Essay of the Day: Uncovering the Grammar of the Social Field

* Article: The Blind Spot: Uncovering the Grammar of the Social Field. Otto Scharmer.

From the abstract:

“Today, in most social systems, we collectively produce results that no one wants. These results show up in the form of environmental, social, and cultural destruction. The ecological divide (which disconnects self from nature), the social divide (which disconnects self from other), and the spiritual divide (which disconnects self from self) shape the larger context in every large system change today.

The intention of this paper is to uncover the grammar of the social field — the key variables that make it possible for the operating logics and modes (states and stages) of a social field to shift.”

Excerpted from the introduction, by Otto Scharmer:

“All human beings participate in co-creating the complex social networks that we live in and engage with. Still, despite the fact that seven billion people are busy co-creating this field moment to moment, the process of social reality creation remains enigmatic because it is connected to our blind spot. Most people much of the time experience social reality as something exterior — as a world “out there” that is doing something to us. That is, most of us are unaware of the process that brings our social reality into being in the first place: the source from which our attention, intention, and action originate when we engage with others and with ourselves.

In this essay, I build on the work of one of the twentieth century’s most innovative social scientists, Kurt Lewin. Lewin viewed the social environment as a dynamic field that interacts with human consciousness. Changes in the social environment affect particular types of psychological experience, and vice versa. In his field theory, a field is defined as “the totality of coexisting facts, which are conceived of as mutually interdependent.” He believed that, in order to understand people’s behavior, one had to look at the whole psychological field, or “lifespace,” within which people act. Lifespaces are constructed under the influence of various force vectors.

Accordingly, human behavior is determined by the totality of an individual’s context. This context is a function of the field that exists at the time the behavior occurs. Lewin also looked to the power of underlying forces (needs) to determine behavior by integrating insights from topology (e.g., lifespace), psychology (needs, aspirations, etc.), and sociology (e.g., force fields).

Lewin’s field theory was groundbreaking in twentieth-century social psychology and action research and led to the development of numerous experiments and projects. Awareness and sensitivity training in T-groups in the 1950s and ’60s, and the dialogue practices, and organizational learning methods at the end of the century, are all part of this lineage.

As I write about social fields from a twenty-first-century perspective, I am able to draw on major insights and sources of knowing that were not available to Lewin when he did his pioneering work — specifically, the most recent research on brain plasticity and neurophenomenology, as co-developed in the work of the cognitive scientist Francisco Varela.”

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