Monday, 18 September 2017

Action research (AR) and Inquiry in service of human flourishing (Eros/Power).

Welcome to this blog post. If you have been waiting for some key information on how to move your AR practices forward - this is home for you in this moment - now. Moments of blessing are few and far between these days (we have a lot on as a global community). Yet related perhaps is how to also have fun in the process?

Education is often nothing less than a let down for many. The aspirational and espoused rhetoric of new courses and even institutions (organisations?) can leave us feeling less than satiated. Why?

For a long time now our academic institutions have stood stoically in cities across the globe. And through their doors flow now literally millions of new customers. Eager to be given the ticket to jobdom (nice word hey?). But at what cost? What do they have to leave behind at the doors? What is missing from the lack-luster materials flung at students daily, weekly, termly? Do these scholars-to-be even get to really 'taste' the 'meals' set before them by their hard working teachers and Lecturers (cooking and related theme of becoming a cheff - is a notion being explored with a fresh touch in the AR+ community presently - and I will shamelessly promote their new book to be found here - with innovative 'pay now or later' donation price plan).

A key question here at Living Systems -- is just what life in education would be like if there was a little more pazzaz or juice flowing through the halls and hallways of Universities. Like, um, what if education could be a little more sexy? A strange word you might well be thinking - sexy and education do not go together! Education is the serious and dry pursuit of all things Science and credible and (empirical?) and serious (sombre?). Where is the life?

Living Systems - an analogy and a reality (and an organising principle and LTD company - phew so many levels to this term) - but what is the real message being explored here? What are we here for in education? How do we really help transform students as they live and breathe our educational dogma (now with growing debt to boot). Where did we all go wrong??

This post is not a cry for times past (Romanticism is DEAD afterall, no?). 'Creativity is the frame that frames ALL frames' - to chop up an Alfred Whitehead trope a little. Like what if Boal and Freire (Brazilian educator) were actually right?? We need to educate in relationship with the I, the We and, also the IT (the empirical). What if the culture wars (80s scholars discussed the Why of inquiry?) were a gateway to an education of a little higher calibre and quality? What if we stand now in a brave new world - ready to behold new forms of creativity (Whitehead) and also transformative Love (Bradbury, AR+)?

Creativity - yes - you might be thinking now, but LOVE - luv - really? Where is the place for such a soppy (sordid? taboo? irrelevant?) construct in the traditional and time honoured corridors and lecture rooms of such credible and rigorous organisations? And in 2017? Well, this is a topic of much interest in the contemporary Action Research Community today (e.g. And also worth checking out perhaps, is the metaphor of 'family' (blood feuds and clans included?) used by some action researchers now (e.g. Sage Handbooks of AR).

And what of psychosexual development and Labido? Serious scholars of the psychodynamic realm (rigorous Gestalt scholars may also lay some claim to this territory?) like Freud and Jung would surely ask us to pay attention to the surging energetic forces that lie behind our every impulse, mood or behaviour? Certainly this sense of 'how do I know where to take my academic inquiry?' when there is confusing or conflicting data in the territory(ies) we take our inquiring is a very serious issue to the most ardent researchers. We can hardly ignore the current global changes in the last year or so. Do we really live in a so called 'post-truth' world? Can we really claim knowledge as researchers in 2017? What do the public at large (if not the politicians and Whitehall Policymakers) make of our efforts and loving (synonym: care?) inquiring as we investigate the Big Issues of science? How are we to step forwards and write/inquire into the bumps and banging of power and injustice? What do we do when our world/data just does not make any literal sense at all? Reality can often break down if we inspect it with the careful 'microscope' (telescope?) of scientific method. We want this often, to jump paradigms -- or maybe more accurately critically examine data generated from injunctions held by our own disciplines of inquiry/practice (physics, biology, psychology, dare we include existential or spiritual domains also?). Injunctions maketh the scholar no? We put our careers on looking solid and like we are riding the wave of our fields. But what if no-one is listening? What if three media cycles in, our research of one particular point of concern is now spread so thin (popularisation of science?) that it just becomes another 'here today, gone tomorrow' piece of the fragmented postmodern (don't try defining that word!) world.

How to DO education - with care, fun, rigour, and juice? So that we are pushing into the places that matter (the places that don't logically resolve under inspection) and really inquire into the wind? I'm being poetic here - now this is an interesting spot to think carefully about the relationships between the triad of the good, the true and the beautiful (classic themes some say?). How did the modern turn (in Europe - 300 years gone now?) free us from the shackles of tradition/Religion, only to leave us with research that has no soul or ability to command the attention of the people that matter?

'I don't know' - an honest response that can lead some scholars of the traditional (real?) schools of education - the Big Boys of the Russel group universities (in the Uk for example) can hardly show up as Emperors with no clothes - naked and without a method (dogma?) to sooth a worried world desperate for answers to important Qs like: How do we beat cancer? What is the actual nature of the universe (ontologically and epistemologically speaking?).

And 'why bother?' - education is just a job right? We can't make politicians/journalists understand the real beauty of the long and established quality mechanism we have developed to create good data and interpretations (just metaphysics?). Some scholars yearn for leadership (of thought and hand) that might just shine some light into the big issues of our time. Like Plato and his cave -- is it not time to come out and look eye-to-eye with the phenomena that trouble our world so - now. The Real big boys (a silly term really - like potentially half of the population missing there!) of Education, some are saying, have voted with their feet and find themselves saying things like 'Walk the talk and you'll lead with kindness' - seeing research and human inquiry (maybe lets just call it 'inquiry' - the real academic super ordinate category?)

So what to make of this all? One thing is for sure at Living Systems - we are very serious about change. We always take an evolving and curious approach (to change). And now I am very proud to say - a less wordy (oh those words, words, words) and more heartfelt approach to rigour and quality in education (e.g. Reason, Torbert, Bradbury, Marshall, Wilber, Whitehead to list a few - there are many more). So the perfect moment to stop and ask a question. Are you interested in developing more juice (a shorthand for 'integrating quality and creativity' in rigorous inquiry)?

Email Tim at if you want to know more about any of the ideas being 'brooded' over here - this is our future (!) - Education in the service of love and human flourishing - well what other kind is there??