being at home in this world of before, now, becoming…

The content of this post was developed for a day at CERES together with oases Graduate School on Relating (community) in a course called Being Together: Being Sustaining. The overall program had three main days: Relating (self), Relating (community) and Relating (environmentally) interspersed with evenings of conversations.

The session described below followed one on individualism and connectedness, the present day discourse around autism and narcissism, the historical and contemporary destruction of community, the calls for dialogic and collective renewal, drawing participants attention to the importance of language, of slow-ness and conversation…by Jacques Boulet. On the day these two more cerebral sessions were interspersed with engagement with art, individually, in pairs and as a group. The intention of this structuring was to engage both physically through expression as well as cognitively with these concepts.

The intention of this session was/is to (further) develop a sense of belonging to the planet (global citizenship) at the same time as belonging to a unique part of the planet (thanks to Lance Briggs for this), with recognition that humanity and its technologies are now deeply embedded.

In At Home in the World [1]

“ours is an era of uprootedness, with fewer and fewer people living out their lives where they are born.”

Question – Where were you born? What is home, for you?

In At Home in the World Jackson describes

“home as never a stable essence…but a constantly negotiated relationship between being closed and open, acting and being acted upon…in defining home, we continue to define ourselves.”

Let’s now go to ideas about indigeneity and native…

In The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language [2]

in•dig•e•nous (n-dj-ns) is defined as: adj.
1. Originating and living or occurring naturally in an area or environment. See Synonyms at native.
2. Intrinsic; innate
The etymology is from the Latin indigena, a native

In the Collins English Dictionary [3]

Indigenous [ɪnˈdɪdʒɪnəs] is defined similarly but with a more detailed etymology…

adj (when postpositive, foll by to)
1. originating or occurring naturally (in a country, region, etc.); native
2. innate (to); inherent (in)
[from Latin indigenus, from indigena indigene, from indi– in + gignere to beget]

To beget in – so for example if we follow this line of thinking those born here in Melbourne (Kulin country) or considering themselves as innate to or inherent in this country could consider themselves to be indigenous to this area.

What might it mean to live an indigenous life in Melbourne? Substitute any place.

Home is related to a sense of belonging…(just the other day my father surprised me when he spoke of England, he migrated from there some 54 years ago, as home. Even though he has not spoken this way in my presence before…), somehow he is being “drawn” back to his birth place (not physically he does not seem to have an interest in going there) but in his thinking and being…

Belonging is related to:

  • People
  • Land/place – local/global and in-between
  • “Things” – material environment
  • Time (related also to age?)

When we have technologies that bring what is physically remote close (information and communication technology and cars, planes and trucks) what does this mean for belonging? Peter Singer in his book One World [4]calls for a global ethic as

  • we now have these technologies allowing us to connect globally
  • we now know that what we do here and now affects our planet (through GHG emissions, our use of water here affects others remotely (farming, waste water etc in rivers and ground water etc)) Brian Eno’s Long Now and Big Here [5] quote
  • what Singer describes as one atmosphere, one economy, one law, and one community. We now have a different concept of the earth having had images broadcast to us from satellites and other space craft. Earth from Space YouTube  and
  • that we now need to go beyond justifying our behaviour to our tribe or group (our traditional approach) and extend it to the world.

For many practising this is hard as it requires a shift in the way that we see/feel/be in the world and the “things” in it.

Process philosophy – all sorts of processes have brought us to where we are in relation to technology. Systems, networks, processes, technologies and institutions “fix” the way that we view, understand and be in the world. It is hard to move beyond these “fixed” images.

For example, that water in the major capital cities of Australia is “endless” because of the vast system that sits behind the delivery of water to our taps. Disconnected reference to water use – the “bill”, what we see in the media, but in our daily lives we see the greenness of a watered landscape.

Another example: the production of energy in the Yallourn Valley using coal-fired power stations and kilometers of high-tension wires and again disconnects us from the “reality” of production.

Further, the sense of belonging that comes as part of being in an organisation or institution – even though these might not be considered “human scale” we can still form close affiliations with them.

These are vast systems, networks, processes and institutions that “do” things for us. We have shifted from “prime movers” to controllers of vast systems, networks, processes, technologies and institutions (Smil [11]). And yet we cannot do without them, what should we do with them?

Some books about these shifts and changes over time (Australian)

  • Flannery, Future Eaters [6]
  • Lines, Taming the Great South Land [7]
  • Keneally, Australians [8]
  • ABC TV Video, First Australians [9]
  • Cathcart, The Water Dreamers [10]

Particularly this last one, describes how our sense (as recent settlers) of what Australia is has shifted over time, how we have come to ‘belong’ in/on this land.


  • Smil, 2006 Transforming the Twentieth Century: Technical Innovations and their Consequences [11]
  • Ralston Saul, Voltaire’s Bastards [12]
  • Diamond, J, Guns, Germs and Steel [13]

Further, in relation to communication Marshall McLuhan in The Medium is the Message, 1967 says that

“The medium of our time is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of your personal life. It is forcing you to re-consider and re-evaluate every thought and every institution you formerly took for granted.”

And he was talking about phones, TV and newspapers but now we have mobiles, the internet and social media, including twitter. What does it mean to you to belong to twitter?

