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Changing scenes : Ethnographic Explorations of Meaning, Adult Learning, and Community Theatre


The study began as ethnographic explorations with members of a rural theatre group creating a play about the community's history. Through six months of participant observation, focus on recording what participants learned about theatre has been recast into a framework with meaning, change, and experience of change as central. Theories of modernity were linked to participants’ context of pervasive change. The study came to ask what we mean by change and how that influences our actions and responses to learning as both “learners†and “adult educators†. Four areas of discovery emerged which both raised and responded to aspects of this complex question. Two areas of discovery focus on change concerning constructions of adult educators, transition in: 1) Methodological works reflecting adult educators’ changing constructions of adult education; 2) Data analysis process including forms of representation. “Paradigmatic transition†is proposed as a framework to interpret present gaps and epistemological inconsistency in methodology and methods of research. In response to methods inconsistent with methodology, data analysis process has been reconceptualised as a synthesis of: relevant social theory and methodology; and constructions emerging from experience with data analysis and creation of representational form. The other two areas of discovery focus on change related to learning theory. Based on fieldwork, the study provides interpretation of one set of participants’/learners’: 3) Social processes related to constructions of meaning, change, and learning; 4) Theatre experience with paradigm creation as part of their social process. The literature review identifies recent transition both in social change and in learning theories. The study proposes that, with a focus on process of change, meaning and culture may provide a nexus between these theories. Suggestions for reconstruction of learning process theory are offered through a theoretical synthesis. A set of working assumptions from data analysis process provides a series of links focusing on meaning and culture, social process and change, connected with learning process theory. A summary of these links follows. The working assumptions include processual definitions of meaning (individuals’ experience of relationship) and “cultural-meaning†(meaning which members of a group come to have a sense of holding in common). In a processual definition, “learning†is linked with “meaning†: A process of changing meaning within an individual. Since meaning is socially created and maintained (in epistemology adopted), the study of social processes must be pursued to interpret individuals’ meanings. Change, as both process and experience, is embedded in a larger social framework. Social dynamics related to individuals’ meanings include: social creation and maintenance of meaning, loss of meaning, and social response to loss of meaning. Individuals exposed to possible learning situations as change may experience a “tension in certainty†in which change may be viewed by “the potential learner†as: 1) Exploration, movement towards meaning; or 2) Disruption, movement away from meaning. The study proposes an epistemology of change as part of experience of learning. A processual definition of experiencing change is offered: Change is the word we use at the moment of awareness and thereafter when we recognize something as having altered in relation to ourselves. Assumptions about qualities associated with experiencing change are also provided. A bridge is offered between epistemology of change and social process: How individuals anchor meaning in their social interactions. Two anchors in “social entities†emerged in the study: “group entity†and “social structure†. In dynamics of individuals’ interactions, their meaning of anchors may emerge and shift subtly or abruptly. Concerning the fourth area of discovery, two descriptions of participants’ theatre experience are provided: 1) A narrative of fieldwork experience; and 2) The Mobile-framework, a model-description of participants’ theatre process which details participants’ theatre process considered from the set of working assumptions. It includes participants’ interactions interpreted in terms of “paradigmatic actions†and aims towards reflecting dynamics of participants’ interactions in creating and responding to changing meanings. Theatre process is considered in light of theory of modernity, particularly attending to secularization, individuation, abstraction. Theatre processes as paradigm simultaneously foster and offer individuals a response to modern conditions of plurality and change. The final chapter’s reflections are couched in terms of three orientations towards adult education: 1) “Paradigm-watchers†; 2) Those concerned with specific theory content; and 3) Those concerned with specifics of daily practice. The study challenges adult educators of all orientations to make explicit our vantage points and to “follow through†on implications related to learning when placing meaning and change at epistemological centre. Reflections range from implications for contemplated change in organizations, among researchers, and among those engaged in interactions with “groups of learners†. Finally, the study advocates seeking out how learners culturally interpret the word “learning†as part of research efforts directed towards interpreting individuals’ experience of learning. The study’s aforementioned set of working assumptions and Mobile-framework are incorporated into a six part document which also includes a Preface linking the study to adult education works, and a substantial Bibliography divided into five sections reflecting the study’s multidisciplinary nature.





Master of Continuing Education (M.C.Ed.)


Communications, Continuing and Vocational Education


Communications, Continuing and Vocational Education



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