UR – Grounded Theory, Context, and Enactivism

COURSE: Understanding Research—UR

FORUM: Elaborating the logics of research approaches

TOPICS: Research, ontology, epistemology

Step 2 – Part 1

Keywords: context, grounded theory, enactivism

Link to blog

Link to forum


Throughout our program issues of context have been prominently presented and discussed. I realize that also plays a role in research. With regard to the two main research strategies, quantitative and qualitative, my current understanding of context is as follows. Researchers in both approaches claim giving context their full attention, however, in two very distinct and almost antithetic ways. In quantitative research the context is the “here and now” reality of the relevant research environment, where variables are measured according to an objectivist ontological perspective that views phenomena as external events “beyond our reach of influence.” (Bryman, p. 18) In qualitative research, instead, context seems to include a variety of factors that, according to constructivism, definitely influence the observed phenomena. This simplified distinction makes me think that whenever we talk about context, we may be referring to two very different concepts that would be better understood by using different words.

Clearly, the contextual scope in qualitative research is much broader than the selected, controlled environment in a quantitative design. In my view, it is exactly the context of a certain phenomenon that qualitative researchers are after. Therefore, the context (and related processes) of a given case scenario is not only the framework within which researchers develop their strategy for data collection and analysis; it is also the object of their investigation. Given the relevance of context in both research strategies, I find it strange that Bryman’s book does not include any relevant entry in either the glossary or the index.

An example of the importance of context in qualitative research is Grounded Theory (see Bryman, pag 541). Although I have not completed the readings, I believe that this particular kind of approach includes a broad context for the study of all interacting factors, actors and even observers. When considering these issues, I remembered our discussion in a previous course. Back then we were examining different approaches to experiential learning and the roles of observation and participation. Fenwick (2001) provided the following definition of context, which I find very relevant to my comments in this post. I believe that Fenwick’s definition helps understand how learning is influenced by our environment, but also how a qualitative education research needs to be mindful of a very broad and inclusive context:

Context involves the social relations and political-cultural dimensions of the community in which the individual is caught up, the nature of the task, the web of joint actions in which the individual’s choices and behaviors are enmeshed, the vocabulary and cultural beliefs through which the individual makes meaning of the whole situation, and the historical, temporal, and spatial location of the situation. (Fenwick, 2001, p. 20)

Going back to my previous mention of Grounded Theory, it seems to me that context defines the background against which identities play out, but it can also become indistinguishable from the actors. In a process of ongoing negotiation and reframing, context is simply a reality that is constantly transforming itself. Grounded Theory researchers persistently re-evaluate their findings, which reminds me a lot of the enactivist/ecological perspective as discussed in Fenwick (2001):

The enactivist perspective insists that learning cannot be understood except in terms of co-emergence: each participant’s understandings are entwined with those of other participants, and individual knowledge co-emerges with collective knowledge. Educational theory also must examine the subtle particularities of “context” created through the learning of complex systems, embedded in their constantly shifting interactional dynamics, and the relations among these particularities. Educators need to become alert to a “complexified awareness…of how one [individual] exists simultaneously in and across these levels, and of how part and whole co-emerge and co-specify one another.  (Davis and Sumara 1997, p. 120)

When it comes to education research, it seems to me that we – in our multiple roles of educators, researchers, and learners – would move between different degrees of participation and observation to gain a deeper understanding of the context, whether that be for our research or for our engagement in our professional practices.

Would it be correct to say that Grounded Theory follows an enactivist/ecological approach to the understanding of context e to the emergence of theory?


Bryman, A. (2008). Social Research methods (3rd ed). Oxford; Oxford university press

Fenwick, T. (2001) “Experiential Learning: A Theoretical Critique from Five Perspectives” Information Series No 385, ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career and Vocational Education now located at the Centre for Education & Training for Employment at Ohio State University, accessed on June 2, 2009 at http://www.uni-koeln.de/hf/konstrukt/didaktik/situierteslernen/fenwick1.pdf


GLL – Swedish Study Circles

COURSE: Global/Local Learning– GLL

FORUM: on Larsson’s Study Circles

TOPICS: local global learning, development, Transformation, Adult Education

Step 4 – Part 1: Adult education/learning in civil society organisations and social movements

Keywords: Study circles, Sweden, civil society, democracy, pluralistic citizenship

Link to blog

Link to forum Link to Forum 2

Larsson, S. (2001) Study Circles as Democratic Utopia: A Swedish Perspective, in Bron, A.&  Schemmann, M. (eds) 2001 Civil Society, Citizenship and Learning. Bochum Studies in International Adult Education, vol. 2. Transaction Publishers, USA/UK


In this article Larsson presents the case of the Study Circles as “a mass-phenomenon in contemporary Sweden.” (p. 1) Study Circles refer to both the content and the educational framework within which learning occurs.

