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The Transformative Possibilities of 'Noticing' in Community Gardening and my Life

The growing gap between rich and poor and the degradation of the planet are among the systemically generated outcomes increasingly associated with contemporary capitalism. This association is made by scholarly, professional and technical experts and spiritual leaders from across the political spectrum. Among them are Joseph Stiglitz, Vandana Shiva, Bill McKibben and Pope Francis. The negative social impact associated with the privileging of capitalist interests manifest in a globalising corporate logic during the 1990s, was critically documented by Jane Kelsey (1999). In the ongoing pursuit of the neo-liberal agenda globally, Kelsey (2013) argues that significant decisions are often made behind closed doors with little chance of democratic influence, particularly by those who may come to suffer from their ramifications. Popular uprisings, such as the Occupy Wall Street Movement, attest to the widespread concern of many. Activist scholar, Slavoj Žižek (2012) urges the embedding of the occupiers’ concerns beyond the visible spectacle of the movement. He urges wider commitment to the transformation of the issues of their concern in the very fabric of daily life. My work presented in this thesis is one attempt to contribute to this call. Through my investigation into the apparent impact of corporate capitalism, I have come to notice ever more acutely, as encouraged by Seo and Creed (2002), the value contradictions within the institutional logics that support capitalism and the logics of other significant institutions that I allow influence on my life. My research drew me towards concurrence with the views of critical organisational theorists such as Deetz (1992) and Dyer, Humphries, Fitzgibbons and Hurd (2014). These theorists provide the proposition that the contemporary form of globalisation is orchestrated through the normalised workings and values of global corporations that spread a competitive ordering, selectively atomise individuals and pit one against the other. I call this the ‘dominant order(ing) of daily lives’ that draws the privileged and the oppressed into a way of being that sustains privilege and oppression while espousing values of justice. My research contributes to the body of knowledge concerned with how a sense of responsibility and transformative agency may be developed amongst privileged peoples. It is in the projects of community gardening and my life that I have chosen to ‘notice’ the prevalence of a mechanistic, functionalist world view that infuses the moral limitations of dominant order. I have been attentive to noticing how this order influences the [un]ethical decisions of daily life. I suggest that increasing the awareness of the privileged to the working of dominant order and to the interconnectedness of life is important to our ability to ‘notice’ institutional contradictions and thus the possibilities of our transformation. My attention to ‘noticing’ has heightened my discomfort with the current institutional arrangements and prompted me to reflect, talk with others, try new things and seek a more attentive way of being. My research endorses the suggestion made by Dyer et al. (2014) that conscientising the privileged to the workings of dominant order, and the ways we are implicated in the maintenance of this ordering, is important work for educators to pursue. Through my research I have identified ideas that may mitigate against concerning assumptions amongst the privileged that ‘community gardening’ and the projects of local food are ‘naturally virtuous’ including: listening to the stories of the oppressed, knowing who we are in the context of these stories, holding our own discomfort and questioning how we may be responsible. As an outcome of my research, I posit that the reprioritisation and valuing of interconnection and ‘concern for others’ in the day to day lives of the privileged may be achieved through the development of relational identities, storytelling that highlights interconnection and spiritual ritual. Community gardening can draw the privileged into being with the oppressed; enabling an understanding of shared and common humanity that I suggest is motivating of reflection and the construction of new social interactions. My investigations drew me more deeply into the insights and commitments of people of an indigenous, Earth-centred, life-affirming spiritual tradition who are among those who articulate an interconnected worldview and ways of being human. My research highlights that when commitment is given to a relationship with people of these traditions, those who are largely (but never wholly) colonised to the dominant order may ‘notice’ and rediscover the possibilities of interconnected ways of seeing and being human. Listening to the holders of life-affirming traditions can enable ‘noticing’ of, and resistance to, the dominating ideas of capitalist projections that are mechanistic and competitive in form. In the context of Aotearoa New Zealand, my research suggests that bicultural relationship may be developed by Pākehā through listening to Te Ao Māori authority and engaging in practical actions that support related Māori aspirations. This relationship may interrupt the potential dominance of Pākehā ways of being. My first person action research has involved reflection, ‘noticing’, conversation and action in dynamic interplay. I have recorded this dynamic interplay and discerned together with others, through ongoing co-inquiry relationship and dialogue, the transformative possibilities of ‘noticing’ the ways that we, as people who would like to be considered ‘just’, are human. I have woven a narrative, presented in this report that is compelling to me, to my co-inquirers and to others. I have assessed the value of my inquiry by the way it stirs thinking, reflection and transformative action in those who engage with it. ‘Noticing’ dominant order and the unconscious stream of oppressive action in the day to day life of the privileged is difficult and challenging work. This work may generate conflict and discomfort for the researcher and the people connected with and through the research. I posit that such discomfort is important to reflection and to developing a form of sensitivity that draws ethical attention to the systemic causes of such degradation that sustains the privilege of many. The potential challenging of privilege that ‘noticing’ promotes requires a relational dynamic that is open, non-competitive, non-oppositional and potentially inconclusive. Including this Socratic dynamic in research methods, and in ‘noticing’, is important for researchers whose ability to shed light on the challenging terrain of social change requires relationships of openness and dialogue. When grounded in a critique of dominant order, ‘noticing’ disturbs otherwise inoculated, rationalised and normalised privileges. Just as the disturbance of soil is necessary for the settling of a new seed, so too is the disturbance of our minds necessary for our awakening and the growth of our ‘noticing’ and an interconnected worldview. ‘Noticing’ enables the privileged to identify ways of being human that reprioritise the diminished valuing of interdependency.
Type of thesis
Casey-Cox, A. M. (2014). The Transformative Possibilities of ‘Noticing’ in Community Gardening and my Life (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/8837
University of Waikato
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