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Categorical Straightjackets: PO -- A suggestion for a de-patterning device for international organization descriptions


Categorical Straightjackets
Nature of the difficulty
A de-patterning device
Use of PO
Interrelationship of diverse forms of organization

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Previously published in International Associations 26, 1974, 3, pp. 148-150. Also in: Les Problèmes du Langage dans la Société Internationale (Compte rendu du colloque, Paris 28-29 mars 1974). Bruxelles, Union des Associations Internationales, 1975, pp. 151-153


The principal concern of this symposium is to examine how well a limited number of key terms currently employed in international organization discourse convey, in different sectors and language systems, the concepts and meanings they supposedly represent. A related concern, however, is whether particular labelled categories used in describing organizations, match in subtlety and complexity the social reality which they are used to order. It is this second concern which is discussed here.

Current discussion of, and by, international organizations makes use of category systems like the following :

  • governmental; nongovernmental
  • profit; nonprofit
  • recognized; unrecognized
  • formal; informal
  • national; international
  • permanent; temporary
  • supportive; unsupportive
  • autonomous; dependent.

This approach polarizes attempts to discuss and describe international organizations so that any concepts representing intermediate conditions between the extremes of each concept pair are automatically excluded, or at best can only be handled inadequately with the use of neologisms which are themselves suspect. It is the purpose of this paper to suggest that such two- term conceptual straight-jackets are a direct impediment to creative thinking about the new forms of international social organization needed to respond to the increasing number and complexity of world problems. Just as it has been said that many organizations in existence today are memorials to old social problems, so it could be said that many categories in use today are memorials to old insights into the complexity of society, How has this come about and what can be done to remedy the situation ? In answering these questions and suggesting a solution, we shall make extensive use of the arguments made by Edward de Bono in a series of books (Edward de Bone. The Use of Lateral Thinking. 1967. The Mechanism of Mind, London. 1969; Lateral Thinking; a textbook of creativity. 1970; Po. beyond YES and NO. 1972.).