Development Practitioners and Social Process: Artists of the Invisible

Development Practitioners and Social Process: Artists of the Invisible

by Allan Kaplan


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This book explores the practice of organisation development and group change in a way that will appeal to anyone involved in working towards social transformation. Drawing on extensive experience gained through many years of process consultancy within the development sector - mainly in Africa and Europe - as well as on the work of Goethe and Jung, Allan Kaplan presents a radically new approach to the understanding of organisations and communities and to the practice of social development.Challenging the tendency to reduce development to a technical operation that attempts to control, Kaplan's approach embraces the full complexity of the process of social transformation. He describes the terrain of social change whilst simultaneously providing exercises through which practitioners can enrich their abilities to respond to the mix of chaos and order which characterise social development. Exploring this delicate balance, Kaplan inspires a sense of responsibility and possibility for the discipline, and reveals how development groups can intervene in social situations in a manner that is both humane and effective.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780745310183
Publisher: Pluto Press
Publication date: 06/20/2002
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 910,673
Product dimensions: 5.32(w) x 8.47(h) x (d)

About the Author

Allan Kaplan is the Executive Director of the Community Development Resource Association (CDRA) in Cape Town, South Africa. He has been an organisation development consultant since the mid-1980s, specialising in working with NGOs and community-based organisations across Southern and East Africa, as well as in Europe. He is the author of The Development Practitioners' Handbook (Pluto, 1996).

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Beyond Reductionism

You can soon become indifferent to song or dance or athletic displays if you resolve the melody into its several notes, and ask yourself of each one in turn, Is it this that I cannot resist? Always remember to go straight for the parts themselves, and by dissecting these achieve your disenchantment.

Marcus Aurelius

Our way of thinking (and consequently, of seeing) takes place within the contextual landscape of our time. We walk within this landscape; its parameters provide guidance, meaning and form. All this takes place largely unconsciously, as part of the 'given' within which we function. It demands tremendous effort of will to step outside these given parameters, to free ourselves sufficiently to see the terrain within which we walk from the outside, to become conscious of the underlying assumptions which we take for granted, and to think (and see) afresh. Consciousness is a hard won and often lonely activity, though uniquely exhilarating.

The landscape, though, forms gradually and unconsciously, until without realising it we are traversing well worn paths as if no other possibilities were open to us. Though social situations are alive and constantly changing, we often see them as inert and static, simply because we have been educated to appreciate the mechanical and the unambiguous. And, appreciating the line of least resistance, it comforts us to reduce and simplify, and avoid the complexities and contradictions, and the open-ended vagueness, of living beings in process. Though nothing seems to stand still long enough to manipulate, we persist in our endeavours because we see the social as material – because we have been successful in dealing with matter. Yet the social is something other.

It is significant that the first section of this work begins with three quotes from J.W. von Goethe. Goethe's genius lay in this: that he 'borrowed his manner of observation from the external world, instead of obtruding his own upon the world'; or, put another way, his view 'always takes its manner of observation, not from the mind of the observer, but from the nature of the thing observed'. There are profound differences between inner and outer phenomena, between dead matter and living process, between the technical and the social. Goethe developed ways of thinking and seeing which lie outside of the dominant positivist paradigm of our age, and which do not reduce, but rather enlarge, our ability to apprehend those phenomena which are imbued with movement and the pulse of life. He laid the foundation for an alternative way of seeing; a way perhaps more appropriate to social phenomena, a way which might be the basic prerequisite for engaging in the art of social practice.

This new way of seeing and intervening cannot simply be appreciated or engaged with unless the bonds which hold us to our current way of seeing are loosened. We cannot just take on the new without creating some space within ourselves by letting go of the old. For this way of seeing is not merely an addition to an already established way – it is an entirely different approach, requiring the cultivation of utterly new faculties. The intention behind this book is not simply to enable you as reader to understand an alternative, but – through adequate engagement – to facilitate the actual development of new approaches and, with practice, new faculties. We have learned to reduce; can we learn to enlarge? We have learned to control; can we learn to respect? We have learned to measure; but not entirely to appreciate. We have learned to plan and predict; but do we know how to enable and allow? We cannot simply struggle against the current status quo from within the paradigms which inform it; we must let go and move beyond.

To let go, we have first to become conscious of where and what we are, of where we stand. It will help to understand the way of thinking to which we have become accustomed, so can we free ourselves; stand outside so that we can think and see in a new way. We begin our explorations, then, with the underlying rationale of classical or Newtonian science.

The successes we have had – for some centuries now – in the control and manipulation of matter, have coincided with the rise of a particular world view, which forms the basis of our dominantly scientific outlook. Currently, with the rise of the new sciences, many previously commonly held (even cherished) assumptions of that scientific outlook are being challenged – a point we return to shortly. But, despite the alternatives, and despite the contrary indications being presented, our way of thinking and seeing itself remains intact - even though it is inadequate to cope with the new discoveries in, and approaches to, science itself. Classical science, concerned as it has been with the usage of matter, has – inevitably, perhaps – given rise to a materialistic mode of thinking. It is this form of thinking which still frames our mental landscape, identified by its sceptical slant, by its reductionist approach, and by its observer – rather than participant – status.

The essence of the materialist mode is informed by a fundamental supposition: that while we can legitimately apprehend, and comment on, that which is presented directly to our senses, we cannot make other than subjective suppositions about the connections between these phenomena. In other words, observation of discrete phenomena – the elements which make up our percepts – is capable of validation and objective verification, while the linkages we form between such discrete phenomena – our concepts – are ideas which are internal to ourselves (and our culture) and therefore subjective and 'hypothetical' as information. This is the basic empirical standpoint, as developed initially by the philosophers David Hume and Immanuel Kant.

Hume's philosophy can be summed up in two axioms which he himself described as the alpha and omega of his position. The first runs: all our distinct perceptions are distinct existences; the second: the mind never perceives any real connections between distinct existences. In other words, the only things that can be known about the outside world are in the nature of single, mutually unrelated parts. Whatever may unite these parts into an objective whole can never enter my consciousness; any such unifying factor can only be a self-constructed, hypothetical picture; that is, subjective. We cannot know, we cannot see, the connections between phenomena; we can only develop opinions, and surmise.

Kant distinguished between two possible forms of thinking: the intellects archetypus and the intellectus ectypus. By the first he means a form of thinking which 'being – not like ours, discursive – but intuitive, proceeds from the synthetic universal (the intuition of the whole as such) to the particular, that is, from the whole to the parts'. According to Kant, such a reason lies outside human possibilities. In contrast to it, the intellectus ectypus peculiar to human beings is restricted to taking in through the senses the single details of the world as such. With these it can certainly construct totalities, but these totalities never have more than a hypothetical character and can claim no reality for themselves. Once again, we cannot see, we cannot know, wholes, we can only know parts. We cannot trust that our concepts – which are the wholes, the meaning, the sense we make of our discrete percepts – ever correspond with reality.

So we are led into the most profound scepticism, without possibility of rebuttal. Matter, in its divided, discrete parts, is all that we have legitimate access to; meaning, sense and any aspiration to understanding the possible underlying connections and formative forces which may give rise to the world we perceive are, quite literally, to be regarded as nothing more than figments of our imagination. Yet it may be asked whether, in so dismissing our own involvement in the world, in so reducing human beings to onlookers rather than active participants, we have not condemned ourselves to a cold, alienated existence: One commentary reads, 'The sciences of inert matter have led us into a country that is not ours ... Man is a stranger in the world he has created.'

Kant's intellectus ectypus – a 'discursive' (analytic) rather than 'intuitive' way of thinking – has largely become our mode of being in the world. We believe only in what we can see, at first glance, as it were; in the physical and material. Our tendency is towards analysis, towards the accumulation of information through reduction of phenomena to their component parts. Such reductionism finds great resonance also in our work within social situations, when complex ambiguities are rendered as simple and linear statements, when profound concepts are reduced to boxes and tables and brief one-line, one-word responses, and when the intricacy of sensitive social intervention is contained and packaged as tools and procedures and instruments mechanically applied.

We reduce because doing anything other admits illegitimate assumption into our observations. Yet such reduction removes the connection between the parts from our consideration. We remove the parts from their context, and in so doing lose the sense of their coherence, their integrity, and the underlying impulses which give them life. As Goethe himself puts it, in his monumental work, Faust:

to docket living things past any doubt, you cancel first the living spirit out: the parts lie in the hollow of your hand, you only lack the living link you banned.

And so, though we assume this stance and presume to study life, we focus largely on inert matter. Indeed, so presumptious have we become that many assume life to have come forth from inert matter, and any explanation of it to be reducible once more to inert matter. Such is materialism, the picture of the world we have created; an echoing, lonely, soulless void in which all is reduced to incidental meetings between disparate pieces.

Yet, for all that a materialist science has achieved – which includes, in no small measure, releasing us from the spurious imperatives of fundamentalism and dogma – it is inadequate for the study of living process, and incoherent with respect to its own assumptions.

Classical science has generated a 'thing' view of the world, a mechanistic world view where 'things' act on other 'things' and thus affect those things in ways which are theoretically determinable and predictable. The world is presented as a gigantic clock, where one thing strikes another and causes a third event, and the process is reducible to a set of simple laws which once again theoretically can be described, predicted and controlled.

