Global social witnessing and shifting social fields
Lukas Herrmann, CMMI Fellow 2018
Barnett Pearce advanced the idea that the quality of communication in which we engage determines the quality of our social worlds and our ability to coordinate meaning and action. Today, it is more than questionable whether our collective patterns of communication, awareness, and coordination indeed measure up to the complexities we are facing globally—such as climate change or migration. An attempt to listen to this situation invites us to reflect: If the global rise of polarized narratives—of which ‘Trumpism’ is only one example—were to teach us something about the quality of our social worlds, what would it be? How can social evolution toward a cosmopolitan orientation be fostered with conscious regard to this urgent situation?
Addressing this concern, my CMM project focuses on Global Social Witnessing (GSW) as a practice of cultivating generative social fields and cosmopolitan co-creativity. Even though global social witnessing is yet to be defined in a clear-cut and scientific way, a number of statements can be made about it already. GSW has been described as the mirroring of global events within personal awareness and the creation of an inner world space that may lead to more responsible and connected ways of being human (Hübl in Matoba, 2018). GSW is therefore a communicative as well as contemplative practice. When we engage in GSW we cultivate a conscious relationship to the world by becoming aware of our responses to (current or past) global events on a cognitive, affective, somatic and even spiritual level.
My CMM project adopts a ‘social fields’ perspective to understand social reality creation from within and from without by integrating the first person phenomenological dimension with the second and third person communication and systems dimensions. It thus requires assessing the lived experience as well as the patterns of communication and attention that, in sum, characterize social fields and bring them about. The notion of fields is used as a complementary to the notion of systems: “At the moment we step inside a social system—that is, at the moment we begin to inquire into its interiority by ‘turning the camera’ around from the third-person to the first-person view—we switch the perspective from the social system to the social field” (Senge, Scharmer & Boell, 2015).
According to Boell (2018), when actors engage with each other in a relational space with an increased intentionality and willingness to connect, the social field can turn generative. Similar to physical fields, generative social fields increase the intensity and density of connection and begin to propagate. In their joint writing, “Toward a lexicon for investigating generative social fields”, Peter Senge, Otto Scharmer and Mette Boell (2015) suggest that “generative social fields can take multiple forms, where mass-hysteria is an example of the one end of the spectrum and unbounded love and compassion of the other.” Building further on this work, we can begin to list up some characteristics of generative social fields. They are:
- Beneficial: Phenomena consistently and intentionally arise that are beneficial within a larger context— i.e., contribute to well-being of a larger system
- Creative: Learning and collective creativity—realizing new outcomes and building new capacities—takes place
- Connecting: The boundary between individuals (self-other) becomes permeable
- Futurogenic: The boundary between what is (current) and what is possible (emerging future) opens up
The CMM Learning Exchange in Arizona was an opportunity to experience first hand how a social field shifts and becomes generative: by the contributions of highly committed individuals that bring awareness to their ways of communicating and co-shaping the social field. It enabled a very enriching dialogue and exchange of ideas, perspectives, and what is more, a sense of community and evolutionary purpose. I am indebted to the CMM community for inviting me to be part of the learning journey, and look forward to many more years of conversation and meetings with all of you in the future!
Boell, M. (2018)
Matoba, K. (2018)
Senge, P., Scharmer. O. & Boell, M (2015)