Sunday, October 13, 2013

Experiential dimensions and practical action

In other posts (as well as at great length in my thesis), I've spoken about the five major dimensions of a representational practitioner's experience when working with participants: aesthetics, narrative, improvisation, sensemaking, and ethics (ANISE for short).

It occurred to me recently that it can help to map each of these dimensions, which can seem kind of abstract, to forms of practical action.

Aesthetics is acting to create meaningful representational forms (creating any desired form, even building a network or working on a car engine, involves considerations of right form). To see aesthetics in action, look for the form that representations take, how ideas are put into tangible visual, textual, and aural form. Ask how do those forms reflect the needs, concerns, and abilities of the people involved? How do the forms depict the subjects they refer to? How expressive are they?

Narrative is acting to create a story, as well as acting within a story (a series of events) or acting out a story. To see narrative in action, you look for the way events and actions connect, the way a representational session moves from start to finish, the way events are understood within the session (which are expected and which appear as anomalous in some way), and what kinds of considerations guide the way events and actions unfold. What are the stories each participant brings to the proceedings? How do they connect or diverge? What are the assumptions or desires different actors hold about the way things should unfold?

Sensemaking is acting in the face of anomaly, uncertainty, or doubt. To see sensemaking in action, look for the “breaches in the canonicity” (Bruner) of events, moments where the expected course of a session did not run smoothly, where anomalies occurred that prevented or impeded smooth or expected functioning – whether briefly or for an extended period. Look for how people respond to, understand, and (if successful) move past the events or stimuli that triggered sensemaking. In what ways did sensemaking triggers disrupt the flow of events, take people off course, or confound expectations?

Improvisation is acting without a net, script, or recipe. To see improvisation in action, look for the spontaneous, unplanned actions people take, often in the face of sensemaking triggers. Look for the ways unplanned acts build on each other and how they address or resolve the events that launched them. Look for the reasons improvised actions were necessary or desirable in that context. Why couldn’t or didn’t the actor choose pre-planned actions, techniques, or methods? Why at these moments did they choose to act in an unplanned manner? What specific form did the improvised actions take, drawing on what skills, insights, or relationships to the people and particularities of the situation?

Ethics are actions that affect others. To see ethics in action, look for the kinds of choices people make in the way they speak and act in terms of the effect on other people(whether those people are present in the immediate situation or not). What informs those choices, whether abstract principles or specific (even impulsive) interactions in the moment? What do actors choose to foreground, emphasize, and pay attention to, or conversely keep in the background or ignore? How do these choices affect others involved in the situation, whether immediately in the moment or at some later point in time?

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