Love, Hope and Transformation: My presentation and paper at the University of Cumbria’s Research Conference

Love, Hope and Transformation



This is the video of the paper that I presented to the Research Conference at the University of Cumbria.

The full paper is available here.

Love, Hope and Transformation


Jason Hocknell-Nickels

BSc(Hons), MSc (Org Psy).

University of Cumbria

 “Hope is the spiritual belief in an ethical future.

Churchman, C.W.

In this paper I am attempting to give an account of the ways by which I have struggled to find my own philosophical stance or orientation that speaks of authenticity, although with Judi Marshall (2016) I’m also drawn by the idea of research integrity (Marshall, 2016). She expresses life as inquiry in these terms:

Living life as inquiry is at the same time philosophy, orientation and practice, seeking to treat all I think, feel, say and do as experiment.” (Marshall, 2001).

My own orientation is important because I am taking a Living-Theory (Whitehead, 2018) approach to my PhD inquiry and I will turn to explaining this shortly. Stated briefly this paper outlines my approach to what I am referring to as a Living-Epistemology. I intend to cover four parts in the development of the paper. Firstly, providing a simplified overview of what I mean by a Living-Theory. Next, explaining what the epistemic fallacy is and why this is important as the explanatory principle for the next section. This section outlines four action reflection cycles and what I mean by participatory action research. Third, bringing this together in summarising the four features of a Living-Epistemology. This next section makes the links between a Living-Epistemology and the call for attention from deep adaptation. Finally, a conclusion with an invitation in closing.


As part of their ongoing researching of their professional practice, Living-Theorists clarify their relational and ontological values as they emerge and inform their efforts to improve their practice. Jack Whitehead (2018) states:

“I shall be stressing the epistemological significance of recognising the unique constellation of an individual’s values as explanatory principles and living standards of judgement in my contribution to knowledge.” (Whitehead, 2018; p2).

In creating my living-theory I shall explain my educational influences in my own learning, in the learning of others and in the learning of the social formations that influence my practice and understandings (Whitehead, 1989).

The explanatory principles in my account will include my values of loving-kindness, creativity and more recently hope. It is from the flow of my values of loving-kindness, creativity and hope that I seek to help individuals, teams, groups and organisations to find their purpose and fulfil their destiny (Stam, 2017). I don’t have the time and space to delve into more detail; please read more at

Participatory Action Research

Reason & Bradbury (2000) note how participatory action research (PAR) is broad family of research approaches that seek a participatory form of research with people as co-researchers rather than research on people in an objectified manner. PAR takes a cyclical ongoing research process that seeks to do three things. First to track the aligned effectiveness between theory and practice. Two, to create inquiry process that lends itself to learning about one’s values and intentions. Lastly, to affect change in the material sense of outcome and, in so doing, tracking intentions to outcomes as reflective practice (Marshall, 2001; Reason & Bradbury, 2000).

The Epistemic Fallacy

From an internet search on ‘realist ontology’ I discovered Roy Bhaskar (2011) who passed away in 2014. With his critical realism I found a philosophical language and orientation that resonates for me. After starting his graduate studies, he noticed that:

“There was much on confirmation and falsification, explanation and prediction and other epistemic activities but nothing about the nature of the world to which they were presumably attempting to refer, and no explanation as to this silence. So, I delved deeper and, returning to the philosophies of Hume and Kant, the source of the trouble at last became clear: it lay in their rejection not to do ontology or the philosophical study of being”(p.5) (Bhaskar, 2011).

The point is that the fallacy is the false philosophical error, or idea, that ontology can be fully reduced or totally explained by epistemology. This is a kind of epistemic vice (Cassam, 2019).

