Paper prepared for: Globalizations: Cultural, Economic, Democratic, Conference held at College Park, University of Maryland, April 11th- 14th, 2002 [I have not had time to fully prepare a finished and polished paper... there are probably a number of typos, etc... sorry. Below, however, are a set of notes toward a paper aimed at explaining the title above.]




John Shotter

Department of Communication

University of New Hampshire


“Designed or planned social order is necessarily schematic; it always ignores essential features of any real, functioning social order... [And] schematic authoritarian solutions to production and social order inevitably fail when they exclude the fund of valuable local knowledge embodied in local practices” (Scott, 1998, p.6).


“By themselves,... simplified rules can never generate a functioning community, city, or economy. Formal order, to be more explicit, is always and to some considerable degree parasitic on informal processes, which the formal scheme does not recognize, without which is could not exist, and which it alone cannot create or maintain” (ibid, p.310)


“It is, I think, a characteristic of large, formal systems of coordination that they are accompanied by what appear to be anomalies but on closer inspection turn out to be integral to that order... [a] nonconforming practice is an indispensable condition for formal order” (ibid, pp.351-352).


“One of the essential phenomena of the modern age is its science. A phenomenon of no less importance is its machine technology” (Heidegger, 1977, p.116).

My overall thesis is: that what we have got in current forms of globalization, is the global institution, mostly through the global market, but also at a deeper level, of a quantitative, mechanical form of connectedness, a form of Cartesian, spatialized thought, characterized in the business world by the phrase “all being on the same page.” It is a ‘view’ of the world – and its pictorial quality is one of its most significant features – embodied in Euclidean geometry and Newtonian mechanics. Heidegger (1977) captures this in his essay, The age of the world picture, in his comment that what he means by the term “world picture,” not “a picture of the world but the world conceived and grasped as a picture” (p.129). Such a style of thought is a static style, one that can only encompass change as a series of discrete steps, of jumps from one static configuration to another. It is the view that “the universe is a pack of cards, that is, an aggregate of distinct entities persisting through time without any intrinsic change” (Capek, 1961, p.127). Such “single orders of connectedness,” as I will call them, when used as the means for coordinating and developing human affairs – as living, growing, and developing inter-activities – in essentially an inert, material world, are bound to lead to disaster. As Isaiah Berlin (1962) remarks, while many of our “great liberating ideas” initially open up a surge of new opportunities, they “inevitably turn into suffocating straitjackets, and so stimulate their own destruction by new, emancipating, and at the same time, enslaving, conceptions” (p.159). And thus it has been for some time now. Only if we can find an acceptable ways to legitimate bringing life and living phenomena back into our intellectual inquiries into the nature of our lives together, will we be able to overcome the disasters we are foisting on ourselves, in our currently inadequate forms of investigation – forms which are utterly inadequate to the living world.


“If we succeed in reaching the metaphysical ground that provides the foundation for science as a modern phenomenon [in our unexamined, taken-for-granted “forms of life”], then the entire essence of the modern age will have let itself be apprehended from out of that ground” (Heidegger, 1977, p.117).

To show that little has changed from the previous century, I will begin by reviewing Thomas Friedman’s (2000) account of globalization. Lyotard (1984) too, shows up the mechanistic tendencies still at work in Postmodernism. I will then turn to Pakman’s (2000) account of how procedures in the health care professions are becoming more and more mechanized. All these workers show have a set of very basic attitudes – first clearly outlined By Descartes – are, literally incorporated, into our current scientized and technologized human practices. Only a turn to our living, embodied, spontaneously responsive relations to each other can show up what it is that we are crucially missing in our mechanistic, quantitative sciences: the “agent’s knowledge” that we can have “from within” the dialogically-structured “forms of life” we create between us in our meetings with each other. I turn finally to James C. Scott’s critique of the “thin simplifications” pervasive in all current forms of globalization – and as a consequence, their proneness to catastrophe as mentioned above. I will then turn to outline an alternative, dialogically-structured form of globalization: one that will both allow for unfettered local diversity, will setting out the conditions required for establishing mutually intelligible communication. I will conclude with a comparison between achieving certainty in one’s rational calculations, and achieving a sureness of acting which can come from a sense of familiarity, from a sense of being “at home” in a particular “locale”from having established intimate relations with it through a whole set of, so to speak, “conversational” relations with it. This account will draw on material from Bakhtin, Voloshinov, Wittgenstein, and Merleau-Ponty.

