Method: Constraints on patterning disagreement
Integrative Knowledge Project |
(a) The design of any text concerning method immediately raises the
question as to whether that design will facilitate or hinder implementation
of any insights embodied in the text. The form of the text is not a trivial
matter and should ideally be isomorphic with the pattern of operations
to which it gives rise. Texts that fail to take this constraint into account
tend to give rise to methods which are poorly understood and rarely used,
whatever their merits.
(b) In recognition of this problem, the design of the "method" outlined
here emerges as the result of the application of a series of constraints.
Without such explicit constraints, any text on method is free to meander
in an unstructured way through hundreds of paragraphs of inoperable statements.
(c) The intent is therefore to establish a constraint framework such
that different kinds of development discussed can be effectively distinguished
whilst at the same time clarifying why those we do no happen to favour
appear disagreeable and essentially unjustifiable, if not incomprehensible.
(d) The aim is therefore to achieve an optimum degree of congruence
or isomorphism between statements relevant to psycho-social reality, methods
relevant to the transformation of that reality, and structures designed
to implement such methods.
(a) Any text on method can be further elaborated by introducing statements
in agreement with the initial statement. There is no well-defined limit
to this expansion process.
(b) In the present social context a statement on method only acquires
significance through the manner in which it disagrees with other extant
statements. This may be used as an explicit technique for limiting the
further expansion of sets of statements in agreement with one another.
Each statement must therefore be matched with other opposing, or mutually
disagreeable, statements. Instead of emerging only in the dynamics of the
debate between adherents of methods, disagreement is thus "internalized"
as an explicit structuring device in the design of the text. Unless such
disagreement is internalized, the method described is always essentially
inadequate and must always assume the existence of other methods to complement
it and compensate for its weaknesses. Since adherents of a particular method
tend to have difficulty in acknowledging the significance of other methods,
failure to internalize strongly reinforces application of inadequate methods
without any device for their reconciliation.
(c) Disagreement is usually conceived as being a condition prevailing
between two elements that together constitute a set, whether of people,
values, principles, concepts, methods, or facts. The condition may however
exist between a larger number of elements.
(d) In the absence of a suitable constraint framework embodying the
complete pattern of potential disagreement, statements and counter-statements
in any debate twist into predictable and essentially pre-determined patterns.
There is in fact an interesting parallel to the description of energy states
in fundamental physics. The possible energy states (ie debate) are
described by a probability wave function. When a particular probability
is actualized (ie debate position is taken), the wave function "collapses"
(ie no other statements are relevant in that context).
3. Underlying relationship
(a) Unless they are identical, members of a set necessarily differ and
this difference may be interpreted as "disagreement". In order to understand
how such disagreement may be organized, a search must first be made for
sets that contain elements in maximal disagreement.
(b) If such sets are meaningful, then the elements of the set retain
some degree of commonality that binds them together despite the high level
disagreement between them. The qualitative characteristic of the bond is
what needs to be understood.
(c) The disagreement becomes especially interesting when the elements
are such that the disagreement is somehow "active". The elements are then
complementary in that each is a vehicle for a particular perception of
an underlying condition which cannot be adequately conveyed through any
one of them (cf the complementarity between wave and particle descriptions
of light). This complementarity may of course be denied and then the set
elements are perceived as opposed. The set as such may then not be considered
a meaningful grouping device for those elements.
(d) It is the presence of this combination of maximal disagreement with
an underlying commonality, or relationship between set elements, which
constitutes the third constraint.
(a) The previous constraints do not in any way limit the expansion of
a set of matched statements. A new constraint is therefore introduced to
limit a particular set of matched statements to a given number of elements.
(b) This is done on the assumption that once established the set constitutes
a complete pattern of incompatible positions and cannot be enlarged or
reduced (although the individual statements may of course be reworded).
(c) If further matching statements are required to clarify the methods,
these should be combined in one or more other sets, each complete in its
5. Number uniqueness
(a) In the practical use of sets of elements such as those it is intended
to generate here, there is an important constraint relating to the uniqueness
of any given set. For example, the concept of the method or approach as
implemented constitutes a fundamental 1-element set. Furthermore, if in
applying the method a balance has to be maintained between two conflicting
considerations, this constitutes a 3-element set. In both cases, the dynamics
it is intended to encompass will also be present when dealing with some
sub-component of the method - where the sub-component approach then itself
again constitutes a 1-element set, for example.
(b) The previous constraints do not prevent the emergence of sets for
which the pattern of disagreement between the elements is effectively a
replication or a qualification of that in other sets.
(c) A new constraint is therefore introduced which requires that only
one set be allowed with a given number of matching statements as elements.
(d) This constraint highlights the essential "management" issue of handling
the set elements and maintaining the integrity of the set. This is the
challenge of managing contradictions It is not possible to apply
a method without having a 1-element set, for example. It may even be explicitly
stated that there is no single central concept - but that is then itself
the one governing central concept. It is highly probable that the application
of the method will also, for example, at some point involve an explicit
polarization between two complementary approaches or considerations, thus
constituting a 2-element set requiring some form of mediation governed
by statements in a 3-element set.
