These notes are excerpts, mostly taken from my email correspondence.
I’ve only recently come across your article Mapping the Past (in: Circumscribere, vol. 10, 2011). I’ve immediately studied it with the greatest interest. We certainly agree on the critical importance for an open society of context and time for disambiguating – loosely put – information content, or meaning.
From your article I’ve tried to gather what actual modelling language you recommend and apply for systematically including, if not prioritizing, context. So far, my necessarily superficial impression is that your methodological abstraction is less than what I’ve supplied Metapattern with. But then again, I might be terribly mistaken making such an assumption.
Would you be interested to jointly clarify this point? Do you have documentation available on modelling method/language?
Are there other subjects you would like to discuss? I also strongly feel that (p. 5) “the epistemic challenge” is what we should especially concentrate on. How else can we accommodate (p. 6) “a highly structured public knowledge space” while dealing with changing technologies?
I am of course already most in your debt for the kind compliments, in your article, for my work.
I am looking forward to your reply!
Thank you for answering my message! Actually, last week I instantly received an automatically generated reply to the extent that you were away on leave. Therefore, no worries, as I believe you’d say down under.
I hadn’t heard of Karen Barad and her work. Thank you for the reference! Of course, I’m most happy to have a much closer look by studying her book Meeting the Universe Halfway.
At very first glance it seems to me that what she calls “agential realism” might be largely equivalent with subjective situationism as I’ve labelled my own attempt at semiotics-equals-epistemology-equals-ontology. Please remember Peirce, indeed, arguing that with three such dimensions, rather than two, the “meeting” is not so much “halfway” as it is constituted tri-dynamically. :-)
I agree with your emphasis on “real projects,” that is, on experiential results, benefits, and so on. Recognizing interdependency demands, however, that in an information sense, too, projects may not be taken on in isolation. So, in order to be, and remain, practical regardless of scope, variety et cetera, a tool for modelling interdependency is indispensable. Metapattern was explicitly designed to meet both this real, practical need and opportunity.
The objective with Social Networks and Archival Context – thank you for that reference, too – seems to me too specific for its ‘method’ to be (more) generally applicable. Anyway, I don’t see how “agential realism” is accommodated … which is, admittedly, difficult to achieve as Barad does not seem to have provided a method/language for both unambiguously and coherently modelling differentiated behaviours … of agents.
If you allow me to continue to be blunt, :-) methodological abstraction for modelling, for tailoring variety through subsequent parameterisation, opens the opportunity to limitlessly expand “archival context.” How “social networks” are – now – conceived may then be productively positioned as – important as its results are – an early, say, phase of a gradually more encompassing approach.
I hope we can continue our correspondence.
Does Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC) implement Encoded Archival Context - Corporate bodies, Persons, and Families (EAC-CPF)?
“[W]here [I am] coming from” includes archival policy making for government at the national level of the Netherlands. My analysis, partly drawn from my experience at the time (1980s) as – what nowadays is called – chief information officer at a Dutch government ministry (Foreign Affairs), was that the archival function had become dangerously isolated in organisations at all levels of government. Indeed, in practice! Later on, in my capacity as advisor to a committee working on updating policy (1990) I therefore called for re-integration. For isn’t it all about information, anyway, and much the same information for that matter?
What the policy stipulates is that information should serve at least one so-called purpose, possibly more. First comes the interest/purpose of operations (1). Some of that information – and with minimal additions, if any, please! – needs retaining for the purpose of accountability (2). And then there’s the purpose of historical research (3). Other interests/purposes may be included as required.
Please note that the initial purpose of operations puts archival work back to where it originated. This change of policy has done much to regain recognition for archival workers as they once again directly served decision makers. Getting contributions noticed of course improved their position within and across government organisations. And an increase in both status and salary made the policy acceptable; it helped archival workers quickly overcome the usual resistance to change.
It is all about motivation, of course. When a decision maker ‘sees’ that money is well spent on archives to support first of all ‘her/his’ operations, s/he more readily agrees to funding the – proportionally minor – effort to cater for “future generations,” too (and may even feel proud to do so).
So, I find my attitude toward archives is quite practical. It is what theory should be directed at. When it seems that current theory is insufficiently practical, as it often is, I’m afraid, there’s in my view no escaping the practicality of developing a better theory, and so on. This is what a responsible engineer understands, and practices. Perhaps you’ve so far been forced to deal with engineers of the wrong kind. :-)
No, I am definitely not a “computer scientist.” If you take the (traditional) built environment for an analogy, we-as-world-citizens should be served by a range of professions with their practitioners working in cohesion.
I myself find most pressing the need for disambiguating information at the scale of exchange now being facilitated as a matter of growing routine with digital technologies. What is now required is not more technology, but semiotic theory oriented at practical exchange, et cetera. From such a theory reckoning with meaning(ful) variety at the relevant scale (!), technology should follow. The other way around simply doesn’t work. When you were expressing such criticism at most current technology-driven (non-)developments, I can only agree.
I’d like to limit this first response – thank you for your message! – to some initial, enthusiastic remarks occasioned by reading your co-authored paper on “a grand societal challenge.” I’m very impressed by the direction you urge ‘us’ to take. I couldn’t agree more.
New as the specific findings are that you report with the paper which you kindly let me preview, in a general sense I’m afraid I am no longer shocked. It has been with the need for principled reform in mind that I drew up a so-called manifesto (together with Paul Jansen). If you care to have a look, I hope its deliberate radicalism doesn’t make you reject it out of hand. With intended brevity, it is a manifesto, after all! :-)
If you allow me my immodest suggestion, discussing this manifesto might contribute to gain additional focus for the “movement,” helping “action” progressing through the “stages” towards “archival activism” and, more importantly, what/whom such activism is aimed at to emancipate, empower, et cetera. You’ll recognize that I’ve explicitly grounded what you call “archival activism” in, say, citizen activism. Assuming citizens as entailing the – only – sovereign power calls for an extension of the traditional trias politica. And while I was at it, in their facilitating capacity I included a registrative branch (registrar) besides the legislative, judiciary and executive branches. It results in a pentas politica. I would say that the idea of a registrative branch equals “archival autonomy” as you propose (and I strongly support). It seems the manifesto is cut out for your action goals, too. I’d of course be most honored if you make some use of it.
I congratulate you with already having catalyzed a National Summit being held in 2015 “as a vehicle for archival advocacy and activism leading to transformative action to address […] social justice and human rights agendas.”
I hope you appreciate that I’m anxious to learn whether or not you find my reference, made last week in response to the paper on archival activism you’ve sent me shortly before, to Person information in the information society, a manifesto at all helpful.
Reading back what here for you still follows, and before sending it off, I feel the need to apologize for what has turned out quite a lengthy exposition. Yet, I did make an honest attempt at relevance for all that you’ve brought up yourself earlier. Please don’t take offence when you find I’ve expressed myself too bluntly.
With the same constructive intent (from which I referred to the manifesto) I’d like to offer some remarks about what you’ve explained as your involvement with “archival context.”
First of all, as far as I am concerned “archival context” is a pleonasm. Anyway, I don’t believe it helps to suggest some specialised concept of context, i.e. derived from and/or oriented at archiving. For what is so special about archiving?
Doesn’t it sound rather more complimentary for archivists to change the statement to: What is so special about information management?
What is at stake generally is information. And context should be integrally reckoned with for information, context being – registered as – information, too.
Yes, I fully realise, and acknowledge, there may be tactical reasons to suggest a specialisation. For example, the work may not get funded otherwise. Certainly, then you are being “pragmatic.” Strategically, though, conceptual development and so on should be as general as possible. If not, your goals are not “achievable.”
It is a huge misunderstanding, and continuing source of enormous waste, that productive development of information resources & services is welcomed as “pragmatic” when starting from the simple, gradually proceeding to the – increasingly real as – complex. On the contrary, missing out on real variety ‘simply’ means having to start all over again after failure, and again … At least the design should cover real variety; development/implementation may (then) occur in stages (with design remaining ‘open’ to learn from added experience).
Of course, contexts are about differences. But don’t multiply differences unnecessarily. And keep their equally necessary cohesion controlled. Again, I find “archival context” stipulating an unnecessary difference, at least to start from.
When you are implying that whatever entities are eligible for exhibiting context, I most strongly agree!
You mentioned your objection to narrowing the scope. Instead, indeed, we should be actively broadening it. I would say that especially you yourself are thereby delivering a convincing argument for dropping the archival predicate for a productive theory for incorporating context.
You may stick it on, that is, the label “archive,” just on the outside when ‘selling’ a particular application. Don’t merely “open up the schema,” but go with the recognition that archives cannot be properly distinguished from other resources & services for information management.
Now, what should we actually be aiming at with a standard? Do you want to receive information from another source in order to – be able to – include it most efficiently in your ‘own’ source, subsequently serving users without having to rely, at the moment of their request, on the other source? That was a most sensible approach when reliability of means of communications didn’t meet the temporal requirements for user service. However, I would say that has changed dramatically …
One source no longer needs to maintain copies of information acquired from other sources. For reliable service to users, references must be available for distributed information to be collected as required. But, then, why not accept how a particular source keeps particular information? Conversion to some standard structure for, say, content may in fact compromise authenticity.
Standard(s) for content structure may of course be always useful when setting up a new source. Or when differences are irrelevant, please avoid them, if only for your own benefit.
For a federation of sources, however, structural differences for keeping content can never be eliminated (if only for ‘political’ reasons). In recognition of relevant structural differences, what should be standardised in principle are – only – references. Based on Metapattern, Martijn Houtman and I developed a model for coordinating references and collecting (further) information they identify. The English translation of how we’ve named it reads: Information Roundabout. So far, I’m afraid documentation is only available in Dutch.
We should abolish the practice of redundancy by re-sourcing (with its risk of loss of authenticity, its multiplication of so-called administrative burden, et cetera).
I admit being puzzled by what you refer to as “actually a pretty challenging idea,” that is, that “relationships should [also] be regarded as entities.” It cannot be that you’re saying that methodically you’ve come up with something new. For several languages/methods for information modelling exist that allow or even prescribe it. Entity-Relationship Modeling is even named after it. Then there is Object-Role Modeling, which might as well have been named Entity-Role Modeling.
What I suspect – and please correct me when I’m wrong, and take me to task for it – is that members of your group are insufficiently aware of practically distinguishing 1. method from 2. intended result through its application. As I see it, your result may be called a model. Let’s say, it is a nail that you want to drive through two planks in order to hold them together. For that task, you have a tool available, which you also know how to handle: a hammer.
Suppose you don’t know about hammers. Confronted with the task of connecting two planks with a nail, you might set out to design, develop, and so on, an instrument to perform the task. With hammers available as a commodity, that would certainly amount to a waste of effort, et cetera.
Of course, you’d be completely right to embark on trying to come up with a new method for modelling when you’ve established that existing methods don’t qualify. I found myself in such a situation, with Metapattern as one of several results. You may find my succinct report helpful for recognising what as far as theory and method go you may still need – and what is already available - for your task; arguing in Innovation dynamics across theory, technology and tool for “context” as “the first principle,” I declare that “Metapattern amounts to denying absolute existence for objects.”
Now that I’ve read Meeting the Universe Halfway, I know that Karen Barad has also arrived at that … assumption. On her account following Niels Bohr, she allocates reality to phenomena. Then, it is only within a particular phenomenon that agents become manifest with determination.
With action in her view only positively attributable within a phenomenon, Barad calls it “intra-action.” Please note that the scope of “intra” is not the separate phenomenal actor, but the phenomenon in question as a whole. Barad proposes that “an agential cut” divides a phenomenon into its actors. I would say that those intra-phenomenal actors … interact, but Barad apparently favours some neologism.
Talking about nails, as the saying goes, to a (wo)man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Barads proverbial hammer seems to be quantum physics. I would say that we don’t need the indeterminate nature of light in an absolute sense – is it a wave, or a particle? – for us to understand pervasive relativity. After all, you can’t have the cake, and eat it.
Anyway, Barad seems conceptually somewhat stuck in her allegedly Bohrian approach (talking about relativity, as I understand that she understands it). She does state as part of her numerous repetitions of her (meta)physics that some phenomenon in its turn must be taken as resulting from a “cut” within a wider phenomenon. She doesn’t explicitly qualify it as recursion. Had she done that, she might have come closer to formalizing a modelling method from “agential realism.” As it is, I don’t find her theory all that original. However, I certainly am most grateful to you for supplying me with the reference to her book. I did learn that she makes sense in several ways, and she has directed my attention to the (more) philosophical work of Niels Bohr, but I failed to recognize relevance for professional care of information. In fact, she deliberately forecloses developing her ideas towards results that I do consider practically productive. She is adamant to retain the predicate of objectivity for her theory. It keeps her away from cognition, semiotics, and so on. My impression is that Barad rather adds to confusion by mixing categories under (her) labels of, for example, “observation,” “measurement” and “discursive practices.” I am really not interested in “posthumanism.” In my opinion, Barad hasn’t anything to offer for an anthropology, social psychology, et cetera of information management. Of course, I am ready to be convinced otherwise …
“Agential realism” can be illustrated – and, allowing myself a claim, too, improved, or, as Barad would probably say, “reworked” – in terms of Metapattern. A phenomenon ‘is’ what according to Metapattern figures as a situated object (of, for that matter, objectified situation) exhibiting The logical atom of behavior (in: PrimaVera, working paper 2002-5, Amsterdam University, 2002). Barad refers to phenomena as “relational atoms” of which “the world is made up.” The phenomenon is “the primary ontological unit.” (Only) the intra-phenomenal “cut” yields, as Barad suggests, “agencies of observation” on the one side and “the object of investigation” on the other.
Such a “cut” is performed with Metapattern through so-called upward decomposition. It remains binary and assumes a situated object being constituted by both situation and object. What count as situation and object from the perspective of the situated object in question may in their turn – need to – be taken as situated objects, offering respective cuts, and so on: recursion. For Metapattern, it stops at a horizon.
What I would call, in your terms, “a pretty challenging idea” has shifted towards an integral treatment of context. Yes, “regarding [relationships] as entities,” too, is indeed critical.
Metapattern assists, when applied by an expert modeller, “to keep the informatics controllable and pragmatic.” For as a method, it comes with “strong practice guidelines.”