Since the foundation of the first study circles association in 1912, Study Circles in Sweden were understood as a means to the advancement of education from the bottom up. Unlike traditional education, they were based on the following “grammar” derived from democratic principles of egalitarian participation:

“1) There are no examinations or merits to be gained; 2) Participation is voluntary; 3) One operates with the expectation of a limited number of persons in a circle, normally somewhere between 5 – 19 persons; 4) Time is often treated in a different way from ordinary schools – often study circles will meet for 3 hours once a week with a break in the middle. A study circle will often consist of 10 to fifteen of such meanings; 5) A circle will have a leader, who does not have to be an expert – it can be one of the participants. On the other hand, there are often experts acting as leaders.” (p. 2)

Study Circles have focussed on learning activities that would strengthen people’s active participation in democratic society by offering a plethora of topics that would represent diverse world views.

Historically, Study Circles underwent a transmutation.

Originally, their activities were entwined with the civil society movements that were the driving force behind the popular participation in the circles. In fact, “participation in study circles during the first half of the century was often part of a relatively strong, sometimes class based, relation to a specific movement.” (p. 3) From that perspective, study circles were “in sharp opposition to state and market.” (p.3)

In the course of the twentieth century, however, with the weakening of popular movements and the corresponding emerging of institutions of representative democracy within the state, Study Circles lost their relevance as loci of political activism.

Compared with the limiting effect that states exercise elsewhere on education, the role of the state in the Swedish Study Circles is ambivalent. In Sweden the state provides financial support to the study circles without imposing limits to their mission.

In discussing Study Circles, Larsson examines their relevance for and impact on today’s adult learning education in Sweden. He recognizes the loss of importance experienced by civil society movements over the last century, partly due to the emergence of a globalized society and what that entails. It seems that “the power and the possibilities of the civil society have been reduced, since there is less that is decided upon through democratic decision-making in the society as a whole.” (p.15)

This has led to a shift of focus in the activities of Study Circles. They went from being the educational arm of class-based social movements to being more and more involved with the pursuit of learning at the personal level. The effect on civil society and the state institutions is not to be found anymore in the action taken by the related popular movements, but in the small-scale influence that individuals may exert in their private political spheres.

The core pillar in the Swedish Study Circles still clearly rests on Oscar Olsson’s original view of “education for and through the people.” (p.12) He is considered the father of the study circles. In spite of their changing role, Study Circles are therefore still based on the promotion of equality, knowledge, active participation, democracy and diversity. These issues are by all means not clear cut and remain highly contested in the ways they may be achieved and by whom.


Today’s function of Study Circles

Larsson recognizes how the function of Study Circles in relation to the State and Civil Society class-based movements has changed since their inception.  In particular, the promotion of action does not appear to be any longer the driving force behind Study Circles. Recognizing this loss of political traction reminds me of our discussions on Youngman and Freire with regard to the actuality of their views. I believe many of us have recognized the change in today’s context and conditions. Study Circles appear to have been highly adaptive to such changes.

Consequently, they reflect the shift from a context dominated by popular movements to one that values participation as “individual and private rather than something that is supporting the influence and power of a civil society versus other societal powers.” (p.13) Maybe one could argue that Study Circles were never meant to be the tools for political actions. In fact, even in the past, political action was the domain of social movements. What has changed is the intensity of how the learning activities developed in Study Circles would transfer to political action.


With regard to diversity, Larsson emphasizes how Study Circles have provided an arena for the production of new identities, concluding that “the study circle tradition provides a system that is very much adapted to support diversity. We can also note that this is not only a potential but it is in fact used in practice as a place to produce and reproduce diverse identities.” (p.11) I find this specific point very important to our course and the relevant discussion on glocal education. I believe the relational nature of Study Circles provides a fertile ground for dialogue that would consider diverse narratives and discourses. That could be the prelude to the emergence of a transformative and then enactivist perspective and possibly a new holistic cultural paradigm based on Third-Culture building practices.

Global citizenship, European model.

I find Larsson’s article refreshing in its affirmation of the concept of “pluralistic citizenship.” (cited from Johnson, 1999) It reflects current approaches to people’s participation that transcend both Freire’s and Youngman’s class-based thinking. Of course, I recognize that his views are rooted in the Scandinavian tradition, quite different from the contexts discussed by the other authors. Nevertheless, his vocabulary is suitable for a comprehensive discussion of transformative education that relates to the changed landscape of the new millennium. I am saying this not because Freire’s observation on inequality and oppressions do not have merit nowadays, but because I believe we have now gained deeper, systemic insights into the relevant issues.

