Reordering Networks of Incommensurable Concepts in Phased Cycles
-- and their comprehension through metaphor
- / -
Paper prepared for the International Symposium on Models of Meaning
(Bulgaria, September 1988)
under the auspices of the Institute of Bulgarian Language of the Bulgarian
Academy of Sciences
Governance through metaphor
Governing sustainable development: the future
Contemporary crisis of governance
Fourfold principle of uncertainty in governance
Sustaining development: the epistemological challenge of
Mapping networks of
Models of alternation
Metaphor and the challenge of comprehending complexity
Cycles of policies
Metaphoric revolution: cycles and rhythms
The Union of International Associations (founded in Brussels in 1910) has
a continuing statutory obligation to act as a clearinghouse for information
on international governmental and nongovernmental organizations, and to determine
ways to facilitate their activities in response to the problems of society.
This obligation is in part fulfilled by the maintenance of database on some
30,000 international non-profit bodies which is reproduced annually in the
form of a 3-volume Yearbook
of International Organizations (1,2,3).
A principal characteristic
of the organizations described is the different significance they attach to the
problems with which they are each concerned. It would be fair to say that most
organizations perceive the concerns of most other bodies as being largely
irrelevant, possibly even totally lacking in significance, or, in many
cases, actively opposed to their own. This situation is frequently disguised by
token adherence to shared principles or values of no immediate practical
In order to explore this situation more effectively, the database has been
extended to include data on the 'world problems' with which different
organizations claim to be concerned. This has resulted in the production of
an Encyclopedia of World Problems
and Human Potential (4). Over 4,500 perceived problems are described,
together with some 13,000 relationships between them. To complement this 'negative'
emphasis, the data bases also includes information on various forms of human
resource available in response to the problems: forms of communicating concepts
(including metaphors, patterns, symbols), human development concepts, concepts
of interdisciplinarity, strategies, and human values. A new edition is in
It is clear from this work
that there is considerable reluctance to articulate the networks of problems
for which organizations develop remedial strategies and 'answers'
(whether in the form of explanations, ideologies, paradigms or belief systems).
Increasingly 'facts' put forward by different authorities are viewed
as questionable and even 'negotiable' (as in the case of such issues
as acid rain, health effects of smoking, environmental hazards of radiation).
The collection and
maintenance of the above forms of information is a challenge in its own right.
For many problems there is a counter-claim, establishing the insignificance or
misconception of the problem. But such work poses even more sharply the
significance of such seemingly incompatible items of information, whether
individually or in relation to one other. What should it be possible to learn
from such patterns of information and how can they guide processes of
governance more effectively?
The well-established tendency to favour particular languages in clarifying
the problems and options of the international community has led to a situation
in which if the concept cannot be articulated clearly in one such language
(usually English) it cannot be considered meaningful and should therefore
be avoided. Whilst users of other languages may make use of other concepts,
their value is not acknowledged and reinforced if their existence is recognized
at all. This is especially unfortunate when people from such language systems
are educated in a dominant language such as English, which then becomes their
intellectual and working language. Concepts rich in value from their own culture
are then viewed as traditional, folkloric and lacking in practical importance.
To clarify this question, especially during the current World Decade of Cultural
Development of the United Nations, there is place for a Encyclopedia
of Conceptual Insights from the Worlds' Cultures currently being proposed
as a further extension of the database.
The basic concern of this
paper is the individual and collective need to respond creatively to this
apparently fragmented reality of society, whether within or between cultures.
In the light of recent historical trends it is very difficult to sustain the
prevailing assumption that people and groups can (or should) all be persuaded
-- within the foreseeable future -- to subscribe to any one particular paradigm,
belief system or form of sustainable development (or the institutions and
policies they engender). Rather than placing all hope in the possibility of
finding this one magical 'mega-answer', through which all ills are to
be finally dispelled, a radical alternative can be usefully explored.
Conventional approaches to
social transformation tend to be based on changes to material conditions (as
well as to social and attitudinal structures) recommended as necessary and
desirable by some group in power in the light of advice by some elite group of
experts. Such 'mono-perspective' approaches tend to respect the views
and needs of the majority in any territory, possibly with compromises to take
account of minorities. It is extremely difficult for such changes to be
implemented so as fully to meet the perceived needs of all on a socially and
culturally diverse planet. This is a major reason for the fragmentation of
conceptual and belief systems and their associated institutions. A contrasting
approach would be one in which such epistemological divergence was encouraged
-- moving with the process of fragmentation rather than attempting vainly to
oppose it. This is in accord with a fundamental principle of Eastern martial
arts. The integration and consensus so desperately sought is then achieved in a
more subtle and elegant manner.
diaspora' advocated here is already a reality of increasing significance
-- although it may be said to have commenced with the diversification of man's
first reflections on the universe. The use of metaphor as advocated here could
however result in a metaphoric revolution which would dramatically encourage
such epistemological divergence in the interests of those who engage in it.
Such a revolution would
encourage and enable people and groups to select, adapt or design their own
conceptual frameworks and manner of perceiving their environment as well as
their own way of comprehending and communicating about their action on it.
Whilst they might at any one time use frameworks favoured or advocated by
others, they would in no way feel obliged to continue to use them.
The emphasis would shift
from the present situation of dependence on specialists, experts and political
leaders putting forward 'ultimate' explanations, models and
developmental policy recommendations. The implication that such explanations
should be accepted in preference to all previous ones would then become
questionable. Earlier explanations, no longer need necessarily be rejected as
reflecting various levels of misunderstanding or downright stupidity --
irrespective of any fundamental disagreement amongst the elites responsible for
them. Such a shift in emphasis honours the complexity and variety of peoples
needs and the increasing difficulty for the average person to even remotely
comprehend the justification of such explanations. These they are therefore
expected to take on trust -- but which they often simply ignore.
In a condition of
continuous metaphoric revolution an explanation loses its character of
permanence as the authoritative pattern of reference. Rather people select
between alternative explanations according to their circumstances and immediate
needs -- shifting to other explanations as the circumstances change. This does
not preclude the possibility of staying permanently with one explanation -- but
continuously shifting between explanations becomes a meaningful alternative.