As regards the study of living process, classical science is being superseded by new approaches which take an alternative route. Led by the new sciences – quantum mechanics, quantum physics, microbiology – they describe many aspects of the world differently. 'Things' have disappeared; as scientists delved deeper and deeper in their search for basic building blocks they discovered that such blocks, such things, finite and discrete, do not in fact exist. Instead they found that things change their form and properties in relation to each other, as they respond to each other (and to the scientist observing them). This is difficult to grasp, but has irrevocably been demonstrated – the nature of 'substance' is not easily definable, is not one thing; each 'particle' of the world can hold many different, even contradictory properties, depending on their relationship with other 'things'. Thus the world is now seen to consist of 'relationships' rather than 'things'. And what we think of as things are actually intermediate states in a constantly changing network of interactions and relationships.

Systems, then – and every living organism is a system – are not reducible and predictable; everything depends on the particular and unique relationships which configure and disappear in an ongoing ebb and flow. We are asked to substitute our notion of predictability for another concept of potential – everything is different and new depending on different interactions, relationships and settings.

The new sciences call for a new way of seeing, or for the legitimation of ways which have been denied for far too long. Instead of looking for discrete things, we are asked to develop the ability to look at relationships, at the interactions between component parts. We learn to look, then, not at things, but at the spaces between things, at relationships and interactions and connections. To apprehend the order which moves the whole, beyond the parts.

When we begin to appreciate relationships, the spaces between the parts, then another angle provided by the new sciences becomes available to us. In Newtonian (classical) science, space is regarded as empty, as a void; material reality consists of discrete things which act upon each other across the nothingness of space. But in quantum mechanics it has been proved that 'instantaneous-action-at-a-distance' occurs; in other words, non-local causality is real. There are connections between things which escape us when we think of the spaces between things as empty. But what if space is not a void? We are now developing the understanding that space is filled with fields, invisible mediums of connections, invisible structures, invisible relational webs which influence material things and which provide matter with form. Fields may in fact be more real than matter; it is now thought that discrete particles come into existence, often only temporarily, when fields intersect. These invisible fields, then, are the underlying foundations of reality. They structure space, and it is through this structuring, through such formative forces, that observable reality is made manifest.

Material reality is, then, not the only form of reality. For example, there is a particular type of field called a morphogenic field, which is built up through the accumulated behaviours of species members, and shapes the future behaviour of that species. After some members of the species have learned a behaviour, others will find it easier. The form resides in the (morphogenic) field, and it patterns behaviour without the need for laborious learning of the skill.

But relationships, connections, invisible fields – all these have been denied existence, and this has patterned our own behaviour so that we cannot hope, cannot presume, to see them. We have begun to speak of them, certainly, within the biological sciences, the psychological and social sciences, and even within the physical sciences. But they have not yet entered our everyday consciousness. Certainly they are not yet sufficiently influential concepts in the world of social intervention. How then can we begin to develop a new way of seeing, one which will allow us to actually see - and not simply, and still slightly sceptically, refer to – the invisible whole within which the parts are enfolded?



There is a kind of seeing which is also a kind of thinking...: the seeing of connections.

Ray Monk (on Wittgenstein)

We said earlier that Newtonian (classical) science, and the world view upon which it is premised, is not only being superseded by new developments but is also incoherent in terms of its own assumptions. An examination of these assumptions reveals that classical science itself, while it denies the possibility of thinking and seeing in a holistic, intuitive way, uses precisely this mode in its own progression.

We have to differentiate between sense impressions – percepts which are regarded as legitimate and objectively, commonly verifiable, and our thinking faculty – the ability to develop concepts concerning these sense impressions – which is regarded as subjective and personal.

Let us suppose that there sits, watching a game of some kind, some lover of the game and with him, also watching, a tiny child. The grown-up sees every occurrence against a vast, invisible, complicated mental background of all that he knows about the game. If we try to 'unthink' or 'de-think' all that the adult knows, we shall get to something like the sort of picture which is in the consciousness of the small child – mere movements, mere sense impressions, individual and discrete, making no sense, having no meaning whatsoever. Like a person who has never learned to read looking at a page of Shakespeare.

Such immediate sense experience is sheer multiplicity; a medley of impressions; mere juxtaposition in space and succession in time; blobs of smell, of colour and noise, each item standing in isolation; merely particulars. As such, these sense-particulars are entirely meaningless, and disclose nothing of their nature. They are enigmatical, unintelligible entities. And so long as we depend passively, in this way, on what our senses bring us, we are in the dark. Things seem as if they were shot at us from a gun out of the unknown. We are living in a world without values and without meaning.


Excerpted from "Development Practitioners and Social Process"
by .
Copyright © 2002 Allan Kaplan.
Excerpted by permission of Pluto Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


The Endeavour - A Preface

Social Process and the Practitioner - A Synopsis

SECTION I - observation
1. Beyond Reductionism
2. Emergence
3. Life's Resources
4. Intuition - Seeing Holistically
5. Indications for Practice
Exercise - Drawing
6. Revisiting the Whole
Exercise - Listening (1)

SECTION II - understanding
7. Freedom and Constraint
Exercise - Developing the Core
8. Balancing Heaven and Earth
Exercise - Creative Thinking (1)
9. The Creative Round
Exercise - Gro

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