Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Provocative Moments as a Social Poetic

Written by: on March 13, 2015

Words convey ideas, concepts, meaning.  Word choices elicit an evocative response that brings an experience beyond the explicit message.  In Dr. Ramsey’s two articles, “Management Learning: A Scholarship of Practice Centred on Attention?” and “Provocative Theory and a Scholarship of Practice,” she uses words that stir the reader to respond, creating an opportunity for a transformative possibility: provocative, social poetic, social constructionism, tension, generative, phronesis, mindfulness, relational.  Integrated throughout her thesis – change requires reflective moments for an ongoing synthesis of knowledge and practice – these words emerge as part of what she advocates in her practice.  They undergird the premise that the reader must respond, either favorably or unfavorably.  Regardless if it’s negative or positive, the response changes the reader.

Perhaps because I have met Dr. Ramsey personally, I know provocative measures delight her.  In reading her articles, I see that same desire in her use of words that convey more than meaning – she wants a response.   She wants this “practice-as-learning” to be held in the same esteem as “scholarship,” setting the scene with an intrepid, daring and audacious assertion that calls for a confrontation with anyone to suggest it is only a conjecture. It is not enough to read another article. The words on the page take on life as a “social poetic” – they “center the way that our talk strikes, moves, gestures to us, calling out action from us in a relationally responsive manner.  This is talk as invitational.”[1]  In the engagement of the words, conversation, and action, that’s where provocative learning occurs.

I want my words to provoke conversation. I, like her use of Dostoevsky’s work, want to continue in an ongoing generative conversation whereby new life occurs with each interchange.[2] My hope is to provide that opportunity in the same kind of posture that I witnessed in Cape Town by Dr. Ramsey: a posture of curiosity, learning and action that demonstrates a humility of discovery which happens in the moment. The moments change us, if we’re willing to stay in the tension and phronesis (practical wisdom) that come in the praxis of learning.

As Dr. Ramsey identifies her own learning through the CAD project, I’m struck by her commitment to “attention rather than knowledge.”[3] Willing to admit to her own mistakes as well as discoveries, she reflects a scholarship of practice that focuses on being attentive, mindful, not only our actions and judgments, but also our communication. In describing “social poetics,” as defined by “how our talk not only informs others but also strikes, move, or gestures,”[4] she restores the value and use of words and our attention to a relational level of transformative capacities.

While I’ll admit to not understanding all of the academic jargon, I resonate with the premises of both articles that learning requires practice and practice requires learning, usually in the moment, built with knowledge that offers common language and understanding. Leaning into that practice requires a reader to reflect on his/her own contribution to and philosophy of learning.

As I prepared my post over this week (did anyone else find it excruciatingly painful knowing that the reader/facilitator of our posts is the author of what we read?), I found a prayer that helped me through. As I reflected on the power of words, the need for provocative conversation, practice-as-learning, reflection-as-action, and living in the moment-by-moment, I came to a place of confession and worship.  Perhaps because I have so little to offer in this post, I share the words of another to encourage us all, in particular the last line:

O Holy One, we call to you and name you as eternal, ever-present, and boundless in love.

Yet there are times, O God, when we fail to recognize you in the daily-ness of our lives.

Sometimes shame clenches tightly around our hearts, and we hide our true feelings.

Sometimes fear makes us small, and we miss the chance to speak from our strength.

Sometimes doubt invades our hopefulness, and we degrade our own wisdom.

Holy God, in the daily round from sunrise to sunset,

remind us again of your holy presence hovering near us and in us.

Free us from shame and self-doubt.

 Help us to see you in the moment-by-moment possibilities to live honestly, to act courageously, and to speak from our wisdom.

[1] Caroline Ramsey, “Provocative Theory and a Scholarship of Practice,” Management Learning 42, no. 5 (31 March 2011): 469-83, accessed March 9, 2015, http://mlq.sagepub.com, 3.

