Permanent Domains of Human Concerns
Prepared for The Ontological Design Course
by Fernando Flores and Michael Graves
Berkely, California -- June 1986
In this paper, we set out to distinguish the structure of concerns that is constitutive of every human being's life. By "constitutive" here we mean the structure of concerns that make up the substance of human actions, possibilities, and assessments. We set out on this project in order to make ourselves observers of these constitutive concerns. Typically, we claim, all of us are in these concerns without observing them as a permanent structure of life. Then we are not typically able to produce for ourselves conversations to design ourselves -- our actions, possibilities, and assessments -- in these domains. We lack the linguistic distinctions necessary for such a conversation. Then our purpose in this paper is to provide those distinctions and enable such conversations for design of ourselves.
"Domains" are the domains of permanent concerns of human life -- concerns that we cannot escape as human beings. All human beings have breakdowns in these domains, act in them, characterize themselves and other people in them, and look ahead to and invent possibilities for themselves in these domains. Examples are education, career, sociability, work, self-worth, and aesthetics or play. We will give fuller treatment to what these permanent domains are as we go along in the paper.
We said that these are permanent domains of human concern. We leave open the question whether they are domains of concern for any human existence, in any place and in any time. That question is open to speculation. It may be that we will be able to understand classical Greek civilization, the civilization of ancient China, the civilization of the tribal Aborigines of Australia, and any other human life of civilization in terms of this same set of permanent domains of concern. What would make each "civilization" or "society" or "culture" distinct would be the "discourses" in which they live in these domains -- the histories of institutions, practices and understandings, unique to them. What we claim with confidence in this paper is that, within western civilization, these are permanent, unavoidable domains of human concern.
Every people lives in a set of conversations to deal with these domains of concern. They have as understanding of what education is, of what people need to be educated in, of what constitutes the worth or dignity of a person, of what is available to a person as a "career" or a direction to take in life. This understanding shows up in what expectations we have of ourselves and of others, of what standards we judge ourselves and others by. What career or direction in life a middle-class urban American in the twentieth century can take is different from what career or direction an American of the nineteenth century could take. What is different is not, ultimately, the opportunities that the world objectively holds out for him -- it is the discourse he is, the historical conversations "possess" him. He is not in control of them. They allow him to see the possibilities that he sees -- for example, to continue the tradition of farming or perhaps to join a guerrilla military group for the Nicaraguan or to become an engineer or a doctor for the American. And they close him to possibilities that he cannot see -- for example, for the American to become a farmer of guerrilla fighter or for the Nicaraguan to become an engineer or doctor. It is not his own choices or the limitations of his objective situation in the world that open and close his possibilities; it is the "discourses" that he is, that he as an American or a Nicaraguan and his "society" of "culture" have inherited.
None of the claims we have made so far should be clear to you as a reader yet. We've set a direction here for your thinking as you continue to read the paper. We are going to be laying out the domains of concern as linguistic distinctions throughout the rest of the paper. What we've done so far is only offer a glimpse of the whole thing so that you can see where we're going.
Before going on, we need to say something about what kind of activity an investigation like we're doing here is and who we are to be doing it. No one is privy to the final truth of understanding about anything. Every investigator speaks in his own time, with the foundations and limits given by his own concerns and the concerns of his time. Every observer and interpreter observes and interprets within the language that he speaks, the concerns that he is, and the possibilities that he sees. No observer is the observer of what is purely and simply given by reality; all observations and all interpretations are the observations and interpretations of persons grounded in and limited by the historical time in which they observe and interpret.
These limitations are our limitations, to, as we write this paper. We write as investigators at a particular time, limited by the stage our investigations have reached and by the particular concerns we are at the time in which we live.
But these historical conditions that limit us also make out investigation possible. It is because our investigation has reached the stage that it has reached, with our understanding of language, breakdowns, action and characterization, that we can say what we say here about domains of human concerns. And it is because we live in the time that we live, with out concern for education and the design of the self, that we can construct and design as interpretation of the self in terms of permanent domains of concern. None of what we say here finishes any aspect of the theory of education or the self -- what we do here is what is possible for investigator and designers in their particular historical setting.
