Leading into the Future VII: Constructivism and Postmodernism
In other words, we always perceive one set of lenses or perspectives from yet another set of lenses. Thus, there is the danger of infinite regression among the social constructivists. The relativistic social construction of reality might itself be a social construction, revealing something about the disrupting times in which we now live. Thomas Kuhn’s observation about paradigms might itself be a social scientific paradigm of history that will soon be overturned by yet another paradigm; Michael Foucault’s critique regarding the social/political origins of knowledge must itself be placed in a social/political context.
The Polanyi dilemma becomes particularly poignant when considering, as the French psychoanalyst Lacon did, the act of self-reflection. When one is attending to oneself in a mirror, one is attending back (in Polanyi’s terms) to that from which one attends. Similarly, the subject is observing himself in the mirror when any organization attempts to study and understand itself—whether it be by means of management information, program evaluations or organization development initiatives. Yet, the base from which one is attending can never be the subject of analysis, unless the base itself is changed. If the base is changed, then the new base will still remain elusive and incapable of simultaneous review. Thus, an organization that brings in an outside consultant to study its culture will be subject to the particular perspectives (including distortions) of the consultant’s own culture.
To turn around and study the consultant’s culture in order to gain a better perspective on the consultant’s report regarding one’s own culture would require the hiring of yet another consultant to study the first consultant, or would require that the client organization study the consultant’s culture. The first alternative would lead to infinite external regression (a consultant for the consultant for the consultant, ad infinitum); the second would lead to a never-ending internal regression (like looking at mirror images of mirror images of mirror images, ad infinitum). Hence, according to the constructivists, one can never obtain an “objective” assessment of an institution, even with the help of a skilled and honest external consultant.