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Social poetics as a relational practice - Creating resourceful communities Arlene M. Katz and John Shotter Very much a first draft of paper prepared for the Workshop: Construction of Health and Illness, at Social Construction and Relational Practices Conference, University of New Hampshire, Sept 16th-19th, 1999. "How - with no preparation - can [a] singular, short-lived event constituted by the appearance of an unusual poetic image, react on other minds, and in other hearts, despite all the barriers of common sense, all the disciplined schools of thought, content in their immobility?" (Bachelard, 1992, pp.xiv-xv). "Of course, a certain entry as a living being into a foreign culture, the possibility of seeing the world through its eyes, is a necessary part of the process of understanding it; but if this were the only aspect of this understanding, it would merely be a duplication and would not entail anything new or enriching. Creative understanding does not renounce itself... In order to understand, it is immensely important for the person who understands to be located outside the object of his or her creative understanding... A meaning only reveals its depths once it has encountered and come into contact with another, foreign meaning... We raise new questions for a foreign culture, ones that it did not raise for itself... and the foreign culture responds to us by revealing to us its new aspects and new semantic depths" (Bakhtin, 1986, p.7). "It is quite possible to imagine and postulate a unified truth that requires a plurality of consciousnesses, one that in principle cannot be fitted within the bounds of a single consciousness, one that is, so to speak, by its very nature full of event potential and is born at a point of contact among various consciousnesses. The monologic way of perceiving cognition and truth is only one of the possible ways. It arises only where consciousness is placed above existence, and where the unity of existence is transformed into the unity of consciousness" (Bakhtin, 1984, p.81). "Not, then, men and their moments. Rather moments and their men" (Goffman, 1967, p.3).

Our overall interest here, is in those kinds of things that people can only do together that they cannot possibly do apart, in isolation from each other. Our interests resonate with the themes and topics expressed in the epigraph quotes above. In particular, we are especially interested in how a group of people, with very different interests, who usually live in very different worlds, can nonetheless come together to create between them, a community with its own shared world, not of material resources, but of social resources. And in how such a set of very different participants can all draw on these resources to interweave their different activities and interests together to the mutual benefit of each. In short, we are interested in the relational practices involved in the construction of "resourceful communities." We have called the relational practices involved in the creation of such communities (for reasons which will become clear later), a "social poetics" (Katz and Shotter, 1996; Shotter and Katz, 1996; Katz and Shotter, 1996; and Shotter and Katz, 1998). We can appreciate the workings of a "social poetics," and the nature of the socially useful and usable resources that can be created in people's relations with the different others around them, from the following remarks made by a young geriatrics


resident after having participated in a 'consultation' with a Council of Elders established by one of us (AMK): "‌what a good experience [the Council] is. It served to show medical residents the life of older people . ‌ I just wish I'd have them around always to ask them about questions that confuse me." "‌I guess I do have a little piece of her inside me after listening to her, after working with her". "At that age, we don't know what their life is, we don't know the life we're sending people out to. [I learned they] have wonderful lives. It's very reassuring. I had a nice experience: [I went out to see a couple] the wife was 85, the husband in his early 90s. Both had walkers, both have hearing loss; both are very much in love. They were very warm and really doing meaningful things. It's caring to go to their home to [see] their lives." Here, clearly, in his or her dialogue with the elders, the young resident gained a living image of the old people in relation to his or her concerns - an image full of event potential in the sense of 'calling out' a whole range of responses from the resident. And, as the remark above shows, the resident was able to 'carry around' or 'carry over' this image - as a resource - to draw on it in subsequently shaping aspects of their medical practice. It was to provide young residents with just such a resource as this, that the Council of Elders was established. The idea was not to supply the residents with any new factual information enough facts, statistics, graphs, and other data, are available in texts books and other documents - but to provide them with a living way of responsively orienting themselves toward individual old people's lives. The aim was not to train them to respond to the average old person, but to be sensitive to the particular facts of a particular old person's life, and to connect their general grasp of medicine to those facts. The Council arose out of a community project in which a group of community elders were invited to collaborate with researchers and clinicians as our 'Senior Faculty' to teach what is at stake for them in health care. In this dialogical forum, medical residents came to present their heartfelt dilemmas and receive advice and wisdom from the elders in front of their senior professors and peers - and in the process, to create a resourceful community of care (Katz et al., in press). The second year medical resident quoted above became so strongly 'struck by' an event he/she has participated in, that not only has it changed their orientation toward a whole group of patients/illnesses, etc. But it has also became a living resource, providing them with a 'landmark' (within a landscape of possibilities) to which to continually return, to 'remind' them of crucial details, possibly relevant to their current cases. However, before going on further to outline the methods of a "social poetics" and their relation to the establishing of the Council, we must set the scene with a number of preliminary remarks. PRELIMINARY REMARKS Responsiveness * -Western thought has focused on thinking and theories as primary, and has treated our practices - as the idea of putting theories into practices - as secondary. * -Instead, we take our practices to be primary.


* -We 'assume' (we will question this use of language in a moment) that we live our lives, fundamentally, embedded in a ceaseless flow of relationally-responsive activity occurring between us and the others and othernesses around us. * -It is people's living, bodily responsiveness to events and features in their surroundings that is crucial. * -The origins or beginnings of all our more intellectual and self-controlled skills and abilities begin here. * -Deliberately executed activities by individuals are secondary, and rely on their embedding in this ceaseless flow of activity between us for their intelligibility. * -As Wittgenstein (1981) puts it: "Only in the stream of life do words [and other selfcontrolled actions] have meaning" (no.173). * -To the extent that we participate in this flow of relationally-responsive activity spontaneously, effortlessly, without first having to take self-conscious thought, it remains implicit, unnoticed in the background to our lives. * -This, along with the valorization of thought and the trivialization of practical activity by academics in the West, has led to it being ignored until very recently. * -It has been brought to prominence by such writers as Wittgenstein, Heidegger, MerleauPonty, Bakhtin, Voloshinov, and Vygotsky, as well as by the Pragmatists: Dewey, Pierce, James, and G.H. Mead. A strange third realm of human activity: * -Such spontaneous activity is quite unlike the two realms of activity that have been central in social theory so far: behavior and action. * -As soon as a second living human being responds to the activities of a first, then, what the second does cannot be accounted as wholly their own activity - for the second acts in a way that is partly 'shaped' by the first's activity (and the first's acts were responsive to the reactions of the second to them, also). * -Thus, what occurs in this realm of jointly produced activity, cannot be accounted as action, for it cannot be explained by giving individual people's reasons for so acting - in acting spontaneously, in response to the others and othernesses around them, we cannot hold any individuals responsible for what occurs. * -Yet, we cannot account it as behavior, for it cannot be explained as a naturally happening regularity in terms of externally imposed causal principles - it is produced only by those concerned responding to each other, without that it does not occur. * -What is produced is a strange, third realm of activity. "Dialogical spaces:" a complex, intertwined mixture, an invisible whole or unseparated multiplicity: * -What is important for us, is "not that which takes place within, but that which takes place on the boundary between one's own and someone else's consciousness, on the threshold" (p.287). * -The dialogical intertwining of two or more unmerged consciousness, voices, points of view, creates in the boundary space between them - in which their intertwinings are 'orchestrated' - a dynamic sense of 'a space with depth(3)', a space of 'compellent calls' and possibilities in which all can participate, and of which all are a part. * -In so doing we navigate what is at stake for each in this emerging "local moral world" (Kleinman, 1995). * -What participants produce between them in such moments of mutual or joint encounter, is a very complex mixture of not wholly reconcilable influences - as Bakhtin (1981) remarks, at work within it are both 'Centripetal' tendencies (inward toward order and unity), as well as 'Centrifugal' ones (outward toward diversity and difference).


