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Hazel Ashton writes:

The following is the concluding chapter of my doctoral thesis (2008). It’s written for an academic audience, but I hope it will be engaging for anyone with an interest in the possibilities and complexities of local development.  I welcome  questions, and feedback, either by email, in the comment section below or via the feedback form.

In Conclusion …

The campaign for the next election has already started, and it can be won by beginning now to engage grass roots organisations and communities in debate about the kind of future we want for our country (Prime Minster Helen Clark, 2005)

Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect … (E.M. Forster, 1992)

In the past, technology was seen as undermining community, but today in the age of ‘soft’ technologies, community has been given new possibilities for its expression (Gerard Delanty, 2003a, p. 167).

Connecting local everyday knowledge with theoretical and policy knowledges

I would like to propose that an important challenge for social theory, one that I have focused on in this thesis, is to clarify effective processes of engagement with local publics; in particular I see this as establishing processes of dialectical engagement and mutual learning between local everyday, theoretical, and policy knowledge frameworks. The overall aim of this form of engagement is for local publics to be in a position to construct their own agency, and construct this in ways that enable them to interact effectively both within their locality and beyond it, to meet individual and shared needs and aspirations, in ways which they deem to be desirable and practical.

We all live somewhere and as diverse, fragmenting pressures on localities and their inhabitants continue to grow, so do calls for local community to act and respond in relation to various social problems (Delanty, 2003a). Yet, as with Delanty’s observation in Europe, Castells’ in the United States and my own in New Zealand, local publics in local places scarcely exist, with meaningful or effective agency, except perhaps when they come together under much pressure for short periods, reactively and over some single troubling issue (Castells, 1996).  The challenge to local community presented by global networks (Castells, 1996), large movements of capital and people and things (Urry, 2000), and of images, information and disinformation (Lash, 2002) and global risk such as impacts of conflict, pandemics and pressure on resources and climate (Beck, 1994), cannot be underestimated.

At issue is the problem of ‘connection’ in a fragmenting, polarising, and yet, as is increasingly realised, at the same time, an also interdependent world. The impacts of decisions made at national and global levels continue to distract, divert and fragment much of the locality that is then also expected to come together in order to respond as called on.

In the meantime scientific and technological innovation continues apace, and the need for practical contexts continually forces knowledge to transgress disciplinary, institutional and geographic boundaries. Yet at the same time it is becoming essential, more than ever in a world increasingly shaped by ‘knowledge,’ that this knowledge can be safely and productively contextualised by being explored and tested out where people live; in their local contexts (Nowotny, Scott, & Gibbons, 2001).

At wider, let alone local levels, commercial interests are not always noted as able to be relied on for their sensitivity and caution; while official institutions and bureaucracies become overloaded and difficult to adequately resource, as they come to be expected to manage increasingly complex and changing social environments. Then at the local level, the community or residents’ groups, or protest groups, which represent the most tangible form of local agency, are typically unable to engage widely beyond themselves with most local people and their knowledges. Thus there is a need for new, local everyday innovation to be able to keep pace with scientific and technological innovation and its application. Otherwise there may be little to stop relatively differentiated theoretical, professional and everyday knowledges continually adding to fragmentation and lists of new problems to be dealt with, thus adding to new levels of risk (Beck, 1992, 1994,  2006). However, in the meantime, and for the most part, knowledges move along their relatively separate trajectories, out of synch and out of communication with one another (Eder, 1999).

It is a major contention of this thesis that new safe and productive knowledges and praxis about the management and application of knowledges are needed in the newly emerging innovative knowledge society. It is also contended that more than ever in this context, new agency is required for local publics to construct themselves and to help appraise and apply new knowledge developments.

It is in the context of disempowering fragmentation that theorists considered in this thesis are drawn on. In diverse, but also complementary ways, these theorists point towards new possibilities for the co-construction of local publics and their agency in their immediate environment, as well as in relation to wider, ultimately global environments.

Relation to current policy issues and sociological methodological debates

Two main issues relate to current methodological debates and have relevance also for policy: first, the need to reach and engage publics, particularly including those who are in some way disadvantaged. Second, there is a need to contextualise theory and policy in the context of the wider, globally interdependent world. The question which must be raised in relation to social policy in its many fields of operation is: will its developers come to be primarily an agent of the global networks, or will social policy instead help mediate the local and national and global? If it is to mediate, then how does it connect with the local and national publics, if they are, in reality as individuals, already for the most part, strongly connected via global networks for their patterns of work, consumption, entertainment (aesthetics) and media use?

For sociology, the question of connecting with publics is not new. Mills purposely sought to connect individuals with personal problems and troubles with wider civic culture and policy for the betterment of all, and this connection, or “sociological imagination” has been an abiding theme in sociology (Mills, 1977). More recently, in 2004, Burawoy’s presidential address to the American Sociological Association drew on this theme of connectivity, calling for a public sociology to connect with multiple publics. His appeal sparked huge endorsements from sociologists everywhere (Burawoy, 2005a, 2005b,  2005c) and much continued debate on the subject of public sociology to this day, including in New Zealand (Austrin & Farnsworth, 2007).

Public sociology and new forms of sociology-public connection

The problem is that while most sociologists seem to agree, at least at a general level, on the need for re-connecting or engaging with publics, much discussion then becomes mired in theoretical debate. In the meantime the actual topic which inspires many sociologists, actually connecting with publics, easily becomes lost. Despite continued focus on public sociology in journals and websites, there appears to have been very little attention given to knowledge about how to connect with publics, especially in ways that are supportive of these publics’ own agency, including in constructing themselves as collective actors.

