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research_report_maggie_buxton

Trickster, Transformation and Transdisciplinary Engagement

Context

Foam is an organisation invites us to grow our own worlds. It compels us to participate in shaping our reality, rather than to be passive recipients.Foam forms part of the Guild of Reality Integrators and Generators (gRig), a group of European artistic and cultural operators who research and create meaningful situations in hybrid (or mixed) reality, where digital media and physical materials, objects and spaces are increasingly intertwined. (http://www.tii.se/projects/grig).

Foam finds ways to bring together artisans, scientists, philosophers and other archetypal characters in order for them to collaborate, transmutate and generate across traditional boundaries. The results are often un-genreable events and artefacts, which, by their very nature, undermine the post enlightenment, modernist mindset of classifications, boxes, and right/wrong, true/false stories.

This mindset is built on fundamental dualities between cause and effect, thinking and doing, and observer and observed. Reality is seen as something external to our consciousness – something real, objective and separate from ourselves. It is also something to be discovered, accurately perceived and measured, definitely not something we generate ourselves.

The inevitable next step of looking at life through this lens is problems are not here but over there , therefore climate change, resource wars and species genocide are issues that other people caused, and therefore are for other people to solve.

Environmental and social activists have for years attempted to re-educate humanity to be more responsible for their environment, and more kind to their fellow inhabitants on the planet. The problem with this work is that much of it is aimed at shifting behaviour level, it is not aimed at shifting mindset, epistemology or consciousness. And, the challenge at this point in time, is that most of humanity do not even know they have a mindset, let alone have the cognitive capacity to make their epistemology a source of study.

So Foam, and gRig could be seen as subversive tricksters, formed to confound, confuse and ultimately destabilise consensus reality. The nature of their work is to connect the marginal and foster the surreal. To take it further, Foam’s notion that we can grow our own world(s) if fully grasped, has the potential to emancipate individuals and groups from a paradigm of apathy, fatalism and co-enabled victimhood. This report explores these areas, and attempts to set out an emancipatory framework for the work of gRig using ideas from transformational learning movement, and by examining the qualities of The Trickster.

Aim

This research project is focussed around discovering the most effective mechanisms we can use to become more conscious of, and change, our relationship to reality

It also has some general aims which include:

  • providing user friendly material that is informative and inspirational to Foam, and to a wider audience that has not encountered these concepts before;
  • encouraging people to grow their own worlds by: writing my blog, facilitating workshops, creating mixed media installations, and discovering and disseminating stories and best practice;
  • facilitating integration of worlds through connecting people and organisations across boundaries in whatever forms feel appropriate to the context
  • supporting and promoting the work of Foam and gRig by increasing knowledge, fostering networks and inspiring their membership

Method and Scope

The the underlying epistemology is constructivist with an inductive research approach.

Practically, this means that the questions set out earlier will be the connecting point for ideas, musings, and meetings that eventually will be made sense of retrospectively, with a deep sense of reflexivity.

Material has been gathered through

  • Interviews and Connections
  • Literature reviews and Peripheral Scanning
  • Experiments and Physical Manifestations
  • Ethnographic encounters and Anthropological Immersion
  • Reflective blogging and Existential Story-ing

Results

The Blog

Over the past year a large volume of material has been collected through excursions, reading, interviews, observations, experiments,listening, perusing, participating, scanning and engaging.

This has been recorded in a blog http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/ and also used to feed this wiki.

The focus of my experiments and blog based research has been methods and tools that facilitate shifts in reality, particularly those that disturb and confuse underlying perceptions of reality and/or that expand the confines or existing perceptions of reality.

The methods I found fall into a wide range of artefacts and experience that are interrelated and deeply connected with the spirit of the Trickster which will be discussed in more depth later…

  • hybrids that evade categorisation by existing mental models
  • activities that blur the dichotomies of right and wrong, true and false, real and unreal
  • processes that reveal hidden or obvious truths
  • mediums that stimulate multiple senses simultaneously or by- pass well used senses and engage different parts of the brain that are not normally in play
  • experiences that push the boundaries of consensus reality by inviting us to question whether something is real, exists, is happening
  • experiences that allow us to grow our own reality
  • collaborations that create portals between different rhealms ( spiritual, physical, digital, imaginal, magical) and cultures.

