Moral Positioning: A formal theory

Thomas Aström, Ph.D.

Abstract

This article presents the main outlines of a theory of moral
positioning, contributing to the analysis of moralizing as a social
phenomenon. It is a formal theory in several of its aspects. The
discovered patterns help to explain social interaction in conflicts
and how ordinary people use these patterns in relation to others.
Moral positioning is frequently occurring in social situations were
imbalances and conflicts arise among individuals and groups.
Moral positioning is here theorized concurrently with a
supporting conceptualization of social positioning. The model here
presented can be used to explain the positioning process and is
possible to use in order to become aware of, and in a better way,
manage a conflict.

The core variable in moral positioning theory has the form of
a triadic pattern, built on the moral positions Good, Evil and
Victim (GEV-pattern). The moralizing process is easily
understood as socially and dynamically constructed patterns of
positions. Those identities are related in three basic and
complementary dimensions of meaning; Existence, Interest and
Moral dimensions (EIM-pattern), each one with its own conflict
pattern. The classic grounded theory method was used and the
results were first presented in my dissertation in 2003.

KEY WORDS: Conflict, Moral, Positioning, Identity, Interaction,
Grounded theory.

Introduction

Originally the purpose of this project was to find out why
there are so many complicated relations in a disabled person’s
life. In my first attempts to research the psychosocial aspects of
being disabled and belonging to a family with a disabled child, I
met a barrier that prevented me from entering that field and
getting access to field data. The strong gate-keeping from officials
in bureaucracy that protected persons living their lives with or
near disabilities also “protected” them from researchers, without
even giving them the option to take a standpoint of their own.

Being an experienced therapist, I was well aware of the
field’s debates and controversies, and I was also aware of some
tabooed areas where the dialogue on psychosocial matters was
restricted even among professionals. Some of the professionals I
interviewed felt uneasy answering this type of questions. The
resistance among professionals to open insight was surprisingly
strong. Why is that? Wouldn’t a search for knowledge about these
problematic issues benefit the clients? Why were the obstructions
to openness so strong and feelings of conflict so tense? Why were
well informed and experienced professionals afraid of such
issues?

But on the other hand, parents and persons with disability
were often ready and sometimes anxious to give their version. An
example referred to by a researcher from an interview with a
grown man with disabilities: “One day one of the participants
asked me how far I dared to go in my report. He was worried that
I in overdone consideration to parents and staff, or because of my
personal fear and cowardice, didn’t dare tell about all the hard
stuff that had happened in his and the others … life.”
An urge for
plain speaking.

In contrast I met the hesitant attitude in the claims of
professionals I interviewed on anonymous cases of psychosocial
problems: “Can you assure me you will burn these tapes
afterwards?”
and another: “I don’t want to be quoted!” or a third:
“I feel nasty telling you about this”. Information control seemed to
be central in the interaction on such intricate matters. I could
later use bureaucrats’ and other professionals’ reactions on the
subject as useful data. They indirectly told me what I ought to
figure out. And I went on collecting and analyzing more data on
the forces in the field of handicap. It became more and more
obvious that information control is run by the forces in different
types of moral positioning.

In this paper, moral positioning is presented as a theory
about the process in which an ordinary person gives moral
meaning and identity to subjects and objects. It offers an
interactive perspective on the moral issue. Moral positioning isn’t
dealing with morality as a religious or philosophical matter on
human behaviour; it’s not regarding the normative issue in
defining what is good or bad. In this project, I focus on how people
manage different types of conflicts and how moralizing is used.
Moral positioning emerged as the core category of what is
obviously a very common basic social process.

There are several patterns of moral positioning found in
data. The patterns are flexible and can be used by any party in
any type of conflict. They show the possible variation and
dynamics in the moral positioning processes. By using moral
identities the participants are defined through questions like:
Who was to blame? Who ought to do what? Who is regarded as
Evil or Good? Who runs the risk of becoming a Victim? Whose
interest is Evil and whose Good? A lot of different analytic
questions could be picked from this social positioning model. It
displays a multi-perspective view of a conflict and opens up
locked and established illusions.

Moral positioning is, as I said, not about what’s morally good
and bad. It’s about the way we use morality in daily life. Instead
of trying to straighten out moral matters, this research is focused
on the ongoing, implicit and omnipresent moral patterns and
moralizing processes and how they work. In theorizing its
dynamics and properties I discovered and theorized several
subprocesses like competitive moral positioning, locking of moral
positions, moral gate-keeping
, and other basic social processes
that have important elements of moral positioning like
superhabilitating and becoming overdependent (Aström, 2003).
Those processes became important in finding out how
participants use moral identities in their field of activity.

Giving moral meaning to something includes the conflict
being moralized. The subject of conflict is about existential and/or
interest matters. Analyzing conflicts in interaction as a social
positioning process involves several implicit patterns. These
patterns are of a general nature, each one belonging to its specific
dimension of meaning, Existential, Interest or Moral (Aström,
2003). This extended model of interrelated dimensions and
positions is a model for social positioning analysis, and it seems
to serve well in the analysis of meaning and identities. The
morality of an action is always related to meanings in existence
and interests and will change in relation to context and
situational factors in a dynamic way.

Researching with the classic grounded theory method
enabled me to discover, explore and develop concepts that might
be helpful in dealing with conflicts. Moralizing is obviously a
central aspect in the course of events in social conflict interaction,
both overt and covert. The discovery of the theoretical core
pattern, the GoodEvilVictim-pattern, was decisive for analyzing
and theorizing these processes. Some major discoveries will be
described more extensively since they are obviously very
important for the main feature of the theory.

Method

The research method was classic grounded theory (Glaser,
1971, 1978, 1998, 2001, 2003, 2005) used in a consistent way
following the steps in the emerging of a core process, relevant
data sampling, a substantive theory, sampling of differential but
relevant areas and finally a formal theory. The cyclic procedures,
constantly supported by comparing and writing up, let the theory
emerge first as a substantive theory mainly built on data from
the field of disability – and then as a formal theory grounded on
data from several different fields including education, child care,
management, politics and sports.

