Reflecting on ARCIO's first five years


ARCIO (Action Research and Critical Inquiry in Organisations) is a research centre that sits (mainly!) in the Department of Management, but which welcomes people from across the university and beyond. Members are committed to researching in participative and capacity-building ways in organisations and communities, with a focus on sustainability, social justice, gender, and inclusivity. We use arts-based, narrative, and feminist approaches in our research and scholarship.

At a recent ARCIO meeting, we realised that ARCIO has been going strong for over five years, so we wanted to look back on and celebrate what we have achieved in that time. We hope you’ll agree that what follows is an impressive list. But what makes ARCIO such a worthwhile endeavour is the spirit of creativity, openness to ideas and commitment to making positive changes in organisations and the wider community that supports and inspires us as individuals and as a group and reaches out to those that have joined us in our research and other activities.

Launching ARCIO

We have organised a number of provocative and inspiring events, many of which have resulted in further activities and research opportunities. We started with ARCIO’s launch in 2010 when some 65 attendees, including academics and scholar/activists, were treated to a dialogue on the intersections between feminism(s) and participatory/action-oriented research led by Professor Judi Marshall (University of Lancaster) and Professor Jane Speedy (University of Bristol) as well as in-house presentations and participative sessions.

Experimental representation

Doll-making as an embodied response to a feminist text (2010) was a ground-breaking workshop which was followed up by a further workshop at the 2010 SCOS meeting (Standing Conference on Organizational Symbolism). Our desire to promote and provoke experimental forms of representation has since resulted in three one-day symposia at the universities of Bristol, Bradford and Macquarie, Australia.

Participative action research

In 2013, ARCIO hosted training workshops on action research methodology and ethics led by Professor Mary Brydon Miller, ARC, (Action Research Centre, Univ of Cincinnati). These workshops attracted participants from across the University of Bristol and other HEIs, as well as from community organisations and practitioners. Mary returned in 2014, and ARCIO members collaborated with her and with the Graduate School of Education to run a one-day workshop on research ethics in community based participatory research.

Mary’s first visit in 2013 also inspired our PhD student members to collaborate with other doctoral students and academics internationally to host two doctoral conferences (in the summers of 2013 and 2014) on participative action research, and furthermore, to establish a PhD student peer support group within the SWDTC which continues to attract new members and undertake collaborative work. For example, members of this DTC peer support group, in collaboration with ARCIO, recently completed a DTC-funded preliminary research project designed to help and support Room 13 at Hareclive, an independent, children-run art studio in the playground of Hareclive Primary in Bristol.


A one-day conference around the theme ‘Hopeful Narratives for Sustainability’ (2010) challenged the usual discursive presentations of sustainability as doom and gloom, as part of an eco-modernist agenda or as a business strategy. It was attended by 60 participants and led directly to a learning history research project with the Gloucester Gateway Trust, the founding partner in the Gloucester motorway services stations.

Two workshops on Creative Engagements for Sustainability (2013) drew together participants from the academy with arts practitioners and those working in organisations to explore arts-based approaches to re-engaging with nature. This was developed into a Thinking Futures presentation (in 2014) and led to the appointment of Susan Richardson, a renowned eco-poet, as ARCIO artist-in-residence.

Deleuze and Guattari

In 2014, ARCIO hosted a seminar on Deleuze, Guattari and feminism: The relation between difference and identity, led by guest speaker Emma Jeanes from the University of Exeter. Subsequently, participants organised themselves into a Deleuze and Guattari reading/support group.

Benjamin Meaker Awards

Two Benjamin Meaker awards were celebrated in 2015.

Mary Brydon Miller returned for a 3 month visit between January and March resulting in a whirlwind of activity around participatory action research. The programme of activities and events focused on deepening understandings of how we might go about imagining and creating the engaged university and democratic social science of the future. Together with academic colleagues, students, and community members from across the South West and beyond, we explored the ways in which action research and critical, action-oriented methodologies can contribute to the development and enactment of a critical utopian vision in which university-community relations are transformed and reinvigorated. Highlights included a two-day training workshop on PAR which was offered to a group of approximately 30 graduate students from the Southwest Doctoral Training Centre, a further workshop with students in the Educational Psychology program and another with students in Social Work. We also undertook an arts-based workshop with the Narrative Inquiry group, Ani-net, in which we creatively and collectively explored how research ethics become manifest in embodied, lived, and affective ways in our practice. The major thrust of our work during this Benjamin Meaker visit focused on the transformation of higher education. Activities in this area included a university-based Future Creating Workshop exploring this idea, a community-based futures workshop held at the Knowle West Media Centre, and a dialogue with faculty in the Department of Management on the Future of Higher Education. ARCIO also co-organised and participated in a two-day symposium on Futures and Anticipation for Social Change, together with other members of the Faculties of Social Sciences and Law and Arts and Humanities.

Our second Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor this year, Mary Beth Stalp, from the University of Northern Iowa is probably the world authority on women and serious leisure activities. She participated in three highly successful workshops both in the university and in the community. Her collaboration with us has sewn the seeds for important work on older women and their contribution to the community. On a similar theme, quilt-making and other women's serious leisure pursuits such as scrapbooking as memory work has been presented at very well attended Thinking Futures events in 2014 and 2015.

Writing and reading

In addition to all this, Arcio combines with the narrative research centre, Ani-net, to organise a residential writing retreat each year, usually held in the lovely setting of Hawkwood, Glos. Experienced and novice writers have used the supportive space to write articles, book chapters, sections of theses, and collaboratively write. ARCIO hosts the Bluestockings Reading Group where a group of academics and non-academics from the University and beyond meet to discuss germinal, and usually feminist, texts.

ARCIO has exciting plans for 2016, including a symposium on alternative organisations and a workshop on phenomenology and associated research methods.

If you would like to be added to the ARCIO mailing list and receive information about future activities, please email

Action Research and Critical Inquiry in Organisations
Doll-making as an embodied response to a feminist text
Professor Mary Brydon Miller
Participatory Action Research and Critical Inquiry: Doctoral Conference
Doll making in action 1
Doll making in action 2
Future Creating Workshop 1
Future Creating Workshop 2
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