Participatory Turn in Research

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


Types of Knowledge

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

Types of Participatory Research

From David Hiles, Methods of Participatory Inquiry:

  • Ancient methods of inquiry
  • 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)
  • 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 the method are available in the text:

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

Three Key Contemporary Authors

From DAVID HILES, Department of Psychology, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK:

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)."

Martin Heidegger

"And the third person I want to highlight with respect to this participatory turn, who could be argued to be the most important of all, is Martin Heidegger. It is my view, that outside of Continental philosophy, the work of Martin Heidegger has been marginalized for far too long. In setting out his philosophy of being-in-the-world, he crucially distinguishes between the present-at-hand and the ready-to-hand (Heidegger, 1927). The present-to-hand, more or less, corresponds to positivist knowledge, whereas the ready-to-hand is characterized as: “ . . the kind of dealing which is closest to us, not a bare perceptual cognition, but rather that kind of concern which manipulates things and puts them to use; and this has its own kind of ‘knowledge’ ” (Heidegger, 1927/1962, p. 95).

Heidegger here stresses the primacy of the readiness-to-hand, with its own kind of knowing. First and foremost we relate to the world in terms of what is meaningful, what matters to us. Heidegger argues that our scientific theorizing of the world is secondary, and derivative.

Heidegger is offering an ontology that is far broader than the dualistic Cartesian framework. It is an ontology that I have argued fits far more comfortably with much of psychology and especially counselling practice (Hiles, 2008c, 2008d).

It follows from Heidegger’s perspective that human action is embodied, that human knowing is enactive, and that human subjectivity is participatory. I believe that what I am calling the participatory corresponds precisely to Heidegger’s notion of “readiness-tohand.”

More Information

  1. Participatory Inquiry
  2. Co-operative Inquiry

The Canonical Literature

From DAVID HILES, Department of Psychology, De Montfort University, Leicester, UK

"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)