Policy Alternation for Development

Domains of significance

Anthony Judge

It is convenient to designate as a "domain" that subset of the space of psycho-social communication within which questions of a particular type maintain their credibility for sufficient time to sustain a discourse. If Attali's lead is to be pursued, the nature of such domains needs to be clarified.

Attali argues that three theories open the way to an analysis of the production and circulation of meaning in an organisation (5, pp. 207-208). The theories converge and give the following. An organisation exists:

  • when information having significance for its members is circulating and produces a compromise between identity and diversity (cf. Henri Atlan (17))
  • when the production of the organisation by itself obeys non-linear, continuous laws (cf. Prigogine (18))
  • when the dynamic law of a form can be elucidated from the discontinuities in its processes (cf. Rene Thom (19)).
The form may be destroyed by aggression, noise, fluctuation, catastrophe, or by the accumulation of internal conflicts. Attali argues that under the first two forms of truth, any such crisis can only be overcome by absorbing or eliminating the disturbance.

In order to link the argument more closely to human and social development, it is appropriate to express the organisation of such domains of significance in terms of the learning process (as in Diagram 4).

A domain of this type clearly remains fairly stable provided it can extract or "import" information (products) on which the learning process can feed. Knowledge, in the form of processed information, is then distributed out from the centre of the domain, or "exported" beyond its periphery, as part of the process maintaining the stability of the domain.

Before discussing the nature of this "learning" process in more detail, it is appropriate to note that it involves the accumulation of knowledge in one form or another. Domains based on the accumulation of knowledge, in its narrow sense, are not the only kinds of domain characteristic of society. Similar domains arise from other accumulation processes which each create a coherent environment for communication or exchange. At this stage it is therefore useful to make the argument more concrete by giving an extensive range of examples of accumulation which each tend to give rise to such domains (see Table 1).