Chapter One Living Inquiry

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Chapter One: Living Inquiry

Chapter One

Living Inquiry

Throughout this thesis I refer to my inquiry practice as living inquiry and I offer narratives, “messy texts” (Denzin 1996) of my inquiries into my life as a man, my struggle to find happiness and fulfilment in loving relationships, my search for healing, and the shift in my professional identity away from mainstream policing towards an educative role. These texts show rather than tell you, the reader, the purpose and scope of my inquiries, the standards of judgement and practice that I bring to bear in living my life as inquiry, my methodology, my forms of sense-making and the nature and extent of my contribution to scholarship.

In this chapter I reverse this emphasis (telling rather than showing) in order to make my claims in each of these areas more explicit though, as I indicate in Turning for Home, creative intuition and conscious structuring are not mutually exclusive activities and I shall continue to call on both my imaginative and critical faculties as I set, justify and assess my thesis against its own original criteria and in relation to the ideas of others.
As I inquire into the practices and meanings that I associate with the term living inquiry, I shall pick up some of the incidental reflections and speculations from subsequent chapters, adding fresh insights and a further level of reflection and theorising. In my use of theoretical resources, I adopt Richard Winter’s dictum as a warrant for my own approach:

Whereas academic research is set up as a carefully designed response to a body of theory as it exists at a given moment, action research, having initially established the scope and significance of its provisional topic by reference to general intellectual and professional debates, then becomes a relatively free-flowing dialogue with various bodies of theory as the progress of the work brings new aspects into significance. Action research, therefore, does not aim to make an initial “comprehensive” review of all previous relevant knowledge; rather it aims instead at being flexible and creative as it improvises the relevance of different types of theory at different stages in the work. (Winter 1998) (Emphasis in the original)

Also, without denying the value or significance of academic literature, I shall not place such narrow limits around my theoretical resources. Story, art, poetry and drama have much to offer and have also influenced my understanding and my practice. Where they seem relevant I shall draw upon them freely. By way of illustration, let me offer the following story, which I take from the Zen Buddhist tradition1, to suggest something of the flavour of what I mean by the term living inquiry.
Many years’ ago in Japan, there was a warrior – one of those itinerant Samurai known as ronin. He had an ambition to find fame and fortune as the finest archer in the land. In pursuit of his dream, he travelled the length and breadth of the country looking for a master-bowman to help him improve his technique. Few of those he encountered had much to teach him but he continued searching and eventually, just as he was about to give up, he chanced upon some dilapidated farm buildings far from other habitation. All over the buildings, in the most unlikely and inaccessible places, were hundreds of hand-painted targets, each with an arrow at the exact centre of the bulls-eye.
The Samurai knocked at the door and begged the occupant to share the secret of his uncanny accuracy. A bargain was struck and the master-bowman offered to demonstrate his craft. Pausing a few moments to slow his breath and meditate, he nocked an arrow onto the string and – in the classic stance – drew the well-worn bow. With the sudden gentleness of a young child releasing its hold on an adult’s finger, he loosed the arrow towards the barn where it came to rest, planting itself into… a perfectly blank stretch of the wall.
“You missed,” said the Samurai.

“Not so,” replied the bowman, stepping up to the barn, picking up a paintbrush and marking a target round the quivering arrow. “Every time, a bulls-eye.”

“But why do you do this?” asked the stunned warrior.
“Because I am intensely curious to learn where every arrow lands,” said the bowman.
In that moment, the Samurai was enlightened. He forgot his dream of fame and fortune and became the master-bowman’s pupil in the art of Zen archery.
I have loosed many “arrows” in the course of my living inquiries. It is about time to paint some targets!