The main guideline has already been hinted at in my discussion of Barads work, above. The only way to recognise behaviour is through attributing it to a situated object. This principle may be applied recursively (which means one and the same “guideline” is repeatedly followed). How difficult is that?! The hurdle consists in the paradigm shift. Professionally, at the currently practicable scale of exchange ‘we’ must depart from logical atomism for controlling ordered variety of information. For most people, such a departure is counterintuitive (and/or they might feel it going against their own interests).
I also like to comment on multiple perspectives. Given the impossibility of drawing an absolute boundary between “archival mission” and what museums aim to achieve (and whatever other perspectives are relevant), perspectives must be explicitly included in what only then counts as an integral model. How? Perspective is a matter of … context, too.
With integral coverage, and only then, it is possible to start arguing – a bit more – rationally about responsibilities. What is immediately settled as ‘belonging’ to either archive or museum? Effort should be concentrated on what is ‘really’ contestable, resulting in compromises.
Please note that instances may be contested, while informational structure is shared. Right away focusing on instances distracts from benefits of common structure. Users of course shall benefit most; they should not be made to suffer from institutional battles.
My practical recommendation is that with information models of … information you cater for museums, too. Broadening the scope can only improve quality, even if application remains limited to – traditional – archives. And you gain initiative for setting the agenda for trading between ‘perspectives.’
When preparing this additional reply, I tried to (re-)formulate some ideas of a more principled nature. More or less unsorted, they make up the rest of this message.
It is not a sign. ‘It’ is a text, in its capacity as a signature. ‘It’ only is a sign together with context.
An important part of (my) context for these three short sentences, immediately above, is – the published model of – the semiotic ennead. Otherwise, no doubt, they are just incomprehensible.
Objects may be, in fact, often are, produced to serve as signs. (Also) when recognised as such, that is, having sign-ular purpose (confusion intended, see further below), more or less durable objects may be kept for eventual later use: archiving.
Its attributed sign-orientation qualifies an object for archiving.
There are no other criteria. In other words, additional criteria are irrelevant for a, say, general theory of archiving. They only may, in fact, do, come into play for some specialised archive.
Criteria entail limits. Especially when criteria are implicitly applied, rather sooner than later practical (!) limits are reached. It has caused, and continues to cause, actual archives not developing to full potential for serving users.
Problems remain insoluble without necessary and sufficient degrees of freedom. If so, first of all such degrees must be restored.
A specialised archive should therefore be understood as a most general archive operating under some constraints. With variable constraints, any specialised archive may be seen as derived from (also read: based on) a – theoretically: the? – general archive.
So, a museum is an archive, too. (It should come as a surprise when its information model turns out structurally different.)
Archiving is information management, period.
It should definitely not start from special(ised) direction, fixed with preliminary (non-)principles.
Information is always … form. It is an object form-ed to take ‘in’ something of a different order – which ‘makes’ it a sign(ature) – to facilitate subjective interaction: intersubjective behaviour.
As part of sign production, a signature is staged: context. More information, related …
Context is lightly forgotten in both theory and practice. A possible explanation is that staging may pertain to less durable objects. Another is that their perception lies outside of focus, which ‘means’ that they are less noticed in the first place; no, overlooking context is out of the question. Yet, an unambiguous boundary is impossible to draw for context. Then, the pseudo-control of concentrating on signatures is favoured.
Limiting storage to signatures, thus eliminating contexts, promotes ambiguity.
Whatever use of information constitutes yet another interaction, from which additional signs may, and usually will, originate.
As a sign (also read: information), in practice an object is not exclusively ‘about’ itself. In fact, it usually is hardly about itself, if at all.
Depending on the (in)formal rights at stake, whatever use(s) are considered, et cetera, information should be added: metainformation. De-sign-nating information as metainformation aims at halting regression at the earliest possible moment (privileging its ‘author’). Otherwise, metametainformation should be included, and so on …
What is generally spoken of as metainformation may serve the purpose of context and/or to facilitate managing (more) original information.
Equalling archiving with information management helps to recognise that what counts as metainformation for some ‘regular’ information may already be available through registration as ‘regular’ in its own right. Avoiding redundancy, adding a relation is sufficient for marking some information as metainformation for some other information: relativity.
Of course, a relation is then kept in-form-ed, too …
What starts by recognising a need for metainformation should not lead to separate information. It ‘simply’ all is information, including information on relations for particular purposes.
It is easy to fall into the trap of making separate provisions when, say, physical modes of information are still different. With original signs ‘on’ paper, metainformation is now provided for on a digital basis.
With original information increasingly, in fact, on a massive scale, in digital ‘form,’ this division is no longer forced upon the practice of archiving/information management. It is high time to adjust theory.
If the semiotic ennead already gives a better idea of the nature of interpretation, it confirms that context should not remain an afterthought for archiving. Instead, an integral approach is required.
Metapattern is a language/method for such integral modelling.
You really set me to work! :-) Attached you’ll find a draft paper I’ve just finished, Metapattern for complementarity modeling. I am grateful to you for letting me recognize an opportunity to explain, as I expect more convincingly than before by referring to a widely known framework in physics, i.e. complementarity, 1. what fundamental obstacle is apparently keeping us from developing the integrated information management that we so sorely need to be able to offer and 2. how we can, and therefore should, start here and now with a different approach to conceptual modeling to overcome it. I hope you’ll find time to read it, and to consider shifting to the paradigm I’ve outlined. When it was good enough for Niels Bohr ... I’d very much like us to join efforts.
Thank you for your reply with continued discussion. It all makes eminent sense to me! Yes, I am convinced we are “tackling the same thing” with our “slightly different language,” if the language is at all different.
When you care to take a look at the – metamodel of the – semiotic ennead, you see that concept appears as a teleological ... concept. For it is inherently motivated, through focus. For example, the concept of water varies with motivation. Are you thirsty? Or soaking wet? Et cetera ... And it is again different when I am thirsty, and so on.
The ennead “explicitly marr[ies] ontological analysis with teleological articulation.” The paper Dia-enneadic framework for information concepts (2003) provides a brief introduction to enneadic semiotics. You may focus on figures 1 and 4, first.
I very much like “situational informatics” as a designation. It seems that you are the first to have ‘created’ it for a name! Staking your claim in public, what about using it for the title of a paper? I’d of course be honoured to be considered as a co-author. :-)
Then, I would reverse the relationship. As I see it, conceptual modelling should do the supporting; it is an integral part of situational informatics.
What I am hoping that you’ll take from reading my draft paper on extended complementarity for, precisely, “situational informatics,” is for example that you just forget about “struggle[ing] with the W3C processes of ontological modelling.” For W3C effectively assumes logical atomism which is simply an insurmountable obstacle for managing real variety.
A way of trying to avoid problems caused by logical atomism is changing the meaning of ontology. As a strategy, it is habitually applied subconsciously, making it near impossible to get people to change such habit. Anyway, also for W3C (an) ontology is associated with a particular domain. It may seem for a while, then, that variety has vanished. For some domain is considered semantically fairly homogeneous (which it is not, but W3C et cetera don’t realise it yet). Anyway, what about exchange across domains? Variety rules. Isn’t that what is typical for our information age?
To put it bluntly, making ontology to mean a single domain model is nonsense, even counterproductive (making us spend time and money on projects that can only fail).
You are obviously attributing ‘the’ philosophical meaning to ontology. Where a.o. W3C stands on ontology constitutes a genuinely paradigmatic gap. It can only be closed by jumping (shift). Now, it is W3C et cetera who should do the jumping. The ‘only’ problem is that it is not clear to them that they should. On the contrary …
Please note that, as a first departure, domains as also W3C still views them could be juxtaposed as phenomena in the sense of Bohr’s complementarity (more general, in the sense of situationism), subsequently optimizing the order of variety (which can done be gradually). It is an example of where Metapattern might come in. However, without the proper philosophical orientation, Metapattern, too, is completely useless.
As long as we don’t change paradigm, we are stopped dead. And changing paradigm is of course exactly what Bohr did. He abstained from ‘attacking’ the obstacle that everybody still believed that needed to be overcome.
When you no longer aim at explanatory unity, but complementarity, the traditional obstacle is completely irrelevant. So, Bohr turned around and took off in the more or less opposite direction for securing consistency from variety.
At least for physics, Bohr’s was an original, imaginative move. We now need to shift paradigm for information management, modified accordingly. As you argue, teleology must be included. It corresponds with how I have tried to capture the nature of language with a slogan: every sign is a request for compliance. Yes, a sign refers to concepts. But concepts are motivated. Or, rather, the exchange of a sign is motivated. The motive for exchanging a sign corresponds with a situation. And a sign consists largely of context for directing the appeal at motivation. The (dia-)enneadic model of exchange outlines such dynamics.
Yes, of course, the axioms are – slightly – more elaborate. The subsequent gain in requisite variety, however, is huge. And we need it.
Standard is another concept that is widely ill-understood. Its end is not similarity. Instead, we favour a standard when it offers similarity as a means to the end of facilitating (including: promoting) real variety. For example, why does a traffic rule in Australia prescribe people to drive on the left side of the road? It is to ensure that more people can physically move more safely.
I couldn’t agree more that, if you allow me a generalized paraphrasing, “the standards we produce should enable [people] to actually do […] what they [need to] do rather than forcing them to appear to comply with some singular view of how [it] ‘should’ be.” When every sign is a request for compliance, then, for sustainable society we need to be especially aware of aiming our requests at promoting equity (which is, of course, a political statement I’m making, as you rightfully were doing already, by the way …).
From such a concept of sign, teleological through and through, indeed, an “archival practice,” too, can only follow – if that’s what you call “slightly different language,” you’ve put it beautifully – “where the hand of the archivist and the intent of the archivist [are] always apparent[,] and thus gives the user a reasonable chance of making sense (for their purposes) of preserved records.”
When I recently chanced upon your book Epistemic Responsibility (Lorraine Code, University Press of New England, 1987), it immediately raised my interest. I’ve subsequently read it with enthusiasm, and much agreement.
I hope you appreciate :-) that I am fully behaving in accordance with your argument for cognitive interdependence between responsible actors by drawing your attention to my extension of Peircean semiotics. See for example my paper Victoria Welby's significs meets the semiotic ennead (2003). From the so-called ennead, and so on to a dia-enneadic framework (Dia-enneadic framework for information concepts, 2003), you may find confirmation of the irreducibility of the cohesion between the equally vital distinctions I recognize you’ve been drawing in your book. And the reference to Victoria Welby (1837-1912) should of course match your interest in feminist epistemology.
What the ennead especially helps to understand is abstaining from an either/or mode for grounding concepts. As every concept is grounded by (a) motive, enneadically speaking, that is, belief is inherently ethical, too. There simply are no disjunct knowledge classes. In my view of semiotics, every sign is a request for compliance. It reflects Peirce’s pragmatist orientation. Both rigor and relevance require his concept of ground to be differentiated, hence the move from his triadic model of semiosis to the semiotic ennead.
I have of course no idea whether or not you care to return to your earlier work. For my part, your book once again forced upon me the difficulties that I encounter through acting responsibly. I just don’t seem to be able to raise a … response – a dissertation on the subject notwithstanding: well, who really cares? – while problems arising from holding on to a limited epistemology et cetera are increasingly, at least, so it seems to me, staring us in the face. In am practically referring to the lack of equitable infrastructure for what has become known as information society. Such an infrastructure is effectively still lacking, as particular – business – interests are dominant. First of all policy makers should shift their paradigm. At the end of your book you repeat to mention the critical ingredient for responsibility, i.e. “courage.” I agree with your appeal that we need (p. 254)
courage to become reconciled to areas where certainty is not possible[.]
In fact, we’d better start from the assumption that, as you clearly state,
subject matter is amorphous and, to a great extent, unmanageable[.]
the kind of understanding that can be reached will fall far short of perfect understanding.
This maxim is evident from the ennead. For there is always another situation, and so on. As we are ourselves in the process of making situations, too, there’s also no end to epistemic dynamics. But how do we change hubris into humility? How do people “in authority” come (p. 254)
to face[…] the fact of one’s own fallibility, of human fallibility in general, and of the need to acknowledge this fallibility if better understanding is to be achieved[?]
Thank you for, throughout your book, emphasizing (p. 254)
the demands of epistemic responsibility.
When you have time for a reply, please know that I am looking forward to it.
I have no way of knowing how much you appreciate being reminded of your book The Mind’s We (Diane Gillespie, Southern Illinois University Press, 1992). I really hope that you do, for I find you’ve written a most wonderful text. Also, I hope that you don’t … mind me contacting you about it. I’ve only recently read it, and have enjoyed it in many, many ways. In the process, I have also learned much from what I find is a clear, critically constructive overview, with your strong emphasis on constructive. Thank you!
Are you still actively engaged in – promoting – contextualism? If not, please let me know right away, so I won’t press any questions I am eager to pose to you.
Let me try to briefly explain my interest. Digital technologies should only be instrumental, period. However, as such facilities used to be conceived, and still are, for that matter, real variety of human behaviors is not at all taken into account (which is what you argue, too). For example, here in the Netherlands alone, every year several billion Euro of tax payers’ money are simply going down the drain, spent on so-called governmental it-projects that can only fail (and do, again and again). As you make abundantly clear, nothing can be realized from obeying absolutist assumptions to support members’ increasingly pluralist behaviors in a thereby increasingly pluralist society. Rather than blaming technology, and it must have been at more or less the same time that you were writing The Mind’s We, I attempted a metatheoretical – a concept you’ve also emphasized in your book – perspective. Some close reading of C.S. Peirce on semiosis led me to expand his triad – with which I assume that you are familiar – by allocating his somewhat general concept of ground to each of his tree original elements. First, a hexad resulted with context figuring as the ground of/for sign, situation as the ground of/for object, and motive as the ground of/for concept. Next, to accommodate dynamics I added mediating elements. In such an ennead, Peirce’s original elements have become dimensions, as follows:
sign: context- signature – intext
(f)act: situation – object – behavior
interpretation: motive – focus – concept.
Of course, like the triad it originated from, the ennead with its nine elements is irreducible. At, say, cross angles, the ennead now includes three partial correspondences, reminiscent of Peirce’s original triad:
context – situation – motive
signature – object – focus
intext – behavior – concept.
Dynamics may be envisioned by two enneads in a dialogical arrangement,
addressing both intra- and intersubjective behavior including cognition.
(Should you be interested in seeing a drawing, please let me know.)