While Burawoy refers in general to the “public,” it quickly becomes clear he is in fact referring to particular disadvantaged or “subaltern” publics, those already considered to be without agency. The issue addressed in this thesis becomes, how to construct a methodology that connects with disadvantaged groups in ways which enhance, not just document and so further inscribe, their lack of agency and of belonging in the wider society.

Research in this thesis has sought to include diverse local publics, including those who may be described as “subaltern,” not on the essentialised basis of identity, but primarily on recognition of everyone as ‘knowledgeable actors.’ Thesis research here indicates that when projects are developed on the basis of such inclusive collaboration, more questions can be opened up and discourses take place, which in turn facilitates the interrelation or interconnection of different kinds of knowledge in the overall construction of new individual and shared possibilities and related identities.

Knowledge is here created in the context of application and its value is based on its use for the task at hand – not its disciplinary origins or status. While participants in the thesis research were asked to give their statistical details, this was in order to formally record that people from diverse backgrounds took part in the research. Details were not taken to link their status or formal credentials in order to track their specific inputs into the research and narrative creation.

Participants, unencumbered by perceptions and expectations about what they may or may not have to offer, were afforded a research space in which they were able to explore together aspects of their common world and to co-construct its possible futures. All contributed to the broadening of local knowledge horizons, where all could see more – both relevant problems and new opportunities. From a new shared horizon, participants were able to construct comprehensive accounts of the local terrain – what is going on, what do we see, and at the same time collectively learning how to move between this new understanding and hopeful or utopic futures.

The cosmopolitan turn and its need for a methodology

In his book Global Ethnography (Burawoy, 2000, p. 343), Burawoy is attentive to both global and local simultaneously, and seeks to, in his words, “compose the global from below.” Nevertheless, in his address on public sociology, he does not seem to address the many complex issues which arise from global and local interconnections. These complexities are however raised in a debate on sociology and cosmopolitanism which appears to run parallel to public sociology. Beck is among those who are most prominent in wishing to take sociology into the cosmopolitan direction (Beck & Sznaider, 2006a, 2006b). Beck argues that much current sociological methodology is based too narrowly on the nation state and nationalism, and needs to take much more account of the wider global environment. He calls for an innovative methodology which he says has to be a transdisciplinary project (Beck & Sznaider, 2006b). However, the kind of methodology he seems to envisage, while in many ways recognizing many complexities, does not really address how to deal with these complexities, especially in ways that enhance public agency.

The question of agency, personal and shared at local levels in the context of the wider interdependent world has been an abiding theme in this thesis and a theorist who provides a framework for addressing issues raised by both Burawoy and Beck is Delanty. Delanty is also major theorist of cosmopolitanism, and within this framework he theorises public agency in the context of historical, societal, national, global, cosmological and community settings (Delanty, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003a, 2006).

Delanty’s civic-cosmopolitan framework

Delanty constructs much of his theory around what he calls “civic cosmopolitanism” (Delanty, 2000). Here the words civic cosmopolitan can be seen as representing the “cosmos” or universal levels, the “polis” or aspects of communal belonging and the “civic,” the discursive citizenship that shapes political decision making. At the universal levels of the “cosmos,” the civic aspects can easily be lost, or become difficult to construct and maintain. Nonetheless, it is to help establish such an order at the wider level that Delanty looks to the local as a way of helping to humanise or counterbalance a world order shaped otherwise by top-down, neo-liberal globalization. Delanty’s concept, like Bohman’s, which he refers to, entails interactions between or across various local areas (Bohman, 1996, 1997; Delanty, 2000, 2002, 2006).  Delanty’s social theory also relates agency to institutions and institutional development mandated in the context of the historical democratic project of the Enlightenment. Delanty sees the democratic project as now also needing support by social science and a university, as itself a cosmopolitan knowledge producing institution.

Now that knowledge is more clearly understood to be transgressive and university and society distinctions becoming increasingly blurred, Delanty notes how processes with transdisciplinary-based partnerships include university and industry and science, so why not also publics? (Delanty, 1998; Delanty, 2001a, 2003b). This thesis further asks, why not local publics? The university can be seen in a unique position, on one hand, able to continually draw in knowledge from any sources, and on the other, as a site where there can be engagement with more local knowledge and networks around knowledge development needs. Academia can thus become, in Delanty’s terms, and in terms of this thesis, a productive “space of translation” between diverse forms and sources of theoretical and practical knowledge and sites of knowledge (Delanty, 2006, p. 43). There is no other site whose specific task is the collection, study, combining, testing out and mediation or brokering of all kinds of “knowledges.” In particular, in terms of this thesis, the university is the only place that can encompass and make connections between the general or universal and the particular, for instance, its particular application and contextualisation.

Delanty’s social theory is developed in the European context and in the context of global networks, mobilities and risk (Delanty, 1998; Delanty, 1999, 2000). His main problematic is to do with social fragmentation manifesting itself in ethno-nationalism, xenophobia and culture wars. He sees these as taking over the sense of identity, participating and belonging that had been provided by nationalism before globalisation and the European Union took over many of the state’s powers and ability to provide (national) identity. Delanty now sees shared discursive socio-economic participation, as a key challenge to the dominant traditional European national culture. So rather than culture or ethnicity being the main issue, Delanty sees the underlying problematic as to do with the issue of new, wider participatory forms of shared belonging. He thus calls for new “active citizenship” with learning and discourses based on belonging.