(e) These questions become clearer when considered in the light of any
organizational structure created to implement the method. A hierarchy necessarily
emerges with concerns relating to the 1-element set "at the top". Note
however that this conceptual hierarchy does not have to be matched
in a one-to-one relationship with the organizational structure of
roles and departments. Some of the sets may instead be reflected in the
sets of principles, values, strategies, or procedures of that organization
- or even in informal factions concerned with particular policies.
(f) The set associated with a given number N effectively gives rise
to a range of N-"person" games as an organizational, management, coordination
or strategy problem. It is the qualitative characteristic of the range
of games that is to be elucidated, as well as the set elements "activated"
as role stereotypes for "players" implementing the method.
6. Number pattern
(a) The previous constraints do not prevent the usual situation in which
sets of elements are treated independently, each set being embedded wherever
convenient within an arbitrarily structured text which supposedly provides
the connecting links between them.
(b) To the extent that the text constitutes a complete explication of
a method, of which the essential items are formulated as set elements,
some degree of order should emerge from the relationship between those
sets. The various sets in effect constitute some kind of hierarchy of N-person
games within which disagreement or contradictions are handled.
(c) A new constraint is therefore introduced which requires that the
numbers whereby the sets are labelled should themselves fall into a pattern
(not necessarily complete) which can be used to elucidate the relationships
between the methodological significance of the sets.
(d) A pattern of numbers can be considered as a "minimal form". The
question is what pattern of numbers is most appropriate as a constraint.
In terms of number theory, the conventional number series 0, 1, 2, 3, ...
is arbitrarily based on the number 10. It is preferable to avoid possible
distortion arising from this particular choice of pattern. The hybrid number
pattern which appears to avoid this problem in the most balanced manner
can be obtained by taking the series in which each succeeding number in
the series is taken with itself as base. As indicated above, a set corresponding
to any number in the series is then composed of elements equal to that
number (eg at level 5, there are 5 elements or matching statements).
(e) The imposition of any such numbering pattern may appear totally
unnecessary. Why is any such device required? A response is that most social
science texts avoid the issue of how systematically their arguments need
to be structured to render explicit as many relationships between statements
as is feasible. There is no implication that such texts should be structured
other than arbitrarily for editorial purposes. It is not surprising that
insights emerging from such texts cannot be easily geared into any integrated
set of transformative operations that require a complete pattern of checks
and balances. As an illustration of the non-trivial role of numbers in
the organization of information, the database software through which this
book is produced distributes information more efficiently on the storage
disk if the file size is determined using a prime number. Otherwise information
is not distributed so evenly, leading to performance degradation. This
suggests the possibility that more fruitful patterns of disagreement can
be organized when a set spreads the weight of the incompatible positions
more evenly using a number of set elements based on a prime number.
7. Transformation operator
(a) The set elements in academic texts tend to be unsatisfactory because
they are primarily descriptive. A descriptive set is essentially static
and de-emphasizes transformation.
(b) The problem is therefore to generate a set in which the elements
are essentially dynamic or have an operative dimension, namely a set of
operators. This requirement constitutes the seventh constraint on set design.
(c) Such operators are effectively methods or methodological operations.
However, given the design of the set, each operator would be in maximal
opposition to the other operators in the same set. The operators would
therefore be mutually counteracting.
(d) If such sets of counteracting methods are to be designed, the question
is how much incompatibility can be effectively built into operators without
destroying the basis for grouping them as set? And yet the more they are
incompatible, the greater the probability that they will be able to "contain"
the complexity of conditions to which they are applied (cf Ashby's
Law of Requisite Variety, also the gene pool concept).
(a) Whilst the operational emphasis introduced by the previous constraint
ensures a degree of action entailment, such action lacks focus. Statements
can be sharpened by introducing a suitable focus.
(b) Whilst the statements could be oriented toward many domains of action,
the one which introduces the greatest constraint and the sharpest degree
of focus is that relating to the generation of statements on method and
related forms. This is effectively a self-referential, self-constraining
9. Containment of unpredictable
(a) Although previous constraints have emphasized the importance of
maximal incompatibility consistent with set formation, they fail to allow
for a specific openness to the risks and hazards of real-world processes.
(b) A further constraint is therefore introduced to ensure such responsiveness
to the possibility of unforeseen conditions.
10. Inter-set consistency
Although the number pattern ensures a formal relationship between the
sets, a further constraint is introduced to ensure that there is consistency
between the contents of different sets.
11. Operational relevance
Although a previous constraint requires that the set elements have a
transformative dimension, a further constraint is required to ensure that
such operations are important to any isomorphic management process especially
to one requiring the management of contradictions.
12. Inter-set harmony
(a) Although a previous constraint requires that there be consistency
between set contents, this is only a neutral "mechanical" condition.
(b) A further constraint can be usefully introduced to require that
the set elements be conceived in such a way that there is harmonic reinforcement
between elements in different sets. Such harmony would also be significant
to any isomorphic management process.
(a) The previous constraints leave open the possibility that the set
elements may be generated with the conventional idea of producing a definitive,
finished product. This would close the set elements to any process of continuing
(b) A further "constraint" is therefore introduced which requires that
each statement be subject to ongoing reformulation. The pattern of statements
thus itself becomes a domain for necessary further action, in the light
of experience and insight.
From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential