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Organic Inquiry

Introduction to Organic Inquiry

Organic research includes an attitude to be nurtured, evolve creatively as the unconscious process and a circumstance of the work unfold, and hold a metaphor of planting and renders the characteristics fluid enough to be able to pour into each other. To grow a healthy and productive tree, the gardener must fist prepare the ground by loosening and fertilizing the soil. Then the seed can be planted. Underground, a complex root system develops. The tree sends up a shoot, and branches develop. Finally, the tree bears fruit, which contains tomorrow’s seeds (Clements, Ettling, Jennet, and Shields, 1998:116-177).

The organic inquiry approach, developed by Clements, Ettling, Jenett, & Shields (1998), is a blend of research and spiritual inquiry. Its major emphases include the use of the (Jungian) feeling and intuitive functions (in addition to the typically privileged thinking function) in research; a valuing of the researcher’s own “story” in connection with the experiences being studied and how that story might change as a result of confronting it with the stories of research participants; allowing one’s research plan and activities to be flexibly guided by new inputs, including inner and “spiritual” knowings; and a seeking not only of changes of mind (information that can transform one’s own and one’s discipline’s knowledge base) but also changes of heart (transformative changes that are important in the lives of the research participants, the researcher, and the audience/readers of the final research report generated by the research study).

The authors put together a qualitative methodology that they viewed as using intuitive and interactive methods, which moves beyond the linear constrains and rational expectation of traditional methods. Their approach stands between feminine spirituality and transpersonal transformation of some sort for all engaged in the study. Similar on one sense to enactive inquiry, their methodology requires the researcher’s relationships with the methods to follow the muse of the research topic including his or her stories and intuitive process. Rather than offering a specific methodology and set of procedures to follow, Clements, Ettling, Jenett, & Shields (1998, pp. 123-126) describe a set of guiding characteristics that form the framework for Organic Inquiry. This open-ended approach allows the individual researcher to customize the methodology to best suit the particular project.

The principles of Organic Inquiry created a wholistic inquiry. Organic inquiry suggests that research is sacred, and insists that the researcher trust a more intuitive way of knowing; both of these aspects were key to my ability to trust embodied, non-textual sources of information.

The organic research cycle therefore includes:

• The Sacred – Preparing the Soil

• The Personal – Planting the Seed

• The Chthonic – The Roots Emerge

• The Relational – Growing the Tree

• The Transformative – Harvesting the Fruit


Organic Inquiry is, at its heart, a sacred process. It calls upon the researcher to open one’s self to the mysteries of life and to enter into the inquiry as free as possible from old habits and expectations.

This first step, this sacred dimension of the process – preparing the soil – calls for time spent journaling, meditating, reading poetry, and spending time in nature.


Organic inquiry asks that the researcher fully immerse his or herself in their life experiences, unlike other methodologies which ask the researcher to become distant and objective. The researcher’s personal journey and the likely transformation of the researcher through the journey becomes the

ground from which the inquiry is conducted.


Organic inquiry takes on a life of its own in its third stage, the chthonic stage. Beyond the proposals and plans and strategies, the shape of an organic inquiry begins to emerge. As the researcher pays attention to his or her dreams, meditations, synchronicities and experiences, the roots of the inquiry deepen.


The fourth dimension of Organic Inquiry is relational, the growing of the tree. It is where the limbs and branches and leaves begin to take on their full presence in the world. The stories of those involved in the research begin to take on a character of their own. The stories may at times appear to move together to form a greater narrative and at times stay separate, describing the particular experience of the co-researchers in the full context of the experience. The emphasis is on the full story that is emerging the feelings, thoughts, and inspirations which can invite a reader to touch his or her own experience of those realms.


This thesis is the fifth dimension of Organic Inquiry – harvesting the fruit in the transformative dimension. It is the time to bring the stories forth so that I as storyteller, my co-researchers with their own stories and the stories of their combined experience and my readers can all be transformed by it. This is much more than looking for trends and composite results: it is a process of looking for the integral meanings, which are emerging in the inquiry and finding the way to make these meanings more visible in the world.

Curry and Wells (2003) added a sixth principle, numinous, as the balance to the chthonic, which was not included in the original model of Organic Inquiry. The principle of the numinous balances the chthonic as a guiding source of inspiration or way of direct knowing, often revealed in ah-ha moments of understanding.

The most distinctive of the Organic Inquiry approach is the rich combination of many of the features and the much greater than usual emphasis of some of these phases, especially the suggested sources of inspiration and the researcher’s aim of transformational changes in the researcher, co-researchers, and consumers of the final research report (Braud, 2004).

Class Discussion

My classmate argues that this is really “research method” or is it a “technique”?

In my understanding, the aim of organic inquiry is to expand the usual conception of “research” so that researchers are more sensitive to the possible life impacts of their work on themselves, their participants, and their audience. Organic inquirers prefer inclusive, integrated, both/and approaches to exclusive, classified, either/or approaches to human endeavors. Important variations and refinements can be contributed by each user of the approach, based on the user’s unique ways of accessing and becoming inspired by transpersonal and spiritual sources and resources. In addition, Some students uncertain on the validity of result of the organic inquiry. In my opinion, organic inquiry deliberately focuses on experiences rather than on “objective reality.” The developers of organic inquiry recognize that additional work is needed in the area of validation methods and validity indicators.


Most of the procedures used by organic researchers are borrowed from more methods that are rigorous. Organic Inquiry is an approach, rather than a specific method. Many of the qualities of Organic Inquiry that appear to distinguish the method are not unique to this approach. The advocates of Organic Inquiry present the approach as one among many, with the aim of supplementing, rather than supplanting, other approaches. Perhaps Organic Inquiry advocates could emphasize the approach’s overlaps with other approaches more explicitly and in detail. The researcher story really is an essential core in the ways the inquiry assesses data. The emphasis on the early and late researcher stories serves well one of the major aims of this approach—the possible transformation of the researcher.


Braud, W. (2004). An introduction to Organic Inquiry: Honoring the transpersonal and spiritual in research praxis. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 36, 18-25.

Clements, J., Ettling, D., Jenett, D., & Shields, L. (1998). Organic research: Feminine spirituality meets transpersonal research. In W. Braud & R. Anderson, Transpersonal research methods for the social sciences: Honoring human experience (pp. 114-127). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Curry, D., & Wells, S. (2003). An organic inquiry primer for the novice researcher. Kirkland,WA: Liminal Realities.

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