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Differences in Style of Artistic and Policy Endeavour

Towards Transformative Conferencing and Dialogue

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Part P 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 a clearly a basic mistake to assume that the sense of either appropriate aesthetics or appropriate policy-making is held in the same way, whether between cultures or within any culture. Indeed it is these differences which contribute most to the distinctions between cultures, and between the ways in which people develop within them. For any project to be significant to this larger multi-cultural context, there must therefore be an ability to respond to the variety of styles of aesthetic or policy endeavour.

The following "axes of bias" derive from work by the philosopher W T Jones (The Romantic Syndrome: toward a new method in cultural anthropology and the history of ideas. Martinus Nijhoff, 1961) who was concerned with a new methodology in dealing with strongly held differences in any debate. He interest was provoked by the unending debate on the definition of the "romantic period" -- hence the title of the book. The result, which he extended to both the sciences and the arts, is one way of understanding the different emphases which people and cultures may bring to any debate -- prior to any "rational" discussion on substance. They are not mutually exclusive. This initiative could be related to that on the underlying metaphors of different management styles as explored by Gareth Morgan (Images of Organization). Can each such emphases or bias be recognized as a skill in a pattern that interrelates their differences?

(a) Order vs disorder

Namely the range between a preference for fluidity, muddle chaos, etc. and a preference for system, structure, conceptual clarity, etc.

(b) Static vs dynamic

Namely the range between a preference for the changeless, eternal, etc. and a preference for movement, for explanation in genetic and process terms, etc.

(c) Continuity vs discreteness

Namely the range between a preference for wholeness, unity, etc and a preference for discreteness, plurality, diversity, etc.

(d) Inner vs outer

Namely the range between a preference for being able to project oneself into the objects of one's experience (to experience them as one experiences oneself), and a preference for a relatively external, objective relation to them.

(e) Sharp focus vs soft focus

Namely the range between a preference for clear, direct experience and a preference for threshold experiences, felt to be saturated with more meaning than is immediately present.

(f) This world vs other world

Namely the range between preference for belief in the spatio-temporal world as self-explanatory and preference for belief that it is not and can only be comprehended in terms of other frames.

(g) Spontaneity vs process

Namely the range between a preference for chance, freedom, accident, etc and a preference for explanations subject laws and definable processes.

Clearly these different views are not mutually exclusive and overlap in complex ways in the case of any culture, discipline or school of thought. The 14 views have in fact been elaborated on the basis of an investigation by W T Jones (1961), who developed 7 axes of bias by which many academic debates could be characterized. The 14 views above form 7 pairs of extremes corresponding to the extreme positions on such axes. Jones showed how any individual had a profile of pre-logical preferences based on the degree of inclination towards one or other extreme of each pair. The scholars named in each case are those given by Jones as examples.

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