Published in P. Reason and H. Bradbury (eds), Handbook of
Action Research, second edition, London, Sage Publications, 2008
Extending epistemology within a co-operative inquiry
John Heron and Peter Reason
Co-operative inquiry is a form of second person action research in
which all participants work together in an inquiry group as
co-researchers and as co-subjects. Everyone is engaged in the design and
management of the inquiry; everyone gets into the experience and action
that is being explored; everyone is involved in making sense and drawing
conclusions; thus everyone involved can take initiative and exert
influence on the process. This is not research on people or about
people, but research with people (Heron, 1971, 1996a; Heron &
Reason, 2001, 2005; Reason, 1998, 1999, 2003, 1988b, 1994; Reason &
The inquiry group members work together through cycles of action and
reflection developing their understanding and practice by engaging in
what we have called an ‘extended epistemology’ of experiential,
presentational, propositional and practical ways of knowing. Our purpose
in this paper is to consider this extended epistemology in more depth
than in previous conjoint writings. After an introductory overview, we
consider each way of knowing in turn, first with some general remarks,
then with a look at its role in the reflection phase, the action phase
and the outcomes of a co-operative inquiry, including some examples from
inquiry practice. We conclude with comments on issues of quality in the
cyclic use of the four ways.
A useful background to this chapter is our general introduction to
co-operative inquiry (Heron and Reason, 2001). While the extended
epistemology is foundational to co-operative inquiry, it is clearly not
limited to it. It can be applied to everyday knowing and all forms of
action research practice.
Overview of the four ways of knowing
The radical epistemology discussed here is a theory of how we know
which is extended beyond the ways of knowing of positivist
oriented academia. These we see as based primarily on abstract
propositional knowledge and a narrow empiricism. However, we note the
parallel developments in what Denzin and Lincoln (Denzin & Lincoln,
2005b) refer to as the later ‘moments’ in the development of qualitative
research practices (Reason, 2006).
The four ways of knowing can be briefly defined as follows both in
terms of process and outcome. Experiential knowing is by being
present with, by direct face-to-face encounter with, person, place or
thing. It is knowing through the immediacy of perceiving, through
empathy and resonance. Its product is the quality of the relationship in
which it participates, including the quality of being of those in the
relationship. Presentational knowing emerges from the encounters
of experiential knowing, by intuiting significant form and process in
that which is met. Its product reveals this significance through the
expressive imagery of movement, dance, sound, music, drawing, painting,
sculpture, poetry, story and drama. Propositional knowing ‘about’
something is intellectual knowing of ideas and theories. Its product is
the informative spoken or written statement. Practical knowing is
knowing how-to do something. Its product is a skill, knack or
competence—interpersonal, manual, political, technical, transpersonal,
and more—supported by a community of practice (Heron, 1981, 1992,
Everyone naturally employs these four ways of knowing and tacitly
interweaves them in all sorts of ways in everyday life. In co-operative
inquiry they become intentional, and we say that knowing will be more
valid if the four ways are congruent with each other: if our knowing is
grounded in our experience, expressed through our images and stories,
understood through theories which make sense to us, and expressed in
worthwhile action in our lives. We also think of the intentional use of
the ways in terms of a virtuous circle: skilled action leads into
enriched encounter, thence into wider imaginal portrayal of the pattern
of events, thence into more comprehensive conceptual models, thence into
more developed practice, and so on.
We start from the position that all knowing is based in the
experiential presence of persons in their world. Any form of inquiry
that fails to honour experiential presence—through premature
abstraction, conceptualization and measurement, or through a political
bias which values the experience only of socially dominant or
like-minded groups—ignores the fundamental grounding of all knowing.
Thus we can describe experiential knowing, at its simplest, as my
direct acquaintance with that which I meet in my lifeworld: the
experience of my presence in relation with the presence of other
persons, living beings, places, or things. This kind of knowing is
essentially tacit and pre-verbal. It is also profoundly ‘real’—sound,
solid and vibrant at the moment of experience—yet often elusive to
express both to ourselves and to others. Geoff Mead describes the
experiential grounding of his own inquiry:
As an integral part of my being in the world, my living
inquiry is firmly anchored in the bedrock of my experience…I
have actively sought new experiences and pushed my boundaries
considerably in doing so, whether it be ritual menswork,
separation and divorce, storytelling performances, or creating
and delivering large-scale educational programmes for the police
and other public services…Without such experiential grounding, I
believe that action research remains as speculative and
“theoretical” as its reductionist cousins. (Mead, 2001:66)
Our warrant for this assertion of the experiential as the ground of
knowing is itself fundamentally experiential—although also rooted in a
participatory worldview, as we explore below. Our work with co-operative
inquiry, in mindfulness practices, ceremony and charismatic embodiment
(Heron and Lahood, Chapter 29) and our attempts at aware everyday living
all convince us that experiential encounter with the presence of others
and of the world is the ground of being and knowing. This encounter is
prior to language and art—although it can be symbolized in language and
art. Our meeting with the elemental properties of the living world, the
I-Thou encounter with a person (or other being) cannot be confused with
our symbolic constructs: If you find yourself doubting this, try the
simple exercise of opening yourself to the presence of another and
compare that with thinking about her or him.
