Research relationships as activist practice

Year: 2015

Author: White, Peta, Wooltorton, Sandrea, Palmer, Marilyn

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The notion that the Western world is experiencing some kind of multi-level crisis (economic, ecological, political, social and spiritual) has been around for some time (Capra, 1983). The most optimistic amongst us thought the financial crisis of 2008 and Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports would create the perfect storm for transformative change. However, we were wrong and the obdurate nature of capitalism has meant that transformation toward sustainability must continue without a unifying (or widely disruptive) impetus for change for a bit longer.
Over the past several decades, universities in Western countries have been swept along by the powerful ideology of neo-liberalism and the concomitant hegemonic notions of economic rationalism and corporatism, barely resisting this shift, even though the raisons d’etre of universities are critical reflection, rigorous research and generating diverse responses to the important issues of our time (Hyslop-Margison & Leonard, 2012; Schwartz & Bowen, 2010).
This presentation will consider how – within universities – relationships can be considered central to transformative education research. Pelling (2011) identifies three stages in transformative change: building resilience; transitioning from usual practices; and transformative change "where social contracts are renegotiated, the causes as well as the symptoms of vulnerability are addressed and actions taken" (p. 11). The idea of stages implies sequencing and is a useful heuristic device, but human society is rarely so tidy. This presentation will explore how relationships are central to these three stages and how they allow for them to happen at the same time.
Drawing on a series of vignettes from three points in Australia (Melbourne, Bunbury and Broome), the presenters will share how they are using collaborative autoethnography in education research to shine a light on the significance of relationships as activist practice for change. Peta White coordinates a self-study group at Deakin University. She explores how unpacking relationships can be considered activism within disciplines, which actively mainstream and discipline. Sandra Wooltorton directs a research centre for Notre Dame University in Broome, which allows her to witness and participate in Red Dirt Thinking, a strategy for rethinking the local implementation of systems such as education in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Marilyn Palmer teaches social work at Edith Cowan University’s regional campus and has discovered how a campus community garden can be a site for eco-social work practice where staff and students can learn through relationship building.

Capra, F. (1983). The turning point: Science, society and the rising culture. London: Fontana.
Hyslop-Margison, E., & Leonard, H. (2012). Post neo-liberalism and the humanities: What the repressive state apparatus means for universities. The Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 42(2), 1-12.
Pelling, M. (2011). Adaptation to climate change: From resilience to transformation. London: Routledge.
Schwartz, M., & Bowen, W. (2010). The chief purpose of universities: Academic discourse and diversity of ideas. Cleveland, Ohio: MSL Academic Endeavors.