              Central to these explorations, is the contrast between the static, dead, structures of externally related parts central to Cartesian (geometric) forms of thought, compared with the dynamic, internally related constituents of the living relations in the dialogically-structured activities occurring in situated meetings between people.

Thomas Friedman (2000) The Lexus and the Olive Tree

Friedman (2000) has recently summed up the changes brought about by comparing what he calls the globalization system with the cold war system, in terms of structures of power; rules to deal with foreign affairs and economics; dominant ideas and cultures; demographic trends; global perspectives; defining technologies, measurements, anxieties, symbols, documents, defense systems; forms of poverty and power; social links; preferred metaphors and defining questions of the times. Thus for Freidman, Globalization is defined in opposition to the cold war system as:


            Overarching feature: Integration (Globalization) versus Division (Cold War)


            Technologically by computerization, miniaturization, digitalization, satellite communications, fiber optics and Internet (as opposed to nuclear weapons, second industrial revolution in dominant societies, and the hammer and the sickle in developing ones).

            The defining measurement is the speed of commerce, travel, communication, innovation (instead of the weight of nuclear missiles and Einstein’s equation).

            The prevailing symbol is the World Wide Web uniting everyone (instead of the Berlin Wall dividing everyone).

            The basic structure of power is the “integration of markets, nation-states and technologies enabling individuals, nations and corporations to reach around the world faster, farther, deeper and cheaper producing a backlash from those brutalized or left behind by the system” (instead of the balance between superpowers).

            The rule to conduct foreign affairs is to spread free-market capitalism everywhere (instead of spheres of influence), and the rules of economics are opening, deregulating and privatizing (instead of protectionism for less developed countries, export-led growth for developed counties, autarky for communist countries, and regulated trade for western economy). The dominant idea is integration (as opposed to clash, detente, non alignment or perestroika).

            The global perspective is that we are all connected but nobody is in charge (instead of a world divided among camps: communist, western and neutral).

            The demographic trend is an “increased movement from rural areas and agricultural lifestyles to urban areas and lifestyles, linked with global fashion, food, markets and entertainment” (instead of movement of people from East to West frozen by the Iron Curtain, and a steady flow from South to North).

            The defining anxiety is the “fear of rapid change coming from an enemy we cannot see, touch or feel and can change our job, community or workplace at any moment” (instead of the fear of nuclear annihilation).

            Accordingly the defining defense system is the X-ray machine exploring threats from within (instead of the radar exploring threats from the other side).

            The dominant culture is “the spread of Americanization (from Big Macs to iMacs to Mickey Mouse) in a global scale,” (instead of regional homogeneities).

            The defining question of the times is “how fast is your modem?” (instead of “how big is your missile?”).

            Power is clearly decentralized (in a Foucaultian style) (rather than centralized).

            Social links are based on being competitors (instead of friends or enemies).

            Poverty is represented by those, excluded from the system (instead of by those integrated as proletarians).

            The prevailing sports metaphor is an ongoing 100 meters dash (instead of sumo wrestling).

But what is constant in all of this – even if the sequence of frames per sec has speeded up enormously – is the fact that all the activities involved are still driven by static, pictorial, all one the same page, representations. In other words, the world is still being thought of as “a gigantic machine.” This is brought out in Lyotard’s (1984) account of “The Postmodern Condition.”

Lyotard (1984) on “The Postmodern Condition”

To understand Lyotard’s analysis it is necessary to understand his account of the context in which he conducts it – that of “the social bond.” As he sees it, “symplifying to the extreme,” he says, “it is fair to say that there have been, at least over the last half-century, two basic representational models for society: either society forms a functional whole, or it is divided in two” (p.11). In his view, an illustration of the first model is suggested by Parsons and his school, and of the second, by Marxist writings. Lyotard does not discuss the second model at any length because, he claims, it is the first model – of society as an organic whole – which is currently being instituted. Within such a society, language works, he says, claiming to follow Wittgenstein!, in terms of language-games, where, by this term, “he (LW) means... that each of the various categories of utterance can be defined in terms of rules specifying their properties and uses to which they can be put” (p.10). Thus, in this view of language, “every utterance should be thought of a ‘move’ in a game... [So that] to speak is to fight, in the sense of playing, and speech acts fall within the domain of general agonistics” (p.10). But the idea of an agonistics of language should not make us lose sight of a second principle: “that the observable social bond is composed of language ‘moves’” (p.11), which are performed within what people linguistically take their context to be, which, as we have already seen above, Lyotard suggests is an interconnected totality, a mechanical system.