Experiential knowing is not a positivist grasping of other things in
the world, for we say that the very process of perceiving is a meeting,
a transaction, with what there is. When I hold your hand, my experience
includes both subjectively shaping you and objectively meeting you. To
encounter being or a being is both to image it in my way and to feel its
presence, to know that it is there. To experience anything is to
participate in it, and to participate is both to mould and to encounter,
hence experiential reality is always subjective-objective, relative both
to the knower and to what is known. Such encounter has greater immediacy
and less mediation than our propositional knowing.
Experiential knowing is thus a ground for the symbolic frameworks of
conceptual, propositional knowing, a necessary ground - but not an
infallible one, because of the vulnerability of human sensibilities. The
validity of the encounter can be described as ‘declarative’. Worlds and
persons are what we meet, and the reality of the relation of meeting,
its qualitative impact, declares the tangible sense of the realness of
the presence of each to each, and of each to herself or himself, and all
of this in a shared field. Two people or a group in a meeting can open
to and feel the quality of this shared field. We can only describe it
metaphorically, but we can sense its qualitative shifts as the dynamic
of the meeting unfolds. This quality of the field, whether harmonious or
tense or joyful or blighted, is a living key to appropriate
understanding and action in the situation, and a vital component of our
experience of interpersonal reality.
Experiential knowing and a participatory worldview
Experiential knowledge is close to what William James called
“knowledge of acquaintance” and he made the classic distinction between
this and “knowledge-about”. “All the elementary natures of the world”,
he says, must be known by acquaintance or not known at all; and it is
“through feelings that we become acquainted with things” (James,
For Whitehead, perceptual knowledge by acquaintance is rooted in
“prehension”: a direct participative, emotional rapport with the
environing field of events, rooted in the “withness of the body” which
is continuous with the rest of the natural world. Leslie Paul, following
Whitehead, talks of the ineffable bed of sentience, a primary cosmic
sensitivity, which gives an understanding of the interrelated web of
being in which the organism is suspended (Paul, 1961).
The notion of basic, unitive engagement with the world is also
important in the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty. He argues that all
language and discursive knowledge presupposes the pre-objectiv world of
perception, consciousness-world union, which is anterior to every
distinction including that of consciousness and nature. It is an
unformulated consciousness of the totality which is body-and-world, the
body being co-extensive with the entire field of possible perceptions,
i.e. the world (Merleau-Ponty, 1962).
Our own view builds on this tradition. We hold that the very
foundation of human perceptual sensibility is the capacity for feeling,
which we define as a participatory relation with being and beings,
integrating the distinctness of knower and known in a relational whole.
Experiential knowing is feeling engaged with what there is,
participating, through the perceptual process, in the shared presence of
mutual encounter. We see this capacity for feeling as the quintessential
nature of the life, the living energy, that is within us—the life that
is the immanent pole of our embodied spirit (Heron, 1992, 1998).
Our notion of experiential knowing thus points toward a
participatory view of the world. Our inherited ‘Cartesian’ worldview
tells us the world is made of separate things: the objects of nature are
composed of inert matter, operating according to causal laws. But as
Thomas Berry puts it, the living world is not a collection of objects:
it is a community of subjects of which the human community is part
(Berry, 1999; Reason, 2001). Reality is both One and Many: the beings of
the world are differentiated centres of consciousness within a unified
cosmic presence (Heron, 1992, 1996a, 1998). Freya Matthews and other
panpsychic philosophers hold that our primary relationship with our
world is erotic: our knowing must be grounded in loving, not
manipulation (Mathews, 2003; Skrbina, 2005). This places humans in the
web of life
is JH as embodied participants, ‘living as
part of the whole’ (Reason, 2005). Buddhist myth offers the image of
Indra’s net where all things both reflect and are reflected in all.
Participation is our nature: we do not stand separate from the cosmos,
we evolved with it, participate in it and are part of its creative
force. (For further explorations of a participatory worldview see Abram,
1996; Eisler & Loye, 1990; Ferrer, 2002; Goodwin, 1999; Mathews, 2003;
Skolimowski, 1994; Skrbina, 2005; Tarnas, 1991, 2000, 2006).
Experiential knowing in the reflection phases of inquiry
One of the implications of this view for the practice of co-operative
inquiry is that the co-inquirers are present, open to encounter with
each other. In a successful inquiry group co-inquirers
will develop a sense of
pre-conceptual communion or resonance in their shared life-world,
as a ground for subsequent reflection
together. Of course, our participative worldview suggests that at
some level this communion is going on tacitly and unintentionally as the
very condition of being in a world. Co-inquirers don’t have to generate
it, they have only to open to it, honour it and enhance it intentionally
and awarely. A variety of rituals and attunement practices can empower
this natural process of mutual resonance (Heron, 1998, 1999) (Heron and
Lahood, chapter 29).
