ERG SES H 12, Sociologies of Education
The Transformative Learning theory origins in the work of Jack Mezirow. Mezirow (2000) describes „Learning is understood as the process of using prior interpretation to construct a new or revised interpretation of the meaning of one’s experience as a guide to future action” (ibid.:5). Authors such as Kasl & Yorks (2012) or Dirkx (1998) highlight the intuitive, depth-psychological, bodily and relational experiences of transformative learning. Dirkx (1998) describes transformative education as a process of individuation. The aspiration is to make the unconscious conscious and to become aware of one’s own various aspects. An essential aspect of transformative learning processes are disorienting dilemmas (Mezirow, 1991). Irritations, uncertainties and risks are essential in deeper learning experiences. As Koller (2011) mentions, education and learning from a humanistic perspective arises in interaction with the self and the world and if the known structures become fragile, which can be a crisis experience. „Bildung does not appear as a harmonic completion but as radically questioning previous ways of understanding the world and ourselves, and this emphasises the crisis nature and risk involved in processes of Bildung“ (ibid.:379). Dilemma, uncertainty and risk are psychological tension experiences- consciously and unconsciously which can create disorientation and the possibility to engage with the struggle at a deeper level.
An archetypical journey for transformative experiences through dilemma, uncertainty and risk is the Heroine’s/Hero’s journey, based on the mythological work of Joseph Campbell in 1949. According to Campbell’s (2008) understanding, myth is the symbolic and collective wisdom that is present in all cultures at all times. Myth represents in its basic structure the rhythm of becoming and of life and death. The archetypical journey of the heroine/hero is the one who follows her/his call, often initiated by a crisis or desire. As Jung (1989) explains, collective symbols and myths present concentrated experiences of people. Archetypes are archaic patterns or symbols that arise from the unconscious. To Jung, a symbol presents an actualized archetype; in fact, there are universal interpretations of symbols but the experiences of archetypes are individually unique. The heroine/hero is the archetype who represents the heroic stories of transformation, which are universally found in human beings.
This qualitative research is based on Paul Rebillot’s (2011) Gestalt-therapeutic inspired self-experience workshop called the Heroine’s/Hero’s journey. He created an experiential approach in the form of a one week workshop, utilizing methods from theatre, gestalt therapy, body work, dance and indigenous rituals in order to create a holistic concept.Separated from her or his known environment, the person spends one week with a small group (10-15 people) for an internal archetypical self- and group discovery change process. Staemmler & Bock (1987:92-100) describe holistic change processes based on the experiences of people attending Gestalt therapy. The first phase is stagnation, which comes with the feeling of dissatisfaction and a desire to change a certain situation. If the person has the willingness to take responsibility for the change process, she or he might experience two opposing poles, the polarization phase. It is the intensifying of the expansive and contractive pole within oneself. The desire to flourish and the doubt, which holds one back. This is the tension experienced within two contradicting poles, a disorienting dilemma. In the current era of risk and uncertainties, the experience of dilemma and its possible transformation are crucial.
The research question: How is transformation experienced and particularly the role of disorienting dilemmas, uncertainty and risk in these processes? This paper draws on a qualitative research of the Heroine’s/Hero’s journey workshop based on narrative oriented interviews and co-experienced observations- phenomenologically oriented vignettes.
The qualitative methods used are the phenomenological approach of vignettes and narrative orientated interviews. Merleau-Ponty (1966) highlights the importance of lived embodiment to the phenomenological understanding of experience. Both, Gestalt therapy and phenomenology are concerned with observing appearances, which arise, not only verbally, or with the content of a story a person tells, but especially with the lived embodiment. Meyer-Drawe (2012) describes vignettes as differentiated and concentrated descriptions of scenes/situations based on lived experiences. Peterlini (2016) describes it as being open to become aware of the meaningful moments that arise during the Research. It is a shared experience between the researcher and the participant. Transformative learning is a dynamic experience, which is difficult to catch in its richness. Compared to the participatory observation, the phenomenological approach of vignettes describes an experience the researcher makes during the situations (Beekman, 1987: 16). This research is based on a participatory observational co-experience of a seven days Heroine’s/Hero’s journey with eight women and seven men from the age of 25 to 45. During the journey, I captured unique moments that caught my attention and after the journey, I interviewed eight participants about their experiences. In a narrative orientated interview, I asked the participants about their experiences and which moments had been meaningful to them. I matched the notes of my observations with the interviews to understand which moments hold transformative elements of the journey.
As participants described, and due to my participatory observational co-experience, one of the most significant moments during the journey were the moments of dilemma, uncertainty and risk. Especially the exercise of the inner dialogue, the moment of the journey, when the inner conflict, the disorienting dilemma and the polarization are most intense on the cognitive, bodily and emotional, was described as an transformative experience. Using the holistic change theory of Staemmler & Bock, the polarization phase is the moment when the expansive and contractive poles intensify. This phase leads to a moment when a person realizes that a content-related solution is not necessarily available. It was difficult for the participants to describe what exactly caused their change of perspective within these dialogues but it was described as understanding and accepting both sides - the heroine/hero and the opponent. From my co-experience observations, I could see that sometimes the situation changed only by connecting these two aspects. Dilemma, uncertainty and risk can be driving forces of transformative learning experiences, if there is the possibility to engage with them not only rationally but also emotionally.
Beekman, T. (1987). Hand in Hand mit Sascha. Über Glühwürmchen, Grandma Millie und einige andere Raumgeschichten. Im Anhang: Über teilnehmende Erfahrung. In W. Lippitz & K. Meyer-Drawe (Hg.), Kind und Welt. Frankfurt am Main: Athäneum. Campbell, J. (2008). The hero with a thousand faces. Novato, CA: New World Library. Dirkx, J. (1998). Transformative learning theory in the practice of adult education: An overview. PAACE Journal of Lifelong Learning, 7, 1-14. Jung C.G. (1989). Die Archetypen und das Kollektive Unbewusste. Olten und Freiburg im Breisgau: Walter-Verlag. Kasl & Yorks (2012). Learning to Be What We Know. The Pivotal Role of Presentational Knowing in Transformative Learning. In: Taylor, W. E. & Cranton, P. (Hrsg.) The Handbook of Transformative Learning: Theory, Research, and Practice. San Francisco: Wiley, 503-520. Koller, H-C. (2011). The Research of Transformational Educational Processes: exemplary considerations on the relation of the philosophy of education and educational research. European Educational Research Journal, Vol. 10 /3, 375-381. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1966) Phänomenologie der Wahrnehmung. (6 Auflage). Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co. Meyer - Drawe, K. (2012). Vorwort. In Schratz, M., Schwarz, J.F. & Westfall-Greiter, T. Lernen als bildende Erfahrung. Vignetten in der Praxisforschung. Innsbruck, Wien & Bozen: Studienverlag, 11-18. Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning to Think Like an Adult. In: Mezirow, J. (Hrsg.), Learning as Transformation. Critical Perspectives on a Theory in Progress. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 3-33. Mezirow, J. (1991). Transformative dimensions of adult learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Peterlini, H.K. (2016). Fenster zum Lernen. In Baur, S. & Peterlini, H.K. (Hrsg.), An der Seite des Lernens. (S. 21-29). Innsbruck, Wien & Bozen: Studien Verlag. Rebillot, P. (2011). Die Heldenreise. Das Abenteuer der kreativen Selbsterfahrung. Wasserburg am Inn: Eagle Books. Staemmler, F.- M. & Bock, W. (1987). Ganzheitliche Veränderung in der Gestalttherapie. München: J. Pfeiffer.
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