The first major step in the analysis was the emerging of five
substantive subprocesses presented in my dissertation (Aström,
2003): Competitive moral positioning, locking of moral positions,
moral gate-keeping, superhabilitating
and becoming
overdependent
. Observations and interviews were done with
persons with impairments in different ages and life situations,
parents and professionals such as physiotherapists and
occupational therapists, nurses, doctors, psychologists,
psychiatrists, personal assistants, social workers, work managers
and teachers. These conceptualized processes exposed moral
positioning as a significant core process in numerous social
interactions. The result of this analytic work was a theory of
moral positioning.

The second major step was to compare the
conceptualizations from the first analysis in the field of disability
with completely different fields, searching for possible formal
qualities in these conceptualizations. The theoretical core, the
GoodEvilVictim-pattern, turned out to be generally applicable in
completely different areas and circumstances and to have obvious
formal qualities. It was natural to let a formal theory emerge
from the comparing of moralizing in a variety of contexts and
situations. Moral positioning emerged as a formal theory.

Sources of formal theory

As the substantive theory seemed to be easy to use in other
areas it was near at hand to go forward to formal theory. It seems
that people easily apply this theory in their thinking of other
cases were they see moral positioning. Starting with substantive
theory, the next step was further comparing in other fields of
social activity and conflicts found in social services, school,
preschool, education, child care, management, working life,
politics and sports. Data were continuously collected with
theoretical sampling in several different areas of conflict through
interviewing, observation, media and research reports. This was
followed up by comparing the results with relevant theoretical
works including Berger and Luckmann (1966); Berne (1959,
1964); Blumer (1969); Bourdieu (1991, 1994); Braaten (1982);
Buber (1970, 2002), ; Elias (2000); Gibson (1977) ;Giddens
(1984,1994); Glaser and Strauss (1965,1971); Goffman (1959,
1963); Harré and van Langenhove (1999); Harré and Moghaddam
(2003); Lewin (1951); Mead (1932, 1934, 1937); Piaget (1965);
Simmel (1955), among others.

Results

During the analysis of the phenomena of moralizing, two
interwoven conceptualizations emerged. The way people
interacted by giving and taking identities could be described
sufficiently by the concepts and structure of an emerging social
positioning model
, which supported the emerging of a theory of
moral positioning
. These results are about how ordinary people
use patterns of meanings and patterns of identities in social
interaction. This theory will explain to some extent how, while
not aware of how these patterns work, we all instinctively use
them to familiarize ourselves with a situation and to gain desired
life qualities and capital. The use of these patterns represents a
natural way of processing information in a conflict and of
positioning oneself in the field of action. Such patterns are
important parts of habitus (Bourdieu, 1991), integrated during
socialization processes.

Part I: Social positioning – an analytic perspective

To understand ‘positioning’ in moral positioning one has to
recognize the concepts of the analytic tool social positioning
analysis. The emerging of this tool was parallel to the emerging of
a theory of moral positioning and as moralizing is best
understood as a positioning process, I will start with a short
presentation of social positioning.

A ‘social position’ is as a concept sometimes perceived as
one’s place in a social hierarchy, a field of business or other
contexts and sometimes as in taking a personal standpoint when
certain matters are at stake. But the concept of ‘social
positioning’ is used here in a much wider sense. Social positioning
is elsewhere developed as a theoretical perspective by Rom Harré,
Luk van Langenhove, Fathali Moghaddam et al. (Harré &
Moghaddam, 2003; Harré & Van Langenhove, 1999). My use and
theorizing of the concept of social positioning emerged from a
grounded theorizing and didn’t follow prime theorists’ ideas.
Instead, it led to a theoretical tool that differs significantly and,
as a theoretical perspective, points in another direction.

Social positioning emerged as a useful and generative
theoretical code during the analysis from which the
conceptualization of ’moralizing behaviour’ and its connected
aspects emerged into a theory of moral positioning. Confluent
with the conceptualizing of moral positioning, the analytic tool
here called social positioning analysis was emerging and
contributed a lot to the understanding of moralizing. Social
positioning is a perspective that uses positions and their linkings
to display patterns of meaning
. The central concepts in social
positioning analysis are ‘position’ and ‘linking’ that build ‘pattern’
for social meaning and identities. It’s used to describe the
‘positioning’ that realizes personalized ‘constellations’ in social
interaction. Further, the activation of a position comes through a
‘propositioning’. The reply will be the result of an ‘impositioning
process’ where both the person’s ‘disposition’ and the character of
the proposition will be the means and forces that form the answer
and establishes positions in a current constellation. The
complexity in social interaction could legibly be exposed and
divided into separate dimensions of meaning by using a model
built on the three combined dimensions, Existence, Interest and
Moral (EIM)
. The concepts and properties in social positioning
will recur in the text below, interwoven in the presentation of the
theory of moral positioning.

The analysis indicates that one can’t explain moral
behaviour solely by regarding the patterns of moral positioning,
because any moralizing requires an existential and interest
matter to make sense. That’s why this form of positional analytic
structure has to be based on these three dimensions that in an
efficient and powerful way can decompose and explain social
meaning in interaction. We seem to constantly use the three
inherent EIM-dimensions to express, differentiate, combine and
interpret meaning.

What is meant here with Existence, Interest and Moral as
dimensions? Even if it’s quite easy to sort the meanings we give
to phenomena according to these categories, it is difficult to give a
precise definition of these domains. The moral dimension is the
dimension that is easiest to define; it’s roughly about what we
regard as right or wrong in giving meaning to personal behaviour,
or any subject or object we perceive. The concern is to locate moral
identities and properties. Interest
is the dimension that deals
with the resources we strive for, compete over or share. Interest
is about socially recognized values. The concern is to get hold of
the appropriate capital
. This includes a wide capital concept.
Existence is the dimension that contains a vast variety of life
qualities concerning survival, development, feelings, health, wellbeing,
ageing, growth/decline, learning/forgetting, etc. to an
extent that is difficult to fully describe. The content will be
clearer as the core pattern becomes more obvious to the reader.
The concern is to reach the desired life qualities that satisfy one’s
needs
. By regarding existence, interest and morals as
‘dimensions’, I note that though each one has a character of its
own, their extensions are so immense that it is impossible to
make a complete description of them.

