Conversation Theory
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220 A g r e e m e n t s u p p l e m e n t s ConversAtion theory mAp loCAtion D, 2, 3 threAD loCAtions Pages 23, 31 sCApe Knowledge is Created through Conversation Conversants Language Agreements Memory Importance of Theory and Deep Concepts Credibility Conversation Theory is composed of is composed of is composed of is composed of a key theory is explained in helps define Author R. David Lankes Figure 108 A g r e e m e n t s u p p l e m e n t s 221 Agreement DesCription In an interview with an Italian library journal, I was asked, “The conversation” is a brilliant metaphor, since The Cluetrain Manifesto, but somehow vague. According to you, which forms can the conversation take? I responded that conversation is not a metaphor. When I say “knowledge is created through conversation,” I mean that at least two parties are actively going back and forth in an engaged manner and language is being exchanged. Why “parties” and not people? What do I mean by the notion that language is exchanged? Let me start at a basic level. This is all grounded in Pask’s Conversation Theory (although he does it at a much deeper level). A conversation has four parts: 1. Conversants: at least two parties, 2. Language: sets of meaning going back and forth, 3. Agreements: shared understandings between the conversants arrived at through language, and 4. An Entailment Mesh: a collection and relation of the agreements. Conversants: Parties to a Conversation In a conversation, you have at least two parties or “agents.” Why not call them people? Because agents are a scalable notion, that is to say, it can be two people (you and I), two groups (say a teacher and his or her students), two organizations (like a library and a vendor negotiating a contract), two countries (a treaty), or even two societies (the great conversation on the meaning of life). Likewise, these agents can be within a single person. In fact, it is the basis of a lot of instruction and education theory. Call it metacognition or critical thinking skills, or simply arguing with yourself, you have these conversations all the time. If you just asked yourself, “What does he mean by that?!,” who are you asking? Pask, in about 100 pages of dense prose, says that you are in a conversation with different aspects of yourself set up to come to some agreement about a concept. Waking up in the morning and deciding what to wear (“This makes me look fat, this is too dressy…”) is a conversation. Also, this conversation can happen over a great period of time and through a series of media. So, you read this book (my part of the conversation), think about it, and send me an e-mail about how you agree, or disagree, or simply want clarification. That is a conversation (to be precise, if you are reading this book, you are having a conversation with yourself; it is only if you start sending me feedback that I get involved). Language: Talking at Their Level So what are these two or more agents doing? They are exchanging language . This may seem obvious, but it has a lot of implications. There is a large body of research about how people exchange language. For example, there is a discussion on how people know how to take turns in a conversation. There is active research in how people determine things such as power relationships in a conversation (e.g., who is in charge). All of this research is relevant here and can be (and has been) applied to conversations in libraries. However, Conversation Theory does not directly examine these aspects of conversations. It omits them for several reasons, not the least of which is that much of Pask’s work predates discourse theory. More important for us, however, is that Pask wasn’t just dealing with language between two people. Conversations can also be between two organizations or two parts of one individual. So he approached it in a much more general way. It is also a way that has great implications for how libraries work on a day-to-day basis. When two agents are sharing language, they do so at one of two levels. The first level is directed and pretty low level. This kind of language is used when at least one of the conversants doesn’t know much about...