Issue 1 SUMMER 2022
Welcome to CARN Praxis (https://carnpraxis.org/)
A new concept in publishing. CARN Praxis is a collaborative and supportive space for newcomers to share their accounts of undertaking Action Research.
Editors Una Hanley Andy Convery
Mary McAteer Jane Springett
Editorial Assistants Vacant
Mentors/Critical Friends Melissa Hauber Vacant
A publication project of the Collaborative Action Research Network, CARN. i
About CARN (https://www.carn.org.uk/) CARN was founded in 1976 in order to continue the development work of the Ford Teaching Project in UK primary and secondary schools. Since that time it has grown to become an international network drawing its members from educational, health, social care, commercial, and public services settings. CARN aims to encourage and support action research projects (personal, local, national and international), accessible accounts of action research projects, and contributions to the theory and methodology of action research. CARN sets out to generate: VISIBILITY • • • • • •
for action research that requires critical inquiry into past, current and future practice for research that involves active involvement with practitioners and participants for inquiry where practitioners actively contribute to the generation of knowledge and theory for approaches where community development works to engage with and support critical, collective action for social justice for approaches to professional development that takes into account the context of institutional practices and structures as well wider political, social and cultural forces for action research that aims to bring about change both inside and outside of institutional spaces
SUPPORT • • •
for action researchers working both individually and in collaboration with others for anyone wishing to set up action research activities as part of ongoing developments, new inquiries, research projects, community engagements, etc for anyone who is interested in developing collaborative, critical and creative dialogue between practice and inquiry; research and practice, theory and experience
NETWORKING • • •
through sharing accounts of action research, on the CARN website, in the Educational Action Research international journal, and through other CARN publications through attentive personal encouragement and critical feedback through regional events, study days and at the CARN annual conference
You might like to join us at our annual conference, to be held in October 2022, in Dublin. If you are interested, please visit the conference webpage (www.carnconference2022.org ) for details. You do not need to be a member of CARN to publish in CARN Praxis, but you may wish to join a community of like-minded individuals! If so, you will find all relevant information on the membership tab (www.carn.org.uk/network/membership/ ) of our website.
Table of Contents Editorial ........................................................................................................................................................ 1 A Conversation about Praxis. ......................................................................................................................... 4 The Editorial Committee.................................................................................................................................... 4 Media Education: Empowerment Praxis ........................................................................................................ 8 Iain Shaw, Media Education CIC, http://www.mediaeducation.co.uk/ ............................................................ 8 Collaborative blogging - Initiating conversations about action research? ..................................................... 27 Chloë Hynes (with Vicky Butterby as constructive friend) ............................................................................... 27 A Comparison between Action Research concepts and Buddhist philosophy: based on the premise of scientific experimental research approach .................................................................................................. 35 Shermila Milroy ............................................................................................................................................... 35 PhD student of Sri Jayewardenepura University, Sri Lanka ............................................................................. 35 In conversation with… ................................................................................................................................. 46 First conversation thread............................................................................................................................. 47 Provocation: Is quoting Paulo Freire enough? In these unforgiving times, should we be paying more attention to the influence of politics in our own research and in the role of Action Research more generally? ....................................................................................................................................................... 47 Response 1: Jane Springett.............................................................................................................................. 47 Response 2: Una Hanley .................................................................................................................................. 48 Second Conversation Thread. ...................................................................................................................... 50 Provocation: When you chose Action Research over other viable research approaches for your work, what did AR make possible/not possible, and what did you learn from that?...................................................... 50 Response 1: Karen McArdle............................................................................................................................. 50 Response 2: Jane O’Toole ................................................................................................................................ 51 Third Conversation Thread .......................................................................................................................... 53 Provocation: Is quoting Paulo Freire enough? In these unforgiving times, should we be paying more attention to the influence of politics in our own research and in the role of Action Research more generally? ....................................................................................................................................................... 53 Response 1: Mary McAteer ............................................................................................................................. 53 Response 2: Charlotte Hardacre ...................................................................................................................... 55 Response 3: Andy Convery .............................................................................................................................. 57 And Finally…................................................................................................................................................ 59 Ruth Balogh ..................................................................................................................................................... 59
CARN Praxis Editorial Welcome everyone to the first issue of CARN Praxis! CARN Praxis occupies a space which we hope will appeal to those of you who wish to share your thoughts, perspectives and practices in ways which you think will be of interest to other Action Researchers. This may be via a video clip, or writing. You may just wish to start a conversation around any of the articles and the issues they raise, and/or by offering a provocation. More of that below. The intention of CARN Praxis is to be inclusive and supportive. We aim to be more eclectic than a conventional academic journal, inviting variety of submissions. However, contributors should share the values which underpin CARN. Our aim is to encourage a broad readership by espousing tolerance of differing interests and perspectives, and encouraging creativity and reflexive criticality, in a safe and respectful space. We are happy to say that our first issue contains a varied set of insights and Action Research activity, and we hope you find all of them interesting. While the submissions for this first issue all take a perspective of Action Research as their theme, they are all very different. Two submissions, Milroy, and Shaw and McArdle consider the value of theory in illuminating practice, but in rather different ways, while Chloe approaches the ‘action’ aspect of action research, in thinking about exchanges of views, reflections and ideas, via blogging. The work of Iain Shaw, supported here by Karen McArdle involves both theory and practice, under the title: ‘Media Education: Empowerment Praxis’. The article has links to a number of very lively, thoughtful and reflective video clips, produced by and featuring the participants themselves. In these clips, the participants reflect on their past lives, the way their lives changed as a consequence of being part of Media project and how their sense of purpose and their new skills make for future possibilities.
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CARN Praxis The abstract had indicated that the paper ‘explores the work of three seminal writers, Freire, Boal and Foucault and their significance in a practical and praxis context to the thinking behind the developing action research model that underpins the work of Media Education, an organisation which seeks to empower and raise the voice of vulnerable and disadvantaged participants. It was in this lively, thoughtful and reflective environment that the theory was ‘put to work’. For Chloë Hynes, communication is the driver for her article: ‘Collaborative blogging Engaging in good conversations about action research’, She cites John Elliott to communicate her concerns: “If teachers want to gain control over what is to count as relevant and valid knowledge of their work in ways which feed their professional responsibility for making informed classroom decisions, they need opportunities to communicate freely with each other about classroom problems, and methods and techniques for collecting and analysing data about them.” (Elliott,1977). Chloë draws attention to the advantages of blogging; ‘The online presence encourages the capture of raw thoughts, untamed stories and contexts in the now …’(p.2) , for example, which provide an immediacy and authenticity which an article is not designed to achieve. Articles have their purposes and modus operandi, and blogging potentially fills a need and a space which is different, but as necessary for practitioners and teachers. Shermila Milroy, studying in Sri Lanka offers us ‘A Comparison between Action Research concepts and Buddhist philosophy: based on the premise of scientific experimental research approach’. Here, Shermila explores the connections she sees between the tenets of Buddhism and Action Research, employing the former as a theoretical backdrop to find new ways to contemplate the latter. Religion is a powerful driver of concerns around equity and social justice, for example, in many countries around the world. Those of us who are rather more secular should consider this carefully when we wish to promote Action Research.
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CARN Praxis We open and close this issue with conversations. In our opening article, we share some aspects of the many conversations we had as CARN Praxis came into being. In particular, we share what we hope it might be, in a way that we believe will be helpful to prospective authors. Our closing piece is the first in a series of ongoing conversations about beliefs, values, practices and deliberations about action research. The offering in this issue comprises shared responses from the CARN Coordinating Group to a set of Provocations. ‘Provocations’ have been included in our conferences in the past, and we thought it might be a good idea to offer this as an example of a way to include a number of voices which need not be too time consuming for any one individual. Three provocations were suggested: 1)
When you chose Action Research over other viable research approaches for
your work, what did AR make possible/not possible, and what did you learn from that? 2)
Is quoting Paulo Freire enough? In these unforgiving times, should we be
paying more attention to the influence of politics in our own research and in the role of Action Research more generally? 3)
What do you wish you had known when you first started doing Action
research? Members of the CARN CG chose a provocation, wrote 500 words in relation to one of them and then handed this on to a second person to respond to. Where feasible, a third responder was included. Thus several ‘conversations’ were initiated. However, none of the contributions are to be considered as the ‘last word’ on the issues raised, and we are hoping that there will be more responses from amongst you, our readership. So, please feel free to add to this conversation – or any of these conversations - or choose a different provocation and respond to that. We sincerely hope you enjoy our first issue.
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CARN Praxis A Conversation about Praxis. The Editorial Committee CARN Praxis, is, to quote Elliott, a “space for a community of inquirers to engage in a good conversation with each other” (Elliott, 2009:37). In the months leading up to the publication of our first issue, we had many such conversations. We talked about our own practices, our writing, our thinking, and above all else, our understanding of the term Action Research. It seemed important to us to develop shared understanding of action research as we embarked on this publication project, and as such, much time was devoted to this. These conversations were complex and challenged us in terms of not just our personal understanding, but also in terms of how we, as a group of editors, would view items submitted for publication. Did we have any ‘red lines’? Did we expect a particular canon of literature? Did we expect a particular model of action research? It seemed important to us to open our very first issue with a short piece on these conversations, both to share our deliberations to help both ourselves, and our readers and authors to challenge our assumptions on action research, and also, to provide something of a conversation starter that might shape our shared journeys on this new venture. Each issue will also contain a conversation piece, outlining some of the ways members of CARN have shared and shaped their thinking through entering open, reflective dialogic spaces. We sincerely hope that CARN Praxis will help us all expand and enrich such spaces. We were conscious that many of our potential authors may have come to action research through award bearing professional learning programmes, and as such, must meet specific academic requirements. Others may have come to action research through practice improvement projects, where it is sometimes the case that the term ‘action research’ is used liberally, suggesting that anything a practitioner does in their practice, and reports on is classified as action research.
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CARN Praxis Our intent on setting up this publication platform was to provide an inclusive space, to welcome diversity of concept and its realisation and communicative modes. Elliott’s words thus became something of a beacon for us, leading us to consider what a good conversation might consist of, and/or how one may be initiated. It also seemed a ‘better’ question for us in relation to what we expected in potential contributions to the journal. Rather than focus on models and definitions of action research, we started to see each contribution in terms of the conversations that it captured, and the conversations that it might initiate. Conversations can and do take many forms. For action researchers, these conversations are sometimes ‘internal’; they are the questions that arise from our engagement with the works of other writers and with other research findings, they are the conversations that take place about the data that we generate and analyse, they are the conversations in our own heads where we explore bias (usually our own), reflect on theory, practice and their relationships, and attempt to make meaning from the complex interplay of all these factors in our work. In this we learn, and usually raise further questions that themselves may initiate new conversations both with ourselves, and with others. Conversations with critical friends are also vital sources of learning. As a beginning DPhil student, undertaking my study with only a supervisor and advisor of studies as companions on my journey, my supervisor suggested that I take parts of my work-in-progress and convert it into conference papers, which I could bring to the annual CARN conference. “CARN will be your community of critical friends” he assured me, and he was right. The conversations I had with many members of the CARN community over the years of my DPhil and beyond, challenged my thinking, provoked new questions, and at times, rattled and troubled me. They became the lifeblood of my thesis, and indeed, the rest of my action research life! These historic conversations, and the more contemporary ones we, as editors, continue to engage in, have helped us clarify (to some extent!), what we might look for in assessing possible contributions. We are looking for evidence of such conversations in your work, and the potential of your work to raise further conversation. We are looking for the type of contribution that other readers will feel provoked by, and may wish to respond to. We are Issue 1, Summer 2022
CARN Praxis looking for insight into the way your own conversations, whether literal or metaphorical, have challenged your assumptions and paved the way for new learning. Finally, we are very much aware that for many people, there is an element of conflict in their work that arises from having to meet the academic requirements of award-bearing courses, and the desire to work towards improvements in practice at grass roots level. In some ways, CARN Praxis hopes to provide a place where these can meet, and where creativity and novel ways of working and presenting are not curtailed by course diktats. We offer therefore, the following set of prompts/questions which may be a practical aid in preparing your work to share. What follows is not a writing frame, nor is it a prescriptive list. Rather, it addresses some of the key attributes of work that: -
is the result of critically reflective and reflexive conversations,
clearly demonstrates its action research framing at the level of purpose, intent and concept, rather than prescription
has the potential to provoke the interest of readers through its relation to their own work,
has the potential to initiate further conversations (we would welcome submission which are responses to published pieces)
We hope also that in our own continuing conversations as an editorial group, and our growing conversations with you, our readers and authors, we may yet again be challenged in our understanding of action research. The guidance below is therefore itself, offered for your reflection and consideration, and possible response. How do you see action research? What would you hope to find on the pages of this journal? Some guiding prompts •
What was the issue/problem/concern you wanted to explore?
