I took a break from the Blog for a number of months to focus further on my health and to complete preparations for the 10th Anniversary Conference for the Action Research Network of the Americas (ARNA), which I co-founded and in which I remain active. My wife and I also spent 6 weeks on the road, traveling around the Southwest, taking in the beauty of National Parks, hiking and hanging out, and supporting our cat in his transition from a mostly sedentary house cat to at least a partial adventure cat. (He tolerates the support while firmly defining his parameters for adventure!)
Now that I am returning to blogging, I am thinking: What is this range I am riding on? How has it changed in the last few months? There is so much happening in the world at this time regarding uses and misuses of information, knowledge, and knowledge production and dissemination that although there is a veritable feast of topics to choose from, it is a bit hard to know where to begin. Recent conversations with my wife, however, have pointed me towards a couple of starting points. The first has to do with a revisit to the basics of Social Publishers Foundation (SPF), which is to say revisiting the issue of practitioner research. Where do things stand with it now? Is it harder or easier to envision the benefits of loosening the grip of monopolistic knowledge production as 21st century time rolls on?
In the two-minute video SPF created a few years ago as a part of our founding, the audio begins with the straightforward assertion that “universities conduct research that is too often not accessed by people engaged in various professional practices” (see the video[i]). Understandably, this statement oversimplifies what in reality is a complex phenomenon. In a two-minute presentation on a broad topic, there is bound to be a great deal of ‘reduction’ of content. As well, some researchers say that even two-minutes is way beyond the attention span of humans today; hence, shortened content is essential to hold the attention of viewers, with that span estimated to have shrunk from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8.25 seconds in 2015; by this account we have a lower attention span than a goldfish[ii] (and I therefore lost readers’ attention just before the end of my opening sentence above). Well, hope springs eternal, in the words of English Enlightenment essayist and poet Alexander Pope, so I will write on in the hope that at least a few of my readers will hang in there with me as I explore the SPF video’s opening assertion.
Of course, the larger story of the relations between university research and professional practices is told in nearly countless volumes of books and scholarly papers. The point in the present blog post is not to get lost ‘in the stacks’ of some vast library, although such journeys can be profoundly enriching, as I rediscovered some years back in the beautiful Long Room in Dublin’s Trinity College Library. My point now is to emphasize that the current relations between the creation of knowledge and the practice of professions, in particular those related to human growth and development, wellness and healthcare, and the well-being of civil society in democracies, are too one-sided and are based on a hugely cumbersome and in too many ways ineffective ‘supply chain.’
The one-way dimension has to do with the unfortunate lack of what I will call meaningful dialogic encounters between practitioners and researchers in higher education as well as features of career development in higher education that work against genuine collaborations between universities and communities and between individual university-based researchers and practitioners in the field.[iii] The supply chain issues in knowledge production are grounded in the lack of flexibility and innovation in recognizing and working with sources of knowledge and the monopolization of knowledge dissemination by the publishing industry, universities, and research-oriented centers, institutes and big-money foundations.
Overall, the challenge is that the connections between professional practice and the formal workings of higher education-based research have become stuck, ossified if you will, in a position that is too inaccessible to the practices higher education is supposed to provide with ‘best practices’ and too arrogant regarding how new knowledge is added to practices. This challenge is an urgent one in the face of the recognition that we all now live in a world in which things have gone terribly wrong. As David Graeber and David Wengrow describe, it is a world in which “a very small percentage of its population do control the fates of almost everyone else, and they are doing it in an increasingly disastrous fashion.”[iv]
It is this scenario that SPF seeks to address through contributing to the transformation of how we create, share, and build on the knowledge needed to get us out of the mess we are in. We seek to do that by acknowledging the importance of practitioner research, supporting its development and dissemination, and generating dialogue and critique at the intersections of practice, new knowledge, and public discourse and policy-making addressing the provision of human growth and development services, education, wellness and healthcare services, and civic engagement and civil society maintenance initiatives in democratic societies.
[iv] Graeber, D., & Wengrow, D. (2021). The Dawn of Everything: A new History of Humanity. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.