A moral standpoint as well as flowing moralizing behaviour
of others is always related to conflicts in the existential and/or
interest dimensions, and the relations between such positions are
mutual and work together. By regarding interaction from a moral
positioning perspective, one might understand the way we try to
manage existential and interest conflicts. For example: Being
robbed of your money (interest), you will be angry (existence) and
define the perpetrator as evil (moral). I claim that this threedimensional
meta-structure (EIM) and its implicit functions
aren’t recognized in many ethic and moral discussions. The
relations between the three EIM-dimensions are keys to
understand how meanings/identities are constructed and how
important the influence from that structure is. The EIM-pattern
will be further described below.

Part II: Moral positioning

It is almost impossible to imagine a society without the
phenomena of moralizing. Morality is a powerful social force used
in a lot of implicit and unaware interactions. Through analysis, it
could be easier to recognize its use and misuse.

Persistent issues of good and evil

Moral positioning is dealing with Good and Evil as commonly
used categories with an immense variety of representations. The
analysis shows how moralizing works, no matter what is
regarded as Good or Evil. The question of what should be defined
as Good or Evil is mostly a philosophical matter and that
question isn’t dealt with here.

However, while everyone in daily life, and in many social
processes continuously deals with the question of what is good
and what is evil, it is done according to specific patterns. And
while we all have to solve daily controversies we have to make
more or less temporary judgement on what constitutes good or
bad deeds. We also try to co-construct a local moral order in
coherence with ethics in society, and we regularly have to
transmit or explain moralities to our children. Everyone is
expected to take moral stances in a lot of daily existential and
interest conflicts. We must try to master the moral issues in our
lives. We use moral positioning because it is useful in our lives.

This research on moral positioning has analyzed morality in
relations and in different situations and searched for their
interactive and dynamic properties. The analysis is focused on
why and how moralizing is used and activated in conflicts. It’s
obviously a social tool in the way that it keeps drives, needs and
competition in check in order to protect the society and
individuals. Different moral orders will therefore be in conflict as
people have different drives and interests and a moral order works
as a hindrance to certain interests and satisfying of needs
. That’s
why the moral order itself will represent different interests and
accordingly sometimes be an object of bitter competition.

There are obviously no consensual rules of what is good in all
situations and contexts. But somehow the GoodEvilVictim (GEV)-
pattern survives the harshest competition, and even conceptual
fights, and will always be revived
. The moral conflict pattern is
durable and resumes even after the moral issues are neglected or
scorned. There seems to be a drive to practice moralities in a
mutually coordinated way. One could say that a moral order is
used in relation to its utility in the long run: ‘What is good for
people is good moral
. But moralizing is also based on local (or
individual) interests, egocentric or ethnocentric, like: ‘What is
good for me (us) is morally good
’. Collectively speaking,
moralizing is a way to keep the group together, to protect and
uphold group member rights and responsibilities. Individually
speaking, moral positioning is also a way of levelling emotional
and other intrapsychic unbalances
by defining the relation to
others. We use morality at all levels to make a normative
appraisal of the situation by giving moral identities to the
participants.

As the morally good is depending on what is existentially
good for people, the basic benchmarks will be ‘access to life
qualities’. We continuously compare our access to life qualities
with others, but as there are conflicts in interest and existence
the question of what really is Good or Evil seems to remain
contestable.

Defining the threats around us

Moralizing is one way of defining the threats around us.
When someone experiences a precarious or threatening situation
in any form, either in existence or from interests, that person will
usually activate moral positioning to give meaning to the
situation. As a mode of describing social interaction, moral
positioning is built on patterns of moral positions. The moral
conflict pattern has a triadic form and is composed of the
positions Good, Evil, Victim – the GEV-pattern. From that
pattern we model constellations to use in social situations by
personalizing these positions.

Figure 1. The GEV-triad or the moral conflict pattern
[please see PDF version for figures]

When the moral dimension is activated anyone feeling
threatened may position the threat as the Evil, for example
pointing out an evil person. If someone is about to become a
Victim and cries out for help, the rescuer will be the Good. By
that, the threatening situation is moralized through the GEVpattern
in a personalized constellation. This is an example of a
constellation with three persons, but since a pattern of positions
isn’t the same as a constellation, one person can also hold two of
the GEV-patterns positions, for example by simultaneously being
the Victim and the Good, as in: “You are mean to me in spite of the
fact that I always try to help you
”, (you= evil, I= victim + good). In
many flowing dialogues such as in everyday quarrels or disputes,
the participants alternate in all three moral positions.

Anyone can be in a helpless stage, for example stricken with
disability or illness. When someone needs help and the help
comes natural, like anyone supporting her child without moral
reflections, the moral dimension will probably not be activated.
Doing what does good is often natural, with existential rather
than moral meaning
. But if participants overrule the local moral
order, such as when negligent parents don’t support their child, it
might trigger an emotional atmosphere and start a moral
positioning according to the GEV-pattern. Neglecting may
primarily be experienced as a moralized conflict of how to react to
helplessness, but is based on unsatisfied existential needs and
interests not provided for.

To uphold his/her right the needer may have to fight for it.
Rights are in the interest of the needer and if the needer can’t
force the bystander to help, moral positioning might start. A
supporter that intervenes will, as soon as the situation is
moralized, probably be valued as the Good, the neglecter as the
Evil – and the needer will keep, unimpelled or not, the victimposition,
until the conflict fades out. Even a negligent bystander
will finally try to recapture a good-position in defining
him/herself.

Figure 2. A constellation associated with the GEV-triad. The
pattern behind could be found as multidimensional, also
communicating existential and interest meaning.
[please see PDF version for figures]

An anxious helper usually tries to keep the good-position as
it constitutes important social capital, but inner doubts of one’s
own good character or identity may also lead to a compelling
evilizing of others. Sometimes even a diffuse feeling of unease or
discontent might activate a search for someone else to blame. It’s
sometimes expressed in a self-revealing way as: “I needed a
culprit
” and “He became my scapegoat”. The force to fulfil the
pattern in current moral constellations arises from the
syntagmatic character of the GEV-pattern. One activated identity
in the GEV-pattern will start a force of fulfilling the whole
pattern
. It is an entity.

As long as a threat is experienced, the GoodEvilVictimpattern
(GEV) will impel even if the constellation alters. One
can’t be sure that a specific constellation will last because new
actions or circumstances might change the identities knitted to
GEV-positions. The more convincing a person label others as Evil,
the more confirmed will that person’s own identity as Good or
Victim appear. The winner of the good-position in moral
competing confirms the others as somewhat Evil and/or Victim.
This might have a decisive influence on individuals dependent on
those who are more resourceful (Swart, & Solomon, 2003;
Mitchell, 1981).