Why was it important?
Why was action research an appropriate way to address this issue – and what model have you found useful (and why)? Alternatively, how have you understood the
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CARN Praxis action research nature of your work? What could action research do, that other methodologies could not? •
Taking an example of a part of the research project – a ‘critical incident’ (Angelides 2001, Tripp 1993, Woods 1993 among others) perhaps – explain how you adopted (and possibly adapted) action research in your practice setting?
Illustrate the extent to which your investigations gave you new understandings about:
your approach as a practitioner:
the participants you worked with;
the situation in which you practice.
Reflect on how you grew to understand what was happening? What processes and conversations helped you make meaning?
• How will/would you use action research in future practical developments? • What advice do you have for other practitioners who are considering beginning action research in similar settings? Note: Your reference list should probably include texts specifically about action research/action learning, reflective practice/learning or similar. Remember, we, and our readers will be really interested in how you engage with the literature you cite, and the ways in which it has enriched, stimulated or challenged your thinking. The number of references you cite is much less important than the ‘conversations’ you have with that literature.
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CARN Praxis Media Education: Empowerment Praxis Iain Shaw, Media Education CIC, http://www.mediaeducation.co.uk/ With thanks to all at Media Education CIC for their support, and thanks also to Prof. Karen McArdle for support as a critical friend. Abstract This paper explores the work of three seminal writers, Freire, Boal and Foucault and their significance in a practical and praxis context to the thinking behind the developing action research model that underpins the work of Media Education, an organisation which seeks to empower and raise the voice of vulnerable and disadvantaged participants. Media Education is a third sector social enterprise located in Edinburgh, Scotland. It provides training courses and personal development support, equipping participants with the technical and creative skills required to confidently express their voice through film and media. Media Education has a team of staff who work with adults and young people from marginalised groups across Scotland and Europe. Its primary goal is that, after working with the organisation, participants have the skills and self-belief to express themselves confidently in their communities and to decision-makers through argument. Introduction Over the last thirty years practice in Media Education has developed to offer a range of approaches which use media training and production as personal and community development tools. A key component of the empowerment processes involved is for participants to develop their own arguments: ● Identify an issue which has a profound impact on their lives, ● develop an overview and see where they fit into the bigger picture, ● understand what other solutions have been tried, ● find out who around about them feels the same way, ● look at who they need to influence ● explore how best to engage effectively, ● find their own voices and make their own reasoned arguments. Issue 1, Summer 2022
This is done by equipping participants with the technical and creative skills required to express their voice confidently through film and media. It is an aspiration that, after working with Media Education, participants have the skills and self-belief to express themselves confidently in their communities and to decision-makers. Adults and young people often live with circumstances that inhibit the power they have over their lives. Many people have too few opportunities to express themselves, connect with others, or improve their circumstances and mental health. Outcomes sought by Media Education: Outcome one
Increased technical and practical skills, and confidence in filmmaking and media. skills, and confidence in filmmaking and media.
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CARN Praxis Outcome two
Increased ability to build connections and find a sense of belonging. Outcome three
Increased ability to discover and express their creativity.
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CARN Praxis Outcome four
Improved skills for work and further learning. Outcome five
Improved mental health, wellbeing and sense of self.
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CARN Praxis Outcome six
Greater personal power and belief that they can make a difference. Freire Paulo Freire talks about ‘conscientisation’; the development of a critical consciousness through a peer-led learning process (Freire, 1970), Augusto Boal of ‘breaking repression’ through dealing with significant personal experience (Boal, 1979, : 150) and the recognition that structural factors rather than personal experience are what maintain inequality, deprivation and disadvantage (Butcher et Al, 2007) (Ledwith, 2011,). For Neil Thompson “empowerment can be defined as helping people gain greater control over their lives and circumstances.” (Thompson 2005: 21). Gaining greater control is difficult given the range of experiences and interests and the endemic power imbalances in society. To help people to gain this greater control, we need to move away from what Henry Giroux calls ‘the politics of disposability’ where the people deemed to be less productive or who aren’t useful consumers are marginalised; being generally people who are unemployed, poor, from an ethnic minority, disabled, young, old, elderly or ill. (Giroux, 2006: 176). We need to move to the acceptability of radical community development, which is far-reaching, innovative and progressive (Ledwith, 2011).
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CARN Praxis “I see action and reflection as a process of search, of research, of curiosity and a desire to understand, driven by a commitment to change things for the better. It begins in lived experience, in context, and it reflects the whole tangled complexity of life. It explores different ways of knowing; it also challenges the authority of the knower and relocates authenticity in the reality of people’s lives, giving silenced voices the right to be heard. It focuses on understanding power and the way it is assumed and acted out.” (Ledwith, 2011: 10) One technique of breaking repression consists in asking a participant to remember a particular moment when he or she felt especially repressed, accepted that repression, and began to act in a manner contrary to his desires. (Boal, 1979). In problem-posing education, people develop their power to perceive critically the way that they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process, in transformation’. (Freire, 1970) The organisation has been particularly influenced by Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educationalist and author of ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ (Freire, ibid) because of his concern to ensure that the focus of ownership of the educational process rests with the learner and that the educator, as someone who assumes that they have greater knowledge, needs to constantly re-examine the teacher/learner relationship to ensure that the experiences and existing knowledge of the learner is indeed the starting point from which to build a transformational learning journey. Freire is interested in societal change and recognises that this can only happen if the oppressed are actually the people to lead the process of change and that, in his terms, if this does not happen then the leaders of the revolution will merely supplant the old oppressors with new ones - themselves. He comments, “it is necessary to trust in the oppressed and in their ability to reason. Whoever lacks this trust will fail to initiate (or will abandon) dialogue, reflection and communication, and will fall to using slogans, communiqués, monologues and instructions”. (Freire, 1970: 48). In terms of his educational practice Freire’s approach was to use a ‘dialogical and problemsolving education’ (Freire, 1970: 22) where people present different positions and Issue 1, Summer 2022
CARN Praxis arguments through dialogue; and importantly, the transactions between participants are based on persuasion and the making of valid arguments rather than on a coercive or power basis. For Freire it was important that the subject for the learning was starting with the learner; something within their sphere of knowledge and relevant to them. He sought transformation for his students by helping them to identify ‘limit-situations’ meaning situations where, up to that moment, they had not been able to see any practical way of finding a workable solution. By discussion and facilitation by the teacher, the students would collectively arrive at possible solutions to try. These are called ‘limit-acts’. (Freire, 1970: 80). Through this process Freire’s education was designed for the poor and other marginalised people, to make real and lasting changes for themselves, by providing increased critical awareness and the prospect of collective action to challenge oppression. Equating these ideas to my practice then; Media Education’s position is that ‘People are experts on their own lives and circumstances’. We have an expertise in filmmaking and facilitation which we combine with participants’ expertise in their own lived experience. As Boal observed “to speak is to take power: whenever we become the speaker we are empowered” (Boal, 1979: xx). In the films we make together, participants have the time and space to set their own agendas and take power through speaking out. For us it is essentially a process not only of finding out but assisting others to find out too, through finding their voice Freire’s theorising has been very useful to Media Education in clarifying what is done in terms of practice; particularly through starting where the participant is and using a problemsolving approach to provide the motivation and direction for the participants to explore their situations and circumstances. The following link is to a making-of film which summarises the process experienced by a group of men on Community Payback Orders (community service sentences as an alternative to incarceration) from Glasgow and Kelvinside Sheriff Courts, Scotland The film ‘Ripple Effect – Making of’ https://vimeo.com/383263434 was created as part of the Shared Sentences Project in 2019 to provide a number of outcomes. In Freirian terms:
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CARN Praxis •
It provides a reflective tool for participants to see themselves back and, in doing so, to be able to evaluate themselves on their own terms; to build their own critical consciousness of who they are and how they are working and contributing. This, coupled with the careful management of the sense of power in the group with its liberating transfer of ownership and absence of judgement contributed significantly to the transformational learning during the project. As Tam, one of the participants observed ‘’..I’ve always felt ‘less than’ – rather than ‘part of’ – but this wee project has given me the chance to be ‘part of’ again’’.
By being open with the process; by showing how things happen through the ‘making of’ process, all audiences can better form their own views and judgements as to the efficacy and application for the process itself as well as the outputs generated. In this way the outputs from the projects demonstrate the method and help to build a climate for change through the development of trust. This is different from Freire’s position of seeing the process as a simple struggle between oppressor and oppressed.
In my terms I see the challenge as a negotiation of identity and belonging for every person in society within a human rights and social justice framework. This is relevant at all levels in the society as we will see in the discussions of Foucault and the continuous flux of power relationships. So, Tam’s struggle to feel ‘part of’ is fundamental to both his own wellbeing and development and to creating a fairer and more inclusive society. Boal Augusto Boal picks up on Freire’s limit-situations. Boal’s practice uses theatre techniques to explore difficult situations and try out different solutions in the relative safety of the rehearsal. He describes how, once people have been successful in the rehearsal, they want to try out their solutions; to move from being an observer of what happens in the reality of her or his lived life into someone who acts, someone who seeks to change what is happening for themselves and others. (Boal, 1979: p 122) We are interested in Augusto Boal and particularly the Forum Theatre elements of his work because he has created a system of activities which can be understood at both the physical Issue 1, Summer 2022
CARN Praxis and intellectual levels; a practical tool, which exposes the causes of oppression and which people can use to address the issues of oppression and inequality that they are facing in their lives. Iain is a trained actor and regularly uses Forum Theatre techniques in his acting and drama work. Through lived experience with his own body (particularly the repressed tension he carried from childhood due to the chronic insecurity and violence experienced at home and school) he understands the importance of Boal’s physical approach. Boal starts his work in communities by focusing on the body and “its social distortions and possibilities of rehabilitation” and then moves on to exercises that make the body expressive and which allow a person “to liberate themselves from their habitual forms of expression”, (Boal, 1979: 122) Boal recognises that oppression manifests itself in the body and that an awareness of the way we physically hold ourselves, and the small changes we feel able to make because of that awareness are themselves part of the act of self-liberation. By extension these changes in comportment create the opportunity for change in the ways we experience power in a Foucauldian sense. By experiencing our own bodies differently and experiencing different reactions to our new postures, words and actions, Boal is showing a way, at a micro level, to build the capacity for resistance; or a resilience to engage in change, experienced as a form of direct physical memory which is then reinforced through acting out scenarios which depict very relevant inequalities or injustices; and which, through a stop, start and rewind process, allows the audience as spectators and actors (as spect-actors) to experiment and change the action to create better outcomes for themselves and others. (Boal, 1979). By physically moving, by showing strength and having the experience of standing up to power in the relative safety of a rehearsal (exploring alternatives to a lived experience), allows the individual to have emotional and physical memory of the sensation of the actions they took in that rehearsal and thereby to build the sense of a new self and belief in new possibilities which they have the control of and can choose the time and place to use in the real world.
