Processes of Compromise in International Development Consultancies - Getting Heard as a Social Scientist
Stoltz, Helle Therkelsen
This thesis explores the theme of compromise from the perspective of a social scientist working in the technically oriented environment of international development. My involvement is through my employment in a Danish consultancy company working in, inter alia, Asia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East with government agencies, national companies, and non-governmental organisations. The main puzzle addressed in this research arises out of the link between compromise and conflict: how and why do people find ways to compromise and move out of situations of conflict? Associated aspects of this puzzle are how we might experience compromise and how it is, or might be, related to getting heard. I employ a narrative and ethnographic approach with episodes from my everyday work situations, including interactions with colleagues and clients, to inquire into the social, political, and emotional relationships involved in compromise. This research puzzle is of particular relevance to me as a social scientist with a frequent experience of being marginalised, where my interactions with others seem to involve compromise. My indications are that this experience is shared by many other social scientists working in international development—and perhaps by others finding themselves in a marginalised situation—and that my research puzzle would be of relevance and interest to them. Various disciplines have taken up compromise, particularly marketing, politics, sociology, and ethics. In these fields, compromise appears typically to be considered a product, an agreement, or a solution, with some recognising that relational aspects play a role in reaching such outcomes. In contrast to this apparently common understanding of compromise, I view it as a relational and radically social process. This evolves in our interactions with others and in our private conversations with ourselves, the latter involving our anticipations of how others will react to what we might say or do. Compromising is about negotiations and adaptations to each other’s views, enabling us to move on in conflictual situations, despite the sense of loss this involves either temporarily or permanently. Such processes are intertwined with power relations, which involve processes of inclusion in and exclusion from groups. I assert that persons or groups experiencing themselves in marginalised positions tend to adapt their views more than others, in attempts to gain some influence. I argue that the experience of compromising is temporal and dynamic; that is, the meaning, significance, and the related emotions might change several times. My research indicates that compromising always involves some sense of loss at some point, but that the intensity of this varies. Compromising might simultaneously or at some other point be experienced in other ways, depending on the situation and the persons involved. For example, it involved a sense of novelty in one of my narratives when compromising paved the way for us to move towards a cooperative atmosphere and relationship. It is when we reflect on our differences in views or ‘stuckness’ and adjust to different frames of reference in our compromising that novelty might evolve. My argument is that for processes of compromise to evolve out of conflictual situations those involved must be aware of each other’s views, with leaders—both those in formal and informal leadership positions—taking a key role in enabling others to be heard. This awareness might arise in several ways, primarily i) by those directly involved speaking up themselves, ii) through forming of alliances with others, and/or iii) through support from leaders. The latter’s engagement in compromise includes their role in enabling those in marginalised positions to participate in processes of compromise, which might involve making it easier for these persons to speak up themselves or supporting them in other ways. I assert that relational leadership requires engagement in processes of compromise, currently often considered a feminine trait/skill. Speaking up, often viewed as a masculine trait/skill, is an inherent part of a leader’s role in compromising; importantly, this means speaking up as a leader focused on mutual adaptations to each other’s views, rather than on wanting to control the situation. I do not want to idealise compromising. There are situations where stubbornly standing up for our views and value commitments will be the most ethical way to act, for example, to avoid harm to others and/or to maintain our integrity and what is important for us. There is a need for practical judgement in each situation of how best to act ethically.
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