Author Archives: Peter J. Taylor

About Peter J. Taylor

Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (

Taking Yourself Seriously: A Fieldbook of Processes of Research and Engagement (revised & expanded)

A field-book of tools and processes to help readers in all fields develop as researchers, writers, workshop facilitators, and agents of change

A wide range of tools and processes for research, writing, and collaboration are defined and described—from Governing Question to GOSP, Plus-Delta feedback to Process Review, and Supportive Listening to Sense of Place Map. The tools and processes are linked to four frameworks that lend themselves to adaptation by teachers and other advisors:

  • A set of ten Phases of Research and Engagement, which researchers move through and later revisit in light of other people’s responses to work in progress and what is learned using tools from the other phases;
  • Cycles and Epicycles of Action Research, which emphasizes reflection and dialogue to shape ideas about what action is needed and how to build a constituency to implement the change;
  • Creative Habits for Synthesis of theory and practice; and
  • Connecting-Probing-Reflecting Spaces, in which participants support and learn from each other’s inquiries.

Researchers and writers working under these frameworks participate especially in Dialogue around Written Work, Making Space for Taking Initiative In and Through Relationships, and Refractive Practice—pausing to take stock and identify alternative paths before proceeding. These processes help researchers and writers align their questions and ideas, aspirations, ability to take or influence action, and relationships with other people. Many of the tools, processes, and frameworks are illustrated through excerpts from two projects: one engaging adult learning communities in using the principles of theater arts to prepare them to create social change; the other involving collaborative play among teachers in curriculum planning. Think-pieces that make up the final section recount passages in the authors’ ongoing journeys, providing points of departure for readers’ own explorations and affirming everyone’s ability to experiment and shape their own work and lives.


Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he directs the Graduate Program in Critical and Creative Thinking and the undergraduate Program on Science, Technology and Values. His research and writing links innovation in teaching and interdisciplinary collaboration with studies of the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context. This combination is evident in his 2005 book, Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (University of Chicago Press).

Jeremy Szteiter is a 2009 graduate of the Critical and Creative Thinking program and now serves as the Program’s Assistant Coordinator. His work has centered around community-based and adult education and has involved managing, developing, and teaching programs to lifelong learners, with an emphasis on a learning process that involves the teaching of others what has been learned and supporting the growth of individuals to become teachers of what they know.

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Organic Music Theory

Organic Music Theory facilitates creative choices from naturally occurring-organic-and self-organized universal elements. The author clearly explains theory drawn from the modal period in jazz then expands it into a range of applications. This work addresses anyone sensing the existence of a larger realm of creative choice.

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Ann(ie) Blum in Our Lives

Ann(ie) Blum in Our Lives, edited by Peter Taylor.

What does it mean to have had Ann—Annie to some—Blum in our lives? The letters and stories from family and friends assembled in this book, together with photos and words of Ann’s own, evoke her presence. They allow us to think about what we want to carry forward, into the lives we still have.

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The Truth is the Whole: Essays in Honor of Richard Levins

The Truth is the Whole: Essays in Honor of Richard Levins, edited by Tamara Awerbuch, Maynard Clark and Peter Taylor (2018)


Richard Levins (1930-2016) was an ecologist, evolutionary biologist, biomathematician, philosopher of science, complexity theorist, Marxist, and one-time tropical farmer. Key to all aspects of his thinking was a dialectical logic of process and change. His work provides a framework for the understanding of crises in environment and society and their analytic relationship with capitalism and imperialism, as well as the tools for the critique of biological determinist justifications for the existing structures of power. This collection of essays pays tribute to Levins by carrying forward his work in the development of the understanding of the dialectics of nature and society.

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River of Fire: Commons, Crisis and the Imagination

River of Fire: Commons, Crisis and the Imagination, edited by Cal Winslow of the Mendocino Institute

In this collection, artists and activists and scholars, poets, teachers and artisans–all opponents of capital and empire–reflect on art and history, on education, health and work and welfare, on the city, on nature and the country–in the context of what we call the commons, a term here greatly expanded so as to include not just natural resources such as land, forests, water, and air, but also other forms of common property, including intellectual, cultural, genetic, now all subject to enclosure. The commons, of course, is much contested terrain, the scene of great damage done, (and being done) by the present order of things, to ourselves and our planet, but also of inevitable resistance to the barbarities of modern life as well as to alternatives. Imagine? Can we imagine a better world? There is no roadmap offered here, certainly no line; rather commitments to commons in the here and now, as well as to a future where enclosure and privatization give way to sharing and art and work and life become inseparable, much in the spirit of the artist socialist, William Morris from whom we take our title, River of Fire.