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CARN Praxis “Agency starts with what scientists call interoception, our awareness of our subtle sensory, body-based feelings: the greater that awareness, the greater our potential to control our lives.” (Van Der Kolk, 2014: 95). The physicality of Boal’s approach; the intimacy and immediacy of the sensation of the body as a point of liberation for an individual, is very appealing to me and touches on the ‘power from within’ element of Thompson’s four species of power (power to, power over, power with and power within (Thompson, 2007: 14). Whereas Thompson seems to be concerned only with the mind, Boal, shows the importance of the body and the physical manifestations of oppression. Media Education’s practice can be compared in that, instead of Boal’s approach of rerunning scenarios to explore practical ways of achieving a better outcome for the oppressed person, we use the process of making a film; of developing an effective and reasoned argument, of using the selection of film content and the accompanying evidence that the visuals provide to generate the means by which individuals and groups experiencing disadvantage or discrimination can exert influence on their communities and decision makers and thereby become stakeholders in the change process.
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As part of another Shared Sentences project delivered in Glasgow in 2014 a team of people on Community Payback Orders (CPOs are non-custodial sentences which are completed in the community as an alternative to custody. Failure to complete any element of the CPO results in the offender being sent to prison to complete their sentence) decided to find out a judge’s perspective on repeat, drugs-based offending. As a team we arranged an interview with Sheriff Wood, at Glasgow Sheriff Court. As we were carrying the equipment up the steps and into the court building, I stopped everyone and asked how they felt about going in. They laughed and said that it was okay because they knew they were coming out of the same door they went in and that they weren’t worried about ending up in the back of a ‘paddy wagon’ and going to jail.
The team interviewed Sheriff Wood in his courtroom. The team members were able to relate to him in a completely different way; to not have the burden of uncertainty and dread that an encounter with the sheriff would have entailed in their pasts. Their status was altered because of their role as a team of documentary filmmakers, and they were visibly relaxed in the court setting. This experience had a profound impact on the participants as they physically experienced the court and the sheriff in a different context, with a constructive and empowering purpose. The visit to the court allowed the participants to perceive the court differently and put their past experiences into a new perspective. In the image Sean-Paul literally puts himself in the place of the judge and has the physical sense
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CARN Praxis from that experience; in Boal’s terms a body memory of the new sensation, the new sense of self resulting from the physical experience. The Making Of – Shared Sentences https://vimeo.com/76445993
How people see themselves, how they think they are understood, how they feel accepted, how they change perceptions and decisions and, consequently, how these accumulated factors are acted upon, are all central to the effectiveness of the community development outcomes and subsequent levels of trust, consent and cooperation that Media Education seeks. As participants see the bigger picture and engage with others in the role of filmmaker and have the power to form and share their own views and content there is a shift in power and, however temporarily it is felt – it cannot be unfelt and, like forum theatre’s rehearsal of realistic solutions through acting out, filmmaking allows a long form of ‘rehearsal’ through evidence gathering and argument forming with the relative safety of being able to choose the audiences and means of encounter and engagement and ameliorate possible impacts on themselves and others by maintaining appropriate levels of anonymity and control of their content. These considerations constitute significant management and leadership activity
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CARN Praxis further altering the sensation of being for people who are very used to the authoritarian and coercive practices of the criminal justice system. Foucault Understanding the deeper, underlying manifestations of power is important here so another keystone author is Foucault, particularly through his work on ‘disciplinary power’ (power exercised by the individual internally essentially through self-control and external compliance) and ‘discourses’ (the many ways that power transactions between people are manifested and implied in the vocabulary, tone, accent and intention of human communications) (Foucault, 1978: 260). Foucault sees the exercise of power as changing from a ‘deduction’ basis - meaning taking away (life, liberty, property) - to a ‘bio power’ or ‘disciplinary power’ designed to build state power and answer the needs of capitalism as it developed from the 18th and 19th centuries “.. by looking to make the population healthier, more able and more disciplined to work together to fulfil the rulers’ wishes”. (Foucault, 1978: 260). “..the law operates more and more as a norm, and that the judicial institution is increasingly incorporated into a continuum of apparatuses (medical, administrative, and so on) whose functions are for the most part regulatory. A normalizing society is the historical outcome of a technology of power centered on life. (Foucault, 1978: 269) Foucault is saying that in the transition from a feudal to a capitalist society the exercise of power shifted. Law (the will of the ruler) does not disappear but becomes ubiquitous in every aspect of life through the ordering of the society brought about by regulation and which individuals and groups comply with as the route of least resistance and thereby selfregulate themselves and conform. By ‘normalizing’ he is referring to the ways that institutions and their professional classes intrude into the everyday lives of people and, through the actions of quantifying and qualifying, pass judgements and create boundaries for acceptability to which the population should adhere. These discourses become structures of power and define what is acceptable; which is internalised and policed by the Issue 1, Summer 2022
CARN Praxis individuals themselves without intervention by the state and where anything outside the norm becomes seen by these conformers as deviant and potentially threatening. It is through this process that ‘otherness’ is reinforced, and the harmful effects of labelling occur. Through these concepts Foucault offers fundamental insights into the ways that people interrelate and divide into dominant and subservient modes dependent on the situation they are in. He sees power as omnipresent and detectable in the myriad reactions and status transactions which occur from moment to moment in human transaction and in the relationship that people have within themselves. (Brookfield, 2005, p 127) and maintains that effects of power can only be understood through ‘how things work at the level of ongoing subjugation, at the level of those continuous and uninterrupted processes which subject our bodies, govern our gestures, dictate our behaviour...’ (Foucault,1980: 97). Foucault brings a valuable theoretical framework to the understanding of how people selfimpose norms from the prevailing hegemony and self-police themselves, often against their own interests. He also demonstrates how language use reflects underlying power relationships between people as they negotiate a constantly changing flux of perceived status and reactions in the moment-by-moment transactions which make up the interrelationships between people. Richard Hugman puts it well: ‘Discourse is about more than language. Discourse is about the interplay between language and social relationships, in which some groups are able to achieve dominance for their interests in the way in which the world is defined and acted upon. Language is a central aspect of discourse through which power is reproduced and communicated. (Hugman, 1991: 37) This understanding of power is very useful. Foucault confirms that power is already there at the bottom too; it does not percolate down through the hierarchy but is omnipresent. Whilst it is full of movement; a current or flow of ideas, positions and accepted boundaries, it can be resisted - from the micro level and the grass roots. It can be harnessed through changing the discourses to arrive at a counter-hegemony which provides a sense of Issue 1, Summer 2022
CARN Praxis resilience and a reification and rallying point for action. For Boal this starts in the rehearsal or acting out of a particular situation or moment in order to build the memory of feeling differently and thereby the capacity of an individual to take action in real life. In my work context then, the action starts in the making of a film which allows the individual to form an argument for the change they want; to change from complaint (essentially a disempowered position) to making a reasoned, persuasive, evidenced argument (a much more empowered position). These actions then, alter the relationship of each individual to the hegemony they are experiencing because of the development of their critical consciousness and because there is a clear process available to facilitate action which, like Boal’s practice, only enters the public realm when the participants have had the chance to prepare. Film is arguably an excellent way of examining the microdynamics of human interactions and revealing their impacts on people experiencing disadvantage and discrimination and thereby building awareness on a human level (as opposed to awareness through the depersonalisation of words, numbers and statistics) with public service workers, managers, policy makers, funders and the wider society. As people understand the effectiveness of this kind of use of media they will perhaps trust it more in terms of using it as a tool for power equalisation within their own work hierarchies too; from the bottom up and across the silos with, of course, the constant, critical awareness of how the uses of this media can be subsumed and contextualised to serve the dominant hegemonies; and those tendencies resisted through praxis. Media Education’s work covers a wide range of creative approaches. We use creativity and involvement in unfamiliar and new experiences as a primary means of removing people from their normal spheres of influence and their habitual senses of their own power. In our recent Peer Research Project ‘Life As We Know It’ for Life Changes Trust we employed care experienced young people aged between 21 and 25 to work with research companies already engaged in research with young people. The job of our peer researchers was to observe each research organisation’s practice and complete their own research on that practice through engagement with researchers and also with a number of the young people taking part. https://www.lifechangestrust.org.uk/exploring-participatory-evaluation-learning-event Issue 1, Summer 2022
This was a complex and subtle research programme; exploring new approaches and with everyone out of their comfort zones. Our peer researchers started from where they were and on their own terms; with Media Education’s staff delivering a creative/reflective programme based on the theme ‘Journey’ from which the peer researchers could make sense of their own journeys since being in care. Through their enquiries they applied their own lived experience of being in care towards their vision for the ideal ways that research organisations could engage with care experienced young people. This provided the benchmark for their work. For example, Liam, one of the peer researchers, developed a film ‘Hi, I’m Liam’ as a pre-meeting introduction for himself to the young people he would be meeting. He recognised the high levels of anxiety that a young person is likely to feel from not knowing who they’ll meet. Hi, I’m Liam https://vimeo.com/465452322 By making their own creative outputs, films, writing, music and artwork, which was emotionally resonant and satisfying to them as individuals, they developed their own sense of ownership of the process and, through this, they were better able to develop the confidence to influence the shape and direction of the research; a form of counterhegemony. The creative outputs they generated served to help the peer researchers to reflect on their own lived experiences and to create a stimulus; a context for starting conversations on their own terms with the professionals involved. This was the main learning for Iain; how the shift in identity for the peer researchers towards ‘artist’ changed the ways that they were perceived by themselves and others and how the responsibility for making sense of the process was shared with the arts elements providing a stimulus for everyone to bring their own associations and senses to bear – with no right or wrong answers and a much more flexible and nuanced interflow of power and consent – away from coercion (being told what to do or ‘this is how you do it’ to collaboration (‘how can we make this happen?’). Taking the time to build the trust and connectivity with the peer researchers in the context of the pandemic lockdown and providing a trauma informed and supportive environment meant that, for long periods, we did not appear to be doing the work we were commissioned for. Issue 1, Summer 2022
CARN Praxis However this preparatory process, whilst it took the most time and effort, resulted in independent thinking, sufficiently confident and robust colleagues who could hold their own in discussions and seminars and proved to be valuable assets for the project. By making their creative outputs our peer researchers were able to create a strong, resilient base for themselves from which to relate on a more equal basis with professionals and other older, better educated and more experienced people. They recognised their own right to contribute and the necessity for people to recognise and use their own expertise. The peer researchers’ outputs have been gathered together in a gallery https://artspaces.kunstmatrix.com/en/exhibition/7634697/life-as-we-know-it They are joint publishers of the report. https://www.lifechangestrust.org.uk/sites/default/files/publication/files/Life%20as%20we% 20know%20it%20-%20Full%20Report%20%28spreads%29.pdf Media Education uses a reflexive practice development process with staff having debriefing sessions and maintaining our own project diaries and sharing practice within the team and the various sectors we are working in. This practice reflects participatory action research methods and we see the importance of developing this going forward. We recognise the massive potential in the bringing together of academics and creative practitioners to follow through its work practice which is to be open and to show process so that the rings of observers and stakeholders to a project can gauge for themselves the value and impact of the work. This requires high levels of trust and longer-term thinking. The results are transformative for individuals, their organisations and for society more widely. Conclusion Based on my experience through my drama practice, I see human interaction as an infinite number of ‘reactions to’ (including reactions to thoughts in the imagined world) which make up the flux in discourses and resulting hegemonies. Each response, thought or action is a Issue 1, Summer 2022
CARN Praxis reaction to something else and each response or action (consciously or unconsciously chosen) is a moment of ‘visibility’ if you will, which itself causes a further reaction in a continuous and rippling chain - or spectrum - or sea of incident. When people exercise their own powers by taking simple actions – such as making a film, having a meeting where they can set agenda and exchange views and ideas – they are experiencing a new sense of self; a new reflection of who they are and what they can do and they move towards becoming a contender (by this I don’t mean the general sense of competitor but more someone who takes the risk of failure whilst hoping to be successful – with success being something they define for themselves – hopefully based on a realistic sense of what they can achieve or contribute to bringing about). Regardless of the perceived success or failure, the taking of action, the moving from complaint to reasoned argument, the change from consumer to creator will all contribute to a sense of the possibility for change as a necessary precondition for the change to come. References List BOAL, A, (1979) Theater of the Oppressed, New Edition, London, Pluto Press. BUTCHER, H, Banks, S, et al. (2007) Critical Community Practice. Bristol: Policy Press FOUCAULT, M. (1978) Right of Death and Power Over Life, The History of Sexuality 1 (5) https://caringlabor.wordpress.com/2010/08/06/michel-foucault-right-of-death-and-powerover-life/ [date accessed 23rd September 2017] FOUCAULT, M (1980) Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 19721977. New York: Pantheon Books. FREIRE, P. (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum International Publishing. GIROUX, H, A. (2006) Reading Hurricane Katrina: Race, Class and The Biopolitics of Disposability. College Literature 33 (3) pp 171-196. HABERMAS, J. (1984) Theory of Communicative Action. (T. McCartny, trans.) Boston: Beacon (Original work published 1981) HUGMAN, R. (1991) Organisatization and Professionalism: The Social Work Agenda in the 1990’s. The British Journal of Social Work 21 (3) pp 199-216. Issue 1, Summer 2022
CARN Praxis KOLK, B, Van Der (2014) The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma. St. Ives: Penguin Random House LEDWITH, M. (2011) Community Development: A Critical Approach. Second Edition. Bristol: Policy Press. THOMPSON, N. (2005) Understanding Social Work: Preparing for Practice. Second Revised Edition. London: Palgrave. THOMPSON, N. (2007) Power and Empowerment. Lyme Regis: Russell House Publishing.