Inquiry groups will also need to deal along the way quite explicitly
with issues of inclusion, control and intimacy (Reason, 2003; Srivastva,
Obert, & Neilson, 1977) for which appropriate facilitation may be
needed. This process of interpersonal clearing can be enhanced by
adopting further disciplines which provide a fertile ground for opening
to communion, practices such as meeting in a circle, sharing time
equally, listening attentively, and so on (see, for example, Baldwin,
1996; Randall & Southgate, 1980; McArdle Chapter 42)
A group of graduate students and faculty at the University of
Bath met for a workshop on Power and Participation. When we
turned to discuss issues of power and participation within the
group the feeling of tension greatly increased and strong
feelings were expressed on both sides. We worked hard to
understand, holding two disciplines: to listen to each person in
turn fully without interruption; and to record their experience
clearly in writing on the whiteboard….After a while several
people commented on the shift in feeling in the group: we were
quieter, more appreciative, more deeply understanding both our
differences and the shared pattern of experience. In this sense
we became more present with each other. (Personal
Experiential knowing in the action phases of inquiry
The action phases often involve co-inquirers being busy with their
individual action inquiries in
everyday life, apart
from each other. Their inquiries will be enriched to the extent that
they are able to deepen and extend their encounter with their world. We
see this as happening in three ways. First, the very fact of being part
of an inquiry will alert them to new dimensions of their world: once we
join a group of people pursuing similar questions new aspects of our
world are inevitably evoked. Indeed, it is often wise in the early
stages of an inquiry for participants simply to notice how their new
world looks to them. Thus, for example, the young women who accepted
Kate McArdle’s invitation to join an inquiry into young women in
management simply through being part of that group noticed and felt more
deeply the casual sexism that characterised their organization (McArdle,
Second and most important they can practise the bedrock skill of
being present and open, of becoming intentional about, and make explicit
in all its fullness, their participation in what is present. This
includes open-hearted engagement with the relation of person-to-person
meeting, being responsive to the changing qualities of its shared field
as vital pointers toward relevant understanding and action in the
situation. And third, they need to be alert to a tendency to become so
engrossed in their everyday world, so engaged in the moment, that they
forget they are part of an inquiry, and their experiential knowing
reverts to becoming almost completely tacit. When this happens,
interactions later on in reflection phases with other inquirers may
enable the qualitative impact of their experiences to be rekindled and
Experiential knowing as an outcome of inquiry
This kind of outcome is awkward for models of education and research
which both presuppose and foster the value of dissociated intellectual
excellence, but is fundamental for whole person education, learning and
inquiry. Clearly, if the cultivation of radical presence in mutual
resonance with other persons and in participative engagement with the
world is a basic aspect of the inquiry process, then transformations of
personal being, and of empathic relating both with the human world and
the more-than-human world, are important outcomes.
These kinds of outcome are affirmed in the Heron and Lahood inquiry
into the realm of the between (chapter 29). Participants in an extended
inquiry into transpersonal activities in everyday life agreed that
transformations of personal being – e.g. “a very important integration
of deep face-to-face intimacy and the transpersonal” - were the most
basic kind of outcome of the inquiry (Heron, 1999:183). In a very
different way, transformations of presence are evident as outcomes of
the MSc in Responsibility and Business Practice at the University of
Bath, which draws strongly on action research and experiential knowing
it is educational principles (Coleman & Marshall, in preparation) and in
the work of ‘learning to love our Black selves' described by Taj Johns
in Chapter 32.
Such outcomes may be qualitatively specific to the focus of any
kind of inquiry, and, together with the practical life-skills that are
co-involved with them, validate an inquiry in quite basic and
long-lasting ways, through living repercussions and ripples, even if
there are no written or presentational outcomes of any kind.
Presentational knowing is made manifest in images which articulate
experiential knowing, shaping what is inchoate into a communicable form,
and which are expressed nondiscursively through the visual arts, music,
dance and movement, and discursively in poetry, drama and the
continuously creative capacity of the human individual and social mind
to tell stories. In all civilizations these products have been developed
through imaginative discipline into a wide range of sophisticated
cultural forms that independently symbolise our experience of the human
condition. Presentational knowing is a fundamental part of the process
of inquiry, and its expression is both a meaningful outcome in its own
right, and a vital precursor to propositional outcomes.
