Marianne Kristiansen, Joergen Bloch-Poulsen (2005): Midwifery and Dialogue in Organizations Emergent Mutual Involvement in Action Research Rainer Hampp Verlag, München & Mering 2005, 297 pp., euro 29.80, ISBN 3879889937
Reviewed by Olav Eikeland
How about a dialogue1?
Marianne Kristiansen and Joergen Bloch-Poulsen from Denmark have written a book called Midwifery and Dialogue in Organizations - Emergent Mutual Involvement in Action Research, published in 2005. Through this book, they want to reach two sets of readers (p. 21), i.e. both people from the academic world working with interpersonal and organizational communication from a theoretical or philosophy of science perspective, and "reflective practitioners". The term "reflective practitioners" includes not only people in "ordinary" work life, but even OD-consultants, process consultants, supervisors, trainers, mediators, facilitators, and others in the field of interpersonal and organizational communication. Although neither prominent nor obvious throughout the book before Part VI (p. 245ff.) and VII (p. 265ff.), the title also indicates that they think of their work as some form of action research. Since I believe I belong to all of these groups I suppose I am a relevant reader.
Generally, the book raises many important discussions, only a small part of which can be touched upon here. Reading the book has been quite interesting but also quite frustrating, sometimes even provoking my anger. Since the authors strongly encourage using and displaying (appropriate!!, [p. 254-255]) emotions in dialogue, I hope they will forgive me for saying so. Their motto seems to be "sharing, daring, and caring", and in order for me to share, I'll have to dare, and hopefully I'll be able to care adequately as well. I'll try to be frank, and I need to be somewhat personal in order to explain. Although interesting to read; for me, the reading of the book has produced more questions than consent. This in itself, however, is not necessarily a bad thing.
Personally, I find it quite frustrating that the authors and I appear to have been working in very similar ways and with very similar concerns for many years in neighboring Scandinavian countries with native languages that are practically the same, but - as with so many (too many!) action researchers over the years - in parallel, without any communication or even mutual knowledge about each other. If dialogical research or action research is ever to grow strong, it needs to advance beyond isolated fragments. So, although this review is ambivalent and parts of it may at times sound even a bit sour, it is written with a clear wish for a dialogue. It is also written in clear understanding and sympathy with the authors' main objectives in promoting dialogue and midwifery as "special forms of conversations".
In certain ways, I think the book is quite good. Among other things, the authors have a keen eye for distinctions in their empirical material - much keener than many others (action researchers or others) - making it interesting to follow their "discoveries", since, in many ways, the book deals mainly with their own learning itinerary and the distinctions that emerged on the way. The authors declare their openness and willingness to learn continuously. This is a great merit, but it also obliges.
Although the book claims to deal with a specific training project at Bang & Olufsen running for six months in 1995 and with its follow up (p. 11, 21, 24, 29, 159), the main purpose of the book still seems to be the explication of two kinds of conversations (p. 11, 38): dialogue and midwife conversations, and with the conditions for their realization in organizations in what the authors call a "caring container". In my opinion, these are very important distinctions, and trying to specify their characteristics is praiseworthy. But the project at B&O is hardly presented systematically. Instead, it serves as the provider of conversational examples thoroughly documented through video, which are analyzed. …