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CARN Praxis Collaborative blogging - Initiating conversations about action research? Chloë Hynes (with Vicky Butterby as constructive friend) email@example.com “If teachers want to gain control over what is to count as relevant and valid knowledge of their work in ways which feed their professional responsibility for making informed classroom decisions, they need opportunities to communicate freely with each other about classroom problems, and methods and techniques for collecting and analysing data about them.” (Elliott,1977) The above extract from the inaugural bulletin of the Classroom Action Research Network asserted the importance of teachers’ voices being central to the creation of teachers’ professional knowledge. As CARN Praxis searches for new ways to stimulate good conversations about action research, I’m thinking about how teachers’ blogs might contribute to insightful debates about teaching and reflecting on how blogs can be fashioned to progress both teachers’ and readers’ thinking about the decision-making that informs their teaching. In this account, I am hoping to open up my experience of trying to encourage teacher dialogue through hosting an open blogging website. I also intend to make readers aware of potential challenges that might arise in developing a website which encourages teachers to share their professional interests; from encouraging people to put pen to paper, to garnering the respect these accounts deserve within our post-16 Further Education sector which sometimes feels overwhelmed by the power of academic journals. A Little Context I am a sewing, digital skills and ESOL teacher employed by ccConsultancy, which was established in 2003 by an FE teacher to ensure that teachers working across post-16 education in colleges, training agencies, prisons, community and voluntary settings could be supported by practising post-16 teachers to work towards developing better practice and achieving greater social justice across the sector. I currently curate FE Tapestry, a website that (alongside many other teacher treasures) contains a blog. A blog, or a weblog, is a website or page that typically contains regular journal entries, think pieces and/ or news
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CARN Praxis items presented in a conversational style with content very often embedded in lived experience. The blog that I am describing in this article is a collection of teacher accounts about their work and practices in Further Education. This particular website in its entirety, evolved from the northern Further Education (FE) “professional exchange networks” based in the north (formerly known as PDNorth). To support these communities of practice and to complement their regular meetings, we developed a website to house related resources they could access in their own time. Having one hub like this, brought together the whole PDNorth community. In the early days, the stimulus articles were largely written by the team working on the project, and whilst the team was itself made up of teachers and education specialists, we found that PDNorth members themselves were hesitant. Whilst we invited teachers to contribute their accounts and teaching experiences, we quickly realised that we needed to be more pro-active in encouraging teachers if they were going to contribute. We were often excited by teachers’ initiatives that were shared during their meetings, but teachers seemed rarely comfortable or confident about publishing their accounts and opening their practices to potentially critical audiences. Some needed considerable reassurance to overcome their inhibitions. We began to approach individuals who were investigating their teaching and encouraged them to submit their accounts of how they had explored and developed their practices. Once more frequent teacher stories began appearing on the website, people began contributing more independently. Now in its fifth year, we have received and published more blog posts from practising teachers than we did in the previous four years put
A selection of blogposts from across the sector… Why I stopped talking about language features to my GCSE English re-sit students (and what happened when I did) by Kirsty Powell (GFE College) So, I missed the whole 'teaching during a full blown pandemic' thing... by Kayte Haselgrove (University) Feedback in prison education: What can we learn from our learners? by Esther Kelly (Prison Education) What are your pronouns? by Usman Maravia (Land based college) The Art of Observation by Lydia Murrãy (CertEd) Moles and Horses in an online classroom: by Catherine Lindsay (community learning) Shy Bairns Get Nowt by Chloë Hynes (training provider + consultancy)
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CARN Praxis It’s more than sharing resources During the programme, we realised that we wanted our “professional exchange network” to be more than a resource exchange, and that the tips and “recipe trading” (that often operated as a welcome icebreaker between colleagues in our face-to-face meetings) might be skimming over the deeper dilemmas and complexities of teachers’ decision-making as they investigated the tacit understandings that were shaping their classroom practices. By inviting teachers to write these online blogs and then giving them appropriately supportive feedback, I believe that we helped teachers to think more deeply about their teaching, and to share greater situational understandings of their practical decision-making. This practice also helped them reach a wider audience – moving outside their organisation and beyond the small to medium working groups that were operating under PDNorth. These stories of individual practice are important; the diversity of the Further Education sector embraces lifelong learning with young and older adults across college, training, community, voluntary and prison, and each different setting gives FE teachers an opportunity to see what can be learned from the different contexts, without them needing to feel defensive about how their teaching approaches might be different from others. Amplifying teachers’ voices Unlike those writing articles, bloggers generally adopt a more informal register; these personal accounts do not attempt the cosmetic objectivity of many reviewed journal articles, and they openly celebrate individuals’ experiences and perspectives. The online presence encourages the capture of raw thoughts, untamed stories and contexts in the now, unlike a journal article (unless in an online journal with a fresh ethos, like CARNPraxis). Blogs can also accommodate pictures, videos and other dynamic content, as well as active hyperlinks to make external references immediately accessible.
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CARN Praxis The initial blog format can act as an invitation to begin exploratory, private writing, with the option to post publicly, or even to post publicly and remain anonymous. Being online, they can be safely re-drafted (or updated) several times whilst the teacher assumes an increasingly deliberative approach, writing and reflecting on what has been written. Preparing a blog provides the reflective space for teachers to say “I may not know everything, but this is my experience – and this is not just anecdote. I might not have twenty references to prove my point, but I do have one idea that I’ve thoroughly tested in my classroom”. This contrasts with writing more formally for publication where the teacher may be cautious of offering insights from personal teaching experience as they feel they are entering an arena normally reserved for “experts”. However, knowing that their blogpost is going to be read by colleagues ensures that opinions are carefully considered before sharing the deliberations; the sense of a peer audience of teachers serves as a check, but not a constraint. Blog writing may provide that sanctuary for teachers to step back and think more deeply about the aims and ends of their teaching; like journal-keeping, blogging enables recording to develop into re-thinking and re-framing – the writing process becomes a re-creative activity when experience can be interrogated, and more responsive solutions may be realised. Blogging may be a more attractive form of reflective writing, as it offers the added dimension of journaling for a defined audience of practising teachers, and this may make it easier to write for a familiar target readership. The teachers who read these blogs might find it easier to identify with a blog rather than a journal article, as journal articles can present as definitive, authoritative and conclusive, often presenting an argument that is tightly defended against further question. And teachers might find it easier to respond to the writer of a blog, rather than an article – a blog presents as personal and provisional and part of an exploration of teaching, an idea that invites recognition from other interested teachers as they work together towards resolving practical classroom problems. Blogs may be more dynamic in revealing teachers’ Issue 1, Summer 2022
CARN Praxis journeys in the present, organically tackling their tentative ideas, whereas a journal article about teaching often appears as more retrospective, authoritative and complete, no longer open to ongoing discovery. Sometimes blogging can be seen as an evolutionary step on the ladder to writing a published journal article, and that is indeed worthwhile if it serves that purpose1, but blogging can be fulfilling in itself as it adds another dimension to teachers’ lives whilst their developing sense of identity develops as teacher-researchers. From listening to teachers whom I have invited to contribute their blogs, many suffer from ‘impostor syndrome’, so the initial blogging reassures them that they have valuable experiences to share and voices that are worth listening to. There is certainly a sense of hierarchy in relation to blogging – a reviewed journal article may be seen as the ‘gold standard’ when publishing ideas, even though a blog may actually influence more teachers’ practice more quickly than a heavily cited article. A common criticism is that blogs, unlike journals, are not peer-reviewed but I think it is important to trust teachers to distinguish between carefully considered reflection based on lived experience from the classroom and casual opinion. Perhaps blogs may prove an important stimulus in equipping teachers with the confidence and publishing awareness to write for a variety of audiences? The accessibility of blogs is important – for most teachers, educational research articles are hidden behind paywalls (unless you have invested in post-graduate study with library rights at a University) and there is the barrier of getting a foothold in the research world – “Where do I start to look for what’s important?” which can be incredibly overwhelming especially with limited time to spend searching out useful articles. Lastly, research journals are often written to satisfy professional academic research audiences rather than teachers so they often focus on academic researchers’ interests rather than teachers’ practical needs. The language of academics can be distancing; academics offer the ear of an objective ‘critical friend’ whilst many teachers are more urgently seeking a solution-focused ‘constructive friend’.
I myself have written a blog on finding opportunities to “compost” thoughts about teaching, and this was necessary to give me something to work on before I actually wrote a short article on composting for Intuition journal (apologies, this is only available to SET members).