Epistemic Vices

Epistemic vices can close us off to new learning because they are cognitive traps. The six main epistemic vices include wishful thinking, intellectual arrogance, gullibility, insouciance, dogmatism, and finally, closed mindedness (Cassam, 2019). What is also important to notice is that personal transformation or quantum change often relies on open mindedness (Miller & C’de Baca, 2001) and is often more than simply analytical/cognitive knowing. Cassam (2019) shares that there are a range of ‘treatment options’ for these vices and these include epiphanies, meta-cognition as self-reflection and exposure to others for critical dialogical feedback. Finally, there is a point of clarity when it comes to dogmatism, as by this I don’t mean commitment to a paradigm, but discounting what would be counted as evidence in a dogmatic manner that smacks of denial.

Authentic Ontology

But it is moving” Galileo (1632)

It is time to describe Bhaskar’s three ontological levels that have shaped my learning, which are:

  1. Empirical- from which we have observable or seen experiences.
  2. Actual events- which have been generated by the mechanisms from the real level, both seen and unseen.
  3. Real level- the underlying mechanisms that have generated the actual events.

Before I came across his work I did not have the language to express my own orientation and soon discovered that I shared in his frustrations of the limits of some philosophers and their line of logical and analytical reasoning. This quotation is telling:

If you are willing to believe that nothing exists except what you directly experience, no other person can prove you wrong, and no valid arguments against your view exists.” (Russell, 1946).

It is now time to describe my four action-reflection cycles.

Cycle One: Frustrated with the paper ‘Art: Knowledge-That and Knowing This’ (Reid, 1980).  I read and re-read this paper and struggled to understand it. I was frustrated with my lack of critical analysis skills and at the same time the wide divide between my own ways of knowledge creation and the ideas in the paper. It’s likely that logical reasoning has become a dogma and intuitive power denigrated (Lovelock, 2019).

Cycle Two: My Mental Model.

My frustrations moved me to the creation of my mental model. I started from my own being-in-the-world and how I create new knowledge. I drew on, and from, other authors where I found resonance with my own sense-making processes. Where I located a gap, I used my creativity and developed something new. Again, for our purposes the content is less important than the inquiry process.

Demonstrated below is my mental model that seeks to demonstrate a dynamic (the ongoing coloured curves). However, when open for immanent critique it had an inherent weakness which I will turn to shortly.

Cycle Three: A living relational dynamic.

My next cycle with my Supervisor Marie Huxtable and support from Jack Whitehead helped me to clarify the limitations of my mental model in that it omitted another way that I create knowledge through dialogue (Isaacs, 1999) within a living-relational dynamic (Drake, 2009; Thayer-Bacon, 2003).

Cycle Four: My Living-Epistemology.

It is important to note that it has four features both as process and as a product/outcome. Firstly, that it seeks to incorporate the multiple ways of knowing from my model and at the same time addresses its inherent limits by noting its lack of dynamic and dialogical process. This means that in its revised form it is open ended and does not close itself of as final, complete or somehow finished (Marshall, 2016). To counter potential epistemic vices, it should be open to immanent critique.

It was during this same period (January 2019) that I also met with my Supervisor Jem Bendell and read his important paper on deep adaptation.

Deep Adaptation (Bendell, 2018).

It is my view that if we are to take seriously the claims from Jem Bendell (2018) that we are facing an inevitable near-term ecological collapse, it would seem important for us to get on the inside of what this means for each of us?

Furthermore, three weeks ago week I read an article on BBC entitled ‘Are we on the road to civilisation collapse’ (BBC, 2019). Stated briefly, it noted how collapse may be a normal phenomenon for civilisations, regardless of their size and technological stage. It is well worth a read and the insights resonated for me with the claims from deep adaptation. The article reviews various factors including climatic change; environmental degradation; inequality; oligarchy; complexity; external shocks and finally ‘bad luck’ as a kind of probability. The authors conclude:

There are some reasons to be optimistic; thanks to our ability to innovate and diversify away from disaster. Yet the world is worsening in areas that have contributed to the collapse of previous societies.” (BBC 2019; p.3).

This moved me to consider how I/we might respond to these challenging times. Again, I found a level of resonance and learning from this idea of a ‘transformational transformative practice’ which I will describe next.

Transformational transformative practice

Bhaskar’s transformational model of social activity helped me to ‘get on the inside’ of deep adaptation in at least four different and integrated ways that you might also find as helpful?

