Part 2. Forging a concept: “Proposition”

(Continued from: An economy of emotions and actions? Part 1 of 4)

What I am basically trying to do here, is to find a way of talking about the processes through which ‘something new’ comes into being in a collective. I am thinking about all the small interactions, where someone is coming up with something that others will eventually take part in, somehow – or not. And I am in particular thinking about the situations where the people involved come to consider this something, someone has come up with, as valuable, in some sense.

Now, of course in order to pull this project off, there are some questions to raise. First of all, I would have to find out how to know that “something new has come into being”. I would have to find ways of pointing to specific actions that would convey that a process of becoming of some sort is actually taking place. And I would have to find a way of knowing if and how people consider this new practice or pattern of behavior valuable.

Going back to the question of coming up with something, let me develop a little on a concept I would like to talk about as ‘a proposition‘. As I see this process, what happens is that someone comes up with something, whether it be an idea for a collective activity, or a certain way of performing an action that has an implication on the group. Someone is proposing something, and then others can chose to react in whichever way, related to the proposition.

There are three points I would like to go a little into detail with in this regard.

First of all, I would like to make it crystal clear that the concept of proposition that I am developing here, does not necessarily have to do with an individual’s conscious intention. The interesting thing about these processes resides rather in the fact that the act of proposing can take place as a kind of spinoff of collective interaction. I guess I am not alone in having experienced tons of situations, where one is taking part in a collaborative process, and where new ideas seems to be spawning out of the blue, so to speak. Afterwards, it becomes very difficult to point out exactly who came up with what. The concept of proposition, in the sense I am trying to develop here, does not exclude individual intentionality. However, it is my impression that the instances of proposition that eventually will gain more weight and durability in a collective are those who have been developed in a collective process.

Another important point I would like to make has to do with intentionality itself. What I find interesting about these processes of coming up with something new in a collective is that they are not necessarily coming from what we would usually think of as goal oriented behavior. In many cases, new ideas are simply popping up by chance, or because someone made what at that point seemed to be a ‘mistake’. These kinds of generative moments are commonplace in artistic processes, especially in those who involve improvisation. The point I am trying to make is that a proposition does not have to come from some sort of problem solving setup. This doesn’t mean, however that a given let’s call it ‘spontaneously spawned’ proposition can not at a late stage help the collective solve some kind of problem.

The third point I would like to make has to do with the way in which something new pops up. I guess the standard image that one would have in mind while reading what I have said so far would be that a proposition would come in the form of verbal language. Indeed, a proposition could take the form of a spoken phrase. A kid in the reception class might thus choose to put forth a proposition to his schoolmates by uttering the words: “Let’s play superheroes. I am spiderman”. He might also simply start climbing up and down whatever is climbable in the surroundings while shooting imagined cobwebs at everyone else. These two forms of proposition are obviously sharing a lot of traits, and in the unlikely case that both would be present in a given context, it would be interesting to find out whether and how the other people’s reactions to each would differ. The verbal ‘version’ of the invitation calls for some kind of response, imposing a risk for the ‘proposer‘ of being rejected. The nonverbal version of the invitation, on the other hand, might inspire others to join, in a risk-free way, and it might also not be understood as an invitation at all. In any case, it makes sense, I would argue, not to draw a sharp line between verbal and nonverbal when it comes to these kinds of proposition.

The argument can be taken even further. The example above – an invitation to a role play – is of course rather well suited for an interpretation that would point to some kind of human agency. After experiencing the situations described, there is a chance that people observing them would independently come to a conclusion that could be expressed in the sentence: “He invites them to play”. Or: “He acts in a way that they might see as an invitation”. This is because there is a focus on what is going on in the interaction between the people involved. What I would like to do here, is to take the argument further and also include the role that things might be playing in the processes where ‘something new’ is coming up in a collective. Taking into account the role of things, – and this means also including questions of space(s), technologies, clothes, etc. – the concept of proposition I am forging out here would also serve to say something about situations, where something new occurs as a consequence of some kind of interaction between some person(s) and the things around them.

To sum it up, the concept of proposition I am working on here has to do with processes where something new is being introduced in a collective. These are processes stemming from collective interaction – although they are not excluding individual agency. They are occurring spontaneously and by chance, in a way akin to the improvisational forms of art, although they might also be linked with some form of intentionality. They can be expressed through a wide range of modalities: verbal, as well as nonverbal, and they can unfold in interactions between people as well as between people and things.

These will be my conclusions for now on this topic, and I would like to invite you to come with comments, ideas, critique and suggestions below.

The concept of proposition is of course just a first step in these processes that I am trying to understand. The question about what happens after a proposition has been made is the theme for my next blog post, where I will draw in Gebauer & Wulf and their notion of mimesis.
The theoretical framework they are proposing is very useful, I believe, to describe what could be termed the production and reproduction of sociality.

With Gebauer and Wulf, I feel I can come a long way to understand what is going on in the process where a given proposition comes to take root in a collective. In order to try to understand what is going on, when some propositions are being accepted, while others are rejected, it makes a lot of sense to draw on David Graeber’s book “Towards an anthropological theory of value”. This is what I am planning on doing in a fourth blog post.

For now: Please share your thoughts, comments, etc., below, I would sincerely appreciate that!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s