Beyond human-nature-spirit boundaries: Researching with animate EARTH

This study develops a methodology, methods, and form of representation that supports researching beyond socially constructed human-nature-spirit boundaries – a process which requires moving beyond the limits of Western epistemologies. It is based on an animist ontology, which disrupts anthropocentrism and involves relating to other-than-human beings as communicating subjects. Using a dialogic method(ology) and multimedia hypertextual representation, the research decentres the privileged position of the human intellect in knowledge production, and in doing so, opens up possibilities for knowledge-making processes to be collaborative and inclusive of insights from an animate Earth. It also offers possibilities for research, representation and reading experiences congruent with the epistemological and ontological bases of the thesis.

I use the hypertextual form to research and write through (rather than about) ways of knowing that exist worldwide, but have been denied acknowledgement in most academic inquiry. Form and prose work in tandem to both identify and work beyond Western epistemological frames. Together, they develop my primary argument: more space needs to be provided for inclusion, and acknowledgement of, contributions of animate Earth (plants, animals, and spirit) to research/representation. Research questions are: (1) how might a researcher intentionally and respectfully engage with and acknowledge animate Earth and spirit as key sources of knowledge in the process of academic inquiry? (2) in the field of education, what are some of the discourses which have made the twinned acts of research/representation in ongoing dialogue with animate Earth and spirit difficult to engage and acknowledge? And, (3) what kinds of representation might be congruent with the epistemological and ontological premises of animism?

The research draws on poststructuralism, feminism, and anti-racist theory; on literature from anthropology, religious studies, quantum theory, and the practice of energy work; on knowing that comes through music, poetry, prose, photography, and other forms of visual art; on meditative insights obtained through body, heart, mind and spirit; on decolonizing research practices, arts-based inquiry, and discussions of spirit and indigenous epistemologies within the academy. The main argument is epistemological, and is based on the ontological assumption that there is much more to the universe than material reality.

Key words: animism; ontology; epistemology; decolonizing research; hypertext; research representation; research methodology; arts-based inquiry; energy healing; environmental education; spirit

Executive Summary

This Research was approved by the Research Ethics Board, University of Regina. Firefox is the preferred browser to veiw this dissertation; font and formatting are sometimes interrupted if other browsers are used.