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Wednesday, August 5 • 16:30 - 17:00
Drawing Upon a Levinasian Ethics in Systemic Interventions

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Systems thinkers have been interested in different problem contexts including organizational and social contexts. Multiple systems approaches have been considered relevant to understand and tackle problems in these types of contexts. These systems approaches are underpinned by different ontological, epistemological, and ethical assumptions. In this paper we offer an alternative conception of what a systems approach might be by drawing upon the work of Emmanuel Levinas. This alternative conception is grounded on the notion that the relationship between the Same and the Other is the locus where both knowledge and ethics are involved. Ethics is conceived as the rise of responsibility that emerges in the encounter with the “face of the other”. “Face”, which does not mean here “human face”, involves a particular encounter with infinity. The latter is something beyond knowledge, an alterity irreducible to totality. The desire to consider the Other as part of a totality with the Same frequently implies reducing the Other to the Same and failing to embrace the Other’s alterity. Some professional interventions study and deal with organizations and social phenomena ignoring or trying to counteract the alterity of the Other. The notion of intentionality implicit in these interventions reveals to the observer a world that is constantly his/her own possession. With the denial of alterity the unity of reason as comprehension and knowledge imposes itself. The rationalities of others are rejected. We argue against these interventions that impose upon the world the products of my mind, that subsume the Other under the hegemony of the ‘I’ and ethics under the notion of knowledge. Our rejection of privileging the totality of being is also a rejection of the unity of reason. Drawing upon a Levinasian ethics we argue in favor of systems approaches that conceive the world as a multiplicity rather than a totality, and that are moved by a desire towards that which transcends me and my categories, that strives towards alterity. We encourage systems approaches that foster the responsibility that arises in the face of the Other, that encourage the ‘I’ to be taught by the Other, that call the identity of the systems thinker into question. We propose systemic interventions guided by a metaphysical desire that tends toward the other, but without producing the disappearance of distance. This preservation implies a difficulty in reuniting under one gaze the Same and the Other, a difficulty that poses ethical problems to the ideal of total comprehensiveness that is common in many systems approaches. The aforementioned difficulty arises when we conceive a system exclusively as a totality. Although we think that this notion has to be preserved we argue in favor of also preserving the notion of infinity. To cope with these two notions in a single systemic intervention, we propose using a logic of “both/and” rather than a logic of “either/or”. Hence the systems approach that we propose aims at preserving both totality and infinity as well as Same and Other. We illustrate our ideas by presenting a systemic intervention that uses them to design a conflict resolution program for young people that is being used in rural areas of Colombia.

Presenter / Artist

Luis Pinzon-Salcedo

Associate Professor, Universidad de los Andes

Wednesday August 5, 2015 16:30 - 17:00 CEST
Copenhagen 1 Scandic Berlin Potsdamer Platz, Gabriele-Tergit-Promenade 19, 10963 Berlin, Germany

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