Under such circumstances
the value of an explanation to the user comes as much from the consciousness of
having chosen it -- however temporarily -- as from its intrinsic merits. This
is equivalent to the value attached by a climber to the particular branches of
a tree or ledges on a mountain -- they are of value as part of the climbing
process in providing temporary security and a foundation for further progress.
But equally, staying on any one ledge may offer a satisfactory view of the
world which reduces any need to continue climbing.
It might be considered
strange that in a rapidly changing world, considerable effort should be made to
incarcerate comprehension of society in particular explanations. In a context
of planned obsolescence, changing priorities and shifting fashions, such
explanations do not last long. It would seem to be more appropriate to open up
the possibility of shifting explanations, thus freeing people to explore the
many dimensions of comprehension and the opportunities to which they give rise.
The major objection to the acceptance of such 'epistemological chaos'
is the seeming loss of permanence and order which have been the object of
so much effort in the past -- and what of the various 'bodies of knowledge'
so painfully built up ? How could society function under such circumstances?
Can development be sustained in such a turbulent epistemological context ?
The argument of this paper is that to a large extent is already, but by attempting
to avoid such seeming chaos, policies and institutions are designed which
are inadequate to the real challenge of sustainable development. This paper
explores ways of sustaining and comprehending new patterns of meaning and
their relevance to governance through metaphor as well as some of the questions
to which this perspective gives rise. The paper follows on earlier work on
metaphors published in the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential (4). The first sections recap some
arguments presented in two subsequent papers on Comprehension
of Appropriateness (5a) and on Governance
through Metaphor (6), both produced through the United Nations University
project on Economic Aspects of Human Development. (Extracts from the second
paper have recently been circulated in the newsletter of the US Club of Rome
As noted above, extensive
use of metaphor is made by politicians and statesmen in endeavouring to
communicate policy options and positions. It is a characteristic of political
discourse. However, metaphor is seldom if ever consciously used in policy
documents and in the documents of experts legitimating such policies. Such
documents are characterized by bureaucratic jargon and the supposedly
metaphor-free language of experts appropriate to the objective discussion of
scenarios and theoretical models.
It is not the purpose here
to query these two modes of discourse. Rather it is to question the
epistemological nature of the 'conceptual bridge' which integrates
them. What in fact is the current link between these two functions ? In
practice, if the policy model emerges first, then public relations consultants
are engaged to discover means of 'packaging' it for communication to
wider consistencies. If the concept emerges as a politicians insight from the
cut-and-thrust of the political arena, then experts are called upon to dust off
some model which can give theoretical credibility to it. Those associated with
each mode of discourse have little respect for the contributions of the other.
No scholar has any appreciation of the constraints of public relations, just as
no media consultant has any respect for the niceties of scholarly methods.
Policy-makers navigate in an essentially schizophrenic domain of discourse.
In a very real sense
governance essentially takes place in an epistemological 'war zone'
where the battle between metaphoric and modelling modes takes place.
The challenge is to move
beyond the limitations of a discussion in which either (a) metaphors are
claimed to be purely figurative and of no cognitive significance, or (b) models
are claimed to be fundamentally metaphoric in nature. There is presumably some
truth and some exaggeration to both claims. The question is how this
epistemological battle affects the problem of governance in any effort to
pursue future policies of 'sustainable development'.
an epistemological quest
It is important to stress
that the focus on the metaphoric dimensions does not in any way deny the
importance of the modelling function when conceived non-metaphorically as a
purely conceptual device (e.g. as in econometrics, global modelling, etc.) The
point is rather that in order to present and explain such models successfully
to those preoccupied with the many dimensions of governance, they must anyway
be imbued with metaphoric dimensions - however distasteful this may be to
modelling purists. But for those concerned with governance, it is precisely
through imbuing the models with metaphoric dimensions that they become
meaningful and can be related, through the political insight and experience of
the governors to concrete realities which models, as abstractions, do not fully
take into account. It is the ability of the governors to project themselves
into the metaphor which enables them to find ways of fitting the model to the
decision-making realities of the world they are dealing with and to the
mindsets of the governed. Both model and metaphor are epistemological crutches
- one facilitating left-hemisphere information processing and the other
right-hemisphere processing. As Jeremy Cambell says: 'Another kind of
context supplied by the right brain comes from its superior grasp of
Expressed in these terms,
it becomes clearer that many of the inadequacies of modelling for governance
are precisely due to the lack of attention to the need to imbue them with
metaphoric dimensions. Equally many of the inadequacies of metaphors for
governance are due to the lack of attention to the need to imbue them with
modelling dimensions. In metaphorical terms, the former furnish clothes of
appropriate strength, but which are so uncomfortable and ugly, that nobody is
inclined to try them on or be seen wearing them. Whereas the latter furnish
clothes which are a delight to try on, but cannot be taken more seriously than
fancy dress, because they are not appropriate to the varieties of weather
conditions which they must withstand. This is a problem of design.
For both the governors and
the governed it is a question of the extent to which they are able to 'get
into' the 'metaphor-model'. In relation to this question of
'getting into', Anne Buttimer notes the most profound transformation
in twentieth centry knowledge as being the movement from observation (of
reality) to participation (in reality) (27) - a theme explored by Michael
Polanyi (28). What degrees of 'epistemological participation' does a
'metaphor-model' offer? Are there more powerful forms of
participation, or at least forms more powerful in different circumstances?
These need not be trivial questions for governance, because in a sense epistemological
participation can be more powerfully attractive than participation limited to
political processes, which it effectively underlies.
It is interesting, with
respect to such collective learning questions, that the American Cybernetic
Society award for the best paper of the year has just gone to Kathleen
Forsythe, for a paper entitled: 'Cathedrals of the Minds; the
architecture of metaphor in understanding learning'. In it she points
out, citing Bohm (17), that the issues of content and process are no longer the
key issues in the new ways of thinking about learning. But content and process
are now to be seen as two aspects of one whole movement.
'The fundamental difference in this new
view of learning is to see analogical thinking as the architecture and
analytical thinking as the engineering of our mind's view of the world.
Thinking and learning become a dynamic 'open' geometry (Fuller, 29)
characterized by increasing complexity and transformation as a dissipative
structure (Prigogine, 30) based on a kinetic, relational calculus (Pask, 31).
