Monday, March 30, 2015

191. Senseless functionality

Here I connect the discussion of scripts with the discussion of meaning in items 32, 37, 167, and 168. There, I adopted the distinction between reference and sense. Reference (or denotation, or extension) is what ‘is given’: what a term refers to or what a proposition claims to be true. Sense (or connotation, or intension) is ‘the way in which something is given’: how we determine identity or truth.

While reference is social, inter-subjective, fixed, in what is considered ‘valid’, in some language game, sense is personal, fluid, filled with idiosyncratic, experience-based associations that churn in the mind. Reference disciplines, calls sense to order. Sense feeds the ambiguity, fresh views, and can shift reference.

Collaboration utilizes the unity of agreement as well as difference that is allowed to seep through. Together, they offer a dynamic of unity and diversity. In organizations there is cognitive ‘focus’ as well as some ‘distance’, as discussed earlier.

To connect with the discussion of scripts, as a structure of nodes, I now propose a link between reference and script, and between sense and node. This is related to the distinction that the architect Habraken made (see item 188) between the ‘outside’ view of a node, from the perspective of the script, as something that is given, functional, rule-based, serving the purpose of the script, and the ‘inside’ view from the node, which is more procedural, and sees the script as an environment in which to develop and exercise its activity.

The node offers specialized knowledge and capability, largely tacit and impossible to fully document. Practice in the node is richer and more variable than can be caught in protocols imposed by the script. It harbours a host of connections and associations built up in action, in variations upon the activity of the node, depending on context and novel conditions.

That resembles the repertoire of connotations that individuals harbour in sense, which helps them to establish reference, yielding different ways to see things and to argue the truth or purpose of a proposition or activity.

Remember that from the pragmatist perspective that I employ in this blog truth and practice are closely connected, in workability. Recall, also, Wittgenstein’s notion of ‘meaning as use’.[i]

A purely outside, functional view of activity has no sense, in that it leaves no room for variety of view and debate, and hence no room for novelty and change.  

Organizations and discussions often claim a finality, a clarity of purpose and disciplined action, a predetermined form and path, a script, which demands convergence and unity, eliminating the variety offered by sense, shearing off connotations that might have produced a different debate, outcome and script.

Habermas, in his ‘theory of communicative action’ talked of the ‘life world’ as opposed to the ‘system world’.

Richard Sennett, in his discussion of cooperation[ii], also argued for the value of difference, and of cooperation to utilise its potential. He distinguished between a top-down form of socialism, which he called the ‘political Left’, and a bottom up, grassroots form, the ‘social Left’. The first goes for solidarity as unity, the second for solidarity as ‘inclusion’ of variety. For the first cooperation is a tool, for the second an end.

The most extreme form of the first was Stalinist repressive regimentation. A form of the second is communitarianism, with its tradition in American church communities, for example, and appearing to emerge again in present society. I will consider that more closely in the next item. 

[i] Perhaps this is also what Hegel meant with his proposition that ‘the rational is the actual’.
[ii] Richard Sennett, Together; The rituals, pleasures & politics of cooperation, Penguin, 2013.