However, the process of presentational knowing of our world, through
intuiting significant patterns in our immediate experience, can have its
great cognitive potential constrained by the conceptual power of
language. The imaginal mind is continually creative in the transaction
between the psyche and being, generating the visual, auditory and
tactile images that participate in and disclose a world (Heron,
1992:138-150). But this imaginal participation is entirely unconscious:
I am only aware of the image, the outcome, and not of the imaging
process. Moreover, I convert the image into an appearance of a world
that seems to be quite independent of anything going on in me. This
reification is massively reinforced by the use of language and the way
in which its concepts and class names become embedded as an
interpretative layer in our perceiving. This process of conceptualising
perception disrupts its transactional, participatory nature, breaking up
the primordial synthesis of perceiver and perceived, and leading to a
split between an alienated subject and an independent object (Heron,
Once we enter the worlds of presentational knowing permeated by
propositional knowing, the arguments of the language turn and the social
construction of knowledge apply (see Chapter 10): knowledge mediated by
language is a cultural construct formed from a certain perspective – in
modern times a broadly Cartesian worldview, as mentioned above - and for
certain purposes, (although as we have argued, constructionist views
tend to be deficient in any acknowledgement of experiential knowing,
Heron & Reason, 1997).
The importance of presentational forms of knowing in their own right,
and of releasing them from overcontrolling conceptual-rational
dominance, has become increasingly apparent in the social sciences in
recent years—notice for example Denzin and Lincoln’s emphasis on the
‘crisis of representation’ (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005a:18). Jerome Bruner
makes the distinction between Mythos and Logos
There are two modes of cognitive functioning, two modes of
thought, each providing distinctive ways of ordering experience,
of constructing reality. The two (though complementary) are
irreducible to one another. Efforts to reduce one mode to the
other or to ignore one at the expense of the other inevitably
fail to capture the rich diversity of thought….Perhaps Richard
Rorty is right in characterizing the mainstream of
Anglo-American philosophy (which, on the whole, he rejects) as
preoccupied with the epistemological question of how to know
truth – which he contrasts with the broader question of how we
come to endow experience with meaning, which is the question
that preoccupies the poet and the storyteller. (Bruner,
For Bruner stories are of the essence of Mythos, keeping the process
of knowing open and creative. He argues that ‘It is part of the magic of
well-wrought stories that they keep these two landscapes intertwined,
making the knower and the known inseparable’ (2002:27). And he makes the
point that while we may ‘come to conceive of the ‘real world’ in a
manner that fits the stories we tell about it’ it is nevertheless our
good fortune that ‘we are forever tempted to tell different stories’
about the same events in the same world (2002:103).
Presentational knowing in the reflection phases of inquiry
We argued above for the importance of co-inquirers developing a sense
of pre-conceptual communion or resonance in their shared life-world, as
a ground for subsequent reflection together.
Presentational form can be of profound importance in shaping this
communion: the possibility of mutually participative open encounter will
be enhanced if co-inquirers meet in patterns which emphasises equality
and mutuality. This may mean meeting in a circle of chairs or cushions
without tables; with flowers or other centre pieces; with facilitation
that is light and encouraging; with time shared reasonably equally
between participants; and so on. For the patterns we manifest together
in space and time—our postures, gestures and spatial relationships, our
verbal distribution of time – symbolise fundamental qualities of our
relating, and can be seen as a first, basic form of presentational
knowing. Christina Baldwin and her colleagues exemplify this well in
their process of ‘calling the circle’ (Baldwin, 1996; Baldwin & Linnea,
1999). Heron and Lahood in Chapter 29 recount how presentational forms
of toning in mutual resonance, and of posture, gesture and motion in
aware spatial interaction, can open up an empowering presence between
As the inquiry process develops, cycling between action and
reflection, presentational knowing is the most basic way of making sense
of our experience. Often this is in the form of stories which we bring
back to our colleagues in the inquiry group. We will not rush quickly
into propositions, but will hold open the presentational and imaginal
space and allow it to do its sense-making magic, allowing our stories to
resonate with those of other group members. We can play with the stories
with a variety of storytelling practices (Mead, 2001; Reason & Hawkins,
1988). We can draw the stories, sculpt them in clay or
psychodramatically with our bodies—thus countering our tendency to
attribute one set of meanings to experience. In some forms of inquiry
(see in particular Chapters 30, 34, 35) the use of presentational form
such as theatre becomes a major vehicle for opening participants to new
ways of seeing their experience.
Kate McArdle describes the importance of storytelling as a lead-in to
the propositional for the members of a co-operative inquiry of young
women in management (YoWiM)
Taking time to ‘tell our stories’ mattered, and required much
facilitative attention…Through this process we were able to then
create shared meaning and understanding around what we were
talking about. This led us to move into the propositional -
being able to name behaviours, processes and actions described
in the stories and to feel that we were ‘all on board’ with what
these names meant. (McArdle, in preparation)
Often the story telling process is powerfully simple.