Practices that fall into one or many of these areas included:

  • sensorial labyrinths

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2007/09/at-entrance-of-sensory-labyrinths.html

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2007/09/bees-beasts-and-batman-welcome-to-your.html

  • geo-caching

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2007/12/international-treasure-hunting.html

  • street games

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/09/this-is-what-i-am-talking-about.html

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/11/gameland.html (participated in Blast Theories latest game in Belo Horizonte, Brazil)

  • hybrids

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/11/hybrids-and-connections.html (a number of links to hybrid work and engagement)

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/09/growing-buildings.html (hybrid architecture)

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/11/tourist-in-my-own-land.html (Krystle Tuvai's urban hybrid story-ing plus others)

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/10/expo-of-un-popular-culture.html (item on Greg Broadmore and Weta Studios)

http://un-fiction.blogspot.com/2009/01/trandisciplinary-engagement-and.html

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/06/luminous-green-singapore.html

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/08/post-luminous-green.html

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/10/return.html

I also engaged in a number of other explorations,expeditions and musings that are tangentially related to this report

  • exhibitions and expeditions

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/05/design-for-other-90.html

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2007/11/long-time-no-speak.html

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2007/12/out-and-about-in-auckland.html

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/04/educating-for-future.html

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/10/expo-of-un-popular-culture.html

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/11/tourist-in-my-own-land.html

  • publications, talks and movies

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/09/not-sustainable.html

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2007/12/view-from-centre-of-universe.html

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/01/shift-movie.html

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/04/2008-shift-report.html

  • meandering musings

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2007/12/hong-kong-athiests-and-subconscious.html

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2007/09/strange-case-of-mccanns-and.html

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/02/fever.html

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/02/portals-in-fog.html

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/02/hubs-and-suds.html

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/12/now-i-understand-why-postman-wears.html

  • reality challenging psychological sydromes

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/11/greatest-reality-show-on-earth.html

The Blog has drawn favourable, offline, responses, subscriptions and a small and loyal readership. There have been numerous requests for further information about the content, including requests for details about Foam and its other activities. People connect and contact each other through the site.Therefore it has already contributed to Foam’s aim of encouraging participation, and collaboration.

Experiments and Field Tests

In addition to this research I engaged in an number of field tests to try out ideas in practice and make some attempt to transform the reality of a particular system and set of individuals . Results were recorded in both the blog and the pages of this wiki.

one off experiments

Subverting xmas and creating hybrid decorations in a deprived neighbourhood

http://www.un-fiction.blogspot.com/2008/12/great-bates-street-light-up.html

Reactivating marginalised spaces using geo-cache and treasure hunt mechanisms

http://lib.fo.am/sub_pap_zones

large scale hybrid story-ing ARG-like programmes

Awhiworld was an experiment that took place within a primary school involving 150 children aged 5 to 12 years old,11 teaching staff and a six month time frame:

http://lib.fo.am/awhi_world

Literature Review

Material was also collected through through reviewing literature from the transformational learning field, from management deveopment, from anthropological books and from fictional novels. These are listed in the references section.

The next section will summarise findings from all of these activities and discuss future implications and areas for further research

Discussion

In starting this project I imagined that I would be investigating ‘the most effective mechanisms for becoming conscious of, and changing, our relationship to reality’. However at the end of a year of research and experimentation I realise I had been researching the most effective ways we can support meta-cognitive development, and possibly even consciousness shift

This is because, as you will see later, increasing our ability to meta-reflect, is the key to our emancipation from fixed and disempowering ontological understandings of reality. And the key to giving us the ability to ‘grow our own worlds’.

This research wasn’t simply for the fun of learning about new ideas, but a very personal search to find ways to more sustainably deal with what seem to be intractable and interrelated community issues (ie chronic debt, environmental degradation, loneliness, violence and addiction). If we believe that we exist in reality that is separate and fixed, our ability to engage with complex issues is impaired as we place responsibility for the problem and the solution on ‘the other’. If we believe we exist in a co-created and connective reality, we are co-responsible for the issues around us…and therefore part of the ultimate solution.

These shifts from seperate to connected forms of knowing are co related with shifts in consciousness and increases in our meta-cognitive capacity.

A summary of key points from the research are:

  • Transformation is often is associated with shifts in consciousness and developmental evolution, which allows individuals to have a greater sense of epistemological choice and awareness, and often a deeper connection to spirit and sense of meaning in their lives.
  • Transformation most often happens when our fundamental assumptions about reality are undermined through either disturbance and disruption, or experiencing profound awe, or very conscious and critical reflection.
  • Transformation of underlying assumptions the most sustainable method to bring out behaviour change both individually and at a group level. But also needs to be part of a multi-spectrum approach.
  • Methods and tools that facilitate this shift are those that disturb and confuse underlying perceptions of reality and/or that expand the confines or existing perceptions of reality.

