- Transformative Learning through Creative Life Writing: Exploring the Self in the Learning Process by Celia Hunt
People change, often in profound ways, when they engage in creative practices, but understanding the nature of these changes and the reasons why they take place continues to challenge adult educators. This book takes a close look at the effects of participating in postgraduate programs in what the author terms “creative life writing,” and makes the case for considering the students’ experiences as a form of transformative learning. The author seeks to extend our understanding of the nature of transformative learning as a result of these analyses. In the introduction and in the opening chapter Hunt details the Creative Writing and Personal Development Programmes that took place at Sussex University between 1996 and 2010. The remainder of the book is divided into four sections.
The first part begins by exploring some concepts of the psyche, and goes on to use case studies to illustrate the kinds of changes students experienced during their time in these programs. The programs used a range of creative writing exercises and activities to help people deepen their understanding of themselves, enhance their creativity, and engage with the therapeutic potential of creative writing. Hunt outlines the unusual and hybrid nature of the programs. They help develop the craft of writing, but do not claim to produce professional writers; they encourage people to explore themselves and involve the study of therapeutic theories, but are not accredited either as therapy or as courses for therapists. There is hybridity, too, in the theoretical work, which she begins to delineate in the opening chapter. She draws on an array of theoretical frameworks to explain the kinds of learning and development taking place through creative life writing. She seeks to contribute to the expanding debate about the nature of transformative learning, positioning herself alongside those who have argued that to move forward, transformative learning [End Page 822] theorists need to think outside the dominant constructivist paradigm with which it is still associated. The teaching and the analysis are rooted in a critical realist perspective, which assumes that there is a core real or authentic self that can be accessed and affected by social, personal, and cognitive processes.
In part two Hunt considers how transformative change takes place through these programs by exploring the concept of reflexivity as a form of dialogue with the psyche—an engagement between a core bodily self and a language–based self. In this section she weaves together a very wide range of theoretical frameworks. She indicates early on that the work of Karen Horney remains at the heart of her thinking, but she also considers, variously, Damasio’s concept of core consciousness, Archer’s ideas about agency, thinking about left and right brain functions and their relationship to reflexivity, Boyd and Myers’s Jungian reframing of transformative learning as dependent on emotional release, and Dirkx’s discussions of transformative learning as dependent on giving more space to the unconscious aspects of the psyche. At the heart of this discussion seems to be a concept of transformative learning as something that occurs primarily through a loosening of consciousness that allows repressed aspects of the self to emerge, having a profound impact on consciousness, self-expression, and agency. Helpfully, Hunt refers back throughout this section to the earlier case studies, particularly when she is examining the psychic difficulties faced by individuals and the way these are challenged through the life writing exercises. I enjoyed the way she wove these different theories together, adopting an eclectic approach in which she notes the similarities between ideas and frameworks coming from different traditions. At times, though, I wondered whether a reader with a keener interest in theoretical precision than I might want to challenge the way that some of these ideas are elided and combined, and also wondered whether some clarity was lost as a result of this inclusivity.
Part three focuses on process. It considers how the different activities developed as parts of...