The co-operative inquiry into holistic medicine sought among
other things to understand the meaning of ‘spirit’ in general
medical practice. Diana came to the group with a deeply moving
account of a terminally ill woman who learned through a dream to
let go of concerns for her family and die in peace surrounded by
them… The directness and simplicity of this story produce a
prolonged silence in the group. It stimulated other doctors to
remember and tell of similar quite simple times when ‘spirit’
had entered medical practice. It led the group to consider that
‘spirit in general practice’ was not esoteric, but could be seen
as an everyday affair. (see Heron & Reason, 1985)
Yorks and Kasl (2002) in their review of eight collaborative
inquiries, stress the role of presentational knowing in counterbalancing
traditional academic overreliance on critical discourse and analytic
forms of knowing. The diverse inquiries used video, film, a Brahms
concerto for violin, reproductions of paintings, guided visualization,
symbolic ritual movement, Black Angel cards, a game of tag, clay
sculpture, watercolour design, birthing metaphors, stories about family,
ancestors and progeny yet to be born. Such imaginal methods, Yorks and
Kasl affirm, evoke experience, are a pathway for emotion, clarify and
codify experience, and are pivotal in providing access to holistic
Presentational knowing in the action phases of the inquiry
Presentational knowing can help bring a quality of curiosity to the
action phase of inquiry. If we are not going to find out what we already
know, just as we must open ourselves to new encounters and new
experiential knowing, we must also be open to new stories and metaphors,
new patterns in space and time, with which to give form to that
experience. In order to do this we may find it helpful to experiment
with new presentational forms in our encounters with others
Doctors in the holistic medicine inquiry experimented with
dressing informally, re-arranging their offices, and with
different non-medical ways of asking patients to tell of their
ailments (Heron & Reason, 1985; Reason, 1988a)
The YoWiM group, seeking to engage other young women in the
organization, changed the layout of the meeting room from its
usual formality and decorated it with flowers and posters to
create an atmosphere conducive to open conversation. (McArdle,
In the Realm of the Between inquiry, presentational forms of
toning, posture, gesture, movement and percussive rhythm,
themselves constitute the charismatic action phase of the
inquiry (Heron and Lahood, chapter 29).
Action phases include keeping records of actions taken and of their
significance—as reports to bring to subsequent reflection phases. There
is great and highly relevant scope here for the use of presentational
forms: dramatic accounts, poetic evocations, diagrams and line drawings,
coloured graphics, choreographed mime, audiovisual recordings, and more.
These are ways of keeping alive the comprehensive qualitative richness
of actions and experiences more effectively than may be the case with
the use of nothing but spare and bare verbal jottings in a diary.
Presentational knowing as an outcome of inquiry
Traditionally, research findings are ‘written up’ in propositional
form with evidential support from empirical data. If we take seriously
the interplay of Mythos and Logos, we can see that discoveries of a
co-operative inquiry process may also be expressed in presentational
form, either as stand alone expressions or in conjunction with
propositional text. A number of doctoral dissertations at CARPP include
such presentational form. Geoff Mead (2001) has worked this genre
thoroughly, explicitly evoking the interplay of Mythos and Logos
(p.59-65). This thesis includes, among other stories, ‘Postcards from
the Edge’ in which he seeks to ‘deftly integrate’ living and telling
by offering a series of accounts of loving relationships over his life;
‘The Men’s Room’, with narratives about men’s retreats, men’s
support groups, friendship, and a co-operative inquiry into men’s
development in organisations (82-121). The Leadership for a Changing
World programme (see chapter 28) has posted on its website narrative
accounts by members of co-operative inquiry groups. Gillian Chowns
worked with children to produce a participatory video (Chapter 39).
Michelle Fine and Maria Torre theorize different forms of product in
When co-operative inquiries are undertaken within postgraduate
degrees, there is a noticeable tendency for discursive presentational
outcomes, that is, stories and narratives (always together with
propositonal outcomes), to be used rather than nondiscursive ones such
as the graphic and plastic arts, dance and movement, and music. It
indicates once again the dominating power of the written word prevailing
in our academic institutions. The nondiscursive forms are more freely
used in the ongoing reflection and action phases, where issues of
readily assessing a final degree-bearing outcome are not at stake.
Propositional knowing is knowing ‘about’ something in
intellectual terms of ideas and theories. It is expressed in
propositions, statements which use language to assert facts about the
world, laws that make generalizations about facts and theories that
organize the laws. This is very familiar territory, as the propositional
is the main kind of knowledge accepted in our society—not only in
academic theories, but in the statements of politicians, propagandists,
managers, marketeers and others who would define our world; and indeed
in the more or less explicit theories each of us carry around which
define who we are and kind of world we tell ourselves we live in. In
propositional form, ‘knowing’ easily becomes reified as ‘knowledge’; and
in this sense ‘knowledge is power’ and constitutes what Foucault (1980)
described as ‘regimes of truth’ which create our reality.