* -Influences from vision, touch, hearing, taste, and smell, as well as our body senses, our own and our responses to those of others, are all mixed in together. * -Responsive or joint action is in fact a complex mixture of many different kinds of influences. * -This makes it very difficult for us to characterize its nature: it has neither a fully orderly nor a fully disorderly structure, a neither completely stable nor an easily changed organization, a neither fully subjective nor fully objective character. * -Indeed, we could say that it is its very lack of specificity, its lack of any pre-determined human order, and thus its openness to being specified or determined yet further by those involved in it, in practice, that is its central defining feature. * -However, it is not wholly unspecified - the 'dialogical reality or space' people spontaneously construct in their joint actions is experienced (sensed) as a 'third agency' with its own specific demands and requirements: "Each dialogue takes place as if against the background of an invisible third party [an 'it'] who stands above all the participants in the dialogue (partners)" (Bakhtin, 1986, p.126). * -As such, 'it' can make calls on us. A Responsive Order: * -We are both a part of it, and participants in it - we can call 'it' a "responsive order." * -The dialogical unity or order so produced, is "a unity of unmerged consciousnesses or voices" (Bakhtin, 1984). * -Like our sense of being surrounded by a unitary space of 3-dimensions, created from the relating of the two distinct, unmerged 2-dimensional views from our two eyes - a space of possible movements for us - so a dialogical unity of unmerged consciousnesses possess a "depth of possibilities" for us also(4). * -Often, we express its orderly nature by saying that 'it' has a "grammar" to it. * -Its order is not known to us, primarily, in terms of rules or principles, in terms of how we might 'talk about' it amongst ourselves, but in how we might act in it - it is known to us a space of possibilities. Moving or arresting moments, exemplars, being 'struck': * -Third realm activities occur in those moments when, as living beings, we approach or encounter an other or otherness. * -Bakhtin (1993) calls them "once-occurrent events of Being;" Goffman (1967) calls them moments of "joint spontaneous involvement;" Steiner (1989) talks of "the other that enters us and makes us other." We have called them "arresting moments" (Katz and Shotter, 1996). * -These are the moments that make a difference to and in our lives; they 'move' us; we are 'struck' by them; they 'call out' new responses from us. * -Besides responding to spontaneously occurring events in our surroundings, we can be 'called' to respond in new ways by events that we find re-markable - events presented to us by others. One could say we are called to account, to acknowledge what matters to them (and to us). * -The use of such 're-markable' events is crucial in us being taught a practice. * -To learn a practice, we must learn to act within the 'dialogical space of possibilities' in which the practice has its being; we must 'enter into' the 'world' of the practice. * -Thus teaching a practice is not a matter of teaching the principles or rules governing the practice - being able to 'talk about' such things is only of use to those already to an extent skilled in it - but of enacting the practice in some way - this is done through the articulation of examples with others. * -"Examples are needed, for our rules leave loop-holes open, and the practice has to speak for itself" (Wittgenstein, 1969, no. 139).


