Thinking with stories of suffering: towards a living theory of response-ability
Abstract of PhD Submission to the University of Bath, 2008
In the thesis I develop a living theory of responsibility, movement, engagement, withdrawal, and self care with a living standard of judgement of response-ability toward the other. I use a hermeneutic phenomenological approach to develop a dynamic, relational understanding, where social constructions are discussed and refined using cycles of loose and strict thinking, an inter-play of emotion and intellect, and a combination of intuitive and analytic reasoning. This is underpinned by an extended epistemology embracing experiential learning, documentary and textual analysis, presentational knowing, dialogue, narrative and photographic inquiry. I address the essence of inquiry with people who have difficult stories to tell and for us to comprehend: narratives which emerge from episodes of chaos and suffering, interspersed with occasional glimpses of the inter-human. Within this context I explore responsibility [response-ability] to 'the Other' as subject, and the ethical obligations implied in that relationship.
My and others' narratives, through space and over time, are researched using an extended epistemology and inquiry cycles across two interwoven strands. I look back over a long career and 'epiphanous' moments as a social worker and academic in the field of child protection and children and families work; and as the child of a war veteran, I reflect on World War II narratives of suffering, changing identity, and the inter-human. This first and second person inquiry extends outwards through cycles of dialogue with ex European prisoners of war and relation with landscape across Europe and Russia. In these reflections I clarify my meanings of chaos, suffering and responsibility [response-ability]. The learning from this extended inquiry and the contribution to knowledge are reflected on within my current practice as a participative researcher who is expressing response-ability toward the other. Finally, I consider implications for improving practice and organizational climate in children and families work.
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