The co-operative inquiry process can be very liberating in using
different terms to ‘redescribe’ experience (to borrow a phrase from
Rorty, 1989) in ways that are both more liberating and more
fundamentally informative. Propositional knowledge is indeed essential
for naming, in a well-rounded and grounded way, the basic features of
our being-in-a-world in order to empower effective action in it.
However, propositional knowing needs handling with care especially in
the language-driven worlds of late-modernity. It has great conceptual
power to divide the world into isolated mental subjects and independent
nonmental objects. This split between humanity and nature, and the
arrogation of all mind to humans, is what Weber meant by the
disenchantment of the world and, we would argue, is one of the
fundamental origins of the current ecological devastation. In contrast
writers since Gregory Bateson (1972) have argued that mind is immanent
in ecological systems, and modern complexity theories demonstrate how
the natural world is in a continual process of creative self
organization, a self-creative autopoesis (Maturana & Varela, 1987).
This process of objectification has been applied also to relations
between persons. Traditional social science research is founded on the
notion that the researcher alone does all the thinking associated with a
research project, deciding what questions to explore, developing theory,
asking questions, making sense of what is discovered. The so-called
‘subject’ is the passive respondent to this attention and is seen as
making no intelligent contribution to the research endeavour.
Co-operative inquiry, along with all other forms of participative
inquiry, aims to break this ‘monopoly of knowledge’(Fals Borda & Rahman,
1991); and participative forms of social action, closely related to
participative inquiry, aim in similar fashion to restore a sense of self
direction to those disempowered by this kind of political cognitive
monopoly (e.g. New Economics Foundation, 1998)
In developing and using propositional knowing we must continually
remind ourselves that ‘the map is not the territory’, as Korzybski
pointed out to us a long time ago. But our tendency to confuse map and
territory is usually closely linked up with social power. (see Gaventa
and Cornwall, this volume)
Propositional knowing in the reflection phases of inquiry
Co-operative inquiry practice emphasizes the importance of research
cycling so that propositions are continually tested in practice and thus
rooted back in experiential knowing. This counters the tendency for
ideas to fly off into a life of their own and to keep them grounded in
experience and in participative relationship. Emphasis is placed on the
epistemological heterogeneity which the whole of the extended
epistemology articulates - the mutually enhancing effect between the
four ways of knowing - rather than valuing propositional expression over
and above the other forms.
On the other hand, propositional sense-making is important in giving
the cyclic process focus and clarity, in transferring learning from a
previous action cycle to fruitful planning of the next, and in producing
carefully worded outcomes that can effectively influence social policy
and social change. Charles and Glennie (2002) describe how the clarity
of propositional knowing re-energized a tired inquiry group exploring
the implementation of guidelines for child protection. Taking an active
role as facilitators, they encouraged the group to identify four key
inquiry questions and chose one to take forward. By doing this “the
group started to own the inquiry process and steer it, directing their
energies into a sense making exercise.” (Charles & Glennie, 2002:216)
Propositional knowing as an outcome of inquiry.
While co-operative inquiry emphasizes the primacy of the practical
(for which see below) nearly all inquiries have some kind of informative
purpose: they aim to provide insight into social relations and to offer
propositions and theories that will aid understanding. Such
propositional outcomes are rarely simply descriptive but aim to be
critical and emancipatory. They will resist the ‘naturalization’ of the
social order which sees the ‘socially/historically constructed order… as
necessary, natural, rational and self-evident’; the domination of the
interests of the powerful and the suppression of conflicting interests;
the ‘domination of instrumental reasoning’; and the ‘orchestration of
consent’ whereby existing power relations and definitions of reality are
taken for granted (Alvesson & Deetz, 2005:74. See also Kemmis Chapter
We affirm that there are five main kinds of important propositional
outcomes of a co-operative inquiry: those mentioned above that are
informative about the domain or field of inquiry; those that report on
the transformative practices undertaken, and on their effects; those
that describe the inquiry process; those that evaluate the soundness of
the inquiry process; and those that evaluate the soundness of its
informative and transformative outcomes (Heron, 1996a:109-110). However
it is also important to note that each of these kinds can be
complemented by (as mentioned above under presentational outcomes), or
even entirely replaced by, appropriate presentational outcomes.
Practical knowing is knowing how-to-do, how to engage in, some class
of action or practice. It is evident in the skills and competencies the
inquirers develop, both in knowing how to do co-operative inquiry, and
in knowing how to do those transformative actions in the world that the
inquiry is engaged with.
As we have argued elsewhere, the argument for the primacy of the
practical owes a lot to the philosophy of John Macmurray (1957), who
holds that ‘I do’ instead of ‘I think’ is the starting point and centre
of reference for grasping the form of the personal: the self is an agent
and exists only as an agent. The self as thinking subject cannot exist
as subject; it can be subject only because it is an agent. The self as
knowing subject is in and for the self as agent. Knowing in its fullness
is consummated in and through agency, and pure thought divorced from
action leads to a lesser kind of knowing that is secondary, derivative,
abstract, and negative.
