Towards greater social and ethical response-ability? Practicing contemplative higher education in times of uncertainty and change.

Author: Loretta Geuenich

Geuenich, Loretta, 2019 Towards greater social and ethical response-ability? Practicing contemplative higher education in times of uncertainty and change., Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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Higher education is in flux and for many, crisis. How then are we to prepare learners for this increasingly tumultuous 21st century? Within the global north (predominantly the USA & Canada) Contemplative Higher Education (CHE) is being offered as a potential vehicle for personal enrichment and ethical social change. However, little is known about educators’ personal training, or how they understand the nature of their work as a social practice. This study focusses on key scholar-practitioners of CHE and explores what motivates, constrains, and enables their practice. To explore the persistent problematic of agency-structure I employ UK Philosopher Roy Bhaskar’s meta-philosophy of critical realism (CR) and its operationalisation through Sociologist Margaret Archer’s morphogenetic theory. Ensuing from this is an ontologically and ethically bold realist approach to answering the question: In times of great uncertainty and change in Higher Education, what potential exists for CHE to be a practice of ethical and social capacity building – for students and educators?

The project’s methodology is framed by commitments to ontological realism and epistemological relativism. Where the former understands the nature of reality to be stratified, emergent and constellated, the latter takes human knowledge of that reality to be fallible and partial. This ontological realism and epistemological relativism coheres with the Buddhist philosophy underpinning most CHE practice. Data was collected over a 9-month period employing multiple in-depth interviews with North American CHE practitioners. The research design drew upon Archer’s three-stage morphogenetic sequence with additional resources for data and standpoint offered by Pamphilon’s (1991) ‘Zoom Method’. As a result, this project offers insight into how educators make sense of their own contemplative practice, their active agency and dispositional stances in the face of complex social structures.

This research finds that as a pedagogical movement rooted in deep meditative practice CHE cultivates capacities for social response-ability and contributes to self-enrichment. CHE relies on ontology of higher education grounded in inherent human capacity and sufficiency, rather than lack and deficit. This ontology allows for the possibility for active human agency and ethical dispositions of care. A key finding of this project is that the deep meditative training of educators supports non-instrumentalist learning environments where genuine learning occurs across all domains of being human – the cognitive, affective, embodied, dispositional, and inter-subjective. Contemplative practices grounded in the sitting practice of meditation, rather than producing calm acquiescence, disrupt both identarian thinking and dispositional habitus. While further research is needed findings, indicate the potential of CHE learning environments to support meta-reflexive thinking, underpinned by an ethic of care – towards self, and other.

Keywords: Contemplative Higher Education Critical Realism Contemplative Education Higher Education 21st Century Education Meditation Mindfulness in Education Sociology of Education Morphogenetic Approach Agency

Subject: Education thesis

Thesis type: Professional Doctorate
Completed: 2019
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Dr. Grant Banfield