              While in the past, in Parson’s work, he says, the principle behind the system was optimistic: it corresponded to the stabilization of growth economies and societies of abundance under the aegis of a moderate welfare state. In the work of contemporary German theorists, systemtheorie is technocratic, even cynical, not to mention despairing: the harmony between the needs and hopes of individuals or groups and the functions guaranteed by the system is now only a secondary component of its functioning. Irrespective of which view one might take, thinking of society as a harmonious whole of some kind – as ‘harmonious’ in its economic workings if not in the hearts and minds of its denizens – leads us, says Lyotard, to the view that what is at work in sustaining it as harmonious is “the performativity criterion:”


“The true goal of the system, the reason it programs itself like a computer, is the optimization of the global relations between input and output - in other words, performativity” (p.11).

Indeed, as Lyotard (1984) sees it: “One can decide that the principal role of knowledge is as an indispensable element in the functioning of society, only if one has already decided that society is a giant machine” (p.13). Thus, with respect to the performativity criterion, oriented toward maintaining the social system’s “internal cohesion”: “The transmission of knowledge is no longer designed to train an elite capable of guiding the nation towards its emancipation, but to supply the system with players capable of acceptably fulfilling their roles at the pragmatic posts required by its institutions” (p.48). “Going through the right kind of motions,” becomes the order of the day. If the essence of science is research, in what do the procedures of scientific research consist? What are the appropriate motions to go through?

Pakman’s (2000) account of the effects of globalization in the mental health professions


“... knowing establishes itself as a procedure in some realm of what is,... Procedure does not mean here merely method or methodology. For every procedure already requires an open sphere in which it moves. And it is precisely the opening up of such a sphere that is the fundamental event in research. This is accomplished through the projection within some realm of what is – in nature, for example – of a fixed ground plan of natural events. The projection sketches out in advance the manner in which the knowing procedure must bind itself and adhere to the sphere opened up” (Heidegger, 1977, p.118).

“Globalization is, however, not a project to live for or to live towards, it is a project to live in, already surrounding us,” notes Pakman (2000, p.114). While post-modernism might have brought an end to the power of meta-narratives in our argumentative lives, the announcement of the end of their end did not stop the technical advances of the sciences developed during modern times. Indeed, along with the computerization of medical records, and medical procedures, globalization has brought a high degree of homogenization into all institutional practices, including mental health institutions. The new vocabulary is obvious to all: with “remaining competitive” central to all moves made, we have organizational consultants prescribing “re-engineering” for every institution, aiming at “optimizing resources,” “cost-containment,” and “streamlining.” With the end of the Socialism and the Cold War and the across the board triumph of Free Market Capitalism, the only reality is – as Lyotard outlined – a quantitative economic reality with which everything has its price (whether the market is an “internal market” or in the larger world outside). Pakman outlines the gruesome results of these practices so clearly, I will simply quote him in the rest of this section:

              “Once the basic financial-organizational structure of the institutions is homogenized according to the new rules of the game, their specific practices become homogenized as well. In mental health organizations, as an expression of this homogenization, cloned committees decide the right credentials to practice a profession, “assure quality” of the work through multidisciplinary teams, and try to implement “outcome measured” practices based on scientific bases. These practices start with clearly defined treatment plans, operate on the well defined diagnoses reimbursable by health insurance companies, and end up with “customer” satisfaction surveys. Although rationally justified as “service delivery quality improvement measures,” we can see that: quality assurance committees [end and multdisciplinary teams end up frequently streamlining and improving documentation that becomes the real territory of clinical work, congruent with the legal assumption that what is not written did not happen. Measuring outcomes requires, again, a reliance on well-defined clinical entities that also bring paperwork to the forefront, while the qualitative research that could give it some rationality remains alien to the whole process. New generations of therapists are guided by these trails of paperwork and regulations from health insurance companies, which increasingly replace the old disciplinary models of therapy and blow away the post-modern interests of the mental health professionals.”

