Co-operative inquiry and participative reality
An extract from Chapter 1, Co-operative Inquiry, London, Sage,
Co-operative inquiry rests on an inquiry paradigm of participative reality.
This holds that there is a given cosmos in which the mind creatively participates,
and which it can only know in terms of its constructs, whether affective,
imaginal, conceptual or practical. We know through this active participation
of mind that we are in touch with what is other, but only as articulated
by all our mental sensibilities. Reality is always subjective-objective:
our own constructs clothe a felt participation in what is present. Worlds
and people are what we meet, but the meeting is shaped by our own
terms of reference. (Merleau-Ponty, 1962; Bateson, 1979; Reason and Rowan,
1981c; Spretnak, 1991; Heron, 1992; Varela et al, 1993; Skolimowski, 1994;
In meeting people, there is the possibility of reciprocal participative
knowing, and unless this is truly mutual, we don't properly know the other.
The reality of the other is found in the fulness of our open relation (Buber,
1937), when we each engage in our mutual participation. Hence the importance
of co-operative inquiry with other persons involving dialogue, parity
and reciprocity in all its phases.
This participative paradigm has two wings, the epistemic introduced
above, and the political. The epistemic wing, concerned with truth-values,
is formed by:
The political wing of the participative paradigm, concerned with being-values,
is formed by an axiology, a theory of value which holds that:
An ontology that affirms a mind-shaped reality which is subjective-objective:
it is subjective because it is only known through the form the mind gives
it; and it is objective because the mind interpenetrates the given cosmos
which it shapes.
An epistemology that asserts the participative relation between the knower
and the known, and, where the known is also a knower, between knower and
knower. Knower and known are not separate in this interactive relation.
They also transcend it, the degree of participation being partial and open
to change. Participative knowing is bipolar: empathic communion with the
inward experience of a being; and enactment of its form of appearing through
the imaging and shaping process of perceiving it
A methodology that commends the validation of outcomes through the congruence
of practical, conceptual, imaginal and empathic forms of knowing among
co-operative knowers, and the cultivation of skills that deepen these forms.
It sees inquiry as an intersubjective space, a common culture, in which
the use of language is grounded in a deep context of nonlinguistic meanings,
the lifeworld of shared experience, necessarily presupposed by agreement
about the use of language itself
Co-operative inquiry seeks to integrate these two wings by using participative
decision-making to implement the methodology. Also by acknowledging that
the quest for validity in terms of well-grounded truth-values, is interdependent
with another process which transcends it. This is the celebration of being-values
in terms of flourishing human practice.
Human flourishing is intrinsically worthwhile: it is valuable as an end
in itself. It is construed as a process of social participation in which
there is a mutually enabling balance, within and between people, of autonomy,
co-operation and hierarchy. It is conceived as interdependent with the
flourishing of the planetary ecosystem.
What is valuable as a means to this end is participative decision-making,
which enables people to be involved in the making of decisions, in every
social context, which affect their flourishing in any way. And through
which people speak on behalf of the wider ecosystem of which they are part.
The poststructural antiparadigm paradigm
Over against this and any other paradigm, there is to be considered
the antiparadigm stance of extreme poststructuralism (Denzin, 1994; Lincoln
and Denzin, 1994). From this position, any metaphysical paradigm, with
the epistemology that follows from it, is an attempt to set up rules outside
a piece of research, so that these rules can then be called up to validate
it. And these rules are only a mask for the researcher's desire for political
authority, a desire to assert power over the reader and the wider world.
Poststructural thought, deriving from the deconstruction of Derrida (1976,
1981), rejects the view that any text can have any kind of claim to epistemological
validity, on the grounds that 'any text can be undone in terms of its internal
structural logic' (Lincoln and Denzin, 1994: 579).
This account is itself is a paradigm, a sceptics' paradigm, a poststructural
antiparadigm paradigm (PAP), which asserts that all claims to truth in
a text can be undone and thus all claims to truth are disguised bids for
power over the reader. The trouble is that this statement of PAP presumably
applies to itself. Any truth that it claims to have can be undone and exposed
as a hidden bid for power. Hence it is suicidal and nihilistic, reducing
itself and all other forms of textual discourse to competing bids for raw,
purposeless power. Kincheloe and McLaren point out that while all claims
to truth are implicated in relations of power, truth cannot simply be equated
with an effect of power:
Otherwise, truth becomes meaningless and, if this is the
case, liberatory praxis has no purpose other than to win for the sake of
winning. (1994: 153)
And Culler (1982) has asserted that deconstruction does not reject propositional
truth but just stresses its contextuality. Wilber, too, has recently had
his say on the matter:
The postmodern poststructuralists, for example, have gone
from saying that no context, no perspective, is final, to saying that no
perspective has any advantage over any other, at which point they careen
uncontrollably in their own labyrinth of ever-receding holons, lost in
aperspectival space. (1995: 188)
Poststructural social science seeks its 'external grounding...in a commitment
to a post-Marxism and a feminism with hope' (Lincoln and Denzin, 1994:
579), in 'morally informed social criticism' (Denzin, 1994: 511). This
presupposes moral principles which inform the commitment and the criticism.
If moral principles constitute 'external grounding', this means they are
somehow valid, justifiable, not arbitrary. So the issue of epistemological
validity has simply moved over from scientific discourse, where it has
been rejected, to moral discourse, where it is tacitly invoked.
Poststructural social science still has to answer the question how it
can justify, validate, find worthy of belief, the moral principles which
inform its commitment to social justice and empowerment. The problem here
is that any answer it gives will be subject to demolition by its adherence
to PAP, and then morality as well as science will have been crushed in
its nihilistic grip.
Truth, validity and beyond
Terms like 'truth' and 'validity' have an excellent and healthy standing
in ordinary discourse, and I do not see why they should be abandoned and
turned into bogeymen in social science, just because they have been given
a limiting definition and application by positivism, and politically used
for unacceptable purposes of social control. This is to confuse their meaning
with the abuse of their meaning.
Truth and validity degenerate in meaning when they are defined in objectivist
terms, and then used to rationalize the pursuit of power, to provide a
mask for political propaganda. But they are not intrinsically to do either
with objectivism or with power and rationalization. They are to do with
human reason, and other ways of knowing. They provide the preconditions
of intelligent inquiry in any domain. And they cannot be reduced without
remainder to central terms within any one particular realm of discourse.
Any attempt to do so has to presuppose they have a meaning outside the
terms of the reduction. Then they creep back into the argument in tacit,
unacknowledged form, causing all kinds of logical and political trouble.
The challenge after positivism is to redefine truth and validity in
ways that honour the generative, creative role of the human mind in all
forms of knowing. This also means, I believe, taking inquiry beyond justification,
beyond the validation of truth-values, toward the celebration and bodying
forth of being-values, as the transcendent and polar complement to the
quest for validity.
For details of the references in this extract, look in Heron, J. Co-operative
Inquiry: Research into the Human Condition, London, Sage, 1996. See
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