Transformative Approaches Project
Dialogue: conceptual weaknesses of conferencing
Transformative Approaches Project |
It is useful to consider the following conceptual weaknesses
in both electronic networking and in conventional face-to-face conferences:
1. Conceptual amnesia
The tendency for a network of participants to forget, or repress, points
made in earlier time frames. Participants become addicted to novelty and
devalue concepts articulated earlier. The ability to build a complex conceptual
structure over time is therefore constantly undermined. Such amnesia is
in effect a process of conceptual resource destruction.
2. Conceptual fade out
The tendency for a complex conceptual structure to fade at the edges,
so that the scope of any emerging conceptual structure is constantly being
eroded by limitations of conceptual span, whether for an individual or
for the network of participants collectively. Just as there is a need for
screen refreshment, so there is a need for systematic concept refreshment.
3. Conceptual burial
The tendency for concepts to be buried in a mass of text, whether explanatory,
anecdotal or otherwise. Little effort is made to distinguish concepts from
contextual material which may not be essential to their subsequent use
in articulating a complex conceptual network. Many environments are designed
to bury concepts almost as quickly as they are generated. The conditions
ensure a high concept mortality rate.
4. Conceptual haze
The tendency for a multiplicity of concepts to be simultaneously present
in a diffuse haze through which participants wander (or blunder) with little
more than a confused sense of orientation. Everything is relevant to everything,
but little can be effectively distinguished. People enter and leave the
conference environment confused.
5. Conceptual swamping
The well-documented phenomenon of information overload. The amount of
information inhibits creativity.
6. Conceptual mouse-trapping
The tendency of a conference to premature conceptual closure. Given
the conceptual confusion which tends to prevail, any ordering which emerges
tends to be seized upon and used to impose order before alternative perspectives
acquire sufficient weight to call for their integration in a more complex
conceptual structure. This is associated with conceptual big-game hunting,
namely the tendency to focus on the most obvious and dominant concepts
and to ignore other aspects of the conceptual ecology represented within
the conference -- and possibly vital to the healthy growth of the conceptual
7. Conceptual collapse
The reductionist tendency to blur subtle distinctions, collapsing them
into a simpler concept. The complexity of a soap bubble would thus be reduced
to that of a blob of water on a two-dimensional surface. Unusual, counter-intuitive
or paradoxical structures are thus not adequately protected in the normal
8. Conceptual stasis
The tendency to define concepts in static terms, when a dynamic definition
might be more appropriate in response to an evolving, turbulent social
environment. The concepts needed at this time may only be representable
in dynamic terms (as with resonance hybrids in chemistry).
9. Conceptual consensus-mania (or disagreement-phobia)
The tendency of a conference to avoid disagreement and seek consensus,
when more realistic conceptual articulations might be based on appropriate
configurations of complementary, but opposing perspectives. Within a network
this tends to result in theeffective exclusion of those who disagree --
leading to a form of conceptual incest or inbreeding. The conference environment
is not designed for conceptual variety, unless variants are screened off
in their own sub-conferences.
10. Conceptual contraception
The tendency for conferences to be designed in a sanitized, "safe-sex"
mode to avoid conception and the collective creation of viable new conceptual
configurations. There is a strong emphasis on conceptual foreplay and titillation,
with success being associated with a form of conceptual orgasm, hopefully
to be repeated on subsequent occasions. But conceptual progeny are as unwelcome
as the risk of being infected by dangerous ideas.
In response to such assessments, it is usually argued that these difficulties
can be avoided if the conference is appropriately organized with a "strong
chairperson" or "moderator" to "keep things in focus".
This is in effect a betrayal of the original non-hierarchical inspiration
The further suggestion that the conference should have a "clear
agenda" tends to imply that the agenda is decided in advance, thus
inhibiting the creative, self-organizing process whereby responsible people
redesign the framework through which they interact in response to new insights
emerging from that interaction.
Most of the burning international issues call for conference environments
in which the agenda is constantly redesigned as an evolving conceptual
framework. A frozen agenda precludes creativity and implies a frozen, still-borne
outcome. The formation of only the most probable coalitions is possible
at a time when only the less probable are appropriate to the task. The
emergence of more imaginative coalitions is not facilitated.
Is there no way that responsible individuals can get there act together
without a "policeperson" or a conceptual straitjacket ? It can
be argued that much more could be done with networking software to facilitate
From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential