Sometimes, you run across an idea that jumps out and grabs your soul, not once, but again and again, resonating in thought and practice. The result is a rattling, a seismic shake-up, a new possibility that dares you to experiment with your own interpretation of the idea. That’s what happened to me when I read Peter Reason’s and Peter Hawkins’ ‘Storytelling as Inquiry.” Reason and Hawkins take apart and reveal differences (and opportunities) between explanation and expression.
Explanation, wrote Reason and Hawkins, is the mode of classifying, conceptualizing, and building theories from experience. Here the inquirer stands back, analyzes, discovers and invents concepts, and relates these to a theoretical model….orthodox science is an exercise in explanation – endeavoring to answer the question of what and why.
Expression is the mode of allowing the meaning of an experience to become manifest. It requires us to partake deeply of an experience, rather than stand back to analyze. Meaning is part and parcel of all experience – although it may be so interwoven with experience that it is hidden. It needs to be discovered, created, or made manifest and communicated. We work with meaning when we tell stories, write and act in plays, write poems, meditate, create pictures…..
Soon after I read this back in 2002, I started experimenting with a fresh understanding of expression and meaning by inquiring into my own experiences in pictures, in my case visual art. I ‘tried’ to enter the experience, sense its shape, color, patterns and make it visible. Below is one example of my inquiry.
Later, I experimented more with ‘expression’ when I invited participants in my college classes to communicate the meaning of their learning experiences.
More about this in my next post.
Reason, Peter & Hawkins, Peter 1988, “Storytelling as Inquiry” in Peter Reason (ed), Human Inquiry in Action: New Developments in New Paradigm Research, London: Sage.