Identities will be formed with reference to the dimensions
and patterns in the EIM-model, with moral meaning as well as
existential or from interest. Will we, for example, still feel sorry
for the beggar when he turns out to be threatening and obstinate?
Could he be an actual threat to our life qualities and interests?
Do we find him more of a perpetrator than a victim? Our current
moral constellation will, as we capture it in a threatening
situation, lead to repositioning and changes in our own acting.
Perhaps later, in a reflective mood, one may find other moral
standpoints from a wider existential perspective, including the
beggar’s life story, disadvantages and social distress. Moral
positioning and its formal conflict pattern can be instantly
activated and also deactivated as soon as the threat is gone.
When feelings of fear no longer are at their peak, one might be
ready, for example, to explore the existential and interest
conflicts of the beggar’s life story.

Conflicts in suffering

Suffering is a conflict in itself, existentially speaking. The
conflicts we experience in embodied suffering have an existential
character and will work in different levels of our existence. Pure
bodily pain, emotional and psychic suffering and psychosocial
discomfort are all basic aspects of an existential status. The
sufferings of others often become moralized conflicts in a society,
conflicts that some escape and others confront.

Persons stricken with illness or disability will easily be
pitied with “poor him” or “poor her” as a persistent identity. The
sufferer expects to meet compassion and will probably need it.
But a person stricken with a lifelong disability will have a
devastating social life if he/she is always pitied. A bodily suffering
might be bearable, but not pitying social attitudes. To repel overcompassionate
attitudes, without being regarded as unthankful,
one has to perform a difficult act of social balancing. On the other
hand, lack of compassion from the bystander will be regarded as
heartlessness and bad behaviour – and activate a moralized
conflict. The existential conflict will thereby be moralized and the
stricken person will become the Victim.

Figure 3. A constellation associated with the GEV-triad.
[please see PDF version for figures]

Especially in a context of guilt, there will be an urge to take
a standpoint in favour of the sufferer. The social moralizing is
then near at hand and moral competing on who is the ‘best in
being Good’ will sometimes occur as, for instance, when
participants overdo their compassion in order to be on the safe
side. Relations sometimes become unnecessarily cautious and
tense as if interacting in an avalanche risk zone. There is a moral
balancing
between the compassionate and the ignorant attitude
to the sufferer. Being too good isn’t Good, trying to be the only
person that is good isn’t Good either.

It is sometimes suggested that children who are frequently
pitied and victimized during his/her upbringing, runs the risk of
integrating these identities as dominant. It would work like a
habituated GEV-pattern that imposes the person in a dominant
way to interpret and construe the situation from the self-identity
as ‘poor creature’ and ‘Victim’. A dominant self-positioning from
these identities proposing ‘I have been mistreated’ will in any
conflict tend to give others moral positions as Good or Evil. When
a GEV-pattern is repeatedly proposed from any taken position, it
will be imposing and unpleasant for others and often a hindrance
in social life.

As there might be many social consequences connected to a
person’s disability in interaction with fellow-creatures, daily
conflicts might be near at hand. An oversensitized moral
disposition will in that situation become a problem. Practically
everyone meets unsolved existential and interest conflicts by
taking a moral standpoint, but the level of moral affection and
action differs a lot.

Sometimes we meet a conflict by proposing a moral goodalliance,
with a clear-cut Evil on the outside, before any analysis
or problem solving. The fear of losing control can make us lock
such a conflict constellation. Persons or groups that are evilized
are of course excluded from the togetherness in a good-alliance.
Moral gate keeping is effective in drawing the line between ‘us
and them’. Taking possession of the good-position makes it
possible to capitalize on it in several ways. The good-alliance can
also be formed and kept together with rules like: ‘If you aren’t
with us, you are against us’, or ‘Only our enemy’s enemy can be
our friend
’. Such rules serve to lock a moral constellation. Model
power
(Braten, 1982; Aström, 2003) is about having a social
capital that gives the power to actualize, activate, establish or
dissolve a constellation. Moral threatening is a way to exercise
moral model power, and it can be combined with the threats in
interest and of existential bereavement in social processes like
expelling, stripping of rank, excommunication and freezing-out.

The helpful other

I sometimes let them help me, though I don’t like it. But it
makes them feel good
”, says one woman with motor impairment.
Moral obligations obviously aren’t one way even, if we sometimes
think so and it’s not always clear who is helping whom.

To make someone else feel well is usually morally good.
Feeling well when making others feel well is also common. But it
doesn’t mean that the moral dimension actually is activated.
Feeling well is a life quality, and as such an existential matter.
One may feel well by doing good. But on the other hand one may
also feel very well by gaining capital in a morally dubious way.
The social identity of a ‘good’ person is what our doings look like
in the eyes of others, not what he feels like. If the social moral
identity is important for a person’s self-esteem, the current moral
order will impose on a person’s social positioning.

When not being able to help, one may feel helpless and even
fall into a self-positioned, self-blaming Evil identity. When the
inward moralizing becomes unbearable, one turns to moral
positioning outwards, and projects the unwanted identity on
others. One mother cried over the child she couldn’t help. She felt
helpless and no good at all. Perhaps someone else could do this
better she said, “someone who could save my child to a better
life”. This mother had low self-esteem, devaluing herself as being
‘not-able-enough’, and even ‘not-good-enough’ in a self-moralizing
way. Parents’ moral identities sometimes seem to be more crucial
for their self-esteem than their existential identity even if they
coalesce. It’s expressed in a comment: “I’m not perfect but I will
fight for my children’s future
”.

Being unhelpful or neglectful is usually Evil in a local moral
order
. Being an ‘unable parent’ is sometimes mixed up with being
a ‘bad parent’ or an ‘evil parent’, because the practical
insufficiency is moralized in a devaluating way. Separating these
identities is sometimes crucial for the support of a parent’s selfesteem
in a faltering parenthood. In most contexts, existential
aspects like suffering seem to connect to moral identities. We will
search for the cause of the suffering, and we often prefer to
personalize it – to point out a culprit. But there are also contexts
where the interaction is kept strictly professional, in a morally
neutral way; for example, when the task is strictly medical – to
save life whoever is stricken – or when someone keeps up a
‘strictly business’-attitude, with no existential or moral
considerations. Another example an attitude of ‘none-of-mybusiness’
as a way to mark one’s limited moral responsibility,
ridding oneself of moral obligations and emotional involvement in
the other.

Fear and defence

The activation of moral positioning has several alternative
drives, but fear and bereavement are of great importance.
Moralizing is a means to regulate behaviour to be acceptable and
unharmful, and will therefore be frequently used. Moral
recruiting
is sometimes used to assemble support for ‘a good
cause’, like things that correspond to highly valued life qualities
or capital. Arousing fear or anticipated loss might ‘gather the
troops’, and the demonizing of a counterpart will strengthen a
constellation modelled from the GEV-pattern. The drives are
existential and/or from interests, but work through moral
susceptibility
.

Feelings of fear activate defence and are near at hand when
individuals are weakened and exposed as stricken with
misfortune, stronger competitors or earlier victimizing. In moral
gate keeping
certain participants mark the border of interest and
existential security with the help of a GEV-constellation. Within
the borders, there will be one or more objects of protection, thus
the presumed Victims. The ward will be protected by
institutionalized rules, both formal and implicit moral rules of
conduct. The intruder will by all means be kept out, and the
object of protection, perceived as vulnerable and helpless, will be
kept safe inside. The intruder is evilized as a threat to values of
existence or interest, as it arouses feelings of fear as if existence
is put in jeopardy. A lot of representations are possible. Moral
gate keeping is a basic social process, described in more detail
elsewhere together with its subprocesses.

Existential fight and interest competition

Conflict activities within the existence and interest
dimensions seem to differ in character. An existential controversy
is more or less an animated fight, based on feelings and affects.
An interest conflict is basically more of a competitive challenge
over a desired capital. It isn’t necessarily animated and ruled by
feelings, it could as well be a cool, calculative strategic
manoeuvring and manipulation to win the capital at stake.
Mostly these modes of conflict activity, fight and competition
seem to be combined to some extent, but they also occur
separately.

The hierarchy of social status capital in ‘Over/Under’-
relations is a basic and often ruling identity structure. During
interaction, we constantly define others and ourselves as equal,
top dog or underdog and we act to keep up or improve our social
status, or any other social capital. As a context, the hierarchical
social structure seems to represent one type of institutionalized
allotment of social capital. There are probably rules for roles, and
to what extent these are changeable or possible to equalize. A
stiff hierarchical structure may force the participants to have
either top dog or underdog positions. Positioning in the
hierarchical context may be rooted in the competitive evaluation
of things like physical or economic strength. A person’s access to
important life qualities and social capital are compared. If moral
qualities are capitalized and if competition dominates the context,
there probably won’t be room for all in a good-position. The
context may force the participants to regard others as moral
competitors
.

A moral order, local or universal, is a social construction that
says what is to be regarded as Good or Evil. Though it’s formed to
keep up systems of relations in a specific way, it leaves a lot to
the participants. We reconstruct it in social relations at any level.
Doubts about another party’s moral credibility make the
interaction insecure and unpredictable, rationalizing our interest
in moral imprinting on new generations. Moral order is complex
and variable but seems to depend on how positions in the GEV-pattern
are perceived as life qualities and reified as capital
.

During analysis, moral positioning was found to be a central
aspect in many processes concerning human conflicts. Such
conflicts are moralized with varying strength, from aggressive
and accusing to subtle and vaguely insinuating. Moral hinting
represents a covert interaction style that is opposite to open
moralizing. Conflicts on moral matters can either be openly
recognized and debated or covert with masked moralizing and
tabooing. For example, in conflicts in parenthood and caretaking
around a disabled child, an area with strong tensions that often
displaces staff discourse to informal fora; a matter that is only
discussed in secured zones.

Patterns and dynamics of a moral conflict

To understand how moral positioning works in conflicts one
has to understand the dynamics of social positioning and the
force in implicit structures. Even if the pattern isn’t fully exposed
in all its positions, it is still there implicitly.

The GEV-pattern is easily applied and recognizable as a
basic pattern for everyday life. The answer to the moral question
‘Who is good (or evil, or victim)?’ is always modelled in a
constellation that follows the GEV-triad. The pattern is activated
even when all positions aren’t obvious and clearly personalized.
In the sentence ‘The mother rescued her child from being abused’,
there is also an abusive (implicit Evil) power present in the
constellation. Even when someone says:‘- He hit me!’, the goodposition
is present in the constellation because one regards
hitting someone as Evil and the listener is expected to hold the
implicit good-position. If the answer is: ‘You earned it!’, there
would probably be some moral confusion about what is right or
wrong. Unclear constellations that are built on a pattern like
GEV will urge fulfilling questions like ‘Who did what?’.

Positions and linking

With the concept ‘position’ one can display how meaning is
linked to meaning in a specific way. The constellations formed in
social interaction use symbolic patterns like GEV. In
personalizing positions, we give and take identities in
correspondence to the conflicts and concerns with which we deal.
A proposed meaning usually has to be accepted to serve social
interaction.

In a flow of changing meanings, it’s possible to move from
position to position to create new constellations perhaps being
evil today and being the good guy tomorrow. For changes of moral
identities, there have to be structures that aren’t locked in
sanctifying, demonizing or victimizing. A structure can be both
enabling and constraining (Giddens, 1994, 1984). Consider, for
example, how table manners work. They make us able to succeed
at the dinner table thanks to the restrictions attached. The
linkings can be strong in constellations that are often used, like
in an institutionalized doctor/patient-constellation. The linkings
can be even stronger in a hard conflict that serves the ruling
order, powerful interests or significant needs. A stiff-linked
constellation can be institutionalized in a context as an important
structure.

As positions form the pattern through their links, they also
form a specific meaning coming from the specific way they
connect meanings. That’s why a specific type of linking is
decisive. The meaning of the whole constellation is decided by the
meaning in its linkings. For example, the link between Good and
Victim is ‘makes good/takes good’. The link between Evil and
Victim is ‘makes bad/takes bad’, and the link between Good and
Evil is ‘makes good/makes evil’. Moving from one position to
another means different things in different links.

