Emerging Selves in Practice: How do I and others create my practice and how does my practice shape me and influence others?

Abstract of PhD
Paul Roberts

This thesis outlines a notion of selves as relational, multiple, embodied and imaginal, in contrast to the more dominant Cartesian framework in which selves have been conceived of and enacted as separate, singular, disembodied and literal. It shows how my practice as a management educator on a two year part-time postgraduate programme in People and Organisational Development and as an organisational change consultant in different contexts attempts, over time, to realise such a relational view of the way unique, contextualised, embodied selves emerge as I engage in and write about my practice with others.

The thesis represents a sustained inquiry into the dialectic of how I and others shape my practice and how my practice shapes me and influences others. It situates this inquiry within the traditions of action research. In addition, it will interrelate and engage critically with ideas from the fields of complexity theory, the psychology and sociology of the self, and postmodern thought.

I will both argue for and demonstrate that practice can be conceived of and carried out as an emergent, self-organising, relational activity. I will also indicate and show how I attempt to realise the holistic nature of practice, in which self, practice and context are intertwined, and where the traditional, separate boundaries between what is perceived as personal, professional and political are challenged and made more permeable and interconnected. I will do this by accounting for and presenting my thinking, learning, and description of and critical reflection on my practice using a number of different genres. These genres will include examples of autobiographical, narrative, scholarly, poetic, dialogical and journalistic writing and will illustrate and embody in writing different facets of my self. In giving 'voice' to these different aspects of my self, I will further demonstrate the multiple, imaginal and relational nature of the self.

Tracking my unique form of relational emergent practice, as it has evolved over the six years of this thesis, using the method of writing accounts of my work and sharing these with people I have been working with in cycles of action and reflection (what I call in short 'showing my work to others'), will demonstrate the originality of this work as well as its contribution to both 'living life as inquiry' and to a 'living educational theory'.

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Emerging Selves in Practice: How do I and others create my practice and how does my practice shape me and influence others?


Acknowledgements ii
Abstract iv


Prologue: ‘All the Fruit is Ripe’ 4


Introduction 12

Part One 16

Chapter One Methodology 17
Introduction 17
Section one: the Diploma phase: February 1997- March 1998 17
Section two: rejoining and re-engaging February 1999 – January 2000 18
Section three: the metaphor of the quilt: January – February 2000 22
Section four: showing my writing to others, January 2000 – April 2001 24
Section five: moving from individual reflection to public discourse 26
Section six: further work, May 2001 - September 2002 29
Section seven: inquiry methods 30

Chapter Two Accounting for my practice
Section one: reflections on chapter one 33
Section two: my writing as case study 34
Section three: questions of representation 36
Section four: action research 38
Section five: theories of learning 44
Section six: a dialogical postscript 48


Part Two 51

Chapter Three Ideas of the Self 52
Introduction 52
Section 1. "The way we live now" - "not everything is about you" (or me) 52
Section 2. Development 58
Section 3. Outline of Argument 60
Section 4. Separate vs. Relational 62
Section 5. Singular vs. plural 72
Section 6. Cognitive vs. embodied 80
Section 7. Concrete vs. fictional 86
Section 8. Concluding comments 100
Postscript 102
Chapter Four Multiple Voices of the Self 105
Introduction 105
Section one: the ‘critical/cynical voice’ 106
Section two: commentary 112
Section three: the ‘personal autobiographical voice’ 112
Chapter Five Autoethnography 114
Section one: my first twenty one years 114
Section two: working with ‘my first twenty one years’ 126
Section three: my second twenty one years 136
Section four: working with ‘my second twenty one years’ 158
Section five: postscript 163
Chapter Six Linkages and Contrasts 165


Part Three 169

Chapter Seven Creating a ‘living educational theory’ 170
Section one: three vignettes 170
Section two: self-managed learning 177
Section three: self-study inquiry 179
Section four: beginning inquiry 181
Section five: accounting for a residential 184
Section six: further inquiries on the postgraduate programme in People and Organisational Development 188
Section seven: questions of values 189
Section eight: ongoing work with MSc10 195
Section nine: my ‘living educational theory’ 204
Chapter Eight Working with self-organising processes 206
Introduction 206
Section one: self-organisation and paradox 206
Section two: working with ‘self-organising emergence’ 208
Section three: working with networks 217
Section four: reprise 220


Part Four 221

Chapter nine Questions of epistemology and validity 222
Section one: questions of epistemology 222
Section two: questions of validity 225
Section three: dialogical postscript 243
Chapter Ten Reflections 244

Bibliography 253

Appendix One Beyond traditional ways of working with Organisational Change 274
Introduction 274
‘Modernity’ 275
Assumption 1: "change can be engineered" 277
Assumption 2. "Change can be usefully described in general universal theories." 279
Assumption 3: "Change is brought into being through creating a future vision." 282
Assumption 4: "Processes of change can be described in politically and morally neutral, value-free terms." 284

Conclusion 285