Home Concepts Organizational Theory Professional Coaching, Plato’s Cave and the Sociology of Knowledge

Professional Coaching, Plato’s Cave and the Sociology of Knowledge

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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 help clients trace out the implications of these societal constructions for their own actions as members of these societies and cultures. As quasi-anthropologists and sociologists, professional coaches should understand something about the culture of their society—or of a specific organization. One of us (Bergquist and Brock, 2008) co-authored a book chapter in which six unique cultures were described 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, it is critical for coaches to not only help their clients become aware of their social constructions, but also become aware of ways in which they as coaches construct their own realities.

Dynamic Constructivism

While the objectivist perspective was prevalent during the modern era, and is still influencing our notions about “being,” the static constructivist perspective has often played a role as counter-point in late 20th century social discourse. This static constructivism has been a source of many challenges that have upset a modernist stance on the sociology of knowledge. The static constructivists have encouraged or even forced many of us to move from an absolute set of principles to a more situation-based relativism. Even greater challenges, however, are present. A dynamic constructivism moves well beyond the stability of broad-based societal and cultural perspectives. The emergence of a dynamic constructivist perspective represents a revolutionary change in the true sense of the term.

Language, narratives and self

Story and performance are hallmarks of dynamic constructivism. We live in a world of constructed realities that are constantly shifting and populated by language, semiotics and narratives. Language is no longer considered simply a handmaiden for reality, as the objectivists would suggest, nor does it construct a permanent (or at least resistant) reality, as the traditional social constructivists would argue. Furthermore, language is not a secondary vehicle we employ when commenting on the reality that underlies and is the reference point for this language. Dynamic constructivists take this analysis one step further by proposing that language is itself the primary reality in our daily life experiences. Language, originally and primarily relationship-based, assumes its own reality, and ceases to be an abstract sign that substitutes for the “real” things. Our cave is filled with language and conversations. With its very long history and heritage, an organization such as St. Vincent DePaul is particularly filled with language and conversations (echoing through the cave from many generations). This is reality—there is nothing outside the cave (or perhaps the cave doesn’t even exist).

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