When we analyze patterns, we search both positions and
links because it’s the linking that gives the position its
complementary meanings and builds the pattern. One can’t
understand what Good is without also understanding the
complementary meanings of Evil and Victim. In analyzing a
constellation, we need to find out what dimension and
dimensional positions are active in people’s construction and how
identities relate to each other. In real life situations we just ‘feel
it’ and ‘do it’ but are seldom aware of it. If the moral dimension is
activated in someone’s mind, the GEV-pattern will surface
automatically.

As a formal pattern serves a lot of different situations, a
pattern of that type resists change in all possible usage and
withstands dynamic forces and reconstructions of meaning in
interaction. If the Victim is found to be the one who hit first, the
constellation will be recomposed after the same basic pattern but
maybe with the former Victim as the perpetrator, as long as the
moral dimension is activated.

Giving and taking positions

In everyday social interaction we continuously search for and
compose meaning and identity (Berger & Luckman, 1966). The
social interactors are proposing, more or less impressively, the
identities they prefer. We propose our own identities in ‘selfpositioning’
and others in ‘other-positioning’, to gain capital and
life qualities. Others don’t always accept a proposed self-identity,
thus a person’s ability and skill in social positioning will be
important to accomplish his/her concerns.

When we take and give identities in constellations, we model
all the activated identities into a coordinated meaning in the form
of a specific constellation. The consequence of self-positioning is
that we simultaneously propose a complementary identity to
others, whether we intend it or not. We continuously identify
others in relation to ourselves and ourselves in relation to others.
When giving an identity to others, the result of an activated
pattern is that you at the same time propose an identity for
yourself
. For example, a strong marking of oneself as a morally
good person may be taken as an exclusive identity, which offers
the positions as Victim or Evil to others – a proposal that may
arouse feelings of conflict or competitive action on the issue.
Alternatively, if we point out a Victim, there will be an instant
filling-out and proposing of who is Evil and who is Good in a
personalized constellation, because of the fulfilling character of
the triadic GEV-pattern. Not all activated patterns will result in
an established constellation, as the perception of a proposed
meaning might be transient or abandoned. But some will be
accepted as relevant, or imposed as inevitable, and therefore
realized as important social identities. In a tense situation and a
conflictive context, moral imposing tends to be strong and the
position difficult to escape.

The giving and taking of positions are often flexible and
mobile. A common and ordinary family tiff might be like a moral
merry-go-round in taking and giving positions in
Good/Evil/Victim-turns, as an ordinary everyday interaction. At
one moment, a member is the good guy – and in the next the bad
guy. To gain a good-position one may have to reduce another
person’s good-capital by blaming them and seizing the victimposition.
Snapping the good-position at opportunity often involves
active good deeds, but it can be done in different ways. Thus,
basic patterns of moral conflict are the same in family conflicts as
in higher levels of societal processes.

Patterns and constellations

We continuously use patterns from our social disposition in
modelling various constellations for daily life practice, in
constellations of persons and objects. Some patterns seem to be
old and lasting because of their usefulness, and some are formal
and have a form that’s basically the same whatever the situation,
context or participants. The constellations can be varied on the
formal pattern according to personalizing, context, combined
patterns, emotional strength, drives, main concerns etc.

A personalized constellation on the GEV-pattern is built on
the personal pronouns (I, you, he, she, it, we etc.) and can be
combined in all sorts of ways. They are pronominal positions that
will be used as basic identities in interaction about who-is-what
or who-has-what. Patterns like GEV are easily combined with
personal pronouns. That’s how positions and constellations make
sense. We model a constellation in ‘I am’, ‘You are’ and ‘He/she/it
is (or they are)’ and others adapt it to patterns they recognize.
When the constellations are modelled after the GEV-pattern they
take form, for example, in: ‘I am good’, ‘You are a victim’ and ‘He
is evil’, as relevant social identities in a specific situation and
context.

GEV-pattern as an analytic unit

The basic pattern of moral conflicts, the GEV-pattern, works
as a model for social interaction and is repeatedly used in all
sorts of situations and levels of abstraction. Its positions bear
symbolic social meaning that are easily understood by everyone
even when they aren’t accepted as identities. In observations of
children’s play it was obvious that the GEV-pattern is variable
and adaptable to uncomplicated meaning in children’s play as
well as advanced interaction. In children’s play relations they
interact with opinions like Nice, Nasty and Someone being
treated nice or nasty.

The GEV-pattern is also a pattern useful in deconstructing a
conflict situation. When participants give the conflict a moral
meaning, they have modelled the situation and identities in a
certain way. Deconstructing each party’s perspective and how
they give moral meaning to needs, concerns and interests, may
clarify their locking of the conflict constellation. Sacred values,
crucial needs, strongly felt interests and demonized opposites can
then be exposed to reflection.

The pattern of moral conflict is best understood in
combination with the patterns of existential and interest
conflicts, the EIM-model, but this limited presentation of pattern
for social positioning analysis cannot show the full range of
variety. There is usually a dynamic movement between conflict
and balance in all three dimensions to take into account, for
example when a person gets sick and becomes socially devalued
by a morally sensitizing sickness as AIDS/HIV (Gilman, 1988).

Dimensions and conflict patterns

The constellations we form in daily life are based on limited
knowledge, habituated patterns of behaviour, personal drives and
interests, and will therefore be temporary and situational. They
will be formed in a flow, concurrently influenced by context and
situational factors. The constellations of conflict can be puzzled
out with the help of the patterns in the EIM-model.

Figure 4. Existence, interest and moral dimensions and the
dimensional conflict patterns.[please see PDF version for figure]

The EIM-model is the result of a grounded theory analysis
and offers the possibility to visualize conflict positions in a lot of
different applications. Every position in this model is combinable
with any of the others in the relevant constellation or
combination of meanings, and these dimensional patterns are
abiding in transfer into different levels of abstraction.

It is important to point out that in the existential dimension
there is a tremendous amount of ‘life qualities’ that can be termed
in different levels, but its basic conflict meaning is caught in the
expression ‘being vs. not being’. In a similar way, the interest
dimension has an enormous variety of ‘capital’ and ‘capitalizing’
in social life, and here the basic conflict meaning is ‘having vs. not
having’. Both ‘the need for a life quality’ (an existential drive) and
‘the interest for a capital’ (a capital drive) are concurrent socially
constructed dynamics of life. When a new need arises, it usually
awakens an interest of capital that can be supportive to
satisfaction. This is about how to obtain what supplies or satisfies
(capital) a certain need (life quality).

