Thursday, 7 November 2013

'Consultation': An Anthropologist Explains

Guest Post from 'Malinowski'

From today's Wembley and Willesden Observer
As Copland Community School begins its Academy 'Consultation', interested parties, or anyone with a passing interest in cultural relativism, might like to know what this 'consultation' business is all about, and in what ways it differs from  our everyday, common-sense understanding of what consultation might mean.

The first thing to remember is that, in certain advanced societies, 'consultation' is a word with a specific cultural meaning. Put simply, it describes a period of time which begins at a certain point and then ends some time later. The period in between these points is called a 'consultation period'. (Indeed, the ancients used to measure time and age in 'consultations' and would refer to an elder of the village as 'a wise man of four score consultations').
Current custom demands that the 'consultation' must not begin unless and until its subject's outcome has been decided; (and commonly,as in the case of the current Copland 'consultation',  not until the outcome has actually been announced and published to those affected by it). 

 The 'consultation' itself involves various traditional 'consultative' activities and behaviours which are of no more than ritual significance  but which are nevertheless strictly observed, especially by those who have previously decided or approved the outcome, (invariably those of higher status within the group's power hierarchy).

Those occupying lower positions in the  pecking order are also encouraged to take an active part (or 'participate') in these ritual behaviours as tradition has it that this gives them 'ownership'  of the pre-ordained outcome.

As 'ownership' of any kind (especially 'private') is a high-status concept in such groups' belief-systems, this can be seductive to the more suggestible members of the group and conformity is further reinforced by the fact that  to point out the fatuity of the 'consultation' is regarded as taboo within the community and can lead to the disapproval or opprobrium of the community elders and their more compliant subjects.

In societies which practise it, the 'consultation' phenomenon is most commonly observed during what is called the 'planning' period, (named thus because it occurs after all the plans have been made).  Members of the public who unexpectedly come upon a group engaged in a 'consultation exercise' ( so called because it involves the expenditure of a great deal of energy to no particular purpose )  are advised to remain at a respectful distance from the participants but can be confident that they are perfectly safe.

Despite the solemnity and sometimes alarming  vigour with which the 'consultation exercise' is apparently being performed, the moment it is over observers may rest assured that life will calmly carry on as if the whole process had never ever actually taken place.

Further advice for travellers likely to be visiting communities where 'consultations' are prevalent can be found at


Anonymous said...

I think that this is needlessly negative and even cynical. Ark is a charity after all and Mike Pavey has always claimed that he will take a robust attitude to academisation. He has also said that he is ready to listen to stakeholders. Why do you think he won't keep his word in this case?

Anonymous said...

1. Parents at Copland were informed at a meeting weeks ago that Copland was to become an Academy. They are now being 'consulted' on this. Call me pedantic, but this strikes me as being a little bit on what Aristotle would have called 'the arse-backwards side'. 2. Eton, Harrow, St Cakes and Dotheboys Hall (also an Academy, oddly enough) have charity status. Ark is to charities what Facebook 'Friends' are to the women who bore us, nourished us, cared for us, stood by us etc etc etc. 3. 'Robust', these days, has as much meaning as 'iconic'. When everything is either of these words, then nothing is. 4. 'Negative' and 'cynical'? No, justifiably sceptical. Please see Martin's original post on this and the experiences of the writer of today's guest post.