'On new beginnings': Natality and (participatory) action research in higher education


Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Tensions generated from external and internal demands have led universities to establish different types of relationships with states and with wider societies, redefining academics’ identities permanently and compromising greatly the role of higher education to foster more humane conditions in contemporary societies. This situation has come about to such an extent that many academics, oriented by modern or post-modern frameworks, have agreed that the university itself has become one of the social sites that need to be re-humanised and renewed. Closely linked to this problematic situation in universities, (participatory) action research, (P)AR, has also been challenged to revise its contributions to the political realm. In this thesis I aim to identify the sorts of political lives that we (P)AR practitioners have been promoting at this level of education. I do so through telling four stories about four (P)AR experiences that I led in three different university communities in Colombia. This storytelling of the ‘political’ of (P)AR is inspired by German thinker Hannah Arendt’s notion of natality. Her notion of natality concerns the human condition through which human beings, by virtue of being born, can bring about new beginnings through their actions and words. Arendt’s conception of political theory as storytelling overcomes the trap of historical continuity and seeks to engage its audience in critical thinking about an issue while ‘visiting’ different perspectives. To disentangle ‘the political’ in the (P)AR experiences selected for this study, I propose a multilayered approach to what is told and what is not told in (P)AR publications. To put together the pieces of the jigsaw of ‘the political’ of (P)AR in higher education, I present this story as a reflective journey from the ‘malaise’ linked to the signalling of some its practitioners as ‘trouble makers’ to recognition of them as ‘miracle workers’. In so doing, I explore the coexistence of different, changing and contested notions of ‘social justice’, ‘democracy’, ‘citizenship’ and ‘higher education’. I argue that we (P)AR practitioners are promoting political lives in higher education that differ from one another as a result of our different approaches to both the ontological tension in the notion of ‘action’ embedded in (P)AR and the contesting (P)AR participants’ views of politics. I claim that in spite of their turbulent emergence, the new beginnings that are brought about through (P)AR are mainly linked to the revelation of the distinctiveness of (P)AR participants. I suggest that for universities to be re-humanised and renewed through (P)AR, politically speaking, it is necessary to resignify PAR’s three key components, namely, ‘participation’, ‘action’ and ‘research’, based on their importance in bringing about (P)AR participants’ revelation. Finally, I resort to Arendt’s suggestion that it is more plausible that the relevant and the meaningful in the world of appearances can be located precisely on the surface. I claim that the intermittent appearance in the literature of the ‘participation’ component in the (P)AR acronym indicates our need to renew our political commitment as practitioners to continue encouraging people to reveal their distinctiveness through (P)AR to renew the common world.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Kemmis, Stephen, Co-Supervisor
  • Wilkinson, Jane, Co-Supervisor
Award date11 Nov 2012
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2012


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