When a primary conflict in the existential and interest
dimension, is reduced or resolved, the moralizing fades out
. The
moralizing activity is no longer nourished by a perceived conflict.
The patterns we possess in our habituated repertoire are
obviously activated when triggered – and inactivated when not
needed. It’s the emotional imbalance that seems to animate the
GEV-pattern even when the conflict is historic or, as in other
cases, anticipated.

Reflections and Discussion

The results of this research are in two main areas: (1) the
discovery of the moral positioning process, its dynamics and the
formal properties of the core variable, the GEV-pattern; (2) the
discovery of a meta-structure (EIM-pattern) that explains much
about how moralizing can be understood as a dynamic force in
handling conflicts in existential and interest matters. To make
sense the moralizing process has to be related to imbalances in
significant aspects of existence and interest, and this can be
visualized as a meta-pattern of three cooperating dimensions that
implicitly support the participant in giving, making and
interpreting meaning and how this can be analyzed, described
and visualized as a social positioning process. The limited space
available in a single article can’t give full justice to the theory.

Social positioning, as a concept emerged from analysis of
’attitudes between persons in social interaction with one stricken
by impairment’. It is grounded in two characteristic attitudes: the
stricken as a ’risk’ and the stricken as an ’object for sympathy’.
While analyzing the processes around moral positioning, several
processual concepts in line with social positioning emerged. They
were urged by the analysis to explain what was going on. Having
developed a limited conceptual apparatus for social positioning
analysis through a grounded theory analysis, I started to search
for references in research literature. Harré and Langenhove had
just published their book Positioning Theory (1999) but as I didn’t
know about the articles that preceded this book, this
conceptualizing of Social positioning wasn’t influenced by those
but had, instead, taken another direction though some concepts
are quite similar. Their main focus is the positions in storyline in
the dialogue; mine is the use of consistent patterns of positions
and identities socially constructed. Their alignment is more in
describing the dialog and mine is in finding the abstract
patterning of positions used in processes of interaction at any
level. Though they don’t use the concept ’social positioning’, these
two alignments are comparable and probably combinable in many
aspects.

As conflicts are both within us and between us, and since
balance and conflict are constantly recurring for different
reasons, one has to regard positioning as a myriad of positionings,
creating a myriad of constellations, sometimes based on socially
co-constructed patterns. Social interaction is taking place on
several levels at the same time, with several simultaneously
ongoing conflicts in all dimensions. Several basic social processes
might be activated at the same time, they come and go when
needed, possibly with other dimensional systems working
simultaneously. Visualizing the social interaction as positional
patterns may be regarded as seductive and simplifying; but on
the other hand, it may be a virtue in using this as a tool, to be
capable of making the meanings and identities in social
interaction clear and simple. Actually, there is a potentiality for
building a more composite pattern.

The aim has been to find the core concepts that catch what is
going on in social interaction when moralizing is activated. The
result should be regarded as a proposal, and the patterns and
concepts should be scrutinized. But these results can also be used
with generative power, other patterns on different levels can be
found and explored, due to the social positioning perspective. Its
patterns can be applied in real life and tested as tools for a social
discourse.

The reasons for moral positioning vary depending on what
drives and interests are activated. Already known is that people
use moralizing in a lot of different ways and for different reasons.
Such reasons are to reach balance within one’s own mind and
emotionally charged world, promote better positions for oneself
and/or others in questions of interest. That is for reaching
important capital and for gaining positive life qualities
.

When I tried to find out the importance of moralizing in
conflicts, I was surprised to discover that the conflicts could be
classified and analyzed in a three-dimensional model (EIM) with
great coverage in the social field. Moralizing could be understood
and expressed with its core pattern, GEV, in relation to activity
within the dimensions of existence and interest.

I found that the meta-structure EIM, in a formal way,
exposes how moral meanings are related to striving for desired
life qualities and competing for significant capital. The model
emerged after repeated use in supervising staffs and persons with
disabilities. With this model it’s easy to display how separate
meanings link together in patterns, through positionings when
we interact socially, and how mixed meanings can be separated
and clarified. ‘Position, pattern and link’ were chosen as
theoretical codes as they seemed to work, and that’s why I talk
about meanings as positions. They take form in both lasting core
patterns, and in flexible and changeable instant patterns.

Why moralizing is easily activated

Moralizing is a specific mode of handling a conflict. The
questions why the interaction within fields of suffering so often is
socially and emotionally charged could be answered with
reference to the multiconflictual situation concerning existential
and interest matters. That’s not surprising. Conflicts that can’t be
solved by a participant will be emotionally charged and thereby
easily moralized
. Any conflict could be moralized, but when the
participants have other means to handle the situation, the
moralizing seems to be unnecessary. It seems like power is
related to moralizing in the way that the less life qualities or
capital a person or a group has, the more important moral model
power is
. Moralizing is sometimes used to charge an imbalance in
life qualities or capital with moral meaning. The struggle about
conceptual meanings will be about what is good, evil and victim,
and who is holding these separate positions.

Having moral model power (Braten, 1982) is to have capital
that makes it easier to keep the constellations the way one
prefers. Disabled, sick, poor people will probably have a better
chance if the moral order supports their needs and interests, and
balances their shortage of such values.

The reason why this type of area is filled with tense relations
and psychological tensions seems to be that it contains difficult
conflicts that easily activate moralizing. Conflicts of existence and
interest are natural and all the time current in all these fields. If
it’s of great importance to be recognized as good, it gives the
social interaction a specific character. When the context is
conflictive, the identification of the ‘guilty’ and evil becomes
important, in line with what sometimes is called a ‘guilt context’.
Guilt is, both as a feeling and a social matter, built on the GEVpattern.
Some of the professionals interviewed felt really uneasy
answering questions about social and psychological aspects in
connection to a guilt context.

The resistance among professionals to open insight is
surprisingly strong and often overthrows the problems
originating from obstructions to openness. The lack of resources
that is the outcome of the unwillingness to speak out about needs
for psychosocial help among disabled children isn’t morally
conflictive; at least not at the same level as the feelings of
conflict when talking openly about the situation of these children.
It’s the conflict perspective that decides what the main moral
issue is. The answer to why, in the field of handicap, there is a
sort of righteous cautiousness and tip-toeing on matters of social
and psychological character is complex but can lean on the theory
of moral positioning. Professionals may also have an interest in
giving priority to protecting their own capital or life qualities
when they come in conflict with clients and that is a choice that
either is moralized or is kept out of the moral dimension.

