Biographically oriented cooperative inquiry: a shift to complexity in theories of learning
The author reflects on the power of biographical methods in recomposing the dichotomies that dominate the mainstream of education and research – theory/practice, research/education, body/mind, individual/collective, and so on. Dominant theories of learning are focused on the single rational individual, acting based on conscious purpose, while democratic and social change is undervalued in favour of neoliberal goals. The problems created by this hegemonic western epistemology can be healed by thinking in terms of stories, as suggested by systems’ theorist Gregory Bateson. An epistemological shift is then needed, in the light of complexity theories, and their concepts of self-organisation, emergence, and embodied cognition. Self-narratives illuminate more than individual lives, to sustain a complex view of learning as the emergent feature of entangled interactions, at different levels: micro, meso, and macro – that is, individual, interactional, and social. Adult education needs methods to overcome the dominant view and re-establish its fundamental role in granting social justice and peaceful co-existence. Biographically oriented cooperative inquiry is presented as such a method, dialogically working on contents and processes to build liveable knowledge based on human embodied and shared experience and able to foster systemic change through deliberate action.
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