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Philosophical Foundations of Coaching: Ontology

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Static Constructivism: Societal Invention

Social constructivism has offered Western thought quite a challenge (Berger and Luckmann, 1966). Advocates believe that we construct our own social realities, based in large part on societal inventions—the traditions and needs of culture and the social-economic context in which we find ourselves. There are no universal truths or principles, nor are there any global models of justice or order that can be applied in all settings, at all times, with all people. While this constructivist perspective is often considered a product of late 20th century thought (at least in the Western world) the early versions of social constructivism can be traced back to the anthropology and sociology of the early 20th century. Reports from these disciplines documented radically different perspectives operating in many nonwestern societies and cultures regarding the nature of reality and ways in which members of diverse communities view themselves and their interpersonal and group relationships.

This initial version of constructivism is essentially static, for these social constructions are based on deeply rooted beliefs and assumptions of specific societies and cultures. There are specific communities that espouse their own unique ways of knowing. These communities may consist of people who are living together or people who are working together. Organizations create their own culture and their own constructions of reality. Specific ways of knowing are based on and reinforced by the community and do not allow for significant divergence among those living in the community. Furthermore, while these ways of knowing may themselves change over time and in differing situations, such changes are gradual and often not noticed for many years.

We thus find a constructivism that is static and a process of coaching that focuses on surfacing these stable, but often unacknowledged and very powerful, societal assumptions and beliefs. It is the role of the coach to challenge these assumptions and beliefs and to help clients trace out the implications of these societal constructions for their own actions as members and even leaders of these societies and cultures. As anthropologists and sociologists, organizational coaches should understand something about the culture of their society—or of a specific organization. One of us (Bergquist and Brock, 2008) recently wrote about six unique cultures that exist in most contemporary organizations. Each of these cultures has its own stable construction of reality and is resistant to change. Coaches themselves dwell in one or more of these six cultures, hence have their own biased perspectives that are created by and reinforced within these cultures. Thus, as Julio would seem to suggest, it is critical for coaches to not only help their clients become aware of their social constructions, but also become aware of the ways in which they, as coaches, construct their own realities.

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