The meta design is not built on inference and syllogism but on analogy and
relation thus allowing form to develop from an underlying logic - the
morphogenises of an idea. (Sheldrake, 32). Knowledge is seen not as an absolute
to be known but always in relation to agreement and disagreement, to coherence
and distinction in terms of individual, cultural and social points of view. The
language we use to communicate then takes on a heightened importance
(Wittgenstein, 33)) whether that be the language of words or the metaphor
language of pattern (Alexander, 34).
and the movement of meaning
Much has been made in
recent years of the emergence of the 'information society'.
Enthusiasts have envisaged this resulting in a 'global village',
given the facility of information access and transfer. Great care should
however be taken in building on such hopes in envisioning new forms of
In order to identify the opportunity for the emergence of a form of governance
which responds with requisite variety to the issues identified in this paper,
it is useful to distinguish three sets of arenas as presented in a diagram
(and other version)
originally developed for an earlier paper on the information society (35). The
table identifies 9 arenas and groups them into an: Adaptive Group (I-V), an
Innovative Group (VI-VIII), and a Transformative Group (IX). Most effort and
attention concerning the information society focuses on the Adaptive Group.
Some effort is devoted to the Innovative Group, whilst very little is devoted
to the Transformative Group.
For there to be a real
breakthrough in processes of governance, there has to be a real breakthrough in
the movement of meaning in society. The mere movement of information (as
represented by the Adaptive Group) will not suffice, even if its is described
as the 'dissemination of knowledge'. It leads to information overload
and information underuse (a project of the United Nations University).
It is at the Innovative
Group level that new key concepts emerge and, in the case of the international
community, result in new programmes and institutions with new emphases. The
manner in which this occurs at the moment is inadequate to the challenge. One
useful way to envision the governance of the future is in contrast to Johan
Galtung's insightful but disillusioned analysis of 'concept careers'
within the UN system, meaning both how innovative concepts undergo a career of
stages or phases, a life-cycle in other words, and how concepts may move from
one organization to another. Thus, as to their life-cycle at present, he notes:
- a fresh concept is co-opted into the
system from the outside (almost never from the inside because the inside
is not creative enough for the reasons mentioned). The concept is broad,
unspecified, full of promises because of its (as yet) virgin character,
capable of instilling some enthusiasm in people who do not suffer too much
from a feeling of déjà-vu having been through a number of concept life
cycles already. Examples: basic needs, self-reliance, new international
economic order, appropriate technology, health for all, community
participation, primary health care, inner/outer limits, common heritage of
- the organization receives the concept and
it is built into preambles of resolutions; drafters and secretaries get
dexterity in handling it. The demand then arises to make it more precise
so that it can reappear in the operational part of a resolution. A number
of studies are commissioned, very carefully avoiding too close contact
with people and groups behind the more original formulations as 'they
do not need to be convinced.' The concept thus moves from birth via
adolescence to maturity, meaning that it has been changed sufficiently to
become structure and culture compatible (it will not threaten states
except states singled out by the majority to be threatened); the idiom
will be that of the saxonic intellectual style, rich in documentation and
poor in theory and insights; very precise but limited in connotations and
emotive overtones; 'politically adequate' meaning that it can be
used to build consensus or dissent; depending on what is wanted where and
- From maturity to senescence and death is
but a short step: the concept thus emasculated can no longer serve the
purpose of renewal as what was new has largely been taken a away and what
was old has been added in its place - except, possibly, the term itself.
Even the word will then, after a period of grace, tend to disappear, those
who believe in it now no longer identify with it; those who did not get
tired of saying 'we knew it would not work, it did not stand the test
of reality'. In this phase outside originators of the concept may be
called in for last ditch efforts of resuscitation, usually in vain. There
is no official funeral ceremony as the concept will linger on in some
resolutions, but there will be a feeling of a void, of bereavement.
Consequently, the search will be on, by concept scouts, for new concepts
to kindle frustrated and sluggish consciences. And as a result-
- a fresh concept is co-opted into the
system from the outside, e.g. one that has already been through its life
cycle in another part of the UN system. For the rest read the story once
concept leaves some trace behind, more than its denigrators would like to
believe, less than the protagonists might have hoped for. If this were not the
case the cognitive framework for the system would have undergone no change
during the 35 years of its existence'. (36)
In the light of the
arguments of this paper, the weakness of the system highlighted by Galtung is
that it is focussed on concepts as they move into and out of fashion, rather
then on the metaphor-models through which concepts emerge and may be
associated. Effort is made to create the impression that such
'concepts' as self-reliance should be understood as meaningful in
their own right, as the product of academic, political and administrative
expertise. At the same time, in order to communicate their significance and
ensure support for them, they form the subject of public information
programmes, documentaries, propaganda and sloganneering. Through this process
they also become metaphors (as well as symbols of an approach which others
attack). The problem is that as such these metaphor-models are not very rich.
As conceptual models, they may be, but those dimensions are not well reflected
in the metaphorical presentation that migrates through the field of public
opinion - they were not designed to be. They do not excite the imagination of
many as metaphors can.
How are current
preoccupations with the concept of 'sustainable development' (9) to
be understood in this temporal context ? How long will the concept be able to
sustain its 'career' ? What factors will contribute to the emergence
of a new concept ?
sustainable development: the future
Sustaining the movement
It is a truism that
development is an essentially dynamic process. It is however less evident that
the modes of thought enabling that process need to be equally dynamic if that
process is to be sustained (cf Ashby's Law). The dilemma is that any concrete
action tends to have to be designed in terms of specific goals, models and
institutions which must necessarily be characterized by a certain static
quality in conflict with such dynamic flexibility. Loss of dynamism appears to
be the price of concreteness. The argument here is that loss of specificity is
the price of sustainability.
The points in the previous
section make it possible to suggest that a desirable form of governance
should focus its attention on the emergence and movement of policy-relevant
metaphor-models in society . Instead of regretting or resisting the
life-cycle that Galtung identifies, many possibilities lie in enhancing and ordering
that movement, which is better conceived as the lifeblood of the international
community. The challenge lies in bonding metaphors to concepts to provide
vehicles for the latter to move effectively through information and
institutional systems - as motivating concepts rather than solely as part of
the streams of information processed.
