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    For further thoughts on the art and science of conversation please see the diagrams at:


    thank you, drfrank, a very interesting diagram

    thanks for the contribution ... wonder what you make of The Age of Conversation, as linked here...?


    Dear Kevin,

    Thanks for the invitation; haven't yet engaged with the book.

    But I read (presumably) your paper 'Conversations, a New Model for Qualitative Research' with interest. It resonates with a lot of things for me...

    I could go into detail...

    [For example, I used the notion of conversational lineages (conversations through time) for evaluating dynamics of organisational change; see other diagrams on my blog if interested. Learning to appreciate the crafts of storytelling becomes very important, not only when, discussing one's research, but also when eliciting people's dispositions to act in particular ways in the future...]

    ...and am happy to, but not here - not enough room! [Will just say that I experienced the paper to have missed a trick, something that's been significant for me. Maybe others wouldn't experience it in the same way, but...]

    I'll leave you with the following.

    For a non-reductive understanding of language and social (and ecological) contexts, the theories of Maturana & Varela might be helpful - particularly notions of structural coupling, and 'languaging' as the coordination of behaviours and emotions. [I wrote 'wow!' in the margin when I read in your paper about the role of MRI scanning in market research.]

    And a couple of books that may be of interest - if you haven't come across them already - that have been important to me and stimulating when thinking about language and relationships with others:
    * Conversation, Language & Possibilities - A Postmodern Approach to Therapy, by Harlene Anderson (1997)
    * The Spell of the Sensuous - Language and Perception in a More-than-human World, by David Abram (1997)

    Thanks again,


    Chris Corrigan

    Hey...I'm in that book!

    The World Cafe Guide is a pretty good practical primer on conversations, not just those held within World Cafe formats either. It's by Juanita Brown and David Isaacs.

    Also, see what some of us are up to in the world at where we are teaching and exploring the patterns that underlie conversations that matter.


    Francis, many thanks for that thoughtful and useful contribution - I shall look up the references you mention and hope to come back to the themes and points you make. I am not surprised or disheartened to learn that a few tricks may have been missed, something to improve/aim for!

    You'd better believe that fMRI scanners are being used by some advertisers and some market research companies - those who can afford the kit, that is. I believe that both Ford and Daimler Chrysler use them. The mind boggles. (I wonder how that shows up on the brain scans?)


    Chris, great to hear from you! I have ordered the Age of Conversation book, will read your bit with especial interest and many thanks for the references to World Cafe and to art of hosting, will follow up on these. I like very much the idea of 'conversations that matter', an idea I touched on in my paper (lnk via the post) without doing it justice, needless to say.

    Incidentally, I gave you blog address to my friend Peter who is going to a QRCA (US qual research org)conference in Vancouver in November, he may get in touch...

    Hope all is well on the Island!


    Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for responding.

    Well, I'm not disturbed by the use of MRI per se - it's the logical extension of reductionism - only amazed the likes of Daimler and Ford should spend so much money searching for the soul! They'd be better off looking for ways to collaborate with communities to reduce carbon emissions.

    As to the missed trick, I took your response to convey openness to another contribution from me, so if I may be so bold...

    Whilst I appreciated the invitation in your paper to consider what a conversation means to me, I thought the notion of conversation required a clearer working definition (in the paper).

    A definition that I've found helpful is the literal one of it being a 'turning together'; and, following the diagram on my blog, marketing (and research, and in fact all interactions within and beyond the organisation) can be understood in terms of them being continually offered
    * invitations
    * expressions
    * checkings out of understanding, and
    * confirmations of understanding.
    When these aren't experienced, then the conversation (/relationship) breaks down. Using this model in practice leads to a variety of creative possibilities, in my experience, just as human language emerges and emerged from interactions between people, and with their surroundings...

    I believe this model provides a lens that gives more concrete definition to what marketing is becoming - maybe implicit to Surowiecki, but not explicit. One of the major insights for me has been the idea that understanding is itself a coordination, arising through familiarity, and not a representation.

    This has very practical consequences. It means that, for example using the scenario in the paper, when asking the cyclists whether or not they were racing, and they say they weren't, we need (if we want to bulid up the chances for the conversation to be mutually enriching and sustainable) to be open to their perspective and unique histories of experience. Whilst it may look to us as if they were racing, this is only relative to our own perspectives and histories of experience; after all, the cyclists could be competitive cyclists as a hobby, such that going to work may not be a race *for them, relative to their particular perspectives and histories*.