              “Solution focused models, or any other psychotherapeutic models based on an easily learnable technique to be applied, are welcomed by the system, although not for the reasons their masters saw them as preferable, but because of its adaptability to the needs of the economic and organizational system. The same happens with psychiatric consultations, during which physicians trained now almost exclusively in pharmacotherapy, are asked to rapidly process high volumes of patients, applying simplistic decision tree thinking processes to the identification and treatment of signs and symptoms. Representatives from laboratories manufacturing psychotropics have adopted a more aggressive style of visiting doctors, in which they overtly try to influence the decision making process of the professional (starting for instance with the question: “tell me doctor, how do you decide which antidepressant to use?”). These intrusions are legitimized with some scientific papers in which neurobiology is limited to abstract neurotransmitter effects, without any consideration to the embodied and complex nature of clinical practice. Innumerous training programs provide the academic legitimacy teaching “what you need to know these days.” In academe, cloned committees also unify graduate and post-graduate programs in psychology, family therapy, psychiatry, closing the loop to train cloned professionals without major deviations from the required knowledge/power. Credentialing processes are frequently guided by political or discriminatory interests. For instance, experienced foreign graduate professionals are in general disqualified in their training, required to go through retraining in no way different from the one they already had in their home countries, and denied to sit for examinations to prove they have the required knowledge. Sometimes, however, they have some of these requirements conveniently waived when other financial or social reasons call for them to be used in under-served areas or lower hierarchical positions.”

              “Other committees at a higher level, themselves legitimized with the power to legitimize, visit organizations to evaluate their conformity with the prescribed reality, and punish deviations. The end result is a system that awards similarity and conformity to officially designed practices, not imposed from above, but enthusiastically enforced by each worker whose mind has been formatted by the prevailing system. Patients became “consumers,” a change of words welcomed by many practitioners who seem to ignore the market language origin of the term, focusing instead in the advantage of eliminating the term “patient,” supposedly indicator of a position of inferiority of people requesting help. This structure, designed to eliminate the worst and potentially damaging practices, accomplishes it sometimes, but only at the prize of precluding creativity” (pp.115-117).

              “In this “fast-forward” world, therapy embraces solution focused models, tackling well defined concrete problems, just to keep us up to speed, without time for history and reflection. The new models of therapy (like a best seller) are comforting and entertaining ways to keep apace, increasingly replacing what therapy (like literature) meant to be: social devices for a reflective examination of life. While post-modern intellectuals are still arguing for competing narratives instead of a unified view of history and reality, for a multiverse of alternate realities instead of a solid Newtonian reality, globalization swept away history altogether, installing the hyperreality of the mediatic and scientific representation-as-fact instead” (Pakman, 2000, p.118).

Notes on Cartesianism


“[This] stipulating has to do with nothing less than the plan of projection of that which must henceforth, for the knowing of nature that is sought after, be nature: the self-contained system of motion of units of mass related spatio-temporally. Into this ground plan of nature, as supplied in keeping with its prior stipulation, the following definitions among others have been incorporated: Motion means change of place. No motion is superior to any other. Every place is equal to every other. No point in time has preference over any other. Every force is defined according to – i.e., is only – its consequences in motion, and that means magnitude of change of place in the unity of time. Every event must be seen so as to be fitted into this ground plan of nature. Only within the perspective of this ground plan does an event of nature become visible as such an event” (Heidegger, 1977, p.119).

As I noted above, while Freidman (2000) might seem to have brought out important differences between the globalization system with the cold war system, and Lyotard (1984) between modernism and post-modernism, “it is in the nature of every advance that it appears much greater than it actually is” (Nestroy, quoted in Wittgenstein, 1953). It seems to me that, irrespective of the increased speed of all our activities now, their “rational-structure,” if I can call it that, is unchanged. For we still, as Wittgenstein (1953) points out, “often compare the use of words with games and calculi which have fixed rules, [without being able to] say that someone who is using language must be playing such a game,” or think that, “... if anyone utters a sentence and means or understands it he is operating a calculus according to rules” (no.81). Why is this? Why do we think that this is how our thinking should be? Because, I suggest, he have all been beguiled by Descartes (1968, 1986) account of what proper thinking really is:


            We are only a thing that thinks (subjectivities); our bodies are irrelevant to the issue of finding a basis for certain knowledge.

            Thus, “even bodies are not strictly perceived by the senses of by the faculty of imagination but by the intellect alone, and that this perception derives not from their being touched or seen but from their being understood” (1986, p.22).

            The intellectual task: to find a method for the attainment of certain knowledge... foundations for thinking, not for acting.

            This is to be found in those “long chains of reasoning, quite simple and easy, which geometers use to teach their most difficult demonstrations” (1968, p.41)... i.e., thinking as calculation.

            The goal of the Method: “knowing the effects of fire, water, air, the stars, the heavens and all the other bodies that surround us... we might put them... to all the uses to which they are appropriate, and thereby make ourselves, as it were, masters and possessors of nature” (p.74).