Governance is then
fundamentally the process of ensuring the emergence and movement of such
'guiding' metaphor-models through an information society, as well as their embodiment in
organizational form. Such stewardship also requires sensitivity to the
progressive devaluation of any metaphor-model (at the end of its current cycle)
and the need to adapt institutions accordingly. The stewardship required of the
metaphor-model 'gene pool' is analogous to that currently called for
in the care of tropical forest ecosystems - as the richest pools of species and
as vital to the condition of the atmosphere.
The merit of this vision of
governance is that it does not call for a radical transformation of
institutions - which is unlikely in the absence of any major catastrophe.
Rather it calls for a change in the way of thinking about what is circulated
through society's information systems as the triggering force for any action.
At present governance in the international community is haunted by a form of
collective schizophrenia - a left-brain preoccupation with 'serious'
academic models and administrative programmes, and a right-brain preoccupation
with the proclivities of public opinion avid for 'meaningful' action
(even if 'sensational'). This schizophrenic battle between models and
metaphors could be resolved by legitimating the metaphoric dimensions already
so vital to any motivation of public opinion as a vehicle for the models. There
needs to be a two-away flow however from model-to-metaphor and from
metaphor-to-model, as in any interesting learning process.
In a sense this proposal is only radical in that it advocates the legitimation
and improvement of processes which already occur - if only in the sterile and
demotivating manner highlighted by Galtung. New metaphors are constantly emerging
in the arts and sciences. They are used by politicians. Presumably some of them
are used in the existing policy-making processes of governance. But the ecosystem
of metaphor-models is an impoverished one. It is totally divorced from the cultural
heritage of the world. In terms of the diagram
(and other version),
there is a need to shift the level of analysis to the Transformative Group (Arena
IX). This shift is consistent with the analyses of the 'post-modern'
crisis of governance
Scope of governance
The experience of the past
decades in designing and implementing international development-related
strategies, and governing the process through which they become possible, is
not especially encouraging. Major disaster has been averted but the early hopes
are far from being fulfilled. The situation has become worse for many and the
risks of major disaster have increased for everyone. Particularly tragic is the
recognition that the international system of institutions is defective in its
management of the development process, riddled with inefficiencies and lacking
in credibility, especially in the eye of public opinion. This situation has
recently been officially documented for the first time for the United Nations
system by Maurice Bertrand of the Joint Inspection Unit (8). It is within the
constraints of this context that the sustainability of development advocated in
the Brundtland Report (9) needs to be considered.
This paper follows earlier
work on the challenges of collective comprehension of appropriateness and the
special constraints it imposes on the design and implementation of any
development initiative (5). The paper addressed the resulting challenges for
'governance'. This term has been resuscitated by John Fobes, former
Deputy Director-General of UNESCO, in order to promote a reconceptualization of
the commonly used terms 'governing' and 'government'. In
recent remarks to a Club of Rome conference he states:
'The concept of governance emphasizes that
order in society is created and maintained by a spectrum of institutions, only
one of which is known as government. By examining that spectrum at all levels
of society, we can obtain a broader sense of 'governability' as it is
exercised in policy-making, in providing services and the application of law.
Order is certainly part of governance. But I believe that one should also
consider governance, at least at the international level, as a global learning
exercise. By so doing, politicians, practitioners, activists and academies may
expand their thinking beyond the traditional concepts of government, of
international organizations and of the exercise of sovereignty'. (10)
Of special value in Fobes'
remarks is his creative response to the complexities of the situation. He
recognizes that the processes of governance have become increasingly complex
and are no longer strictly limited to governments. He points out that the fact
that so many individuals and groups, whether NGO's or IGO's, at all levels,
want to 'get into the act' of learning, if not governing, is both
hopeful and chaotic. It is for this reason that he points to the need to
reexamine attitudes to different 'learning modes'. 'Learning,
and learning to 'govern', or to participate in governance, on the
part of citizens and their civic and special interest groups, have become part
of the survival skills for nations and for humanity as a whole.' (10)
The dimension of the
challenge is indicated, if only within the international community of
organizations, by that the latest edition of the Yearbook of International
Organizations (1). It identifies 29,800 international governmental and
nongovernmental bodies, acting in 3,000 subject areas, on some 10,000 perceived
'world problems' documented in the Encyclopedia of World Problems
and Human Potential(4).
The focus in this paper on
the use of metaphor in governance is one response to the recognition
articulated by Fobes that: 'The stresses from social change that
require a broader sense of governance have called into play Ashby's 'law
of requisite variety' (which may be interpreted as stating that 'the
regulators or governors of a system must reflect the variety in that system in
order to be of service to it'). This applies as much to the government
of a country, as of a small group, or even an individual's endeavours to govern
his or her own behaviour in a turbulent social environment.
The question explored here
is that of the need to provide a sufficiently rich medium for the communication
of complex insights in a world in which the possibilities of governance are
constrained by the explanations and proposals that can be made meaningful to
public opinion. The complexity of econometric and global models in their
present form makes it improbable that they can be of any significance to those
who must justify their actions to public opinion and receive their mandates
from an informed electorate.
Clusters of dilemmas
This section endeavours to
order the principal factors contributing to the contemporary crisis of
governance and of bringing about any form of sustainable development. Such
factors may be clustered of course in different ways. The number of such
clusters it is useful to select is partially determined by constraints explored
in earlier papers (11).
In order therefore to
maximize the number of explicit factors identified as contributing to the
crisis of governance the following eight clusters are proposed:
(a) Simplicity: Governance,
to be feasible, requires that the number of factors or issues on which a
mandate is sought, or for which policies must be developed, should be limited
in number and defined simply enough to be meaningful. They should be interesting
rather than boring. Failing this the preoccupations of governance lose their
focus, and the governing body becomes vulnerable to loss of its mandate in
favour of some other coalition whose focus is appropriately simple.
Conventional strategies in response to this dilemma include:
- only focussing on those issues which
through their identification can conveniently come to be perceived as
important as the result of a self-fulfilling process;
- only focussing on a few macro-issues which
lend themselves to a multiplicity of simple descriptions, whilst failing
to encompass their inherent complexity.