With these technologies our boundaries are shifting (thanks to Keith de la Rue AcKnowledge Consulting) in ways that are deeply challenging:

  • Between Work: Personal
  • Relationships to and within organisations
  • Between the silos within organisations and of expertise and specialists
  • What and who we share with
  • The changing media and the citizen journalist
  • The notion of competition/cooperation

How do we “belong” in such a world? Invite participation here….

I suggest Ontological Politics (Mol [14]) – beyond superficialities ontology is “ways of being” it goes beyond ways of knowing or epistemology which is what is often what is taught in our education system.

It is answering the question what do we need to know to be able to do something in the world?

Ontology asks how do we “be” in the world?

Helen Watson-Verran [15] in her work with African children teaching them maths noted different ontological perspectives. African children on seeing canoes beside a river would describe “canoeness” whereas in our way of seeing the world we would count the number of canoes. How do children with such different perspectives come to grips with number? Work at an ontological level requires deep conversations – how do we understand someone who comes from a very different ontological perspective. Even this word is fraught as we have a visual ontology (perspective) we see but others “feel” their way in the world.

In Watson-Veran’s work she found that some children were more able to articulate their shifting perspectives – it is these children that can help the others to “get” the concept. They have a closer understanding of the “other” ontological perspective.

Also Watson-Verran was using the approach that Salyers in her paper “Formal English Without Tears: Rewriting the Narrative of Developmental Students” suggests helps students with difficulty with english learn more effectively by listening and engaging people in using the language and describing concepts these students are “re-languaging” creating new neural pathways and embedding them so that the new language starts to belong to the user.

This “embedding” though requires lots of practice and it helps that (some) others that you work with also are on a path such as this so that there is a friendly place in which to “play” with the languaging.

So I need to speak less and you need to speak more – to embed these ideas in your neural pathways… Again invite participation in the conversation here…

This same thing applies between different silos in organisations for example as well as between experts from different specialties and with those and lay people. And in relationships with “others” both human and non-human. You may have felt this with a pet – despite that it is not human you can understand something of how it is relating.

Returning to humans, individuals come from different ontological perspectives, because we have all had different experiences and come from different places – we see/feel/know things differently. In trying to “see” or “know” or “live life” from a different ontological “position” it is extraordinarily difficult and also involved is choosing which to “go with”.

One perspective that I would like to draw on is the sense of the future. In the Long Now and Big Here [5] paper Bryan Eno describes:

“Humans are capable of a unique trick: creating realities by first imagining them, by experiencing them in their minds. When Martin Luther King said “I have a dream”, he was inviting others to dream it with him. Once a dream becomes shared in that way, current reality gets measured against it and then modified towards it. As soon as we sense the possibility of a more desirable world, we begin behaving differently, as though that world is starting to come into existence, as though, in our minds at least, we’re already there. The dream becomes an invisible force which pulls us forward. By this process it starts to come true. The act of imagining something makes it real.”


  1. Jackson, M., At Home in the World. 1995: Duke University Press.
  2. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, (Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved)
  3. Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003
  4. Singer, P., One World: the ethics of globalisation. 2002, Melbourne, Australia: The Text Publishing Company.
  5. Eno, B., The Big Here and Long Now. 2000: http:///, Accessed 19th June 2005.
  6. Flannery, T.F., The Future Eaters: An ecological history of the Australasian lands and people. 1994, Chatswood, Australia: Reed Books. 423.
  7. Lines, W.J., Taming the Great South Land. 1999 ed. 1991, Athens, Georgia, USA: University of Georgia Press.
  8. Keneally, T., Australians. Vol. 1: Origins to Eureka. 2009, Crows Nest, NSW, Australia: Allen & Unwin.
  9. ABC TV, The First Australians. 2007: Australia.
  10. Cathcart, M., The Water Dreamers: The Remarkable History of Our Dry Continent. 2009, Melbourne, Australia: The text Publishing Company.
  11. Smil, V., Transforming the Twentieth Century: Technical Innovations and Their Consequences. 2006, Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press.
  12. Saul, J.R., Voltaire’s Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West. 1993, Ringwood, VIC: Penguin Books.
  13. Diamond, J., Guns, Germs and Steel. 1998, London: Vintage  Random House.
  14. Mol, A., Ontological Politics. A word and some questions, in Actor Network theory and after, J. Law and J. Hassard, Editors. 1999, Blackwell Publishers: Oxford UK; Malden, MA. p. 74-89.
  15. Watson-Verran, H. and D. Turnbull, Science and Other Indigenous Knowledge Systems, in Handbook of Science and Technology Studies, S. Jasanoff, et al., Editors. 1995, Sage Publications: Thousand Oaks; London; New Delhi. p. 115-139.

About Jenni

I am interested in working with others to enhance the sustainability of human systems. My practice is to engage with people by drawing on their own ways of knowing and understanding. I orient people toward the “pull” of future intentions, rather than the blind "push" of past habits and "best practice". I encourage people to break out of their cognitive silos, to think laterally and to focus on the whole problem systemically in all its inter-disciplinary complexity. My practice works through the essential processes of innovation – mobilising resources, enrolling peers, engaging allies and building public support. This form of engineering practice is about manoeuvring, dissolving boundaries, always being in action, and recognising that function, congruence and transformation are emergent properties generated through active learning by doing.
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