While New Zealand’s situation is similar to that of Europe, ethnicity remains a very meaningful category for Maori who have claims and rights (including historical, legal and constitutional) that need to be acknowledged. However, there is no question that Maori are themselves also differentiated like other ethnic groups, in terms of age cohorts, and lifestyles shaped by consumption. As such, they can often feel strongly drawn towards activities, interests, values and aspirations of their equivalent age and/or gender group rather than simply relating to those of other Maori, including of their iwi or tribal affiliation.

The major point raised in this thesis is how to move from essentialised cultures or identities, to a reflexive discursivity that enables the expression and a joint recognition of new bases for shared development. The important point in such ‘active citizenship’ projects, is cultural and other affiliations can and will remain, but with this new discursivity, all come to have the power to name and frame their own narratives and create forms of identity as needed and wanted.

While Delanty draws together many theorists, this thesis follows in more detail theorists such as Eder and Strydom with their focus on mechanisms for public agency. For instance, Eder and Strydom point to the need for understanding discursive processes of framing issues through from personal feeling and expression to wider public and official acceptance (Eder, 1996, 1999; Strydom, 2000, 2002). This thesis also draws on Joas’ theory of creativity which Delanty takes into Eder’s theory of social learning (Eder, 1999; Joas, 1996).

Joas’ theory of creativity is important. He sees the need for what he calls “primary” creativity which is more purely imaginative or fanciful and “secondary” creativity which is technical or practical, and “integrated” creativity which is a synthesis of on-going primary and secondary creativity generation. While Delanty seeks to take such creative learning more deeply into social structure and practice with Eder’s theory of social learning and uses it to formulate his theory of active citizenship, his concepts relate to social, not economic or socio-economic development, of which he makes little or no mention. Nor, for that matter, does he explore the creative application of information technology to social development.

For an account of economic creativity and development in the context of new communications technology I have therefore turned to another theorist of creativity, Richard Florida (Florida, 2002). Florida refers to the rising “creative class,” – the people who are creative in the new knowledge economy, in areas such as research, art, science, technological development and application, the media and management. He also stresses the need to draw on a cosmopolitan pool of such creatives, and the importance of having places that can attract them and reflect their tastes and support their work. He sees the need to create conditions which enhance possibilities for creativity (Florida, 2002, 2005).

What is stressed in this thesis is that such development will not work unless people are in the first instance able to meet and interact first in self-chosen, spontaneous and less determinate contexts. A theorist who has enabled me to theorize this is Scott Lash, with his theories of globalization, aesthetics, taste communities, and “radical” or what would now be called “inclusive” community participation (Lash, 1994, 1999).

Lash’s everyday and aesthetics and communication structures

At a theoretical level, Lash’s main contribution to this thesis framework is in interweaving cultural theory and philosophy with sociology, so each can learn from the other (Lash, 1999, p. 1). For instance, Lash introduces aesthetics in the context of information and communication structures into the production of meaning and belonging in everyday life. In attempting to understand conditions for local agency, it has been seen as crucial to understand what attracts and engages people, and what produces meaning for them. Aesthetics is generally not included in sociology or local development, except possibly by way of critique, for instance, critique of the success of aesthetics in creating a seemingly all-consuming, consumer culture. Lash usefully helps us to understand how aesthetics, such as in taste-based communities, supports the creation of meaning. While these forms of aesthetic-based community are often detached from where people live, importantly Lash opens up ways to theorise how it can be possible for communication and interchange to take place between the diverse communities of taste that exist within the locality, and therefore can also be deployed to attract and engage people in meaningful participation in local, discursively created, aesthetic-based localities. The issue, as Lash in effect stresses, is one of full and inclusive participation in the creation and production of aesthetics.

Lash’s other important contribution to this thesis is his introduction of the phenomenological-hermeneutics of philosophers Heidegger, Gadamer and Ricoeur, which in this thesis enables the grounding of theory in shared everyday experience, and of a methodology based around a particular form of agency. Agency can potentially be based around all sorts of possibilities, however, in this thesis methodology, it is based around what Heidegger refers to as authentic Sorge (German for care), or authentic-based care based on one’s own-most, self-chosen, and therefore, authentic possibilities. The different ways of theorizing care are important to note. Lash adapts this form of care to community contexts by bringing to bear on them participatory, communal forms of care, or what he refers to as communal-being-in-the-world. For Heidegger the communal care in the form of the “they” is conformist and thus also inauthentic. Lash, however, depicts a participatory, non-engineered communal form of “we;” and importantly, this form of community can be seen as authentic, in that it based on inclusive participation where all can participate together on the basis of authentic choice.

The aim of the thesis research was to devise and support this kind of choice at both individual and shared levels, including opportunities for participants to say so when they did not feel they could do this. Cases in the thesis described projects based on care; the Playcentre, a parent-run movement, based on learning through play and collaboration of parents and children around this form of learning; the peace-movement, in particular the Nuclear-Free Peacemaking Association, with its concern about the dangers of nuclear war and need for peace-brokering to ensure common security; and local community-based communications and technology projects, again, based on collaboration around projects where local people became involved on the basis of their intrinsic interests and forms of care. However, when referring to local community, ‘care’ seems to have become synonymous with institutional care, for example, putting children in childcare or after school care, and putting elderly people in forms of elder care. In New Zealand, such forms of care are increasingly shaped around profit or public-private partnerships, for instance in the growth of overseas-owned childcare and eldercare institutions. Government institutions then attempt to mediate, for instance to ensure regulatory and safety environments to make certain the for-profit care is up to sufficient standards of public care.