The (meta)model of the semiotic ennead – but behavioral ennead would of course be an equally apt label, et cetera – acts to ‘ground’ a modeling method/language: Metapattern. Its succinct characterization is contextual differentiation.
To make a long story short, through the ennead and Metapattern I find that I have long since developed theory & practice to apply contextualism to the field of information systems. I do not seem to succeed, however, in making any progress in getting acceptance. There’s even not the beginning of a discussion. It just continues to be ignored …
I am curious to know how you evaluate the acceptance of contextualism in psychology. Has it advanced in the more than twenty years since you’ve published your book?
Throughout your book you explain, confirming my experience (and thus offering some consolation), why it is especially difficult, if not outright impossible, to find favor for contextualism. From a simplistic perspective, indeed, it runs counter to ideology of/for establishment. As it seems that decision-making positions are increasingly occupied by persons with such overly simplistic ideas – or are we ‘simply’ growing old enough to recognize it? –, what can we possibly do to help bring about qualitative change for the benefit of ‘we’?
I’d very much like to hear from you.
Thank you very much for taking so much trouble!
Frankly, I was already afraid that, as you say,
[c]ontextualism and metapsychology seem to have fallen off the radar screen in regular academic psychology.
During the last months I have especially concentrated on understanding why a
well-documented variety-based theory and a specific method, formalism and all,
for its application are not taken seriously. When attempts fail repeatedly, as
is the case with so-called IT at exploding cost, isn’t it about time to reconsider
assumptions? I would say that an alternative at least deserves a hearing, but
no, not even that. Throughout your book I see you mention and explain
rejection. While extremely helpful for my understanding, :-) I am also getting
increasingly worried whether or not we can really do something about it, i.e.
effect productive change.
As a modus operandi for making my own ideas somewhat clearer, I may sit down and attempt to strike up a written, simulated conversation. So, I now started taking several cues from The Mind’s We, in between barging in with my assumptions, and following up with comments for synthesis. It is coming along nicely. And putting it in writing provides an extra round of learning, for I don’t want to write down too much nonsense (and in English, my going is definitely slower). When I am finished – with a draft – I hope you don’t mind to have a look. Perhaps some of your students are interested to read what you have previously been up to.
I did read a book by Varela and Maturana, The Tree of Knowledge, but I found their concept of autopoiesis not situationist (also read, if you will: contextualistic) enough. Perhaps I didn’t properly get their message yet, so I’ll have another look.
I’ve never read anything from Pepper. From your book I find it clear that I have to catch up. As I am an avid collector of books, it turned out that Pepper’s World Hypotheses was already standing somewhere on one of my bookshelves waiting to be picked up … First, though, I want to go through The Mind’s We again in the conversational manner I’ve sketched above.
Yes, I would very much like to study Pepper’s article Middle-Sized Facts. Thank you, too, for your kind offer to send me a copy. (I looked for the possibility to download it myself, but failed to locate it.) Meanwhile, I suppose that the concept of middle-sized facts is closely related to that of “basic level categories” as you have reported in your book. I’d like to comment on that, too. Let me already quote from a message (original in English) I sent about ten years ago:
Did I already mention that I find 'middle-ism' an apt label for my outlook? The obvious association with 'muddle-ism' is intentional. It is the 'mystery' of the human condition. A (wo)man is always her/his own middle from where (s)he muddles. What the ennead’s dimensions allow is that (wo)man can recognize it as middle. For that's her/his (disad)vantage point in an — experience of — encompassing structure. When I speak for myself, I feel inevitably both caught in my middle/muddle and freed by dynamics (as I can move from one middle to the next, and so on). [see Notes on metapattern and enneadic semiosis, part 2: nr 13.93.]
Of Vygotsky’s work I only have some general idea (more books to read …);
development zones make great sense to me.
I find you have been completely right to attribute prominence in The Mind’s We to Dewey as a pioneer of contextualism. My experience is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to make a contextualistic remark, or a sensible remark in general, that hasn’t already been written long ago by Dewey. As Dewey derives his pragmatism from him, Peirce’s work might be mainly of historical interest to you. Peirce’s semiotics was important to me, because his triadic construct helped me to sort out and document my own ideas. With Metapattern, I had already developed a formalism for contextualism – subjective situationism as I called it, still largely unaware of contextualistic literature – and through Peirce (and Schopenhauer on the will; please note that Schopenhauer takes care of phenomenology, too) I arrived at a metatheory symbolized by the (dia-)ennead. And I am still in the process of figuring out what its gist is … (for which such simulated conversations are most helpful). Of course, real conversations would be so much more productive. Nobody seems to want to be bothered, though. A book like yours, then, comes as a great relief – when I am crazy, at least I am not alone – and a treasure.
Speaking about Dewey, he may also be considered as having extended some of the work by (William) James on pragmatics. Again, the question is why so far it didn’t catch on. I recently went through James’ The Principles of Psychology. My impression is that psychology has since re- rather than progressed. As you also make clear, it is almost all in metatheory. What James brought forward I found most interesting in that respect.
I had an admittedly superficial look, say, a first glance, at the article by L.W. Barsalou, Grounded Cognition (in: The Annual review of Psychology, vol. 59, 2008, pp. 617-64). He observes that
we are far from having a unified view. Furthermore, the diverse approaches that exist are not specified computationally or formally. (p. 620)
It is hardly surprising, I would argue, when ground is allowed to have so many unrelated (meta)meanings (as may be deduced from Barsalou’s article itself). I believe that it is precisely why – and where – differentiating Peirce’s concept of ground yields productive assumptions, i.e. grounded theory as an unequivocal metatheory. I have discussed it, once again in what I have drafted so far by taking cues from your book.
Thank you for promptly sending me Pepper’s paper! I didn’t respond right away because I first wanted to finish the draft of Invitation to contextualism that I set out to write after reading your book. It is ready now and you’ll find it attached to this message. (I have left Pepper’s work for a later project, while I did make extensive use of your account of it.)
Perhaps you find time to have a look. When you do, I hope you also find that I’ve done honor to you and your inspiring book.
On my part, now thinking about such obstacles with the benefit of knowing your work, I am grateful for your help especially to gain a deeper understanding why precisely contextualism meets with obstacles for getting widely accepted. Contrary to, as you call it, mechanism, contextualism does not really take hierarchy seriously, thereby making it inherently, to say the least, difficult to pass the gatekeepers of the powers-that-are who, being in that respect rather blind, maintain that (social) order depends on hierarchy (and, of course, on them at the top of it). Exceptions notwithstanding (but I still don’t know any), they just fail to – want to – ‘get’ interdependency, even believing it poses a threat.
Furthermore, writing this paper I have gladly taken the opportunity to take cues from your book to refer to my own semiotic work, pointing out what I believe to be some contributions to contextualism. You are of course most welcome to react. I also don’t mind at all should you want to share the paper with students, colleagues, et cetera. I am looking forward to any remarks, questions, et cetera that you and/or they may have.
I gladly take “so respectfully done” as a compliment, thank you! And you are paying me an even bigger compliment by finding it for yourself “meaningful to go back.” Indeed, what you wrote then and there hasn’t lost any of its relevance, on the contrary. Of course, as far as your remarks on meeting with obstacles for contextualism are concerned, that is not just a pity, but an outright shame.
Dreyfus, too, is on my reading list already for a long time. I haven’t been in a particular hurry, though, because I don’t expect to find arguments too different from my own on the subject of what computers can, or cannot, do (but, of course, Dreyfus has so much more to say). Then again, I may be very wrong, so, one day …
I don’t know about Bourdieu, but I did make quite a careful study of Foucault’s The Order of Things and, especially, The Archeology of Knowledge. For his “archeology,” he does not seem to want to have anything to do with cognitive psychology. I find (t)his position peculiar. I agree that he makes worthwhile observations on power. Actually, I would say that if someone holds an extremely structuralist view of power, of all people it must be Foucault. Yet, he refuses to be identified with structuralism. I suppose it has to do with his motive to stand out for recognition (at which he definitely succeeded). I do prefer your book, with the balanced introduction to contextualism you offer.
Thank you, too, for crediting me with an understanding of “social norm theory” without me even being aware of it as such. :-) Now that you’ve mentioned it, for this reply I had a quick look at Wikipedia. Indeed, it all seems about motives. And some statistical literacy already seems to go a long way to help a person to adjust her norms. But what do I know after the briefest of glances at such a somewhat popularized summary?
I agree that the “it” in the sentence you quote is – especially – vague. As I was correcting a few typing errors, anyway, I took the opportunity to remove that sentence. In what has become the opening sentence of that section, I specified “power” as “reductionist.” Context, indeed … I am only too aware of how it takes a struggle to explain contextualism in plain writing. So, I am sure that you may quite rightly point out numerous passages that are unnecessarily vague. I am grateful for your kindness not to confront me with such shortcomings.
Attached you’ll find the new draft. However, you don’t need to look at it, for other than removing that one sentence and five or six typos nothing has been changed.
For equating event with behavior I took my cue from Schopenhauer. He attributes will to anything. Well, why not? You see how such a tolerant attitude promotes formalism. When someone objects that, for example, a stone does not have a will, you can respond that it does, but with a value – I will have to find out whether Pepper means that by “quality” – set at zero. Like recursion, so-called boundary values are a great mathematical trick (and really nothing ‘more’).
With a particular stone taken as object, it does ‘behave.’ Dependent on – what is taken as – the situation, it continues to lie, it momentarily falls, it erodes, et cetera.
So, event can be taken to mean behavior … Doesn’t it rather sound like Alice in Wonderland?
Your question “Where would values fit […]?” is of course a critical one. An apparent detour may suggest an answer that remains relatively brief. These days, much emphasis is being put on evidence-based this and evidence-based that, and so on. If you take a look at the – drawing of – the semiotic ennead, my idea is that evidence refers to concept. And a concept is irreducibly motive-based. I would argue that motive-based is value-based, that is, values are a matter of motive. When you are motivated by thirst, you value water as a drink. It makes you interested in particular evidence, i.e. of the available fluid being drinkable water.
What if there’s no water available? You mention “existential elements in the situation happen[ing] over time.” What will you think of next in an attempt to quench your thirst? By the way, was water mistakenly taken for the “social norm” in the first place? Many an addict to, for example, alcohol has certainly developed a different norm to start out with when thirsty …
You will have noticed that I apply the ennead as (an) Occam’s razor, trying to “ fit” (meta)concepts, not getting overly confused by terminological differences, and avoiding unnecessary duplicates. At least for the time being, I find it serves that purpose, too.
The relativism that is implied by the triplet of cognitive/interpretative elements (motive, focus, and concept) might explain “novelty” as (re)configuration. A simple model would start from a bunch of loose units. They may be turned into nodes through (inter)connections. Now, activate a particular node as focus. From that alone, some nodes will ‘be’ (a) motive and yet some other nodes (a) concept. Change the focal node, and another triplet of motive-focus-concept results. When the same unit is activated as focal node at some time later, a different triplet may, and most surely will, result on account of other nodes added or removed and/or (inter)connections changed, and so on …
Please note that with such a “mechanism,” the “cognitive mass” as Peirce call it, is not like a digital computer, i.e. processing information. It just changes – active – state. What happens is integral to what it is (which may be taken as analogous to how an … analog computer ‘operates’). It would also explain parallelism, i.e. several such states spread over the cognitive mass active simultaneously, one for controlling breathing, another for …, et cetera.
I hope you don’t mind my excursions into cognitive-mass functioning. I feel there is ample room for better theories.
What I believe that I may contribute to contextualism is some (more) confidence about it helping to do both, i.e. it offers “a scheme for all interpretation” and argues for limiting “interpretation [to] the situation at hand.” It does both because of the concept of … context. It affords to consider one and the same sign(ature) multicontextually, corresponding to consider one and the same object multisituationally.
Let me proceed – trying to explain the comprehensiveness claim of contextualism/situationism – along the ennead’s dimension of (f)act, that is, involving the triplet of situation, object, and behavior. The object may be taken to exhibit behavior in any situation. Situations may be – interpreted as – changed, added, deleted, whatever. There is no end to interpretation. So, as “a scheme,” it is intended for “all interpretation.” It is of course ridiculous to expect that “all interpretation” can ever even be approached, even when not counting reality as changing. However, the “scheme” would go a long way.
Now, having made, say, a cut in reality from whatever motive, a particular situation results within “a scheme [potentially fit for] all interpretation.” With focus, semiosis results in a concept “to be of use in the […] situation” which by being acting in and upon will become “the next situation.” However, semiosis does not just include “the situation at hand.” As Peirce has generally stated, the whole of the subject’s so-called cognitive mass may be in some way or another ‘tied in.’ This is how we can experience learning; something that was “at hand” earlier is now merged.
I did already start reading Pepper’s World Hypotheses, so far only completing the first two chapters. Right away on page 1, Pepper explains that a world hypothesis aims to
deal with knowledge in an unrestricted way.
I prefer to say that the user of such an hypothesis is thus motivated, that
is, to accommodate, in your words, “all interpretation,” anyway, whatever
interpretations that she may arrive at and to do so least ambiguously. The norm
for clarity is contained in the assumptions (there is really no escaping
circularity which is what I find Pepper especially arguing in his first two
chapters). For contextualism as situationism it comes down to respecting
situation as a part to which further explanation should be constrained. Once
you do that consistently, the opposition resolves between “all interpretation”
and “interpretation the [particular] situation.”
At this point I’d like to point out what I find to be a mistranslation of the title of Schopenhauer’s main work, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung. The German word Vorstellung is translated as representation. Schopenhauer would probably not have been happy with that, especially so because his command of the English language seems to have been excellent. The German prefix “vor” means pre. What he meant, therefore, is not re- but prepresentation, that is, a concept in preparation of behavior. And I find it clear that Schopenhauer considers such a concept inherently willed (he often uses the term interest, too), for which I use the term motive. You see that for the semiotic ennead I am not only indebted to Peirce, but to a large extent to Schopenhauer as well.
I fully realize that I use terms with changed meanings. It is of course their context this make the difference. In a paper, context is made of terms, too. This suggests reciprocity. It is just what term – or whatever part of the encompassing sign – is focal or motivational, respectively. The configuration changes as you go along …
If by “merging” you mean that the result is a mixture of ingredients, I agree that root metaphors such as Pepper suggests cannot be merged. What I suggest, though, is still different from “dialogue” between them. Yes, they may be productively related. In fact, they should! I find they can serve to yield complementary theories, with one theory taking the what-perspective with another theory providing the how-perspective.
