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A Reflection on 4 epistemologies (ways of knowing :P )

Distinguish among the 4 types of epistemology that Heron and Reason (Chapter 24) suggest. How will your work encourage multiple ways of knowing beyond just “propositional knowledge”?  from The SAGE Handbook of Action Research (2d ed)  by Reason and Bradbury (2008). London, SAGE Publications, 

In Chapter 24, Heron and Reason briefly define co-operative inquiry, and then describe 4 types of knowing: Experiential, Presentational, Propositional, and Practical.  They discuss the implications for co-operative inquiry of each type of knowing in the reflective phase, the action phase and as the object of output for each phase. I will summarize their descriptions, examine how I can encourage the use of all 4 forms in my own work and offer my observations on the chapter.  


Summary of co-operative inquiry: a form of action research that emphasizes the 2d person approach, in which researcher and project members are co-equal researchers in the design and management of a project. My sense of cooperative inquiry was of an open ended project that engaged all members as equals in the process, with the researcher maintaining the connection to the community of AR practice.  


Summary of the 4 types of knowing:  


            Experiential:  Knowledge created by a conscious being, fully aware of and grounded in the immediacy of the direct sensory environment, while mindful of the duality of our mental imagery and the real world. Heron and Reason accept the ontology of a real world as given.   


            Presentational: Knowledge generated by and communicated through a variety of richly imagined artistry. This is Knowledge as metaphor as described in the Mythos vs Logos dialogue. Heron and Reason elevate the arts other than language in this section, arguing that language as tool may constrain the presentational knowledge in hierarchical ways   


            Propositional: Heron and Reason describe this as formal theoretical, conceptual knowledge, encoded in language.  They characterize the dominant modern propositional knowledge in terms of logical positivism and Cartesian duality, and express concerns with the way it may serve to irreconcilably separate the subjective and objective. They allude to a causal argument that leads from language to subject/object dichotomy to man-made ecological disaster to highlight a problem of taking untempered formal propositional knowledge to extremes.   


        Practical: Heron and Reason emphasizes the AR tradition of the primacy of the practical. My sense was of a back-propagation of validity and quality from the practical which suggests we are sensible for pursuing the paths of the experiential and presentational forms of knowledge as they can be later validated through practice. This is knowledge in action that has consequences which can be compared to alternatives and then valued by human judgment. This is knowledge supported by a body of knowledge and a community of practice.  


Applications in my work: 


            In general: these 4 epistemologies are a reminder that our personally constructed knowledge, as well as the received wisdom are not set in stone. assumptions about how the world works, and what is true are working assumptions and that in programs and policy decisions that impact people and societies we must appropriately embrace the rich diversity of human experiences and values.  


            In particular: in my effort to help create learning that lasts with respect to change management in the US Army, I am actively encouraging the immersion of students into moments of direct experience in the classroom that link the concepts under inquiry to significant emotional experiences they have already had, and offering them tools and situations that will give them more capability and insight to manage change in the future in a positive way.  


            By creating multiple ways of telling their stories in a variety of settings (oral and written, individual and group, formal and informal), and providing them a professional language to share  experiences in a meaningful way, I hope to help students make the connections between their experience and the world of theory in their own words and stories. It is essential for them to engage in creative narrative to become full participants in the creation of this professional knowledge.  


            Within the context of the lessons I help to educate students and faculty on the schema of Army change management that governs people, processes and products, so that when they are assigned back to the world of practical action, they will be more effective in achieving change that is consistent with their goals and visions.  


Comments on the chapter: 


1. I like the idea of integrating the 4 epistemologies in a co-operative inquiry project and the emphasis on the primacy of the practical.  I think its important therefore for the community of practice to grow and maintain the body of knowledge in order to give credibility to the unconventional wisdom (by positivist standards) that it is practical, in the end, to encourage, solicit and value the experiential and presentational knowledge. There is argument that the experiential and presentational epistemologies are valued and worthwhile in their own right. By relying on the utility of the practical knowledge, and/or the elegance and predictiveness of the propositional knowledge. may work to undermine the efforts to begin a program of inquiry that relies, for the first time, on experiential and presentational knowledge. This is especially important in new domains and cultures without a track record of practicality established for experience and presentation.


2. It’s not much of a challenge to support the ideas of propositional and practical epistemologies, because we have inherited that tradition from the modern sciences and the development of the professions, respectively.  


3. Heron and Reason went to elaborate lengths to justify the experiential and presentational knowledge epistemologies, while only giving the darkside of propositional knowledge, and then only referring to the positivist approach, which has already been suitably marginalized.  


4. A devil’s advocate might say that throughout all of human history the newest epistemology has been the propositional, and that the species remained mired in the worlds of superstition, magic and myth until the Enlightenment put weight behind the effort to find Truth underneath the world of the practical. To say that, in  a human way, we have not managed the boundary condition of the limits of rationality well, may not be an argument to discard the primacy of propositional knowledge and revert to the experiential and presentational knowledge, but rather a call to better educate on science and propositional knowledge. In other words, in a society where more people believe in UFOs and ghosts than in evolution, we may not want more feelings and storytelling and less science, particularly when the greatest challenges we face as a planet incorporate a technological cause.  


5. I would answer the devil’s advocate by granting that achieving real results on thorny human problems in real time that go beyond command directives issued by an established hierarchy, we must find ways of engaging all manners of knowing, tacit and formal, theoretical and practical, traditional and expressive or we run the risk about studying more and more trivial problems with more and more precision, and neglect the important central issues facing our society. This is really a poor restatement of the AR approach, but one that has its own quality and compelling support.  


a short bibliography that discusses the issue of good and bad scientific thinking in greater detail could reasonably include:  



Chalmers,A.F. (1982). What is this thing called science? (2d ed.). Indianapolis, IN. Hackett Publishing Co. Inc.


Park, R. (2000,) Voodoo Science: The road from foolishness to fraud. Oxford University Press, New York. 


Sagan, C. (1997,) The Demon-haunted world: Science as a candle in the dark. Ballantine Books. New York.  


Schermer, M. (2006), Why Darwin matters.  Times Books. New York.  

  1. November 10, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    was reflecting on my posting on the airplane this morning and felt like i needed to add the following

    i described how i want to incorporate the 4 types of learning into the curriculum for the students to experience, describe, know cognitively and put into practice. that’s certainly a loop of learning.

    i also want to ensure that the process we use to identify concepts/exercises/topics for the curriculum is informed by the 4 forms of knowing as well, which i think is a 2d loop of learning.

    in this way the 4 modes “inform” the curriculum, and the curriculum itself then manifests all 4 forms in the conduct of the learning.

    if the 4 modes are good to have in the curriculum, then they should be good for the process.

    if the 4 modes are good to have as part of the process, they should be good to have in the curriculum.

    so i am seeing a double loop learning connection between the 4 modes and the process/output

    the process of reviewing the curriculum as designed and and as delivered, reflecting, and then intentionally choosing the form of the next cycle in a process continually informed by the 4 ways of knowing looks to me to be an infrastructure that offers robust, enduring quality improvements

    that idea i think is what was missing from my first post.

    in a general way, i want to ensure that my research interests (which go beyond the immediate project of curriculum development for Army change management), both process and content, reflect this sensibility.

  2. September 9, 2009 at 11:21 am

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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