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Coaching and the Sociology of Knowledge

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This issue of The Future of Coaching focuses on a somewhat elusive but critical theme operating in our world: the institutionalization of knowledge. Building on concepts coming from the sub-discipline called “the sociology of knowledge”, our theme this quarter concerns ways in which knowledge is framed in the various societies in our contemporary coaching world and the even more specific ways in which knowledge is framed in subsets of each society.

We are considering several fundamental epistemological (knowledge-based) questions. First, is there an objective “reality” that we can all agree exists and that can be measured with increasing accuracy, given the proper tools and technologies? To a certain extent, the core of this question is whether there can even be objective knowledge.  (It’s a bad joke, true—and more importantly, a funny truism:  We think there is an objective knowledge—it’s just that we don’t all share the same set of objectives.)

Second, are there important and influential ways in which we screen, interpret, and make use of knowledge we have acquired that tend to confirm and reinforce the world view we already hold? In other words, are we frequently participating in actions that produce “self-fulfilling prophecies” and consequently wind up creating silos of “true believers?”

We propose that these big questions are particularly for each of us to address not just with our clients, but also with ourselves and with our colleagues in the field and multi-discipline of professional coaching.   In this issue of The Future of Coaching, we’ve got some really interesting people and perspectives to weigh in.

We find, in general, that the sociology of knowledge focuses on two topics that should be of particular interest to professional coaches. First, there are the Ghosts that linger in our field. These are the perspectives and biases embraced by the men and women who founded the field of professional coaching or, at the very least, set the stage for our field to emerge as a viable domain of human service.  The past creates or at least influences or limits the future—unless we take it into account as we consider where we are going.

Second, there is Money.  The field of professional coaching provides the opportunity for some talented people to make a very good living providing valuable (and highly valued) services to C-Suite executives who are willing to pay quite a bit (or work in organizations that are willing to pay quite a bit) for these services. Does the opportunity for lucrative business bias the kind of work that coaches do? Are we willing, in any sense, to sell a small part of our soul in order to generate and retain high-paying contracts? Do we very often collude with our clients, reframe a question in order to please our client, and provide reassurances that their world-view is correct or at least aligned with the dominant perspectives and values of their organization (or society in which they live)?  Does money in the system create the opportunity for coaching to exist, incentivizing more and better approaches to helping humans in their work and lives?  We’re asking about what money (and other incentives, of course) does to the ideas and ideals of coaching.

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