The what- and how-approach may be coordinated through contextualism. Perhaps one day someone may think of another, better way, but for now I don’t know of any alternative. For a what- and a how-view can each (and together) only be applied without contradiction for a particular situation, and with the situation dimensioned so as to secure precision. I wouldn’t know what comes first. And I don’t believe it matters all that much. In interpretation it is ongoing.
My idea is that what is “generative” of how. When you feel uneasy about a theory, it may well be that you are being forced to mistake how for what. I don’t mind a how-theory, on the contrary, but without a what-theory that is should explain there is actually nothing to understand.
The situational constraint is the door through which a contextualistic mechanism and, in its wake, contextualistic formism can enter.
On formism’s minimalism I already found relevant remarks by Pepper immediately on page 2 of World Hypotheses. He argues that
it is inevitable that the study [of world hypotheses] should include some theory of its own. We must try to reduce this to a minimum and to be aware of the minimum.
As I see it, contextualism is both what Pepper calls a particular world
hypothesis and a theory for studying hypotheses in the plural. Again, its
balancing potential lies in the concept of context. The requirement of
minimalism comes from an emphasis on metatheory. As such it may not run the
danger of overlapping with any of the theories it is supposed to allow as object
of study. On the other hand, as a theory in its own right it should not
entirely lack concepts, or it would be void. Then, what is ‘left’ are
primarily, say, metaconcepts form which other theories may be explained and/or
constructed. At the ‘level’ of formism, that is why I qualify Metapattern as a
language without properties (after the title of the book The Man without Qualities by Robert Musil). Metapattern
enables specification of properties, but doesn’t prescribe them in any way.
Thus, it can be taken in all directions.
The gratitude for being offered an “opportunity” is all mine.
Thank you, too, for writing me about your current volunteer work. I know all too well about project-based failures. Around 1980 I worked for about seven years for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs which includes the governmental organization for development aid, later renamed as international cooperation. Please don’t hesitate to call on me should you feel that I could make a productive contribution, for example on a contextualistic formalism for a “monitoring and evaluation system” as it requires a necessary and sufficient grounded theory. As you emphasize in The Mind’s We, whatever instrument should support real people with their real lives, that’s ‘all.’
I feel I should apologize for this message. It’s become far too long.
Thank you for following up on our correspondence. I find it a pleasure and a privilege. I gladly take your message as an inspiration to continue.
How nice that The Mind’s We has attracted another serious, appreciative reader! I do hope many will follow.
I am also honored that I am now in the company of an expert on Pepper. Thank you, too, for addressing your husband (who apparently missed the tower-building experience of your son and you :-).
I had the strong feeling that I should first write my comments on your book, say, as it stands, that is, reacting among other things on your use of Pepper’s framework with its so-called world hypotheses. As I am subsequently studying some publications by Pepper, I find confirmed what was merely a hunch before. For I am having some basic difficulties understanding his theory. Or is it theories? Well, there you go. What I already seem to get is that your use of Pepper’s work is in the range of – what he might have called – “middle-sized facts.” If so, it is precisely what to me makes The Mind’s We such an accessible introduction to contextualism, and not limited to cognitive psychology, but in general for sorting out “the chaos.”
By sending me Pepper’s essay Middle-sized Facts (1932) you have helped me recognize a development in his theorizing. (For) I have also looked at his book World Hypotheses (1942) and Concept and Quality (1966). Indeed, it should be far from me “to make large claims” on Pepper’s work but, then again, my interpretation is there. What may be traced, I believe, is that Pepper starts from elaborating upon middle-sized facts (1932). If you can bear with my attempt at tentative articulation, ideas reappear for his “root-metaphor theory” (1942), with middle-sized facts renamed common sense, root metaphors originating from common sense, and a separate world hypothesis developed by deriving categories from a particular root metaphor. Pepper identifies four, mutually disjunct, “relatively adequate world theor[ies].” Later still, to a large extent he departs from his principle that such world theories are mutually exclusive. He comes up with “selectivism” as an additional theory (1966). However, it does not seem to be additional in the earlier sense of World Hypotheses. In Concept and Quality, he puts it over and above other theories. His overt admission of – his claim for – its encompassing character is lacking, though. I can only guess at his reasons.
Talk about hypotheses, if the above sounds amateurish and way off, please set me straight. I am only too aware that my knowledge of Pepper’s work is very superficial.
Of course, it could be that I have so constructed a theoretical development in Pepper as to be able to express my agreement with his outcome, that is, an encompassing theory. Then, what I disagree with, however, is – his explanation of – selectivism as that theory. So far, the best candidate that I know of, is still contextualism. In the paper I wrote about The Mind’s We, I have tried to argue that contextualism should then be fitted with a, say, dual nature. It is both theory and metatheory.
Can that be? Well, not as long as we remain committed to a so-called first-order perspective. What we ‘just’ need to do, is to reposition our inescapable irrationality (also read: axioms). Yes, it is irrational to have a theory converge with metatheory. But it helps … You may compare it to zero in a number system. Zero is not ‘really’ a number, but it helps to establish a … system.
When you say that you are “most sympathetic to the formist world view after contextualism,” I would like to add a stronger statement: situation is form. There is no behavior except situational (as Dewey already argued).
The first-order way is to consider specific behavior to be a subset of general behavior, with form as the most general behavior. However, this does not explain what at the general level are contradictions. They only dissolve when a particular situation is taken as the (end-)limit of behavior. An objects shifts from situation to situation, (for) varying its behavior. It does not call on some first-order form in its contradictory fullness. If you want to retain the word form for the second-order perspective, form is needs be behaviorally empty, only serving to connect different situated behaviors (for the purpose of shifting).
That nothing exists outside situation (also read: context) is no doubt – still – counterintuitive, but it certainly helps solve problems in information systems – and I sure for many other areas about which I abstain from any “large claims” – that will keep us stumped as long as we continue to apply first-order formism, i.e. without ‘control’ from contextualism. In other words, I don’t think it is a matter of choosing between contextualism and formism. Say, without formism a contextualistic approach cannot be completed. The other way around, formism’s results are sterile without revolving around contextualism. In practice there is iteration to such an extent that it is difficult, even impossible, to tell one from the other. In order to model variety as unambiguously as possible, a contextualistic formism is indispensable.
If you allow me some further obnoxious remarks on Pepper, a critical juncture where he implicitly applies a first-order perspective refers to scope and precision. It seems he assumes linear scales for both, yielding absolutely (also read: acontextually) valid measurements. You must already know what I am getting at. Such measurements are unrealistic to assume, in fact, non-existent according to contextualism. What I find that Pepper is productively starting from in Concept and Quality, is “the purposive act.” (See motive and behavior irreducibly related in the semiotic ennead.) What count, therefore, are scope and precision of the particular act, making them relative (!) to the purpose. In fact, the situation is conceived proportionally to the precision required. Are you throwing darts in a pub because you would otherwise be even more bored? Or is your next throw decisive for whether or not you have to pay for the next round of drinks? Or are you a finalist in the Darts World Championship?
Scope, then, should contextualistically be taken as synonymous with … context. Precision determines scope as much as, the other way around, scope determines precision. It is not that scope (or precision) is good, therefore, more scope (or precision) is better. In their relative determination, they depend on the motive for the behavior or, in Pepper’s terms, “the purposive act.” Pepper, though, does not seem comfortable with relative concepts (as his emphasis on categories seems to indicate).
In this vein I’d like to make the observation that in Concept and Quality the absence of formism, mechanism, contextualism, and organism as world hypotheses is only in such labels. I find that Pepper devotes even the larger part of that book to how those hypotheses relate to selectivism. For that purpose, he reverts to the main categories he has identified for them. With first selectivism more or less derived from contextualism, subsequently chapters 11 and 12 cover selectivism and the main mechanistic categories, chapters 13 and 14 those of formism, and chapters 15 and 16 those of organicism. Again, why does he hardly mention those theories by the names he identified them with in World Hypotheses?
Perhaps such questions should not occupy us. I have already reached the point where I believe that Pepper’s later work is productive in its starting form “the purposive act,” but soon takes an counterproductive direction. I am not sure that I understand what you mean by “argu[ing] that in every context there is the emergent possibility of forms that further reveal context.” I completely agree when you are assuming some reciprocal relationship. From John Haynes I have learned to express it as a contragram: the context of the form is the form of the context. In this sense, also see above, I find that you are talking about a different formism, i.e. a formism co-existent with contextualism. Assumptionwise, of course, it is more articulated than what underlies a single first-order theory. The immediate benefit lies in recognizing, facilitating etc. variety. If that is a tall order, we can only neglect it at ever increasing peril.
For me, it assisted your exposition in The Mind’s We that you concentrated on Pepper’s work as put forward in World Hypotheses. There, I agree with you, he provides some clear indications that he takes, as you say, “contextualism as a key to his metatheoretical approach.” He has shifted this “key” to selectivism in Concept and Quality, practically even exclusively so (which amounts to a qualitative change compared to his earlier work).
“How” I “imagine” my “project” has over time become increasingly private. I haven’t lost hope, though, of it making a public contribution. As I cannot force anyone to take an interest, however, I feel the most and the best I can do is to document my ongoing work and make it available. I’ve stopped trying to get it published in journals. For peer review to work, an article should comply with peers’ world theory and its author with an affiliation that is familiar to the peers. I now have neither on offer, so there it stops. But I don’t want to be halted, as there is still a world to be explored with contextualism. I have chosen to continue exploring, if for the time being for my own interest, only. Publishing on my own website is done not so much out of vanity, but I derive a discipline from it. Even an imaginary reader helps me to focus. And publishing helps making progress. For example, I found it both important and realistic to write a commentary on your book. Constraining myself made it feasible. But it not only made that particular paper feasible. Being able to finish it, I am able to continue, now trying to understand Pepper’s work on whose trail you’ve set me, and so on, taking one step after another. Not bothering about getting published in whatever journal keeps the pace going, well, my pace. Of course you are right to argue that thereby the pace of finding the relevant audience is reduced to zero. What can I say? I feel I have to choose between making progress for myself and attracting an audience.
Occasionally I write a paper together with my friend Jan van Til. He has become expert on the semiotic ennead and with Metapattern, but he is still denied applying it for his organization. The argument goes that it is not (a) standard. No, of course it is not. How can anything develop if it is required to be a standard from the outset? So, it is just an off-setting remark. You know all about such rejections. Anyway, as he told me when we met last week, Jan has read and reread my paper on your book with keen interest; slowly but surely …
My publishing ‘career’ in the US is limited to the book Metapattern: context and time in information models (Addison-Wesley, 2001). I would say that only very few Dutch authors have made it to that stage, that is, a book in a reputed series from a reputed US-publisher. At the time, a comment was that the book was years ahead of its time. It didn’t help. :-)
I hope I am not drawing the wrong conclusions, but private is perhaps how you came to think about your work on contextualism, too. You had written, with much effort, a book on it. You overcame your fear, which I especially respect. What you explain, should be perfectly clear to anyone. So, why didn’t it catch on, gain interest? Simple, really, because there is not yet interest (also read: motive) to begin with.
When I read The Mind’s We, though, its contents immediately resonated. You not only clearly introduce contextualism, but also provide a preemptive analysis of difficulties for getting it properly heard, et cetera.
So, there are all those papers, et cetera, on my website. What are the chances that I get lucky enough for any one them to reach an interested audience? Slim, indeed, if not non-existent. I tried, anyway, and continue to try. And with your messages you confirm that is really worth trying.
It is very, very rewarding to hear that
our correspondence has spurred me to think about the connections of my book to my more recent grounded theory research projects.
Isn’t always the next step most likely through “the connections”?! I am most interested to learn how you think about making them ‘work.’ By the way, isn’t it what you are thinking of for grounding “a holistic m&e system”?
Thank you for so hospitably responding to [her] introduction!
When I wrote about being happy to make a contribution, of course I meant it in the sense that first of all I should be the learner, i.e. trying to understand what Tostan aims at with, as [she] sketched in a recent email message to me, a
more holistic integrated approach [... to] monitoring and evaluation system [which is] see[n ...] as revolutionary.
I would say that key is how [she] views, as she suggested for her approach in her email message to you,
connections between my work on contextualism in psychology and education and my recent research projects and volunteer work with your m&e department.
In some more detail, as she has let me know, she is thinking
about the connections of my book [...] to my more recent grounded theory research projects.
I find that an exciting and promising prospect.
At the level of such “connections,” then, something of a metatheory would result. It might be called holistic, but regarding practically supporting m&e it should be converted into both recognizing and facilitating variety ... with such variety changing ... However, there should not be run-away variety. As rightly indicated by “holistic integrated approach,” it must be integrated, too.
How that can be done form(istic)ally, requires a radical departure from the traditional concept of form. Difficult? It simply follows from radical application of the concept of context (with which we are not yet very familiar, hence the ‘difficulty’). When I come up with a modeling example, I’ll be able – and be most glad to do so – to explain it more easily.
(Meta)modeling is where, I believe, I can make a highly practical contribution. What counts for Tostan as “the holistic nature”? Turning it into an operational concept, et cetera, requires the outlook of integrated variety. That way, dynamics of – application of – grounded theory may be formally modeled, and adequate tools subsequently developed. Please note, with context as a structural (meta)concept, and time, too, for that matter, there is also the best chance to continue to use existing tools; what then needs to be added, only, is a separate means for their integration.
You might be worried about “the holistic nature” getting lost in form(al)ism. That is why the, let’s call it, modeling method/language for the purpose of flexibility is minimalist on metaconcepts. In other words, it is completely up to [cooperating stakeholders] to decide on relevant – variety of – concepts, and their interdependency. Of course, leaving it to a dogmatic modeler you’d still be in deep trouble.
But I am getting ahead of what, in my opinion, should come first. It is what, above, I’ve called [her] metatheory.
And could you explain a bit about “mixed-methods data”? I am sure you don’t mean “mixed” as in a pancake mix, where the original ingredients can no longer be identified. Do you mean multimethodology, i.e. arguing for using whatever methods seem relevant, changing them whenever it seems relevant, in short, practicing grounded theory?
Of course, grounded theory wouldn’t be grounded theory when knowing about the practical possibilities for dynamic multicontextual modeling couldn’t help theorizing. :-) From only a – hint at the – most general metatheory for the “holistic integrated approach,” therefore, I could already contribute a visual modeling example of contextualistic formalism.
