“I’ll have some unleaded”
Alexis Networks argued that everyone should work a service job at some time in their life . . . she was trying to tolerate our waiter the human whirlwind – after all, we just wanted barbecue! Her strategy was to jump scale: finding the direct interpersonal interaction challenging, she shifted her perspective to larger socioeconomic dynamics. This defused the possibility of unwelcome tension spoiling our meal.
We were recovering from a day of touring three flash flood scenes. The overall mood of the 2011 WAS*IS seems good – there is much laughter and comraderie despite the emotional undercurrents raised by facing the evidence of unnecessary human death. I am not sure how many of us were deeply contemplating the various roles we play in ‘the weather enterprise,’ but I think it had to be present. Queen Eve kept asking, How do we get people out of their cars and climbing to safety?
My (social science) answer is that we need to cultivate people’s ability to recognize what situation they’re in; more specifically, which timescale is most salient?
Caught in a storm
On Saturday, in turn with all the other social scientists here at WAS*IS, I gave a brief presentation on the methodologies from the discipline of Communication that I use in my work, ending with Bruce Tuckman’s model of the stages of group development:
Ben The Curious asked what I’d observed of our group so far. My answer in the moment was positive and optimistic – I still believe! – but the critical discourse analyst in me started wondering: is this group going to engage ‘the storm‘ or skirt right through it? Will we ‘norm’ in ways that avoid the tensions among us or will we recognize the various timescales present and make decisions accordingly – and will we implement these decisions collectively or individually?
Weather and the challenges of forecasting are perfect metaphors for the development of the WAS*IS movement, especially if you take into account all of its participants and nested timescales.
Better Wet Than Dead
Just like a severe weather event, group dynamics play out on multiple timescales. It is the convergence of trends and factors that generate a storm. The group development stage of storming plays out, simultaneously, in the course of:
- a single day in the WAS*IS schedule
- the course of the 8-day workshop
- the life cycle of the WAS*IS movement
It seems to me that all of us ‘innocents’ in this year’s WAS*IS are witness and participant to a storm occurring at the higher level of the movement’s life cycle. Whether we’re willing to get wet (or prefer to stay in our cars) is a collective decision that will have bearing on the future of these summer workshops.