However, communal forms of care, such as Lash describes, are still called on because, as important as institutional forms of care can be, most people in society would not themselves wish to be put into a position where they were too reliant on just institutional forms of care. Further, it is known that institutional or expert-based care, no matter how well resourced, cannot by itself make up for ‘simple’ human-based care and belonging. Yet, as Lash attests, expert systems, or more purely institutional forms of care are increasingly permeating local community (Lash, 1994), and in the first instance, many people now look to institutions to provide the care for others. In the meantime, as Beck amongst others caution, global networks increasingly manage to bypass national regulations and institutions which can, in turn, find it is increasingly difficult to mediate or enforce standards of care across the board at all times in the interest of the public.

When knowledge which is transgressive permeates boundaries with often complex consequences, the temptation is for more technological and bureaucratic responses and procedures and rules and as a result, many organisations become hidebound, not sure what rule to apply and how best to respond.

In order to theorise a new process of making judgements in a changing environment, Lash refers to Gadamer’s theorisation of play or game (Gadamer, 1988). It is here that Lash, adapting Kant’s principles, says reflective judgement, similar to the process of needing to identify or feel for which rule to apply in a problematical situation that arises in a game, is required. Of course this analogical or reflective application of judgement occurs much of the time in everyday and professional life, but it is not given explicit acknowledgment in theorization about discursive publics, and development, and for that matter, in organisations and institutions.

Lash, in theorising about the information society, refers to a “disinformed information society” with “more or less as out-of-control bytes of information” (Lash, 2002, p. 2). In this context there is a need for creative and innovative analogical reflective solutions, such as are not commonly found in bureaucratic institutions, or in traditional responses from residents groups, such as voting and submissions. This is where the production of socially robust knowledge is needed. As Nowotny et al suggest, this must be framed and defined and worked through in the public sphere (Nowotny, Scott, & Gibbons, 2001).

At a time of rapid change and moving ground, Lash stresses the need for processes or “middles” which ground, for instance, through the sharing of story, memory or tradition, of a life lived (Lash, 1999). Other theorists refer to third spaces and good spaces where inhabitants have the opportunity to make connections with others (Oldenburg, 1989).

Lash (1994; Lash, 1999) refers to story and narrative as something which can help retrieve ground and he touches on some aspects of Ricoeur’s narrative theorisation (Ricoeur, 1990, 1991), but he does not develop the possibilities reflective judgement in the development and application of narrative as does Ricoeur. For Ricoeur, Kantian reflective judgement is applied in the linking of diverse heterogeneous elements and episodes in a plot that is, in literary and aesthetic terms, linked reflectively (Ricoeur, 1990, 1991). Ricoeur points to the application of such reflexive judgement in the literary text to social theory and then it is Herda (1999), a social scientist, who develops a methodology around the application of this for real world development projects, many elements of which I have adapted for this thesis methodology.

In summary, Delanty and Lash provide innovative social and philosophical theoretical contextualization and point clearly towards social contextualization. However they do not provide a developed theorization of the everyday as it is experienced and as it can be changed by members of society. It is Herda who, utilizing especially Ricoeur, introduces a social science methodology that opens the way for this to be done. In her book, Research Conversations and Narrative: A Critical Hermeneutic Orientation in Participatory Inquiry (Herda, 1999) she applies her innovative methodology to specific projects of community development. She works with villagers on the creation of shared community text with respect to development projects that are offered by outside aid programmes. What I seek to do in this thesis, is to extend this methodology, so that members of localities in an already modern society such as New Zealand, can define and carry out their own local development narratives, including with the use of Internet and film.

Developmental shared text in public discursivity and hermeneutic-based narrative methodology – Ricoeur and Herda

The role of shared text in the development of public discursivity is crucially important. Verbal discourse about actions and events comes and goes and can also stay for a time in individual or shared memory of those who are present, or others, when they are told about these things. However, sustained democratic discursivity needs to be based around the in-depth sharing of public text/s which enables shared, adequate understanding of situations and what action or legislation might be required. Very significantly, publicly shareable text can now also be discussed and added to in immediate, continuous, cumulative and participatory shared text creation with radio, television, as well as new interactive digital technologies such as are available on the Internet. Text that uses aesthetic packaging can reach and motivate social groups and whole societies at deeper levels.

A current problem, as politicians and social marketers who wish to reach publics with their messages discover, is that the multiple, diffused nature of digital technologies results in many texts reaching and being interactively shared amongst many individuals and groups, so even those in the same household do not necessarily share the same text (Born, 2006).  However, the point remains that for agency to be effective, especially in complex situations, there is a need for a significant measure of public sharing of texts, significant including participation in its initial and continuous creation.

Given that sharing of text is all the more problematic at national levels in the diffuse and fragmenting current situations, it is all the more relevant and important to identify and support new ways of coming together. For instance, as has been illustrated in this thesis, there are now new possibilities for sharing a text in a technologically equipped, small-scale locality, especially one that is well able to communicate with other localities and wider regions beyond. This ‘network locality’ can be seen as helping implement Delanty’s civic cosmopolitanism and university role. For instance, it is now possible for a social scientific based network in the university to facilitate or mediate wider communication between and beyond network localities by itself drawing on technologically mediated communication networks.

Configuring (shared) research text: Herda and thesis methodologies

Including or configuring particular elements to represent particular viewpoints  occurs all the time in public discourse and the question, again in terms of local agency, is who participates in the configuring of texts and who is even aware of this configuring, or framing process. A major focus of the thesis methodology, drawing from Herda, is the attention given to the quality of participation in this process of configuring, particularly in reflexively and discursively extending this configuring process to thicken participatory opportunities.

