Engaged research and qualitative theory building in the social sciences are among the greatest adventures and significant vocations life can present. The impact of good theory, no matter how tiny or vast, can instantly move across our intimate planet and affect every human and living system in this interconnected, relationally alive, and reverberating universe. Ideas change the world. Ideas can be about life and they can be life-giving in the sense that they can inspire, enliven, and open us to new horizons and new depths. A new idea, especially the idea whose time has come in a prospective and betterment sense, does more than inform: it transforms. We’ve all experienced it. A single new understanding can change us deeply.
In this book David Cooperrider shares the story, as well as the earliest research powering it, of the worldwide spread of Appreciative Inquiry, and how it has been embraced by professional fields such organization development, applied positive psychology, organizational learning, social constructionism, design thinking, large systems change management, sustainable development, and more. However, in the widespread and popular spread of Appreciative Inquiry practices, the central intention of “AI” has increasingly been glossed over. David calls it, “that lost minor detail.” For many steeped in AI’s powerful tools and practices, that lost minor detail comes as a disruption. The surprise is that AI, from its birth, was never meant as an organization development or human systems change practice. It was meant as a theory-building method.
This book—emerging from the needs and urging of David’s doctoral students and those who care about engaged scholarship—is about the craft of grounded and future-forming theory construction. It’s a way of doing research in the human sciences that exists, in William James’ contrast, “not as a dull habit but as an acute fever.” This book, today used in doctoral research courses and masters programs in organization development, unites the original purpose of Appreciative Inquiry with the domains of grounded theory, generative theory, enlivenment world-views, and the art and science of portraiture. Taken together this volume provides a manifesto and clear framework for prospective theory-building.
Prospective theory is:
1. Theory inspired by life, and it is designed to apprehend the best in all of life’s fullest, most meaningful, and best future possibilities while being grounded in the midst of the extraordinary, the ordinary, as well as the tragic;
2. Has the enlivenment and generative capacity to challenge the status quo and open the world to new better possibilities for life and living;
3. Articulates a future story of prospective possibility. It involves a proleptic merging of the ideal conditioned in the texture of the actual—e.g., vivid utopias that are right there in front of us—informing our future story for establishing the new and eclipsing the old.
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