In fact, what I wrote is not really a “summary” of the book. It is more of a strong recommendation to read The Mind’s We for yourself … which is what you already did! My belated paper Invitation to contextualism might still interest you, though. I have taken Diane Gillespie’s introduction to contextualism as an opportunity, indeed, to add some “thoughts and reactions about it.” More specifically, I refer to enneadic semiotics as a productive metatheory, i.e. oriented at operationalization, and to a modeling method/language (Metapattern) for designing et cetera resources actually facilitating a (multi)contextualistic approach applying digital technologies. Not only does The Mind’s We provide the most sensible and accessible (!) arguments in favor of contextualism, but it also clearly demonstrates why other, say, paradigms fall short (saving anyone a lot of trouble). However, as especially logical atomism is still dominant in information sciences, left largely implicit so as to make a necessary paradigm shift all the more difficult, so-called systems come out sub-optimal (to put it mildly). Reading The Mind’s We should assist making the shift. Of course, the book’s relevance is general. I mean, it is not at all limited to cognitive psychology and/or information sciences. Then again, information systems are always just means, that is, inherently contextual, too.
Regarding my paper, please feel free to forward the link to anyone you might feel could be interested Gillespie’s introduction annex overview.
Is Construx the “software company in Bellevue” you work for? About thirty years ago I worked as a civil servant, in a job that would now be called chief information officer, for the ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. In 1986 I started my own r&d practice (Information Dynamics). Commercially, it is a complete failure … which I’ve come to accept. Academically, by the way, I didn’t fare much better. Gillespie’s book added some comfort, because she also explains – as has apparently been her own fate with contextualism – why a qualitatively different approach meets with resistance, ranging from negligence to excommunication. Now you see why I am motivated to recommend her book. I am convinced that ‘we’ need contextualism for real-life variety. It follows that contextualism should also, even especially so, be incorporated from the ‘ground’ up in the information systems that we help design, develop, and so on. So, let’s push it.
Thank you for referring me to the paper See through words by Michael Erard. Of course, I have read it with what has become an unrelentingly semiotic preoccupation. :-) Dia-enneadically speaking, one participant in the sign exchange is the sign producer. I did consider calling her the sign engineer. So, it sounds familiar when Erard now argues that “metaphors [are] engineered to affect us in a specific way.” In fact, signs in general are, for which I came up with the slogan “Every sign is a request for compliance.” And I would say that metaphor is even an illusionary category when we realize that signs irreducibly mediate between objects and interpretants (Peirce). To paraphrase Kant, just as it is impossible to know a Ding-an-sich, it is equally impossible to express it as such. That effectively makes every sign metaphorical … Then, Erard may be seen to offer some suggestions for producing a sign so as to improve chances for the sign consumer’s compliance. If you allow me to be somewhat critical, his advice would have been even more to the point from an explicitly contextualistic perspective. The Mind’s We is really all around.
What a beautifully apt Shakepearean quote! How densely packed, contextually alert! You have also caught my uneasiness about Erard’s paper. I tried not to return too blunt a comment after you had introduced it as “a delightful essay.” Apparently, I couldn’t pretend and thereby failed to be courteous. I apologize. :-)
I’d like to point to the “communal perspective” you have emphasized for “contextualistic cognitive psychology” (The Mind’s We, p. 25). I find it follows that “imagination” and “creativity” serve a person’s communal “presence.” Being communal (also read: interdependent), the “presence” of other people et cetera is invariably involved (ecology). And I would say that changing a community should be, even especially so, communally undertaken.
Appreciating and promoting different contributions to ongoing community seem habitually frustrated, that is, by “habitual ways of seeing the world.” Well, that’s how I see it. Contextualism would help. The problem with people who pride themselves on their rationality seems to be, though, that something needs to be understood for it to be … understood. But then, is contextualism ever possible to understand from, for example, logical atomism? No egg, no chicken … Many people allow no room for “novelty” in the sense of “disrupting” a habitual hypothesis, and substituting another for it.
Where to start? Surely, the answer lies in the education of our children. But what about us as educators? Aren’t we the ones falsely priding ourselves?
Yes, dialogue helps, thank you!
Talk about understanding, a comprehensive idea of Pepper’s work seems too tall an order for me. As I already said, from Concept and Quality I get the strong impression that Pepper finds that its contents supersede his previous work. What he explicitly maintains, only, is his method for developing a so-called world hypothesis, i.e. starting from a root metaphor and subsequently specifying categories. However, he now aims for a single world hypothesis, rather than presenting a set of mutually exclusive hypotheses. He sort of indicates that – what he calls – his new theory of selectivism might be sort of related to contextualism, but then again, it may not … Anyway, Pepper does not provide a comparison between contextualism’s categories as suggested in World Hypotheses and the categories for selectivism put forward in Concept and Quality. And in Concept and Quality, selectivism’s categories appear more or less out of the blue. Starting from quality and concept as his two, I would say, main categories, “two lists of categories” follow (Concept and Quality, pp. 28-30). He claims “that these two sets of categories are closely parallel” (p. 30). That figures, for he is after (p. 27)
both a highly articulated qualitative description and a highly articulated conceptual description which refer to exactly the same actual process.
For Pepper with selectivism, quality stands for “inner feelings” and concept
for “outer behavior” (p. 24).
It took me a while to digest that Pepper intends the (sub)categories to descriptive. Frankly, I find it a rather haphazard mixture of objects, attributes and attribute values. Of course, these are categories, too, and therefore not beyond arbitrariness.
I checked The Mind’s We and established that Gillespie has wisely only borrowed Pepper’s, say, supercategories, i.e. the four theories he identifies in World Hypotheses. I agree that they really help her to categorize theories in cognitive psychology (and beyond).
I cannot image that a cognitive psychologist would seriously consider applying Pepper’s detailed categorical scheme for contextualism (World Hypotheses) and/or selectivism (Concept and Quality). And I fail to see how it could be useful for information sciences; for one, it lacks structural integration with, respectively as semiotics.
That was easy! Thank you for referring me to the brochure you’ve written. Great! I suppose the “theory of change” is all there, even when you didn’t use those very words. And when you said the brochure is “still accurate,” I take it that you were in particular referring to the theory. You won’t get any comments from me, because I just agree throughout, period.
It does make me wonder, though, what it is that you are apparently no longer satisfied with as far as the current m&e system goes. It seems to serve its purposes well enough … Why change? Do you want it even more “remarkable”? Do you feel it is not yet sufficiently equipped for “the holistic integrated approach”? Just some keywords with an operational flavor would already help much (and I hope you don’t find me too inquisitive, but I want to have something sensible to say during our scheduled phone call :-).
On my part, I can already make some general remarks regarding quality of information (instead of information, I believe you would say: data) for m&e. For example, some thirty years ago and working for the (Dutch) ministry of Foreign Affairs I initiated – and got my way – having it abort its ‘traditional’ accounting system. Please note that all Dutch governmental development aid was administered with that system (the diplomatic service being covered by far the smaller part of the overall ministerial budget). Administered? Well, that is what politicians and administrators thought …, but they were quite mistaken. For it was they who had thought up all sorts of additional requirements for information that they wanted reported by local project personnel for centralized managed purposes (and especially to look good as a donor country with OECD). Yes, their figures did look good in Paris, at OECD headquarters, but what they were receiving in The Hague at the ministry was nonsense, and therefore increasingly counterproductive. For their additional requirements just didn’t make any sense from a project (also read: operational) perspective. So-called management decisions made on the wrong basis were of course ‘in the field’ subsequently ignored, and so it went on, with monitoring & evaluation becoming more and more surreal (but nobody recognizing how to escape from it). As it is operational people who do the registering, it is only operationally useful information, i.e. information they will use themselves, that gets reliably registered. Given the right explanation (and support), they really don’t mind other people also using it, that is, making additions, subtractions, multiplications, whatever, but the ingredients for analysis et cetera should be kept strictly operationally relevant. So, that’s what we changed, to great relief all around, eventually even at headquarters (as management they were again taken – a bit more – seriously, and by adopting a ‘simple’ system a huge amount of money was saved that could be redirected to achieve operational goals). I hope I didn’t bore you with this …
Recently, you did write me that you “will be looking forward to [my] response to the rest of Pepper's World Hypotheses and his article Middle-sized Facts.” :-) Indeed, I have continued to spend time studying Pepper’s work. I am increasingly glad that I postponed it, and first concentrated on firmly grasping the message(s) in The Mind’s We. I now recognize – please correct me when you find that I am wrong – that you have only used a small part of his work, albeit the most visible, but that it is precisely the part that optimally fits your purpose of sorting (out) psychological theories.
Had you gone beyond his classification of four (main) world hypotheses, you would have had to deal with his respective categorizations, too. That might have ruined your overview, and your argument for contextualism.
Anyway, perhaps you do make perfect sense of Pepper’s detailed expositions, but I really cannot. And where, in my growing disagreement with his framework, I could still more or less follow Pepper in World Hypotheses, I totally lost track in Concept and Quality. One reason, I think, is that in the later book Pepper hasn’t laid out a track to follow in the first place. At least, I didn’t find it, despite looking for it all over. He simply jumps in with some categorization for his now favorite world hypothesis, selectivism, apparently expecting the reader to share distinctions that subsequently he himself constantly seems to shift. Especially with selectivism, though, whatever shifting could be clearly explained, that is, on the assumption that every selection involves conceptual differentiation. As I see it, Pepper skips this productive metatheoretical provision. Instead – again, as I may experience by mistake, and thereby doing Pepper grave injustice – he believes that what makes a world theory is that its categories are universally applicable. Well, yes and no, as I have suggested in Invitation to contextualism. An actor is ‘doing’ world theory (be)for(e) making a selection. Then, after having made a selection, she is necessarily ‘down’ to (a) theory specifically appropriate to it. What Pepper is trying to pull off, and why his philosophizing remains largely traditional, is having the cake and eat a separate piece of it in the manner of still having the whole cake. Admirable an attempt as it is, on the issue of world hypothesis – which could also be called metatheory – it is bound to confuse rather than clarify.
In the majority of the chapters in Concept and Quality, Pepper is – not really – chewing on all sorts of subjects known from philosophical tradition. Of course, all over he has much of great interest to say. To me, however, he does not clarify selectivism, on the contrary.
Again, I am sure much can be learned from Pepper on a host of particular subjects. Especially in Concept and Quality, there is enough to occupy a diligent reader for years. But I don’t see how Pepper helps to promote contextualism, which is the interest I pursue. Of course, it is always well worth investigating at some length, for in advance you never know …
Should you find my judgment is unfair, I repeat, please set me straight. I don’t want to be unwarrantedly critical. But neither do I want to be uncritically respectful, thereby blocking much-needed development of (meta)theory.
I am afraid same time on Monday the 29th does not fit. Earlier that day, or almost any other day, is fine with me. I would like some written documentation, though, that is, if you have anything to spare. Then, I could provide you with a modeling example exhibiting (multi)contextualistic features. Thanks!
This is just to let you know that I have received your references in good order, thank you! I started to read the “long report” which I don’t mind at all. I prefer having the opportunity to properly understand what it is all about. :-) I am enjoying the pervasive humanism of both the program and your evaluation. You might as well have been researching whatever community, providing suggestions et cetera for any social worker wherever. I am living in a so-called developed country, but I am not prepared to start an argument where the need for community empowerment programs is greatest.
I am happy my judgment was right about the mileage you got from Pepper’s work. It is comforting to know you were “perplexed,” too. My impression is that he became enamored by what he must have considered breakthrough discoveries in experimental psychology, seeing an opportunity for a theory of everything. Almost continuously during my reading of – admittedly, parts of – Concept and Quality I thought, if only Pepper had carefully read William James’ The Principles of Psychology, the long course, that is. Of course, he might have, but then I cannot recognize any sign of it (although he does refer to James).
Now, I have to return to the “long report” …
Do you mind when I already share some rather loose remarks? Please reply
immediately :-) when you feel my impressions are off.
In your previous messages you’ve mentioned, among others, Vygotsky and Rogers. Especially Rogers’ framework helps me to articulate what should be covered with so-called monitoring & evaluation.
A strong emphasis is placed, and I can only agree, on positive change potential of a community. As I understand Vygotsky and how you see it, a community’s zone of proximal development should be such that [your empowerment program] can help it move from “potential” to “empowerment.” Am I right to taste a strong Socratic flavor in “values deliberation”? I also wouldn’t know how else anyone could responsibly promote, in another woman or man, or in her – or himself, for that matter – awareness of – … responsibility for her/his actions. Yes, Socrates had norms, too, using subtle force trying to … enforce them (with Plato often making fun of him).
I would say, though, that where and when [you] commits [your]self to assisting a community, the really critical phases of change are already past. Referring to Rogers, apparently there is a champion present, and in its wake a number of innovators prepared to act in an organized fashion (participating in class and/or as members of the management committee).
I find that getting to the stage where there is a champion, and even a critical mass of – potential – innovators, too, invariably is the hardest part of change. From there, in comparison it is more or less down-hill (which could still be difficult enough).
I haven’t been able to learn from the documentation to what extent [the development organization] itself puts in an effort to, say, secure such critical success factors or, as I heard also [your colleague call them in his video-taped talk, preconditions.
Again, Rogers may help. Shifting perspective from a single community with individual persons to a geographic region with several communities, it could be that regionally Tostan and its community empowerment program has already ‘reached’ the stage of early adopters, or even a further stage, meaning that getting additional communities wanting to sign on no longer (!) requires special effort; community candidates are then becoming interested through “organized diffusion.” If so, that would be a – most! – remarkable achievement, indeed, for which [you] deserve the highest praise. And I feel it should be highlighted in your so-called Theory of Change.
Or do [you] still need to actively, say, solicit community applicants for its program? As I said, from the documentation I cannot make it out yet. But then, that would even be [your] most critical contribution. As such, I would concentrate a large part of m&e on it.
Given Tostan’s] policy to only engage with communities that meet certain preconditions, what does it do to make certain of them? And what may count as a community, in the first place?
And supposing that n communities are ‘inviting in’ Tostan, but it only has the capacity to run its program with m, how is the selection decided (when m<n)? Is there a ranking of values of preconditions? But then, aren’t preconditions essentially qualitative? I would say that preconditions may vary with the community under ‘evaluation’ for – further – engagement from Tostan. Do they?
