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International Centre for Co-operative Inquiry, Italy: Inquiries 1990-99

This report was written in 1999

Co-operative inquiry rests on a participative view of the world, a world not of separate things but of relationships which we co-author…On this view, participation is a way of knowing in which knower and known are distinct but not separate, in an unfolding unitive field of being. (Reason and Heron, Co-operative inquiry, 1995)

There are many fields of application and possible topics of co-operative inquiry. Being highly participative, it has a micro-political format and is important as an educational and politically liberating process. It empowers autonomy and co-operation among people over against any kind of oppressive, authoritarian social process. Hence its strong link with participative action research and liberationist inquiry in the third world (see Peter Reason,  ‘Co-operative inquiry, participatory action research & action inquiry: three approaches to participative inquiry’, in N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (eds.), Handbook of Qualitative Research, Thousand Oaks, Ca, Sage, 1994; H. Bradbury & P. Reason (eds), Handbook of Action Research, London, Sage, 2000).

One field where the appeal to authority, in one form or another, has held constant sway from the remote past to the present day, is in the field of human spirituality and religious association. Creeds, cults, churches, occult groups, spiritual schools of all kinds, east and west, ancient and moden, ultimately appeal to the authority of a charismatic teacher, a written revelation, or a spiritual lineage (in this world or the next). This long-standing habituation of the human race to spiritual authoritarianism has had, and still has, a vast and subtle impact, in my view, on all other forms of social oppression.

Here at ICCI, I have a particular interest – as a fundamental part of the wide field of liberationist action research – in inquiries that focus on spiritual and subtle experience, and am joined by people with similar interests. We seek the internal authority of personal experience, honed by the exercise of discriminating judgment, and  refined within the crucible of rigorous peer process. We are also intentional in inquiring into our own sociopolitical reality, living and working together for the duration of the inquiry: I call this process a self-generating culture. For a full account of the issues involved in spiritual and subtle inquiry, and for reports of eleven co-operative inquiries in this field, in the UK, Italy and New Zealand, see Sacred SciencePerson-centred Inquiry into the Spiritual and the Subtle.

Four of these eleven inquiries have been with members of Co-counselling International (CCI), founded by Dency Sargent, Tom Sargent and myself in 1974. CCI promotes co-counselling as a form of peer self-help personal development, in which people take it in turms to be counsellor and client, and in which the client is significantly self-directed. Already an incipient process of participative inquiry into personal unfoldment, co-counselling has readily lent itself to fully explicit co-operative inquiry into the human condition..  While I have been launching human condition inquiries here at ICCI, several other people have initiated co-operative inquiries in the UK into different aspects of co-ounselling theory and practice.