In Larsson’s words, the alternative to a traditional, juxtaposed idea of democracy

“will be a view, where there is no universal truth or ‘correct’ decision, but rather that democracy is about peaceful solutions of conflicting interests and world-views, in other words, negotiations and compromises between a multitude of groups in the population who have elected representatives. Possibilities to develop a diversity of opinions and form organisations based on this diversity become a prerequisite for such democracy” that would” embrace diversity and cultural pluralism.” (p. 9)

This will also entail politics of mutual recognition.

As an example of this kind of societal transformation, I would like to bring up the case of a EUROPA as outlined at http://www.euroalter.com/about-logo/ and http://www.euroalter.com/about/ . The language used in these web pages is consistent with Larsson’s findings and – in my view – also with the Cape Learning Region as conceptualized by Walters.


Cohen, J. L., & Arato, A. (1995). Civil society and political theory. Studies in contemporary German social thought. Cambridge, Mass. [u.a.]: MIT Press.

Larsson accept the definition of civil society given by Cohen and Arato. They believe that “social movements constitute the dynamic element in processes that might realize the positive potentials of modern civil societies.” Check this for more on Cohen and Arato: http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/jbmurray/research/jbm_ayacucho.pdf




He does not mention the potential of the Internet as an opposite force to this, similar in a sense to study circles, but on a global scale.  I would argue that wikis, blogs, social networks, the diversity of web pages (self-promotional, knowledge-based, and otherwise) made available through the Internet offer similar eclectic, self-initiated, and non-hierarchical options to informal adult learning.  Because these go well beyond geographical state borders, are divorced from physical or locally situated constraints, they open up diverse knowledge building, and a kind of equality that restricts membership based on technological access alone. It remains to be seen whether this medium will reinforce collective participation in self governance or merely further fragmentation of local civil societies.

Hi Marie!

Thank you so much for your eloquent post. I found it meaningful, easy to read and well-written.

Here are some comments on the issue of changing educational venues.  On reading Larsson, I had this picture of a Swedish landscape scattered with small, self-contained communities, where people gather in cosy buildings with a very warm atmosphere to work on their social networking and personal adult education advancement. It is a comforting image, one that may reveal an aspect of Swedish society that may be hard to find in places outside Scandinavia. It is an image that may look quintessentially Swedish, and by extent is more familiar and palatable to Europeans, especially Northern Europeans, than to people in South Africa. I may be wrong, but this image may still dominate the Swedes’ approach to their adult education extension programs such as the Study Circles, because it is “culturally appropriate”, situated in the Nordic tradition. This may be a reason why immigrants are underrepresented in such context. As you point out, IT education opportunities are nowadays available. I wonder if they would satisfy the need for personal interaction sought after by the aging Swedish population. That would be the topic for another research project.

What is important here in terms of glocal education – I think – is to imagine. Let’s imagine how the learning spirit typical of study circles would work elsewhere. For example, would it be relevant to the specific context of South Africa? And let’s imagine how learning approaches from other places would benefit the Swedish adult education environment. How would that affect society? Transformation in the global age is about new ways in which we can imagine a different world.



Kathy wrote:

dear oscar and Marie

just to add to your images of fireplaces and cosy rooms – the same organisation who is using Reflect in SA has been piloting a few study circles. They are working in the rural areas of the eastern cape in one of the poverty nodes of South Africa. so the study circles will be happening in in mud huts around a fireplace. People believe that in these areas, the original home of Nelson Mandela, Ubuntu still exists.

I guess the methodology of Reflect and a study circle would complement each other as both allow people a space to explore and develop; to work without an ‘expert’ towards transforming ones own community.


Dear Kathy and Marie,

The image of people gathering in mud huts to learn is very empowering. My stereotyped image of Sweden was actually more representative of the past. I am aware that things have changed a bit (-: . My point was that, for the Swedes, that image still holds power over the way democracy may be understood as belonging to the people. It’d be interesting to hear about this point from some of our cohorters in Scandinavia.

Kathy wrote: “to work without an ‘expert’ towards transforming ones own community.”

That reminds me of how David Bohm envisioned dialogue. On this, I’d like to share the following excerpt from Klenemas (2008), which I believe reinforces the philosophical approach of the Study Circles.

(emphasis added) “David Bohm sees equality of/among the participants as an important feature of dialogue. He says that this equality can be reached through a fair hearing of all parties involved. This demands of course also a certain degree of openness among the dialogue partners and that everyone has the chance to participate.

