The Frame is Only Part of the Whole Picture

Leo Smyth

Professor of Management, National University of Ireland

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Gareth Morgan, who is a writer in the organization literature, has a lovely sound byte that I keep quoting that I don't know if it was originally to him. He says, "A way of seeing is a way of not seeing." If you, either as a third party or as a conflict participant, go into looking at any conflict situation in a frame of economic determinism, terrorism, structural violence, poor communications, power politics, or any of these kind of things, the danger is that you will get considerable insight, but it will be only partial. We tend to forget that it's only partial. It's like the classic story of the three blind men feeling the elephant, you know, each one has a different perception. 

It may be even worse than that. If that was all it was we might be able to stick together all these various partial perceptions and come up with some kind of concept of the whole. But if you think of it in terms like that of the physicists struggles, you know with whether elementary particles or a wave or a particle, and the shattering realization that if you look for a particle, you'll find a particle. If you look for a wave, you'll find a wave. Then that's really rather mind-blowing for how we understand what is conflict. It seems to me that if we then go in and say, "Yeah, well I know what's going on here, it's structural violence," yeah, we'll find structural violence. We'll therefore find how to diagnose that and therefore we'll find how to fix it. If you go in saying that this has to do with the fact that these people are not communicating and cannot communicate, you'd probably find that, and similarly you would diagnose it and analyze it and prescribe for it in those kind of ways.