[2] Ibid, 4.

[3] Caroline Ramsey, “Management Learning: A Scholarship of Practice Centred On Attention,” Management Learning 45, no. 1 (11 February 2013): 6-29, accessed March 9, 2015, http://mlq.sagepub.com, 18.

[4] Ibid, 10.


About the Author

Mary Pandiani

Spiritual Director, educator/facilitator, follower of Jesus, a cultivator of sacred space for those who want to encounter God

9 responses to “Provocative Moments as a Social Poetic”

  1. Nick Martineau says:

    Thank you Mary. I really appreciate that prayer and will continue using it personally. Because Caroline is my advisor and I’ve had numerous conversations with her I know that her favorite word is “maybe.” Just like you acknowledged, she likes the tension and wants you to participate, whether that’s positively or negatively but she strongly believes we all have the ability to participate in leading. She has been helping me see that true leadership is being attentive and letting others lead when it is their time.

    • Dawnel Volzke says:

      Great insight. A good leader will surround themselves with people who are, quite possibly, smarter than themselves. I agrees with your observation that leadership involves much attentiveness. Our lack of attentiveness is often what causes false assumptions or misperceptions.

  2. Brian Yost says:

    “I want my words to provoke conversation”

    Mary, this is such a great heart-attitude. Our world needs people who seek to provoke conversation and are willing to listen and facilitate. It seems that there is a never-ending stream of “experts” willing tell others what they need to do. I fear that much of our ministry training centers around being those kinds of experts rather than relationally having provocative conversations that include not only the people involved, but the provoking of the Holy Spirit.

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Brian and Mary, can we come to a place where we are HAPPY for people to be stimulated to move forward in their thinking well beyond the scope of our words… Another words, are we happy with provoking people to think critically on their own or do we need to be the one with the answers?

      What does the Bible say about this?

  3. Dave Young says:

    Mary, I just love your summary of Dr. Ramsey’s posture, “a posture of curiosity, learning and action that demonstrates a humility of discovery which happens in the moment. The moments change us, if we’re willing to stay in the tension and phronesis (practical wisdom) that come in the praxis of learning.” You’ve integrated your relationship with her and her writing into a very effective overview of her thought. I especially appreciate the “posture of curiosity” it is actually one the things that largely missing in our (church) small group environments and is so essential to effective spiritual formation. If we were more curious with one another, we’d actually experience more of the Holy Spirit’s work moving among us. Maybe the Holy Spirit is the source of the phronesis?

    • Jon Spellman says:

      Dave and Mary, those “moments” that include unscripted conversations are vital. I am trying desperately to truly hear people, not hearing what I think they’re going to say and fashioning an answer to rebut them or correct them. Just LISTEN. I’m reading some Bohm on the topic of dialog and it is interesting to note the differences between true dialog (or dialogue to use Dr. Ramsey’s language) and discussion. Dialog moves us “through to someplace together” discussion simply ping-pings our ideas back and forth, oftentimes generating very little change in perspective at all in the ones engaging in the discussion.

      Moment by moment, we should give attention to these conversations within our organizations. They really matter

  4. Phillip Struckmeyer says:


    To steal and pilage an line from the movie, “Jerry McGuire,” she had me at “provocative, generative, and sense-making.” The use of those terms, and indeed many others, really did take off the lid and open the jar of new thoughts about familiar conversations. It is funny in many of our posts we are referring to idioms and cliches of the leadership and management development industry that we are all familiar with and yet the new vocabulary being introduced seems to be allowing a whole new level to in depth thinking, searching, processing and learning to take place. Nice contribution even before the prayer you offered 🙂 !

  5. Travis Biglow says:

    Mary, you seem to understand a lot from this reading. I found it to be difficult at times but the jest of what she was saying i began to realize. It is important to provoke conversation and to do more that just learn from the experience. The words of her articles were very polished but reading it provoked intrests, thought, reasoning and I think thats provocative!

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