Discourse Toolbox - Context Landscape

The Field, the Map and the Players

Context can be imagined in many ways -

  • as a dramatic landscape with geographical features (mountains, cities, roads, rivers, etc)
  • as a cast of characters (real people, caricatures, giants ….. ) who form relationships with each other ini the form of social and economic systems
  • or as a pattern or structure

As examples of this, in the UK food sector, the current "state of play" (my mental map) can be imagined

  1. as a dominance structure with the supermarkets and agri-business companies (food processors, factory farmers) at the top. These tend to drive small farmers out of business.
  2. The consumer, while satisfied with cheap essentials, may be at a disadvantage in future, as small shops become almost extinct.
  3. The Government seems to have switched from a directing role to become a regulatory body (to have switched from "army general" to "football referee"), having set up a multitude of agencies to achieve targets and implement policies.

Some other recent examples of these new contexts are:-

  • the growth of the Organic and Fair Trade movements (these have arisen as a reaction to over-concentration of technological and industrialised food production)
  • there is a groundswell for increased recycling and decreased packaging at the moment (in the UK this comes primarily from a shortage of landfill sites) This will influence the food industry soon ! (though they all appear to ignore this at the moment, they are probably all doing research on new eco-friendly packaging materials)

Essentially, this technique uses description and metaphor to describe the field and the players, especially in an attempt to gain new perspectives on the raw material of the survey, rather than to stereotype "the players" in a particular way, though there is clearly always a risk of big business being cast in the "ogre" role

This relates to two other fields:-

  1. Organisational Studies. We need to find ways
    to describe the environment in which organisations function,
    to describe how organisations relate to each other, ignore each other, form alliances, etc.
    to describe how and why they take action
    to characterise them in their approaches, as I have suggested above.
    Partly this is provided by discourse analysis, which looks at "what they think", and partly by looking at organisations in a wider context such as the techniques I suggest in the Organisational Studies section of this site

  2. Psychology. There are many ways of trying to work out what the mind is and how it works -
    different philosophies and different types of psychology, behavioural sciences, and many systems of mental techniques. When we are trying to look at how the mind works in relation to organisations, their actions, policies and systems, then methods like psychology and behavioural science are less useful, perhaps
    a). because we are working collectively in organisations, and our mental maps of our organisation are collective, with some individual elements depending on our position and roles within the organisation
    b). and because there is such a big difference between INSIDE an organisation, and how things are seen from OUTSIDE.

Using discourse we can work out what an organisation is saying (and thinking). However, many organisations only look at their small corner of the market - their competitors, the technology of their product range, the regulators for their sector, and their own sphere of operations.

There is extensive theoretical background to mental mapping techniques, including the work of popular authors such as Tony Buzan and Edward de Bono.

Mapping the wider context can show larger historical trends, cultural forces, and international dimensions of a sector - I am happy to discuss your requirements with you.

Please contact me at george@whatever-will.be if you are interested in the above

(0044)(0) 1372-749803

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