EIOS 1 and 2 Evaluation Report

EIOS 1: Tensions

As mentioned above, the encounter was not without tension and conflict, particularly around issues of inclusion and exclusion, which provided a real life laboratory for exploring the issues we were exploring more intellectually through the papers. Moreover, the explorations of inner space and informal dynamics helped us link these different levels of inquiry. Perhaps the most important tension revolved around the initial split produced when the latecomers arrived. Some accused the new group of cliquishness and introducing an overly theoretical and abstract level of discourse that excluded others. In this sense, the elements that promoted exclusion were seen as fixed, inherent characteristics – race, religion, class, etc. but also access to knowledge, language and communication style – the lack of reflection upon and acknowledgement of would lead to an unconscious, unreflective reproduction of social patterns of exclusion. The latecomers in particular, mostly on the grounds of the second session of the first day, were accused by some of using an elitist language and tone.

We also discussed the reality that using one language only for the discussions, which was foreign to some of the participants and who therefore found it difficult to express concepts, is also a mode of marginalisation and exclusion (but at their suggestion agreed, in the interests of time, to continue with one language there but to focus on this issue for any further meetings).

Interestingly, exclusion was seen not only as a relation between the fixed characteristics of an individual and thus of another, but also as a one-way process: by not being aware of the ‘gradient’ of difference between them, one person would exclude the other, the latter being exclusively the recipient of the other’s actions. Given the level of personal tension among certain individuals and the emotional character of exchanges, these issues concerning the general structure of exclusive behavior went largely unquestioned. In hindsight, they seem strangely at odds with the tone of many of the debates, in at least two ways: first, for taking personal features as fixed givens measured against a social norm; two, by perceiving exclusive interactions as a one-way street, where the ones who are excluded (in regards to the social norm) can either be not excluded, or confirmed in their exclusion – both cases depending either on the omission or the action of the excluding person. (This could perhaps be related to the fact that some of the most outspoken in their criticism claimed to be speaking in the name of others?)

Could there be an alternative way of conceptualising exclusion? At the same time, could not the rest of the group be criticized for an intolerance of their own with respect to language and style, as well as an inability or unwillingness to bring the newcomers into the discussion and/or make them feel welcome? Could one say that there was another case of exclusion there, one which was not a function of fixed characteristics but of the interactions themselves? In fact, were people right in just essentialising the latecomers’ (most of which they had never met) behavior in one session into fixed personal characteristics? Could these issues have been treated privately before being brought into the large group discussion; and if they could, why were they not?

It is also impossible to separate the rejection of those who arrived late from the fact that they were perceived not only to be elitist in tone, but to be a de facto elite within the group, being part of the small group that had been appointed a facilitating role in advance. In other words, issues of exclusion were also involved in problems of openness, transparency and the distribution of power within the group. It did not help (nor was it any coincidence) that all the people in the latter group were perceived to share a social, cultural and political background, and even if they did not all know each other from before. Even though the roles originally ascribed to the group would become more widely shared, this would breed suspicion and resentment on both sides (some of the latecomers’ reacting also because they did not perceive the formation of this small group as their personal fault, and felt that not everyone was pulling their fair share of the weight). Some accused one of the main organizers of imposing his will and not only creating an informal group of leaders, but also letting this go unchecked once the group dynamics had become impaired because of this; at the same time, this position was criticized for self-referentially attacking the existence of informal leaders, while at the same time expecting decisions to come from them. Once again, issues related to power, authority, hegemony within open space, which were discussed at a more theoretical level within the papers, were brought him in a more experiential way through the organization of the event itself.

This was visible in another significant tension revolving around group dynamics and gift giving. One participant wanted to lead several more dynamic and participatory group activities, but her overtures were largely rejected by the larger group. She felt that her gifts were not appreciated, while many in the group felt she was trying to impose her will, and that gifts can also be used as a weapon.

These and other tensions came to a head during a particularly intense discussion following the final paper session on January 23, involving a heated and emotional exchange lasting several hours. The discussion began when some participants began to feel attacked about what was seen as their relative and respective privilege(s), which led to several emotional interventions about the difficulty of dealing with their backgrounds and moving beyond their class and social positions when becoming involved in political situations where they were precisely trying to act against the social concentration of privileges. The heated atmosphere then gave way to other accusations about leadership within the group, the formation of internal hierarchies and cliques, exclusion based on elitist discourse, and the inability of the group to recognize and accept a gift. Everything seemed to explode into a cacophony of emotional attacks and mutual recriminations. At that point, we took a break for a group dynamic, and then came back to finish the discussion in a more calm and collected way. The dynamic, which involved all of us a laying down in a single line on the floor and allowing each member of the group to roll over us, was a major turning point. The earlier breach was largely overcome, and the rest of the discussion allowed us to come together again, while continuing to explore the issues in depth. As one participant mentioned, he was not sure if this had been an exercise in open space, but it was an amazing experience in small group dynamics.

Contributors to this page: jai and Subramanya (Subbu) Sastry .
Page last modified on Tuesday 28 of June, 2005 17:30:19 IST by jai.

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