Thursday, May 16, 2013

Action Research as Imaginal Process

Perhaps due to the nature of our personal orientations to the natural world, our experiences -- as educators, researchers, and passionate souls -- have led us to consider action research as a chrysalis for human transformation. 

We wonder how many others have actually observed and reflected upon the powerful transformations that occur in nature, where the very form of a being alters throughout the organism’s development. While metamorphosis is a powerful metaphor, how do humans – without the same evolutionary messages as insects – accomplish profound change within personal and larger social systems? For the butterfly, the time in the chrysalis is one with very little observable movement, yet within it dissolution, differentiation, and growth are occurring. In fact, the change is already being signaled within the caterpillar even before the move to chrysalis through the impact of what are called imaginal cells. 

In investigating the experiences of formal and informal educators engaged in action research projects, as part of a Masters degree in Ecological Teaching and Learning, we observed that what seemed like previously intransigent issues for these educators often did significantly shift. We also noted that as one engages with the action research process, there can be a time of suspension and disorientation as former ways of seeing and being are challenged and changed. In our research, we name this the Mush Stage, and it seems to be a necessary part of transformation for humans as well as butterflies.

We’re not sure how the caterpillar turned butterfly feels about this experience -- where its previous form totally dissolves. Does it know loss or fear or confusion? We do know that we hear about these feelings from educators and have been carefully observing and analyzing the role this Mush Stage plays within the transformative process that so often results in a newly felt sense of empowerment.

How can action research provide a framework for human metamorphosis? What sort of synergistic relationship exists between action research, ecological education, and transformative learning?

We invite you to join us in our exploration of these questions in our article entitled, Ecological education and action research: A transformative blend for formal and non formal educators.

Nicky Duenkel and Judy Pratt

Free access to Nicky and Judy's new article in Action Research Journal is available free for 30 days here. We'd love to engage in conversation with you about your response to this article.

Related links:  

One take on the metaphor of imaginal cells as related to humans.

Original image of lifecycle of a butterfly can be found here and the original image of chrysalis cut open can be found here.

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