In the Reader, Alan Durrant writes: "Cooperation (the will and the way to win)..." and dictionary.com defines cooperation as: 1. an act or instance of working or acting together for a common purpose or benefit; joint action. Both these phrases really got me thinking about whether the interactions I have with my network are win/lose scenarios or whether they lead to situations of cooperation and, therefore, mutual gain.
I then went on to look further into other work related to the concept of cooperation:
Charles Darwin's Theory of Evolution talks about the concept of "survival of the fittest" to suggest a natural tendency for self-interest rather than cooperation, whereas Richard Dawkins writes about how the purpose of his book The Selfish Gene is to "examine the biology of selfishness and altruism" (1976, p1), which he suggests both exist in nature.
This got me thinking about the nature of my connections and whether my behaviour is truly selfless or only appears so but actually conceals selfishness and self-interest...
For example, saying I'll cover for a teacher who is ill sounds very altruistic but, leaving aside the bonus of possible extra pay, am I truly "helping her out" or noting down that by covering for her she will "owe me one" if I need cover later in the year?
In his essay, The Social Contract, Rousseau says that,
it is an empty and contradictory convention that sets up, on the one side, absolute authority, and, on the other, unlimited obedience (The Social Contract and Discourses, p.186).
In this idea of a social network there can only be the winner (absolute authority) and the loser (unlimited obedience). If I were to enter into this type of contract in my professional practice, no matter which role I assumed, there would be no opportunity for personal growth and development; as authority I would never reflect on the knowledge or skills that I possess as "my way would be the right way", and as obedient I would have give up my autonomy and skill-set in order to be "ruled by the higher power".
However, I surely have to lose some of my autonomy and adapt my ideas in order to be able to cooperate? But, as Rousseau goes on to say,
Instead of renunciation, they [the individual] have made an advantageous exchange: instead of an uncertain and precarious way of living they have got one that is better and more secure;...instead of power to harm others security for themselves, and instead of strength, which others might overcome, a right which social union makes invincible." (p.207)By cooperating and sharing equally, within a network that shares similar goals or outlooks, I really only lose the extremes of my autonomy - areas that are probably best kept in check - but gain a wealth of knowledge from the other members of the group, who all contribute from a different perspective. Ideas that are brought to the group can be shared, discussed, and improved upon within sight of the main aim, whereas on my own I may not see the flaws in my plan until it has already been implemented.
Game Theory is important because it focuses upon the results of cooperation and the decisions to cooperate or not (The Networked Professional, Reader 3, p.3). In reading about Game Theory, in particular Robert Axelrod's The evolution of cooperation (1984) I have begun to think of cooperation from the strategic aspect of planning "what will making my move mean for me" as well as from the reflective stance of "how did making my move work out?" and "which way shall I move next time?"
In the game The Prisoner's Dilemma, the invention of which is credited to a mathematician called Albert W. Tucker, there are several ways of behaving that each involve differing levels of loss or gain. However, the outcome of your choice is entirely dependent on how the other person chooses to move. And as each move is made without awareness of the other person's decision, what is the best strategy to adopt?
Robert Axelrod's experiment with cooperation set a challenge to find the best strategy to employ when playing the Prisoner's Dilemma, i.e. the one that worked most successfully in numerous encounters with the game. He found that a strategy called TIT FOR TAT was the most successful using, as its plan, cooperation as a starting point followed by "thereafter doing what the other player did on the previous move" (1984, p. viii).
It seems that this is a concept that is easily recognisable in the day to day interactions of life, both professional and personal. For example, if I meet you and my generosity of spirit is not met with reciprocal generosity then the next time we meet I'll approach you with a more defensive or selfish stance (thereby approaching you in the manner you previously met me). If your initially defensive action is repeated then I will continue to interact with you from a wary point of view, whereas if you adopt a more open and cooperative approach I will reassess my original idea, and so on...
In his article Launching "The Evolution of Cooperation" (Journal of Theoretical Biology, Volume 299, 2012, p21-24), Axelrod looks back at the original experiment and discusses what he calls "noise" - misunderstanding or misimplementation - and how "in the presence of noise, reciprocity still works well provided it is accompanied either by generosity (some chance of cooperating when one would otherwise defect) or contrition (cooperating after the other player defects in response to one’s own defection).
This added information has real relevance to me in my real-life experience of social interactions. It allows for the accommodation of such personality traits as shyness, social awkwardness, embarrassment by "giving the benefit of the doubt" to an initial encounter and allowing for a less aggressive response to what has been misunderstood as a "defective" move. I know that a lot of past arguments between myself and my students have come from a mutual misunderstanding of the exchange. For example, many years ago I used to say "pull your tummy in" until the day a body-conscious teenager ran out of class in tears because I had "called her fat!" Thankfully, after a long discussion between myself and my student, the misunderstanding was resolved. It also afforded me the opportunity for reflection that now means I ask pupils to "engage their core" thus eliminating any misinterpretation that I am commenting on weight or body shape.
So to sum up this blog, in terms of what it means to me as a professional practitioner, I can see the vital nature of cooperation. Here are two examples, of the many I have scribbled down in my journal, of how I see cooperation in terms of benefit to my professional practice:
- The common purpose of my work is, in the most basic terms, to enable students to become dancers. In order to do this I should be working with the students themselves by building up a relationship of mutual cooperation - I guide you, the student, on your journey by providing you with the knowledge and tools at my disposal, and you, the student, agree to take both a leap of faith, by trusting me, and by your willingness to enter into experimentation and discourse. I find that this links, in my mind, to one of Donald Schon's theories, in which he says,
- As a teacher, I do not work in isolation. I work alongside other teachers (colleagues, other dance instructors and teachers in the wider field of education), and also with the parents/ family of my students. As we are all, hopefully, heading in the same direction - to produce well-rounded, skillful, confident adults - then a level of cooperation is vital to achieve balance and harmony. For example, a student wishes to attend dance class at another studio as well as mine. Do I a) tell her she can't take classes outside of this school or b) encourage her to experience as much dance as possible? Or perhaps a show rehearsal needs to be scheduled on a Sunday and a student can't make it because the family goes to church. Do I a) tell the student she can't be in the number if she can't make the rehearsal or b) find a way to either move the rehearsal to a later slot or coach the student separately? If I choose a) in both instances the student will be placed in a position of having to make a choice of me or them - a very win/lose situation - and there is no cooperation in our interaction. Whereas, if I choose to behave in a more cooperative way, or b) in my examples, the student isn't forced into a battle between one dance school and another, or between parents and teacher. The cooperative way also builds a relationship where there is more likely to be reciprocal "give and take" which benefits both sides in the long term.
...the process by which they fail shows how a student's initially resistant and defensive stance and a complementary stance by the instructor lead both partise to create a behavioural world (an interrelated context that shapes their views of their own and the other's actions) in which it is impossible for either to break through the mutual misunderstanding. The create for each other what I shall call a "learning bind" (1984, p126-127).