* -In the event of their presentation they work responsively to inaugurate in us, practically, for the very first-time, the beginning of new, never before performed, ways of seeing and acting. * -Once begun, the new way(s) of acting can be later elaborated and refined in ways that can be 'carried over' into practice. * -What is important in such 'tellings' is the intricacy of the responsive interplay between ourselves and our surroundings they provoke in us: the moment of their presentation consists in a complex mixture of influences - from us and from whatever the example is. * -In the event, a space with a multiplicity of relational dimensions comes into existence. * -We can think of the dialogically- structured intertwining that occurs as 'orchestration', a complex, polyphonic unfolding of many interwoven, co-responsive functions. Thus any event in which an example is used not only has its own unique 'fullness' to it, in that a number of different orders may originate from it. Preparation: * -We are not very practiced in noticing the important 'practicalities' involved in our dialogically-structured activities. * -As Wittgenstein (1953) remarks about the activity of naming things: "One forgets that a great deal of stage-setting in language is presupposed if the mere act of naming is to make sense" (no. 257) - and unnoticed and unremarked upon nature of this stage-setting is important here too. * -First, we can note that the activity of preparation is quite different from that of planning.Planning is a matter of deciding on a schematism in terms of which to sequence an already well practiced set of routine activities, and nothing to do with creating a shared, dialogical space, a community. * -Preparation is different. * -It is to do with orienting ourselves toward attending to appropriate details, sensitizing ourselves to be responsive to certain kinds of events, participating in those kinds of events that will bring us into a responsive contact with others around us - thus to form with them, a community. * -By preliminary talk and use of examples, participants can be sensitized: - to be responsive to details;- to what is involved in 'entering into' different 'worlds'; - to allow for differences; - for the way words (our vocabulary) can mislead us; - to how not to apply 'after the fact' judgments too quickly; - to how new ways of 'going on' can be developed from new beginnings; - to noticing the unusual, on a readiness to be 'struck by' it; - to being appreciative rather than critical, to noticing what is there rather than what is not; - to finding new resources in differences * -It is especially necessary to note that our talk of 'presuppositions' and 'assumptions', in our talk of practices, is a misleading vocabulary that 'invites' us to put everything of importance to us learning practices back inside individual people's heads: thus we say, "We must change their assumptions, give them a new perspective, etc." * -In this way, the old tradition is maintained by an 'after the fact' and 'beside the point' justificatory rhetoric. * -We need to develop a vocabulary sensitive to the 'practicalities' of relational practices. * -Such a vocabulary will develop as our experience with a 'social poetics' grows.

THE METHODS OF A SOCIAL POETICS


"... philosophy ought only to be written as poetic composition..." (Wittgenstein, 1980, p.24). Our focus, then, is on those living moments in which certain not-yet-related events come into a living relation with each other, or to put it another way, into a dialogically-structured, responsive relation with each other. We can call such moments poetic moments, in that they are to do with processes of first-time creation {Gr poiesis = creation}: they create the complexly intertwined influences at work in the dialogical spaces we outlined above. Bakhtin (1993, p.1) calls such event-moments, "once-occurrent events of Being," while Garfinkel (1967) puts it nicely in talking of such events as occurring for yet "another first time" (p.9). But more than in a poet's poetry, in which an individual reader is moved by an individual poet's words to imagine something not previously imagined, the participants in such moments, are all moved to notice and to be responsive to the same events occurring between them. In other words, they can give rise to shared reactions in shared circumstances from which shared language-games can begin - hence our reason for calling the methods, the methods of a social poetics. Fundamental to the nature of such moments is that fact that they are, what we might call either, "arresting," "striking," or "moving moments." They are moments that matter, that make a difference in our lives. In the dialogical intertwining of two or more responsive activities in an unusual or novel combination, the routine flow of our activity is seen as if in bold relief, emphasizing a new aspect. Our position shifts from automatic or the usual taken-for-granted stance, and we are 'moved' to notice ways in which to relate ourselves responsively to aspects of it that might not otherwise have occurred to us. And, as long as the gaps introduced by the juxtapositions we use are not too great, our bodies responsively create ways of bridging them, and in so doing, fleetingly, create a new form of life, the origins or seed of a new way of seeing and acting. Wittgenstein (1980) expresses the importance of such beginnings thus: "The origin and the primitive form of the language game is a reaction: only from this can more complicated forms develop. Language - I want to say - is refinement, 'in the beginning was the deed' [Goethe]." Where, by the word "primitive" here, Wittgenstein (1981) wants to make it clear that he doesn't mean something historically primitive, back in humankind's early times, but "that this sort of behavior is pre-linguistic: that a language-game is based on it, that it is the prototype of a way of thinking and not the result of thought" (no.541). A "social poetics" begins, then, with the sharing of a "striking moment." However, we can go on from there to suggest further moves, further activities to do with going on from such moments to intertwine what is noticed with them into one's already existing practices, thus to refine and elaborate them. Indeed, we can go on to list further methods used by Wittgenstein (1953) in his practical-poetic approach to drawing our attention to previously unnoticed aspects of our own practices. While at the same time noting how they are merely a highlighting of the ordinary everyday methods of noticing, connecting and relating, comparing and ordering, that we all use in making sense of our surroundings both to ourselves and to each other. A listing of Wittgenstein's poetic methods: * -i) noticing in practice: 'stop' 'look', 'listen to this', 'look at that' (pointing out features of the flow from within the flow) (nos 132, 144). * -ii) connecting and relating: use new metaphors to reveal new possible connections and relations between events hidden by the dead metaphors in routine forms of talk (no.115). * -iii) continue to gather examples ("don't think, but look!" - no.66). * -iv) begin to order by making comparisons using (sometimes invented) "objects of comparison which are meant to throw light on the facts of our language by way not only of similarities but dissimilarities " (no.130)


