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Features of Public Spheres

Features of Public Spheres

For this blog discussion post discuss any 2 features of Kemmis, McTaggart, and Nixon's 10 Features of the Public Sphere found (or not) in any of the 5 papers Collins, Kaukko, Tuck, Conrad, and McLeod/Emme. List the Key Feature and describe the feature using the research from your chosen papers (this week and last week's) as an example. If you find that some Features are noticeably missing, or that it is clear that the authors explicitly chose not to consider that feature, this could also be the substance of your post. You could discuss one feature from one paper (last week's) and another feature from the other paper (e.g. this week's). Two features in total.

I found significant overlap between Kemmis et al (2014), and Collins (2004) when Collins writes of three types of collaboration: cooperative, symbiotic, and organic, per Betty Lou Whitford et al (1987), and also about the importance of a democratic process.

Feature - Inclusivity and Permeability

It would seem apparent from Kemmis, et al, that public spheres cannot be exclusive, particularly if the excluded parties are marginalized. Collins provides an example of having to work through this issue during his project when he writes of the fact that the younger students in the class were being sidelined by the older students. He used the situation where both parties had an interest to talk about democracy and participation in the context of playing soccer at recess.

Feature - Communicative Freedom

Cooperative collaboration usually refers to projects where one party in the project is providing a service to another party, such as professional development. Symbiotic arrangements are defined by reciprocity, where each party in the project helps the other. Organic collaboration is characterized by projects with jointly-owned issues, where the parties are interdependent on each other for the solution (see Johnson & Johnson (n.d.) for a description of positive interdependence). This organic collaboration, what Whitford terms "boundary-spanning", is similar to the idea in Kemmis et al, that public spheres "presuppose communicative freedom" (p. 43).

The parallel isn't perfect, but in order for a project to truly be organic and boundary-spanning, per Whitford, there must be a sense that individuals or parties in a project have the freedom and capacity to listen to the other party, and that disparities in "power, reputation, and status" often lead to situations where the powerful dominate the less powerful.

Collins writes of the need to "suspend power differentials" in order for PAR to be a joint collaboration between parties, and he notes that differences in power can be subtle, yet pervasive. One example from my own context relates to the nature of my planned project exploring digital self-determination for Indigenous students.

Presuming this project proceeds as planned, this will involve me, a white settler and uninvited visitor who benefits everyday from the disenfranchisement and cultural genocide of Indigenous people, working with a group of Indigenous educators. The power differential should be obvious.

However, there is another power differential in operation, I think. The educators that I will be working with are very accomplished and widely published scholars and professors in higher education, whereas I am a Doctoral student and neophyte researcher with one publication (which had nothing to do explicitly about Indigenous education). In the academy, it should again be obvious that there is a power differential in this relationship.

I think this short reflection illustrates the complexities and unknowns of navigating truly collaborative projects. There are no algorithms to apply in order to arrive at the 'right' procedure or outcome. The solution that Collins suggests is an almost perfect tautology: In order for PAR to be collaborative, it must really be collaborative. In other words, the project must be grounded in relationships built on trust and constant checking that the least powerful always have input.

Collins quotes Irwin to illustrate this balance:

Irwin rejected the idea that one should abandon their expertise, allowing others to stumble, in the name of sharing power:

Rather, a delicate balance must be maintained so that empowerment of the collective is nurtured while the power of the individual is recognized ... The only way to truly accept this dynamic is to develop a level of trust within the group that allows for reflection and action that constantly examines the effects of teaching and leadership. (Irwin, 1997, p. 10)


Collins, S. (2004). Ecology and ethics in participatory collaborative action research: An argument for the authentic participation of students in eduational research. Educational Action Research, 12(3), 347–362. https://doi.org/10.1080/09650790400200255

Irwin, R., Crawford, N., Mastri, R., Neale, A., Robertson, H. & Stephenson, W. (1997) Collaborative Action Research: a journey of six women artist-pedagogues, British Columbia Art Teachers’ Association Journal for Art Teachers, 37(2), pp. 8-17.

Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, Roger. (n.d.). What is Cooperative Learning? Retrieved July 3, 2018, from Cooperative Learning Institute website: http://www.co-operation.org/what-is-cooperative-learning/

Kemmis, S., McTaggart, R., & Nixon, R. (2014). The action research planner: Doing critical participatory action research. Singapore Heidelberg New York Dordrecht London: Springer.

Whitford, B.L., Schlechty, P.C. & Shelor, L.G. (1987) Sustaining Action Research through Collaboration: inquiries for invention, Peabody Journal of Education, 64(3), pp. 151-169.