1) Domains of Permanent Concerns
Domains of concerns are distinctions that we, as investigators, invent for observing the concerns that human beings are. And we believe that it is possible to produce a list of the domains of concerns that every human being is. We base our list on our understanding of human being as linguistic being with the capacity to speak and listen -- that is, how we create distinctions in the world in language and to act in the world made intelligible to them in linguistic distinctions. Human beings are the kind of creatures, in other words, who can create a language of distinctions for objects -- chairs, rocks, clouds, and apples, for example, actions -- running lifting sitting, for example, and assessments -- good, tall, wide, and intelligent, for example, and who can act together in that language -- sitting in chairs, requesting apples, and so on.
Our list is divided into three groups, in accordance with three distinctions we make about human beings. Human beings are, first, linguistic beings, and we will show, live in concerns unavoidable for the lives of linguistic beings. Second, human beings live in history -- they are historical beings, born into a world of conversations already going on, with practices and institutions already established. And we will distinguish domains of concern unavoidable for such historical beings. Third, human beings are selves -- they have permanent identities over time. And we will claim domains of concern unavoidable to being with such identities to care for.
Those three -- linguistic beings, historical being, and selves -- are not separate in human life. Every humans being lives in language, history, and identities simultaneously. Our history is linguistic. Our identities are linguistic. Our history is a history of identities. Our identities are historical. We are all of these being at once. The distinctions we make here are for the sake of analysis, for making rigorous observations possible.
A) Human Being as Linguistic Beings
The first group of domains of concerns that we are going to distinguish have to do with the conditions of our existence as linguistic beings -- the concerns that we cannot avoid having just in so far as we are beings who participate in language.
We will distinguish each domain of concerns in a separate paragraph -- five in all for this discussion of human being as linguistic beings.
(1) We have BODIES and our bodies are a domain of concern for us. Language is ultimately a biological phenomenon. Speaking and listening cannot happen except as biological phenomena in the bodies of speakers and listeners. the possibility of participating in conversations and of completing actions formulated in conversations depends upon our bodies. To participate in conversations, we must make ourselves present, bodily, whether face-to-face with another, on the telephone, writing on a piece of paper, typing into a computer, or something else requiring our bodily presence. Then our bodies -- their health, their availability -- are an unavoidable domain of concern for us as human beings.
(2) The world we produce in linguistic distinctions allows us to act. Once we have distinguished and practiced such actions as sitting, walking, boiling and egg, writing a letter, driving a care, and such, they become automatic to us. we don't think about them anymore. We don't anguish over them, plan them, worry about them, or otherwise think about them as we perform them. They become "play" to us. Such actions include the actions we perform while at play, without attaching any great significance to them or often to their outcomes. We are perhaps most of the time, creatures that "play" or "dance" in such automatic actions. To be in "play" in this way is one of our concerns, to be able to escape self-conscious, intentional activity for comfortable, often purposeless, activity. In this paper, we call this domain of concerns PLAY or AESTHETICS. We use the later term, "aesthetics", to evoke the activities of art such as painting, dancing, and sculpting, without some narrow usefulness for the activity.
(3) Language is social. It is the social creation of distinctions for acting in a world together. In order to participate in language, we must participate in conversations with other persons. We need in other words, to build for ourselves networks of persons with whom we participate in conversations. We call this permanent domain of concern SOCIABILITY in this paper. We ask others to talk with us, we open conversations with others, and we assess ourselves and others in this domain (for example, as "friendly", "unfriendly", "secretive", "open", and so on). Included in this domain are concerns for not only meeting and beginning to talk with people, but also for establishing trust as the possibility of speaking and listening openly with people. In order to act together in coordinated or cooperative manner with others, we rely on them to "mean what they say", that is, to make promise they will keep, to make assertions that they believe to be true themselves, to produce distinctions they continue to act consistently with, and to make request they are serious to see fulfilled. We realize that there will be exceptions, that sometimes, others will lie to us, deceive us, or in some other way betray our trust in them. This issue of trust, our concern that we can accept what others say, that they are not hiding a private conversation that conflicts with what they say to us. is part of the domain of concerns we are calling "sociability".
When we say that these are permanent domains of concern for human being, we are not saying that all human being are constantly, consciously concerned, for example, about establishing networks of trustworthy people for conversations. Most of the time, all of us live without explicitly considering such matters. Then , most of the time, sociability (and the other domains we are talking about in this paper) are in the "background". We are not explicitly aware of them; but, at any moment they may become conscious concerns for us, in breakdowns. When, for example, our trust is betrayed or when we lack people for conversations we consider important, sociability become an important, explicit concern. We may then openly assess the trustworthiness of the people around us or question who we would open new conversations with to secure ourselves from similar breakdowns in the future.
The same is true of the other domains of concern we are identifying here. Our bodies do not become explicit concerns in our everyday conversations until a breakdown occurs -- for example, we become ill, or we cannot attend a meeting because we must be in some other place. The domains of concern we are identifying here are the permanent structures of the breakdowns and explicit concerns that appear in day-to-day life. They show up in our fears, our celebrations, and in our assessments and characterizations of ourselves and others. They are the structure of concerns that cannot be avoided in human existence.
(4) Every human being is born into a FAMILY. The family is a natural network of conversations. It provides a domain of concern that are not a matter of the individual person's own interests. The family is a network of shared concerns. The health, for example, of other family members is a concern for each of us.
(5) In cooperating and coordinating our actions in language with other persons, we make promises to them. We say that we will complete some action by some time. Making the promise does not complete the action. Then, in so far as we act to fulfill the commitments we make in language to perform actions, we are concerned with WORK. We are concerned to fulfill our own commitments to act, and we are concerned that others around us fulfill commitments to act that they have made to us. In our day-to-day lives, this domain appears in our concerns that a job get finished, in our planning how to complete work on some project, and in our characterizations of ourselves and others as "diligent", "lazy", and so on -- whether they are effective in completing the actions they have promised to perform.
Those five domains -- body, aesthetics or play, sociability, family and work -- are the domains we claim to be conditions for linguistic existence. In other words, they are domains of concern for human being as linguistic beings. They are drawn from what is necessary for speaking and listening -- a body in which speaking and listening are generated as biological phenomena, "play" in action in a world made intelligible in linguistic distinctions, a social network of speakers and listeners, the sharing of concerns with others, and wok to fulfill commitments to act made in language.
B. Human Beings as Historical Beings
The next group of domains, which includes education, career, money, and "the world", has to do with concerns we cannot avoid as human beings in so far as we are historical beings. Human beings are born into a world of conversations already going on. In those conversations, standard practices have already been invented; then, as human beings, we are born into a world of others already participating in those standard practices, with expectations, anticipations, routines, etc. that we do not yet participate in. The world around us embodies a history that we need to catch up with.
And as human beings, we have futures. Our futures are not determined for us; we have to invent them in the conversations we will have. Our history, including the history of the world around us, provides a basis for the futures that we invent. Our futures are the continuations that we invent of our history of conversations.
(6) The first permanent domain of concern we distinguish in this group, based on the historical existence that human beings live, is EDUCATION. This domain is that of concerns for becoming competent in the standard practices of your world. Developing competence in these practices is necessary to your viability in the public world. You need to perform competently in some practices in order to make you living -- some skills, trade, or profession. And competence in such standard practices as those of everyday skills, such as reading and writing, driving a car, or reading a map, and skills of social participation, such as speaking, manners, and social ethics, are necessary to your social viability -- your acceptance in conversations with others. Concern for gaining competence in all of these skills falls into what we are calling the domain of education, or learning.
(7) Every human being has before him the question of what he is going to do with his life. In part, this is a practical concern for making a living. But it is more fundamentally the concern for inventing a direction for the possibilities and actions of your life. We are calling this domain of concerns the domain of CAREER in this paper. This domain is that of concern for what future you are going to invent for yourself -- what standard practices you are going to develop competence in, what areas of public breakdowns you are going to deal with, what new possibilities in what standard practices you are going to invent.
(8) No human being can avoid concern for his biological and social viability. Each of us looks out for his own ability to secure the conditions of life -- food, shelter, clothing -- for his future. And each of us looks out for his ability to secure the trust of others for his future conversations -- for example, to be able to exchange promises with others and to be trusted in the marketplace. In our own time, such concerns may appear as the concern for maintaining good "credit" -- assuring that other will be willing to offer something to us now in return for our own promise to provide something to them at a later time. We call this domain of concern MONEY or PRUDENCE. It is the domain of concern each of us has for his future viability in the public world. Money itself -- cash, investments -- is a tool for securing that viability.
(9) Every human being lives in a community of others, with whom he participates in organizations and institutions. This community may be a political community, with laws and institutions of government. It may be a professional community. Or it may be a less formal community, like a circle of friends with informal institutions and practices, such as weekly card games of lunch meetings. MEMBERSHIP in such communities is the domain of concerns we are distinguishing. Membership provides the possibility for participation in the institutions of a community. For most of us, our political membership in a state provides us with the possibilities of participation in a system of money, a system of civil and criminal laws, organization for actions on a scale not possible for us as individuals (scientific research, for example), and more.
(10) The history of the world around us is larger than what bears on our individual lives. There are other "cultures", "peoples", "societies", or "civilizations" than the one we live in. And our concerns are larger than the breakdowns and issues of everyday life. We are concerned for the future of our country and the future of our world, beyond the scope of our own lives. We are concerned for the welfare of people we will never meet in places or times we will never visit. We are concerned for finding out more and more about our world and the universe it lies in. In this paper, we call this domain of concerns THE WORLD.
C. Human Beings as Selves
The final three permanent domains of concern we are going to distinguish here arise from the existence of human being as "selves", with individual perspectives on the world for observation and assessment. These three domains are dignity, situations, and spirituality.
(11) Every human being is concerned that his action and possibilities be valuable and for his own integrity -- that he act consistently with his own declarations of standards for action. This domain of concern for the assessment of oneself is what we call DIGNITY here. "Valuable" is an assessment that one makes, in the light of public understanding of what is valuable. Actions and possibilities toward alleviating poverty are typically understood as valuable by the public, for instance. Every individual sees himself measured against such an understanding and assesses himself. We should emphasize that it is not a matter of "fact" whether an individual's actions and possibilities are valuable -- public standards don't decide what assessment he makes. It is perfectly possible , for example, that Albert Schwietzer could assess his actions in medicine in Africa as pointless, despite public opinion, and, it is also perfectly possible that someone of little repute or admiration, even among those close to him, could value his own actions as extremely valuable. "Integrity" is also an assessment that one makes, about the consistency of a person's actions with his own declarations of the standards or virtues he will live by. If you have declared for yourself that you will live a generous life, say, and you never contribute to charitable causes or volunteer to provide help to others when you could do so, you may assess yourself as lacking integrity. You are saying, in that case, that you do not live by the standards of action you set for yourself.
(12) Also, every human being makes assessments of and is concerned for the possibility of his ding anything positive in the world and in his life, given the situations that he finds himself in. This unavoidable human concern is what we are calling SITUATION here. What we are saying, putting our claim in other words, is that everyone is concerned to assess the events that have taken place around him, the competences and limitations of himself, and the competences and limitations of other people with respect to the negative and positive possibilities the hold for him. "Positive" and "negative", remember, are assessments that he makes, and his "situation" only exists in his observing what he calls his "situation". Thus, a person who observes events, himself, and other people and assesses himself to have only negative possibilities -- he suspects his wife will ask for a divorce, that he won't be able to keep up his house payments, etc. -- will be depressed. We say he is in a depressed mood. A person who observes his situation and assesses himself to have many very positive possibilities -- he has a new job that he expects will present new challenges and rewards, his children are doing very well in school, etc. -- may be optimistic or enthusiastic. These terms for moods -- "depressed", "optimistic", "enthusiastic", and others -- are what an observer says about the person. They are terms an observer users to characterize a person in this domain of concern. The person himself may not explicitly assess his situation -- more typically, he falls into a mood that others observe and then attribute to him assessments of his own possibilities. We say, for example, that he is depressed and sees no possibilities for himself, or that he is elated and sees many new positive possibilities.
(13) Finally, each of us is an observer of the facticity of life. No one can avoid observing that, in some respect, life is the way it is, regardless of what you wish or regret and regardless of what illusions of hopes you may live with. We're all here, we'll all die, and life has unavoidable structures, like the structure of concerns we are distinguishing here. This unalterable character of life is what we call the "facticity" of life. Nothing anybody says of does changes the facticity of life. A concern for the facticity of life is not a narrowly practical concern. It is not a concern for feeding yourself, providing for your family, ensuring your future viability, or anything similar. Nevertheless it is a concern that we cannot avoid in so far as we are observers of the facticity. We accept it, perhaps in accepting that we will die or that the future is not predictable. Or perhaps we wonder at it, say in celebrating that we have life and our concerns. Or perhaps we refuse to accept it and build illusions to take its place, say that we can defeat death or control everything that will happen in the future. We ignore the facticity of life, say in ignoring that we will die, active as if we had infinite time in our lives to pursue every possibility. We call this concern for the facticity of life SPIRITUALITY in this paper.
These are the thirteen domains we propose as unavoidable, permanent domains of concern for human being. These are not the only domains of concern you may distinguish such domains as business, farming, or banking, depending on your purposes, on what you want to call attention to in observing people and action, proposing action, or making characterizations of people. What we are saying is that these thirteen that we have distinguished here are unavoidable and permanent domains for observing and designing our lives.
1) Domains, Breakdowns, and Actions
We said that these thirteen domains are unavoidable domains of concern for every human being, regardless of the time of place in which he lives. They are also domains in which familiar, day-to-day concerns and breakdowns arise. To help get more understanding of how these domains appear in everyday life. look at the following chart of the thirteen domains and familiar concerns and breakdowns within them.
|Permanent Domains of Concerns||Familiar Concerns and Breakdowns|
|Body||health, sickness, injury, availability and unavailability for meeting and appointments|
|Play or Aesthetics||entertainment, recreation, art and appreciation of art|
|Sociability||opening new conversations, making new friends, maintaining friendships, breaking friendships, trusting what others say, establishing trust for yourself|
|Family||having children, education of children, marriage|
|Work||completing actions you have committed to take, doing your job|
|Education||gaining competence, skill in some area|
|Career||choosing a direction to take in life, choosing a career or profession to prepare for and follow|
|Money or Prudence||having sufficient money to support yourself, your salary, reputation among others you deal with|
|Membership||participation in club, professional, organizational, government institution, gaining membership in societies, clubs, other organizations, becoming a citizen|
|World||politics, the environment, other countries or cultures|
|Dignity||self-respect, self-esteem, lack of self-esteem, conflicts between your standards of action and your actions|
|Situation||disposition, temperament, outlook, emotions, judgments about "how things are going"|
|Spirituality||philosophy, poetry, religion, humor (laughing about our non-acceptance of the facticity of life, not being burdened by it)|
Not everyone lives with all or even some of these particular breakdowns or familiar concerns. We give the list only to illustrate how our thirteen domains of permanent concerns allow us to observer everyday breakdowns and concerns.
We are saying that all of these thirteen domains of concern are unavoidable in everyone's life. That claim is a claim about the facticity of life for linguistic, historical selves. We, and every human being, lives in these domains. No one can escape them.
Our claim is not, we emphasize, a claim about the "truth" regarding human existence. Our claim is a claim for the design of ourselves as observers of our own lives. Other designs might be proposed, and the one we propose here may be modified. What is important is not knowing the final story about human existence; what is important is how we construct ourselves now as observers and designers of our own lives. And what we propose is that we observe ourselves as participants in these thirteen domains as unavoidable, permanent domains of concern -- that we observe our actions, our possibilities, our breakdowns, our assessments and characterizations, all within the structure of these thirteen domains.
We've looked already at familiar breakdowns in the thirteen domains. Now let's look at another chart, this time showing common types of actions and possibilities for actions in each domain.
Permanent Domains of Concerns
|Common Types of Action and Possibilities|
|Body||exercise, medical check-ups, traveling to an appointment|
|Play or Aesthetics||taking a vacation, going to the movies, going to an art museum, painting, putting a puzzle together|
|Sociability||inviting a new person into a conversation, meeting an old friend, declaring a person trustworthy or untrustworthy|
|Family||getting married, sending children to college|
|Work||finishing a report, writing a letter|
|Education||enrolling in a class, reading a book|
|Career||choosing a major in college, getting a new job|
|Money or Prudence||investing money, bargaining for a new salary, buying health insurance|
|Membership||joining a professional organization, becoming a citizen of a new country, founding a new club|
|World||working in a political campaign, visiting another country or culture|
|Dignity||declaring pride in your work, declaring that your work is significant or insignificant, declaring standards of action for yourself to live up to|
|Situation||declaring that your future is good or not good, declaring that your have more possibilities than you have been seeing declaring that you have fewer possibilities in life than you supposed, discussing your possibilities with other persons|
|Spirituality||reflecting on the facticity of life, going to church, philosophical discussions with others|
These are example of kinds of actions all of us perform, given that we live in those thirteen domains of concerns. Our actions and possibilities in life are not random; they have the structure of the concerns that we are -- we act on the concerns that we live in. For example, within our concerns for ourselves as bodies, we go to the doctor for medical check-ups, we travel (we move our bodies) to be present for actions we have committed to perform, and so on. Within our concerns for our families, we consider schools to send our children to, we care for our children, wives, husbands, and parents, and so on.
A point we should note here is that the types of actions and possibilities we listed in the chart need not each fit into only one domain. For example, "reading a book" is a type of action that could be taken in what we've called the domain of education, but it could also simultaneously be an action you take out of concern for your career, your family, or your body. As observer of our actions and possibilities, in the midst of different concerns at the time we observe, we will say that the same action of the same possibility will be generated out of different concerns. For example, say that you have just returned from a vacation in California. If as an observer, you are in the midst of concerns for play, you may observe your action (taking a vacation) as generated out of your concern for rest and recreation. If as an observer, you are in the midst of concerns for sociability, we may observe your action as generated out of your concern to meet new people or renew old friendships. The thirteen domains are not always separate in life -- they intersect and appear simultaneously in everyday breakdowns and actions.
We will not enter here into an extended discussion of the structure of domains of actions and possibilities that we participate in. What we want to do here is only to show how the domains of concerns we have distinguished show up in our day-to-=day actions and possibilities. it is important at this point only to see that the types of actions we formulate, take, and observe are types of actions within the domains of concerns that we are. Typically, most of us regard actions as movements of our bodies, and our possibilities for action as generated by the possibilities for movement our bodies give us. What we are saying now is something very different; our possibilities for taking and observing action are generated by the structure of concerns that we are. We will say more about the relations between the domains of concern and action later, in the next section of the paper concerned with "discourses".
3) Domains, Assessments, and Characterizations
Now we want to look at one more chart. This time, we are going to look at how the thirteen domains appear in our assessments and characterization. Human being asses the action of themselves and others and ascribe persistent characteristics to themselves and others as observers of the actions that they take and as participants in domains of concern. For example, given that you are concerned with your body, you may characterize yourself as "out of shape", that you do not exercise sufficiently to preserve you health, that you put the future of ourself as a body in danger. Our, given that you are concerned, in the domain of sociability, with the trustworthiness of other people, you may observe that they keep their promises and characterize them as trustworthy.
