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Agentive Spaces, the “Background”, and Other Not Well Articulated Influences in Shaping our Lives


  • John Shotter

    Research Associate
    1. Emeritus Professor of Communication, Department of Communication, University of New Hampshire, U.S.A.
    2. Centre for Philosophy of Natural & Social Science (CPNSS), London School of Economics, UK
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What is special about all our living exchanges with our surroundings is that they occur within the ceaseless, intertwined flow of many unfolding strands of spontaneously responsive, living activity. This requires us to adopt a kind of fluid, process thinking, a shift from thinking of events as occurring between things and beings existing as separate entities prior to their inter-action, to events occurring within a continuously unfolding, holistic but stranded flow of events, with no clear, already existing boundaries to be found anywhere (Mol & Law, 1994)—a flow of events within which we ourselves are also immersed. We thus become involved in activities within which we find things happening to us, as much as we make things happen in our surroundings—in other words, our surroundings are also agentive in that they can exert “calls” upon us to respond within them in appropriate ways. Consequently, what we can learn in such encounters is not just new facts or bits of information, but new ways of relating or orienting ourselves bodily to the others and othernesses in the world around us—although much can “stand in the way” of our doing this. My concern below is to explore events happening on the (inter)-subjective side of the Cartesian subject/object divide which “shape” our spontaneous ways of acting in, and reflecting on, the “worlds” within which we live out our lives.