Trapped in a rear view world – Released by AI


As post-modernists, Cooperrider & Srivastva argue that logical positivistic assumptions trap us in a rear-view world.    They say that methods based on post dated assumptions tend to (re)create the social realities that researchers purport to be studying.


Because action researchers tend to assume that their purpose is to solve problems they backslide into causing the problem they set out to describe. In the paper The Sociality of Healing, Westoboy has shown how a group of Brisbane based Sudanese refugees express their feelings about being problematised.  They say that groups and organizations can be treated not only as if they have problems, but as if they are problems to be \”solved\”. (Westoboy. 2005)

Today it is frequently argued that this \”problem-oriented\” view of organizing and inquiry reduces the possibility of generating new theory, and new images of social reality, which might help us transcend current social forms. (Bushe. 1995)  The damage caused by problematisation could become a productive form of inquiry if instead of seeing organizations, social groups or environmental issues as problems to be solved, we saw them as miracles to be appreciated.

Post Modern scholars such as Compton-Lilly (2009) highlight this dilemma so that researchers ask, “How would our methods of inquiry and our theories of organizing be different?” (Bushe.1995)

Theory of Intentional Collective Action

Appreciative inquiry \”…refers to both a search for knowledge and a theory of intentional collective action, which are designed to help evolve the normative vision and will of a group, organization, or society as a whole\” (Cooperrider & Srivastva, 1987, p.159).

Cooperrider calls this theory of change embedded in appreciative inquiry an affirmative basis of organizing. (1990)  When he proffers the \”heliotropic hypothesis.\”   He says that social forms evolve toward the \”light.\”   By this he means that people are attracted to images of themselves that are affirming and life giving. So he argues that all groups, organizations, communities or societies have images of themselves that underlay self-organizing processes

This means that social systems are naturally drawn to evolve toward the most positive images held by their. members. In turn, this means that it is possible to consciously evolve positive self-imagery.   It is when positive imagery is constructed that a viable option for changing the social system as a whole can be co- constructed.

The Tragic Nature of Self Fulfilling Prophecy

The self defeating nature of some self fulfilling prophecies can be seen as ironic, if not tragic. Through the work of Cooperrider, researchers gain insight about how the greatest obstacle to the well-being of an ailing group is the affirmative projection that currently guides the group. (1990) If to affirm means to \’hold firm,\’  this tendency may become the very thing that holds groups in dejected status.  In prisoner populations for example, the belief that toughness or unswerving loyalty are desirable attributes can overtly be the cause of recidivist behaviours.  It is “the strength of affirmation, the degree of belief or faith invested, that allows the image to carry out its heliotropic task\” (Cooperrider, 1990, p.120). Another way of thinking about the described phenomenon is to ponder on the way that refugee populations who are problematised can become the dependent problem that their problem status designates.

Some groups find that attempts to fix problems create more problems.  And in some situations, such as recidivism, mean that the same problems, such as reoffending never go away.  This occurrence can be a clear signal of the inadequacy of the group\’s current affirmative projection. Groups, therefore, do not need to be fixed; they need to know what to affirm and to be affirmed.

This means that \”…every new affirmative projection of the future is a consequence of an appreciative understanding of the past or present\” (Cooperrider, 1990. p.120).


  • Bushe, G.R Ph.D.(1995)  Advances in Appreciative Inquiry as an Organization  Development Intervention. Development Journal, Vol.13, No.3, pp.14-22
  • Bushe, G.R. (1997) Attending to Others: Interviewing Appreciatively. Vancouver, BC: Discovery & Design Inc
  • Compton-Lilly, C. (2009) Breaking the Silence. Recognizing the Social and Cultural Resources Students Bring to the Classroom. International Reading Assoc. Newark.
  • Cooperrider, D.L. & Srivastva, S. (1987) Appreciative inquiry in organizational life. In R. Woodman & W. Pasmore (eds.) Research in Organizational Change and Development: Volume 1 (pp.129-169). Greenwich, CT: JAI Press.
  • Cooperrider, D.L. (1990) Positive image, positive action: The affirmative basis of organizing. In S.Srivastva & D.L. Cooperrider (Eds.), Appreciative Management and Leadership (pp.91-125). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
  • Gergen, K. (1982) Toward Transformation in Social Knowledge. New York: Spring-Verlag.
  • Houston,T. (2007) Inside Out: Stories and Methods for Generating Collective Will to Create the Future We Want. SoL, the Society for Organizational Learning
  • Johnson, P.C. & Cooperrider, D.L. (1991) Finding a path with heart: Global social change organizations and their challenge for the field of organization development. In R. Woodman & W.Pasmore (eds.) Research in Organizational Change and Development: Volume 5 (pp.223-284). Greenwich CT: JAI Press.
  • Westoboy,P. (2006) The Sociality of Healing : Engaging Southern Sudanese Refugees Resettling in an Australian Context. – a model of social healing. Thesis Uni of Queensland.   (Accessed as Vols 1 & 2)