The exercises below build on When Our Ideas Differ; you may wish to review that page in preparation.
The three EcoTypes themes of Place, Knowledge, and Action may not, at first glance, appear particularly different from EcoTypes axes, nor do their conflicting poles seem overly difficult to resolve. We often want to believe that conflicts like these can be harmonized—the Agree position—that is, until we give up and decide that there is no hope—the Disagree position.
Let’s explore themes more deeply via the Engage position to discover some important lessons we could learn from them. Remember, these themes arose from the responses of many EcoTypes participants, and suggest patterns bigger than any of us can individually grasp. Given the number and range of EcoTypes axes contributing to each theme, it is worth considering whether they may embody the sort of deep disagreement, and present opportunities for engagement and creative tension, summarized in When Our Ideas Differ.
Here are a few exercises you can do to explore this possibility for engagement, deep disagreement, and creative tension in the EcoTypes themes.
1. Deep disagreement: Axis bundles
Go to the Place, Knowledge, and Action theme pages, and click the Two Poles button at top to scroll to that section. You’ll read for each pole a brief narrative that bundles together the respective poles of all contributing axes. Then choose one theme and its two pole narratives. Here is one such narrative, for nonhuman Place:
This pole approaches the place of nonhumans and humans in our world as one in which nonhumans were here first. Bringing together the wild pole of Aesthetics, the biocentric pole of Ethics, the static pole of Ecosystems, and the pure pole of Nature, the nonhuman pole sets aside and prioritizes the natural world, and is not particularly impressed with human accomplishments, needs, and impacts. There can be a place in this world for humans, but only if it does not interfere with nonhuman flourishing, which is the necessary foundation for nonhuman place. One possible online example: Half-Earth Project.
As you recall from the themes overview, these bundles of axes were determined via statistical analysis of EcoTypes survey results. But what, to you, is the common thread underlying each pole of your chosen theme, and where is the deep disagreement between opposing poles? Remember that deep disagreement presumes multiple valid but incompatible truths—paradox.
For your chosen theme, in a brief phrase try to summarize the deep disagreement—the paradox—its two polar axis narratives reveal. See if you can suggest convincingly that, at this deeper level, there exist incompatible truths underlying the division between poles characteristic of deep disagreement. Share your brief phrase in small groups organized by chosen theme to see what others came up with.
2. Deep disagreement: Website examples
Deep disagreement may best be evidenced by examples. The table below points to one sample website for each theme pole. Consider the two websites for each theme: in what ways do they collectively embody deep disagreement? What, in your own words, is this disagreement about? (For clues, review the five axes contributing to each theme.) Can you find other websites that exemplify these poles?
3. Creative tension: Role playing
Role playing is a common learning strategy to embody a person or position with which we may not otherwise identify. Role playing bridges theater with environmental engagement, expanding ourselves beyond our immediate here and now—an important skill if we are to understand and take meaningful action with environmental issues.
The roles in role playing could be understood as following the actor-network that constitutes an environmental issue. Actor-networks place (differentiated) individual persons, a wide range of social institutions, physical objects, technologies, nonhuman beings, and a variety of other actors in relation to each other as the issue takes particular forms, suggesting both why it is the way it is, and how it may change as actors potentially interact in new, different ways.
The EcoTypes themes and poles suggest the broad roles these actors would embody in this activity, and the general ideological rules they follow. To explore creative tension via role playing, try something like this:
- Choose one of the three themes that interests you, focusing on its contrasting poles. Quickly summarize each pole in your own words. (Recommended: further elaborate these two theme poles via one of the two activities above: i.e., in the context of its bundle of contributing axes, or example websites.)
- Role playing is best done in small groups, where individuals will engage in conversation with each other. Now that you have a good sense of the two poles of your chosen theme, promise yourself to hold true to them, in the spirit of engagement and creative tension, where “…all sides hold to their truth, and remain committed to mutuality.” Each participant will take on a role, and embody as fully as they can one theme pole. Other participants will do the same. If in a small group, there will be several doing each theme pole; you can thus complement/help each other out as you proceed.
- In this activity (for contrast, see the activity below), you have creative license as to the nature of your conversation. Perhaps you are at a party discussing environmental issues and you discover difference relevant to Place, Knowledge, or Action; or, perhaps you are in a class session and the same happens. Then imagine a followup conversation in which you explore this difference. Agree on what the setting would look like, who you are relative to each other (casual friends? etc.), and other background to set the stage…then engage, remembering the goal above.
- After an allotted time (15 minutes or longer if you can), let go of your roles and reflect together on what you experienced: what roles proved easy or hard to adopt? was it easy or difficult to hold to the roles and rules you brought in via your theme pole? were the interactions smoothy or testy? did you experience something like engagement, as marked by creative tension, or did you see tendencies toward simple agreement or disagreement? Ultimately, what did you learn from this activity?
4. Creative tension: Application topics
This activity derives in part from the role playing exercise above; you may wish to review it in advance.
Choose one of the six EcoTypes application topics. Click the Overview button at top to scroll down to a summary of how the topic may apply to each theme. Choose one of the three themes, and summarize in your own words how each of the two poles of this theme applies to the topic. For all work below, remember to focus on this particular topic and theme.
Now, much as the role playing exercise above, imagine, ideally in small groups, these two poles personified as roles—in an individual, an interest group, a nonhuman actor (whether “alive” or “inanimate”), etc. relevant to your topic. Put them in conversation with each other about your chosen application topic, and emphasize the dimension highlighted in your theme—Place, Knowledge, or Action.
Your goal, as above, is creative tension, summarized as happening when “…all sides hold to their truth, and remain committed to mutuality.” As further elaborated on that page, creative tension is not about simply agreeing nor disagreeing; what does this mean as your two poles engage with each other over this topic?
After spending some time in conversation, come back out of your roles and reflect together: how did this conversation feel? Did you feel you were able to hold to your truth and to appreciate their divergent truth, specifically in the context of your chosen topic and theme? Ultimately, did you feel like you made progress on your topic? What kind of progress? Was there indeed some bigger understanding you two could only have achieved together, even if your take on the topic and theme remained different at the end?