Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Sharon Rich

Second Advisor

Dr. Michael Downey

Third Advisor

Dr. Fredrick Ellett


This thesis examines the pedagogy of L’Arche, a marginal community for persons who have developmental disabilities and those who support them. Three core questions address the subject of the research: What is meant by the pedagogy of L’Arche? How might the pedagogy of L’Arche be investigated? Why is it important to know about the pedagogy of L’Arche? In response to these three questions, the research is investigative, analytic and interpretive. The theoretical framework for “what” is investigated draws from the writing of three scholars: Vanier’s concept of person, Vygotsky’s theory of the sociocultural context, and Mezirow’s theory of transformative learning. The research considers interaction between person and environment and suggests that the pedagogy of L’Arche is relational in origin, transformative in outcome, and often manifested within concrete relationships of shared mutuality and vulnerability among persons who have apparent disabilities and those who do not. In terms of research methodology, the theoretical framework extends to address the question of “how” inquiry should proceed. Adopting a qualitative approach, the research uses Hermeneutic Phenomenology. Participant observation and interviewing are used as tools for data collection. The lived experience of community members and observers of L’Arche give shape to articulating the pedagogy of L’Arche. The data collected includes a variety of artifacts such as text, images and oral narratives. Furthermore, to analyze and interpret the data collected, a Hermeneutics of Marginality is adopted. The findings expand and clarify Vanier’s suggestion that a person must be viewed according to his or her capacity for relationship, rather than his or her capacity for reason alone. Vanier’s insight stresses capacity for relationship over relationship itself and although the emphasis is puzzling at first, the research findings clarify that the pedagogy of L’Arche is not so much about relationship per se, but about the importance oî putting people first. By putting people first, the pedagogy of L’Arche comes to include two interrelated movements, one that recognizes a person’s capacity for relationship and another that exercises this capacity. Thus findings show how the pedagogy of L’Arche is lived out in the concrete immediacy of everyday life. Tn conclusion, the research questions are answered in these ways: 1) a tentative definition of the transformative pedagogy of L’Arche is formulated, 2) the salient characteristics of this transformative pedagogy are identified, and 3) three stages of transformation are described. The contributions of this study, its limitations and directions for future research are also discussed.



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