Bohm claims that hierarchical power structures would be counterproductive to the interaction. In his eyes, a discussion – in contrast to a dialogue – aims at a win-lose situation, where the parties “play” against (i.e. not with) each other. In a dialogue, on the other hand, people aim to reach a win-win situation.

To say it differently, dialogue is not about convincing or persuading the other. (This would mean that I know everything about my opinion, but nothing or little about the others’.) It is through listening carefully to each other without judging the others’ opinions that everyone can create the “same” stock of knowledge. Bohm is not saying that you should suppress your opinions and feelings. On the contrary, talking openly about facts and feelings is also important to reach what he calls “coherence of thought”. He stresses that if there is a coherence of meaning (or thought) the process and outcome will be much stronger and more effective. Let me sum up these three features of dialogue with David Bohm’s words:

‘How can you share if you are sure you have truth and the other fellow is sure he has truth, and the truths don’t agree? How can you share? Therefore, you have to watch out for the notion of truth. Dialogue may not be concerned with truth – it may arrive at truth, but it is concerned with meaning. If the meaning is incoherent you will never arrive at truth.’ (Bohm 1996: 15f)”

This approach brings Freire’s ideas on conscientization into focus by making it the individual’s responsibility to find coherence among a diversity of thoughts and meanings. For me, as I pointed out in another post (Link to forum ), this would be a supporting pillar for a new thinking paradigm.



Kleinemas Hanne (February 2008) Excuse me, is this the way to intercultural competence, in Coyote #13, Intercultural Dialogue, Council of Europe & European Commission Youth Partnership, Strasbourg, France. Accessed on September 2, 2009 at http://youth-partnership.coe.int/youth-partnership/documents/Publications/Coyote/13/Coyote13.pdf

Bohm, D.(1996): On Dialogue. Reprint 2006. London/New York: Routledge Classics.

>>>>>>> cultural essentialist view<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

Thank you Annika for your comments as an insider. They play well into the etic vs. emic debate. (The “emic and etic” perspective is used in anthropology and cross-cultural counseling.)

Interestingly, you confirm the lower participation of immigrants in the Swedish Study Circles, which in turn may highlight the Nordic nature of such particular approach to adult education and the difficulty in transcending its original cultural imprint. This is a good example how complex issues of glocal education are, highlighting the difficulty of applying ideas across cultural differences. With regard to Study Circles, hat many view as a well-organized approach may feel and look to others – e.g. immigrants, broadly generalizing – as constrictive and at odds with their own ideas of learning. At the beginning, in Sweden it was assumed that Study Circles would work well to address local adult education needs. It was a system that was culturally appropriate and responding to Swedish minds. Extending the system to “outsiders” may be tricky, as it may reveal that not everyone agrees on the original assumption.

On this particular point, I would like to write some considerations. Larsson says that, “Even though there was a strong tendency to celebrate scientific knowledge at the time, study circles gave in fact space for diverse world-views. In that sense pluralism was in fact supported in worldviews by the organisational structure of independent study associations with different ideological connections.” (p. 2) He continues with several examples of what this diversity of world views is about. His thinking betrays a basic essentialist view of diversity, one that is necessarily limited – at least at the beginning – to diversity as perceived within Swedish society, and therefore mostly relevant to aspects of Swedish civil society. Even when he mentions issues of globalization, he considers them from a Nordic perspective.

It would be interesting to know if non-autochthonous variations of diversity now exist along Larsson’s examples of diversity as cited in his paper, and how these levels interact.


FLIP: reflections as an adult learning practitioner

COURSE: Fostering Learning in Practice

FORUM: Koala

TOPICS: reflections, adult learning, practice, workplace, context.

WEEK 8 – Task 1: reflections as an adult learning practitioner in your workplace/professional context.

Link to forum

Link to blog

Task 1
Begin by thinking back to the issues that came up last week in the discussion of this course. Then think about those issues in relation to the following questions:
•    Do you see connections with your own workplace?

As a teacher in my workplace, I do not have to deal with issues related to readings. However, other issues identified last week may be relevant.