(b) Complexity: Governance,
to be practical, must necessarily deal with the complexities and crises of the
real world, whether or not they lend themselves to any meaningful ordering or
pattern of mandates for specialized agencies. Failing this governance is
overwhelmed by the many pressures of the moment and becomes vulnerable to loss
of its mandate in favour of some other coalition that can deal with them.
Conventional strategies in response to complexity and the associated
information overload include:
- elaboration of an array of administrative
procedures, plus filtering and delaying mechanisms for every conceivable
- displacement of new issues and pressures
by other issues and pressures for which procedural responses already
(c) Requisite variety: Governance,
in order to be able to exert some long-term degree of control over the dynamics
of society, must itself be sufficiently varied in its policy-making capacity to
respond to the variety of issues which may emerge. Failing this the governing
body is caught off-balance by the dynamics of the society and is vulnerable to
loss of its mandate in favour of some appropriately dynamic coalition. Conventional
strategies in response to this challenge include:
- emphasis on short-term issues and
programmes to disguise any lack of ability to handle long-term
- emphasis on publicizing long-term
projects, whilst disguising the degree to which they themselves will
aggravate other problems for which no remedy has been envisaged.
relevance: Governance, in order to be credible to those mandating it, must
be able to formulate its policies in a form which is readily implementable,
especially in response to issues which call for immediate action. Failing this
the governing body is perceived as irrelevant to the solution of pressing
issues and is vulnerable to loss of its mandate in favour of some more
practical coalition. Conventional strategies in response to this requirement
- emphasis on short-term remedial
programmes, irrespective of whether these effectively respond to the
problem which evoked their creation;
- focussing attention away from the more
obvious solution onto the necessity for some alternative programme of
effective remedial action (for which an appropriate mandate may not be
(e) Complementarity: Governance,
in order to attract support from a plurality of unrelated (or even mutually
hostile) sectors, must be able to configure those sectors into a pattern such
that they appear as complementary to one another. Failure of the governing body
to establish such a context, or community of interest, leads to fragmentation
and erosion of its support, rendering it vulnerable to any coalition of wider
appeal. Conventional strategies in response to this requirement include:
- promotion of superficial consensus in such
a way as to disguise irreconcilable differences between sectors;
- cultivation of distinct communications
with each sector, concealing any contradictions between the undertakings
(f) Difference: Governance,
in order to respond effectively to disagreement, critical opposition and alternative
insights, must develop some means of dealing with incommensurable positions.
Failure of the governing body to develop such skills makes any form of
co-existence with its opponents unstable and renders it highly vulnerable to
attack. Conventional strategies in response to such differences include:
- disparagement, neutralization or
suppression of any dissidence (possibly through judicious manipulation of
information), implicitly denying any merit in such viewpoints;
- efforts to persuade the dissident group to
modify its position or to coopt its members.
(g) Containment: Governance,
to be able to maintain its domain of influence, must reinforce a certain order
within definable boundaries. Failure of the governing body to do so results in
an open system vulnerable to the effects of uncontrollable variations in
external influences. Conventional strategies in response to this requirement
- strengthening of boundaries and
gate-keeping functions, justified by the necessity of excluding
- limiting freedom of action in order to
facilitate the maintenance of the favoured order.
(h) Empowerment: Governance,
to be able to encourage the growth and development expected by those who
mandate it, must be able to empower people and groups to undertake and sustain
new initiatives of their own accord. Failure of the governing body to do so
results in stagnation and disaffection rendering it vulnerable to replacement
by a coalition encouraging such initiative. Conventional strategies in response
to this requirement include:
- mobilization of people and groups in
support of some defined programme, irrespective of the initiatives they
would otherwise choose to take;
- manipulation, subversion or cooptation of
initiatives if they achieve any degree of social significance.
principle of uncertainty in governance
As argued elsewhere (12),
especially in the light of epistemological problems in the social sciences
which suggest that a generalized Heizenberg principle operates in the social
sciences (13), the dilemmas of the previous section could well be summarized in
a four-fold principle of uncertainty as follows:
(a) A governing mode in which it is easy to say
'no' overtly, makes it very difficult to say 'yes' except
covertly, whereas one in which it is easy to say 'yes' overtly makes
it very difficult to say 'no' except covertly.
(b) A governing mode which encourages overt
declarations of consensus has great difficulty in accepting fundamental
differences in practice except covertly, whereas one in which differences are
realistically accepted has great difficulty in establishing consensus except
(c) A governing mode of requisite variety for
long-term continuity has great difficulty in elaborating appropriate short-term
programmes except covertly, whereas one in which operationally relevant
short-term programmes are easily elaborated has great difficulty in ensuring
any policy of long-term significance except covertly.
(d) A governing mode which can be made
meaningful and inspiring has great difficulty in taking into account the full
complexity of a practical situation except covertly, whereas one which takes
into account that complexity in all its operational detail cannot be meaningful
and inspiring except covertly.
Use of the terms
'overt' and 'covert' could be considered as unneccessarily
value-loaded. Alternatives might be 'formal' and 'informal'
or else 'public' and 'private'.
The merit of using
'covert' is that it emphasizes the potential for procedural abuse and
manipulative processes in certain situations, namely insidious corruption.
These points are perhaps well illustrated by the difference between the overt
processes in international organizations and those occurring behind the scenes
(and covered by security clauses in employment contacts).
Whilst there is much overt
discussion of the efficiencies in the overt processes (as in the recent reviews
of the United Nations and UNESCO), the dysfunctional features of the covert
processes are only discussed in corridor gossip and newsworthy exposés. There
has never been any overt study by an international body of corruption in
governance at all levels, and especially of corruption in such international
bodies. Yet 'corruption' is frequently cited in informal reports as a
cause of inefficiencies in the implementation of programmes.
