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Changing the World-A Case Study of Transformation, Agency and Social Change

Changing the World-A Case Study of Transformation, Agency and Social Change

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Published by Michael Chew
This paper explores the relationship between self-perceptions of agency and transformational experiences amongst young self-identified social change agents. The extent that these experiences manifest on a social compared to individual level is explored through transformational learning theory.
This paper explores the relationship between self-perceptions of agency and transformational experiences amongst young self-identified social change agents. The extent that these experiences manifest on a social compared to individual level is explored through transformational learning theory.

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Published by: Michael Chew on Jul 24, 2011
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07/24/2011

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Changing the world:a case study of transformation,agency and social change
 
Michael Chew 
 
Introduction 1
 
Motivations 1
 
SECTION 1 - THEORETICAL BACKGROUND 2
 
SECTION 2 - CASE STUDY AND METHODOLOGY 5
 
Context and evaluation 5
 
Respondents 6
 
Design assumptions: 6
 
Questions 7
 
Analytic methods 7
 
Personal engagement 8
 
SECTION 3 ANALYSIS OF RESPONSES 9
 
Part 1 - Social-centric transformation 9
 
Part 2 - Individual-centric transformation 12
 
Part 3 Individual - Social Transformation 15
 
Part 4 – Story telling - Disclosure and agency
 
18Part 5 My process of learning 21
 
Design 21
 
Implementation 21
 
Analysis 21
 
SECTION 4 FUTURE DIRECTIONS 23
 
Interviews 23
 
Visual 23
 
Quantitative 23
 
Future focus 23
 
Website 23
 
The development process 24
 
CONCLUDING REMARKS 25
 
APPENDIX 1 SURVEY QUESTIONS 27
 
 
1
Introduction
This paper explores the relationship between self-perceptions of agency andtransformational experiences amongst young self-identified social change agents.The extent that these experiences manifest on a
social 
compared to
individual 
levelis explored through transformational learning theory. An analysis of the participants’corresponding learning unfolds in two parts – firstly with respect to their pastexperiences affecting their self-perceptions of agency, and secondly with respect totheir own act of articulating and synthesising these reflections during the surveyingprocess itself. Mezirow’s and Freire’s theories of learning, together with narrativedevelopment theory, form the underlying theoretical analysis. Counter-posing thetheory is my critical reflection on my own learning as part of the research process.This is achieved in three sections. Section 1 introduces the theories of transformative learning together with the relevant conceptions of the self. Section 2outlines the investigative survey – context, assumptions, respondents, and how itwas run. Section 3 explores the key themes that emerge from the survey,interwoven with my own perspective.
Motivations
I have had a long-term interest in questions of agency and social change, derivedfrom key shifts in my own perception of agency during different phases of my life.During my teenage years, due to a combination of extreme shyness and bullying atschool, I perceived myself to have no control over my own life, let alone the broader world. However subsequently during my long years at university I became involved invarious environmental and social-justice activist groups where - due to the focus onorganising, direct action and empowerment - I developed a strong sense of my ownability and necessity to take action in the world. Since then I moved away from thisovert political change work to more of an emphasis on empowering people. Thispaper’s central question of how people perceive their own empowerment is of coreimportance to developing approaches to empower others.Given my key interest in personal agency, one of the hopes that I have for this survey is that it actually can have a positive effect on the participants’ agency.There is potential for this through the survey providing a space for participants toself-reflect and critically engage with their perceptions of their own agency, and thelatter’s relationship with their past transformational experiences.
 
2
Section 1 - Theoretical background
On a theoretical level, this paper’s research question draws from various theories of transformational learning, with particular emphasis on the latter’s concepts of theself. I primarily focus on the ideas of Paulo Freire and Jack Mezirow whosefoundational theories of learning provide for quite different accounts of the self, withloci at the social and personal levels respectively. In addition, over the last twodecades many additional perspectives on the self have emerged in thetransformation learning literature, including the emotional, imaginal and spiritualdimensions. From these narrative theory provides another exploratory lens for theinquiry.It is useful to first briefly look at Dirkx’s review of the self in transformationallearning for an overview.
1
He outlines several key concepts of the self that thesetheories draw from. Three are described here. In the
evolving knowing self 
,represented by theorists included Mezirow, there is a concept of an innate core self which unfolds and is self-realised through the act of transformational learning, whilebeing influenced by environmental conditions. In contrast, the
structured self 
 emphasises the key roles that politico-economic structures have in shaping the self,in which learning occurs through a process of developing critical consciousness inrelation to one’s agency and hegemonic forces. Finally, in theories of the
storied self,
the self is seen as emerging from how we construct our own narratives aboutourselves and the world. This idea tends to draw more from post-structural conceptsof the decentralised or ‘plural self’ in contrast to the unitary self implied through theknowing or structured self.I briefly outline key ideas from these three theories below.Paulo Freire’s developed his critical pedagogy in the political context of democraticising education in Brazil in the 1960s. His theory of liberation educationrecognised that the marginalised could not escape oppression within the standardeducation tradition – what he called the ‘banking’ approach, where active teachersdeposit knowledge in ‘empty’ and passive students. He writes:
The more students work at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the lessthey develop the critical consciousness which would result from their intervention in the world as transformers of that world.
1
Dirkx (2007)

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