On stopping doing those things that are not getting us to where we want to be: unlearning, wicked problems and critical action learning

Cheryl Joyce Lilian Brook, Mike Pedler, Christine Abbott, John Burgoyne

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Abstract

This paper explores the idea of unlearning on the basis of empirical data drawn from 73 social workers’ accounts of addressing their problems and challenges in critical action learning (CAL) sets. To address intractable or wicked problems, characterised by having multiple stakeholders with competing perspectives and by an absence of obvious solution, it may be necessary first to unlearn existing responses and to ask fresh questions to illuminate what is as yet unknown. Action learning privileges questions over solutions in seeking learning from action on organisational challenges, whilst CAL is a variety that employs insights from critical social theory to promote critical reflection and unlearning in this process.

The paper breaks new ground in claiming: first, that unlearning in the context of the wicked problems of social work is characterised less by the discarding of outmoded knowledge and routines and more by a critical unlearning which opens up new possibilities of not knowing and non-action; and second, that critical unlearning is much more likely to take place when supported by a deliberated and social process such as that provided by CAL.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)369-389
JournalHuman Relations
Volume69
Issue number2
Early online date24 Sep 2015
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 24 Sep 2015

Keywords

  • WNU
  • critical action learning
  • non-action
  • unlearning
  • wicked problems

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