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Modelling Meetings (Analogies and Metaphors)

Towards Transformative Conferencing and Dialogue

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Part N of Towards Transformative Conferencing and Dialogue: Collection of papers and notes, problems and possibilities on the new frontier of high-risk gatherings concerning social development (1991).


It is easy to get locked into a conventional pattern of reflection about meetings. This blocks the opportunity offered by many analogies to highlight alternative or complementary perspectives. These can be useful in suggesting more fruitful approaches, if only under special circumstances.

1. Games and contests
  1. Medieval tournament: Participants may be viewed as knights gathered for a tournament. Each bearing a heraldic coat of arms representing his qualities and territorial origins to be defended at all costs. Contests are ritualized under an elaborate code of honour.
  2. Miss Universe contest: Issues are paraded before eminent panellists who discuss their qualities before ranking them and selecting the "issue of the year". The whole process being immersed in a sea of public relations and other interests.
  3. Martial art: The struggle between issues or their representatives may be viewed in the light of the "holds" and "throws" of Eastern martial arts (aikido, judo, etc). In these the supreme achievement is to use the enemy's energy to defeat him, and ultimately to see the enemy as but a reflection of oneself.
  4. Market-place: The production, exchange and consumption of perspectives may be seen in terms of the dynamics of the market and the economic laws governing supply, demand and marketing considerations.
2. Physical processes
  1. Thermodynamics: The social processes in the meeting may be viewed in terms of the relationships between "pressure", "volume", "temperature" and various measures of energy stored and released.
  2. Magnetothermohydrodynamics: The challenge of assembling the different participant orientations into a coherent configuration, generating and focusing the associated energies, and reaching a new level of significance, may be seen in the light of a fusion approach to plasma in a magnetic bottle.
  3. Meteorology: The condition of a meeting may be viewed in terms of meteorological phenomena: wind, fog, heat, cold, visibility, precipitation (rain, snow), clouds, warm/cold fronts, wind patterns, etc.
  4. Geology/topography: Participants and their interests may be viewed as geographical features (continents, islands, mountains) isolated or linked by seas, rivers, rifts, etc
3. Biological and chemical processes
  1. Chemistry: The "chemistry" of a meeting may be explored as the sequence or pattern of reactions taking place at a certain rate, possibly in the presence of catalysts. A meeting may also be seen as a "chemical soup" within which new varieties of complex molecules may emerge under certain conditions.
  2. Biochemical and metabolic processes: The range of possible meeting processes may be seen as constituting a map of pathways whereby various kinds of essential transformation take place with the assistance of specific enzymes.
  3. Environmental genetics: The viewpoints represented and emerging at a meeting may be seen in terms of species and gene pools linked and isolated by food webs and ecological niches, but subject to genetic drift and mutation. Such environments may be poor, vulnerable, or in process of enrichment. Meetings may be seen as ruled by the "law of the jungle".
4. Agriculture and food processing
  1. Horticulture and gardening: A meeting may be seen as a garden of flowers, vegetables and other species (with "a hundred flowers blooming"). The challenge is to care appropriately for these species: to water, to cover, to prune, to weed, to encourage or reduce certain insects, etc.
  2. Cooking: A meeting may be viewed as a menu of dishes amongst which participants select. Balance is important both in selecting the dishes an individual consumes (the art of the gourmet) and in combining the ingredients whereby a dish is prepared (the culinary art).
  3. Diet: A meeting may be viewed in terms of the dietary regime appropriate to participant nourishment, namely the quantity of carbohydrates, protein, and vitamins, interpreted as various kinds of information. The question of "calories", "exercise" and "obesity" may also be raised.
5. Physical constructs
  1. Architecture: The structural and functional divisions of a meeting may be viewed in terms of architectural analogues, from the simple one-room hut to the complex cathedral, fortress or palace. This raises questions of design and practicality of layout.
  2. Tensegrity: This recent advance in architectural possibilities (and the basis of the geodesic dome) suggests new ways of balancing configurations of opposing forces in a meeting.
  3. Circuits: The variety of components in electric, electronic and fluidic circuits suggest ways of combining well differentiated modes of participant information processing.
6. Social activities
  1. Orchestra: The challenge of interrelating participant view points to produce a new balance between harmony and dissonance may be seem in terms of an orchestra.
  2. Theatre: The possibilities of drama, dramatic tension, the roles of actors, and the audience relationship have often been used to describe meetings.
  3. Dance: The rhythmic interweaving of dancers may also be used to describe the rhythm of meeting processes and participant interaction.
  4. Temple ritual: The meeting as a ceremony of celebration of the values to which the participants subscribe may be seem in terms of temple processes with extremes of sacrifice and communion accompanied by ritual chants.
7. Psycho-physical processes
  1. Respiration: The meeting may be viewed as composed of cycles of inbreathing and outbreathing of information in the light of yoga attitudes towards the ultimate significance of such processes.
  2. Meditation: The meeting may be viewed as an exercise in collective meditation and group consciousness, with all the consequent problems of physical, emotional and mental alignment.
  3. Alchemy: The various alchemical processes explored by psychoanalysts may be used to model the progressive transmutation of the crude (material) perspectives initially present in the meeting.

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