            The World: “In order to put these truths in a less crude light and to be able to say more freely what I think about them, without being obliged to accept or to refute what are accepted opinions among philosophers and theologians, I resolved to leave all these people to their disputes, and to speak only of what would happen in a new world, if God were to create, somewhere in imaginary space, enough matter to compose it, and if he were to agitate diversely and confusedly the different parts of this matter, so that he created a chaos as disordered as the poets could ever imagine, and afterwards did no more than to lend his usual preserving action to nature, and to let her act according to his established laws” (1968, p.62).

            Anything we know, we know only intermediately, through our representations of it.

            Inner depictions of outer realities.

            We are a disengaged (subjective) self, linked only externally to our (merely objective) surroundings..

            And we act willfully and intellectually, in terms of our inner mental representations – our beliefs, our theories, our pictures, our images, etc.

            Thus we only act willfully and planfully, in terms of cognitions, of inferences, interpretations, etc.

            We owe our character to ourselves, our genes, etc., not to our relations to others.

            While his empiricist opponents might disagree, nothing about the case demands/requires/calls us to shape our actions, or interpretations – our surroundings are neutral – we are in an external relation to them.

            No background – no tradition like a Thou (that relates itself to us - Gadamer) – only resources available for our use as we desire.


            How do we know that we have achieved certainty: He finds within himself certain things “more perfect than myself.”. These “must have been put into me by a being whose nature was truly more perfect than mine... that is to say, in a single word, which was God” (1968, p.55).

            Reasoning thus depends on clear and distinct ideas... no structures of feeling, no real but invisible presences.

            No agent’s knowledge, i.e., no moment-by-moment, sequentially developed sensuous knowledge of ‘where’ one is ‘in’ an exchange, available only ‘from within’ an ongoing exchange.

            An orderly world... working in terms of already existing orders awaiting discovery in our inquiries... no complex mixtures, no interplay between order and disorder... no differences between center and margins.

            Essentially a world only of being, a set number of externally related elements, reshuffled into new patterns, but no ‘out of the blue’ creation

            No emergence of order, no emergence of subjectivity and objectivity from something more primordial – clear subject/object divisions.

            No dynamic – not a world of flowing, mingling, swirling, blending, stranding, etc., activities... activities that might be re-structured ‘from within’ by participants within them.

            To be free in the modern sense, is to find one’s basis for one’s judgments in oneself.

In other words, proper thinking is something that only goes on inside the heads of individuals. The ancient idea that thinking was conversational, a matter of embodied voices meeting up with other embodied meetings, of people spontaneously responding to each other’s gestures – both of an indicatory and mimetic kind – these aspects of people’s living encounters with the others and othernessess around them, are eradicated in such an account of thinking only as individual reasoning. What happens if we try to bring life back in?

Notes on the dialogical, joint nature of human activity


“A living thing can indeed be grasped as a spatiotemporal magnitude of motion, but then it is no longer apprehended as living” (Heidegger, 1977, p.120).

Below, I want to set out some of the characteristics of a very special phenomenon that occurs only when we enter into mutually responsive, dialogically-structured, living, embodied relations with the others and othernesses around us – when we cease to set ourselves, unresponsively, over against them, and allow ourselves to enter into an inter-involvement with them. It is here, in the intricate ‘orchestration’ of the interplay occurring between our own outgoing, responsive expressions toward those others (or othernesses) and their equally responsive incoming expressions toward us, that a very special kind of understanding of this special phenomenon becomes available to us. The phenomenon in question is the creation within the responsive interplay of all the events and activities at work in the situation at that moment of distinctive, dynamically changing forms, an emerging sequence of changes (or differencings’) each one with its own unique ‘shape’ which, although invisible, is felt by all involved as participants within it in the same way.

              In the intricate ‘orchestration’ of the interplay occurring in such living relations, between our own outgoing (responsive) expressions toward the other (or otherness) and their incoming, equally responsive expressions toward us, a very special kind of practical understanding becomes available to us. In such an understanding, we grasp the nature of these others and othernesses, not as passive and neutral objects, but as “real presences (as agencies)” (Steiner, 1989), toward which we must adopt an “evaluative attitude” (Bakhtin, 1986, p.84). We shall call this a relationally-responsive understanding to contrast it with the representational-referential understanding more familiar to us in our traditional intellectual dealings. This does not occur in all conversations, only in truly reciprocally or mutually responsive ones:


            We cannot not be responsive both to those around us [others] and to other aspects [othernesses] of our surroundings.

