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Applied process thinking

Tuesday, 26 January 2016, 10:00 - Wednesday, 27 January 2016, 17:00

The Open University in London, Camden Office

an event organised by the CCIG psycho-social programme

This event is organised by the CCIG psycho-social research programme and convened by Paul Stenner. It is by invitation only.



‘Process thought’ refers to ways of thinking that begin ‘in the middle’ with relations and processes, and that give experience a key role in the unfolding of the multiple processes that jointly compose our world. Thinkers like Charles Darwin and Karl Marx introduced an inherent temporal dimension to our understanding of natural and socio-cultural processes: species and societies evolve and transform as part of a dynamic nexus of relational forces. Their style of thought influenced thinkers such as Peirce, James, Bergson and Nietzsche to ‘take time seriously’. These ‘incipient’ forms of process thought posed a profound challenge to the dominant philosophical settlements associated with figures like Descartes, Locke and Kant which presupposed a Newtonian ontology of irreducible mass particles arranged mechanistically in an essentially static absolute space. This ontology neglects the processual dynamics that have become apparent in the science of the last two centuries, and it bifurcates an objective physical world of meaningless matter from a subjective domain of matterless meaning.

A key event in process thought was the publication in 1929 of Process and Reality by the British mathematician, theoretical physicist and philosopher A.N Whitehead. Whitehead was influenced by all of the figures mentioned above, especially James and Bergson, and endeavored to systematize their thought into a coherent philosophy consistent with new developments in quantum and relativity physics. This gives his thought a rare breadth and potency, and explains its influence across a range of disciplines spanning the natural sciences, the social sciences and the humanities. As an event, Whitehead’s contribution involved more than the processes that led up to it: it helped to create a new past of process thinking, and a new future of subsequent applications and refinements.

Whitehead, however, was very aware of the limitations of his own work, which should be seen as a philosophy in the making. Indeed, after its initial flowering of success, the decades after his death in 1947 saw a decisive turn against his speculative and metaphysical style of thought, and a preference for a combination of analytical philosophy and techno-scientific positivism within the social and natural sciences. Where it was not lost entirely, the generalist baton associated with metaphysics was taken up by science in the form of general systems theory and structuralism. These in turn gave rise to the post-modern reactions of post-structuralism and social constructionism, especially in the social sciences and humanities. In many respects, these are developments in which process thinking lost its visibility, but they nevertheless confirm its continuing relevance, and there are now increasing signs of a re-birth of interest. In times of intellectual fragmentation, this interest seems to transcend the usual encampments of realism, relativism, empiricism and critical social theory. In particular, it seems that the process thinking that flowered in the early 20th Century is starting to bear fruit in a range of more special and applied domains such that we can talk of applied process thinking (see Dibben and Kelly, 2008, for an example).

The time is ripe for surveying and evaluating these developments and for learning from the experiences of those making this adventure. If process thinking is adequately understood and well used, the promise is of new and fertile ways of tackling issues which transcend disciplinary boundaries, engage pressing political questions, and call for a combination of detailed work on concrete problems and new visions of the universe and our place in it.

These issues will be the subject of a short conference involving IPN members and invited guests, and organized with support from CCIG.

Paul Stenner


Tuesday 26 January 2016


10:00-10:20     Welcome and What is process thinking?, Paul Stenner, The Open University, UK.

10:20-10:45     The Problem of Management, Mark Dibben University of Tasmania, Australia. IPN Academic Director.

10:45-11:10    Tea/Coffee break

11:10-11:35     Temporality and Education, Maria-Teresa Teixeira Lisbon University, Portugal. IPN Exec Director Elect.

11:35-12:00     On concrete problems and new visions, Michel Weber, Director of the Centre for Philosophical Practice, Brussels

12:00-12:25     Applying process thought: liminal hotspots, Johanna Motzkau, Open University, UK.

12:25-12:50     Whitehead's vocabulary realised in the formal metaphysical language of category theory. Michael Heather.

12:50-13:50    Lunch

13:50-14:15     The role of a dynamic past for a better future, Tina Röck, (soon to be) Dundee, UK

15:15-14:40     Life as process, John Dupré, Exeter, UK

14:40-15:05     Thinking the Social with Whitehead, Michael Halewood, Essex, UK

15:05-15:40     Process philosophical adventures of applied ontology, .Vesselin Petrov, Bulgarian Academy of Science, Sofia. IPN Executive Director.

15:40-16:00    Coffee/Tea break

16:00-17:00     Panel. Why process?  Why Now? John Pickering. Warwick, UK, Steve Brown and Paula Reavey, Leicester & South Bank, UK, Susan Stuart. Glasgow, UK, Martin Savransky, Goldsmiths, UK, Ian Tucker, UEL, UK

17:00-17:30    Discussion led by Cristina Chimisso, Open University, UK

18:30               Dinner, Cotes, 32 Parkway, London, NW1 7AH

Wednesday 27 January 2016 -
Planning day for instituting process thinking in the UK 10:00-17:00

Meet 10:00      (The Open University in London Camden)


1)    Background – the Chapter for Applied Process Thought and the International Process Network;

2)    Challenges in a) accurate understanding – which is the real challenge – and thence b) acceptance of, ‘a thoroughgoing, serious minded’ (to quote David Griffin) applied process philosophy;

3)    Potential research opportunities and agendas in the Sciences, Social Sciences, the Humanities and the Arts;

4)    IPN’s Education and Outreach agenda, plus Ecological Civilization, leading to;

5)    Reaffirming purpose and potential (e.g. is it feasible to host a future IWC in the UK?);

6)   ‘Location’ choices a) formal location (costs and politics of acceptance…), b) virtual but with a teaching ‘residence, c) entirely virtual with seminars / workshops rotated through the unis where people have their employment and/or access?

7)    Next steps.

Finish by 17.00

International Process Network


This event is by invitation only