There are four learning points that I would like to share. Bhaskar proposes that human beings have:

  1. Material transactions/interactions with our ecology/environment which reminds me of the interconnected nature of our ecology with all sentient beings.
  2. Social interactions between people where we come together to make sense of our collective experiences that speaks to me of a dialogical practice (Isaacs, 1999).
  3. Social structures such as the family, Government, schools, work, and these often precede our joining them and most often continue to exist after we leave them. In the main we reproduce them. We also need to develop a critical consciousness (praxis) from which we can make decisions.
  4. That we occupy ‘positional places’ or slots between us as individuals and the social structures that we work, live and have our lives within. This is the interaction between the individual agency and socialisation.

As Roy Bhaskar puts it:

“All social structures, for instance the economy, the state, the family, language, depend on or presuppose social relations- which may include the social relations between capital and labour, ministers and civil servants, parents and children. The relations into which people enter pre-exist the individuals who enter them and whose activity reproduces or transforms them; so, they are themselves structures. And it is these structures of social relationships that realism directs our attention and- both as the explanatory key to understanding social events and trends and as the focus of social activity aimed at the self-emancipation of the exploited and oppressed. (p.4)

Can we affect change in our shared world?

As an action researcher I am concerned with the ways by which knowledge creation can help inform praxis. By praxis I simply mean a critical consciousness or consistency between one’s values and actions along the axiological imperative. If we are serious about the environmental/ecological challenges that we are confronting, then this gives rise to an important question for me. Namely, ‘is it possible to effect change in the world if society is only and always a text’? (Denzin & Lincoln, 2005). My own identification with critical realism has deeply shaped my own living-theory. Critical realism has shaped my learning to understand that there is a form of linguistic fallacy. Please note that this fallacy might be important if you tend to be drawn to qualitative research and at the same time wish to effect change at some strata or ontological level. Whilst I agree that stories are powerful sense-making processes (Mead, 2013, 2014) I have learned that there is a core problem with both idealism and irrealism. The problem is the mistake of reducing all of reality to language. The linguistic fallacy is a significant limit in problem-solving of non-linear dynamic real-world problems (Lovelock, 2019).

What of hope and love?

In the last two weeks my Living-Epistemology has started to pay attention to the importance of hope. Hope has many descriptions and for me the idea that ‘Hope is the spiritual belief in an ethical future’ (Churchman, 1984) resonates. This links neatly to praxis. Roy Bhaskar notes that when we are knowing and acting from a base-state of embodied values such as love, when the reality principle reveals its truth to us we in turn find ourselves in the ethical position that we ‘can not, not act’. Furthermore, his meta-Reality suggests that the world has an objective or deep alethic truth and moral basis (Bhaskar, 2002). This basis is the flourishing of all species in our shared ecology. Thus, each act and fiduciary conversation ought to be aligned to this moral ground and purpose. I have found this very helpful. In this way we can see that the very act is grounded in a serious realist intentionality of hope. As we recognise the need to act to remedy a situational context we do so with a hope that we can improve the situation in some way or another.

Invitation to Action

Can I invite you to consider creating your own Living-Epistemology that might help you to deepen your praxis and your response to deep adaptation? There might be existential urgency (Bendell, 2018; Bringhurst & Zwicky, 2018). I do hope that you might be open to the possibility of exploring your being-in-the-world and from that starting position create your own authentic Living-Epistemology.



I would like to thank Marie Huxtable and Jack Whitehead on their feedback and advice in the preparation of my paper.



BBC. (2019). Are we on the road to civilisation collapse?

Bendell, J. (2018). Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy. Paper presented at the IFLAS Occasional Paper 2.

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Bhaskar, R. (2011). Reclaiming Reality: A Critical Introduction to Contemporary Philosophy. London: Routledge.

Bringhurst, R., & Zwicky, J. (2018). Learning to Die: Wisdom in the Age of Climate Crisis. Canada: University of Regina Press.

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