Is CMM transformative? An invitation for exploration

We thank the conference website for this graphic https://itlc2022.intertla.org/

Those coming to the Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM) are sometimes attracted by the potential for better understanding, deconstructing (and perhaps solving) complex (“wicked”) problematic social issues. Although CMM as a body of knowledge includes some heuristic conceptual tools that can be useful in such pursuits, it is likely that the real benefits are more emergent than analytical. The first order of this impact can be described in terms of the way that it changes us, and the second order is the way that this shift in perspective can lead us to help ignite systemic impacts. In this sense, the practical application of CMM concepts in social systems can possibly, at its highest level of context, be considered to be a “transformative” practice.

This phenomenon, and related questions around it, will be the subject of exploration in a roundtable discussion being organized as part of the 2022 International Transformative Learning Conference, to be held April 6-9 in an online format. This year’s conference explores the theme of “transformation as a rarity,” which responds to the perceived overuse of the term transformative, or “transformational” as often misapplied to simpler or more basic, superficial, or externally imposed forms of change. Genuine transformation is instead described as “an outcome which results in the reorganizing of the internal systems of an organism such that its combined thoughts, behaviors, and emotions are more authentic and functional within a given sociocultural and/or psychological contexts.”

The genesis of this CMM-informed roundtable discussion was a collaborative project by Sergej Van Middendorp, Rik Spann, and Bart Buechner designed for the Schutz Circle conference in Konstanz, Germany in 2018. A central question for that presentation was the way in which “truth” has been problematic in the era of “new” (social) media. Alfred Schutz, as progenitor of social (“lifeworld”) phenomenology, had witnessed a similar effect in his native Germany in the late 1930’s and late 1940’s. Although he was able to detect and define the rise of these forces, this knowledge in itself was not sufficient to intervene. We asked, hypothetically, if disruptions or conflicts between closely-held value systems, or “moral injuries” might be seen as catalysts for change, and how a practical theory of social construction in communication such as CMM might offer a catalyst for creating (particularly, co-constructing) “better” social realities in response to perceived moral injuries.

As a theory of social construction in communication, CMM postulates that both our selves (identities) and our social worlds are co-constructed in episodes of communication. As a “practical theory with a critical edge” (Pearce, 2007) CMM helps to identify the ways that power and precedence shape current social realities, and also supports our efforts to engage collaboratively in reflection-in-action as a way to make better (more mutually desirable) social worlds. This also includes more evolved forms of communication—cosmopolitan communication (Penman, 2021) and re-sounding (Spann & Martin, 2021)—that can help to break down polarized narratives or conflicts across cultural divides, or re-imagine (and improvise with) the metaphors we use to shape social reality.

Now, as in the case during Schutz’s times, there is no shortage of complex and seemingly intractable issues. The urgency of global conflicts, pandemics, supply chain failures, racial unrest, unprovoked superpower invasions of neighboring countries, and other disturbing patterns reminds us of Schutz’s original transformative intentions for his “lifeworld” phenomenology. Some questions we might ask include an exploration of the relationship between individual transformation and collective transformation, and how “holding space” for new forms of collective interaction can be used in place of imposing order or rules in social structures.

We invite roundtable participants to reflect on some of these current problematic patterns and dilemmas in our social worlds, and how the exploration of these phenomena, informed by CMM principles, can be potentially transformative.

For more information, contact Barton Buechner, bbuechner@Adler.edu

Details of the 2022 International Transformative Learning Conference, and how to register, can be found at https://itlc2022.intertla.org/

In a separate roundtable discussion at this conference, we will also be considering the conditions that lead to posttraumatic growth, and how CMM concepts might be applied (in conjunction with current scholarship and practice around posttraumatic growth) to the creation of social spaces and therapeutic environments that have potential to reduce stigmas associated with mental health, and create conditions for personal growth as a more common response to disruptive or traumatic events.

The ITLC workshop titles of the roundtables described in this article are:

  • The Road Less Traveled: Phenomenology as Transformative Practice for exploring Lifeworlds and Deathworlds
  • Posttraumatic Growth—Finding the Rare Pearl in The Oyster



Buechner, B. Van Middendorp, S. & Spann, R: (2018). Moral injury on the front lines of truth: Encounters with liminal experience and the transformation of meaning. Journal of Schutzian Research 10 (2018) 51-84. Open Source publication: https://www.zetabooks.com/docs/Barton-BUECHNER-Sergej-von-MIDDENDORP-Rik-SPANN_Moral-Injury-on-the-Front-Lines-of-Truth_Encounters-with-Liminal-Experience-and-the-Transformation-of-Meaning.pdf

Buechner, B., Dirkx, J., Dauber Konvisser, Z., Myers, D., Peleg-Baker, T. (2020). From liminality to communitas: The collective dimensions of transformative learning. Journal of Transformative Education, February 7.https://cmminstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Feb-7-2020-From-Liminality-to-Communitas-The-Collective-Dimensions-of-Transformative-Learning1.pdf

Buechner B. (2020). Untold stories of moral injury: What we are learning—and not learning—from military veterans in transition. Frontiers in Communication (5).

Pearce, W.B (2007). Making social worlds. Malden MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Penman, R. (2021). (Ed.)  A cosmopolitan sensibility: Compelling stories from a communication perspective. Oracle, AZ: CMMi Press.

Tedeschi, R., Moore, B., Falke, K., Goldberg, J. & Andrew, B. (2020). Transformed by trauma: stories of posttraumatic growth. Independent. ISBN 9798600226357

Spann, R. and Martin, S. (2021). Re-Sounding: introducing an alternative metaphor for organizational change.Cleveland, OH: Taos https://www.taosinstitute.net/product/re-sounding-introducing-an-alternative-metaphor-for-organization-change

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