The following article was inspired by the Tier 2 Session: Social field theory & praxis with Eva Pomeroy in the Nurturing the Fields of Change Program.
“We can think of the social field as the space between us. The quality of that space has a tremendous impact on our lived experience and we also possess significant agency to shape it. In this session, we engage in contemplative exercises and dialogue to connect with our knowing of the social field.”
Do You Feel This?
Do you feel that everything which has a felt sense is no longer esoteric knowledge? Most of us are aware that everything in our lives has a “flavour.”
My apartment, for example, has a different flavour to a public bathroom. But my apartment also has a different flavour to your apartment.
And even inside my apartment, my living room has a distinctly different flavour to my bathroom or bedroom.
What I mean by flavour is of course not the result of licking the floor but the above-mentioned felt sense. In New Age terms we’d call it a vibe.
This felt sense becomes especially interesting when we look at places as social fields.
Every one of us regularly has experiences in different social fields. If you close your eyes and imagine yourself back in your school, you can start to notice a very distinct feeling that you’ve always associated with school. If you then imagine yourself in an office, the feeling becomes quite different, but if you’ve worked in an office before, it’s not unfamiliar.
Now, after reading this article, try leaving your home and walking into a supermarket. A supermarket has a very distinct feeling as well. Personally, I’ve even noticed a difference in the felt sense between different supermarket chains.
In an organic grocery store, I always have a different feeling to when I’m in a more commercial store. In the organic grocer I have the feeling that everyone wants to be there, while in the commercial grocer, everyone kind of needs to be there.
In this example, I have synthesized my experience of being in a grocery store into a feeling and put it into words.
So the social field may be described as a particular quality or texture you recognize in any place where people come together which influences thinking and behavior. Or to put it in Otto Scharmer’s words, “…the quality of relationships that give rise to patterns of thinking, conversing, and organizing, which in turn produce practical results.”
Influenced by the Social Field
Although many of us consider our inner experience as something quite private, it’s by no means a vacuum.
One example is the phenomenon called “burnout contagion”. The burnout contagion hypothesis is based on the idea that individuals exposed to colleagues experiencing burnout will consequently display a corresponding change in their emotional state. One study, for example, showed that teachers who interact with other teachers experiencing burnout are much more likely to experience burnout as well (2).
Usually, burnout is considered the result of an individual’s lack of inner resources in dealing with their life. But if we look at burnout from a social field perspective, like a force in the field that spreads to individuals, our approach to dealing with burnout would be different .
Another more general example which we can all relate to is our experience with our most immediate social circle. If you’re a part of a pessimistic group of people, there’s a high chance that you are a pessimistic person yourself.
If we unplug you from that group and put you into the middle of an optimistic group, you’ll most likely become an optimistic individual as well.
This example shows that while we all bring something into any given social field, the social field is not something we can directly control. It’s more akin to an energetic structure that feeds on all the input it receives and develops its own momentum.
From a social field perspective, we could look at ourselves as vortices that suck in energy from the social fields we come in contact with, especially those in which we spend a lot of time in. We then carry this energy around with us and bring it into other social fields, thus contributing to the quality of each social field we encounter.
The social field in this regard is like an electromagnetic field: Introduce another magnet and the whole field changes.
The Properties of the Social Field
We might wonder what exactly happens in a social field. In her session, Eva Pomeroy beautifully explained the different elements and qualities of any social field.
Intercorporeality: This is the moment when two humans come into contact with each other. Immediately, wanted or unwanted, there is interaction happening. Both individuals send out expressions and receive impressions while at the same time having their own inner experience. All this is largely unconscious and determines the inter-bodily experience. The interaction therefore is its own entity.
Autonomy: Because the interaction is its own entity, autonomy means that the interaction can develop a life on its own. Although this might sound unusual, our experiences confirm this. Rarely do our interactions with each other go exactly as planned. In other words, no matter how much we try we can’t control interactions.
Affordance: This is the invitation a social field offers. It invites you to think, feel, and behave in a particular way. Affordance sustains the autonomy of the interaction. Some of us are good at navigating different social circles because we are good at responding to affordance.
Now these three properties are in a constant dynamic interaction:
Intercorporeality gives rise to autonomy which is characterized by affordance which in turn sustains the autonomy while the autonomy reinforces the intercorporeality.
Leveraging the Social Field
Now because everything is so deeply interconnected, the question that arises is, where is our leverage point? Where in the social field do we initiate change to improve the social field?
The social field is the result of the inner conditions of all the individuals taking part in it. Therefore, if we want to affect change, we need to start inside ourselves. My state of consciousness might not be able to control the space but it will have an influence.
In other words, if we want to have lasting positive change we need to cultivate a shift in awareness.
One way to initiate such a shift in awareness regarding the social field we would like to change is the following exercise Eva guided in her session:
Because this is a question-based exercise it’s best to have some writing material so you can express yourself quickly without overthinking.
Begin by bringing a social field into your awareness. Then spend a few minutes grounding yourself and connecting on a deeper energetic level with that social field. Connect with yourself and the intention you have for this social field. Open yourself to possibility, inspiration, and the potential for that social field.
From there, move through the following questions:
- If the social field was a living being, what would it look and feel like?
- If that being could talk, what would it say to you now?
- If that being could develop, what would it morph into next?
- What is the generative source of this social field?
- What limiting factors prevent this social field from developing further?
- From a bird’s eye view, what is this social field really trying to do?
- What do you sense is its highest future possibility?
- What is one key change that would help move this social field to its highest future possibility?
When I did the exercise, I was honestly surprised by the insights that emerged. So if there is any social field in your life that needs some overhauling, I recommend you give this exercise a shot.
In the end, it’s clear that no one is responsible for the quality of my experience but me. If I don’t like the social field I am in, I always have two options:
I can leave, or I can change.
Sometimes leaving can be the easier choice because changing is often a burden we prefer to avoid. (Usually, we want others to take on that burden.) This is not to say that we should always choose changing over leaving but that we can’t avoid the burden of change forever.
Sometimes the difficult option is the one that serves us most, but no matter what we choose, the responsibility lies within us.