Herda stresses the importance of the communication process and problematises this in her hermeneutic-based methodology.   In the thesis research the problematic nature of communication is brought out when participants see the same film, but as the responses clearly show, they see it from different horizons of understanding and interpretations. The film represented a shared text, but also one that was open to multiple readings, even by the same person. For instance, the research team members (the researcher, facilitator, and observer), who watched the film many times, discovered to their surprise that there always seemed more to see that hadn’t been seen that way before.

In Herda’s methodology it is thus seen as important to check out understanding and not presume the researcher knows, or that understanding has automatically occurred. Herda usefully refers to Gadamer who points out that it is not possible to be unbiased, or have no prejudgements, so it is best to acknowledge prejudgements explicitly and realise how all have limited horizons from which to see (cited in Herda, 1999). More positively, an explicit sharing of such presuppositions can be seen to open up new shareable issues and possibilities. This  thesis methodology adopts Herda’s emphasis on encouraging reflexivity about what is seen, and how, and why, and also on inclusivity in the process by putting horizons alongside others so they can be merged or fused, enabling all to see more. Herda’s methodology is devised in a context of participants coming from different cultures and her concern is that there is much criticism of one culture by another, without an appreciation of the very different worlds and horizons of understanding.

Another concern addressed in this thesis, more subtle, but arguably just as potentially damaging, is that in everyday practices, there is an often relatively unconscious selection of what is seen and not seen, selected in and out, recalled or forgotten. A major aim therefore of the thesis methodology was to develop a rigorous process to ensure, as far as possible, a truly inclusive process, so that if this selectivity does occur, this can be noted and can be stated freely and publicly. This process was not designed to be one of blame, but rather, of pleasure at uncovering and discovering more, in order to see more.

In Herda’s methodology, the researcher has reflexively-based conversations with each participant with each being clear about prejudgements which are put on the table. Conversations between the researcher and individual participants are recorded and transcribed, then returned for comment, and then later still, configured together into a community text for further comment by the group. In contrast, in this methodology the film somewhat replaced the reflexive researcher and an outside facilitator was employed to facilitate the research sessions. That said, when participants were initially invited to participate in the research process, the researcher was reflexive about the purpose and nature of the research. However, in this thesis methodology, participants related much more to one another than through a single researcher and in this way, built up their discourse together, in groups, with opportunities to continue discourse again on the research Internet discussion board. The research questions were carefully designed to bring out, in an open-ended way, the individual participants’ attitudes and suppositions or prejudgements, including their positive and negative assessments of the film itself. For instance a question raised was: were there things that annoyed you, if so what?

Ricoeur, Bennington and Gay and this thesis

Another difference between Herda’s methodology and that of this thesis is that whereas Herda draws on Ricoeur’s general theory of narrative (Ricoeur, 1981, 1990) to relate text to social action and uses language of emplotment, she does not create a fictional narrative plot of interacting characters, such as is theorised by Ricoeur. In this thesis methodology research begins, as in Ricoeur, with a fictional text, not, as in Herda, with a proposed project about which a participatory text is developed so action can more effectively be carried out. Another point is that as far as I can ascertain, neither Ricoeur nor Herda develops narrative theory to incorporate new digital technologies, in particular film. What this thesis adds is a methodological package that incorporates a literary concept of narrative from Ricoeur, linking this to film and the Internet for on-going, self-sustained and aesthetically engaging input.

An account of film and interactive video technology theory by Bennington and Gay was found to be particularly helpful (Bennington & Gay, 2000). Bennington and Gay incorporate Ricoeur’s mimetic theory into film theory, and also into their theorization of digital technology interactivity. However, theirs was a different kind of research project, focusing more simply on video gaming, and involving just a small number of research participants. The research project of this thesis involved about a hundred people and its methodology was constructed, of course, for interaction by whole local communities in their local, everyday lifeworld settings to decide on for their development.

In Ricoeur’s literary plot, there is a plot structure, with a beginning, middle and an end. In the film shown to participants, there is only one act and the ending is left in suspension – we do not know what will happen next. Participants watch the film, participate in some facilitated exercises which engage with the film, and then co-configure the second act, what they think will happen next.  Bennington and Gay draw much out of the interactive game having no closure and stimulating participants, who are clearly very uncomfortable with no ending, to make sense of the plot, leading them to try then to discover some hidden meaning. Participants clearly prefer closure and an important aspect of the research was to stimulate creative thinking and discussion about what was going on, what would happen next, why, and so on, before the desired closure.

In summary, my thesis situates Ricoeur’s narrative development in Delanty’s very wide-ranging framework of social theory about public agency, but as also noted, Delanty does not describe a research methodology that would enable his social theory to be applied in practice. It is Herda who provides the basic mechanism for doing this, and this thesis can be seen as elaborating somewhat on Herda’s contribution, to bring Delanty’s theory to real world implementation. Herda’s use of Ricoeur and Gadamer was pivotal to my being able to bring the theorization of Delanty and Lash to where it could be applied. Herda makes a useful contribution to social science methodology by configuring diverse local inputs into a coherent developmental text. However, for purposes of ongoing development in the locality, rather than for the kinds of one-off projects Herda theorises, Ricoeur’s more fully developed forms of literary or fictional narrative were found to be essential.

Literary and social theory combined to support public agency

Delanty, drawing from Habermas, Strydom, and Eder sees reality knowledge and society as largely socially or discursively constructed (Eder, 1996, 1999; Habermas, 1988; Strydom, 2000, 2002). Drawing on Eder, Strydom in particular notes how collective actors are seen to use framing devices made up of symbolic packages that can be communicated through narratives. An ability to control the use of frames is the basic mechanism that constitutes effective public discourse. However, Delanty, again following Eder and Strydom, theorises discourse in terms of frames that can be communicated and linked to wider public discourse in frame competition between collective actors in society.

