"...when we attend to our experiences not as intangible minds but as sounding, speaking bodies, we begin to sense that we are heard, even listened to, by the numerous other bodies that surround us. Our sensing bodies respond to the eloquence of certain buildings and boulders, to the articulate motions of dragonflies. We find ourselves alive in a listening, speaking world" (Abram, 1996, p. 86).
This research was conducted at a time of "high interest in ontologies and epistemologies that differ sharply from those undergirding conventional social science," as well as a time of increasing calls for including marginalized Others among the "rising tide of voices" in research (Lincoln & Denzin, 2005, p. 191, 1115, italics in original). Within what is often referred to as a proliferation of research paradigms (Lather, 2006) and methodologies, non-human Others need to be explicitly included and acknowledged as contributors to research/representation.
The issue in question here is how to engage methods, methodologies, and re-presentations of research in ways that explicitly invite the "listening, speaking world" (Abram, 1996, p. 86) to participate in the production of knowledge. In other words, what methodology and methods (and associated epistemologies and ontology) support the creation and re-presentation of a research text that actually engages rather than just talks about shifts in human consciousness: shifts that are perhaps long overdue and necessary if humans are to heal from a damaged ecological consciousness (Berry & Tucker, 2006;); shifts that demand an ontology more closely associated with that of quantum theory and vibrating strings than assumptions of matter and energy supported by Newtonian physics; shifts that are often necessary to enable communication that reaches across human/nature and sometimes spirit, divides (Buhner, 2006; Young & Goulet, 1994); shifts that engage epistemological and ontological premises (often referred to as animism) that are seldom understood or supported in Western cultural contexts (Harvey, 2006a; Tuhiwai Smith, 1999); shifts that just may be required in order to respond to the ongoing and persistent gap between what is known about anthropogenic ecological degradation and what appears to be the limited effectiveness of educational and other responses to prompt significant or lasting change (Stevenson, 2007a, 2007b). In these complex and layered contexts, this inquiry attends not only to resistances to such shifts, but more significantly, to research approaches (including representations) that respond at the levels of ontology and epistemology, as well as methodology and methods.
Coming to the research methodologies and methods used in this dissertation and described below required listening for new(old) processes of making meaning, and of being, to emerge. Although I learned critical lessons about the importance of congruence between issues of methodology, ontology, and epistemology in my graduate program, the methods used in this dissertation were not taught there. Rather, they seemed to arrive rather serendipitously as I opened up to the possibility of their existence. The more I let go of the grip of my discursive intellectual mind to attend to my increasingly re-animated perception (Bai, 2009), the more these methods became accessible to me.
Often easier experienced than explained (for explanations privilege the discursive rational mind, and processes of researching with the more-than-human world often require not thinking), the hypertextual research/representation provides invitations and openings for site visitors to foreground their own "re-animate[d] perception" (Bai, 2009), which supports researching through an animist ontology. It provides opportunities to engage in some of the "homework" required to move beyond epistemological paradigms which dominate much of academia (Haraway, 1991a,1991b, 2004a; Kuokkanen, 2006; see also, Dillard, 2006b). As such, engaging with this reserach has transformative potential (see Braud, 2004; Clements, 2004).
Yet while this form does provide openings, pressure from the political, epistemological and ethical right (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005) acts as a constant reminder that methodology is inextricably linked to ideology and politics (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). Furthermore, while a need has been expressed for languages that include animate Earth in its many forms in research and other conversations (e.g. Haraway, 2003; Russell, 2005), and insights of an animate Earth are acknowledged in many different cultures and contexts (Harvey & Wallis, 2007), these voices have seldom been explicitly acknowledged in research texts (for some exceptions, see Hogan, 2000; O'Riley & Cole, 2009). As a result, insights offered and received are most likely attributed to the human intellect and the more-than-human voices often remain unacknowledged. Although I cannot (nor do I desire to) prove the methodologies and methods arrived at and knowledge produced through this study as more true than any other, I re-present them as useful ways of coming to know. This engagement with different forms of perception may require moving beyond boundaries of what is generally accepted epistemological and ontological assumptions for research within most Western academic contexts. Yet knowing (and being) differently is, as many attest, essential to achieve healthy co-existence on the planet (e.g. Bai, 2009; Berry & Tucker, 2006; Harvey, 2006b; Starhawk, 2004; Stirling, 2007).
