Wise Practices, Imagination and the Toleration of Diversity


Moore Institute, National University of Ireland, Galway 09:00 :: 15th June 2012

Conveners: Ricca Edmondson and Daniel Carey

Description of Workshop
The idea of wisdom is currently attracting renewed attention as a source of innovative ideas and practices for social organisation (e.g. Schwartz and Sharpe, 2010; Edmondson, 2011a). This workshop addresses two deficits in the associated debates, accentuating contributions derived from observed ‘wise’ practices in the West of Ireland. Wisdom is generally regarded as a form of reasoning which responds to pressing life-problems without clear solutions in either expert or everyday knowledge. This workshop explores a) how such forms of reasoning can operate under conditions of social and intellectual diversity; b) the role of imagination in envisaging novel solutions.

Since Socrates’ time, commentators on wisdom have commended slowness to rush to judgement, even in dilemmas which initially seem clear. Contemporary work on wisdom (e.g. Ardelt, 2004) foregrounds tolerance and ‘value-relativism’, explicated by Baltes and Staudinger (2000) as a capacity to understand how others see the world differently from oneself, while remaining committed to one’s own core values. However, closer studies of what people really mean when they believe they are being tolerant show strong tendencies to expect others to converge with their own ideas under more apposite temporal or social circumstances (Carey, 2006; Hutchings, 2008).

Papers at the workshop respond to this observation and to evidence collected in Galway and Connemara (e.g. Edmondson, 2005, 2011b), analysing selected local practices as effecting forms of social wisdom which illustrate more genuine forms of tolerance. It also draws on empirical and theoretical research into confronting cultural diversity both in Galway City and in Canada (Carey, 2008a).

Finally, we focus on the role in both wisdom and tolerance of uses of the imagination in comprehending other (world-)views, explored in historical travel literature and the sociology of tourism (Carey, 2008b; 2009; Edmondson, 2012), and to the roles in ‘wise’ discourse of Irish proverbs, triads and epigrams.

This interdisciplinary workshop builds on a meeting held in Toronto, Canada in April 2011, and anticipates a further meeting in this series to be held in Lancaster next year. It assembles internationally recognised experts on wisdom, as well as specialists in the history of ideas relating to tolerance and the impact of diversity on the imagination. Speakers include

Prof. Michel Ferrari (Dept. of Developmental Pyschology and Education, University of Toronto, Canada)
Prof. Monika Ardelt (Dept. of Sociology, University of Florida, USA)
Prof. Trevor Curnow (Dept. of Philosophy, University of Cumbria, UK
Prof. Rqdiger Kunow (Dept. of English and American Studies, University of Potsdam, Germany)
Prof. Markus Woerner (Dept. of Philosophy, NUI,G)
Dr Jane Pearce (Consultant Psychiatrist of Older Age, University of Oxford)
Prof. Eileen Fairhurst (University of Salford)

The two conference organisers will also present papers; non-presenting participants will also attend.
This workshop explores the cutting-edge potential of wise social practices, highlighting observations in Galway and Connemara and connecting them to global debates, as well as offering a differentiated analysis which will show how such practices can respond to cultural and intellectual diversity. Both these aspects of the workshop stress the role of imagination in producing transformative solutions to ‘wicked’ problems (those involving fluctuating, contradictory, multi-level demands which are difficult to analyse in conventional terms). They also illuminate claims that the ‘archipelagic logics’ (Ette, 2011) of practice in areas such as the West of Ireland offer uniquely creative modes of responding to such problems.

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