This form of communication follows the standard Western and academic more Habermasian approach of focusing primarily on abstract and logical arguments and emphasising the contestation of validity claims.

The communication approach advocated here is one that is more in keeping with New Zealand Maori, Asian and Pacific peoples’ ways, which often take a more indirect route and recognise the relevance of personal sensitivities and social practices (Durie, 2003; Prasad, Mannes, Ahmed, Kauri, & Griffiths, 2004; Tui Atua Tupua Tamasese Taisi Efi, 2003). Following Herda’s (1999) hermeneutic narrative-based approach, communication here is based on a mutual reflexive engagement about understanding and interpretation of horizons or frames as a basis of narrative creation.

The narrative-based methodology deployed in this thesis seeks to show how literary framing can point to less divisive frame competition. The point here is that discursivity is now very often framed in divisive ways, for instance, as in the current United States president’s well known proclamation to the whole world, “you are with us or against us,” in support of the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Bush’s narrative framing here is of the good West versus bad Islam. Good is to triumph. We in the West are to get in behind the Western interests which are deemed to be good. This narrative framing can be seen to stimulate conflict and further narratives of war, weapons and controlling, or many would say “stealing,” resources.

There are many other ways various kinds of people are expected to line up against those others whom they imagine have competing frames and world views. This lining up in competition can of course become a basis of ‘belonging,’ in that ‘we’ line up together against ‘them.’ However, after taking up strong positions against the other, it then becomes much more difficult to mediate between such positioning, in the way that Delanty indicates is needed to find common ground on which to discuss, decide and act together.

In the research methodology Eder’s, Strydom’s, and Delanty’s frames can be viewed in similar terms to Gadamer’s horizons. However, the starting point in this thesis is not contestation about which frame or horizon is correct or superior, but rather a clarification about what we are seeing, what do we truly care about, what are the shared and desired possibilities, the realistic possibilities for ourselves and families and friends, locality, country and world?  My research methodology is much more about setting up this sort of discourse than it is about setting up an interminable debating society.

Of course, there can and will be differences to settle, but it is proposed that this can be more productively settled in contexts and with styles of communication, especially narrative construction, where there is a background of mutual understanding and acceptance and an underlying sense of common purpose and possibility.

It is worth noting that fictional narrative enables the recognition of conflict, in fact it can enhance its aesthetic depth and engagement by depicting and relating numerous conflicts. Conflict is necessary in fiction because the aesthetic challenge of achieving literary concordance becomes all the greater given the number of often keenly felt discordances to be expressed and somehow resolved – the more satisfying the better, whether tragedy or happy ever after.

Realpolitik could say this approach was overly naive were it not for the success, illustrated in the case of New Zealand’s mediation role, with the noted input of Maori and their forms of hospitality in the mediation of Bougainville conflict with Papua New Guinea, where over 10,000 had been killed. New Zealand has been acclaimed for its contribution to regional relations then and since, including by the United States which, under the presidency of George Bush, is known for its Realpolitik, not for misty eyed naivety (Eaton, 2006).

Changing times, careful framing and making personal and local time

Another problem for collective actors wishing to engage around frame competition is that battle lines are no longer as clear-cut. As McRobbie points out, much feminist movement concern about the Taliban’s attitude towards women in Afghanistan led to the movement’s also being drawn into supporting George Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan. In a similar vein, the New Zealand peace movement – which generally argues for peaceful intercultural and interfaith relations and the need to have processes to engage in dialogue – found itself protesting alongside fundamentalist Christians, appearing to be against a conference in New Zealand on intercultural and interfaith dialogue. The peace movement was actually protesting against the attendance at this conference of the Philippines leader, for human rights abuses in her country, and this protest effectively directed the media away from coverage of this conference and its issues of dialogue. The Philippines faces huge ethnic and religious tensions, however, the ‘human rights’ framing won out over the mediation and dialogue framing.

In this thesis I explore how, with the fictional narrative as theorised by Ricoeur, framing such as that of rights can still be included, but not as an abstract stand-alone concept, separated from other frames, in particular not separate from effective expressions of care, or of new overall possibilities.

The main argument of this thesis, following Ricoeur, is that fiction affords a freedom for the development of agency in ways that cannot so easily be accessed in any other way. It can do this partly because it is possible to suspend in a sustained and disciplined way the everyday, yet at the same time tap into and evoke the vivid and more profound qualities of lived experience. Importantly, these literary-based methods can generate empathy and make it more difficult to marginalise others (Berger, 2005, p. 9). For Ricoeur, narrative affords a space for the uncovering of human life’s deepest concerns and possibilities, and very importantly it can do this in the contexts of interpersonal, local, wider societal, global, historical contemporary, and cosmological times (Ricoeur, 1990). The construction then in terms of this thesis of shared local time, the time for local inhabitants and their needs and aspirations, contrasts with the more determinate or imposed global time, or as it is referred to, “real time” or global “network time.” The global network time typically leaves very little time for people to even pause and get a sense of their real needs and aspirations.  There is of course also a need to incorporate cosmological time, such as that of a stressed natural environment, which is coming to be seen as yet more determinate and indeed disruptive of the global network time. And there is the less noticed but important historical time which, though often ignored, is apt to intrude at unexpected times. In the film it was found that Mr Koff was still somewhat traumatised by an event many years ago in Nazi Germany when he was a young child. The point is that much insecurity and fear from past events continues to play out in social and political relations today, often with little understanding from whence this fear and insecurity has arisen.