These methods fall into a wide range of tools and categories of artefact and experience that are interrelated and are deeply connected with the archetypical spirit of the Trickster:

  • hybrids that evade categorisation by existing mental models
  • activities that blur the dichotomies of right and wrong, true and false, real and unreal
  • processes that reveal hidden or obvious truths
  • mediums that stimulate multiple senses simultaneously or by- pass well used senses and engage different parts of the brain that are not normally in play
  • experiences that push the boundaries of consensus reality by inviting us to question whether something is real, exists, is happening.

ways of engaging that create meeting points between different rhealms: spiritual, physical, digital, imaginal, magical to name a few.

The following discussion moves through these areas in turn first examining transformation, and consciousness shift, then moving to a summary of some of tricksters methods and tools.

What is transformation?

In examining the literature it is clear that transformation means different things to different people. In the sense I am using it, it is a shift in ones consciousness. A shift where one's relationship to reality becomes fundamentally different.

Consciousness is a state of mind, but also a way of perceiving the world and our place within it. If we perceive the world to be separate from us, and a place to that can be controlled, and predicted, this leads us to behave in different ways than if we believe ourselves to be part of a complex and continually emerging and evolving web of life.

Developmental theorists all describe, in one form or another, transformations in consciousness and evolutionary development from simple to increasingly complex ways of seeing the world (Cranton:77). These movements are involve profound shifts in perspective.

What is the relationship between transformation and development?

The answer is related to the term 'perspective'.

The Oxford Dictionary(2005) gives two descriptions of the word perspective:

  1. a particular attitude towards or way of regarding something; a point of view
  2. the appearance of viewed objects with regard to their relative position and distance from the viewer; having a true understanding of the relative importance of things; a sense of proportion.

The first definition neatly describes a simple change in point of view or attitude, the second definition clearly makes the object more distant from the viewer where it is given a dimension in space, and has a relative importance, and a proportion in relation to everything else.

This closely relates to shifts in consciousness, and transformative learning experiences where underlying ideas and assumptions that were once hidden, are exposed and seen from a distance. Each time a new set of assumptions are revealed and changed a developmental shift may occur.

Examining underlying assumptions can be labelled many ways, but ‘meta-reflection’ is one of the most popular terms used to describe this process.

Robert Kegan (1994) develops this idea of meta- reflection into five ‘orders of consciousness’, his framework involves increasingly sophisticated subject-object shifts. Object refers to those elements of our knowing or organizing that are sufficiently distinct from us so that we can do something about it. Subject refers to those elements of our knowing or organizing with which we are identified or embedded. We have object, we are subject. At each order of consciousness, what was formerly considered to be subject, and an embedded part of one’s identity, now becomes object, and can be viewed from the outside. These increasing degrees of reflexivity transform us, and allow for emancipation and a degree of choice that was not previously present. At the highest ‘order’ we able to make systems themselves object, including meaning making systems and our relationship to reality itself.

How do transformations in consciousness occur?

Major shifts occur when an individual encounters an alternative perspective and prior habits of mind are called into question. Educationalist, and transformative learning theorist Jack Mezirow, originally saw this transformational process as a single, dramatic event – a disorienting dilemma – but he and others have since acknowledged that it could also be a gradual process that occurs over time.

Typically transformative moments are characterised by a recognition of some undeniable truth that flies in the face of – or -puts the lie to some fundamental belief you’ve held, possibly without even knowing it. (Schlitz,2007:203]

Profound and permanent shifts are often triggered by intense suffering, disruption or crisis. In fact, change is what happens when the pain of remaining the same becomes greater than the pain of changing (ibid: 35].

Shifts also occur in moments of profound awe, wonder, or transcendent bliss. When a glimpse of something that is so compelling, so completely beyond what has been realised possible before, can instill in a strong intention to find out more about what happened – no matter what it takes.

Two pioneers of psychology, Keltner and Haidt propose that awe has two essential components perceived as vastness and a need for accommodation(2003) It may be that some experiences are so vast, so profound, so far beyond what we’ve previously perceived, that they in effect demand we transform our worldview in order to accommodate them. Rather than trying to assimilate these experiences into our constricted framework, we are forced to broaden that framework (Schlitz, 2007:68)

This broadening helps us grow and evolve as human beings, and allows us more options and a greater sense of agency in the world. In essence it is empowering.