Using a dialogic method(ology) and non-linear representational form, the research de centres the privileged position of the human intellect in knowledge production, and in doing so, opens up possibilities for knowledge-making processes to be collaborative and inclusive of insights offered by an animate Earth. In this context, the following questions have emerged:
how, in research method(ology) and representation, might a researcher intentionally and respectfully engage with and acknowledge animate Earth and spirit as a key source of knowledge in the process of academic inquiry?
in the field of education, what are some of the discourses which have made the twinned acts of research/representation in ongoing dialogue with animate Earth and spirit difficult to engage and acknowledge?
acknowledging that research representation is itself a form of knowledge production, and all representational forms have limitations, what kinds of representation might be congruent with the epistemological and ontological premises of (spiritual) animism?
This research extends beyond normalized ontological assumptions (at least in most Western contexts) about humanity's place in the world and reconsiders who research participants, and co-creators of knowledge may be.
While some research methodologies and forms of representation engage with trans-rational ways of knowing (Astin, 2002) or allude to the possibility of the more-than-human world being part of the knowledge-making process (e.g. phenomenology and arts-based inquiry), few explicitly name animate Earth as active research partner (for some exceptions, see Cole, 2002; O'Riley & Cole, 2009). Furthermore, while discussions of the emergent and performative nature of meaning-making within arts-based inquiry are congruent with research/representation that engages animate Earth and spirit as primary research partners, this body of literature seldom explicitly acknowledges contributions of non-human persons and/or spirit in meaning-making (see Finley, 2003; Sinner et. al, 2006; for an exception, see Lipsett, 2001; Kovach, 2009). This silence, particularly in discussions of research methods and methodologies, have made it particularly difficult to explicitly speak about my research methods. As noted in the introduction, I use multiple languages in order to reach diverse audiences.
Finding methods to support, and just as importantly, ways to speak about engaging with animate Earth in knowledge production is an important task, and one of the main aims of this research – particularly when there is no clearly agreed upon explanations. As Plumwood (2002) puts it:
"Perhaps the most important task for human beings is not to search the stars to converse with cosmic beings but to learn to communicate with the other species that share this planet with us…." (p. 189)
Yet assumptions of Western culture makes this communication difficult to achieve. Plumwood continues:
"Attempts at serious communication between humans and other species are almost completely precluded by the arrogance and human-centredness of a culture that is convinced that other species are simpler and lesser, and only grudgingly to be admitted as communicative beings. Methodology based on these assumptions more or less guarantees that communication will not take place." (p. 189)
Perhaps not surprisingly, it has taken time to discard these assumptions, then to feel safe enough to speak explicitly about researching in dialogue with the energies of plants, animals, and spirits, particularly since those doing research that engages with communication across socially constructed human/nature (and sometimes spirit) divides are either: (a) outside Western culture (Battiste & Henderson, 2000), (b) writing on the margins of their respective academic fields (see Bekoff, Colin & Burghardt, 2002; Sheldrake, 1999; Sheldrake & Smart, 2000; Wallis, 1999), or (c) working outside of academia altogether (e.g. Smith, 2004; Montgomery, 2008). Religious scholar Graham Harvey's (2006b) theoretical work on animism provides a helpful bridge. While he posits that the word spirit is unhelpful in such discussions, he makes a compelling argument that animists (those who communicate with other-than-human persons) and academics need to talk with one another in order to increase "understanding [of] animals, humans and the world we coinhabit". To do so, he argues, researchers just might need to "refigure academic protocols" (Harvey, 2006b, p. 9).
Although this research/representation has drawn on many existing academic and methodological traditions, its primary task has been finding ways to work beyond assumptions of reality as either discursively or materially, rather than energetically, produced. The development of a dialogic method(ology) based on assumptions of spiritual animism supports such a process, and the methods used in this research enable researching through rather than just about (Nolan, 2005) the porous connection between humans and non-human Others. To successfully and consistently research from this place of ontological difference has required attending to the role of discourse in meaning-making, and "ask[ing] questions about what we have not thought to think, about what is most densely invested in our discourses and practice, and about what has been muted or repressed and gone unheard in representations of our practice" (Lotz-Sisitka, 2002, p. 118). It has also required approaching the research as a "methodological negotiato[r]" (Kincheloe & McLaren, 2005, p. 317), drawing on many existing academic and methodological traditions such as arts-based and narrative inquiry, then shifting to more deliberately foreground trans-rational ways of knowing (Astin, 2002) through the use of a pendulum dowser and other ancient ways of knowing.
