Towards a relational ethics of learning circles

Marie Kirstejn Aakjær*, Maja Marie Lotz, Julie Kordovsky, Eva Pallesen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conference without publisher/journalConference abstract for conferenceResearchpeer-review


In this paper we scrutinize the concept of learning circles as a potential method for participatory research. We ask: 1) what knowledge is being co-produced in learning circles, 2) what is the play of power in learning circles, and 3) which relational ethics do learning circles call for? Our backdrop for this line of inquiry is our enmeshment in the preliminary phase of a qualitative research project aimed at engaging elderly care professionals in learning circles to co-create more attractive and inclusive work communities and career paths as a response to the increasing recruitment challenges. In the project learning circles are applied not only as a method to evoke co-creation of learning among circles participants, but also as a method to co-create scientific knowledge among practitioners and researchers involved in joint qualitative inquiry. In the Nordic countries, learning circles have been developed as a model for adult non-formal education (Aakjær and Wegener 2022; Lahdenperä and Marquard 2019). Within this view, the learning circle is a formalised model for co-creation of learning across various divides, e.g. across professions, across workplaces and/or across different forms of expertise (Aakjær and Wegener 2022; Lahdenperä 2014). Critique has been that the model neglects the ’role of power’ and romanticize learning as a collaborative and power neutral process or encounter. As an example, Phillips et al. (2021) point to the tensions in the “with” in “research with, not on, people” and the “co” in “co-creating knowledge. Such critical, reflexive analysis illuminates the processes of co-creating knowledge through the tensional, power-infused co-constitution of knowledge and subjectivities (Ibid.). Applying the model of learning circles as both a tool to facilitate learning among practitioners as well as a ‘gateway’ to participatory research – i.e. as a joint venture between practitioners and researchers - pay heed to the inherent yoke between power and knowledge. Our aim in this paper is to develop a more critical and reflexive awareness of how knowledge and power relations are co-created in learning circles among researchers and practitioners as co-researchers (Phillips et al, 2021).
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2023
Publication statusPublished - 2023
EventEuropean Congress of Qualitative Inquiry: Participation, collaboration and co-creation: qualitative inquiry across and beyond divides - University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
Duration: 9 Jan 202412 Jan 2024
Conference number: 7


ConferenceEuropean Congress of Qualitative Inquiry
LocationUniversity of Helsinki
Internet address


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