Modelling Meetings (Analogies and Metaphors)
Towards Transformative Conferencing and Dialogue
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Part N of Towards Transformative Conferencing and Dialogue: Collection of papers and notes, problems and possibilities on the new frontier of high-risk gatherings concerning social development (1991).
It is easy to get locked into a conventional pattern of reflection about meetings. This
blocks the opportunity offered by many analogies to highlight alternative or complementary
perspectives. These can be useful in suggesting more fruitful approaches, if only under
1. Games and contests
2. Physical processes
- Medieval tournament: Participants may be viewed as knights gathered for a
tournament. Each bearing a heraldic coat of arms representing his qualities and
territorial origins to be defended at all costs. Contests are ritualized under an
elaborate code of honour.
- Miss Universe contest: Issues are paraded before eminent panellists who discuss
their qualities before ranking them and selecting the "issue of the year". The
whole process being immersed in a sea of public relations and other interests.
- Martial art: The struggle between issues or their representatives may be viewed
in the light of the "holds" and "throws" of Eastern martial arts
(aikido, judo, etc). In these the supreme achievement is to use the enemy's energy
to defeat him, and ultimately to see the enemy as but a reflection of oneself.
- Market-place: The production, exchange and consumption of perspectives may be
seen in terms of the dynamics of the market and the economic laws governing supply, demand
and marketing considerations.
3. Biological and chemical processes
- Thermodynamics: The social processes in the meeting may be viewed in terms of the
relationships between "pressure", "volume", "temperature"
and various measures of energy stored and released.
- Magnetothermohydrodynamics: The challenge of assembling the different participant
orientations into a coherent configuration, generating and focusing the associated
energies, and reaching a new level of significance, may be seen in the light of a fusion
approach to plasma in a magnetic bottle.
- Meteorology: The condition of a meeting may be viewed in terms of meteorological
phenomena: wind, fog, heat, cold, visibility, precipitation (rain, snow), clouds,
warm/cold fronts, wind patterns, etc.
- Geology/topography: Participants and their interests may be viewed as
geographical features (continents, islands, mountains) isolated or linked by seas, rivers,
4. Agriculture and food processing
- Chemistry: The "chemistry" of a meeting may be explored as the sequence
or pattern of reactions taking place at a certain rate, possibly in the presence of
catalysts. A meeting may also be seen as a "chemical soup" within which new
varieties of complex molecules may emerge under certain conditions.
- Biochemical and metabolic processes: The range of possible meeting processes may
be seen as constituting a map of pathways whereby various kinds of essential
transformation take place with the assistance of specific enzymes.
- Environmental genetics: The viewpoints represented and emerging at a meeting may
be seen in terms of species and gene pools linked and isolated by food webs and ecological
niches, but subject to genetic drift and mutation. Such environments may be poor,
vulnerable, or in process of enrichment. Meetings may be seen as ruled by the "law of
5. Physical constructs
- Horticulture and gardening: A meeting may be seen as a garden of flowers,
vegetables and other species (with "a hundred flowers blooming"). The challenge
is to care appropriately for these species: to water, to cover, to prune, to weed, to
encourage or reduce certain insects, etc.
- Cooking: A meeting may be viewed as a menu of dishes amongst which participants
select. Balance is important both in selecting the dishes an individual consumes (the art
of the gourmet) and in combining the ingredients whereby a dish is prepared (the culinary
- Diet: A meeting may be viewed in terms of the dietary regime appropriate to
participant nourishment, namely the quantity of carbohydrates, protein, and vitamins,
interpreted as various kinds of information. The question of "calories",
"exercise" and "obesity" may also be raised.
6. Social activities
- Architecture: The structural and functional divisions of a meeting may be viewed
in terms of architectural analogues, from the simple one-room hut to the complex
cathedral, fortress or palace. This raises questions of design and practicality of layout.
- Tensegrity: This recent advance in architectural possibilities (and the basis of
the geodesic dome) suggests new ways of balancing configurations of opposing forces in a
- Circuits: The variety of components in electric, electronic and fluidic circuits
suggest ways of combining well differentiated modes of participant information processing.
7. Psycho-physical processes
- Orchestra: The challenge of interrelating participant view points to produce a
new balance between harmony and dissonance may be seem in terms of an orchestra.
- Theatre: The possibilities of drama, dramatic tension, the roles of actors, and
the audience relationship have often been used to describe meetings.
- Dance: The rhythmic interweaving of dancers may also be used to describe the
rhythm of meeting processes and participant interaction.
- Temple ritual: The meeting as a ceremony of celebration of the values to which
the participants subscribe may be seem in terms of temple processes with extremes of
sacrifice and communion accompanied by ritual chants.
- Respiration: The meeting may be viewed as composed of cycles of inbreathing and
outbreathing of information in the light of yoga attitudes towards the ultimate
significance of such processes.
- Meditation: The meeting may be viewed as an exercise in collective meditation and
group consciousness, with all the consequent problems of physical, emotional and mental
- Alchemy: The various alchemical processes explored by psychoanalysts may be used
to model the progressive transmutation of the crude (material) perspectives initially
present in the meeting.