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What does a collaborative blog curator need to do? As a curator, I’ve often invited teachers to blog, and then been active in providing formative feedback and reassurance about their writing. I encourage writers to offer a short bio(graphy) to situate themselves in the sector and provide an opportunity for discussion post-publishing. It’s important to offer a format that teachers will access which welcomes readers, inviting them to listen in to a focused staffroom conversation with a relatable teacher. As a reader, I’m able to offer advice about register – a first person, informally intelligent writing style will be attractive, with key points emboldened so that the reader can quickly see the value of investing time in the blog. I also give advice about integrating links where further illustration is needed; these may be visuals, digital media, hyperlinks or URLs which all offer greater depth and relieve text-heavy impact. I also act as blog editor, and although (fortunately) I have never had any dilemmas e.g. ethical issues about the content of the blogs, I have offered encouragement to writers to elaborate and develop explanations about their teaching to clarify and inform our readership. Almost always, writers are grateful and act on this encouragement. Occasionally, I will offer feedback to writers that their strongly held opinions might be read as prescriptive or judgemental about what other teachers should be doing, cautioning them that this may alienate other practitioners, who will be most receptive when writers offer their personal experiences and don’t allow their evangelical excitement to turn off prospective readers. We do encourage writers to discuss their drafts with colleagues – these extra “lenses” do seem to make a difference when a second reader has been involved and create more rigour and trustworthiness in the blog post. How does blogging contribute to teachers’ action research? Upon reflecting on how the FE Tapestry website now functions, there are many places where it is well positioned to fulfil the criteria suggested by John Elliott’s “Criteria for good
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CARN Praxis quality collaborative action research across professional learning communities”2. At its best, the site can: •
Exemplify a democratic process in which teachers submit their actions and reasons for actions to the rational scrutiny of their professional peers.
Foster the development of experimental teaching across the learning network in a sustainable form.
Enable teachers to discern common features across a range and variety of teaching situations that are practically relevant for educational action.
Enable teachers collectively to construct knowledge about how to realise their educational aims and values in particular concrete situations.
Make a significant contribution to the development of a tradition of understandings – a theory - about how to bring about worthwhile educational change across contexts of teaching and learning, and thereby extends the knowledge-base of the teaching profession.
Enable teachers to systematically present a body of shared understand and insights in a publicly accessible form for other teachers to test in their contexts of practice. (Elliott, 2007:230)
However, there is one further criterion that remains more challenging to fulfil than we might wish – providing opportunities for colleagues to informally respond through comments on individual teachers’ experiences, so that good conversations about teachers’ research experiences can be extended and better practical theories can be developed. Monitoring comments and evading spam would need a considerable investment in time. We share all blogs regularly on the @PDNorth_FE Twitter account and via the monthly FE Tapestry mailout, but engagement with these is not representative of the whole sector. We do encourage writers to offer email addresses for correspondence, and this has been successful at times, but the conversations become private and hidden from the public debate.
Elliott, J. (2007) “Assessing the Quality of Action Research” Research Papers in Education Vol 22, no.2, pp229-246
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A Conclusion Blogging can be a vehicle to share and discuss your story within and about FE, it can create dialogue and reach the furthest stretches of the sector comforting the most isolated practitioner: “I’m experiencing X, too”. It can bring peers together, creating dialogue about hidden controversies and it can provide an accessible space to share effective practice and resources for others to pinch and personalise as they see fit. Lastly, it can provide an informal space for growth and development of our own practice by allowing us to speak in a way where language or power isn’t a barrier. Research has shown3 that not only are practitioners surviving the complex times of recent years, but they are thriving in the professional agency they have been afforded. As such, I think practitioners who have the means (i.e. those of us with websites, journals or other platforms on which to amplify FE voices), should be supporting that wave of empowered practitioners to maintain that energy and dialogue. How can we find ways to open up these conversations? References Elliott, J. (1977) “Who controls action research?” in Classroom Action Research Network Bulletin no.1 Cambridge Institute of Education available at https://www.carn.org.uk/resources/carn-bulletins/ Elliott, J. (2007) “Assessing the Quality of Action Research” Research Papers in Education Vol 22, no.2, pp229-246 ccConsultancy (2021). Outstanding Teaching, Learning and Assessment (OTLA): Anthology of Practitioner Action Research Reports (2020-21). London: ETF.
ccConsultancy (2021). Outstanding Teaching, Learning and Assessment (OTLA): Anthology of Practitioner Action Research Reports (2020-21). London: ETF.
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CARN Praxis A Comparison between Action Research concepts and Buddhist philosophy: based on the premise of scientific experimental research approach Shermila Milroy PhD student of Sri Jayewardenepura University, Sri Lanka This article traces the parallels between action research and Buddhist philosophy with the aim of bringing the focus to reconsider the history of the conceptual development of action research. The study is initially based on the premise of scientific experimental research approach of Buddhist philosophy, through which one can argue that it is more likely comparable to action research. Curiosity and the thirst to search for new discoveries, new knowledge and improvements brought forth research and different research methods. Since the day humans are born, they pursue new knowledge because curiosity is inherent in people’s nature. Sometimes people gain new knowledge informally and sometimes formally. The formal way to discover new knowledge is research. Depending on different methods used to pursue knowledge, different types of research methods are born to the world. We find a good deal of discussion concerning the interface between Buddhism and modern research methods especially in modern science and social science. Discussions brought forward by many scholars established a strong foundation for the emergence of this field of study towards exploring research methods found in Buddhist philosophy. Scientific experimental research approach in Buddhist philosophy The word ‘research’ derives from the French word recherché, meaning “to search deeply with intensity” (Rodgers and Yee, 2015: 11), with previous origins in Latin. In this sense, the Buddha’s endeavour was ‘to search’ and search for the ‘truth’ (Fernando 2008). Prince ‘Siddhartha’ renounced his luxurious life and started practicing asceticism in search of the truth. One might rightly think that the Buddha cannot be considered a ‘researcher’ in the modern definition of the term, and he, like Socrates of the same period (Armstrong, 2007), was seeking knowledge through contemplation and observation. That is largely true; however, his voyages in the whole of the Gangetic plain (now Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Nepal and even beyond) was done not only for teaching, but also for knowledge seeking and Issue 1, Summer 2022
CARN Praxis observation (Fernando 2017). But we should not disregard the fact that he was not just seeking for knowledge but continuously questioning what he observed while collecting data and analyzing in a very systematic way. He gathered data, observed and analyzed before coming to any conclusion. Even he asked his disciples not to believe anything in blind faith or any belief induced through any bogus reasoning but very systematic and based on free thinking and evidence. His major attempt was to understand ‘Dukka’ or suffering and try to find ‘Magga’ a way to overcome it. In clarifying how he gathered knowledge in understanding ‘Dukka’ and making others understand, Four Noble Truths or ‘Chathurārya Sathya’ should be brought into discussion. FNT is considered as the first preaching of Buddha which laid a solid foundation for his philosophy which presently found in ‘Dhammacakkappavattana-sutta’ (‘Dhāmmacākkappāvāttana-sutta’: ‘Samyutta Nikaya’:‘Sutta-pitaka’: translated by Sujato Bhikku 2018). Fernando (2016) argues that the FNT, constitute a framework for research designing, investigation and particularly problem solving. Defining briefly the teaching of Buddha through FNT reveals, that it is fourfold such as (1) ‘Dukka’, which means knowing suffering (2) ‘Samudaya’, which means etiology of suffering; (3) ‘Nirodhya’, which means healing or cessation of suffering (4) ‘Gamini patipadarya’ (‘magga’) which means the way to eliminate suffering. Fernando (2016) argues that the ‘structure and logic’ of the FNT are parallel and epitomize research methodology. According to ‘Dhammacakkappavattana-sutta’, the order of the stages or components follows the pattern: (1) ‘Dukkha’ – knowing suffering is there - the problem/s of research (2) ‘Samudaya’ – identifying the cause for suffering - necessary analysis and identifying the cause/s (3) ‘Nirodha’ – cessation of suffering - identification of the solutions (4) ‘Magga’ – follow the way to eliminate suffering – follow the proposed pathway to achieve the solutions
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CARN Praxis The above comparative study discloses characteristic features of Buddhist philosophy as a research method. This process of finding the pathway to overcome suffering is comparable to the logic for scientific investigation introduced by John Dewey (1859 – 1952). How John Dewey’s logic for scientific investigation comparable with FNT (Fernando 2008): 1. Identifying ‘dukka’ or sorrow as the major problem which destroys one’s happiness is ‘dukka āryasathya’: In comparison to John Dewey’s logic it is identifying the problem 2. Why ‘dukka’ exists? Or the reason/cause for ‘dukka’ is ‘samudaya āryasathya’: In comparison to John Dewey’s logic it is determining the hypothesis or reason why the problem exists. 3. Cessation of suffering or ‘dukka’ is the solution is ‘dukka nirodha sāthya’- In comparison to John Dewey’s logic it is identification of the solution. 4. In terminating suffering follow the Eight Noble paths (‘Ārya āshtāāngika māārga’) is ‘dukka nirodhagāmani patipadā’ - Apply conclusions to the original hypothesis/theory. The argument brought by Tanighchi (1994 : 31) “The teachings of the Buddha are fourfold. He diagnosed human illness, discovered its cause, defined good health, and developed the methodology for treating and preventing illness. This formula, which is called the Four Noble Truths (‘Ariyasaccani’) in Buddhism, has a structure distinctively paralleling that of medical science: (1) diagnosis of the illness, (2) etiology of the illness, (3) healing, and (4) therapeutics for the illness” strengthens the above notion. In reference to ‘Kālama Sutta’ (‘Sutta Pitaka’:‘Anguttara Nikaya’: ‘Sutta Pitaka’: translated by Sujato Bhikku 2018) or ‘Charter of free inquiry’ proves that Buddha was not supportive of any dogmatic premises, blind faith or any belief induced through any bogus reasoning but very systematic and based on free thinking and evidence . Kalamas asked the Buddha: “Sir, there are some recluses and ‘brahmanas’ who visit ‘Kesaputta’. They explain and illumine only their own doctrines, and despise, condemn and spurn others’ doctrines. Then come other recluses and ‘brahmanas’, and they too, in their turn, explain and illumine only their own doctrines, and despise, condemn and spurn others’ doctrines. But, for us. Sir, we have always doubt and perplexity as to who among these Issue 1, Summer 2022
CARN Praxis venerable recluses and ‘brahmanas’ spoke the truth, and who spoke falsehood.” (Rahula, 1978: 2) Buddha said: “Yes, Kalamas, it is proper that you have doubt, that you have perplexity, for a doubt has arisen in a matter which is doubtful. Now, look you Kalamas, do not be led by reports, or tradition, or hearsay. Be not led by the authority of religious texts, not by mere logic or inference, nor by considering appearances, nor by the delight in speculative opinions, nor by seeming possibilities, nor by the idea: ‘this is our teacher” (Rahula, 1978: 3). Though one doesn’t notice any research question from ‘Kālāmas’, what Buddha advised them was to research explicating one’s understanding while being circumspect, rejecting any dogma, removing any blind faith but depend on independent investigation and verification. What he said was: don’t give final authority to what is written in books or what is advocated by philosophers. You have to test them through your own experience and contemplation. What he mentioned as ‘contemplation’ in the context of the present day research can be considered as empirical investigation and scientific verification of propositions (Fernando 2008). ‘Paticcasamuppada’ or ‘dependent origination’ too cannot be disregarded in the effort of arguing on behalf of the above notion. In ‘Paticcasamuppada’ (‘Vibhanga Sutta’: ‘Samyutta Nikaya’: ‘Sutta Pitaka’: translated by Sujato Bhikku 2018) in other words, dialectical causality or dependent origination, Buddha preaches; “Imasmim sati, idam hoti. Imass uppādadam uppajjati. Imasmim āsati, idam na hoti. Imassa nirodha, idam nirujjhati." “When this is, that is. From the arising of this, that arises; when this is not, that is not. From the cessation of this that ceases.” We have to pause here a while to note the beautiful argument Buddha made to define causality. This argument creates an excellent scientific outlook for his teachings. It is noteworthy that dependent origination is immensely based on logical reasoning finding the
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CARN Praxis cause for any effect. Snyder (2006:57) the causal reasoning Buddha preached is compatible with natural science and social science investigation: “Natural and social scientists have always looked to multiple causes as rarely does any effect result mostly from one cause. They use control groups and other techniques to isolate possible causes to at least narrow their theories down to fewer possible explanations. This is fully compatible to the principle of Dependent Origination.” Action research concepts in Buddhist philosophy Action research (AR) is different from ‘traditional’ research methods. The first difference is improvement and development of the existing social patterns after explanation. AR concerns interventions of continuous improvement of existing social actions (Schmuck 2009). This idea can be further justified with Aileen Ferrance’s (2000) statement that Action research or administrative inquiry is a reflective process of intentionally engaging in the systematic study of practices in order to find ways to improve or change based on the results. Schmuck (2009) too argues that AR seeks to foster development and planned change while traditional research seeks to build a body of accumulated knowledge. It is a well-accepted fact that Kurt Lewin is credited for coining the term AR in 1944. Alfred. J. Marrow (1969), in his book ‘The Practical Theorist: The Life and Work of Kurt Lewin’, mentions how Lewin studied the emotions and feelings of humans and the reasons for their behavioural changes. He anticipated a planned change in existing society by developing self-respect and self-esteem particularly among the marginalised, finding reasons for resistance to change, developing a more scientific understanding of the causes of prejudice and encouraging individuals to develop more reliable insights into their own attitudes and values, are among the major aspects he focused on through AR. It is good to note the effort taken to focus AR on development rather than knowledge. Buddhist doctrine is an ensemble of systematic guidelines to liberate one from suffering, self-improvement and development in a holistic manner. Buddha did a systematic study of practice to find ways to improve or change the existing social pattern based on the results of the study. This affinity Buddhism has with action research would be a helpful one to show that Buddha conducted research and simultaneously lead people to conduct their own research in finding solutions for their own problems related to facets such as body, feelings, Issue 1, Summer 2022
CARN Praxis perceptions, emotions, interpretations and evaluations, holistic understanding, spiritual development and improvement. The difference between traditional research methods and AR can be discussed in relation to the aspects of perspectives and experimentation too. Schmuck (2009) says that AR aims to collect trustworthy data on the multiple perspectives of particular individuals and groups but traditional research aims to obtain objective data from a representative sample of subjects. He further explains that AR focuses on experimentally based research, while Carr (2006) discusses it as a social scientific research method. Experiments done by Kurt Lewin and his colleagues reveals how AR emerged as a research method with experimental use with potential for the social sciences. The Baker-Dembo-Lewin study (1941), of dedifferentiation as a consequence of frustration, aimed to determine what the behavioural effects of frustration are and how they are produced (Marrow 1969, p.120). The autocracy-democracy study was the second of the note-worthy inquiries of this period that demonstrated Lewin’s bold experimental design. It was a study to compare autocratic and democratic leadership of children’s groups conducted by Ronald Lippitt and Ralph White in 1938. Lewin devised many experiments, as above, for resistant phenomena such as anger, conflict, decision, frustration intention, satiation and substitution. And the Lippitt-White studies were steps towards what came to be called “action research” – the experimental use of social sciences to advance the democratic process. Buddhism can be considered as an experimental based social research type when comparing with the above characteristic features. Buddhist experimental approach supports one to find out where he or she actually is in social, cultural, economic and ecological complexities. At the same time, giving freedom to shape one’s own spiritual or religious biographies is another experimental characteristic of Buddhism. An attribute of experimental Buddhism is its rational and keen observance of practice, grounded in everyday life. Referring to Buddhist doctrine in a broader way through the lens of experimental approach would explore more facts to show how Buddhists adopt and engages as experimental rather than perspective. Another difference between AR and ‘traditional’ research methods is local versus universal. AR focuses on local changes and improvements. Traditional research focuses on building Issue 1, Summer 2022
CARN Praxis universal theories and valid generalizations (Schmuck 2009). Most of the AR done in the past, based on the theory of improving the standards of local communities in which progress is expected using planned activities. Lewin’s “Action Research and Minority Problem” (1946) and Wals’s “Action Research and community Problem Solving: Environmental Education in an Inner City” (1994) are research-based experiments on improving individual standards which directly influence society. Marrow (1969) states that Lewin introduces his theory of the ‘person’ on which he thought he could construct a general theory that would apply to any group, family, work, religion or community. From Lewin’s point of view, group behaviour is a function of both the single person and the social situation (Marrow 1969.p.171). These statements and research focus, convince that AR mainly focusses on changing individual behaviour, which carries potential for change in society. The Noble Eight Fold Path (NEFP) ‘Ārya ashtāngika mārgaya’ or ‘magga’ (‘Vibhanga Sutta’: ‘Samyutta Nikaya’: ‘Sutta Pitaka’( translated by Thanissaro Bhikku 1997) is for one’s own liberation. Buddhism speaks on the need for one to take personal responsibility to ‘liberate oneself’, which relies on his or her own ability, self-discipline and striving to improve. NEFP is the summary of the path a Buddhist should practice for liberation which consists of eight practices such as ‘sammā ditti’ right view, ‘sammā sankappa’ right resolve, ‘sammā vāāchā’ right speech, ‘sammā kammantha’ right conduct, ‘sammā āājeewa’ right livelihood, ‘sammā vāāyāma’ right effort, ‘sammā sati’ right mindfulness and ‘sammā samadhi’ right concentration. According to Buddhist teachings no one is responsible for your happiness but you. This path is summarized as ‘sīla’ or morality, which consists of eight healthy practices we can do to liberate ourselves from suffering. Therefore it can be argued that according to Buddha, first the theory of self-liberation should put in to practice, which leads to a universal theory of liberation. Pragmatism is a major characteristic which distinguishes AR from traditional research methods. In its broadest sense, pragmatism could be said to be the philosophical orientation of all Action Research. Pragmatism, meaning, thinking of or dealing with problems in a practical way, rather than by using theory or abstract principles. Through Pragmatism as a mode of inquiry, those who are involved in the research process are looking to fit new pieces into their current understanding about a given phenomenon. These Issue 1, Summer 2022
CARN Praxis pieces fall into place through a process of acting and observing in the research site, and then evaluating and making sense of the results towards a given goal. Meaning is clarified progressively by examining the consequences of actions and adjusting in a continual cycle of inquiry (Stark 2014). Journal articles: “Will the marriage between pragmatism and Buddhism last?” (2009) and “Did Buddhism anticipate pragmatism?” (1993), published by Richard P. Hayes discuss the relationship between pragmatism and Buddhism providing numerous insights and evidence. The word ‘pragmatic’ describes a person who has a practical approach to problems and matters in everyday life. The practical approach of Buddha is clearly visible in his life and his philosophy. The strong mode of inquiry he introduced in the path of searching of one’s own liberation which leads to an emancipatory social reform, shows pragmatic features to a greater extent. Though the concept of pragmatism was brought into discussion in the 20th century CE, it is apparent that pragmatism is available in Buddhist teachings such as ‘Paticcasamuppada’ (‘Vibhanga Sutta’: ‘Samyutta Nikaya’: ‘Sutta Pitaka’: translated by Sujato Bhikku 2018) or dialectical causality. This notion was discussed to a considerable extent in a previous section of this article. Search for FNTs in ‘Chathurārya Sathya’ (‘Dhāmmacākkappāvāttana-sutta’: ‘Samyutta Nikaya’:‘Sutta-pitaka’: translated by Sujato Bhikku 2018), ‘Kesamutti Sutta’ or ‘Kālāma Sutta’ ‘(Anguttara Nikaya’(3.65): ‘Sutta Pitaka’: translated by Sujatho Bhikku 2018) too can be considered to show how Buddha and his teachings were pragmatic. Reflection plays a major role in AR as a process of developing practices, problem finding and problem solving. Practice of reflection can be seen in the entire life of Buddha. First as a prince with all the luxuries and indulgence then as an ascetic who was searching for ‘Nibbāna’ and finally as Buddha, the enlightened one. In ‘Sukhamāla Sutta’(‘Sutta Pitaka’: ‘Anguttara Nikaya’, A 3.38) Buddha recounts how, the powerful religious emotion (‘saṁvega’) overcame him as a ‘Bodhisattva’ when he reflected upon the suffering generated as a result of birth ‘jāthi’, decaying ‘jarā’ subject to disease Issue 1, Summer 2022
CARN Praxis ‘vyādi’ and subject to death ‘marana’. He understood how dangerous it is to seek for happiness through bondage to the worldly things. Therefore he decided to leave the palace changing his life plans and started asceticism in search of ‘Nibbāna’. This strong decision was reinforced by his experimental reflective method as a self-researcher. Thenceforth he started an ascetic life which was totally contrasting to what he was experiencing in the palace. When he experimented himself he understood that he should study contemporary religious beliefs and gather data and analyze. Accordingly, he consecutively met ‘Ālārakālāma’ and ‘Ūddakarāmaputta’ with the aim of investigating available data. In no time he learned their teachings with his direct knowledge but was not satisfied with the spiritual heights he achieved. He gathered data, reflected, observed, investigated and finally understood that the requirements for liberation cannot be satisfied by them. As a result he changed his entire plan and started rigorous asceticism assuming that he could find the way for ultimate happiness. Ultimately, he found that giving pain to body is absolutely absurd and ridiculous. As a consequence, he understood with his direct knowledge that both the extremes ‘Kāmasūkallikānūyoga’ (self-indulgence) and ‘Attakilamāthānūyoga’ (self-mortification) do not facilitate liberation but the ‘middle way’ or the path of moderation. As a result again he changed his entire plan and started following the middle path through which he could attain enlightenment. ‘Bodhisattva’ conducted an impressive inquiry during his search for a way for liberation. It is a self-reflective cyclical enquiry
experimentally, which can be compared with the AR cyclical inquiry. The model of AR cyclical process introduced by Kemmis and Mc Taggart (1988) can be used to reveal the comparisons.
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CARN Praxis It is of interest to note the various attempts made by different scholars to establish Buddhist philosophy as a research method. These attempts can be considered as the major premise for the study done by Perera, Perera & Kodituwakku (2011) revealing AR concepts available in Buddhist philosophy. According to them, modern action research concepts can be found in the entire Buddhist doctrine. Reference List Ferrence, E. (2000). Action Research. Northeast and Island Regional Educational Laboratory. Brown University. Kindon, S.L., Pain, R. and Kesby, M. (eds) (2007) Participatory Action Research Approaches and Methods: Connecting People, Participation and Places. Routledge UK. ISBN 9780415599764. Kemmis, S. and McTaggart, R. (2000) "Participatory action research", in N.K. Denzin and Y.S. Lincoln (eds) Handbook of Qualitative Research (2nd ed.). Sage, CA, pp. 567–605. Kochendorfer, L. (1994). Becoming a reflective teacher. Washington, DC: National Education Association Lewin, K. (1947) Group Decision and Social Change. In: Newcomb, T. and Hartley, E., Eds., Readings in Social Psychology, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, New York, 197-211. Lewin, K. (1948) Resolving Social Conflicts: Selected Papers on Group Dynamics. Harper and Row, NY. ISBN 978-0285647190, pp. 82, 202-6. Lewin, K. (1946) Action research and Minority Problems: journal of Social Issues,2,34-46, 3446. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-4560.1946.tb02295.x Marrow, A. J. (1969) The Practical Theorist: The life and work of Kurt Lewin, Basic Books, Inc., Publishers, New York, London. Rahula, W.S. (1974). What the Buddha Taught. A Collection of illustrative texts translated from the original Pali. New York, Grove Press. ISBN 0-8021-3031-3 Soma Thera. (1981). Kalama Sutta (translated from the Pali) : The Buddha’s Charter of Free Inquiry. Buddhist Publication Society. Kandy. SL ISSN 0049-7541 Sujato Bhikku. (2018) Anguttaranikaya : Numbered discourses. Translated for SuttaCentral. ReadingFaithfully.org Sujato Bhikku. (2018) Majjimanikaya : Numbered discourses. Translated for SuttaCentral. ReadingFaithfully.org Sujato Bhikku. (2018) Samyuttanikaya: Numbered discourses. Translated for SuttaCentral. ReadingFaithfully.org Soma Thera. (1994). Kalama Sutta. The Buddha’s Charter of Free Inquiry. Buddhist Publication Society. The wheel publication No 8. Kandy. SL ISSN 0049-7541 Thanissaro (1998) "Cula-Malunkyovada Sutta: The Shorter Instructions to Malunkya" (MN 63), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.063.than.html . Issue 1, Summer 2022
CARN Praxis Thanissaro (1997) “Paticca Samuppada – Vibhanga Sutta: Analysis of Dependent Co-arising” (SN 12.2) Translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikku. https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn12/sn12.002.than.html Thripitaka (2005). Buddhajayanthi Thripitaka Granthamalawa, Buddhist Cultural Centre, ISBN 955-8873-721 Fernando, L. (2017). Origins of research methodology, Buddhism and the Four Noble Truths: Sri lanka Journal of Social Sciences, 2017- dl.nsf.ac.lk Greenwood, D. (2007). Pragmatic Action Research: International Journal of Action Research, February 2007. Perera, Perera & Kodituwakku. (2011). Characteristic features of Action Research Found in Buddhism in: Bringing a Different World into Existence, Vienna Conference 2011. Winter, R (2003). Buddhism and Action Research: towards an appropriate model of inquiry for the caring professions, Educational Action Research, Volume 11, No: 1 (2003).
