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Circles of Social Life

Circles of Sustainability

The Circles of Sustainability approach enables the categorization of content throughout the Program Journals. Four domains, 28 sub-domains, and 162 unique topics is enough to create an information architecture alongside a curriculum. A journal format helps align research towards any reader interested in Sustainability and achieving some form of practice in their community. As needed, research and citations from the Circles group will be provided throughout as I serve no affiliation with the team. Please visit their website for more details and published research.

🔮 Research Circles

Utilizing the Circles of Sustainability concepts of Social Life, research into Explorations are further refined into Research Circles. These methods were developed by the Circles of Sustainability team to categorize Engagement and Knowledge, which is a great place to start analyzing complex sociological matters.

Engagement Circles

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Civil society is defined as the many forms of public associational life that exist beyond the spheres of the state or the market, not including personal and familial relations. The formation of civil society depends upon the distinction between the private and the public. In being in the public sphere, civil society thus does not encompass personal or immediate genealogical relations. Civil society organizations cross all four domains of social life: ecology, economics, politics and culture.

  1. Individuals and Communities
  2. Community-Based and Faith-Based Organizations
  3. Social Movements and Networks
  4. Non-government Organizations and Foundations

Governance institutions are defined as the many different forms of legitimated bodies that have a designated responsibility in relation to a defined territory, constituency, community, and/or regime of activity. Here the concepts of ‘institution’ or ‘having designated responsibility’ do not just include modern bodies with formal juridical power. For example, ‘elders and councils’ includes customary or traditional elders — informal but critically important political leaders in tribal or faith-based communities. Governance institutions have their primary base in the political domain.

  1. Elders and Councils
  2. Municipal and Provincial Governments
  3. States and Government Organizations
  4. International and Global Governance Organizations

Business organizations are defined as bodies that operate with their primary base in the economic domain and have a significant proportion of their activities directed towards a market of some kind.

  1. Small and Medium Enterprises
  2. Corporations and Large Enterprises
  3. Co-operatives and State-run Enterprises
  4. Non-profit and Social Enterprises

Research-based entities are defined as those bodies that have enquiry and learning as their primary purpose. Such entities can be based in institutions and organizations across any of the other three spheres of public engagement. However, even if they are initiated, funded or hosted by other entities, their primary purpose should be systematic enquiry in specified fields. In other words, even if they are researching economic, political or ecological questions, research-based entities have their primary base in the cultural domain. Complicating issues arise when enquiry is completely harnessed for instrumental ends. For example, when, for a particular organization, market-based performance indicators overwhelm the task of enquiry and the applied commercial outcomes become more important than the research itself, then this entity might be better described as a ‘business organization with research tasks’ than a ‘research-based entity’.

  1. Individual Researchers and Research Groups
  2. Research Centres and Institutes
  3. Universities and Colleges
  4. Think tanks and Research-based Foundations

Knowledge Circles

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The first form of knowing is sensory experience: feeling things. This is the phenomenal sense that something exists in relation to us, or has an impact on us. The concept of ‘affect’ attests to this kind of consciousness, as does ‘sense data’. But sensory experience is less technically conceived than those abstract expressions. It is embodied experience. It is felt, but not necessarily reflected upon. How we feel about our cities and homes is critical to how we act upon them.

  1. Sensate knowing: knowing based on being attuned to one’s senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste.
  2. Perceptive knowing: the cognitive apprehension of having experienced a sensation.
  3. Emotional knowing: the somatic feeling of affect, including the feeling for someone else’s situation; for example, the blush of shame; the clenched fists of anger.
  4. Revelatory knowing: a visceral response to a particular scene or sound paradoxically experienced as ‘out of body’: for example, the experience of the sublime or ‘being touched’ by the transcendental.

The second form is practical consciousness: knowing practically or pragmatically how to do things; knowing how to ‘go on’. Practical consciousness is basic to human action in the world. Writers as different as Wittgenstein and Marx have elaborated upon this theme. Often we just know how to do things without reading instruction manuals. This way of knowing comes from long-term practical experience. Such experience is fundamental to generating good practice and remaking our cities in positive ways.

  1. Experiential knowing: knowledge based on doing things many times: for example, craft knowledge.
  2. Intuitive knowing: knowing through projecting possibilities; ‘conscious embodiment’ before it comes to reflective or articulated understanding; sometimes called ‘being savvy’.
  3. Tacit knowing: knowledge that cannot be articulated or translated into written form.
  4. Situated knowing: knowledge that is specific to a particular place or time.

The third form is reflective consciousness. This is the modality in which people reflect upon their felt experience and practical knowledge. It is the stuff of ordinary philosophy. It is what thoughtful practitioners often do when they get a chance to step back from a project — thinking about what has been done, what is to be done, and how could it be done better. It is the basis of good interpretation. It is necessary to good urban design and project management.

  1. Trained knowing: knowledge based on learning supported by teachers and/or curriculum.
  2. Contemplative knowing: knowledge that emerges in the saying or the thinking. For example, knowing that comes through linguistic consciousness, such as in the moment of saying ‘I love you’ and realizing in the act that it is true or otherwise; or knowing that comes through trying out ideas and seeing if they sound right.
  3. Analytical knowing: knowledge based on breaking things down into their constituent parts: deductive knowledge.
  4. Theoretical knowing: theoretical work that makes a claim about the determination, framing or meaning of something.

The fourth form is reflexive consciousness, or knowledge that comes in interrogating the nature of knowing while seeking to understand the world. Reflexivity requires reflection upon the constitutive conditions of being here or doing things. In the Circles approach reflexivity goes beyond reflecting upon techniques, processes and practices. It involves standing back from and reinterpreting those techniques and practices in the light of the nature of thinking and acting that underlies those techniques and practices. This process of interrogating the conditions of our practice is tenuous, recursive, and always partial. But it is necessary to good practice in a world that is full of both fashionable and commonsense claims about what should be done — some helpful, some not.

  1. Recursive knowing: knowledge that bears back upon itself and constantly interrogates the basis of its own knowledge.
  2. Epistemological knowing: knowledge about the different forms of knowledge; that is, classic epistemology understood in the sense of the study of knowledge.
  3. Meta-analytical knowing: analysis that reflects back on the basis of its analysis. For example, methodology studies, which work through the way in which we make claims about things. Another example is psychoanalysis of the kind that entails its practitioners reflecting on their own reflectiveness as they do their work. In other words, this is a kind knowing in which the subject and the object are brought into constant dialogue.
  4. Meta-theoretical knowing: theoretical work that seeks to understand the world while theorizing the possibilities of its own theorizing.

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