Saturday, June 23, 2007

How practice unfolds

Expanding on the previous post.

All making has aesthetics and ethics and is concerned with crafting narrative while at the same time living in narrative (causation, explanation, coherence, breach). When we set out to craft an experience that other people will participate in, we think about what form it should take in order that the experience "works" the best. As we get into the planning and crafting, subtle and not-so-subtle shifts and changes occur as the materials and the situation "talk back" to us as we work with them. If we are collaborating with other people in this crafting, those shifts and changes compound in complexity (and rapidity) due to our personal interactions, the conflicts and synergies and mutual inspiration that invariably happen in collaboration. Finally we have our instrument crafted ready for the participative session. We get into that session and a mix of the expected and unexpected happens. We shift and adjust and improvise as necessary, sometimes a lot, sometimes not much. What we came in with as the goal and the form and the intended sequence of events and outcomes sometimes remains intact, often is interspersed with small changes, sometimes is radically changed or inverted as a whole.

From an analytical point of view, looking at the Rutgers and Ames workshops as well as the earlier Mobile Agents materials, all can fall into the above. There is the "intended" aesthetics and ethics -- how we have shaped the materials that will be used in the live sessions and how we envision them being interacted with and operated on by the participants -- and then there is the "live" or "situated" aesthetics and ethics of how these play out in the actual sessions, how we act on the materials and use the tools and interact with the participants in service of having a successful session.

So for my framework purposes, this could be looked at as the narrative organization of both Preparing and Enacting. In each, there are the two dimensions of narrative: the narrative we actively create (the materials and representations) and the narrative we are living in (how we view ourselves, our participants, our effort, our outcomes, the context we see them fitting into, why they are the way they are). In both Preparing and Enacting, we can (and usually, but not always, do, at different levels of intensity) experience disruptions that require sensemaking and improvisation. In both Preparing and Enacting, we act and make in ways that can be characterized from aesthetic and ethical viewpoints, whether they are improvised or not. In both Preparing and Enacting, we can look analytically at the kinds of things that were in my original analyses: verbal moves, representational moves, engagement with the representation and with each other (whether those "others" are makers/practitioners or participants).

Really, in any Preparing and Enacting there are degrees of the unexpected that happen. Even if things don't go wrong per se, they unfold in ways that have to take into account any divergence from the canonical. In Preparing, often this in itself is a kind of improvisation, since you're thrust into a new situation, with new constraints, people, subject matter, etc. Unless it's completely rote, Preparing is nearly always a sensemaking effort. The degree of unexpectedness varies from radical disruptions to just the simple ways that new input comes in and must be factored and adapted to. (Someday in the future I will write this out better, and provide examples and illustrations of all these).

These phenomena are recursive. The experience of living in and constructing narrative happen at many levels simultaneously, as do comprehension, engagement, and interchange. In Preparing, plans emerge through the back and forth between the different levels, interplays with each other. Materials are brought together and composed in the hotbed, in keeping with the directions established, negotiated, agreed to, adjusted on the fly as more becomes clear, even up to the last minute.

Then you enter into the live Enacting and the process repeats. Some goes according to plan and some doesn't, to greater or lesser degree. Adjustments are made within the established boundaries (sometimes stretching, breaking, or reinventing them), keeping the coherence, engagement, and motivation going (if possible!).

Mark's ideas about the usefulness of normative models of communicative practice seem really helpful here. There is both my own, evolving normative model of PHC practice, that I can use as an analytical tool to examine particular instances of practice, and the "model-in-action" that practitioners (whether solo or collaborative) develop and apply, implicitly and sometimes explicitly, in the course of their practice. At the Rutgers event, in the Planning session, you can hear the group discussing and negotiating how the exercise they were putting together was going to work, what it was intended to bring forth from the participants, how it would lead up to the desired outcome and denouement.

More to come on this. I think the outline of how I can now incorporate all 8 instances of practice I'm going to analyze for the dissertation is coming into focus, even though they vary so much (two solo expert practitioners working with very different groups (a small face-to-face planning meeting in the MDRS hab, a virtual meeting of RST geologists), the 4 Ames workshop groups and the 2 Rutgers workshop groups).

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