This post introduces the concept of “living inquiry” or “living life as inquiry.”
- Living life as inquiry by Judi Marshall (1999)
- Living Life as Inquiry — A Systemic Practice for Change Agents by Margaret Rose Gearty & Judi Marshall (2020)
- All content in “quotation marks” is from the authors (otherwise it’s paraphrased).
- All content is organized into my own themes (not necessarily the authors’ themes).
- Emphasis has been added in bold for readability/skimmability.
What is “living inquiry” or “living life as inquiry”?
“By living life as inquiry I mean a range of beliefs, strategies and ways of behaving which encourage me to treat little as fixed, finished, clear-cut. Rather I have an image of living continually in process, adjusting, seeing what emerges, bringing things into question … Living life as inquiry as a form of first-person action research is both deeply political and deeply personal. It is political in how it offers a way to both ground and connect research to a systemic change agenda. It is personal in that—fundamentally—it is about learning to be perpetually curious—and to stay alive to the choices and possibilities involved in leading an ethical and enriching life.”
10 Deep Characteristics of Living Life as Inquiry
1. Distinctive & Contextual:
Establishing inquiry disciplines in one’s life is approached in a way that is unique to the inquirer—development of the inquirer is distinctive, ongoing, rooted in life experience, and shaped by the specificities of our lives.
- Inquiry approaches and practices tend to be distinctive to the person concerned and the context in which they are operating—both in their development and their ongoing enactment; there is a close coupling between a lived life, past and present, and the ‘practice’ of inquiry within that life; living life as inquiry is distinctive and personal—a ‘binding’ practice that combines methods, disciplines, and affinities from within a lived life that is continually evolving; current inquiry practice reflects a person’s history of developing inquiry, and the way it is developed reflects a person’s life history and personal style; people create the life space in which to do inquiry, and to make it some sort of ‘habit’, integrating reflexive attention to how they are developing it.
2. Opening & Questioning:
Continually questioning what I know, feel, do, and want—and finding ways to engage actively in this questioning and process its stages.
- Inquiring is a compelling aspect of being inquisitive, curious, and open to testing self and others; should be undertaken with critical questioning and with care for self and others; ongoing reflexive questioning is key in practicing inquiry; active self-reflection is a responsibility.
3. Unprocessing & Unfolding:
Knowing when not to adopt a thoroughly inquiring approach and to leave life ‘unprocessed’ to unfold.
- Inquiry appears to be a continually unfolding process; shaped and evolving as life unfolds; staying open to what is happening; noticing, adjusting, and tracking of things unfolding or remaining stuck.
4. Embodied & Energized:
Scanning back and forth between cognition in the mind and sensation in the body in the hunt for what is going on and is relevant.
- Far from only an intellectual matter; being and embodying are as significant as action; the container of embodiment and expression through embodiment extends the fullness of what we can imply; as one theme becomes emptied of energy or develops more of a habitual format of inquiry, other waves emerge to take its place as fresh edges of questioning; practice taking the pulse of an inquiry to check for signs of vitality; focus of interest and questioning moves on as I sufficiently resolve specific issues; inquiries which I have lived fully tend to become emptied of energy; noticing how particular issues fill and empty of energy is one of the ways that I know I am on the scent of ‘meaningful’ inquiry.
5. Inner & Outer Attention:
Inquiry is always in situ that requires a lot of orienting self-attention—aspiring to stay present, directing attention outward, as well as scanning inward.
- With the recognition of inquiry as something woven into and intersecting with a full-flowing life, practices of discernment, in terms of ‘what to pay attention to’, emerge as significant; inquiry requires dynamic processes of moving between so-called ‘inner and outer arcs of attention’; placing attention in the inner serves the outer action in an interesting way; outer arcs could now be described as an expression of inner focus and attention; a processual view ultimately dissolves the distinction between inner and outer arcs of attention, and we might ask instead about how these attentions are integrated in an unfolding process, and can be understood dynamically.
6. Action & Reflection:
Inquiry is an ongoing, multi-faceted, ever shape-shifting process, rather than comprised of discrete states such as ‘action’ and ‘reflection’.
- Ongoing action is ephemeral rather than determined by ‘individual’ (isolated) reflection; knowing infused with reflection is process in action (thus it becomes contingent, fleeting); such reflection is not creating distinct knowledge as a resource to be deployed, but rather it is opening the potential for each moment to be created afresh.
7. Curiosity & Fun:
Inquiry itself needs to be alive in its own curiosity, to weave well into life and not become an end in itself.
- Quite often living like this is fun and has the capacity to turn what might otherwise be daunting, mundane or duty-full activities into ones which are engaging, interesting, playful and opportunities for learning; learning is enhanced by articulating it to myself and by opening it to comment by others.
8. Ideas & Stories:
Ideas about inquiry become part of us—paying attention to the ‘stories’ I tell about myself and the world.
- People’s practices of inquiry incorporate ideas from literature and theories of change, matured by repeatedly testing them in practice; recognize that all stories are constructions, influenced by my purposes and perspectives and by social discourses which shape meanings and values; seeking to monitor how what I do relates to what I espouse.
9. Vulnerable & Uncontrollable:
An inherently uncertain, precarious activity, potentially involving exposure and vulnerability.
- As it is intrinsically concerned with issues that matter, things will be at stake, including the inquirer’s legitimacy and well-being; respecting and working with emotions, alongside other ways of knowing, is inherently threaded through living life as inquiry; inner turmoil is often a feature of inquiry; inquiry is never under control—it is dynamic, ever provisional, aspirational.
10. Systemic Change:
A way not only to release inner human yearning to learn but also to be creative in the service of outward systemic change.
- Inquiry is affirmed as a special value and aspiration in our lives, resourcing our quests to act for generative systemic change; tap into the values-based systemic potential of action research as a means towards a better, freer society.
You May Also Enjoy:
- Perspective Transformation: “Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning” by Jack Mezirow (Book Summary)
- Transform Your Mind: “Understanding and Promoting Transformative Learning” by Patricia Cranton (Book Summary)