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Abductive theory for Thought-Ecologies: Depicting systems of conceptions

Varey, William (2012) Abductive theory for Thought-Ecologies: Depicting systems of conceptions. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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The discipline of sustainability theory now represents a mature and established discourse. Significant sustainability discussions will be occurring at this moment in many locations. These discussions may potentially enact decisions impacting on our local and collective futures. This dissertation is prompted by observations, over many years and in diverse forums, of how the quality of coillective thought in such discussions sets the potential for societal developments. This research responds to the specific situation where in intelligent, informed, significant, well-planned and representative sustainability forums the complexity of questions faced may exceed our collective capacity to discover viable sustainability solutions.

The initiating question of this research was: What is a means by which to disclose the capacity for thought in human social systems? This dissertation examines the parameters for the depiction of the dynamic capacity of thought ecologies. The proposition developed is for the use of "conceptions' as a unit of observation. The approach operates much like the use of the organism in the study of complex ecologies in ecological systems theory. A novel contribution is in the discovery of how an ecology of thought requires from us some distinctly different assumptions. This research extends knowledge from the fields of psychology, sociology, ecology and systems theory by a structured multi-disciplinary approach.

An abductive method grounded in Peircean pragmatism is used and a methodological framework is developed from existing research theory specifically for the study of thought-ecologies. The framework comprises nine inquiry phases that build sequentially toward a hypothesis. This sequence of abductive inquiries provides a discrete structure to and methodological rigor for each inquiry phase. The relevant theory, method design, emphasis selection, and research outcomes are set out for each inquiry in separate chapters, with each chapter using a consistent structure. In summary, the appropriate location for observation is selected using the example of sustainability theory (Chapter One). Conceptual feasibility is established by detecting phenomena from conceptions of health (Chapter Two). Primary propositions are developed from an analogical isomorph in neurobiological autopoiesis theory (Chapter Three). Three inter-related hypotheses are proposed for systems of conceptions (Chapter Four). The viability of the hypotheses is confirmed using five criteria from a panarchy analysis (Chapter Five). Definitions are formulated for the key dimensions proposed (Chapter Six). A comparison of existing measurement modalities provides the criteria for a measurement system (Chapter Seven). The approach to modeling n-dimensional hypervolumes for systems of conceptions is demonstrated (Chapter Eight). The proposed hypothesis is appraised on principles of explanatory coherence and pragmatism (Chapter Nine). This dissertation concludes with an integrative reflection (Chapter Ten).

The result of this research is to provide a theoretical basis for the depiction of systems of conceptions. The practical outcome achieved is the ability to observe the capacities of thought-ecologies by their depiction in three-dimensions. The significance of the research is to enable forms of social learning to enhance present and future capacities for sustainability thinking.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: Student Learning Centre
Supervisor: Hobson, Julia
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