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Dancing with the Shadows of Wellbeing: An Exploration of Participatory Action Research Processes as a Catalyst for Transformation of Staff Wellbeing

My abiding concern with human and planetary wellbeing and an emerging interest in the potential of Participatory Action Research as a method of engaging with restorative, life-enhancing ways of being are central to the research reported here. Chomsky (2003), Kelsey (2002), Roddick (2001), and Stiglitz (2003) are amongst many authors who argue that the way in which we shape and are shaped by our relationships with one another has contributed to an intolerable, inhumane and unsustainable compromise of human and planetary wellbeing. Through a Participatory Action Research (PAR) project with staff from Te Ra, a community based on the holistic ideals of Rudolf Steiner, and thus an organisation explicitly committed to holistic wellbeing of people and planet, we sought to explore the challenges to such wellbeing. While our mutual attention was focused on enhancing staff wellbeing at their place of employment, my wider attention was also given to an investigation of the value of a critical analysis to the wider political and economic context in which this organisation works to meet the aspirations of this community. My deep attention has also focused on the potential for PAR to make a contribution to the transformational aspirations of critical theorists who are concerned to uncover and transform aspects of society that inhibit justice and wellbeing of people and planet. My metaphor of choice, to allow me the engagement in all three spheres simultaneously, is the metaphor of Dance. In my work with the staff of Te Ra, our intent was to 'dance with the Shadows', alluding to Jungian references to hidden aspects of ourselves and this community, to discover if un-wellness and disconnection from self and others could be transformed into flourishing relationships and wellbeing in the organisation. McNiff (2000) proposes that PAR has the potential to generate living theories that redefine the main purpose of organisation theory in terms of human wellbeing. Throughout this research project, principles of PAR are woven in with work of critical organisational theorists, psychologists and anthropologists. The already established ideas of reflection, observation, reflexivity, and action are choreographed with the less often considered ideas of those aspects of the research relationship that may inhibit mutuality. While this organisation is explicitly and deeply committed to underpinning all that is aspired to with a relational ethic, the impact that instrumental practices associated with an intensifying neo-liberal economic external environment have not left this organisation untouched. It took commitment, courage and resources to identify and engage with the Shadows masked by intrinsic and extrinsic pressures and processes that these research participants were experiencing. Engaging in PAR processes allowed us dance 'up close and personal' with their aspirations to begin transforming what was not well, while recognising and reinforcing the organisation's existing strong philosophical and spiritual foundations that emphasized individual freedom and collective responsibility for wellbeing of all. Based on the significant transformations achieved during this project we posit that PAR provides a collaborative opportunity for academics and practitioners to 'dance with the Shadows' of individuals and communities to make a significant contribution to the development of sustainable relationships in workplaces where human and planetary wellbeing is the priority.
Type of thesis
Bentley, R. D. (2007). Dancing with the Shadows of Wellbeing: An Exploration of Participatory Action Research Processes as a Catalyst for Transformation of Staff Wellbeing (Thesis, Master of Management Studies (MMS)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/2505
The University of Waikato
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