by Dylan McGarry, South Arica.

Transgressive/Transformative learning or ‘t-Learning’ research involves multiple actors engaging with complex social-ecological local issues and settings. This requires ethical procedures that accommodate the type and intent of the research, and that take into account power relations and dissonance within multi-actor settings. The research ethics adopted by the ‘t-learning’ research school requires an ethical approach that takes account of the dynamic, intuitive, reflexive, and participatory nature of the research.

T-learning research explores the transformation of beliefs, values, and points of reference within and between individuals, as well as the collective. Ethics approaches that accommodate multiple ways of knowing (Ellingson, 2009), or what de Santos (2009) refers to as ‘ecologies of knowledge’ are needed.  T-learning research can also involve challenging taken for granted norms, which requires reflexive research ethics and learning. Power relations and potential for dissonance in multi-actor settings also need to be carefully considered by researchers.  National research ethical standards involving informed consent, voluntary participation, confidentiality, and integrity need to be maintained. But an expanded framework involving continuous review and assessment of moral dilemmas that arise as things change is also needed.

From an ethical perspective, we see the t-learning researcher as a reflexive and sensitive practitioner empathetically versed in engaged practice. Such a researcher needs to be able to facilitate participative parity within social learning spaces that are often times aimed towards the sensitive areas of justice and emancipation. As such, the researcher needs to embrace an ethics position that expands their moral action beyond ‘do-no-harm’ towards a practice of care. Various facets of the ‘caring researcher’ emerge via this ethics positionally, which include the ethics of becoming a ‘responsible participant,’ (Sacks, 2011) a ‘ reflexive justice practitioner’ (Kulundu, 2012), an ‘empathetic apprentice’ (McGarry, 2014) and a ‘formative interventionist researcher’ (Mukute, 2010). These facets the caring researcher offer a unique ethical framework that situates moral action and ethics as an ongoing dynamic relationship between the researcher and those actors – both human and non-human – with which knowledge is generated, aiming to enrich the ‘common good’ through a process of commoning (Lotz-Sisitka, 2016).

As mentioned above, we situate the ethical engagement for ‘t-learning’ in the primacy of care, which is grounded on the traditional ethical approach of do-no-harm. Therefore, the paper that we are developing does not compare one approach as more applicable than another, but rather sees caring and do-no-harm as mutually beneficial, widening the moral efficacy of the research. The ethics of care focuses (but is not limited to)  the intuitive, imaginative, attentive and empathetic capacities of the researcher, and thus revolves around the concept of moral intuition or moral imagination (McGarry, 2013). The ‘do-no-harm’ approach focuses on ensuring harm and risk are accounted for, and avoided at all costs, and relies on a foundation of moral imperatives and predetermined ethical design.

Watch this space for the up-coming paper entitled: Empathetic and intuitive ethics in action: the role of transgressive social learning by Dylan McGarry, Thomas Macintyre, David Kronlid, Heila Lotz-Sisitka, Injairu Kulundu, and Mutizwa Mukute