On necessity, subjectively felt

A discussion last month in a small, international collaboration about how each of us sets priorities led one person to talk about being driven by necessity. That set me puzzling over what it means to feel a sense of necessity — that is, we have to do something (and not do other things) — especially in a collaboration in which we hope to make it possible for other people to respond to crises (and opportunities?) in new ways — in short, to change.
The first step was to list different sources of objective and subjective necessity — from physical coercion and working to put food in one’s mouth to feeling committed to some collectivity acting to resist the coercions of the state and the exploitation of the economic system. I found myself confused by the mix of ideas.
The second step was to list some examples and see if they fell into categories, e.g., an immigrant needs to learn the language of the new country (so as to get work, to understand what is happening, to have social relations); a person with a cancer diagnosis gets treated or changes their behavior in other ways; when there have been lots of robberies in one’s neighborhood, one might erect a wall and put wire and broken glass along the top; when one’s children’s other parent dies or leaves, one has to arrange meals, clothing, afterschool care for the children…
This listing of examples could continue, allowing us to test any conceptualization of necessity that might be put forward — does it capture or accommodate the range of examples? That led to a further step, in which I formulated the following schema — comments welcome.


I started to think about how any approach to scaffolding moves people through this space, say from bottom left to top middle and then middle right.



About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see bit.ly/pjtaylor). He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (bit.ly/tbhblog)

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