Questions of purpose

If, as I have asserted, the overarching question that this text seeks to answer is: What does it mean for me to live my life as inquiry? then living inquiry is the term I use to represent both the sense I have of living my whole life as inquiry (“the one”) and the separate, though interrelated, inquiries that I undertake from time to time (“the many”). I did not coin the term. I think it is likely that Bill Torbert can take credit for that (Torbert 1991) though his usage of the term had dropped out of my mind when, writing in my research journal in May 1999, I juxtaposed these two words to indicate that, for me, the process of inquiry needs to be alive and vital, and that I seek to live with an inquiring spirit. Recognising this twin aspiration, my usage of the word living in this context has a double meaning, as both verb and adjective.

Having indicated what I mean by the term living inquiry, I am conscious of the need to respond to the question that Peter Reason (Reason 1996) suggests should be fully explored in every research proposal and every PhD thesis: “What is the purpose of my inquiry?” I began to address this issue early in the thesis when, in the Prelude, I asked myself (and responded to) three related questions: What sort of inquirer am I? What inquiries do I want to write about? How do I want to write about my inquiries? Paradoxically, I think I am better able to answer Peter’s question directly now, having written about my living inquiries in some detail, than I would have been at the outset. I think it is important to look at the purpose(s) of my living inquiry both in terms of “Why do I inquire?” (That is to say, my reasons or motives for living life as inquiry) and in terms of “To what ends do I inquire?” (That is to say the goals of my inquiries).

In the opening paragraph of the Prelude, I declared “I inquire because I must” and in the course of an hour-long tape-recorded dialogue about the nature of my living inquiry at the September 2000 CARPP Conference, in response to Peter Reason asking me to say why living my life as inquiry matters to me, I said:

The only way I can make sense of my life is in terms of finding meaning through… inquiry. The strongest sense I have of who I am is being a seeker, being someone who constantly pushes wherever I am. What is the boundary? What is next? What is beyond? And tries to find meaning… I have a deep hunger for meaning.
These are impassioned, heartfelt statements that reflect a basic existential choice. To understand and articulate this choice more clearly I turn to Victor Frankl, whose book Man’s Search for Meaning, (Frankl 1984) based on his experience of life as Prisoner No. 119,104 in a Nazi concentration camp, has profoundly influenced my thinking. His conceptualisation of the will to meaning as: “the striving to find a concrete meaning in personal existence” (p106) resonates with my own felt experience and I find myself nodding in agreement as I read:
Man’s [sic] search for meaning is the primary motivation in his life and not a “secondary rationalization” of instinctual drives. This meaning is unique and specific in that it must and can be fulfilled by him alone; only then does it achieve a significance which will satisfy his own will to meaning. (p105)
There are times too when I can identify with what Frankl calls “tragic optimism”:
That is, an optimism in the face of tragedy and in view of the human potential which at its best always allows for: (1) turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment; (2) deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better; and (3) deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action. (p139/140)

Though I believe that there are also grounds for an optimism born of joy, for following what Mathew Fox describes as the via positiva: “a way or path of affirmation, thanksgiving, ecstasy” (Fox 1983, p33). My existential choice is therefore one of optimism, of doing my best, of striving to make things better or to make the best out of any given situation – for myself and with others.

When I turn to the goals of my living inquiries (the ends to which I inquire) I find that I want to undermine too instrumental a view and I am reminded of the relationship between the goal and the opus in the great work of alchemical transformation. Carl Gustav Jung (Jung 1976) expresses this beautifully:
The goal is important only as an idea; the essential thing is the opus which leads to the goal; that is the goal of a lifetime.
And yet, I know that I am not detached from the ends to which I inquire, even if I am not fully aware of them beforehand. Let me explore this further, using a framework devised by Peter Reason and Judi Marshall (Reason and Marshall 1987). They suggest that one can think of research as:
For me: “The motivation to do research is personal and often expresses needs for personal development, change and learning.” For us: “It is a cooperative endeavour which enables a community of people to make sense of and act effectively in their world.” For them: “For the community of scholars of which the researcher is a member or potential member.” (p112)
Reading the transcript of the tape-recorded conversation I quoted earlier, I see that I am making claims in respect of each of these areas for my living inquiry.

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