            Thus, in such spontaneously responsive sphere of activity as this, instead of one person first acting individually and independently of an other, and then the second replying, by acting individually and independently of the first, we act jointly, as a collective-we.

            And we do this bodily, in a ‘living’ way, spontaneously, without us having first ‘to work out’ how to respond to each other.

            This means that when someone acts, their activity cannot be accounted as wholly their own activity – for a person’s acts are partly ‘shaped’ by the acts of the others around them – this is where all the strangeness of the dialogical begins (“joint action” - Shotter, 1980, 1984, 1993a and b).

            Our actions are neither yours nor mine; they are truly ‘ours’.


            Also: “The mechanism of meaning is present in the social act before the emergence of consciousness or awareness of meaning occurs. The act or adjustive response of the second organism gives to the gesture of the first organism the meaning it has” (Mead, 1934, pp 77-78).


            “Sawing and dancing are paradigm cases of dialogical actions. But there is frequently a dialogical level to actions that are otherwise merely coordinated. A conversation s a good example. Conversations with some degree of ease and intimacy move beyond mere coordination and have a common rhythm. The interlocutor not only listens but participates with head nodding and ‘unh-hunh’ and the like, and at a certain point the ’semantic turn’ passes over to the other by a common movement. The appropriate moment is felt by both partners together in virtue of the common rhythm” (Taylor, 1991, p.310)... not in virtue of a common rhythm, but in virtue of a sensed ‘completion’ of a ‘mental movement’.


            Further: If we are to sustain the sense of a collective-we between us and the answerability to a common rhythm, we find ourselves with certain obligations to ‘our’ joint affairs:

            Only if ‘you’ respond to ‘me’ in a way sensitive to the relations between your actions and mine can ‘we’ act together as a ‘collective-we’; and if I sense you as not being sensitive in that way, then I feel immediately offended in an ethical way - I feel that you lack respect for ‘our’ affairs.

            Indeed, “[if] the minute social system that is brought into being with each encounter [becomes] disorganized... the participants will feel unruled, unreal, and anomic” (p.135).

            Thus, as Goffman (1967) puts it: a participant “...cannot act in order to satisfy these obligations, for such an effort would require him to shift his [sic] attention from the topic of the conversation to the problem of being spontaneously involved in it. Here, in a component of non-rational impulsiveness - not only tolerated but actually demanded - we find an important way in which the interactional order differs from other kinds of social order” (p.115).


            What is produced in such dialogical exchanges is a very complex mixture of not wholly reconcilable influences – as Bakhtin (1981) remarks, both ‘centripetal’ tendencies inward toward order and unity at the center, as well as ‘centrifugal’ ones outward toward diversity and difference on the borders or margins.


            Further, because the overall outcome of any exchange cannot be traced back to the intentions of any of the individuals involved, the ‘dialogical reality or space’ constructed between them is experienced as an ‘external reality’ or a ‘third agency’ (an ‘it’) with its own (ethical) demands and requirements.

            “The word is a drama in which three characters participate (it is not a duet, but a trio)” (Bakhtin, 1986, p.122)... a third agency is at work in dialogical realities.


            Thus, such activity is not simply action (for it is not done by individuals; and cannot be explained by giving people’s reasons), nor is it simply behavior (to be explained as a regularity in terms of its causal principles); it constitutes a distinct, third sphere of activity with its own distinctive properties.

            This third sphere of activity involves a special kind of nonrepresentational, sensuous or embodied form of practical-moral (Bernstein, 1983) understanding, which, in being constitutive of people’s social and personal identities, is prior to and determines all the other ways of knowing available to us.

            Activities in this sphere lack specificity; they are only partially determined.

            They are a complex mixture of many different kinds of influences.

            This makes it very difficult for us to characterize their nature: they have neither a fully orderly nor a fully disorderly structure, neither a completely stable nor an easily changed organization, neither a fully subjective nor fully objective character.

            They are also non-locatable - they are ‘spread out’ among all those participating in them.

            They are neither ‘inside’ people, but nor are they ‘outside’ them; they are located in that space where inside and outside are one.

            Nor is there a separate before and after (Bergson), neither an agent nor an effect, but only a meaningful whole which cannot divide itself into separable parts.

            Indeed, it is precisely their lack of any pre-determined order, and thus their openness to being specified or determined by those involved in them, in practice - while usually remaining quite unaware of having done so - that is their central defining feature. And: it is precisely this that makes this sphere of activity interesting... for at least two reasons: 1) to do with practical investigations into how people actually do manage to ‘work things out’, and the part played by the ways of talking we interweave into the many different spheres of practical activity occurring between us; but also 2) for how we might refine and elaborate these spheres of activity, and how we might extend them into novel spheres as yet unknown.