We make a similar point that there is an ‘up-hierarchy’ of knowledge
grounded in experiential knowing, which unfurls in presentational and
then in propositional ways of knowing, and is consummated and fulfilled
through practice. Practical knowledge, the realm of skills, is
immediately supported by propositional knowing—i.e. by descriptive and
prescriptive concepts and schema—but necessarily goes beyond these into
the autonomous ineffability of knacks, of the very act of skillful
doing. Such practical knowing is embodied in the individual; and in a
shared ‘culture of competence’ in which particular practices are not
only supported and valued but are embodied in the interactions of a
whole community (Heron, 1992, 1996b).
Traditional academic thinking has difficulty with the notion of
practical knowing, because, as Rorty (1999) argues, it is attached to
the idea of theory as representing the world. If we give up the idea of
knowledge as an attempt to represent reality and argue for the primacy
of the practical, the relationship between truth claims and the rest of
the world become causal rather than representational, and the issue
becomes whether our propositional knowing provide reliable guides to the
practical realization of our values.
Practical knowing in the reflective phrases of inquiry
The reflection phases of the inquiry, where co-researchers are
meeting together, are important crucibles for the development of
practical knowing. As we discussed in the section on experiential
knowing, the quality of being together in fully mutual presence allows
for the emergence of an attitude of inquiry, an open curiosity toward
each other and to the experiences each brings to the group. Group
members will develop and integrate skills of inquiry—both personal
skills of aware openness, reflection and experimentation, and the skills
associated with opening an inquiring space for others.
There is a specific way of practical knowing that is central to
establishing full reciprocity among co-inquirers:
knowing how to make decisions together. This skill involves a
practical interplay, within each co-inquirer, and between all, of
four basic political values: autonomy, active hierarchy, passive
hierarchy, and co-operation (Heron, 2001: 122-123). Each person, in
contributing to group decision-making, can move freely between four
positions, and the first three positions are precursors to, and
components of, the culminating fourth:
Autonomy: I can identify my own idiosyncratic true needs and
Active hierarchy: I can identify options that promote the
true needs and interests of all of us, individually and
Passive hierarchy: I can identify an active-hierarchy
proposal made by someone else as one that I can freely and
Co-operation: I can co-operate with – that is, listen to,
engage with, and negotiate agreed decisions with - my peers,
celebrating diversity and difference as integral to genuine
Active hierarchy here is the creative leadership which seeks to
promote the values of autonomy and co-operation in a peer-to-peer
inquiry. Such leadership is exercised in two ways. First, by the one or
more people who take initiatives to set up the inquiry. And second, as
spontaneously emerging and moving leadership among the peers, when
anyone proposes initiatives that further enhance the autonomy and
co-operation of all participating members.
The skill required for an individual person to manage these four
positions, and to keep them in creative interplay while at the same time
interacting with several other persons each of whom is busy with the
same multiple interplay, is considerable. While there can be agreed
procedural guidelines to support the process, the challenge to each
person (and especially initiating leaders) to modify the demands of ego
in the service of collaboration is formidable. Hence there can be
occasions when confusion, chaos, individual frustration and
interpersonal tension become acute—although these may also be fruitful
opportunities for letting go of egoic compulsions, and for remarkable
liberating zest when the breakthrough into creative and expanded social
This practical know-how has three areas of application in the
reflection phase of an inquiry. The first is in decisions about managing
the sequence of procedures for the whole phase; the second is in
decisions about what sense co-inquirers have made of the previous action
phase; and the third is in decisions to do with forward planning of the
next action phase of the inquiry.
Practical knowing in the action phases of inquiry
What skills are needed in the action phase? In the informative strand
of an inquiry, which asks whether, in the light of our experience, the
world is the way we envisaged it, we need the skill of radical
perception, being fully present and imaginally open to our experience,
together with the ability to bracket off habitual conceptual frames and
try out new frameworks, new ways of enacting the present situation. In
the transformative strand, we need the skill of radical practice, the
ability to maintain, while we act, an alert, intentional dynamic
congruence among the motives of the action, its goals, the strategy or
means it employs, its guiding norms (technical and moral), its ongoing
effects, our beliefs about its context (Heron, 1996a). Torbert and
Taylor (Chapter 16) describe this as congruence between the four
territories of experience: the outside world, one’s own sensed behavior
and feeling, the realm of thought, and attention/intention.