In the chart, we will present the thirteen domains, with typical characterization and assessment terms people use in making characterizations and assessments of themselves and other persons. Again, what we want to call attention to is how the structure of concerns we have proposed appears in the day-to-day lives of all of us, this time in our characterizations and assessments.
|Permanent Domains of Concerns||Characterization and Assessment Terms|
|Body||healthy, tired, weak, strong, unhealthy, fit, out of shape|
|Play or Aesthetics||fun-loving, boring, artistic, playful, unartistic|
|Family||devoted, selfish, loving, caring, negligent|
|Work||diligent, easy-going, hard-working, lazy, workaholic|
|Education||intelligent, slow, clever, smart, dumb, stupid, quick, studious|
|Career||ambitious, unambitious, apathetic, single-minded|
|Money or Prudence||prudent, thrifty, wasteful, conservative, imprudent|
|Membership||involved, independent, outcast, active|
|World||politically-minded, apolitical, concerned, parochial, worldly|
|Dignity||dignified, undignified, having integrity, self-deprecating, megalomaniacal, lacking integrity|
|Situation||spiritual, mundane, religious, reverent, philosophical, reflective, poetic, unphilosophical, spacey|
In reading the chart, be aware that the terms listed are not themselves characterizations or assessments. Characterizations and assessments are spoken in conversations by particular people, at particular time, of particular persons or actions and in particular conversational contexts. What we have listed in the chart are terms -- words -- commonly used by people in characterizing or assessing. Depending on the conversation and the context of the conversation, the same term may be used to characterize a person in different domains. For example, you might say of a person that he is "negligent", meaning in one instance that he does not share concerns and projects with his family, and in another, that he does not do much to take care of the health of his body; in the first instance, "negligent" is a term for characterizing someone in the domain of family, and in the second, it is a term for characterizing someone in the domain of body.
Characterization and assessment are everyday phenomena. The conversations of people, both their public conversations and their silent conversations with themselves, are full of characterizations and assessments. They characterize or assess for particular purposes -- say, in evaluating a potential employee or partner -- and just automatically -- as when you idly characterize famous people or people you see on the street and don't really know.
Without our typically noticing it, characterization and assessment also enforce among us certain standards or expectations of behavior. Say, for example, you are sitting with some friends, watching a movie on television. One of the characters in the movie, one of your friends says, is "completely crooked". In listening to your friend, you recall the actions the character has taken that provoke such a characterization -- he has stolen money from his partners, broken promises to business clients, etc. You also listen to disapproval of the character, and any real person who acts like him, in what your friend says.
Two things may happen now. First, if you respect your friend's characterizations, including his approvals and disapprovals, you may understand this characterization as offering you something to learn about your own actions. In order to perform well yourself in the domain we've called "sociability", you need to refrain from actions such as those performed by the character in the movie. Your friend's characterization has triggered a recommendation regarding your own actions.
Second, you may accept your friend's characterization as indicating a standard for your own characterizations of people. If you respect his characterizations, you may follow him in your own practice of characterizing people. You will disapprove of anyone who performs actions like those performed by the character in the movie. In such a way, standards of characterization can become publicly shared by more and more persons.
These last two points -- concerning how characterization in each of the domains can produce standards of action and further public practice of characterization in the domains -- raise the large question we are going to end with here in the paper. We've now laid out what we propose as unavoidable, permanent domains of concern for all human beings. And we've shown how these domains appear in everyday breakdowns, concerns, actions, possibilities, characterizations, and assessments. The next question to turn to is what lives we live, what our typical patterns of living are in these domains of concerns. Everyone shares in what we'll call for the moment "ways of being" in these domains, ways of having and dealing with concerns for his body, his family, his social network of conversations, and so on. He shares these "ways of being" with others in his time. And these "ways of being" may have changed historically. One historical people may care for their bodies, say, differently from another. One may devote time to training for athletic abilities; the other may show only concern for preventing disease. Still another may practice and approve the practice of ascetic neglect of the body. To understand how we all participate in such "ways of being", we need to study what we will call the "discourses" we all live in in the thirteen domains.
This paper is informed by the ideas about autopoiesis introduced by Maturana and Varella. We need to think about the systems and institutions that are producing and reproducing themselves at our expense, systems of crime and political corruption, and how we can build systems to create value along different dimensions, using metacurrency systems to manage complex evolving projects and organizations. Systems whose production and re-productions are sustainable and energizing on a human scale.
--Gerry.....Mon Jan 02 05:53:05 -0800 2012