Donnerstag, 16. April 2009

Procedural Politics: The Example Of Organized Dialogue

I haven't posted any blog entry for a long time because I worked on the final few pages of my dissertation on "Procedural Politics: The Example Of Organized Dialogue", a piece of work that integrates seven years of my thinking and action learning as a facilitator, engaging people for change as an organizer of dialogues. Here is, until further explication, an outline of my argument.

The Fundamental Question: How To Proceed
"How to proceed?" This fundamental question of any political practitioner is the central question for my argument. It is the opening question to any attempt to shape change processes through action, and it stands at the core of any re-organization or reform of the political world from government to governance.

The Fundamental Answer: The Example Of Facilitators Of Participative Procedures
The How-Question is also a question which is answered every single day by facilitators of participative procedures. These facilitators proceed on two levels: on an individual level as actors proceeding with their own action amongst other actors, and on a collective level in shaping the interaction procedures between other actors, the participants. In their work, they creatively interweave their individual action process with that of the collective interaction process.

Therefore, facilitators are the central figures of my argument, and participative procedures are the prime example to discuss the re-formation of political procedures. I reconstruct what I call the "procedural competence" of facilitators, that is, their (creative) ability to act as leaders of successful collective transformation processes (which is what I define politics to be at its base). Basically, procedural competence integrates strategic, methodological, and operative competence. For practical reasons, I focus on strategy and methodology. In a nutshell, a method is a goals-means-operation, while a strategy is a purpose-goals-means-context-calculation.

To understand the implications of this distinction, it's important to not accept context at the face value of a (complex) situation, but to understand context as (dynamic) process. I really honor the good intentions of situationists, because they're paying attention to inner dispositions and context of a specific actor and action. But what situationists see as elements of a given situation, proceduralists see as factors of a process. Situationists fail to understand that any situation is itself situated in time, and subject to change.

The Purpose Of My Argument
The overarching purpose of my argument is to systematically ground relevant practical answers to the fundamental political question of How to proceed. I translate the task into three complementary goals:
  1. demonstrate the scope of the problem: show why and how procedure is a central political challenge, with references to the status of participative procedures and its relation to the How-Question in two discourses: the discourse on civil society, and the discourse on governance for sustainable development. In other words: demonstrate (Participative) Procedure(s) As Political Challenge.
  2. reflect your problem resolution procedure: show how (political) science can produce (what kind of) knowledge that is actually relevant to the (procedural) competence of (professional) actors, an epistemological argument with references to practical philosophy, pragmatism as creative action theory, schema theory, and theories of professionalism and competence. In other words: reflect and answer The Procedural Challenge To The Social Sciences.
  3. propose an agenda of problem resolution: re-construct pragmatistically central mental schemes and scripts of facilitators of participative procedures, such as "Organized Dialogue" as a basic model of any participative procedure; complexity and dynamics; situation, process and procedure; procedure as method; procedure as strategy; and, as an overarching mental model: "Procedural Politics". In other words: establish Procedural Politics.
(Participative) Procedure(s) As Political Challenge
(more to come)

The Procedural Challenge To The Social Sciences
To answer the How-Question is, of course, not a five-rules, or ten-steps-to-success affair. In fact, it requires the social sciences to fundamentally change the way they produce knowledge. Knowledge, or even know-how or knowing-how, is simply not the same as competence. Science and research is primarily concerned with the production of knowledge, while social practitioners don't really need scientific knowledge - the need to be able to shape change successfully. And many times, theoretical knowledge is simply not a relevant factor for this, and not because practitioners disdain, or have no time for science, but because science produces a kind of knowledge that is inherently useless for big parts of social or political practice.

That is because the social and political world are a world full of specifics, and detail and particular circumstance do matter to a great extent. Science, for the most part, is concerned with getting rid of particular circumstances to get a grip on what always is behind, on that which can be proven to be true in any average situation. And that's good to know, not only for scientists, but also for actors - but it's not sufficient for successful action.

It's the same kind of problem that any discipline and corresponding profession are facing. What professors know about medicine is not equivalent to what doctors actually do, and what other professors know about law is not wholly what wins the case for lawyers. Now, this problem maginifies when the subject of knowledge, or competence, are procedures. Procedures are, by definition, dynamic creatures winding their way through complex and unknown territory. Timing, instruments, context, and the intent of such procedures are highly contingent, and whoever leads, guides, or shapes such procedures needs to undergo a self-reflective learning process in regard to all of the relevant factors. The analysis of averages and its generalization in theoretical models is a nice way to produce knowlege about procedures, but not competence in procedures. So it's no wonder that so far, what the social sciences have said about deliberative or participative procedures has seldomly had any practical relevance for practitioners.

Leaders or guides of social processes can not plan interactions the way plant managers can design a production line. While the latter can make decisions based on knowledge of certainties, the former has got to deal successfully with the uncertainty of dynamic interactions in regard to complex fields of action. That requires attention to specifics, the ability to read and decipher processes in temporal shapes (temp-shapes), an understanding of relevant factors and their interplay, an interest in the dynamics of change, self-reflectice capacities, dealing with ambiguity and the multi-dimensional attribution of sense, and creativity.

Any science that wants to help practioners doing things better needs to re-shape its own production of knowledge, with the purpose of producing a kind of knowledge that is relevant to professional competence. That's the procedural challenge to the social sciences, and I propose a pragmatistic solution for that, namely, to focus on the production of certain mental schematas and scripts, instead of producing overarching theories. My argument here is based on pragmatistic "creative action theory", fashioned after Hans Joas, and I think it solves a very basic problem in several aspects:
  • it's buildt on the difference between knowlege and competence
  • it identifies a kind of knowledge that is relevant for competence
  • it shows how the social sciences can produce a certain type of knowledge for competence.

Procedural Politics
(more to come)

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