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Book “tour” for Nature-Nurture? No

Join or arrange online Events on the Book Tour for Nature-Nurture? No. Moving the Sciences of Variation and Heredity Beyond the Gaps by Peter Taylor (The Pumping Station, 2014).

At each 60-minute Event Peter presents a vignette from the book, then participants are led through a 30 minute process involving writing, reflecting, speaking, and listening to make connections with their own work.

Technical requirements: A google+ account with audio and video plugins, reliable head set or earphones, and practice muting your mic when not speaking.

Two options:

  1. Join an Event already listed on this community.
  2. Find four other people who can participate at an agreed-on time (9am-9pm, any day), get confirmation from Peter (, thencreate an Event for this time on this community. (The convenor gets a free pdf of the book for arranging an Event.)


    Genetic is not genetic is not genetic…
    The implications of underlying heterogeneity
    Nature vs. nurture versus Nature vs. nurture
    Interaction, interaction, and interaction
    What to do if you think something significant has been overlooked for 100 years
    Why call something genetic variance?

Nature-Nurture? No (now available)

Nature-Nurture? No: Moving the Sciences of Variation and Heredity Beyond the Gaps, by Peter J. Taylor (2014)

Almost every day we hear that some trait “has a strong genetic basis” or “of course it is a combination of genes and environment, but the hereditary component is sizeable.”  To say No to Nature-Nurture is to reject this relative weighting of heredity and environment.  This book shows that partitioning the variation observed for any trait into a heritability fraction and other components provides little clear or useful information about the genetic and environmental influences.

A key move this book makes is to distill the issues into eight conceptual and methodological gaps that need attention. Some gaps should be kept open; others should be bridged—or the difficulty of doing so should be conceded. Previous researchers and commentators have either not acknowledged all the gaps, not developed the appropriate responses, or not consistently sustained their responses.  Indeed, despite decades of contributions to nature-nurture debates, some fundamental problems in the relevant sciences have been overlooked.

When all the gaps are given proper attention, the limitations of human heritability studies become clear.  They do not provide a reliable basis for genetic research that seeks to identify the molecular variants associated with trait variation, for assertions that genetic differences in many traits come, over people’s lifetimes, to eclipse environmental differences and that the search for environmental influences and corresponding social policies is unwarranted, or for sociological research that focuses on differences in the experiences of members of the same family.

Saying No is saying Yes to interesting scientific and policy questions about heredity and variation.  To move beyond the gaps is to make space for fresh inquiries in a range of areas: in various sciences, from genetics and molecular biology to epidemiology and agricultural breeding; in history, philosophy, sociology, and politics of the life and social sciences; and in engagement of the public in discussion of developments in science.

Available as paperback through online retailers in North America, UK & Europe, and Australia and as pdf directly from the publishers.


Book “tour” details

The Harris Narratives: An Introspective Study of a Transracial Adoptee, by Susan Harris O’Connor

The Harris Narratives: An Introspective Study of a Transracial Adoptee
Susan Harris O’Connor

This book consists of five autobiographical narratives by Susan Harris O’Connor, a social worker and transracial adoptee. These monologues were developed and performed around the United States in academic, clinical and child welfare settings to wide acclaim over the last sixteen years. They will be of immediate interest to scholars of race, identity, emotional intelligence, adoption, child welfare, as well as clinicians and those directly impacted in families created by adoption. The book will also speak to writers, performers and individuals interested in developing their voice through self-exploration. In her narratives the author explores in depth: the impact of foster care during the first 14 months of her life; her relationship with her unknown birth father; the role of race and racism for transracial adoptees who grow up in white communities; the development of her racial identity and a model derived from these experiences, and the relationships between her different identities or mind constructs, her inner strengths and vulnerabilities, and the outside world. There is a progression one chapter to the next, chronicling greater understanding, deeper reflection, and a developing voice. This is an original and sophisticated exploration of the inner life of a transracial adoptee and the forces that helped shape her life. It is at once a case study and an observation of the human condition with universal appeal.