Notes from the Field: Research Work Supporting an Integrally Informed Master of Arts Program in Conflict Analysis and Engagement

Notes from the Field / January 2011

Richard McGuigan

Richard McGuigan

The Master of Arts program in Conflict Analysis and Engagement (CAE) at Antioch University Midwest (AUM) is a hybrid distributed learning program designed to engage the whole person and to facilitate the growth of consciousness and complexity of meaning-making among its students. In support of the Master of Arts program, several research studies are underway at the Feind Institute of Integral Research, located within the Institute of Conflict Analysis and Engagement (ICAE) at AUM. The purpose of our ongoing study is to inform the hypotheses that the CAE program makes about the developmental impacts on students of our integral approach to graduate curriculum. The first participants in the study are just now graduating and a new group of students participated in the first part of the research study this past fall.

The mission of the Feind Institute, supported by Kel and Barbara Feind, is to be a leader in advancing knowledge of Ken Wilber’s model of integral theory to the conflict field, with a focus on developing the next generation of integrally informed practitioners and scholars who are responsive to the real, and often unacknowledged, needs of those in conflict. In support of this mission, Drs. Richard McGuigan, Nancy Popp, and Sara Ross designed a replicable research approach to conducting developmental assessment of students as they enter and complete their CAE program of study. The Subject-Object Interview (SOI), a semi-structured, semi-clinical, open-ended one-hour interview, is the primary research instrument used.

Robert Kegan’s constructive-developmental framework led to the creation of the SOI instrument. Constructive-developmental theory brings together two potent lines of psychological development: 1) constructivism, the notion that reality is not an external thing that happens to us but rather that we construct our own reality from the ways in which we organize our experience; and 2) developmentalism, the notion that the ways in which we construct our reality evolves through qualitatively different levels of increasing complexity. Both perspectives can be applied to adult education with respect to how the educator constructs meaning in a complex learning situation and how the educator understands the ways in which the students construct the meaning of their own learning.

The SOI instrument is designed to draw out the basic structure of a person’s meaning-making, the particular subject-object balance of his current complexity of mind. A chief innovation of the subject-object interview comes from having the contents generated from the real-life experiences of the interview participant, and involving emotional as well as cognitive, interpersonal as well as intrapersonal, aspects of psychological processing. The data from this interview illuminate the ways in which the interviewee makes sense of her experience and conceives her sense of self in various stages of development.[i]

The CAE program is using the Feind Institute’s research work with students to inform our ongoing program and curriculum development. The CAE Master’s program is a 48-hour quarter-credit program, which includes three six-day residencies. The residencies, scheduled six months apart (at the start of the program and at the six- and twelve-month markers), are intended to be a deep immersion into integral life practice and conflict, underscoring our emphasis on experiential learning. Our graduate curriculum weaves together two complementary threads: conflict engagement theory/practice with integral theory/practice. It is a unique program in that it is explicitly organized around both categorical and developmental characteristics of conflict.

Our research to date, although we are now only just into our second study, has already powerfully impacted our program design. For instance, as a faculty we have become much more mindful of the volume and the complexity of the required reading and writing we assign. We are also working more explicitly with our students toward a greater understanding of what an integral perspective is, working with them over two full days at our last residency on the theory of an integral perspective and how to use and apply that theory in the analysis of and their engagement with conflict. Both of these changes to our curriculum approach were a direct result of what we learned in our first research study regarding the meaning-making stage of our students.

The front page of any newspaper on any given day is a sobering commentary on the work in conflict. Current strategies for intervention appear to have little effect. A new way of understanding conflict—an integral understanding— is needed if we are to develop more effective strategies for dealing with conflict. The CAE Master of Arts program, ICAE, and the Feind Institute combine their resources to provide a learning environment where our students have the opportunity to become leaders who can bring more effective strategies to the problems we face as citizens, of our nation and of the world.

About the Author

Richard McGuigan, Ph.D., is an adult developmental psychologist, practitioner and educator in the leadership and conflict engagement fields. He is Associate Professor and Department Chair at Antioch University McGregor where he leads the development of Graduate programs in Conflict Analysis and Engagement. He also oversees the work of the Institute of Conflict Analysis and Engagement and the Feind Institute of Integral Research. Along with his research and writing colleague, Dr. Nancy Popp, he is writing a book on integral conflict.

[i] Lahey, L. et all (1988). A guide to the subject-object interview: its administration and

interpretation. Cambridge, The Subject-object Research Group

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