This paper is not about
corruption but about the inability to fully encompass conceptually the
processes of governance in an adequate model or set of models. This results in
grey areas in which dysfunctional processes proliferate, however carefully the
overt processes are defined. These are the shadow side of governance. Any
attempt to envisage new approaches to governance that neglects this dimension,
or fails to come to terms with it, must necessarily fall victim to the ways in
which it undermines effectiveness.
development: the epistemological challenge of governance
Sustainable development is
usually conceived as a problem of instrumentality - namely deploying the
available organizational and conceptual resources to achieve what seems
appropriate. An earlier paper (2) argues that this approach fails completely to
recognize the inherent difficulties in comprehending the instrumental design
which is appropriate - and of communicating that comprehension, with all its
nuances through the processes of governance.
The following hidden
epistemological assumptions were listed to illustrate this failure:
1. That the advocated new mode will be
perceived as inherently better in some absolute sense in that, -
conversely, the old mode must necessarily be permanently abandoned as
historically outmoded; - the defects in the new mode will not eventually
prove to be as significant as those under the old mode.
2. That the new mode will be perceived as
equally appropriate to all societies and to all sub-cultures within those
societies, especially if adapted to local contexts and requirements.
3. That, if it can be comprehended, represented
and discussed within one frame of reference, the mode can nevertheless be of
sufficient complexity to respond to the concerns perceived by constituencies
preferring other frames of reference.
4. That an appropriate new mode can be readily
articulated in its entirety, rather than necessarily provoking a set of partial
comprehensions which people, of whatever level of competence, experience
considerable difficulty in integrating/reconciling, even if they are motivated
to do so.
5. That an appropriate mode can be readily
implemented by a consistent pattern of actions, rather than requiring set of
seemingly inconsistent and incompatible actions, each favoured or condemned by
some different configuration of constituencies.
6. That the coherence and integrity of an
appropriate mode derives from a hierarchical relationship between its
components, as opposed to other possibilities with characteristics such
of incommensurable conceptual or organizational groupings in which the
hierarchical dimension, if any, is secondary or implicit;
phases of emphasis over time;
between seemingly opposed or contradictory policy modes.
7. That credible articulations of a seemingly
attractive approach do not effectively obscure hard realities to which the
advocating group may be insensitive (or anxious to avoid discussing in order to
further some hidden agenda).
8. That any readily devised approach will not
necessarily provoke counter-strategies or strategies which exploit the
situation created by the implementation of the new approach, undermining it and
eventually rendering it ineffective.
9. That, during the implementation of the
appropriate new mode, it is possible for any given constituency to avoid being
trapped into recognizing any necessary practical strategy in either a
'positive' of a 'negative' light, and consequently to be
entrained to further or oppose that partial strategy, without consideration of
whether such effort is excessive in the light of the contextual mode to which
10. That the essence of being human, and of
human development, involves processes free from ambiguity, paradox and
counter-intuitive phases, permitting an appropriate new mode to be articulated
in an manner free of such non-rational characteristics.
The remainder of that paper
considered the probability that the appropriate global socio-economic mode of
organization is necessarily more complex than can be recognized or comprehended
within any particular frame of reference - whether conceptual or
organizational. The question here is how to describe and handle this
epistemological challenge for governance.
The question has been
helpfully highlighted by the recent study prepared by Development Alternatives
(New Delhi) on 'A transcultural view of sustainable development; the
landscape of design' as a contribution to the final deliberations of the
World Commission on Environment and Development (14). The study outlines
'transform grammar of design' based on a 'phase space'
model using a n-dimensional space to show the evolution of a system (where n is
the number of degrees of freedom, or independent variables, needed to describe
the system at the level of recursion or aggregation of the model under study).
The work draws on recent theoretical advances, including those of Shannon
(1962), Ashby (1956), Beer (1979), Prigogine (1985), Zadeh (1965) and de Laet
It is apparently necessary
to 'freeze' any such 'epistemological landscape' into a
well-defined model in order to navigate over the landscape. And within the
short time scales (and electoral periods) characteristic of the majority of the
problems of governance (and the budgetary periods of international
organizations) such a landscape may legitimately be considered to be
unchanging. Governance can then endeavour to move the social system over the
The epistemological problem
lies in the fact that different constituencies are sensitive to different
dimensions of the 'n-dimensional phase space' out of which the model
is extracted or abstracted. Consequently the epistemological landscape
perceived by one group may be very different from that which is meaningful to
another - such that each may be the basis for the strategies and programmes of
a different intergovernmental agency. This has the further consequence between
agencies of reinforcing incompatibilities, contradictions, competition for
resources and even the undermining of one strategy by another - as has been
noted on many occasions, and most recently by Maurice Bertrand (8). It is
therefore less fruitful to focus initially on any particular way of viewing the
n-dimensional phase space. Rather it would seem more appropriate to consider
the epistemological challenge of how to open up any 'window of
comprehension' onto such complexity - and how to perceive the relationship
between such windows, whether used simultaneously (by different groups) or
Before taking the argument
further it is necessary to avoid the trap of using the phase space notion
itself as a fundamental window. It is a powerful tool but not necessarily
convenient for all. 'Complexity' has itself recently attracted
attention in its own right (15). 'Chaos' is now a key descriptor for
some interesting breakthroughs in mathematics (16). Although it would be incompatible
with the theme of this paper to favour any one such description, it is
important to recognize the range of attempts to indicate the epistemological
attributes at this level of abstraction.
It is somewhat ironic that
the earlier Greek philosophers made use of the Greek term 'hyle'
(matter) and viewed such matter as fundamentally alive, either in itself or by
its participation in the operation of a world soul or some similar principle.
Characteristically they did not distinguish between kinds of matter, forces and
qualities nor between physical and emotional qualities, making any such
distinction with an important degree of ambiguity.
epistemological challenge remains one of dealing with a form of
'conceptual hyle' or 'mindstuff' within which the variety
of possible models and concepts is implicit and from which they may be
explicated, as described by David Bohm (17). This is not to suggest that the
'hyle' is purely conceptual. As contemporary studies of this intimate
relationship between consciousness and fundamental understanding in physics are
clarifying, there is a matter-consciousness continuum of perhaps greater
significance than the space-time continuum. Relevant insights from Eastern
philosophies are also increasingly (18,19) noted. The comprehension of features
explicated from the 'hyle' is as much constrained by the realities
dear to materialists as it is by individual (or collective) ability to
formulate appropriate models of requisite variety and to communicate them.