    To my mind, this awareness (of the uniqueness and indivisibility of our individual perspectives and histories) is what REALLY opens up the space for conversation. [In the jargon, it's called 'epistemological awareness'; for a good outline, see ] It also explains why we can speak the same language but still misunderstand each other - something that we should be far more prepared for by our education systems.

    Apologies if these points are cumbersome, obvious or unwelcome. They've been life-changing for me, and I'm enthusiastic about sharing them with others similarly interested in the art of conversation.




    Francis, your points are the opposite of cumbersome, obvious or unwelcome! Thank you for taking the time and effort to detail them, particularly in terms of suggested refinements to my paper.

    In terms of the cyclists, I was hypothesising, WHAT IF they denied that they were racing but I had seen them on my way into work *appearing* to be racing - which is more accurate, the structural language (their *apparent* behaviour) or the representational language (their report)?

    I entirely agree on the need to be completely open to their perspective and unique experience. And to be prepared to accept their account and to change my hypothesis. And I would have, because, what do I know?!

    But suppose I'd shown them a film clip of them cycling and their expression as they overtook me that morning (because I was cycling that route)? If I demonstrated I was quite prepared to be wrong, maybe they were competitive cyclists anyway (although they were not wearing that 'uniform'), I expect they would reciprocate by being honest and saying (for example), 'I suppose you could call it racing but to be honest that is just how I cycle ... and how long did it take *you* to get in that morning.. ') Or something.

    In this (fictional) example, my experience and theirs *is* connected and I think it's an example of the connections that only good conversations can yield.

    But your observations really add a lot to my understanding so thanks again - I shall look up the references and in the meantime, you might want to look up Chris Corrigan - who replied earlier to this same post - as I think your interests and perspectives overlap with his.

    Off to France for two weeks btw, not cycling training, just a holiday!


    Hi Kevin,

    Glad the points mean something, and thanks for the recommendation to visit Chris' site.

    Back to the cycling analogy.

    The pictures of structural language we observe are seen *by an observer from their own perspective*, and epistemological awareness entails taking responsibility for the observations made and ascriptions given. I suggest this is equally the case when observing an MRI scan.

    So, we can observe someone else racing. What I'm wishing to privilege is the notion that we need to ground the observation: 'From my perspective, I observed you to be racing and acting competitively to other cyclists on the road'. I believe this grounding can enable conversation because it opens up the possibility for the other to express themselves: 'How do you explain [representational langugage in your schema] what you were doing [structural]?' - and opens up the possibility for ourselves to reflect on our own traditions of understanding. They respond, 'I wasn't racing anybody else on the road - that's just how I cycle'. 'Oh, really? This video footage seems to convey your continually looking over your shoulder to evaluate how much faster you were?' 'No, that was because...'

    Even when there is video footage, the invitation to the other (and, hopefully, its reciprocation) prevents the conversation from being 'tyrannised' (to use a trendy postmodernism) by the attribution of 'objective and non-negotiable fact'. When this occurs - e.g. 'Your MRI scan PROVES you prefer turkey twizzlers to cordon bleu cooking' - the conversation (and opportunity for digging around some more) could well falter.

    I myself am unsure as to whether structural language is more objective than representational. An assumption I've been making, in contrast, has been that no one has access to objective reality *as observed by a neutral, objective observer* - which has implications when we *talk about* the structural language we observe.

    You may disagree with the assumption. But to my mind, the above ideas are powerful and indeed critical when participating in and facilitating 'conversations for sustainability' - which I note appear significant to Wardle MacLean...

    What do you make of the Age of Conversation book - would you recommend it?

    Have a good holiday, and thank you,



    very good point to draw the comparison between observing behaviour and observing patches of colour on a brain scan - both are very much open to interpretation - so I do agree with your assumption, no-one has exclusive access to (let's call it) *the truth*

    who was it who said, 'show me the truth and I'll show you someone talking'?

    I suppose I would trust the observation of the behaviour more than the brain scan - but I'm no brain scientist

    Yes, 'conversations for sustainability' matter to us - we're trying to develop these here at WM

    I've not read the Age of Conversation book yet (only $10 to download) but I feel I can vouch for at least one of the essays - the one written by Mr Corrigan!

    off the France, thanks again for the input -will stay in touch for sure



    Don't know who said that, but I (think I!) know who said, 'Everything that is said, is said by someone, to someone'. Yes, do - it's been nice to exploit your blog's comments facility...

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