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CARN Praxis In conversation with… In this section of the Journal, we will introduce a range of conversations about Action Research, our engagements with it and experiences of it. This issue commences with three small conversations among members of the CARN coordinating group, each of which was a response to a one of three possible provocations. Each respondent chose their preferred provocation, and their response was then passed to other members. This issue presents three such shared responses. Others will appear in the next issue. As we produce subsequent issues, we hope to use this section to feature conversations with practitioners, with those supporting practitioners, with those considering what action research really is, and anyone else who would like to talk about any aspect of their action research. We would particularly welcome any suggestions about what you might like to see here, or any volunteers to talk to us. We can do this as an email conversation, an audio- or video-recorded conversation, a hyperlinked poster, or in any other way you suggest. As an electronic journal, we are not limited to the printed word, and would be very happy to include more visual/multi-media contributions
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CARN Praxis First conversation thread Provocation: Is quoting Paulo Freire enough? In these unforgiving times, should we be paying more attention to the influence of politics in our own research and in the role of Action Research more generally? Response 1: Jane Springett For me action research and particularly participatory action research is inherently political. Indeed, I would argue all research is political even if the politics are not overt. In choosing one research approach over another we are making a decision based on a set of values and those values are associated inevitably with different power structures. If you value certain propositional knowledge over life experience you will give power to experts in that propositional knowledge. Politics is about power over knowledge and how it is generated. In any research that power is determined by whom and how decisions are made at each stage of the research process. It is about who decides the research question and how it is answered. Moreover, when we engage in action research we are concerned with change so we need to be aware and sensitive to whom, what and how change occurs. I engage in participatory action research because I am concerned with social justice and therefore social change. For me change should not be imposed from above but we need to empower those whose voices have traditionally not been heard in the research and change process, if we are to achieve social justice. By empowerment I mean encouraging learning through being involved in the action research process and increasing capability so that as a researcher you do not extract from a community group but rather encourage development and add to local knowledge so further change is possible when you leave. A concern for politics goes beyond the wider process of governmental power and the role of the state in change, in participatory action research and indeed all action research you need to be aware both of the micro politics within the setting in which you are working and also of the structural issues that affect the practical problems you are seeking to solve. This is what Paulo Freire was drawing to our attention. It is about raising consciousness and awareness of the true source of local problems.
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CARN Praxis Action research can challenge the status quo and those that wield and hold power will put up barriers to change. Change is also uncomfortable and can generate conflict. The process of action research can also generate evidence that is unpalatable or challenge preconceived notions. This then generates personal distress, discomfort and often an emotional response. I have experienced all these issues at one time or another and sometimes it has meant that the research project has stalled or even disintegrated. Were these failures? For those concerned with certain defined maybe, but for me they were learning experiences about the importance of politics, however much I wanted a “politically free” process. Thus, I have learnt the importance of engaging all parties on a one- to- one basis to create the groundwork for the research process, of understanding the local context, of how to facilitate the across barriers, accepting conflict as part of the process and how to facilitate compromise. Most of all I have learnt that the dialogical process that lies at the heart of Freirean pedagogy is the key to the whole messy process of participatory action research. To engage in action research without understanding the local political issues is naïve and thus learning about power and how it might be engaged with and diffused needs to be a central feature of any action research course or research project.
Response 2: Una Hanley Is quoting Paolo Freire enough? What’s a quotation for? As a student, I had to shift from where I was to somewhere more informed perhaps over a matter of weeks. What does one pay attention to? There are certain issues around punctuation for example, and ‘nothing over ten years old’, which appeared to be telling benchmarks. Learning who the ‘big names’ were in any particular knowledge field was crucial. Understanding their specific contribution, their similarities and differences was much more difficult and time consuming. Significant names need to be eased in somewhere, even if they are not an ‘easy fit’. How do their respective theories sit with what I am trying to say? Do they speak to me, for me or not at all? Where can I find a short quotation which will capture the core of their concerns? Or a soundbite on a page which will persuade? Any question about the theorist’s history or cultural roots, those things that ‘produced’ their work, remained un-asked until much later, perhaps because, in my case, they were European or North American and these cultures recognise one another.
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CARN Praxis Acton research (AR) is no exception, if I am going to reflect upon my work here, I need the assistance of others. AR is first and foremost action orientated and experience focussed. However, every practice is embedded in ‘some theory’ which can be put to work elsewhere in the practices of others, and in the sense making processes of those who also write about it. Theorising about practice becomes ‘theory’, gathering to itself the influential work of writers in the field and political affiliations of varying shades. That looks very much like a ploy to smooth out the differences which are an important feature of AR and secure its relevance. However, as we slide into a monoculture, presided over by the global North, and its digital omni-presence, our concerns are guided in ways which may not be examined closely enough. For example, in his contribution to Action Research and Democracy STAR C CHAT (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGiFimqufH0), Rowell, discusses monoculture and associated anti-intellectualism as a significant force. This is set in a discussion around the commodification of knowledge - knowledge as big business – and the consequent ‘numbing’ effects of this on critical inquiry. Critical inquiry is perhaps an intellectual ‘journey’ with action-orientated drivers. Here, the work of others can provide a rich tapestry of experience and deliberation which can add a potency to one’s own efforts. Freire is just such a figure, among others, and his history is important. It is well known that Freire’s work emerged from his experiences as an educator and activist in the global South, where he lived alongside those whose lives he was hoping to change. He has been mentioned many times in journals and books to the extent that his name alone has become ‘a stand in’ for his work. This is the way in which the provocation above made sense to those who responded to it. From the global North, my understandings are bound by a different history, different experiences and a concern for the local. Freire’s activism moved beyond the local and his views are nuanced, acknowledging contradictions and contingencies. If a quotation can be viewed as a soundbite on a page, then I found very few of them in his work. A provoking statement?
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CARN Praxis Second Conversation Thread. Provocation: When you chose Action Research over other viable research approaches for your work, what did AR make possible/not possible, and what did you learn from that? Response 1: Karen McArdle The Bower Bird The male bowerbird lives in Australia and makes a nest to attract others, decorated with trinkets, twigs and mathoms and it sits in the bower waiting, preening its glossy feathers, safe, secure, just waiting. Sometimes it might strut or do a penguin walk to make itself more attractive but mostly it just lives and enjoys, possibly endures its bower. The Bowerbird may be just black, or some have stunning, colourful plumage. The species include the Golden, the Satin, the Masked and the Flame. When I chose to commit myself to action research rather than just dabbling, I was in Australia and action research came to remind me of the Bower Bird. It could be glossy with colourful plumage in the way that it managed complexity and found the colour of life in what might otherwise be dull statistics. It could indeed make data strut or do a penguin walk in its richness and explanation of meanings. But the bower bird can also be just black and hidden in its bower. This gives it safety and a known environment. Action research can also be hidden in a safe but camouflaged environment. We are not as good as we could be at publicising to power brokers the value and plumage of action research. We have our own mathoms of trust, respect and authenticity. Also, mathoms of adaptability, flexibility and synergy of meaning. I admit to being less able than I would like to be at communicating this to funders, policy and decision makers. I started out in Australia with Social Science data looking at young people and their experience of living in the outback on family farms and associated services. The data was interesting but bland. We learnt some young people were grieving after the death of peers in car accidents, but not why these accidents occurred. In the next cycle we did interviews and learned that some young people chose to drive into the lone tree on dead-straight
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CARN Praxis roads as they could see not future other than grafting on the family farm. The next cycle looked at action – bringing young people together to find a peer-rich future through youth clubs. The action research mattered and improved the life of young people because they engaged with the activities and said they were happy. Critics would ask for evidence that suicides were lower or evidence that suicide was indeed the issue. Furthermore, they would ask did we measure happiness on a happiness scale? Bowers are built to attract others inside and this is what we need to do to show the richness of our plumage – the golden, the satin, the masked and the flame bower birds. We ned to invite others into our bowers Question: What can we do to show others the richness of our research?
Response 2: Jane O’Toole I really enjoyed the metaphor of the Bower Bird to describe the different embodiments of action research at different times in different contexts. The powerful and vibrant colourful imagery pays homage to the potential and synergy of action research, the impact of which can be profound, seismic yet not always visible to the wider (research) community or not always on everyone’s radar. I am enthralled by the action research context of young people in rural Australia and how the cycles of action research and human inquiry brought about shared solutions and positive change and will seek to learn more on this. As an educator in primary education, I am also deeply interested in bridging the school and community projects with the aim of sharing ideas, building educational and extra-curricular programmes which are designed and sustained through collaboration, democratic design and oversight. In response to What can we do to show others the richness of our research? I believe being active in both action research networks, and the broader networks of one’s discipline or interests- community, youth work, education, health, sociology is vital, coupled with disseminating Action Research in both realms, is important. Action research networks enrich and inform our ongoing research, practice, and interrogation of Action Research in Issue 1, Summer 2022
CARN Praxis partnership with fellow researchers, practitioners and advocates. Engagement with broader research communities of all disciplines and research approaches, enables Action Research to stand tall amongst all research approaches, and visible to and tangible for researchers, practitioners and policy makers to engage with its values, flexibility, democratic processes, robustness, complexities, reach and impact. All AR practitioners, researchers and theorists can, in partnership with research participants, further the reach and potential of Action Research through active and thoughtful engagement, dissemination and publication. As part of my PhD studies- a primary school-based research journey which explored child and parental engagement with Irish language learning, grounded by a participatory action research approach, participant children and parents co-presented our initial findings at an academic Student Voice Conference at the School of Education, Trinity College. Through the voice of participants, the richness of the learning and research journey was shared with the broader education community. During Q&A at the end of our presentation session which included two other presentations, one child from our school asked why the other presenters had not brought their participants given that they were presenting on Student Voice? It was a memorable moment on which I still reflect. Authentic dissemination and voice shared with the education community. Equally, it is not a full stop moment- how can the voice of participants be developed further in the writing and publication of PAR research, and how can we develop practice to navigate this?