Fictional text is thus suited to make personal and shared care paramount and to enable diverse times to interrelate with and contribute to human and local scale times. Ironically, fictional text, because it not bound by the shared referentiality of the everyday in the same way as a news report or history, can often better depict the everyday world. It can do this because the fictional narrative condenses and integrates into one whole and complete story many multiple and scattered events.

People are also used to seeing their world represented via screens and these screens normally reach and engage and distract and take away from locality. The question raised in the thesis is whether these same screens can be used to attract people back to engage in their locality.

Lash (writing in the early 90s) referred to what he called “the revenge of the repressed we” (Lash, 1994), when groups were excluded from participation in the information and communication structures, and therefore at the receiving, not creating end of narrative constructions. The problem since has become not so much access to communications technologies, for as Himona points out, with respect to New Zealand Maori, many groups such as disadvantaged Maori have access to technologies such as mobile phones, satellite television and Internet (Himona, 2003).

As digital media becomes more accessible, increasingly groups come together to form their own communities and networks around their own identities. For instance, in New Zealand, non-mainstream groupings, Maori, Chinese, Indian, Samoan and Tongan communities have their own print media, and Maori and Chinese also have their own television programmes. Now most people in New Zealand are immersed in a textual (now mainly visual and interactive) environment, and to an extent many groups can now create their own narratives amongst themselves. The difficulty therefore has become not access, but making connections within and between non-mainstream groups and also between them and the mainstream (Born, 2004), or in Lash’s terms between different taste communities.

Network locality, a Civic Cosmopolitan project

The move in this thesis from discourse based in the wider society to one that is first concentrated in locality is deliberate. At a theoretical level, Delanty describes and supports a civic cosmopolitan model, rooted in local community, and Bohman describes a similar civically-grounded model, based on local discursivity that comes to inform global discursivity. Both see a need for local-local and local-global discursive practices. The case of the New Zealand Nuclear Free Peacemaking Association’s work on nuclear-free and peacemaking issues, as described in this thesis, pointed to how local agency could contribute substantially to this new form of local through to national and global agency. However, social movement collective agency and frame packaging is now more difficult. As already discussed, one of the main reasons is the difficultly of coming together around a shared text, now that the technologically largely globally networked media has become so diffused and dispersed.

Castells is seen by theorists such as Delanty and Lash as accurately describing the world as a globally-based network society (Castells, 1996, 2000b, 2001). This is a society of continual intrusions, via global networks of digital technologies, via what can be usefully described as multiple screens (interfacing via televisions, mobile phones, Internet) with multiple enticements and multiple issues on which to focus concern and try to respond. All of these technologically-mediated intrusions make shared discourse about possibilities for shared agency around a shared text much more problematic.

Given the problems of local publics coming together around any form of shared agency, and problems if local publics, such as ethno-nationalists do come together around their particular forms of agency, for instance, to form coalitions against others, such as migrants, it is perhaps not surprising that theorists are tentative when it comes to explicitly theorising how a locality might develop its own agency. Castells himself does not see local community existing or surviving, except perhaps as a defensive reaction or haven against the impacts of global networks, particularly against the break-up of what have hitherto seemed stable social institutions (Castells, 1997, p. 164). However, he does see the need for movement from what he calls resistance identities, those who come together against many impacts of global networks, to the development of “project identities,” subjects who work towards making globalisation more amenable, in terms of this thesis, to agency based on local forms of care and new possibilities.

Interestingly, it is Castells who, in providing an explanation of how global technologically-based networks can be so much more powerful and flexible than organisations, also in effect points to how inhabitants in localities, could, by deploying the same technologies and logics as those of the network society, position themselves to come together around new development projects that produce new forms of identity construction.

Castells makes an important distinction between the organisation and network morphologies before, and after, recent informational and communications technological advances. Networks were generally face-to-face and, while flexible and adaptable, were not able to collate and store information and plan action widely over space and time as powerful organisations. However, with information and communication-based technologies, networks can now hybridise the power of the organisation and the flexibility of the network. It is possibly not surprising that the implications and applications of this development are only now starting to be realised. For instance, the United States and Israel, with their powerful military organisations, struggle to suppress the now technologically augmented networks of al-Qaeda and Hezbollah.

Castells of course concentrates on global, not local networks. However, the point to note is, as Urry (2000), Nowotny et al (Nowotny, Scott, & Gibbons, 2001) among many others attest, that the global is already intermeshed in the local. So as the St Albans case in this thesis indicated, an inclusive network locality, one which connects locally with face-to-face networking augmented by on-line connecting, can be in a much better position to connect locally and from this connection, innovative projects can be developed. Localities benefit from local connections that may also have helpful local knowledge and/or international backgrounds, experience, knowledge and linkages.

If local processes for text creation are inclusive, then the local-local and local-global discursive practices, which cosmopolitan theorists such as Delanty and Bohman describe, make the construction of civic cosmopolitan projects in the network locality theoretically and practically possible.

Research on the deployment of communications based technology in locality (1992-2002) was carried out for my MA thesis (Ashton, 2002) and subsequent publications (Ashton, 2003; Ashton & Thorns, 2004, 2007). The case study of St Albans experiments with technology and media (1992-2002) has also been described and updated in this thesis research. In practical terms this case showed that the issue is not so much the need for a technological and local media interface to support such connecting, for, as the St Albans illustration shows, the website, technological support and local community paper still exist. The question raised in this thesis is why local inhabitants no longer use these interfaces to articulate and carry out developmental projects as they were doing from 1992 to 2002.

