Return to Enquiry Learning Main Page
Return to Resources Menu
The idea of intentional networks derives from phenomenology, drawing upon the notion of 'intentionality'. Intentionality is defined in terms of being 'directed towards .....'. The fundamental structure of consciousness, phenomenologically, is said to be always directed towards something for someone (or some subject position). Given that the fundamental structure of consciousness is intentional, it can be asked of any social situation how people are directed towards each other and the world about.
At any one moment, as if taking a global snap-shot, all individuals are intentionally connected, perhaps not directly, but indirectly, at some level. Perhaps like a half serious joke that starts, I once shook the hand of the person who shook the hand of the person who shook the hand, …., of Elvis Presley. This network of handshakes can be described graphically as points connected to each other from start point (I once shook …) to end point (the hand of Elvis Presley). It is a one directional path. However, more complex networks can be described in terms of multiple connections:
Diagram: Intentional network as multidimensional space
Suppose the above diagram describes a relatively small and simple intentional network of people directed towards each other in some way. The most highly connected people are A and B. Both A and B have four people who are directed towards them. But A and B are not directly in touch with each other. Their relations are mediated by C and D. Suppose now that A and B are rival gang leaders. That could mean that C and D play critical roles - are they spies? Or what if is A is a gang leader and B is the chief of police? Say, C is a 'bent' police officer providing information to A; and D is and undercover agent. Who knows what about who?
The network in Atkin's (1981) terms describes a multidimensional space where B is connected in terms of 4 dimensions and D in three dimensions and C in two. Of course, in reality people are connected much more complexly than this. Nevertheless, the network, if desired, can be mathematically described and analysed in terms of particular kinds of relationship each hold with another. Each connection can be given an orientation like A loves C but C does not reciprocate. How information flows through the network and where it is inhibited can be described. Interviews can be carried out with each member of the network to find out what they know about each other. Alternatively, an ethnographer can start anywhere in the network, even at one of the one-dimensional outer limbs of the network and gradually map the key dramatis personae until they get to more highly connected individuals who can get them closer to A and B. By close description of the intentional relationships each holds towards the other the nature and intensity of those relationships that bind cooperatively can be distinguished from those that bind in enmity and those where the binding is tenuous or more apparent than real. An ethnographic case study of intentional networks can thus be explored in order to describe the multidimensional spaces in which given individuals operate.
(Schostak and Schostak 2008: )
Atkin, R. (1981) Multidimensional Man. Can Man live in 3-dimensional space? Harmondsworth, New York: Penguin
Schostak, J.F., and Schostak, J. R. (2008) Radical Research. Designing, Developing and Writing Research to Make a Difference, Routledge