  • A manageable amount of readings : n/
  • Less emphasis on group work: we end up having meetings that are, in my opinion, not very productive. As for group work as an instructional approach, I have the same reservations as I have for our ALGC courses. The majority of my students constantly complain about issues related to their group work (logistical difficulties; others’ lack of participation and commitment; unfair group evaluation; effects on final outcomes)
  • Relevance to personal capability envelop: it remains to be seen whether the activities we do as teachers are increasing our personal and professional goals. Institutional goals are prioritized. In my particular case, I try as best as I can to link both my classes and the meetings we have to my learning experience in the ALGC. This is a great opportunity for applying learning to practice. For example, many of the issues I am discussing as an ALGC student reflect my current practice in teaching critical thinking and group work dynamics.
  • Inclusion of Intercultural Communication components: This is the crux of my hot issue. It has been discussed at length in my first assignment report and in the discussion forums. In my current workplace, this issue is not adequately addressed.
  • Time-managed, task-oriented approach hopefully agreed upon by all: tasks are distributed from the top down, even when it seems there is a negotiated approach to task sharing. When it comes to organizing a large work group, my preference goes towards fairly well-structured activities, to avoid the kind of issues mentioned above under “Less emphasis on group work.” This is also the preferential corporate approach, embedded in the Northern, Anglo-Saxon work ethic.
  • Available technology assistance to participants: in this regard, the college where I work is very active in bringing teachers up to date on the technology available to them. Many teachers – however – have still issues with working with technology, and many others want to use the technology they are more familiar with, instead of using the streamlined platform that has been enforced on us by corporate management. This platform is actually pretty good and does provide with cutting-edge options for teaching design. Unfortunately it also penalizes those who already have their own platforms (web sites and other curricular frameworks) which would now need to be transferred into the main frame of the institutional platform.

•    Can you identify instances when people in your workplace approach tasks with different cultural understandings?

There are differences found among departments. I work in the General Education department, which employs a humanistic approach to education. In many cases, the emphasis may be on the process, rather than on the result. The meetings are a lot about processing dynamics and information; unfortunately, this affects the achievement of “practical goals” versus “developmental objectives,” even though the curricular structure appears to be evenly distributed among the building of behavioral, cognitive and affective learning goals.

Different approaches to teaching and learning are evident also among teachers of the same course. I believe there is a tendency to imprint our own background onto the curricular activities. Our identity seems to inform our teaching practice

•    How do you think these differently embedded cultural understandings might apply to fostering learning in practice in your workplace setting?

Tricky question. In most instances, we all have to abide by corporate guidelines. Issues of power are very present in my work environment. In reality, however, since I operate within a highly individualistic context that gives lip service to academic freedom, many teachers are still steering away from corporate “corralling” policies and pursue a more personal approach to their teaching practice.

FLIP: reference to Adult Learning: Context and Perspectives


Link to forum

Remember when we were young koalas?

do you remember when we were young koalas? when we were still learning the ropes in the ALGC and were enrolled in Adult Learning: Context and Perspectives?

Today I found a post that I had written for that course. I found it relevant to our current stage of learning and the FLIP’s discussion. Specifically, I addressed an issue that this week Edouard brought to our attention again: the role of English in our learning context. I found it both refreshing and empowering to re-read those great comments.

You can find my comments here (Itslearning acces only)

I hope this is helpful. If you think it distracts you from our current discussion, please just disregard this post

safe travells everyone!

where is the “social” in phenomenography

Cultural component – contextual constructivism
Hi there,
Since I have a holistic perspective on life, including learning, I like making cross references between the different parts of our class material, even if the forums have been sealed into independent blocks.
I have noticed that the culture is barely considered as an important factor of learning in the reaings on constructivism and phenomenography.
True, the student’s prior experience is recognized as playing a role in how their knowledge will further develop and how teachers should include their students’ experience in their teaching approaches, however the articles and the book do not specifically address what that experience is all about.
In a diverse cohort like ours this is – in my opinion – a topic that should be addressed.
This is relevant to the identification of the learning context. In a broader and more inclusive way, a learner’s culture IS his/her learning context . Culture has been defined in many different ways; for me it is mainly a web of relationships that bind together personal, societal, historical, environmental, geographic, linguistic aspects of a person’s life, both as an individual and as a participant in larger communities.
There is in fact something called contextual constructivism, which concerns itself with the relevance of culture in the learning context. I might be wrong, but I could not find any mention of that in our readings.
Thus, to fully appreciate a learner’s prior experience and integrate that into a meaningful learning environment within the context of that learner’s education I think that culture should be given proper consideration. That would include considering – among other things – a learner’s worldview and cultural values and beliefs. These are no trivial matters, as we may have all found out in our own learning experience.
These would allow us to explore issues of effectiveness within the ALGC environment. The book on The Experience of Learning clearly points out the discrepancy between students’ views of their learning experience and their teachers’. In the book teachers are presented are being oblivious of their students’ individual experience, focusing mainly on the academic side of teaching. The book goes on explaining why things should be done differently in the future. Following that advice, is there a way we can continue our learning experience with a more mindful attitude towards the cultural context of the cohort? How flexible can we be (teachers and students) in adjusting the learning environment to the several cultural contexts of the cohort?
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