Normal service is about to resume

January 30, 2016 § Leave a comment

Practical householding and other, creative demands, have distracted my attention from psyCommons for a while.

Happily this hasn’t been so for everyone.

Thomas Allan, who has been developing the psyCommons notion with enthusiasm posts  these extracts from a recent conversation.

‘Reaching Sustainable Agreements in Negotiations on Commons’


Brigitte Kratzwald (BK), Thomas Allan (TA), Jed Walls (JW) and Nora Masch (NM) discuss the psyCommons at Leuphana University Online Course “The Psychology of Negotiations –”.

TA: With a background working with people with intellectual disabilities, I’m concerned about the ability of government bureaucracies, markets or some combination of the two to adequately respond to and meet individual and community need. I’m also concerned with issues of social marginality in negotiations. How can we support people who have few resources and little control over their lives to engage? How can we prevent people being excluded from both the processes and outcomes of negotiations? My experience is that negotiations still overwhelmingly happen as a top-down approach which professionals initiate and retain primary control over the processes of planning and decision making. Community members are subsequently invited to join a consultation which is typically a less democratic process as decisions have often already been made by ‘experts’. UK Social Care Researcher Dr Sarah Carr explains:

“Research concerning the involvement of people with learning difficulties indicates that effective interaction within a consultation can only happen when there is an attempt to redress the power balance between managers and policy makers and people with learning difficulties. It is also emphasised that professionals still exercise considerable power over disabled people’s lives. Each profession assumes a language, a set of values and practices that privileges the practitioner. Hitherto, a clear division between the expert provider and lay user has reinforced their enhanced status.”

Secondly, the approach taken on The Psychology of Negotiations is that negotiations on commons happen locally at the level of social networks, groups, small organizations and so on. But marginalization can occur at individual, community, professional and structural levels as well. Interpersonal relationships are ‘nested’ within broader social structures and influenced by issues around ownership and control of land and organizations, public policy, welfare and legal structures, and inequality of income and other resources. This in turn can affect cognition, perceptions, behaviours and psychological processes at the individual level, as explained in influential books such as ‘The Spirit Level’. So I’m also conscious that negotiations are human experiences with human connections and emotion as well as instrumental, material benefits and opportunities.

So is it possible to integrate the idea of the psyCommons (psychological commons) into The Psychology of Negotiations? The psyCommons is explained by Denis Postle on the P2P Foundation as follows: The basis of the proposition of a ‘psychological commons’ is that everyone develops a store of knowledge about all of the key elements that could be called ‘psychological’ – their own and others motivations, recognition of patterned behaviours, how they and others make decisions, and so on. This flux of myriad understandings, insights and expectations forms a resource, a commons – a psychological commons that we are free to tap into and add to. And on occasion to challenge – that’s to say, as with any commons, there are issues of governance.

BK: As far as I understand it psyCommons reminds me of social critic Ivan Illich’s “Entmündigung durch Experten”. I’m not quite sure whether it is “The Age of Disabling Professions” in English, but I think so.

But perhaps we should not have a nostalgic look to the past. In the past many people didn’t have access to psychological support; some didn’t understand their own needs nor learn to express them and to communicate with each other in an adequate way. Many people were not even considered to have their ‘own’ needs, but had to submit to the needs of others and their individuality was broken systematically. Women, children, older people and sick people were mistreated and suppressed. So for some these new psychological professions brought real improvement.

But it’s true that in the last 50 years or so there was a huge emphasis on psychological issues in our societies. A process Michel Foucault called “biopolitics”: how politics aims on the very subjectivity of individuals trying to fit them into the system’s logic. At the same time individuals have become ever more isolated from each other.

The consequences are outlined very well by Denis Postle. Different modes of behaviour or dispositions are turned into “diseases” that require treatment; each problem has its own professional expert and solving problems without experts becomes suspicious. People become dependent on experts and lose the ability to solve problems themselves.

But there is a positive aspect too. In days gone by a child may have been considered to be lazy or not very clever if they couldn’t follow the curriculum at school. Today there are a lot of special programs [and practitioners] to support and encourage children with different disabilities that were not even known some 20 years ago. Or, for example, if you tell your boss you are tired and you need a day off, they may say if you can’t meet the required performance you should look for another job. But if a medical professional states that you suffer from burnout or have a certain condition in need of special support you’ll find understanding and sympathy everywhere – oh, take any time you need to recover!

