Paradigms-perspectives for social action – evolving conceptual framework

Chapter 5: Reflections (13)

Our observations are not neutral. They are coloured with our views of the world. Methodology gives us tools to determine how we know the world, how we gain knowledge of the world. Epistemology tells us what the relationship between the inquirer and the known is. Ontology informs us what kind of being the human being is. It gives a perspective on what the nature of reality is (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005, p. 22). We can say that those three paradigms need to be defined, they need to be explained. They are connected to each other.

We now assume, by looking at perspectives like those of (Bohm, 1996), that the universe might emerge from a fundamental movement. The reality we create, social reality is in a process of becoming, it is changing, because we learn as individuals and we learn as a community, as a society. These are our thoughts and actions as we engage in society. We are engaged in learning; we acquire, generate and apply knowledge constantly. To learn seems to be the one thing that doesn’t change. We are on a firm ground that seems consistent and coherent in our way of thinking about reality.

In my current project of writing a thesis that is the culmination of a master program at the University of Luxembourg called: learning & development in multicultural and multilingual contexts, the above perspectives have been crucial in order to find solid ground to stand on. Our basic set of beliefs that guide our action, our paradigms, our interpretive framework, the net that contains the researcher’s epistemological, ontological and methodological premises are voiced in the language of social science, or at least in the language of qualitative research (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005).

Where I am struggling is to come up with pertinent methodologies that can help me see, explain, understand how participants learn when they participate and engage in a study circle. I am aware that my observations of the interactions (participants have agreed that they are video recorded) are guided by my theories, by my set of beliefs. In my quest for a suitable research question, I can describe the model of learning & development that may take place during the 6 sessions of 90 minutes for Ruhi book 3. Can I show how they are engaged in a learning process that is the beginning of a change of culture? Can I, through my observations, show how the Bahá’í Faith is engaged in a process where learning and a change of culture are promoted and encouraged?

Some approaches look at how learning takes place in interaction. Dialogic inquiry, dialogic learning (Wells, 2001), cultural historical activity theory and expansive learning (Engeström, 2006) place learning in the community of practice. Can I provide through my observations some insights as to what happens during a study circle? Participants get the opportunity to learn vertically rather than horizontally. They listen and learn from each other. They might be confronted with challenges, ways about the world that they find hard to accept. The fear of God is an example of a possibly challenging concept. Contradictions between existing knowledge about the world, ways of doing things and new concepts provided, are often at the heart of possible change. A decision needs to be taken. Dialog is taking place inside me and with others in the study circle.

With my conceptual framework essential elements are fixed, they do not move or change, while methodological elements are not fixed and may change.

As I am looking at how learning takes place in study circles, organised with the Bahá’í community, table 1 shows essential elements and methodological elements of an evolving conceptual framework.

Evolving conceptual framework for social action
Fundamental elements

not subject to change

Methodological elements

subject to change

Agent responsible

for change

1. Ontology: Definition of a human being and the nature of reality
2. Epistemology: relationship between the inquirer and the known.
3. Study circle Universal House of Justice
4. Curriculum (Ruhi sequence of courses) National Institute for Learning
5. Form of study circle, how learning is organised Participants and tutor

This table represents a first attempt to understand what may evolve and what may not. Some aspects may develop quickly, others over a long period of time. This might be the case with point no. 2. It is also interesting to study in more detail how the institute came about, and how national communities were encouraged to develop their own curriculum.

In 1996, when the supreme ruling body of the Bahá’í Faith worked on the aims and objectives of their new plan, it had identified four weaknesses that existed in the Bahá’í world community, and they needed to be addressed.

· The percentage of active individuals in the teaching (the endeavour to attract more people to the Bahá’í Faith is commonly referred to as ‘teaching’) field was very weak.

· Teaching activities arose mostly from the work of individuals, and were hardly influenced by the activity of teaching groups. Collaborations between Bahá’ís at the local level was quite limited.

· Possibilities to study collectively Bahá’í texts, outside of summer schools, were too limited, and were organised irregularly and not systematically.

· Generally, the vast majority of Bahá’í communities worldwide had not developed, and had not access to a methodical and achievable study and education program that could fulfil the needs and overcome these weaknesses.


Bohm, D. (1996). Wholeness and the Implicate Order (Reissue.). Routledge.

Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (2005). The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research (3rd ed.). Sage Publications, Inc.

Engeström, Y. (2006). Development, Movement and Agency: Breaking away into Mycorrhizae Activities. Center for Activity Theory and Developmental Work Research, University of Helsinki, Finland.

Wells, G. (2001). Action, Talk, and Text: The Case of Dialogic Inquiry. Teachers College Press.


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