* -v) where all this will help us "to establish an order in our knowledge of the use of language: an order with a particular end in view [so that we can all participate in discussions toward that end]; one out of many possible orders, not the order" (no.132). Where all this leads to a "perspicuous representation" {Ger: 端bersightliche Darstellung} which "produces just that understanding which consists in 'seeing connections'" (no.122). It does not lead to any new theories, but to that kind of understanding which enables us to be more 'at home' in our own cultural creations, thus, not to become "as it were, entangled in our own rules" (Wittgenstein, 1953, no.125), i.e., to be at cross-purposes with each other. To be spontaneously responsive with the others around us in this way, such that they can sense that the activity going out from us toward them is in answer to the activity emanating from them toward us, and vice-versa, could be described in terms of us as resonating to each other. Indeed, this is precisely the term Bachelard (1992) uses in writing of poetic events and relations: Resonances with Bachelard (1992): "In the resonance we hear the poem, in the reverberations we speak it, it is our own. The reverberations bring about a change of being. It is as though the poet's being were our being... the poem possesses us entirely" (p.xviii). "By its novelty, a poetic image sets in motion the entire linguistic mechanism. The poetic image places us at the origin of the speaking being" (p.xix). "The image offered us by reading the poem now becomes really our own. It takes root in us. It has been given us by another, but we begin to have the impression that we could have created it, that we should have created it. It becomes a new being in our language, expresses us by making us what it expresses; in other words, it is at once a becoming of expression, and a becoming of our being. Here expression creates being" (p.xix). Articulating a practice from within the practice: What is involved, then, in us refining, elaborating, and modifying our already existing relational practices in ways which will tap into - rather than eliminate - the unnoticed, and thus unused, resources for beginning new ways forward we are continually creating between us? How can we create "resourceful communities"? A number of steps seems to be involved: -

first, we must, after some preparation, bring people who do not usually meet together the noticing of what is striking or unusual specifying and articulating (dialogically) what makes it notable in so doing, rendering visible what could otherwise pass by unnoticed. modifying and elaborating practices carrying across these new possibilities into other settings

Where the outcome of such a set of activities as this among those participating is: "... a unified truth that requires a plurality of consciousnesses, one that in principle cannot be fitted within the bounds of a single consciousness, one that is, so to speak, by its very nature full of event potential and is born at a point of contact among various consciousnesses" (Bakhtin, 1984, p.81). Summary: We began with a focus on fleeting events, on subtleties, on the unique, novel, only 'once occurrent' events that 'strike' us, to which we cannot not respond. It is this emphasis that moves us away from what in the past has been called theory, toward what (to be distinctive)