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CARN Praxis Third Conversation Thread Provocation: Is quoting Paulo Freire enough? In these unforgiving times, should we be paying more attention to the influence of politics in our own research and in the role of Action Research more generally? Response 1: Mary McAteer I have a confession to make. I wrote an Action Research doctoral thesis and didn’t quote Paulo Freire. Yes, really… When I read this provocation, I immediately found myself asking more questions. Is quoting Paulo Freire necessary? Is it problematic not to quote Paulo Freire? Did someone make an error all those years ago and recommend that I be awarded a Doctorate? Will they come and take it back now my sordid little secret is out? Like all good provocations, this made me think about and question some assumptions I have. It also made me realise that my questions and their answers are often context dependant. As a part-retired academic, I have had many opportunities to assess student written work, and one of my criteria for ‘approval’ has tended to involve the citation list. It seems reasonable to me, that academic assignments must adhere to particular protocols, and meet certain academic criteria. On a number of occasions, I have expressed concern at a poor reference list, and the lack of ‘key writers’ in the field. How can a student claim to be doing action research without citing X or Y (citation being taken as evidence that they are aware of – an assumption which in itself is problematic!)? On the whole, this concern has been justified; the student concerned often has a poor grasp of what action research actually means, and has, in effect, described a positivistic research approach which takes place in a practice context, and the term action research has been ‘hijacked’ to mean any practice-based research. On the other hand, I have read many accounts which have cited a range of key authors. These students are clearly familiar with the literature, but their use of it can be likened to what Rae Stark called the Diamond Necklace approach, “stringing together 'gems' of quotations from well-known and authoritative authors, interspersed with a few words of your own.” (Stark, 1998). Such accounts certainly quote all the right authors but fail to critically engage with
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CARN Praxis their work (which for me, is the important bit), and often demonstrate little of what I think of as the essence of action research. The ’essence’ of action research is what I find myself most concerned with. It seems entirely possible to capture and indeed enact the essence of action research without quoting any specific author – even Freire. And this brings me to explore action research as a process not written about, the research that is done in communities, in practice environments, in participatory and democratic ways. Although there may be a report written for funders, or even an academic article written by a project leader, the co-researchers will have undertaken valuable, socially and politically driven work, and are often only peripherally, if at all, involved in any report writing. In Freire’s terms, they have developed a form of ‘praxis’, where “women and men learn that through learning they can make and remake themselves, because women and men are able to take responsibility for themselves as beings capable of knowing”. If these men and women find ways of learning to understand their lives and social conditions, and through this, take steps to improve them, does it even matter whether they know of Freire? And finally, I am not aware of Freire actually using the term Action Research, though I know he is credited with precipitating the birth of participatory action research in 1971. Is this significant? I may be completely wrong in this, and really welcome any correction from subsequent commentators.
References Freire, P. (2016) . Pedagogy of Indignation. Abingdon, England: Routledge. Stark, R. (1998) Practitioner Research: the Purposes of Reviewing the Literature within an Enquiry. The Scottish Council for Research in Education.
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CARN Praxis Response 2: Charlotte Hardacre Having read Mary’s response to the provocation, my first reflection is that Freire would agree with her point that capturing and enacting the essence of action research is of primary concern, rather than drawing on specific authors. In fact, Freire said something that affirms this notion in a 1971 conversation with Budd Hall: ‘...it is necessary to perceive in a very clear way the ideological background which determines the very methodology. It is impossible for me to think about neutral education, neutral methodology…the ideology determines the methodology of searching or of knowing’ (Freire, 1971, quoted in Hall, 2005, p. 5) Here, Freire asks researchers to perceive - to know - the ideology that underpins the way they search for knowledge and understanding. He recommends meaningful engagement with systems of belief. The same engagement that Mary observes in the processes of communities learning about their social conditions, and that she sees – or does not see - presented in the reference lists and writing of her students. This engagement does not necessitate awareness of Freire in particular because of the enactive nature of action research and because of its interdisciplinarity. After all, the action researcher can draw ‘theoretical strength from adult education, sociology, political economy, community psychology, community development, feminist studies, critical psychology, organizational development and more’ (Hall, 1992, p. 16). Also, Freire’s popularity cannot diminish the collective’s contribution to the history and continuity of action research because it is clear, there is no one founder, and no singular definition of what action research must be. Yet, it is hard to overstate Freire’s influence on the action research paradigm given that his work provided such stimulus for the articulation and global spread of participatory action research (Freire, 1982). Even without referring to PAR specifically, as Mary notes, Freire’s thinking provided momentum. Perhaps it is because his words reliably help people understand the purpose and nature - the essence - of action research. After all, a range of accounts, indicate his work contributes to awakening people’s political and ideological engagement, raising critical consciousness, and providing the impetus
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CARN Praxis for social action (Barros, 2020; McCormack, 2019). This has been my own experience and is explained by Barros’ (2020) point that Freire’s theories emerged from grassroots, testimonial experiences that provide both a set of concrete examples and a valuable vocabulary which make it possible to articulate concern when one’s social reality fails to live up to democratic, liberatory or anti-oppressive ideals. This has such utility as an educator and researcher that I return to Freire year on year. However, I am convinced by Mary’s contention that one does not need to refer to Freire. Both because other thinkers can provide ideological underpinning and because we should be mindful of action research as a process that is lived and enacted independent from scholarship. So, whilst I anticipate that his ideas will remain instructive in my teaching and research for the foreseeable future, I intend to make judicious use of his work to avoid both The Diamond Necklace approach (Stark, 1998) - cautioned against by Mary - and because Freire recommended an agile approach to knowledge generation and himself avoided becoming directly aligned with any particular field of study noting that:
‘any kind of sloganizing, ‘depositing,’ regimentation, and prescription cannot be components of revolutionary praxis, precisely because they are components of the praxis of domination’ (Freire, 1970, p,126) I close by wondering if both reflections have responded to the latter part of the provocation sufficiently. It’s fair to say that contemplating our engagement with Freire has surfaced some attention to political influences on our own research and action research more widely. For example, in our thoughts on action research as a process of social action regardless of awareness of Freire. It would be interesting to know the next reader’s thoughts on whether the provocation merits a more direct response to the ways we each attend to political influences on our own work and in the broader field. References Barros, S. (2020) ‘Paulo Freire in a Hall of Mirrors’, Educational theory, 70(2), pp. 151–169. Freire, P. (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum Issue 1, Summer 2022
CARN Praxis Freire, P. (1982). Creating alternative research methods: Learning to do it by doing it. Creating knowledge: A monopoly, 29-37. Hall, B.L. (1992) ‘From Margins to Center? The Development and Purpose of Participatory Research’, The American sociologist, 23(4), pp. 15–28. Hall, B.L. (2005) ‘In from the cold? Reflections on participatory research from 1970-2005’. Convergence, 38, pp. 5-24. McCormack, R. (2019) ‘Freire: Does he matter?’, Fine print, 42(3), pp. 3–9. Stark, R. (1998) Practitioner Research: the Purposes of Reviewing the Literature within an Enquiry. The Scottish Council for Research in Education. Response 3: Andy Convery In my role as a teacher, I usually experience a feeling of marginalisation when voices from above urge me to pay more attention to politics. As Andy Hargreaves pointed out, teachers often experience depressive guilt that they aren’t doing enough for their learners, so exhortations to be more aware of the influence of politics in our action research is just another reminder from more powerful voices that we are continuing to fail in our endeavours. Once again, we’re letting the side down, this time by not raising the critical consciousness of the people …. If the masses remain subject to false consciousness and consent to their oppression, then guess who’s to blame for failing to inspire their political awakening… At the same time, I also resent the implication that it’s possible to do action research without developing a heightening awareness of politics – especially micropolitics, those interpersonal dynamics that enable or frustrate individuals to fulfil their reciprocal potential as teachers and learners. I’ve worked with teachers on superb projects, and often their success was determined by their capacity to upwardly manage authorities in schools and colleges, and to persuade managers that there are problems that need solving in a practical, human manner, and that adopting a pragmatic action research approach is the most effectively liberating way to achieve success for all. As George Bernard Shaw once remarked, he didn’t need to read Marx’s ‘Das Kapital’ to understand that the poor are continually exploited. In a similar vein, most teachers don’t need degrees in Politics, Philosophy and Economics to learn that learners’ social and
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CARN Praxis economic backgrounds are the key determinants of academic success. One joy of engaging in action research is that through small scale classroom activities, teachers and learners develop new social and academic identities based upon improved relationships and deepening understandings of their shared aims and interests. However, returning to micropolitics, the extent of the changes in classroom-based research can be limited, if action research is restricted to an individual teacher working in a single classroom, and becomes “private reflection”. Perhaps where we teachers should be paying more attention to politics in action research, is in realising that if we want to change the micropolitics – the conditions in which we practice – we might endeavour to ensure that action research activities become more collaborative in their initial design, and embrace not just teachers and learners, but where possible, also include other colleagues, teaching assistants, parents, managers, administrators and governors. This can be challenging and frustrating, but it can lead to improvements for learners and enlightenment for all participants. It may be pragmatic to begin collaboration in practice by inviting “research ready” colleagues and associates where possible – by “pushing at open doors” and gradually making cultural change in the micropolitics which influences how learners – and teachers – can flourish. Hargreaves.A , (1994) Changing Times, Changing Teachers (Cassell London)
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CARN Praxis And Finally… Ruth Balogh We offered the opportunity to Ruth Balogh, in her capacity as past lead coordinator, to respond to the provocations separately. We now share her unique perspective in her response to the first provocation. Provocation One: When you chose Action Research over other viable research approaches for your work, what did AR make possible/not possible, and what did you learn from that? I didn't choose action research. Action research chose me. I'd been appointed in 1987 as Research Officer for a national study commissioned by the English National Board for Nursing Midwifery and Health Visiting Education (ENB) on introducing Performance Indicators (PIs) into the professional education institutions it regulated. The project was the ENB's response to its Ministerial Review in 1985 in which the ENB agreed to develop 'acceptable' PIs. It was to proceed along traditional lines, starting with a survey – but ending with an action research orientation involving stimulation of debate and the development of a network among professionals. When the research commenced, it soon emerged that local 'pilot' initiatives were springing up to develop PIs, but that responses among the profession were highly varied, ranging from enthusiasm to take control to outright hostility. The project director Alan Beattie and myself proposed to its steering group a change of approach to commence with action research instead, arguing that if 'acceptability' were to be achieved we needed to have direct conversations with the professional community. I was excited because I'd understood action research to offer something radical, though I wasn't sure quite how. We devised a new scheme which would enable us, in more of a partnership with the professional community to: •
collect the views of senior professionals
share information on existing initiatives
provide a forum for debate
enable learning about PIs & associated issues, and from all of these activities,
produce open learning materials which could be used in the wider community.
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Working this way meant that we could engage directly with the profession, but more important, it seemed there was little chance that a positivist approach – which would distance us from the field and postpone debate until our findings were published - could provide much of value for the profession. And the framing of our research procedures as an educational development package, later edited as open learning materials, could only be possible using action research. In reviewing the literature on action research for this project I also noted some observations Lewin made in 1946: he suggested that 'we should consider action, research and training as a triangle that should be kept together for the sake of its corners' and that 'at least of equal importance to the content of the research … is its proper place in social life' (Lewin 1946). Positivist methods position the researcher as the expert producer of knowledge, but our approach to knowledge production allowed us to take a more modest place in the social system we were working in and to recognise others’ efforts too. I learned so much in this project, and later reflected on it for my PhD thesis. The most important thing I learned was the value of having some form of oversight for a project, bringing together the stakeholders in its 'place in social life'. Only through such a mechanism – in this case the Steering Group – could the project's focus be re-negotiated once it had commenced. And of course, such re-negotiation is entirely in line with the principles of action research of constant re-evaluation.
References Lewin K 1946 Action Research and Minority Problems Journal of Social Issues 2 pp 34-46
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