A Methodological Policy?

While I was in Afghanistan I came across two statements that I thought made  for good research policies while trying to understand social action:

“One should take the doer back into the deed after having conceptually removed the doer and thus emptied the deed. … one should take doing something, the ‘aim,’ the ‘intention,’ the ‘purpose,’ back into the deed after having artificially removed all this and thus emptied the deed” (Nietzche, Will to Power).

– and –

“I have accepted that it is right to say that the condition of generating descriptions of social activity is being able in principle to participate in it. It invovles ‘mutual knowledge,’ shared by observer and participants whose action constitutes and reconstitutes the social world” (Giddens, Profiles and Critiques in Social Theory, p. 15).

If  you want to understand how people do cross-cultural interactions, why not look at how they do them, understand how such interactions are accomplished in their own right, see if you can acquire the ability to perform in a similar manner. Then maybe its fair to say that you understand, in an adequate manner, the phenomenon.

2 Comments on “A Methodological Policy?”

  1. We’ve talked before about mimicry as a form of learning. By observing cultural interactions and then attempting to mimic the behavior, the observer transitions to participant. If that’s how children learn to become adults, I see know reason why it can’t facilitate cross cultural relationships.

    There is a hazard of not fully understanding the gestures and courtesies, but whether it’s perceived as an insult or a genuine good faith attempt depends largely upon the preconceived attitudes of the other party.

    So I think I concur with the latter statement during the development process. I don’t profess to understand Nietzsche, but it seems to me to be a reflection upon what one has done, providing feedback to the development process. Beneficial results reinforce the behavior, negative results beget doubt.

    I don’t see why the two views are mutually exclusive.

    As for understanding what you were doing, I think eating now and digesting later is perfectly acceptable. When I taught leadership traits and principles by rote, I didn’t expect it to have much context for the learner at the time. For example, if “endurance” is a desirable characteristic of leadership, only when you’ve had to lead while tired, hungry, cold, wet, and in pain will you truly grok the importance of it.

    So immersing soldiers in simulated circumstances prior to deployment should raise their awareness of having to TRY to learn. Make their success (and their comfort) in training contingent on growing aware of acceptable behavior.

    If I don’t get the point, please tell me.

  2. I like the emphasis on understanding *how* people do cross-cultural interactions, because so much of our behavior is influenced by motives that we are not even aware of. A great way to develop the *how* is through narrative.

    “Human brains are more sensitized to narrative forms of knowledge about a situation than they are to analytical processes” (Lazaroff & Snowden, 2006).

    In my research, I have found that soldiers, especially when they are in unfamiliar situations, recall stories that they think (hope?) are relevantly related. Sometimes these stories are their own experiences, but many times they are stories from books or movies. So, the greater repertoire of genuinely relevant stories that a soldier has, the more (often subconscious) knowledge he can utilize to act appropriately.

    Brian, I bet that the stories that your fellow trainers told sitting around in the evening both revealed and incluenced how they interacted with Afghans during the day.

    Great conversation. Thanks for starting it.


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