This article considers the value of clarity – of theory, method and purposes – in educational research. It draws upon the work of early critical theorist, Theodor Adorno, and particularly his notion of negative dialectics and his challenge to the traditional dichotomy of theory and practice. Using the notions of virtuous mess and wicked clarity, I argue that we need to accept the messy, contingent nature of the social world we research. I further suggest that it then follows that such research can and should influence and change that world. The researcher is necessarily part of the world she researches and, once one accepts that, it is hard to sustain ethical or political isolation; it is hard to ignore the struggle.