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Community of Inquiry (CofI) is an Arts & Humanities Research Council-funded project which seeks to make difficult conversations on complex topics feasible and productive by providing a systematic approach that gives agency and voice to students and staff. Through its practical model, the project seeks to foster a greater understanding of how to manage freedom of expression and mutual understanding across the university sector and in society.

The Community of Inquiry approach was first developed by pragmatist philosopher C.S. Peirce. It is a systematic approach to honest discussion in which every move is made explicit. This serves to also make explicit the implicit assumptions behind conversations, which helps to uncover structural and personal biases. Having understood the framework, participants begin by establishing for themselves a set of ground rules and procedural values through which they confront and overcome potential pitfalls (Scott-Baumann and Perfect 2021). This interactive collaborative approach often causes exasperation and necessitates compromise, but it leads to deal-making that promotes mutual understanding and recognition. It thus seeks to dismantle the binary debates we often fall into. Through it, students will also generate their own injunctive norms for desirable behaviour in discussions, offline and online. Fundamentally, by developing communal meaning-making that facilitates different view-points and accepts a range of beliefs and an appreciation of inclusivity, it initiates participants in deliberative democracy. 

The Community of Inquiry approach can be adapted for academic debate in class, students’ union discussions about freedom of speech policies, or in student societies about difficult topics. It can also be adapted to any civic situation where there is strong contestation of views.

The Community of Inquiry project is based at SOAS and is led by Professor Alison Scott-Baumann together with Professor Adam Sutcliffe (King’s College), Professor Tarek Al-Baghal, Dr Mukta Das, Dr Yenn Lee, Dr Hina Shahid, Peter Baran, Hasan Pandor and Julia Stolyar.

Learn more here.


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