Why is this process a sustainable way of creating shifts in behaviour?

Our meaning making perspectives, or habits of mind, include uncritically assimilated ways of knowing, believing and feeling. They include distortions, predjudices, stereotypes, and simply unquestioned or unexamined beliefs and assumptions. (Cranton, 23)

When we assume something we are, by definition, taking something for granted. Unfortunately when we take for granted that:

  • reality is a concrete structure rather co-constructed by consensus
  • that truth is there to be discovered rather than negotiated

we are in trouble on a number of levels because these ontological and epistemological frameworks, inherited from thinking generated around the time of the ‘enlightenment’, lead to a number of other related assumptions:

we are separate from other beings and the planet

our actions don’t matter

nature is there for us to harvest

what we do in our homes is our own business

other people are the cause of our problems

other people should find the solutions

and this undermines the fabric and future of our society socially, environmentally, economically, culturally and spiritually.

It creates a reality where we have no where we are powerless to participate environment, and foam’s notion of growing our own worlds is fundamentally strange and misunderstood.

Interestingly some of the most recent research, primarily from within the education for sustainability movement recognises that the most sustainable form of behaviour change comes from the examination of habits of mind and underlying assumptions (Tilbury and Worman, 2004)

Uncritically assimilated habits of mind about the resources in our environment could lead us to wasting or destroying the world’s resources, thereby diminishing the possibility of there being energy, food, and shelter for all in the present and in the future. Through questioning habits of mind that lead to oppression, poverty, and abuse, we can work toward sustainability. (Cranton,2008)

But what methods and tools are most effective in supporting transformations of consciousness?

My research led me to a number of different methods and tools, however it was clear that there was great tension between breadth and depth. On retrospect, it would have been more useful to pick one particular area and carry out an indepth study, rather than survey a number of different areas.

To some extent I did put more focus on ARGs seehttp://lib.fo.am/alternate_reality_game and it is clear from even just a small scale experiment that shifts in perspective did occur, among teachers and the children involved. In most instances this was not life changing, but there was a hint in some of the statements and feedback of possible deeper shifts in perspective. However more research is needed.

That said, to my knowledge this is the first time, or one of the rare times, that these types of methods and tools have been cross correlated with consciousness shift and transformative development. Simply identifying methods that could possibly be used in this way is potentially a breakthrough.

But the challenge with work such as this is that it invokes the spirit of the Trickster. And Trickster activities are not easily measured and evaluated, at least not in mainstream terms.

The Trickster and Transformation

Hyde (1998), in his book Trickster Makes This World, talks about a number of trickster characteristics that fundamentally disrupt or call into question things we have taken for granted. Trickster is in fact a transformative archetype that is set among us to help us develop and grow, although often the activities that feed this growth are unpleasant experiences.

According to Hyde’s extensive research, Trickster, through his sneaky acts and hilarious mistakes, makes us question dichotomy. Trickster calls us to ask: what is right and wrong? what is private versus collective ‘ownership’? what is pure vs dirty? what is true and false?

This act of questioning creates the conditions for epistemologically shifts from dualistic functionalist and positivist frames of reference, to constructivist frames. This means greater meta-cognitive capacity, an ability to engage more effectively with complexity, and potentially even a shift to a way of viewing the world that is based on connective rather than separate ways of knowing. (Which is of great assistance in climate change work for example.)

My efforts to create an ARG within a school were specifically designed to build the imaginative capacity of children and give them another option than the dichotomous notion of true and false which is reinforced by mainstream curriculum.

Trickster is often a hybrid creature that defies categorisation, or is him/herself a creator of strange hybrid ungenreable artefacts and experiences. The common characteristic of nearly all of the methods and tools that I studied was that they in some way blurred categories and boundaries. For example geo-caching is a hybrid of orienteering, treasure hunting and GPS location technology/ sensorial labyrinths are a mix of community theatre, multi sensory installation and community development. When experiences or artefacts challenge traditional epistemological frameworks which rely on intense categorisation, then there is greater potential for shift to occur to orders of consciousness which are much more complex and therefore offer more choices for action.

