Peter McHugh and Analysis: The One and the Many, the Universal and the Particular, the Whole and the Part


This paper takes the passing of Peter McHugh as an occasion to examine the intellectual development of his work. The paper is mainly focused on the product of his collaboration with his colleague and friend, Alan Blum. As such, it addresses the tradition of social inquiry, Analysis, which they cofounded. It traces the influence of Harold Garfinkel’s Ethnomethodology on McHugh and on the beginning of Analysis. The collaboration with Blum is examined through a variety of coauthored works but most especially in the two books On the Beginning of Social Inquiry (1974) and Self Reflection in the Arts and Sciences (1984). It also examines the relation of his independent writing before 1974, and since 1984 to the expression of the tradition of inquiry as exemplified in those two texts. The paper builds on some interview material with Peter McHugh and reflects on the influence of Peter the teacher as well as the theorist McHugh. Most especially, through its engagement with this material, it seeks to exemplify the dialectic and living nature of the program called Analysis.

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  1. 1.

    I would like to thank Stanley Raffel, Peter McHugh, and Alan Blum for their willing participation in my eccentric interview project. The occasion for this paper, written in his honor, is Peter’s passing in January, 2010. I would like to thank St. Jerome’s University, John Faichney for his knowledgeable transcriptions of these interviews and Margaret O’ Shea Bonner for her comments on a first draft. I would also like to thank Ryan Devitt for his very helpful edit.

  2. 2.

    This work has also been called Analytic Theory (York University in the 1990s); Self Reflection (University of Edinburgh); and Radical Interpretive Inquiry (Augustana University College, University of Waterloo).

  3. 3.

    This was an aside in a longer conversation about finding one’s place in the work and, as a result, the nature of two things did not get described. See the ‘McHugh and Peter’ section of this paper.

  4. 4.

    In the way that Analysis was known as “the work” so too were the students and teachers called “the community.”.

  5. 5.

    If I can be forgiven for sounding too Dr. Seuss-like, Analysis, it seems, is the production of ‘thing one’ and ‘thing two’!

  6. 6.

    We can see how this realization has worked itself out in Blum’s most recent book (2003), a work on the culture of the city.

  7. 7.

    KB: So do you want me to elaborate on what I mean by the question [what schools of thought is Analysis close to?]

    PM: Yes, if you would help me out, because

    KB: It's-

    PM: I mean, what is it close to-

    KB: Now, it's my- it's partly my thing, and it's partly my own relation to the work, but it's clearly part of the phenomenological movement in general. But then, that has had it's different resistances, et cetera. So you'd have post-structuralism; you'd have hermeneutics; you have ethnomethodology, you know, and-

    PM: I see what you're after. Well-

    KB: -so that they're- if- I'm trying to imagine-

    PM: Go ahead.

    KB: I'm trying to imagine the 'deadworld', in the future, where not only this work doesn't {01} have a voice, but what would be close to it doesn't have a voice. Do you see work that's close to analysis?

    PM: Not particularly.

    KB: No?

    PM: No, I don't. I don't think so. I mean, of course; of course. Hermeneutics is closer than structuralism. I mean, is phenomenology closer to it than hermeneutics? God knows. I mean, I don't know. I mean, I don't know whether- Maybe if you could tell me the interest of the question. Now you did start by saying, "You know, well, suppose something falls apart; what would survive?", or what wouldn't survive, if I understand the question. Maybe you can help me a lot by saying, well, I mean, why be interested in such a question?

    KB: Well, it relates to some of my broader interests. For example, there's a certain area where post-structuralism has intersections with hermeneutics, and, as I have written, hermeneutics has intersections with analysis.

    PM: Well, that's what they have; it's like a grid. It's like- to me, it's like a grid. And so is 56th street closer than 57th street? Than 55th street? The answer is yes. But those are numbers, you know what I mean? And I guess-I have to answer this.

    (Peter McHugh, interview with Kieran Bonner on the “History of Analysis”, New York, Feb, 2007, unpublished.).

  8. 8.

    A process of understanding that, for me, Gadamer (1975) has more productively (for the purposes of inquiry) called the hermeneutic circle.

  9. 9.

    Anyone who encountered Garfinkel after a familiarity with Peter could not help but be struck by the influence he had on Peter. As he said about his encounter with Garfinkel, ‘he got it right away,’ as if that was unusual.

  10. 10.

    “Any circulation of the dead is generated by those who are living, those able to presuppose and to act, and so the contents of this asymmetry in coming and going will depend on their particular projects, memories, reminders, coincidents. The dead, of course, can no longer make their own entrance” (2010: 5).

  11. 11.

    Peter McHugh introduced me to The Human Condition, when I was his teaching assistant in 1982–1983. I believe (if I recall correctly) that Joan Allen was one of the first members of “the community,” to start to use Arendt. Mostly, I remember that Arendt was one of the smaller group of contemporary authors whose work was recognized by Alan and Peter to have an affinity with Analysis.

  12. 12.

    City Life and Well Being: The Grey Zone of Health and Illness, a CIHR-funded project under Principal Investigator, Alan Blum.

  13. 13.

    In another similarity with Arendt, the scorn shown through McHugh’s writing is not unlike the scorn Arendt shows for almost all the participants, apart from the judges, in Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (Arendt 1965).

  14. 14.

    Of course, some thought to treat a “walk out” as merely a move in a conversation itself treated the impact of the “walk out” lightly.

  15. 15.

    It was also a great pleasure to witness that take place again, after a long and severe break in their friendship.

  16. 16.

    Of course, in any particular action and any particular situation, a judgment is also being made about what needs to be demonstrated and so what is also revealed is not only an affirmation of a principle but also an exercise of phronesis. The theory and practice of phronesis has been one of the ways I found my own place in “the work” (Bonner 1998).

  17. 17.

    The resonance with Gadamer’s review of Jaspers goes further with Michael Brown’s (1988: 27) formulation of Blum and McHugh’s 1984 book “as a radical intervention in something, call it the history of sociology.”.


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Bonner, K.M. Peter McHugh and Analysis: The One and the Many, the Universal and the Particular, the Whole and the Part. Hum Stud 33, 253–269 (2010).

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  • Peter McHugh
  • Alan Blum
  • Analysis
  • Harold Garfinkel
  • Ethnomethodology
  • Foucault
  • Postmodernism
  • Hannah Arendt
  • Reflexivity
  • Rules and Principles