The emergent tradition of participatory research in the social sciences

Participatory Perspectives on Counselling Research. By DAVID HILES: Summary of paper presented at NCCR Conference, Newport, November 22, 2008.

The above essay by David Hiles has great introductory material on participatory methods of inquiry.

First, David Hiles proposes three types of knowing:

Positivist Knowledge: (present-at-hand), i.e. “Getting about in “the world”, measurement, size, weight, shape, design, manufacture, cause-effect, “fitfor- purpose”, etc

Cultural/Social Construction: (arbitrary-in-hand), i.e. Cultural discourses and practices, social and cultural artifice, differences, customs, folklore, histories; stories of value, meaning, availability, preservation, etc

Participatory Knowing (readiness-to-hand): First-hand experience, familiarity; tacit know-how,knack, skill, expertise; practical uses, affordance, “learning on the job”, concern, purpose, possibility, adaptability, improvisation; choice, preferences, fascination, absorption; acquisition; care, maintenance, etc

He also distinguishes between different types of Participatory Research

Apart fromt he Ancient methods of inquiry, he mentions two categories:

* 1) Explicit methods (Researcher oriented)

1. Heuristic Inquiry (Clark Moustakas)
2. Co-operative / Lived Inquiry (John Heron)
3. Autoethnography (Carolyn Ellis)
4. Mindful Inquiry (Valerie Bentz & Jeremy Shapiro)

* 2) Implicit methods (Participant oriented)

1. Narrative Inquiry (Hiles & Cermák)
2. Phenomenological Inquiry (Donald Polkinghorne, etc)
3. Transpersonal Inquiry (Braud & Anderson)
4. Action Research /Participative Inquiry (Peter Reason)

Detailed descriptions of each of these methods are available in his text.

He then focuses on the important work of three Key Contemporary Authors. Apart from Martin Heidegger, here are the two of them:

John Heron:

“One person who has made perhaps the most recent significant contribution to a participatory turn is John Heron with his development of co-operative inquiry methodology. Heron (1996) proposes an approach to human inquiry that explicitly stresses a participative paradigm which:

“ . . holds that there is a given cosmos in which the mind participates . . . we know through this active participation of mind that we are in touch with what is other . . . reality is always subjective-objective: our own constructs clothe a felt participation in what is present ” (p. 10-11).

“ Our lived world is participative: the perceiver is part of the perceived and vice versa . . . The relation of participation between perceiver and the perceived is always transient, partial, perspectival, incomplete and changing ” (p. 186). “You can’t inquire into the human condition from outside it . . you can’t get outside it . . even if you could . . you would have to get back into it in order to study it ” (p. 200).”

Michael Polanyi:

“Another significant contribution to the participatory turn comes from the Hungarian scientist and philosopher, Michael Polanyi. He is responsible for what is best described as a radical challenge to “normal science.” His proposal is that personal knowledge (Polanyi, 1958) plays a vital and inescapable role in all scientific research, indeed, in all human knowing.

“Let us therefore do something quite radical . . let us incorporate into our conception of scientific knowledge the part which we ourselves necessarily contribute in shaping such knowledge” (Polanyi, 1975, 28-9).

By stressing the tacit nature of participatory knowing, Polanyi is claiming that “we know more than we can tell.” In this way he is pointing out knowledge that is implicit to a task (e.g. know-how, skill), to a situation (e.g. travelling, interviewing, cooking), to a perspective (e.g. points of view, beliefs), etc.

Polanyi here is offering a participative realism (see Mullins, 1997), a non-dualistic position that is not very different from the re-current theme that runs through the earlier work of Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger, as well as most Eastern Philosophy (Hiles, 2008c).”

Interesting also is his overview of the “Canonical Literature”, i..e those that prepared the way:

“What I am calling the participatory turn isn’t very recent at all. Its origins go back to ancient tradition, and is at the centre of much of Eastern philosophy. In Western thought it can be traced through the writings of Pascal and Nietzsche, and is clearly central to a nondualistic position that emerges from the work of Husserl and Heidegger, and has been gathering momentum ever since. Table 1 below sketches out the emergence and progress of this turn.”

A Selection of the Participatory Literature (Table 1)

• Ancient tradition • Blaise Pascal (1670) (esprit de finesse) • Friedrich Nietzsche (1882) (earth; spirit/body) • Edmund Husserl (1913) (phenomenology) • Martin Heidegger (1927/1962) (dwelling; readiness-to-hand) • Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1945/1962) (embodiment) • Ludwig Wittgenstein (1953) (meaning as practice) • Paul Tillich (1955) (participation and knowledge) • Michael Polanyi (1958) (indwelling; participative realism) • Marjorie Grene (1966) (the knower and the known) • Hubert Dreyfus (1972) (coping, development of a practice) • J. J. Gibson (1976) (affordances) • Morris Berman (1981) (participatory consciousness) • John Searle (1983) (background of know-how, intentionality) • William Poteat (1985) (“mindbodily grounded in the world”) • Donald Polkinghorne (1988) (narrative knowing) • Charles Taylor (1989) (radical reflexivity) • Clark Moustakas (1990) (heuristic inquiry) • Francisco Varela (1993) (enactive knowing, embodied mind) • Henryk Skolimowski (1994) (the participatory mind) • John Heron (1996; 1998; 2006) (participative reality) • Heron & Reason (1997) (participatory inquiry paradigm) • Braud & Anderson (1998) (transpersonal inquiry) • John Shotter (2000) (participatory stance) • Peter Reason (2001) (participatory world view) • Paul Dourish (2001) (computers and embodied interaction) • Jorge Ferrer (2002) (transpersonal participatory vision) • Miller & Crabtree (2005) (slow knowledge – wheel of inquiry) • Hiles (2005, 2006a, b, 2007a, 2008a, b) (participatory knowing) • Evan Thompson (2007) (embodied dynamicism)

1 Comment The emergent tradition of participatory research in the social sciences

  1. AvatarMichel Bauwens

    A critique from John Heron, via email:

    Thanks for alerting me to the article by David Hiles. I am visiting family members in the UK, but have managed to fit in a first quick reading.

    From my perspective a fundamental weakeness of the paper is that Hiles attends exclusively to the epistemic wing of participatory inquiry, that is, to the nature of a researcher’s participatory knowing, and not at all to the political wing – which is about how subjects (who are being participatively known by a researcher) participate in the researcher’s decision-making about research topic, about research method, and about research conclusions – all of which purport to generate knowledge about the subjects.

    Hiles gives an example of his own methodology of NOI Analysis used for counselling research. In his example, the method yields an account of how the subject “participates in his own construction of self”. But the account is obtained by unilateral researcher post-session analysis of the subject’s recorded story, not by co-creative mutuality of dialogue between counsellor and client.

    Unless counsellors who are researching counselling are prepared to relate to their clients as co-creative partners in the inquiry process, their use of unilateral participatory knowing may become as sterile as the old positivist methods.

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