For publications, of course, there could be all sorts of reasons to downplay community selection, as it could touch many sensitivities. I can think of not wanting to risk political support in host countries. As a donor, though, how a community is selected more or less determines the programs’ success, so I would really want to know how it works, how it might even be improved upon or not, et cetera.
Anyway, as a designer I am inclined to start from those preconditions. They seem illustrative of variety. For they both result from whatever-went-before and launch what-comes-after. Their differential ‘behaviors’ require equally different contexts for sorting them out unequivocally. And what are relevant as such preconditions of course changes over time.
Preconditions, too, lead to so-called indicators. Change, then, is ‘measured’ as the difference between a post- and a precondition. When you look it like this, the term precondition as used may even be somewhat confusing. There are ‘items’ to look for in a community. Before you look, they are preconditions, and after you have looked, they are postconditions. Then, some of the decision-to-engage postconditions may turn into preconditions for measuring the change effected by the actual engagement, i.e. running the program.
Then there is the difference between what Tostan postulates as precondition, and what community members reports as relevant change (which may, or may not, ‘fit’ as a postcondition). Does it make sense to ask community members for expectations (that could be ‘translated’ into preconditions)?
As part of a Theory of Change, what is required for monitoring & evaluation is an explicit Theory of Conditions.
Am I right to recognize that Tostan has identified two ‘differentials’ for evaluation? What has changed from 1. a community of potential to an empowered community and 2. an empowered community to a sustained community. Again, I would say that even the most critical evaluation occurs from any community to a community of potential?
In principle, for every differential the same evaluation methodology applies. If this assumption holds, it means that [the organization] may vary what it evaluates: flexibility.
About “indicators” I read that they “are to be developed.” Do you already have any concrete ideas?
Am I groping in a constructive direction?
Meanwhile, I would like to continue to (mis)use the prerogative you so kindly awarded me, that is, to act upon my ignorance of T and ask what must seem the most elementary questions … I am grateful for your patience and tolerance.
What really stands out for me, so far, is T’s reputation. What an asset! It must have been hard-earned. What I would like to suggest is to treat it as a variable, with values changing along Rogers’ famous S-curve for diffusion. As such it captures the change in T’s … theory of change (toc). For example, when it still is up to T to win a so-called champion in the first place, the relevant toc is of course very different from trying, or not trying, to convince laggards. So, with changing context, toc changes … And with toc relativity, monitoring & evaluation is accordingly relative. At least, that is what I would assume.
When you say that “this is right where [monitoring & evaluation] is[, i.e.] hav[ing] been asking these very questions intensely for the last year,” could it be that m&e’s current approach is actually perfectly in tune with T’s overall position it now holds for itself (!) on the Rogers curve?
What does it say in the toc-draft on m&e? First of all
the T-approach [...] does not lend itself easily to traditional results-based monitoring and evaluation methodologies.
When a different methodology for m&e is in order, then, what is it? The following causal relationship is suggested:
[T]he success of [the program] in facilitating community empowerment [...] is directly dependent on the validity of the T-approach and the effectiveness of its implementation.
I am not sure that I can follow. Isn’t it rather that you would want to
understand what has actually changed, and in particular what might have been
the contribution from administering the program? With the resulting change
considered ‘something’ between utter failure and utter success, you may draw a
conclusion on validity and/or effectiveness. Isn’t that one of the reasons that
you do m&e for? You want to learn whether or not the approach and/or
implementation need adjustment, that is, to improve upon validity and/or
effectiveness. Therefore, you may not be read as seeming to make assumptions
about them (which is how I have read it, there; other readers may then be
A distinction seems to be made between “community empowerment” and “[s]ustainable improvements in individual and community well-being and human dignity.” Such improvements,
while not necessarily the result of empowered communities alone, it is certainly a likely outcome of their efforts, and by extension the T-model.
I would say that those are results that you are really after, with
empowerment as the means. What I would be especially (!) interested in, then,
is to learn the extent to which empowerment the T-way is critically important
for setting off “long-term changes (impacts) in social, economic and political
conditions.” For why bother, when no positive impacts result?
As I’ve read it, your “long report” clearly and convincingly establishes this link. You have gotten all the testimonials and endorsements you could wish for, pushing T’s reputation and thereby making the empowerment program increasingly desirable for further communities to sign on to.
In the toc-draft, interdependence is called (p. 5) “[t]his final notion.” If you want to set up a m&e system beyond the method and scope (four communities) entailed in “long report,” interdependence would – still – have to be taken as its guiding concept. I believe that is where your characterization “holistic integrated” comes from.
The toc-draft states:
There are five aspects of the TOC that we will want to measure in terms of performance and progress towards the achievement of results in the forthcoming [m&e] system[.]
Please tell me when I am boring you, but when you are designing a system,
initial formulations are especially critical (and please note, too, that
English is not my mother tongue; so, I am especially liable to make mistakes).
Well, you are not measuring toc. Instead (at least, that is how I now understand
it), toc serves as the framework for community empowerment through a program to
be delivered by T. It stands to reason, then, to apply that very framework to
m&e, too. In that sense, you do the measuring “in terms of” toc. And
accordingly I am starting to feel that the “five aspects” as they have been
identified for m&e run somewhat counter to the overall idea of
interdependence (which I strongly adhere to).
Take what is proposed as “[t]he fifth area [or aspect], management performance.” As I have already tried to warn against (recounting my experience with financial reporting on Dutch governmental development aid as an example), please, don’t even contemplate “a separate set of monitoring tools.” Instead, – continue to – concentrate on tools required for the implementation of activities undertaken by T’s staff. You will not get information any more reliable than that. Just use it for m&e, too. It might be that you find some information missing for the purpose of m&e. In that case, you might want to reconsider. How badly do you actually need it? When you remain adamant, try not to bother – operational – staff with registering it … or make it operationally relevant to them. Think of it in the same terms of change.
A thought ... When it is all about empowerment, why not let the community gradually use – and thereby adjust – tools for what then helps their growing self-management? The community management committee already seems cut out for it. And it could be integrated into the literacy stage. As for using what is effectively their own information, you couldn’t get any closer to its source … Or am I getting carried away?
Anyway, staying as close to information requirements of implementation staff or, better still, the community in question, you can check how far requirements for m&e are met. Please notice the shift. What is mentioned in the toc-draft as the last of “five aspects” should be considered basic, with the other four, or whatever, derivative, only. You are bound to get into trouble with independent tools for m&e (or whatever).
Keeping focus firmly on the primary process, with toc for the framework guiding change, optimally secures interdependence, i.e. a holistic integrated approach.
Let me try some Vygotsky again. Left to its own devices, T has only a zone of immediate development available. Only? With such a positive reputation for an asset, that zone affords much progress. Now a rhetorical question. In this ‘situation,’ would you say you are happy with the version of toc which has recently been documented? Yes, you are. And you also seem to be happy with how m&e is conducted so far. Or?
From remarks you made on the – possible – involvement of the Gates Foundation, I have the impression that for T (!) you also see a zone of proximal development, i.e. opportunities for T for even further development, and through T for empowering many more communities. I took a cue from you mentioning that G has “create[d] an integrated development department.” When I entered [some specific keywords], a search engine led me straight to a job opening at G.
I also thought about what G’s director might mean by “call[ing] T a platform for development.” Why do I find it an apt label? What I think that T has caught – and I am sure that as a strategic force in the background, you also deserve full credit – is what I am inclined to call a propaedeutic need, and meeting precisely that need with a program for propaedeutic development. I am especially impressed by its emphasis on human rights, as it ‘prepares’ … humans to participate in productive interdependence beyond the scale of the community originally … participating. And it confirms what I have taken from metastudies as limited inequality being a prerequisite for – further – development.
Could it be that what G’s director has recognized is that in order for G to be successful with, say, issue-oriented programs, a community as the participant in such a program has to already exhibit some qualitative dynamics (which – I think – you might call a system of social norms)? Does G also want to ‘offer’ the propaedeutic program? If so, is T being considered as the agency for both its strategy and delivery? Then, what about T’s current geographical focus? Does T ‘go’ global?
Now, you have also mentioned that “[w]ith G, we are trying to move to a different funding model.” When it is really none of my business, please say so. There is no need to be diplomatic. But, of course, you did raise my interest. :-) Do you mean that T is trying get funded by G? If so, does “model” stand for structural arrangement? Then, what does T have to ‘deliver’ to G? It sounds like a m&e system is part of the possible agreement. Has it been G to request a holistic integrated approach to monitoring & evaluation? Did G ask for a m&e system that “can be tested”? Is the difference between T’s zone of immediate development and zone of proximal development that for the latter you have been given to understand – or merely feel yourself – that the m&e system for the former is inadequate? And do you want to make sure, understandably, of course, that a new m&e system not only works for the new donor/funder, “but [is] one that works for us.”
As a rule, I am – strongly – arguing against changing a tool without sufficient understanding of the need for change.
When you look at the publication of the job opening at G, you see it not only, albeit briefly, explains what is understood by holistic and integrated, … What else? Hmm, I find the text is rather vague on available tools for – strategy for – “integrated delivery.” Requirements, though, seem remarkably similar to T’s. That does not come as a surprise. Is T expected to make a contribution in that area to G?
I’d better stop asking questions, for now. :-) Even when you find me a nuisance, I hope you agree that designing a m&e system for a holistic and integrated approach should already, and especially so, be approached holistically and in an integrated fashion. Most practically, I wouldn’t spend any money on changing the m&e system – which seems to more than adequately support T in its present zone of immediate development – before knowing (much) more.
Again, thank you for bearing with me. And I repeat, when you feel that I am bringing up matters that you simply don’t want to discuss, just don’t.
I now think I have a slightly more than vague idea of what is at stake: a lot. Calling it a ‘window(s)’ of opportunity seems highly fitting. :-)
I believe I can start contributing assumptions for information systems supporting, as you have indicated the challenge, a holistic integrated approach. The scope reaches from fund accounting up to facilitating detailed community operations, vice versa. In one direction, funds need to be broken down according to planning. In the other direction, operations – whether they have been planned or not; what happens … happens – have to be accounted for, and evaluated. And T should be flexible in all directions, for example when ‘adding’ a donor and/or changing the “funding model” agreed upon with a donor. At the operations ‘end,’ there should be no limit on, say, modalities of delivery: program, project, incidental, whatever … And in between, it should be able to modify planning and evaluation accordingly.
Does this make sense?
You come to realize what you all want covered by “integrated” when you consider what in actual practice may vary while maintaining cohesiveness. Again, I now feel in a position to offer suggestions as to such variety pertinent to information systems.
And what a coincidence! I, too, can pick up earlier work, for I have extensive experience with optimizing administrative support for a both simultaneous and subsequent variety of, as you say, funding models. ( I am afraid that equally extensive documentation is mostly in Dutch.)
I am surprised to learn that “Unicef […] only fund[s] on a year-by-year basis.” Do you mean cash money that T then has to spent in the same year that Unicef has allocated it for as … spending money? Are there really no allowances for distributing cash flow? Well, apparently not.
Of course, for an organization delivering multi-year programs, what should be available first and foremost is an overall, say, engagement budget. It allows for a number of communities to be signed on that particular year, leading to a complete program budget for each community. Next, a particular program budget could be ‘sliced up’ in yearly cash budget portions.
Is this more or less what G and T are thinking of as a “funding model”? Could you sketch its main features? That would do much to help me recognize whether or not I am barking up the right tree, here.
Of course, other set-ups for fund accounting should be possible, too. Were T to propose it, indeed, G would find it generally applicable. They should be very interested, for it is a problem that all over funders are still struggling with …
With fund accounting covered (well, in design for information systems, anyway), what about operations? For managing – what I call – information on operations, i.e. primary information (also read: data), does another department exist? Whoever at T is doing whatever, it needs to be included for a holistic integrated approach.
Is any documentation available on other information systems at T? For example, is there a list of participating communities? If so, what tools are used to keep it? Please note, a remark jotted on a piece of paper is an information system, too. And what information is added about a community? More examples, does a program facilitator spend money on behalf of T? How does s/he report expenses, et cetera.
For integration, first of all an overview of systems/tools currently in use is necessary. For that, nothing must be taken as self-evident.
When people are given sufficient discretion, information systems they are actually using, almost invariably are quite adequate for their own work. It won’t be any different at T. It means that integration should start from such systems/tools as exist. Often, for integration nothing needs to be changed in those ‘original’ systems. Compare it with two panels; by mounting hinges, those panels are hardly changed but now offer an integrated door-and-wall.
And about “T look[ing] expensive or less specific or fuzzy,” how little do people who make such remarks understand about how they have come to live – the rest of – their life.
Actually, when you have some time to spare in between (and, of course, when you don't mind me sticking my nose in), I would be greatly helped in getting some overall understanding when you could provide documentation on information systems - taken in the widest sense - currently used by T’s staff, especially for immediate operations (with communities). And what departments, besides yours, are part of T?
Well, yes, when you are aiming for “holistic” and “integrated,” you have to look at something … “as a whole.” Then, what you make count as the relevant whole is of course critically important. And of course I have become especially intrigued by, as I understand from your explanations, T’s prospect of entering new collaborations. A concrete hypothesis, sufficiently representative of whatever may come, for ‘the whole’ seems T working closely with G. When it does come about, T would be ready for it. Actually, making T ready for it, apparently may go some way to help to bring it about. So, it is worth a try …
I firmly believe that m&e cannot be treated in isolation.
At the risk of insulting you by pointing out what for you is already most obvious …
… I would like to explain a common mistake. When a person has a goal, s/he organizes means to reach it. Different goal, different means. This approach soon suffers from inefficiency, however, even to the extent that goals are increasingly difficult to reach, if at all.
Suppose I have to go shopping for two different items. While the shops may be different, I get on one and the same bicycle, use the same road system to reach the shops, and return home. As we grew up with highly developed infrastructure for physical mobility, and it really didn’t change its, say, nature since, as regular bicycle riders and road users we are hardly aware of it. In that case, it takes education as a civil engineer to thoroughly understand reuse, and being able to design et cetera for its change-in-continuity.
Imagine needing a separate bicycle for every destination, and taking a completely separate route.
Or take a restaurant with several dishes on the menu. As a rule, there is not a separate kitchen for preparing a particular dish. There are different ingredients, while a dish results from combining a number of ingredients according to a recipe. For an additional dish, i.e. new on the menu, then, all ingredients may already be available. Otherwise, just the still missing ingredient(s) must be added to the store.