The method(ologies) used in this dissertation and its representation are based on the assumption that humans would be well-served by finding ways to (re)learn, and practice, the many languages through which Earth speaks (Abram, 1996, 2006; Berry & Tucker, 2006; Fawcett, 2000; Griffin, 2001; Harvey, 2003, 2006a, 2006b; Plumwood, 2002; Smith, 2004, 2006; Sheldrake, 1999; Sheldrake & Smart, 2000). The aim is to create spaces for production of research and its representation that supports participation of the more-than-human world as research partner. The effects of such a methodol(ogy) are layered into in this hypertext.
This section below, which foregrounds my research/representation process and the resulting dialogic methodology, has a background story of decolonization, which required moving through and beyond constraining discourses that made it difficult to "brea[k] the trance of thought construction," (Bai, 2009, p. 145; see Barrett, 2007) and open spaces for hearing and researching with contributions from animate Earth (see Abram, 1996; Harvey, 2006b; Montgomery, 2008; Redden, 2005; Smith, 2004, 2006). Not only Indigenous peoples, but Europeans as well were colonized, even if that colonization process was done both by and to themselves (Churchill, 2002).
This section outlines some of the major processes used in this ongoing methodological negotiation, is based on an animist ontology, and simultaneously demands and develops a deep sense of respect for the wisdom embedded in both human and more-than-human worlds.
Based on these premises, my research method(ology) has included five main processes:
1. quieting the mind,
2. finding methods & practicing,
3. being open and attuned to communication with an animate Earth (this has required using a variety of strategies such as Yuen Method™ Chinese Energetic Medicine to open one's channels and clear stubborn, colonizing discourses that prevent effective use of the research methods),
4. finding ways to re-present this process so that both researcher and reader can make meaning through rather than just about an animist ontology, and;
5. recognizing that, like all research, this work is contextual, and possible meanings are dependent upon locally available discourses and individual interpretations.
Within these general 'steps,' methods for what I refer to as a dialogic methodology can be incredibly varied and are not well theorized in the context of research methodologies and Western worldviews. Drawing on ancient ways of knowing including dowsing and some forms of shamanic journeying, artistic practices, dance, dreams and meditations, has enabled a response to numerous calls for the production of research across the socially constructed human/nature divide. This section, which I originally anticipated to be only a brief visual overview of a few of my methods, has become a process of speaking what had previous seemed unspeakable – of methods of co-producing and re-presenting an 'academic text' created in dialogue with non-human Others. Some of the most explicit explanations of these processes come in the self-reflexive writings of anthropologists (see Young & Goulet, 1994), neo-shamanism (e.g. Wallis, 1999, 2000) and arts-based research such as that conducted by Lisa Lipsett (2001). Heesoon Bai's (2009) discussion of the need for re-animation of disembodied perception is also particularly useful, as is her suggestion that Zen arts, can be very helpful to "res[t] or arres[t] the hyperactive intellect" to achieve an "intensified consciousness" where there is no divide between subject and object, perceiver and perceived" (2003, p. 52). Finally, research methodologies that draw on understandings from transpersonal psychology (which I encountered after most of the dissertation was complete), can provide valuable practical and possibly, theoretical guidance (e.g. Braud, 2004; Clements, 2004; Clements, Ettling, Jenett & Shields, 1998).
As many attest, knowing differently (at least in relation to the privileged or "high status" knowledge of the academy) is critical to the survival of the planet (Berry, 1999; Bowers, 1997; Stirling, 2007). Despite the proliferation of research paradigms (Lather, 2006) prompted by the triple crises of representation, legitimation and politics, there is still much work to be done to disrupt the privileged position of rationality in research texts and open spaces for the epistemological and ontological diversity.
The following are some of what I found to be most useful methods in both the context of this dissertation, and the process of remaining open to porosity. The images, music and bits of prose below illustrate some of these processes as they unfolded in the creation of this research text. Some are described in words, some are portrayed in image only.
To 'read' this work as it is intended to be read (i.e. dialogically), is to move beyond "categories of containment" (Lather, 2006, p. 47) vis-à-vis what constitutes a research text, and hopefully, to arrive at places where new knowledge is possible. But given that "the age-old logic of narrative...constitutes us even before we are born" (Barthes, 1986, p. 31; see also, Gergen, 1994/2003), I have placed the images below in a somewhat linear, though always spiraling plot....