Governance as “Juggling” — Juggling as “Governance”


Anthony Judge | Laetus in Praesens – TRANSCEND Media Service

Dynamics of Braiding Incommensurable Insights for Sustainable Governance


14 May 2018 – There is a case for recognizing the extent to which governance of many kinds is a matter of “juggling” parameters, variables, resources, people, schedules, risks, and disparate skills. If “juggling” is used metaphorically to describe this process, the question here is whether skillful “juggling”, as practiced in governance, may well involve skills which can be explored to some degree through juggling as practiced with multiple objects — and between several jugglers. A similar question can be asked with regard to the disparate concepts, principles and values with which many are obliged to “juggle”.

Reference is frequently made to the need of parents to “juggle” career, spousal commitment, child care, and recreational priorities — and the stress this may entail if it proves difficult to manage skillfully. This can be recognized as a common challenge of domestic governance. However it is seldom clear what meaning is then to be associated with “juggle”, other than handling conflicting demands as proves most feasible. With an allusion to the challenge of juggling, reference is also made to “keeping balls in the air” successfully or to the challenge of “too many balls in the air“.

It is too readily assumed that successful governance can be based on achievement of a relatively simple understanding of consensus. Similarly it is perhaps too readily assumed that the various quests for conceptual unity, or the coherence of sets of principles and values, can be achieved through what is effectively a static assemblage of building blocks. As separately argued, this may be misleading (The Consensus Delusion: mysterious attractor undermining global civilization as currently imagined, 2011). The possibility for sustainable governance may lie in the kind of dynamic coherence exemplified by juggling, rather than in any essentially static framework — unfortunately symbolized by the association of global governance with “states”. This can be argued with respect to reporting of global issues (Dynamic Transformation of Static Reporting of Global Processes: suggestions for process-oriented titles of global issue reports, 2013).

It is appropriate to note that the skills and practice of juggling have long been of interest to mathematics (Burkard Polster, The Mathematics of Juggling, 2003). Notations like Siteswap have been developed to clarify the complexity of the different possible juggling patterns and to enable the discovery of new patterns. Various detailed animations have been developed to enable these to be more readily comprehended. The movements of juggled objects necessarily trace out patterns which can be explored as helical braids (as with braided cords). Braiding possibilities are also of great interest to mathematics — as illustrated with respect to the basic 3-ball juggling pattern by Polster.

There is widespread current interest in the Triple Helix thesis (as a focus of the Triple Helix Research Group of Stanford University) regarding the potential for innovation and economic development in a knowledge society. This is framed in terms of a more prominent role for the university and in the hybridisation of elements from university, industry and government to generate new institutional and social formats for the production, transfer and application of knowledge. It is in this sense that the triadic thinking underlying the activities promoted by the Triple Helix Association merits particular attention, as instigated by Henry Etzkowitz (Triple Helix: a new model of innovation, 2005).

As articulated by its Vice-Rector, the Triple Helix is a flagship strategic framework for the University of Melbourne (Glyn Davis, Growing Esteem: a discussion paper, 2014). Somewhat ironically, the mathematical study of juggling by Burkard Polster has been developed in Monash University, a major competitor to the University of Melbourne in the Australian State of Victoria. In this context, metaphorical use of “braid” has been curiously made in reconciling the Triple Helix concept with a triadic framing in sociophysics by Paris Arnopoulos (Braiding the Triadic Codex and Triple Helix: the sociophysics of nature-culture-nurture and academy-industry-polity, 2000).

Extensions of the Triple Helix concept are currently envisaged to Quadruple and Quintuple variants. One approach to the further exploration of such conceptual “braiding” is in the geometrical terms which it suggests, notably in 3D form now possible in virtual reality (Visualization in 3D of Dynamics of Toroidal Helical Coils, 2016). These beg the question as to the nature of the bonding between the threads, so fundamental to the double helix of DNA which has been an inspiration for the Triple Helix model. A related metaphor is offered by the manner in which disparate themes can be “woven” together (Interweaving Thematic Threads and Learning Pathways, 2010; Warp and Weft of Future Governance: ninefold interweaving of incommensurable threads of discourse, 2010).

The particular interest in what follows is in how metaphors themselves can be cognitively “juggled”, given the degree to which metaphor offers a valuable insight into subtlety, whilst avoiding premature definitional closure. In such terms, it is appropriate to note the variety of studies from a semantic perspective. The value of this approach is also emphasized by the extent to which the psychological and neurosciences are exploring the role of juggling in cognitive development.

Might it indeed be the case that the challenges of governance could be more fruitfully explored both through metaphor and through how metaphors can be juggled — necessarily dynamically — in the light of both the skills of practitioners and insights into possible patterns from mathematics? In that sense the functions of governance — whether associated with particular departments or ministries — then also draw upon the mythical figures of pantheons which are so frequently used in iconic symbols of such departments, most notably in the case of international agencies of the United Nations.

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