7: Critical reflection and reflexivity

The Map is not the Territory. (Bateson, 1972)

We see the world, not as it is but as we are – or as we are conditioned to see it. (Covey, 2004)

We have explored so far two elements of participatory practice that are key to transformative change and, in doing so, we have indicated that neither can achieve that potential without the third element: critical reflection. While we can start to open up the spaces for engagement with story and dialogue, to sow the seeds of individual and collective learning for change, reflection and reflexivity need to be interwoven into those elements to create the fabric of critical knowledge and thoughtful action. This cannot be an added extra but has to be integral to all we do. We can encourage people to tell their stories of lived experience and we can enter into dialogue together about what we hear, but this will remain a surface activity unless we add critical reflection for learning to happen. So, this chapter will explore what we mean by critical reflection and offer some conceptual ideas taken from critical and other theorists to help in the facilitation of critical reflection, particularly concerning power, both for ourselves and others.

At the core is the art of questioning the taken-for-granteds of everyday life and going ever deeper in that exploration through the continual cycling of reflection and action that underpins praxis and is the basis of transformation, encouraging us all to look below the surface and nurture the development of a sense of curiosity about why things are as they are.

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