Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Movements of Feeling and Moments of Judgement: Towards an Ontological Social Constructionism*

Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Movements of Feeling and Moments of Judgement: Towards an Ontological Social Constructionism*

Article excerpt

What is involved, in practice, coming to a judgement? The Norwegian family therapist, Tom Andersen, characterized himself as "a wanderer and worrier," he was constantly reflecting on his ways of 'going on', on his own practice, to further develop and refine them. Each new way came to him, he said, on reaching a 'crossroads', a point when he felt unable to continue any longer in the same way. But once he stopped doing what he had come to see as ethically wrong, he found, he said, that the "alternatives popped up almost by themselves" (Anderson/Jensen, 2007: 159). What I want to discuss is the fact that, while we can say that we can quite self-consciously and deliberately decide not to do something (perhaps never again) at a particular moment, in a new and particular situation we cannot be said to decide at any particular instant in time, positively what to do. New ways of acting cannot be planned; they have to emerge. As Lehrer (2009) suggests, coming to act in a way that seems to be for the best in a particular situation is not something we can decide upon simply within ourselves - judgmental work, in which we go out bodily, to relate ourselves imaginatively and feelingfully to various aspects of our current circumstances, aspect-by-aspect, sequentially, over time, seems to be required. It is what the nature of this imaginative judgmental work feels like, looks like, and sounds like that I want to discuss in this paper.

Key words: feelings, judgement, orientation, resourcefulness, ontological social constructionism

"To get clear about philosophical problems, it is useful to become conscious of the apparently unimportant details of the particular situation in which we are inclined to make a certain metaphysical assertion. Thus we may be tempted to say 'Only this is really seen' when we stare at unchanging surroundings, whereas we may not at all be tempted to say this when we look about us while walking" (Wittgenstein 1965: 66).

"... what [these others] did was outside my skin. But whatever it was that I learned, my learning happened within my experiential sequence of what these important others... did" (Bateson 1979: 24).

Here, I want to discuss a major rethinking of Social Constructionism, concerned with how we can become a certain kind of person - with how to become a good listener, a good speaker, a good therapist or manager, etc., able to engage with one's current circumstances in such a way as to be able to resolve on lines of action within them uniquely best suited to one's immediate needs. The approach might be called an ontological rather then an epistemological form of social constructionism, as central to it will be a concern with people developing different kinds of what I would like to call "ontological skills," skills to do with being able to adopt this, that, or some other kind of active relation to one's surroundings. Thus, instead of a focus on us as static thinkers, concerned to do our thinking within one or another orderly system of unchanging representations, I shall talk much more of us as being able to adopt this, that, or some other attitude, orientation, or way of relating ourselves to our surroundings while moving around within them, thus to be better able, in Wittgenstein's (1953) terms, to know our 'way around', or to feel more 'at home' in them, with the consequence of better 'knowing how to go on' within them.

As we shall see, adopting this approach will entail a focus on trying to grasp how much our bodies can 'do for us', so to speak, in the background to our more self-conscious, deliberately conducted activities, a focus on how much we learn all unawares as we intertwine our bodily movements in with particular features of our surroundings. It will also entail a focus much more on preparing than on planning activities, activities to do with how to adopt an attitude or orientation rather than with possible sequences of action to take.

Attention to such issues is not all that easy to sustain, for it entails trying to capture things 'in motion', which means trying to capture them while they are on the way to being other than they already are - in other words, we cannot easily name the things of our concern, for they have the character of, as William James (1890. …

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