Over the years, I have talked to quite a number of people with whom I shared an interest in meetings and one thing that struck me was that almost everyone (including myself) told a story of how they were initially interested in something else and something then triggered their interest in meetings, i.e. to look at things from a meetings perspective.
It would be great to collect these stories here, so here is mine:
I started out studying decision-making in social movements (the Global Justice Movements, to be precise) with a background in theories of deliberation and deliberative democracy. As strange as it may sound today, I observed almost 200 meetings of various groups and mobilization contexts (especially Attac and the Social Forums) but I did not conceptualize these events as meetings for at least a year (if memory serves).
First it was deliberation, then I found that too narrow a concept to grasp the diversity of practices I was witnessing so I thought of it as “discursive practices” for a while. The context for both “deliberation” and “discursive practices” was the group, but I was never happy with the group concept because many of my meetings were not groups in a strong sense but rather representatives from various other groups, often fluctuating or rotating between meetings. So I started to think about second order groups (groups of groups), but most of what I read still seemed to assume a given (fully developed) group culture to explain what was going on in these meetings, while I felt that in much of what I was observing, group culture was constantly under negotiation rather than given (one of my conference papers was entitled “Meta-Democracy?” because people often seemed to disagree about how decisions should be made, giving rise to the question: “how to decide how to decide?”).
At the same time, my interest in the actual decision-making gradually shifted towards the conditions and procedures of decision-making, such as how turn-taking is organized. But I still lacked a conceptual framework that would allow me to get a grip on my data.
It wasn’t until I came across Helen Schwartzman’s book The Meeting that I realized: I’m studying meetings! Her credo that meetings are a social form in their own right and as such worthy of scholarly attention opened up avenues of thinking that I had not really dared to explore before or which I had tried to explore but with little progress, because relevant knowledge seemed scattered across disciplines and fields of study and often without explicit use of the concept of meetings.
In a way, this situation with scattered knowledge hasn’t fundamentally changed, but gradual integration of the field of meeting science (or meeting research) is starting to increase the room for dialogue and cross-fertilization (which is basically the idea of this forum).
So: what’s your story?