            It is only from within a living involvement in such an ongoing flow of dialogical activity, that we can make sense of what is occurring around us.

            These are not understandings of a situation, which allow it to be linked to realities already known to us, but new, first-time understandings which are constitutive for us of what counts as the significant, stable and repeatable forms within that flow.


As James C. Scott (1998) very comprehensively shows: “Designed or planned social order is necessarily schematic; it always ignores essential features of any real, functioning social order... [And] schematic authoritarian solutions to production and social order inevitably fail when they exclude the fund of valuable local knowledge embodied in local practices” (p.6). This goes for both Socialist and for Capitalist economic systems, for both in the end impose crude numerical systems on diverse, local, living circumstances. Scott focuses on urban planning, rural settlement, land administration, and agriculture. He shows, not only how maps and other spatial schematisms were developed, which could be ‘laid over’ a region to make its controllable features “readable” in central offices, but how the urge to make a region or a State “legible” often acts back on its natural and social ecology to completely restructure it – often, to render it no longer self-sustaining.

              As an initial illustration of his point, Scott uses the invention of scientific forestry in late 18th century Prussia and Saxony – and compares this with what is possible, taking into account local detail, unnoticed in such generalized, ‘scientific’ approaches.

              The forests first: As economic exploitation of forests became to the fore in the 18th century, ‘wild’ forests, with a diversity of different trees, undergrowth, all manner of animals and insects, were regimented: “The forest trees were drawn up into serried, uniform ranks, as it were, to be measured, counted off, felled, and replaced by a new rank and file of lookalike conscripts... At the limit, the forest itself would not have to be seen; it could be ‘read’ accurately from tables and maps in the forester’s office” (p.15). It took about a century for troubles with such ‘stripped down’ forests to become clear. A new term, Waldsterben (forest death), entered German vocabulary. An exceptionally complicated process involving soil building, nutrient uptake, and symbiotic relations among fungi, insects, mammals, and flora - which were all disrupted, and which are still not all well understood - had, unwittingly, been eradicated by the planting of single-species, simplified, and ‘cleaned up’ forests. The organization of the forest in terms of the production of a single commodity, implacably eliminated everything that was deemed as interfering with that aim. By replacing the forest as a natural habitat with the forest organized solely as an economic resource, to be managed efficiently for profit, the unnoticed ‘ecological capital’ that had been developed and accumulated in the ‘wild’ over many generations, was eliminated within one or two. But the administrator’s forest can never be the ecologist’s forest. Even if the ecological inter-dependencies at work in ‘wild’ forests could all be identified, they would constitute a reality so complexly intertwined and variegated as to defy easy schematic description.

              Now the small local details: As an example of Scott’s emphasize on the importance of the small details of local knowledge, we can cite the following example: While the World Bank wants to make its loans dependent on the adoption of ‘scientific’ methods of agriculture, including the general and indiscriminate use of insecticides, Scott (1998, p.333) reports the following episode, to do with the elderly head of a household (Mat Isa) in Malaysia ridding the family Mango tree of red ants, which destroyed most of the Mongos before they could ripen: For a number of weeks, Mat Isa laid the thin curled up leaves of the nipah palm tree around in strategic places in the village. He knew that black ant queens would lay their eggs in the leaves. When he had accumulated masses black-ant eggs beginning to hatch. He then laid the leaves at the base of the Mango tree. Black ants are the enemies of red ants, but do not destroy the Mangos. The Mango crop was saved.

              Scott calls the urge to view one’s surroundings indirectly, in terms of such simplified, stripped down, ordered schematisms, thus to render them amenable to being administrated by those in central offices, “seeing like a State.” The dreams that generated such urges and compulsions, originating at the time of Newton and Descartes, assumed, of course, that reality was fundamentally mechanical, and that everything that occurred within it could be understood as a cause-and-effect process. What changes as we move beyond that modernist world, into the world of Bakhtin and Wittgenstein, is that we move from a dead, mechanistic order of one-way cause and effect relations, into a living responsive order of two-way, dialogically-structured relations. As with ‘wild’ forests, these living, responsive, background relations in terms of which we live our everyday lives, have always been there; we do not need, rationally, to create them. Indeed, as Scott (1998) points out: “By themselves,... simplified rules can never generate a functioning community, city, or economy. Formal order, to be more explicit, is always and to some considerable degree parasitic on informal processes, which the formal scheme does not recognize, without which is could not exist, and which it alone cannot create or maintain” (p.310) - but which, to repeat, it can act back upon to destroy. Philosophy seeks a comprehensive view, a sense of how things hang together as a whole, a view that we can hold in common others. But we now realize that there are two quite distinct ways in which we can approach this task, two quite distinct forms of comprehensive understanding with two quite distinct motives:


-             1) One approach is from the outside as observers of formal patterns. It aims at the form of understanding we seek in our traditional theory-centered philosophy. Above, I called it an understanding of a representational-referential kind. It aims at ‘fixing’ the object of one’s understanding within a medium of representation - usually, in written language. The urge to express our knowledge (especially of human affairs) in this way, in terms of hierarchically ordered schemes of logically interlinked propositions, a system, although rhetorically justified by appeals to equality and the disinterested objectivity of science, leads - as both Foucault (1977) and Scott (1998) show - to just those kind of kind of “regimes of knowledge” required in administering a State centrally. The synoptic ‘view(s)’ of the affairs of State such a philosophy provides, are not got by attending to local details, but exist in terms of single, complete and closed orders of connectedness represented in various schematic artefacts in such a control room.


-             2) The other way in which we can arrive at a comprehensive view, a scenic-sense, of the whole responsive order within which we live and share our lives with others, is through participating in with them all in creating that order - but participating in it in certain special ways that help us to acquire a reflexive awareness of some aspects at least of its nature. Our explorations here have been of that kind: they have been aimed at increasing our awareness of our own involvements in creating, elaborating, and refining such an order. The form of understanding to which involvements give rise is, to repeat, that of a relationally-responsive kind. Unlike the view from the center, it is a kind of understanding democratically distributed throughout the whole order within which it has its being. It is an understanding of a much ‘fuller’ or ‘deeper’, i.e., more ordered kind, than that given by a system of propositions imposed upon it, externally.

There is a tendency to treat circumstances we find bewildering or disorienting, ones which are strange and new to us, as posing a problem for us. Thus we often respond to such events by seeking a solution to them, by trying to explain them. There is, however, an altogether different way of responding: we can ‘enter into’ a dialogically-structured relationship to them, and, as we ‘dwell on, with, or within’ them for a while, gradually gain an orientation toward them as their ‘inner nature’ becomes familiar to us – just as, say, as we get to know our ‘way around’ inside a city which is at first unfamiliar to us by exploring its highways and byways according to the different projects we try to pursue within it. In becoming familiar with something in our surroundings in this way, in coming to feel ‘at home’ with it, we come to know not just its inert, objective nature, but to know it in terms of a whole realm of possible responsive, living relations that we might have with it. We orient toward them in terms of its yet-to-be-achieved values, the (grammatical) ‘calls’ they it exert on us to ‘go on’ with it in one way rather than another. The development of a sensitivity to such calls is not a part of the problem-solving process; it is a call to develop ourselves and our relations to the others around us beyond what both we and they already are.



Bakhtin, M.M. (1984) Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics. Edited and trans. by Caryl Emerson. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Bakhtin, M.M. (1993) Toward a Philosophy of the Act, with translation and notes by Vadim Lianpov, edited by M. Holquist. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.

Berlin, I. (1962) Does political theory still exist?. In P. Laslett and W. Runicman (Eds.) Philosophy, Politics, and Society (2nd Series). Oxford: Blackwell.

Descartes, R. (1968) Discourse on Method and Other Writings. Trans. with introduction by F.E. Sutcliffe. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Descartes, R. (1986) Meditations on First Philosophy: with Selections from Objections and Replies. Translated by J.Cottingham, with an introduction by B. Williams. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Friedman, T. (2000) The Lexus and the Olive Tree. New York: Anchor Books.

Heidegger, M. (1977) The age of the world picture. In The Question Concerning Technology. New York and London: Garland Press

Lyotard, J-F. (1984) The Post-modern Condition: a Report on Knowledge. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Pakman, M. (2000) Disciplinary knowledge, postmodernism, and globalization: a call for Donald Schön’s ‘Reflective Turn’ for the mental health professions. Cybernetics &Human Knowledge, 7(2-3), pp.105-126.

Scott, J.C. (1998) Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Steiner, G. (1989) Real Presences. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press.

Wittgenstein, L. (1953) Philosophical Investigations. Oxford: Blackwell.