The major point is that communication projects set up for local community development 1992-2002 represented what could be described, in Castells’ terms, project rather than resistance identities. Communication-based projects were set up to articulate and support other, connecting developmental projects. However, since 2002, much community activity has been more centrally organised from a building owned by local government and run by a committee of local residents, or an organization, rather than by a local network diffused throughout the community. The reversion to a centralised organizational format rather than the on-going development of a network locality has left St Albans with less ability to formulate and come together around projects. Resistance identities arise around burning single issues, but they provide little occasion for social interaction or contact apart from these single issues. In the meantime, if support by those administering the building for resistance projects becomes too strong and overt, groups face losing patronage.

However, it would be a mistake for development to focus just on the need for practical projects, because, by themselves, they can be seen as too utilitarian. Lash’s theorisation of communities of taste or aesthetics based communities is helpful here in understanding what reaches people, and what gives people freedom to explore, to choose and to create meaning. In the St Albans illustration and in all the cases referred to in this thesis, participation was based on care, what people really cared about, and participation was sustained by ongoing intrinsic interest, and what gave meaning. Participation was also social and about connecting. Learning was collective, not from a teacher in a class, but from each other. Cases in this thesis demonstrate how when there are possibilities for inclusion in projects based on interest or taste, in the words of Wardle, a local practitioner-philosopher, diversity comes to be seen as a wealth, not a problem.

Mediation technologies and a question of connection

The methodology deployed in this thesis is transdisciplinary, based on the assumption that no one discipline is fully adequate to provide the best means of researching the problem at hand, and that no single person has all the relevant skills.  Emphasised in this thesis is the contribution of many people with skills and much attention to detail, for instance, in making the film and trailers, setting up the research website, planning and facilitating the research process, transcribing transcripts and recordings and inputting into a SPSS (Statistical Package for the Social Sciences) data base for easy accessibility, all to ensure as far as possible that the contribution of participants, in effect co-researchers, was given full attention and value.

Nowotny, Gibbons and Scott describe the transdisciplinary process as one which seeks to place people and their needs and aspirations at the centre. These authors describe and advocate forms of transdisciplinary research where knowledge is socially contextualised, tested and stabilised in localities (Gibbons, 1994; Gibbons & Nowotny, 2001; Nowotny, Scott, & Gibbons, 2001). It should be noted that although Nowotny et al do stress local contextualisation in a general way, they do not theorise local as specifically in a local place where people live as this thesis seeks to do.

Thesis application and technological mediations

While the major aim of this thesis has been to develop theory, it has been crucially important that this theory relates in the context of application.  The theme running through the thesis is of connection and communication, at all levels, and the thesis itself has sought to model, or performatively embody, the communicative process it seeks to develop. In theoretical terms the communication process could be described as a phenomenological-hermeneutic project, and in more popular terms, it could be described as resembling the approach of a detective narrative.

The detective process of discovery, or uncovering possibilities, is one which has parallels with what Heidegger terms an “alethic” process, whereby what is currently “present at hand,” there, but not yet recognised, comes to be recognised, disclosed or uncovered to reveal new possibilities and so make them “ready to hand,” or available for use (Heidegger, 1962).  Ricoeur describes as a hermeneutic spiral an alethic process in which the existing conditions and understanding are brought into ongoing, dialectical engagement with hopes, working to make the individual and shared, utopic possibilities that are present at hand, ready to hand and available, in ways that are also pragmatic.

In this thesis the spiralling process of enhanced understanding begins with the everyday which comes to inform theory and policy, and the spiral then continues back, thus enriched, to inform the everyday. The cases described begin to create such a spiral as they move from Playcentre, to peace-movement to local community, and to a court case. These cases conclude with a chapter that seeks to interweave many of the diverse issues raised in the thesis into a fictional narrative-dramatic-filmic text. This text, which has been filmed, a one-act drama called The Silent Connectors set in a place called Sometown, becomes, in effect, a virtual or simulated depiction of a local community. This drama then comes to provide, through various technological mediations and amplifications, the research material. This is created by an essentially ideological/utopic, pragmatic, discursive research process around the filmed dramatic narrative.

With the film on DVD linked to an interactive website the methodology becomes a heavily technologically mediated one that enables participants to share in the co-creation of a new community development narrative.  The process is an open one where the script, research process, questions, and responses are there for all who have access to the Internet to see, and available for anyone to comment, anonymously if they wish.  In this thesis research, through the shared use of various screen interfaces, over one hundred co-detectives and co-researchers from hugely diverse backgrounds were able to collaborate to search for, and to help reveal, ways that local inhabitants could more effectively connect and create narratives for the development of a place that all concerned would like to inhabit.

In conclusion, the global knowledge society is presently producing enormous change, but not the commensurate ability to contextualise it in ways that are safe, sustainable and productive as they could and should be. The rates and impacts of global social economic and technological change are stretching severely the capacities of existing social, political, economic, academic and natural environmental systems. The set of tools presently available to support local publics to safely and productively manage or contextualise innovation, in either its intended or in its unintended consequences, is far from adequate to this task.

Prime Minister Helen Clark indicated there was a need to engage communities in debate about the kind of future we want (Clark, 2005). She was referring to New Zealand, but as I consider most would agree, there is also a need now for wider level engagements with local communities everywhere about the future possibilities all want. This thesis research project has sought to depict and performatively demonstrate how local communities can have inclusive and mutually productive conversations about the futures they want amidst the unprecedentedly complex and changing environments that now constitute their everyday lives.


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