we have called the methods of a 'social poetics'. Introduced into a practice, these methods work to 'move' those involved in it, to pay attention to aspects or details of it that might otherwise pass them by unnoticed. This distinctive 'marking out' of experiential events, serves to create a shared sense of these details, to get them 'out there' into a public space, so that those involved in such a space have something distinctive before them, a set of 'topics' to which they can return again and again, to discuss them and to further elaborate them in detail. Thus, even if not everything is known about such commonplaces, they can serve as 'orientation marks', as 'signposts', indicating places to go, as well as their relation to other places, on a whole landscape of resources shared by those in the community of the practice. This shared field of creativity within which both researchers and practitioners alike are engaged, emerges in the collaborative activity between them. In their responsive conversations together - with some being just between residents and elders, others between residents and their teachers, others between doctors, elders, and researchers, and yet others being when the whole group comes together - they shift between moments in which details of clinical practice are articulated, moments of teaching, and research moments, with each informing and specifying the other. As the details of the different moments are spelt out, the non-separable character of the different aspects of their nature becomes apparent: the doing, the commentary, the sharing, the elaborating, the critiquing, the teaching, the researching, the relating of medicine to the other crafts and practices surrounding it, to economics, to its administration, and, especially, to people's everyday lives, etc., are all intermingled in together. Indeed, in this process, practitioners become co-researchers, and researchers become co-practitioners, as each articulates what they have been 'struck by' in the unfolding process. As a result, clinical activity, teaching, and research are all enfolded with each other, as one in-forms and creates the other in a evolving, generative fashion. References: Bachelard, G. (1992) The Poetics of Space. Boston, MA: Beacon Press. Bakhtin, M.M. (1981) The Dialogical Imagination. Edited by M. Holquist, trans. by C. Emerson and M. Holquist. Austin, Tx: University of Texas Press. Bakhtin, M.M. (1984) Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics. Edited and trans. by Caryl Emerson. Minnieapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Bakhtin, M.M. (1986) Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Trans. by Vern W. McGee. Austin, Tx: University of Texas Press. Bakhtin, M.M. (1993) Toward a Philosophy of the Act, with translation and notes by Vadim Lianpov, edited by M. Holquist. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. Garfinkel, H. (1967) Studies in Ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall. Goffman, E. (1967) Interaction Ritual. Harmondsworth: Penguin. Katz, A.M. and Shotter, J. (1996) Resonances from with the practice: social poetics in a mentorship program. Concepts and Transformations, 2. pp.97-105. Katz, A.M. and Shotter, J. (1996) Hearing the patient's voice: toward a 'social poetics' in diagnostic interviews. Social Science and Medicine, 46. pp.919-931.


Katz, A.M., Conant, L., Inui, T., Baron, D. and Bor, D. (in press) "A Council of Elders: Creating a Multi-Voiced Dialogue in a Community of Care", Social Science and Medicine. Social Science and Medicine. Kleinman, A. (1995) Writing at the Margin: Discourse between Anthropology and Medicine. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1964) Sense and Non-sense. Boston, MA: Northwestern University Press. Shotter, J. and Katz, A.M. (1996) Articulating a practice from within the practice itself: establishing formative dialogues by the use of a 'social poetics'. Concepts and Transformations, 2. pp.71-95. Shotter, J. and Katz, A.M. (1998) 'Living moments' in dialogical exchanges. Human Systems, 9. pp.81-93. Wittgenstein, L. (1953) Philosophical Investigations. Oxford: Blackwell. Wittgenstein, L. (1980) Culture and Value, introduction by G. Von Wright, and translated by P. Winch. Oxford: Blackwell. Wittgenstein, L. (1981) Zettel, (2nd. Ed.), G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H.V. Wright (Eds.). Oxford: Blackwell. 1. Department of Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School. 2. Department of Communication, University of New Hampshire. 3. We might say that whenever extra relational dimensions are brought into existence in our understanding of a circumstance, the change in the quality of our understanding is a change in its 'depth'. Note Bakhtin's (1986) comment above: that "a meaning only reveals its depths once it has encountered and come into contact with another, foreign meaning..." (p.7). 4. It is Merleau-Ponty (1964) who takes the spontaneous intertwining of the two monocular views from our two eyes as a paradigm for what can happen when two separate activities intertwine in a living relation to each other. As we know, in the intertwining, rather than a blurred and averaged, and still two-dimensional view, we become the beneficiaries of a three dimensional, binocular view of the scene before us, not blurred but one with a greater resolution to it. We can pick out details in it more easily because in fact we see 'a space in depth'.

Social poetics as a relational practice - Creating resourceful communities  

Social poetics as a relational practice - Creating resourceful communities

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