Trickster is also a ‘revealer of hidden truth’, often inducing embarrassment and shame with his lack of ability to keep secrets. Trickster sometimes reveals the obvious, or new ways to work with the obvious, meaning that it is not then possible to go back to old patterns and ways of engaging. Trickster is therefore a god of innovators.

Guerilla Theatre and other examples of art activism, are designed to disrupt and reveal. ARGs work to make the real world less obvious by giving new meaning to what seems ordinary (ie magazine articles, websites, posters, people). These methods allow taken for granted people, and processes to be reactivated and engaged. They also allow implicit norms and unconscious behaviours that are hindering expansion, to be revealed and potentially changed. Psychotherapy with both individuals and groups is usually designed to uncover the ‘shadow’ or unconscious elements within the self or system. What you cannot see is something that you are ‘subject to’ in Kegan’s terms, and something fundamentally disempowering. Awareness is the first step towards change, and fundamental to behaviour change initiatives no matter what the discipline.

Trickster often is a messenger between worlds, a god of crossroads and intersections and a facilitator of unusual meetings and entanglements. Trickster is a god of unusual partnerships and collaborations.

Much of the work for this project involved bringing together disparate individuals and groups, and putting together concepts and activities in new and unusual ways. Transdisciplinary facilitation, particularly Luminous Green are in service to trickster in that they create temporary crossroads and ephemeral hubs where unusual entanglements can take place. By engaging with people from different worlds our own world expands, and there is greater potential for underlying assumptions to be inadvertently uncovered as mistakes and sometimes conflict between assumption occurs.

And last but not least, Trickster is the god of chance meetings, and’ lucky finds’ that change perspectives and waylay journeys on tried and true pathways.

All my experiments for this project were the result of chance meetings and conversations, but many of the methods I studied actually designed chance meetings and ‘lucky finds’ into their story structure or mechanisms – street games and ARGs are examples of where this can happen.

It seems from my research that Trickster is an archetypal figure most clearly associated with transformational shifts, and the methods that can often bring these about.

Further Research and Opportunities

It is clear that this research has only scrapped the surface of an area that has tremendous potential to add to the fields of adult education, consciousness studies and also to the different creative disciplines mentioned in the material.

More detailed experiments within the school can build on the initial pilot, and are being planned for 2009. Also experiments within the sustainability education arena, using methods not traditionally associated with environmental work eg ARGS, Guerilla Theatre etc.

It is clear that rather than thinking about the ‘effectiveness’ of particular reality shifting techniques, it is better to take an approach that involves multiple methods and tools, and couple this with simple behaviour shifting methods such as marketing tools and policy measures. Evaluating this may need to involve creative and innovative techniques, as consciousness transformation is still an area that is little understood and controversial.

Final Points

Overall, as you will see from reading the blog, and the experimental work, there have been a number of positive outcomes from this research that meet the initial aims. Feedback from many different individuals shows that the research has provided user friendly material, and inspiration to a wider audience that has not encountered these concepts before. It has encouraged a number of people to grow their own worlds in ways they would not have previously, and has connected a number of different worlds across traditional boundaries. Finally this project has actively promoted the work of Foam and gRig in a number of areas that it would not normally easily reach.

The question is how to continue this work so that it continues to feed and supports both Foam, the creative professionals and organisations that have already become involved. Particularly, the small school in South Auckland NZ, which, thanks to this project, has a number of regenerated and reactivated portals, minds and spirits.

References

  • Darwin, J., Johnson,P. and McAuley, J (2002). Developing strategies for Change. Prentice Hall
  • Cooperrider, D. L., Barrett, F. and Srivastva, S. (1995). Social Construction and Appreciative Inquiry: A Journey in Organizational Theory. Management and Organization: Relational Alternatives to Individualism, Ashgate
  • Kegan, R. (1982) The Evolving Self, Harvard University Press.
  • Kegan, R. (1994) In Over Our Heads – The Mental Demands of Modern Life, Harvard University Press.
  • Hyde, L. (1998) Trickster Makes This World - Mischief, Myth and Art, North Point Press
  • Schlitz, M.M., Vieten,C. and Amorok, T (2007) Living Deeply The Art and Science of Transformation in Everyday Life, New Harbinger Publications and Noetic Books
  • Cranton, P. (2006) Understanding and Promoting Transformative Learning - A Guide for Educators and Adults, John Wiley and Sons Inc, 2nd Edition
  • Mezirow, J. (2000) Learning as Transformation - Critical Perspectives on a Theory in Progress, Jossey-Bass
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