On the wider inquiry canvas, there are skills to exercise in our
fundamental choices about action phases. How many action phases
do we need for this particular inquiry and on what time scale? What is
the appropriate balance between action and reflection? Do we use the
action phases to converge on an increasingly focused question or to
diverge over several main facets of the inquiry topic? Shall we take a
more Apollonian or Dionysian approach to action. The Apollonian mode
uses the reflection phase systematically to preplan, in the light of a
review of the previous action phase, what is done in the next action
phase; the Dionysian mode uses more presentational forms of knowing to
review the previous action phase, and intentionally allows that learning
to emerge in creative actions that arise spontaneously in response to
future situations. Both have their place, and no inquiry is likely to
follow a purely Dionysian or Apollonian approach. (see Heron, 1996a;
Heron & Reason, 2001, for a fuller exploration of these issues)
Practical knowing as an outcome of inquiry
The most basic, but not the only, outcome of co-operative inquiry is
a transformative one, which crucially involves individual change of
behaviour – the acquisition of new skills, new know-how - supported by
peer inquirers. Thus Geoff Mead (2002) relates how the inquiry context
enabled a constraining and controlling manager to receive and elicit
feedback that he could use to develop a more spacious and empowering
style in his relations with staff.
Important issues then arise about the relation between changed
individual practice and the occupational culture or sub-culture within
which it is set. Traditionally there has been a fundamental asymmetry
between an individual skill and such cultural development. Any radical
agenda of transforming practice rested exclusively with the individual
pioneer. Even where cultures of competence have promoted research and
development, the breakthrough has come through the efforts of one or two
individuals, sometimes vying with each other.
With the advent of co-operative inquiry and related forms of
participative research, cultures of competence can become
self-transforming as collectives. A co-operative inquiry group
that is busy with transforming practice within a culture, is involved
with three interdependent kinds of skills outcomes, three kinds of
transformation: new skills in transformative collaborative inquiry, new
individual and co-operative working skills, new skills in regenerating
the culture of competence within which those skills have their home.
Thus a group of doctors who participated in the whole person medicine
inquiry (Heron & Reason, 1985) went on to found the British Holistic
Medical Association on participatory principles. Torbert has made makes
a similar point in his emphasis on the development of communities of
inquiry (Torbert, 2000, 2004); Gustavsen (this volume) argues that
action research must help develop the wider social movement within which
separate inquiries are rooted.
Inquiry cycling through the extended epistemology
We have articulated some of the key characteristics of four ways of
knowing which together constitute cycles of action and reflection. Each
of the ways of knowing makes its own contribution to the quality of the
knowing that results from the inquiry cycle and is of value of its own
account and in its contribution to the cycle as a whole.
Thus quality in experiential knowing is rooted in the openness
through which we encounter the presence of the world. The threat to
quality knowing here is that co-researchers create a defensive inquiry
which guards against the discovery of the novel and different, and which
reproduces in encounter the habitual social and personal
taken-for-granted. Quality inquiry will courageously challenge habits,
seek new encounters and deepen contact with experience.
Quality in presentational knowing arises through intuitive
playfulness so that expressive forms articulate experiential knowing in
creative ways, opening inquiry both back toward deeper experience and
forward to new ideas and theories. The danger here is that
co-researchers will stay with the same old stories and images and thus
recreate existing realities and confirm existing beliefs. Quality
inquiry will actively experiment with redescription and draw on a range
of presentational forms to turn stories, accounts and images upside down
and inside out in the pursuit of creative expression and imaginal range
Quality in propositional knowing articulates presentational
form through conceptual schema. It depends on clarity of thinking and
critical sensemaking and carries with it a strong awareness of the links
between propositional knowledge and social power. It will refuse to be
held within a hegemonic paradigm and uncritical acceptance of
taken-for-granted theories (and its identical opposite, the uncritical
acceptance of the currently fashionable oppositional position!), but
will engage accepted theory critically and forge new theoretical
Quality in practical knowing is expressed in the ability of
individuals, organizations and communities to accomplish worthwhile,
desirable individual, social and ecological ends. It is rooted in the
skills and knacks of individuals and more widely in cultural practices
that support and co-ordinate such skills. The danger is always that
individuals and groups will fool themselves about the efficacy of their
actions and support practices for which there is no good evidence. The
key quality question is whether, through cycles of action and
reflection, sufficient good evidence is produced to support the
practical claims that are made.
As we have argued, there is a strong case for seeing practical
knowing as primary, the consummation of our inquiry as worthwhile action
in the world, guided by propositional categories, inspired by
presentational forms and rooted in and continually refreshed through
experiential encounter. When co-inquirers are working together, there is
a dynamic interplay between their actions and their state of being,
mediated by intuitively grasping a significant pattern in their current
behaviour and by conceptually naming the quality it reveals. Once this
quality is identified and agreed, the inquirers can negotiate action to
enhance or modify it. This alters their behaviour and the quality of the
meeting. Co-sensitivity to the changing interactive qualities within a
shared field, and co-acting to develop there an overall quality of human
flourishing, are at the heart of excellence in a co-operative inquiry.
In inquiry as in life the basic call is to act intelligently,
sympathetically, and creatively together to enhance the quality of our
relationships with each other and our world.
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