With information systems, a common mistake resides in the assumption that systems should follow the organizational pattern. So, department X ‘has’ as its ‘own’ systems x1, x2, … The same for department Y: y1, y2, … And so on. That is fine for facilitating purely self-contained tasks … but for such isolated work organization doesn’t matter at all, anyway.
With a visual metaphor, information is best considered running perpendicular to and thereby crossing organizational boundaries (instead of remaining inside some organizational entity). For we exchange information in order to coordinate our behaviors.
Therefore, when departments X and Y work together on a number of subjects, a more productive alignment of information systems would be: (x, y)1, (x,y)2, …
Think about me wanting to buy items in different shops. It is not only to my interest that I can get to them, but equally in the interest of each shop that it can be reached (and doing our shopping ‘on’ the Internet doesn’t change this, not in principle ; a package still has to be picked up, or delivered).
And cooperation is not limited to just two departments. Any number may contribute to whatever subject. And what about ‘outside parties’? In fact, why cooperate, say, internally when not as one, more encompassing, party among others? Does this mean we make a separate information system for every configuration of actors on every subject?
Soon, very soon, variety of physical movements reaches a point where it becomes counterproductive to start from individual ‘travelers.’ And so it is with information systems. Practically, infrastructure becomes a perspective et cetera in its own right. Compare it with a hypothesis. As long as travelers/users feel their mobility/information needs are met (and assuming that they have a voice), infrastructure-as-is is not falsified. When it is, infrastructure is changed to meet the … changed requirements.
This paradigm shift, i.e. toward an infrastructural approach, or assuming the whole, is not yet generally ‘diffused.’ For it requires an attitude that is at least initially counterintuitive. For on a daily basis, we act as if the means we employ relate to the goal, only. However, that is the goal-at-hand, from one to the next, and so on. Means may be, say, recontextualized, i.e. applied for different goals.
Where I went wrong the previous days, is assuming that for m&e you were considering to (re)use information already available. I now have the impression that, so far, you haven’t been so conscious yet of concluding from a subject (in this case: m&e) to more or less dedicated, self-contained means to support it.
I may do you terrible injustice, here, with this … evaluation of mine. Please tell me straight away when you feel I am misguided.
Anyway, what I read in your latest messages is precisely your insight that resources for m&e should be set up ‘differently,’ that is as an ‘integral’ part of whatever whole under evaluation. When you do, you get better at evaluation, and not only that.
Indeed, the way to go is to (much) broaden the scope where “colleagues” contribute. In fact, in hindsight it is only logical in the holistic sense that m&e should act as catalyst for integration and inclusion. For evaluation simply means that anything may be(come) relevant. It requires an open-ended approach. Also, even especially so, what is taken as the whole is always provisional. That is why you should be as strategic as you can about it.
No, I didn’t make a long story short … However, a punch line – well, it is mine, anyway – is that contextualism is ‘absolutely’ :-) necessary for an open-ended approach. It allows for variety. It allows for making changes limited to a particular context, i.e. practically maintaining infrastructure. And it protects investments as existing means can be explicitly contextualized and as such be made to operate as an integral part of the whole.
You may know the French saying: reculer pour mieux sauter. You can jump a far greater distance when you take a proper run. Isn’t taking an orientation at the whole inherently congruent with T’s approach to development? You might think of concentrating on m&e as still somewhat project-based. Do the empowerment first. The, say, net effect results all the faster from an orientation at the whole.
I felt that I needed to explain what I did, above, in order to express my strongest agreement with your point of involving “T's senior management and possibly the board.” Talk about champions, they should underwrite changing course for a holistic integrated approach, that is, not for m&e only, but generally (with the seemingly paradoxical effect that m&e, too, is sooner even better equipped for strategic opportunities; frankly, an independent effort at … a holistic integrated approach can never work).
My reward is already to be able to correspond intelligently on contextualism as the attitude fostering equitable variety. Of course, you can count on me volunteering further suggestions, et cetera.
Please be aware that especially in IT, most practitioners still adhere to what I have referred to as a common mistake. Chances are, that T also has such professionals working for it/IT. Please note, this is not meant condescendingly. For good reasons it has once become established as the tradition in IT. There are quite different reasons now, though, with the Internet as exemplary for the exchange perspective. Giving up on a tradition is difficult, if at all possible. What T’s employees expect from communities and their members in terms of empowerment, may not be so simple for them to bring themselves to. For prejudices holding back necessary change, of course I have only to look at myself …
Even when it is far from my intention to cause a clash, especially IT personnel might experience merely a proposal for a qualitative change in orientation as such, and close up, or resist. Well, you are the psychologist. :-) I don’t want to cause unrest. It is all the more reason, I would say, to look ‘up’ for support.
I am perfectly happy to remain your informal correspondent. However, should T want “clarification [about] roles and responsibilities,” of course, I’ll be glad, too, to make contributions in a more formalized volunteering capacity.
As for discussions on m&e, it might be more productive to first acquire an overview of T’s information requirements, and how its employees and stakeholders meet them. I would expect the so-called theory of change to be relevant for that scope, i.e. the whole. On that basis, soon enough we could zoom in more productively on evaluation in a holistic integrated fashion. Whatever progress is made in the meantime on theorizing on m&e can only make the attempt to join tracks more productive.
The theory of change should help to make clear – to me, it does – that a holistic integrated reorientation is really not about IT, at all, at least not in the first place. It is strategic through-and-through, with contextualism for the appropriate attitude (I see it also bringing together what the “long report” calls “middle-ranged theories” which you now teach at the training center; thank you for the reference) … which IT should then apply, too.
I couldn’t find any information on organization structure on T’s website, that is why I asked. Perhaps I didn’t look closely enough? Anyway, your list of departments helps to get a somewhat better idea of scope and diversity, thank you! And with T in the process of selecting consultants for MIS and for setting up a data warehouse, respectively, apparently quite a large-scale effort is planned.
How would you say that those plans influence your working on a m&e system? And the other way around, is the theory of change taken as the overall orientation for MIS, data warehouse, et cetera? Or has no connection either way been established as yet? (You see that I am not through asking most elementary questions ... :-)
I would say that it is up to the consultants-to-be-hired to start by making an inventory of “each department [as it] uses relevant software” and, more importantly in my opinion, what information exactly it is that is registered, and for what purpose(s). Or did T’s staff already draw up such an overview?
Of course, you shouldn’t copy such an effort. Do you know whether or not making such an inventory is part of the plan?
I had already looked at some literature on evaluation theory. I couldn’t make out any specific references in both the “long report” and the later, shorter text on the theory of change. Why not profit from existing theory, and include it in, if necessary with some modifications, in T’s theory of change? Over the years, I had collected some books on the subject of evaluation. Now was a perfect opportunity, at last, to open them. :-)
I first looked at Studies in Transactional Evaluation (McCutchan, 1973), edited by Robert M. Rippey. I haven’t seen it referred to in the later works I consulted, but in my opinion it serves as a clear introduction to (p. 94, chapter 6, Transactional Evaluations in Field Settings: Roles and Designs by Maurice J. Eash)
a demand for evaluation that calls for different designs and a vastly expanded range of activity, principally in the field.
Especially relevant, as far as I can judge, are the contents of Fourth Generation Evaluation (Sage, 1989) by Egon G. Guba and Yvonna S. Lincoln. I am sure you’ll find it very much in tune with your own book The Mind’s We. It differs from so-called first to third generation evaluation, because it
rests on two elements: responsive focusing – determining what questions to be asked and what information is to be collected on the basis of stakeholder inputs – and constructivist methodology – carrying out the inquiry process within the ontological and epistemological presuppositions of the constructivist paradigm.
To my surprise, in Realistic Evaluation (Sage,
1997, reprint 2006), Ray Pawson and Nick Tilley are highly critical of Guba and
Lincoln. They hold the emphasis on both negotiation and constructivism for
unrealistic. Yet, they do stress context.
Whether or not these particular authors and their works – you can now get the books all cheaply on http://used.addall.com/Used/ – are considered, I do come away from my short survey that there is relevant evaluation theory that is, so to speak, waiting to be explicitly integrated into your theory of change. Assuming that you yourself are too busy, if you could get a PhD student to work at it continuously for, say, half a year, the evaluation aspect of change and development should be addressed with credible references (which of course could also help to convince the sponsor for developing a holistic integrated system for m&e that money is wisely spent).
By the way, a sort of standard text is Evaluation by Peter H. Rossi, apparently now in its seventh edition (first edition in 1979). I have the sixth edition (Sage, 1999) by Rossi, Howard E. Freeman and Mark W. Lipsey. For ideas closest to your theory of change, I suggest to start from works such as I mentioned above.
You are putting in a lot of effort. So, what is it that makes information “clear” for T’s m&e? How does that information relate, compare to other information that T registers and uses? Do you provide guidelines? Are such guidelines documented?
Has information for m&e so far been collected ad hoc, for example responding to different requirements from various donor organizations? If so, is T now attempting to introduce a more general approach? And are “the G’s objectives” serving as the catalyst? Do you see a theory of change (also) providing a frame of reference for – developing – such more systematic m&e? Then, is the current way “to collect and analyze data” for m&e still, say, pre-toc? And is the short section on m&e in the report on the theory of change intended as a rough announcement/specification of what you, or a consultant you’ve hired for the purpose, still have to work out in all detail for m&e?
What I find especially intriguing about developing a capacity for values deliberation as a means for empowerment is that T is helping a community to learn and master … evaluation, at least, in the sense that for example Guba & Lincoln describe as fourth generation evaluation. Then, how do you evaluate the teaching et cetera of such evaluation?
It is not that T abstracts from values, and merely teaches the deliberation part. As I understand – and where I strongly agree – the program of community empowerment, the how of deliberation is irreducibly related to at least some values. For the engagement by T, I would label these as metavalues: human rights.
Wouldn’t even more explicit emphasis on values deliberation help to more clearly articulate the relevant theory of change? For if it really is evaluation that T is teaching et cetera, it makes sense to draw on relevant evaluation theory. I followed up on your reference to Michael Q. Patton's Utilization-Focused Evaluation (Sage, second edition 1986); Patton recognizes a “program’s theory of action” as a key concept (see chapter 7).
What I am suggesting – but from lack of information I am just wildly guessing at what could help – is that you might, say, tighten up the theory some more to reflect what the action/change in which T assists is most critically about, i.e. values deliberation for persons as community members. I believe that from taking evaluation as primary subject matter, it follows (even) more clearly what – in this case – facilitative evaluation might, and should, contribute.
A few weeks ago I made notes while studying work by Pepper, and subsequently turned those notes into some sort of paper; see Contextualism means selectivity.
What I might contribute, at least, that is how I see it and am of course most happy to do so, is to offer some advice for the benefit of T regarding information management. However, for me to come up with meaningful remarks (and because scheduling a talk has so far proven rather difficult :-), please let me first study documentation specifying how the proposed information system(s) is (are) thought to facilitate m&e in a “holistic and integrated” fashion. When you could just supply me with a so-called conceptual model (which I assume that has been drawn up with priority), I am already able to form an adequately informed opinion about such system(s) being indeed fitted for “capturing both the anticipated and the unexpected.” When in turn I send you my remarks in writing, I am sure that you far more likely can benefit from them on T’s behalf. Both of us being able to refer to such documentation, next, talking to each other will certainly help mutual clarification where necessary.
In terms of values, what I find that author Aimee Molloy doesn’t make come out well in however long the night (HarperOne, 2013) is Tostan’s take on human rights (quite particular as it – probably? – is, and therefore so outstandingly effective). Or is it intentionally kept vague? If so, does she realize it? Is the approach not so much human-rights based as human-rights oriented, with orientation in the sense that it is up to each and every community engaging in values deliberation to develop largely its own concept, i.e. values for human rights, too, and follow up accordingly?
I have become full of admiration for all those facilitators in all those communities … They must be so dedicated and competent, i.e. true catalysts.
The impression I get from reading the book is that Molly Melching, Tostan’s founder and leader, has a strong personal idea of human rights. And she acts on it, again and again, putting in a conviction that persuades other people that ‘we’ are acting upon a shared idea of such rights. Meanwhile, however, the idea actually remains more or less unarticulated. (Isn’t it the hallmark of every ‘successful’ religion? :-)
Let me call it a metadiscussion is not really explored. Yet, especially such a discussion might help much to make more explicit what Tostan contributes, apparently uniquely so. It should then also be easier (also read: less difficult), among many other things, to identify what to evaluate, and when and how. (I understand that for Molloy including a pertinent review of human-rights based approaches was not the book she set out to write.)
‘Failing’ to position Tostan in this manner is no problem, in fact, it might even be a risk to do so, as long as Melching employs her sure idea of what is right for humans, and commands support with what must be her irresistible charisma. Another book I have recently been reading – believe it or not, it is about Steve Jobs and Apple; I read Inside Steve’s Brain by Leander Kahney in a Dutch translation, Zo denkt Steve (Bruna, 2010) – refers to Max Weber’s work on charisma, and on how it might be institutionalized for the time when the leader no longer can devote her energy to the task. For such an institutionalization, what still is the leader’s inspiring example must first of all become a matter for consideration, evaluation, et cetera … where it should be admitted that the leader herself is irreplaceable (and with the leader, still present, admitting that a different organization needs to ensue). Is this institutionalization now under way for Tostan? Is that where G might, or already does, come in?
I am very, very grateful to you for setting me straight on, well, every point I’ve raised. You cannot really be serious that those were “great questions.” :-)
Anyway, the main question would be what the targeted audience was – and is – for Aimee Molloy’s book. I suppose that I am far from typical of the intended reader. For I am especially interested to learn about the extremely hard, sustained work it takes to achieve something so spectacular, and not only keeping it up, but even continuing to build, ever mindful of changing dynamics, and so on … Thank you for taking so much of your time, and promptly so, to teach me! Yes, I was still guessing at how rights in the UN sense figure in the Tostan program. And I now understand the dilemma of making course materials public vs. keeping distribution limited; what a shame, to put it mildly, that pirating occurs and some measure of secrecy is therefore required.
I suppose you have gathered that I am trying to tease out, as diplomatically as I feel that it is in my rather limited capacity in that respect, some relevant documentation. The reason is that I am always somewhat suspicious (to say the least). More often than not, such documentation has not been drawn up, with hired consultants, software programmers et cetera right away doing … yes, what are they actually doing? Kept ignorant, and often only too happy to comply, managers are often too trusting when it comes to resources for information management. Please note that I am here making a general remark explaining repeated failures from IT projects. So, I am first of all trying to establish whether or not some sort of explicit design exists all. Without it, you can be certain to be throwing money away.