The challenge of governance
is to enable society to navigate through the 'hyle', avoiding
catastrophic disasters in a manner such as to sustain a process of
'development' over the long-term - whatever 'development'
is understood to mean in the short-term under different circumstances, within
different cultures and at different stages of that process. But since
governance is above all constrained by daily practicalities, there is a
dramatic problem of ensuring some kind of meaningful epistemological bridge between
the multi-dimensional fluidity or ambiguity of the 'hyle' - with all
the innovative potential that implies - and the concrete socio-political
realities to which it must respond effectively or be called into question.
Mapping networks of
The general problem of the perceived irrelevance of another perspective is
to some extent addressed by the attempt to articulate in detail the pattern
of relationships between organizations
This may simply be seen as a problem in relational database management --
the conventional approach. Alternatively emphasis may be placed on the problem
of comprehending such patterns of relationships. This calls for a particular
graphic approach. The Union of International Associations has a project to
represent the networks of relationships between entities, conceptual or otherwise,
as maps (see Annex 1: Atlas of International Relationship Networks).
Such maps provide a sense
of context which is lost in most presentations of data in which the
hierarchical order is inappropriate. It is only from such maps that users can
quickly obtain a meaningful overview of data in an unfamiliar area to guide
them in their further use of information tools. The best example of this is the
need for subway maps. Strong arguments for such an approach have been made by
executives concerned with organizing their ideas. The term used in this case is
The challenge, when faced
with 5,000 to 10,000 items, and numbers of relationships between them of the
same order, is to avoid dependence on manual graphic representations by people
skilled in visual display. This is costly and time-consuming (and therefore
normally impractical) especially when changes are frequent. The Union of
International Associations is exploring the use of computer programmes to
extract sub-sets of the database which can be formed into useful maps. The main
challenge is to discover algorithms which enable such data to be represented
schematically in comprehensible form.
Whilst mapping is a major
step beyond currently available information tools, it does not address the
question of how adequately to interrelate incommensurable perspectives,
especially in those cases where wisdom indicates that they are complementary.
Such complementarity is usually signalled by periodic conceptual shifts from
one perspective or framework to another, whether it be in the case of
wave/particle theories in physics, or alternation in government between control
by the 'left' or by the 'right'.
Various studies have been
made earlier on the relevance of policy alternation to governance of the
development process (20,21). It has been suggested that such alternation
between complementary alternative perspectives can effectively be modelled by
analogy to what is termed a resonance hybrid in chemistry. The theory of
resonance in chemistry is concerned with the representation of the actual
normal state of molecules by a combination of several alternative
'resonable' structures, rather than by a single structure. The
molecule is then to be conceived in dynamic terms as resonanting among two, or
more, valence-bond structures, or to have a structure that is a resonance
hybrid of these structures.
The best illustration of
such a resonance hybrid is that used to describe the dynamic structure of the
benzene molecule -- basic to most organic substances (see Figure 1). Such a
model is suggestive where the resonable structures are themselves individually
consistent concepts or paradigms, in that the resonance hybrid which orders the
pattern of alternation between them offers a higher order of meaning. The
latter is not accessible from within the individual concepts or paradigms. This
is perhaps best illustrated by the failure to encapsulate the wave/particle
perspectives in physics within a coherent and comprehensible
'meta-theory'. The higher order of meaning, associated with
complementarity, does not lend itself to representation within conventional
and the challenge of comprehending complexity
It has been argued in
earlier papers (5,6,22), that metaphor can and does play a significant role in
facilitating comprehension of dynamic complexity. It was suggested there that
metaphor, as a largely unexplored resource, could be used more systematically
to open up new insights into the nature of the possible relationships between
what are otherwise perceived as incommensurable positions.
Metaphors are a special form of presentation natural to many cultures. They
are of unique importance as a means of communicating complex notions, especially
in interdisciplinary and multicultural dialogue, as well as in the popularization
of abstract concepts, in political discourse and as part of any creative process.
They offer the special advantage of calling upon a pre-existing capacity to
comprehend complexity, rather than assuming that people need to engage in
lengthy educational processes before being able to comprehend. Although frequently
used in international debate which strategies are defined, their strengths
have not been deliberately explored to assist in the implementation of such
strategies. Furthermore, each development policy may be considered a particular
'answer' to the global problematique. No such answer appears to
be free from fundamental weaknesses. A shift to an alternative policy becomes
progressively more necessary as the effects of these weaknesses accumulate.
Hower, since each policy reflects a 'language' or mind-set whereby
a worldview is organized, no adequate 'logical' framework can exist
to facilitate comprehension of the nature of such a shift or of the process
of transition between alternatives. Many familiar metaphors of alternation
through which the characteristics and limitations of such a shift may be understood.
This section Of special interest are those situations of such complexity that
meaning can only be carried by a resonance hybrid composed of more than two
alternate perspectives. The challenge is to find metaphors which can render
meaningful the nature of such dynamics. An excellent example of such a metaphor
is crop rotation (see Annex 2: Sustainable Cycles of Policies: Crop Rotation as a Metaphor). This is the alternation of different crops
in the same field in some (more or less) regular sequence. Rotations may be
of any length, being dependent on soil, climate and crop. They are commonly
of 3 to 7 years duration, usually with 4 different crop varieties (some of
which may be grown more than once in succession). Annex 2 suggests interesting
lessons to be drawn from such a metaphor in relation to alternation in government
It has been argued earlier
that seemingly incommensurable theoretical positions or social policies could
be fruitfully explored as 'frozen' portions of social learning
cycles. In this light such particular positions are each naturally valid (i.e.
appropriate) for a part of the cycle, but are inappropriate under conditions to
which positions in other parts of the cycle respond.
or policies, taken in isolation, may thus be judged as attractive by those
sensitive to the range of conditions which they address, namely by those in the
same portion of the learning cycle. But such positions are essentially
'sub-cyclic'. Thus policy-making today, with its short-term focus,
becomes a victim of cycles whose temporal scope it is unable to encompass. Any
such policy naturally engenders what is perceived as 'opposition',
once it fails to respond to emerging conditions in the learning cycle.
