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
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 implication.
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 preparation.
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.
The 'epistemological 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 (7)).
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'.
Metaphor/model hybrids: 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 metaphor' (26)
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).
Meaningful opportunities 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 governance.
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:
Nevertheless, each 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 ?
Sustaining the movement of meaning
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' predicament (37).
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:
(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:
(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:
(d) Operational 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 include:
(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:
(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:
(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 include:
(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:
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 covertly.
(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.
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 as:
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 it contributes.
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 (1985).
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 landscape.
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 consecutively.
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.
The contemporary 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.
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 or problems.
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 'mind mapping'.
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 conceptual models.
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 policies.
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.
Well-articulated positions 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).
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 cognitive dissonance
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 cognitive systems.
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 cognitive framework
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.
1. Union of International Associations. Yearbook of International Organizations: organization description and index. KG Saur Verlag, annual (1987/88, 25th ed)
2. Union of International Associations. International Organization Participation. KG Saur Verlag, annual (1987/88, 5th ed)
3. Union of International Associations. Global Action Networks: organizations and world problems classified by subject. K G Saur Verlag, annual (1987/88, 5th ed)
4. Union of International Associations. Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential. K G Saur Verlag, 1986 [commentary]
5. Anthony Judge. Review of frameworks for the representation of alternative conceptual orderings as determined by cultural and linguistic contexts. (Paper for a project on Information Overload and Information Underuse of the United Nations University, 1986)
5a. Anthony Judge. Comprehension of appropriateness. Brussels, Union of International Associations, 1986 (Paper for project on Economic Aspects of Human Development of the Regional and Global Studies Division of the United Nations University) [text]
6. Anthony Judge. Governance through Metaphor. Brussels, Union of International Associations, 1987 (Paper for a project on Economic Aspects of Human Development of the Regional and Global Studies Division of the United Nations University) [text]
7. Anthony Judge. Governance through Metaphor. USA Club of Rome Newsletter, 12,1, March 1988; pp 3, pp. 18-21 (Extract from 6)
8. Maurice Bertrand. Some Reflections on Reform on the United Nations. Geneva, Joint Inspection Unit, United Nations, 1985 (JIU/REP/85/9)
9. World Commission on Environment and Development. Our Common Future. Oxford University, Paris, 1987 ('Brundtland Report')
10. John Fobes. Next steps in world governance. (Unpusblished remarks at the Club of Rome conference, Santander, 1985)
11. Anthony Judge. Representation, comprehension and communication of sets; the role of number. Tokyo, United Nations University, 1980 (Paper for the project on Goals, Processes and Indicators of Development of the Human and Social Development Programme of the United Nations University), HSDRGPID-22/UNUP-133 [text]
11a. Anthony Judge. Beyond method; engaging opposition in psycho-social organization (Paper for the Methodology subproject of the United Nations University GPID project, Bucharest, 1981) Portions published in ref. 2&, Sections CP and XCP [text]
13. Garrison Sposito. Does a generalized Heisenberg Principle operate in the social sciences? Inquiry (Oslo, Universitetsforlaget), 12, (1969), 3, pp.356-361
14. Sanjay Prakash, A Revi, Ashok Khosla. A transcultural view of sustainable develompent; the landscape of design. New Delhi, Development Alternatives, 1986 (Document for the World Commission on Environment and Design)
15. UNU. Complexity
16. H O Peitgen and P H Richter. The Beauty of Fractals; images of complex dynamical systems. Berlin, Springer Verlag, 1986 (Introduction on the 'Frontiers of Chaos')
17. David Bohm. Wholeness and the Implicate Order. Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1980
18. G Zukav. The Dancing Wu-Li Masters. William Morrow, 1979
19. Fritjof Capra. The Tao of Physics. Shambhala, 1975
20. Anthony Judge. Patterns of Conceptual Integration. Brussels, Union of International Associations, 1984. [text]
20a. Anthony Judge. The future of comprehension; conceptual birdcages and functional basket-weaving. Transnational Associations, 34, 1982, 6, pp. 400-404. [text]
21. Anthony Judge. Implementing principles by balancing configuration of functions; a tensegrity organization approach. In: From Networking to Tensegrity Organization. Brussels, Union of International Associations, 1984, pp. 239-244. [text]
21a. Anthony Judge. Policy Alternation for Development. Brussels, Union of International Associations, 1984. (Extensive reprinted in different form as Section KD: Embodying Discontinuity, in ref 4) [text]
22. Anthony Judge. Metaphoric Revolution; in quest of a manifesto for governance through metaphor. (Papers for the 10th World Futures Studies Conference, Beijing, 1988) [text]
23. Kinhide Mushakoji. In search of a theory of cycles; for a transfinite mathematical treatment of recurrence in social and natural processes. (Paper for a project on Economic Aspects of Human Development of the United Nations University, 1987)
24. Gheorghe Paun. A formal language theorty approach to Mushakoji's theory of cycles. Aspects of Human Development of the United Nations University, 1988)
25. Andreas Fuglesang. About Understanding; ideas and observations on cross-cultural communication. Uppsala, Dag Hammarskjold Foundation, 1982.
26. Jeremy Campbell. Grammatical Man; information entropy, language and life. Simon and Schuster, 1982.
27. Anne Buttimer. Musing on Helicon; root metaphors and geography. Geografiska Annaler, 64 B (1982), 2, pp. 89-96.
28. Michael Polanyi. Personal Knowlege; towards a post-critical philosophy. Rontlegde and Kegan Paul.
29. R Buckminster Fuller. Synergetics 2. New York, Macmillan, 1979.
30. Ilya Prigogine. Order Out of Chaos. Toronto, Bantam, 1984.
31. Gordon Pask. Conservation, Cognition and Learning. Amsterdam, Elsevier, 1975.
32. Rupert Sheldrake. A New Science of Life. Toronto, Granada, 1983.
33. Ludwig Wittgenstein. The Bleu and Brown Books. Blackwell, 1972.
34. Christopher Alexander. The Timeless Way of Building. Oxford University Press, 1979.
35. Anthony Judge. Reflections on associative constraints and possibilities in an information society. Transnational Associations, 1987 [text]
36. Johan Galtung. Processes in the UN system. (Paper for Goals, Processes and Indicators of Development Project of the United Nations University). Geneve, 1980.
37. Hilary Lawson. Reflexivity; the post-modern predicament. Hutchinson, 1985
this work is licenced under a creative commons licence.