I can imagine that he thinks it is none of my business, and when he does, I certainly couldn’t blame him for that. So, I am not going to insist.
I am most happy to follow your suggestions on communicating. I do prefer to limit my remarks to, say, personal correspondence with you. Otherwise, counterproductive interference may all too easily result. That is, if you allow me to say so, I find “minimiz[ing] work for everyone” of secondary importance.
Should you want to know my opinion, please don’t hesitate to request it. And leaving the initiative with you also helps me. For I can stop guessing, struggling – and rarely succeeding :-) – to find polite expression for indicating what might be seriously going wrong and, anyway, in need of encompassing attention (which it seems that “issues” are now about the receive).
Here are a few remarks. For what my evaluation is worth, you’ll find me in strong support of change & development approached as value-based. I’ve added some basic arguments you may find helpful. I realize more explanation might be needed but at this stage I especially wanted to be brief.
Isabelle Gunning points at dialogic potential of human rights. I especially agree with her emphasis on dialogue. Therefore, in a constructive criticism of her proposal for what she calls a world-travelling method of understanding, first of all I would like to suggest a more explicitly structured dialogic framework.
In dialogue, participants are engaged in sign exchange. Please note that participants need not be limited to people. Why do they (of course, also read: we) take the trouble?
In producing a sign, one participant behaves in order to constitute a characteristic cause. With it, she (also read: he) aims at an effect to be produced by her co-participant.
It is in the nature of a sign-as-cause that it aims at getting a sing-producer’s motive fulfilled through having the response-as-effect originate from a co-participant’s own motive. What possibilities with limited expenditure of energy! The evolutionary advantage should be obvious.
It follows that each participant is subject to semiosis (defined by C.S. Peirce as the action of the sign). Actually, without semiosis there is no subjectivity (and with semiosis there is no objectivity). Extending the triadic model of Peirce, an ennead is required to include motive and corresponding irreducible elements.
A sign, then, travels the distance between participants. It does not transfer intact a motive, a concept, or whatever. All that we are used to call meaning remains strictly subjective. In fact, it is impossible to confirm even that what has been given as a sign on one side has been taken as such, and identical, on the other side of the exchange. It is always best to assume it didn’t.
Sign exchange is reciprocal. As one participant is producing signs as requests for compliance, so is every other participant.
Every sign, without exception, carries a motive of its producer. With it, she wants to elicit a response that she values. Confronted with a sign, the co-participant from her own motive (also read: based on what she herself values) may respond between choosing to comply or to resist.
When all participants are motivated to learn, a dialogue develops. What can be critically learned are concepts of mutual motives.
I would say that such a dia-enneadic framework helps to even more appreciate Gunning’s “three-pronged methodology” for achieving dialogue. However, rather than “1) seeing oneself in historical context,” it might be more both clearly and generally stated as seeing everyone, including oneself, as motivationally behaving, i.e. subjectively oriented at situations. Then, already from recognizing and acknowledging other subjects follow “2) seeing oneself as the ‘other’ might see you; and 3) seeing the ‘other’ within her own complex cultural context.”
Now, why start a dialogue? Again, nobody can ever produce a sign without her values being involved. Some values imply imparting … values. It is about one participant getting other participants to change their motives so they’ll behave as she sees fit. But, then, is how she sees it, really fit for them? From dia-enneadic principle, she cannot be sure, never. Contrary to what Gunning holds as a goal, “shared values” are an illusion. Does that make doing nothing the only responsible course of … action?
Of course not. Why should she deny herself to act upon her own values? In fact, she cannot behave but on those values. But how can she be taken seriously by people she would value as participants in dialogue?
Does this make the answer stare us in the face? Are we, say, in community when we value each other as participants? Is being valued as such, with no other expectations attached, an invitation to join that we cannot, and don’t want to, refuse?
Gunning is right that taking an arrogant attitude is a dialogue killer. How can space be created to start productively learning from discussing human rights (or whatever topic, for that matter)? Something has to happen before a “three-pronged methodology” can be applied.
From what I can see from some distance, Tostan gains entry through an ever expanding network of trusting relationships. Only subsequently, some topics can be addressed. And, yes, which is again Gunning’s excellent point, the authority of human rights is often perceived as ‘soft’ enough not to force issues, yet sufficiently ‘hard’ to make escape from participation difficult (and, most practical, popular with sponsors). For our communal growth, we people all over need to feel sufficiently safe for us to learn and consider changing our motives (also read: values).
As this might be a relatively new insight for Western development workers, open-valued dialogism is long since mainstream in psychotherapy, social psychology et cetera.
1. Gunning, I.R., Arrogant Perception, World-Travelling and
Multicultural Feminism: The Case of Female Genital Surgeries, in: Columbia Human Rights Law Review, 1991-1992, Vol. 23,
2. Wisse, P.E., Semiosis & Sign Exchange: design for a subjective situationism, Information Dynamics, 2002.
With greatest interest I’ve just studied your book Dialogicality and Social Representations (Cambridge University Press, 2003). I originally learned about dialogical theory before your book was published. At the time, I had more or less finished writing Semiosis & Sign Exchange: design for a subjective situationism (dissertation, University of Amsterdam, 2002). Actually, what I discovered from a collection of essays edited by A.H. Wold (The dialogical alternative, Scandinavian University Press, 1992; a chapter by R. Rommetveit is included), was that I myself had developed such a theory, too, albeit somewhat different. In recognition of similarities, I added a (foot)note arguing for “conceptual grounds of dialogical theory” as an alternative subtitle for my treatise.
By the way, I didn’t write that dissertation to start an academic career, but to contribute to theory from my years of interdisciplinary design practice. A designer’s responsibility/accountability requires a through-and-through dialogical stance.
In your book, you put forward (p. 152) the dialogical triad as hypothesized by Serge Moscovici to serve as (p. 161) “a conceptual construct enabling the researcher to consider a problem from its theoretical perspectives.” If I understand your explanation correctly, from tension between Ego and Alter they develop – the social representation of an – Object.
Calling it the dia-ennead, I propose “a conceptual construct” that is both more detailed and suggestive of additional research. I would very much like you to consider it. I’ll try the briefest of introductions.
In terms of Ego and Alter, both are subject to semiosis (which C.S. Peirce called the action of the sign). Starting from Peirce’s triad (sign, object and interpretant), I differentiated his general concept of ground. Adopting the figure-ground distinction for each of the Peircean triad’s elements, a hexad resulted. So, from
- sign to signature in context,
- object to object in situation, and
- interpretant to foreground interpretant against background interpretant.
Rather than three elements, a hexad has three dimensions, with two elements along each such dimension. For purposes of – explaining, facilitating – dynamics, next I fitted each dimension with an intermediary element, say, a hinge. With the names for some of the dimensions and elements changed along the way, the resulting ennead is modelled as follows:
From how you’ve rendered Moscovici’s model of the dialogical triad in your
book, dynamics are indicated by additional arrow-headed lines between each pair
of elements. In the ennead, arrows are left out as they would unnecessarily
clutter the picture; however, they must be assumed between each connected pair
of elements, too.
Now, if you take Moscovici’s model, substitute an ennead for both Ego and Alter. Two enneads constitute dia-enneadic dynamics. Please note that there’s no social representation in whatever objective, stable sense left. Instead, it must be upheld completely separately by participants joining in dialogicality (also read: sign exchange) by their reciprocal attempts to have the facts they ‘give’ to be ‘taken’ as signs, and so on, and so on. Then, it is easy to recognise change as the rule.
I find that dia-enneadic semiotics supports and deepens your stand on (p.
90) “dialogicality as ontology of humanity.” In addition to ontology and
epistemology, though, semiotics should be explicitly added to interdependent
I fully realise that I might be challenging your, as you yourself describe as, (p. 1) “implicit presuppositions on thinking and scientific theories.” You may especially have some trouble accepting the behaviouralist flavour, but please recognise that semiotics makes it a very different behaviouralism (and, frankly, all I find that I am doing is just to bring out behaviouralist aspects so far left largely implicit in dialogicality). After all, aren’t Ego and Alter involved in interacting? From dia-enneadic dynamics, however, it follows that Alter doesn’t act directly upon Ego’s impulse, but always acts upon her own motive (which she only may have arrived at partly under – the impression of – Ego’s influence).
I strongly agree with your call for (p. 206) “theory concern[ing] social realities in which people live, [i.e.] of major interest […] where democratisation has a major value and where health and values aiming to extend and improve human life are primary goals.” I do hope that you recognise value for your continuing work in putting dialogicality on a dia-enneadic footing.
Should you require more explanation, please let me know.
I am looking forward to your reply.
Are you considering a reply? In case you’re struggling with what semiotic ennead et cetera might mean, I’ve included an outline of those concepts in section 3 of Invitation to contextualism: synthesis through irreducibility, and towards an emancipative politics of interdependency, a paper occasioned by Diane Gillespie’s book The Mind’s We.
As variety of social behavioural is not facilitated, but frustrated, actually, our governments are again and again throwing away huge amounts of money (that is thereby unavailable for dealing with urgent needs and/or productive purposes) while turning ‘us’ from citizens once more into sub-jects.
Here in the Netherlands I’ve tried also pushing for change. Predictably, what happens is being pushed back and … out. So, much as my analysis is perfectly sound from a pluralist perspective, I don’t stand a chance on my own. Politically, pluralism is fast going out of fashion and IT-companies are so fixed on securing financial profits that their employees wouldn’t even know what variety et cetera means. I am afraid academics don’t want to be bothered either. When in information systems/technology, they feel dependent on both government and business, and when occupied in other fields they oppose what they view as outside intervention.
However, I am not inclined to wait passively. What I am meanwhile trying to find out, are productive connections. I find it most gratifying to discover how my ideas concur with previous work in other fields. For the less original my works appears, perhaps, one day, such concurrence is recognised as an argument for change. And where in fact I succeed in bridging previously separate fields or disciplines, I hope to make some contribution to whatever other field I’ve investigated for basic agreement.
Thank you very much for your reply!
I apologize for the trouble I’ve caused you and your helpers by making my two illustrations inaccessible to you. However, if you don’t mind me using the occasion, it confirms the point that we should not even take success in mere exchange of sign for granted. :-) I have now included both diagrams in a pdf-file you’ll find attached, hoping that this format helps.
I am happy to hear you’re continuing to publish on dialogicality. When do you expect your new book to appear?
Yes, of course, as long as axioms are not properly fitted for dialogicality and subsequent interdependence, it remains impossible to derive pertinent concepts.
I myself felt, say, forced to step back as far as redesigning axioms because of ongoing failure in a societal sense of using digital information technologies (IT). So-called IT-projects are without exception still implicitly representative of a naïve realism, or logical atomism. With my work, I am not just trying to provide a frame of reference for criticism, but also for productively facilitating real variety. That is where my interest for, as you call it, dialogicality comes in.
If “what primarily interests [you]” should be “explicitly social,” I strongly recommend that you analyse governmental IT-projects. For up to now such projects are, to paraphrase you, implicitly anti-social. Only a paradigm change will help. You might be able to get research in dialogicality funded.
I would say that we very much have an “approach” in common. What I hope that you can now see in diagram 1, :-) is that I have formalised semiosis-as-dynamics in some more detail. Of course, such a “difference” works out in a “terminological” sense, too. Where there’s some structural departure, names cannot cover precisely identical concepts.
As far as a formalism goes, what I could recognise as such is your reference to Moscovici’s triad. When I am right in doing so, I find how our approaches agree is straightforward. Diagram 2 should now confirm that Ego and Alter are each, say, equipped for enneadic semiosis. It makes nine terms available for dialogically structural attribution of each participant’s involvement. More consistent precision is always an improvement, I would say. And, most practically, it serves to arrive at unambiguous design models for information systems regardless of – scope and – variety. This might not be your goal, but it certainly is mine and being able to confirm alignment with dialogicality is for me a sure sign (!) that I am on the right track.
Reversing Ego and Alter, I do believe that the additional structural precision of the dia-enneadic axiomatic scheme can help to further develop – theory of – dialogicality, and promote it. As I see it, when you now formally reside with Moscovici’s triad, you can go beyond it. And you can do so not in opposition, but from extension, i.e. in basic agreement.
Axiomatically, I don’t see any difference between, especially, (social) psychology and philosophy. For it is ‘we’ who philosophize. I suppose what you mean is that you and I depart from different disciplinary assumptions. Well, my original degree is in engineering (mathematics and information systems). I only became a self-taught philosopher in order to deal with problems, that is, most practically, that I found were irresolvable – please note, still the engineer – from traditional assumptions. And not being caught up and held back by any philosophical school I had attended, to me it was in fact obvious to recognize reflexibility – for which, indeed, I was prepared having been to mathematical ‘school’ – making assumptions for social psychology an integral part of an axiomatic scheme with – again, mathematically speaking – necessary and sufficient developmental and expressive power. What I take from Peirce’s axiom of irreducibility of his triad’s elements is that is actually doesn’t matter from where you start. You are bound to become engaged with all other elements, too.
Bakhtin is still on my list of authors whose works I would like to study. Your book serves as an incentive to do so soon.
I agree, too, “that semiotics is a feature of dialogicality,” although avoiding any preset hierarchy I would favour a statement according to – what John Haynes proposes as – contragrammar, that is, the dialogicality of semiotics is the semiotics of dialogicality.
Now that I am at it, :-) the psychology of philosophy is the philosophy of psychology. What I like about contragrammar is that it presupposes interdependency. I find its use highly suggestive both of meanings and of one’s inability to cover them comprehensively. Every dialogical annex sign exchange is yet another corner around which another motivated concept is generated, and so on.
Please let me know when you still cannot view the illustrations.
Also, please don’t hesitate to call upon me should you want to inform me any further and/or have questions you feel that I might be able to help with.
Thank you again for your reply.
What I strongly recommend when it really is too much for you as a single person to handle, is appearing of good will but behaving somewhat clumsily. You’d be surprised how much affection people will right away show and start helping, taking responsibility et cetera. However, giving the impression that you’re not in control might be very difficult … I myself only became quite humble after realizing that I wasn’t educating my children but rather have been educated by them.
September 2014 – December 2015, web edition 2015 © Pieter Wisse