An interesting feature of
this approach is the recognition that a position or policy rejected as
inappropriate today may well re-emerge as appropriate some time in the future
-- when the cycle repeats. Typical examples of this are alternation between
phases of 'centralization' and 'decentralization'.
This raises the question of how to design a cycle of 'incompatible'
but complementary policies, and how to select or design a metaphor through which
to comprehend its phases (each of which may itself need to be communicated in
metaphoric form). One intriguing example along these lines is the Chinese classic
the I Ching (or Book of Changes) -- a traditional policy guide to the
Emperor. This involves transitions between 64 contrasting conditions in a cyclic
sequence, each described in metaphoric terms. A version of this has been interpreted
into Western management jargon in the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential (4). A portion of the pattern of transitions
is illustrated elsewhere.
It is interesting that
although many efforts have been made to describe cycles of relevance to the
socio-economic sciences (cycles of civilizations, business cycles, economic
cycles, etc), it is only recently that the argument has been made for the
introduction of cyclic assumptions into understanding of the nature/society
interactions. The author, Kinhide Mushakoji (23), suggest that this may result
in the proposal for a quasi-Buddhist group of transient reality with an
underlying non-Aristotelian logic. This has led to a formal language approach
to the question by Gheorghe Paun (24).
revolution: cycles and rhythms
The complexities of society
and the global problematique are such that the shift in focus advocated in the
previous section may well only occur in isolated groups, corporations and
countries, if at all. Although it can be demonstrated that such a shift is a
natural evolution beyond the current situation, and that it is pre-figured in
many ways by current uses of metaphor in government, the pressures in favour of
short-term political crisis management will in all probability prevail.
The opportunities for the
individual and affinity groups are entirely different. Individuals may
relatively easily choose to make much more extensive use of metaphor to provide
themselves with quite different ways of restructuring their perceptual
environment. This may be done, as it is to some degree at present, quite
superficially and primarily for rhetorical or illustrative purposes. There is
however little to prevent individuals and groups from selecting or designing
metaphors to be used over an extended period of time to structure their
perceptions and their communications. Such use is evident in the implicit use
of military and sporting jargon amongst management groups already.
Such use of metaphor may
become 'revolutionary' in the following two ways, as consciously cultivated
cognitive dissonance, and through a rhythmic change of cognitive framework.
(a) Consciously cultivated
Individuals alienated by
mind-sets and policies prevailing in society may choose metaphors which enable
them to totally reinterpret social dynamics, attributing value according to a
very different pattern. They may associate with others sharing that metaphor.
The key question is whether
this is in any way different from the current freedom of individuals to hold
(or convert to) certain beliefs or work with certain paradigms. In many ways it
is not, except perhaps in the greater recognition that individuals are free to
do so. The shift becomes more radical and revolutionary to the extent that
individuals choose metaphors which provide them with insights into dynamic
relationships about which they can communicate amongst those who share the
metaphor but are totally unable to do communicate meaningfully with those who
do not. This too is already a characteristic of those using specialized
jargons. The question is how would society be if the number of active
specialized jargons increased by several orders of magnitude -- if individuals
effectively felt empowered to develop their own specialized languages and
It is one thing for such
specialized jargons to emerge from scholarly or technological preoccupations
legitimized by establishment institutions. It is quite another when people are
actively developing uses of metaphors which effectively ignore or devalue such
structures and the cognitive systems on which they are based.
None of this is especially
improbable, as can be seen in the development and seductiveness of the
cognitive systems associated with cults. And to the extent that the drug
problem is the consequence of a search for new ways of perceiving the world,
development of metaphoric skills may offer a more meaningful alternative than
unrealistic medical attempts to simply 'get people off drugs' and
legalistic attempts to 'stamp out drug-taking'.
In this sense the
metaphoric revolution opens the gates to a new cognitive frontier, a set of
parallel conceptual universes, possibly richer and more challenging, in which
people can develop new relationships to their available resources.
In the light of the
challenge of sustainable development, the question might well be asked as to
how many metaphors people need for their psychological survival ? Is there a
problem of metaphor impoverishment and deprivation associated with alienation ?
Is it possible that a metaphoric measure is necessary as a complement to the
questionable educational role played by the exclusive use of the IQ measure of
intelligence ? To the extent that we ourselves are metaphors, do we need to
develop richer metaphors through which to experience and express our self-image
? If individual learning is governed by metaphors (as a number of studies
indicate), how is it that metaphors governing societal learning and development
have not been studied ? In the light of Andreas Fuglesang's severe criticism of
western assumptions concerning communication in developing countries (25),
would it not be more useful to conceive of different cultures as operating
within different root metaphors ? Is it possible that social transformation is
essentially a question of offering people (and empowering them to discover from
their own traditions) richer and more meaningful metaphors through which to
live, act and empower themselves?
(b) Rhythmic change of
If people are enriched by
having a range of metaphors within which they can select and move in creative
response to pressures from the social environment (and especially information
overload), how should they govern their choice of metaphor ? Rather than
clinging to any one metaphor (with the false sense of security that that
gives), or shifting reactively from one to another in spastic response to
external pressures, the real challenge is to enable people to cultivate a
rhythm of changes amongst a set of metaphors -- to evolve a cognitive dance
with their environment.
Again such a transition is
not improbable in that it is prefigured in many ways by the manner in which
people switch cognitive frameworks in switching from home to work, to café, to
leisure activity, or in their dealings with people in different roles (e.g. as
spouse, as helpmate, as lover, as companion, etc). But people are offered
little insight as to how such switches are to be governed and consequently tend
to live them spastically unless they can evolve some sense of pattern and
rhythm for themselves.
In this sense the
metaphoric revolution is one of revolving through a cycle of cognitive
frameworks such that the revolution itself defines a new psychic centre of
gravity for the individual immersed in a socially turbulent environment. The
philosophic attitude underlying the above-mentioned I Ching is an
illustration of a rather sophisticated version of this. The fact that it is
traditionally recommended for the over-60s is an indication that simpler cycles
could usefully be developed and explored. There is a real question as to
whether any integration of the self could not be more meaningfully explored in
such cyclic terms. The authenticity of the individual might then emerge through
comprehension by that person of the cycles of attitudes, roles or phases
through which he/she interacts with society.
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