Also, I think in a time where things change so rapidly and traditional relations and experiences are not working for you, counselling and coaching might be very helpful. The most important thing, I suppose, is whether the ‘experts’ prescribe what is best for you or they help you to find out yourself what is best for you.

I’m not sure how to integrate the topic of the psyCommons into the psychology of negotiations, but I’m curious to find out. Probably in negotiations with ‘shared power’ which value ‘ordinary wisdom’ negotiations are more likely to be successful; but, on the other hand, we know that facilitators can be very helpful in commons negotiations. If the psyCommons can help people recognize their needs, resources and how to match them, a psyCommons could be an additional outcome of a commons negotiation?

NM: Denis Postle broadens the perspective of commons to psychological resources as well. The idea of common sense knowledge and knowledge we gather in everyday interaction with others as commons is interesting. Understanding the world around us is a soft skill crucial for personal and professional development. Postle gives this example:

“A mother and grandmother are walking home with young grandson who is riding his bike. At a pedestrian crossing he appears to be ignoring a bus that is approaching. His mother shouts at him very loudly. He is very upset by this – An hour later the grandson is still very tearful because his mother had been so angry and had shouted at him. His grandmother says – listen, your mother wasn’t angry, she was afraid, she thought you were in danger. Hearing this, the grandson’s distress evaporates.”

I recall that Eric Berne [creator of Transactional Analysis] used a similar example for the common sense of knowledge. He argued that young children are like aliens. They are not “stupid”; they just don’t know the rules yet. If we experience an irritating or frightening situation we can take a step back and view what happened from a distance. Children often cannot distance themselves from their direct (emotional) experience. This leads to problems with understanding and community, because in many situations there is no grandmother to translate the child’s experience. He might get the idea that if he is happy and plays and runs his mother doesn’t like him the way he is. This misunderstanding can lead to greater problems in the child’s behaviour if he understands different situations this way.

For me this creates new questions. Can this knowledge be negotiated? How can one negotiate in their community to lay a good basis for learning and developing?

TA: Brigitte, I really like the link to Foucault and how you say ‘politics aims on the very subjectivity of individuals trying to fit them into the system’s logic’. I tend to see psyCommons as important to both process and outcome of negotiations. The description of the psyCommons by David Bollier is useful here: “..the realm of the informal, the customary and the local – the social spaces in our lives that are largely exempt from bureaucratic or legal control, the spaces where people can negotiate their own shared understandings of intersubjective reality..”. The intersubjective experience is empathic experience; seeing things from another person’s perspective, which is very important in, say, conflict resolution. Conflict resolution is an important issue in negotiations and emotions play a central role in this. For example, negative emotions may cause conflict to escalate and break down, while positive emotions can facilitate the reaching of an agreement. Negotiating these social spaces is an important aspect of negotiations on commons.

Norah, I see this knowledge as socially constructed: knowledge created through social interaction in everyday contexts. Can knowledge be negotiated in the way that rules are put in place by parents for their children? For example, thoughts, feelings, attitudes and behavioural patterns based on lessons learnt from parents and other ‘parental’ or authoritarian sources. Many might accept negotiating knowledge based on empathic concern for learning and safety, but rule making can also have a negative effect where rules are insisted upon restricting the natural inquisitiveness of the child to grow and flourish, and where adults don’t question the rationale or ethical basis of this knowledge. This can transmit prejudicial views to children regarding the ‘usefulness’ and value to society of people with disability or other disadvantages. I think Transactional Analysis has useful techniques to uncover and understand these dynamics.

NM: A very important part of this question is personal growth and change, and psyCommons are very important for that.

What about the idea of psyCommons? What do others think about the concept and can you think of examples or relevant aspects to this concept?

JW: PsyCommons seems to detail the psychological landscape of cultures in a given environment. If I’m correct in this (and the rest of my comment hinges on that idea being correct) then it is a comment on the makeup of common sense, social representation, and media psychology as it affects cognition. Lots of good authors to explore in that world: Moscovici, Kurt Lewin, Lippman, for starters.

TA: Yes, those are useful connections. Negotiations are not limited to material resources but also cultural meanings. As I understand it, the psyCommons challenges dominant cultural narratives and media representations of mental distress (the ‘dangerous mental patient’) and the stereotyping and stigmatization that comes with this.


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