can feel secure that this might potentially be an area which turns into his life work, given time. If this was not the case I would simply encourage him to spend all his time at his job in the student association. It is so much easier to find and to continue in a job, than it is to find and continue in a life work. But there is a different kind of worth associated with work, which comes from you and which can give the genuine sense of having a purpose that is real and worthwhile.

Therefore it seems that the handyman work that he did was something which engaged him in an activity that put him in connection with the world in a very real way. He could really help people and be appreciated for what he was doing, he took part in the work of building the world which is an essential part of dwelling in the world too. He obviously gained a huge amount from this kind of work. However, in the supported employment situation he began to be somewhere that gave him some answers about knowing how to go on. The structure given by work is not just an infrastructure, where different activities are slotted during the day. The activities themselves have a structure which also tell him what to do. He needs to know how to go between activities during the day and how to engage fully in those activities which need to be done. It is only through this active engagement that he can really know how to go on. His work at the Student Association provided him with a job which was not stretching him to his limits every minute that he was doing it. It was something repetitive and having done it once or ten times he began to really know what the job involved. In this knowing he began to be able to belong to the workplace as an equal and he finally found a peer group. The work as a handyman / craftsman is essentially lonely. The supported employment may not allow any great communication in a space which truly acknowledges the individuality of a person, but it does allow one to share in the commonality of man. This opportunity to enter into the common things of life is precisely what has been lacking in Barry’s life.

In the long term I can imagine a situation where Barry might have a small business as a handyman and he will gain much self confidence from this (Arendt). There is no doubt that he could possibly become a valued member of his community if he continues in the way that he is going. However, it does not matter how long he does this job for, he will always need a huge amount of support to make it work. He will never get anything like the flow that he gets from his job in the Student Association. At this moment it seems right that he should have work which could become a life’s work, and a job which tells him what to do and which connects him in some way with his subsistence needs. The eventual outcome if he continues as he is will be membership of a community in much the same way as anyone else without a head injury would be a member.

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