Formal core patterns

A formal pattern can work as an analytic unit in different
levels of abstraction and in any relevant area of praxis. The GEVpattern
stays the same for anybody, anytime and everywhere in
moralizing, because it’s formal. For adults and children, for a
carpenter and a bank clerk, for a priest or a criminal, the moral
positioning is built and interpreted with that pattern. Its form
can be activated from any participant perspective, since it is
formal.

The GEV-pattern has a seemingly enduring form. It’s a tool
that doesn’t deform though constellations change in any
personalizing of positions. The GEV-pattern helps us to assign
important identities of Good, Evil and Victim among participants,
in any new situation, in any moment or place. Even if the
definition of what exactly is good or evil changes, the pattern will
endure. The pattern is combinable to a large number of other
patterns in contexts where moral positioning is activated. For
example, a moralized conflict can be formed with the GEVpattern
in any combination with existential or interest conflicts.

As a formal pattern, the moral conflict pattern has no
obvious limitations. I have interviewed and tried this pattern on
persons from different cultures and religions. Since moralizing is
used extensively, mostly in conflicts, the GEV-pattern is
applicable in any field of social activity that can be moralized.

Emerging of the dimensional EIM-pattern

When analyzing the term ‘victim’, that frequently occurred in
data and seemed to be significant, I found that the use of it was
unclear. It carried actually three differing meanings that could be
better termed as ‘stricken’, ‘loser’ and ‘victim’. This was the initial
step in the discovery of the three complementary dimensions, the
EIM-pattern that successively emerged from a lot appearances
(indicators). In all these appearances, it became more and more
obvious that they have had an essential base for the meaning
they carry, and that could be regarded as a dimension. In an
analysis of meanings, it’s possible to scrutinize any terms by
asking if there is any hidden existential, interest or moral
connotation in the term. When appropriate such analysis results
in new triadic patterns, as new discoveries of meanings that are
connected and based in respective dimension.

The focus is here on the moral dimension and its moral
conflict pattern (GEV). The other dimensional conflict patterns
that emerged, belonging to existence and interest dimensions, are
extensive and need further analysis, but their main patterns of
conflict seem to work and fit very well for analyzing conflicts.

There are probably more than one core pattern for conflict in
each of the existence and interest dimensions. To begin with, I
found two important patterns for existential conflict. One is
‘Stricken/Unstricken/Life quality’ and the other is ‘Able/Not
able/Life quality’, and they seem to reflect two sides of a conflict
about a life quality. ‘Being stricken’ with blindness (eyesight is a
life quality) is almost the same as not ‘being able’ to see, but not
exactly the same. Stricken is more related to ‘impairment’ and
Not-able is more related to ‘disability’, two concepts used for
differentiation in ‘handicap-research’. There is also an important
difference in ‘I am able to’ and ‘I am not stricken by’. Secondly, I
found that the conflict patterns in the interest dimension are both
about ‘Having/Not having/Capital’ or ‘Getting/Not
getting/Capital’, two sides of the pattern that gives the identities
Winner/Loser/Capital. These terms did emerge as concepts when
their patterns and properties became visible.

The dividing line between meanings of existence and
meanings of interest is to some extent tentative, but so far the
differentiation of meanings originating from these three
dimensions seems relevant and working. Some words in ordinary
language are pure representations of one of the dimensions (one-dimensional),
and other words are representing two or all three
dimensions. When used in language some words carry a
composite meaning which includes connotations of both
existential, interest and moral character (three-dimensional).

One has to bear in mind that a pattern is a simplified
phenomenon, probably more effective and communicable when
it’s simplified, than if a phenomenon’s whole complexity was
displayed at the same time. When the pattern reaches its
simplest form it becomes generalizable. The complexity can be
added in showing social interaction with its intensity, amplitude,
nuances, associations, compound meaning, combining patterns
etc. A formal core pattern is covering both simple and very
complex processes. It’s the skeleton of a moving body.

The theory in practice

The instinctive way of using these habituated patterns
makes us sometimes go wrong considering our ability for social
interaction is limited. To begin with, we are constantly driven by
conflicts in our social interaction (Simmel, 1955) and the moral
positioning theory shows how some inherent structures rule us.
Secondly, people act socially in accordance with these patterns of
identity, and automatically include several simultaneous intern
and extern conflicts, which may contradict logical reasoning and
the correspondence with individual concerns. We are not always
capable of using all the potentiality in positioning processes that
we need to gain our purposes. Consider that we if are in
contradictive or collaborative interaction with others whose
impact on the structure may be strong, we will be influenced in
either a constraining or an enabling way (Bourdieu, 1994;
Giddens, 1994, 1984).

There seems to be a continuum of consciousness (Glaser &
Strauss, 1965), different modes of activity from ‘unaware to
aware’, from ‘reactive to strategic’, and most people are mainly
unaware and reactive in the social processes of which they are a
part. Some people have a better capacity to survey the action
field, reflect upon others and their own behaviour, keep track of
concurrent conflicts and will therefore more easily act
strategically. As an instrument for analysis this model is usable
for any persons needs. It may help us not to get caught in
constellations that drain off positive life qualities and important
capital. Anyone can, to a certain extent, learn how to use the core
pattern for gaining more model power (Braten, 1982), to
understand what is going on and learn how to do strategic
positioning.

Using the social positioning analysis is one way of becoming
aware of what is going on in relation to other persons. It can be
implemented in groups for an analysis of the group members’
identities and significant constellations. The Evil vs. Victim
constellation can be changed to a not-able vs. stricken
constellation, and by that be the start of a development of the
relations. To understand the difference in meaning between ‘notable’
and ‘evil’ in a private constellation is crucial for relations
blocked by conflicts. A clear division of what is an existential
problem and what is immoral behaviour, reduces the tension in a
conflict. It makes it easier to understand problematic behaviour
of other persons.

I have frequently used moral positioning theory in
supervision, seminars and education – as have others. There
seems to be an instant grab in several of its aspects, when people
recognize and associate to their own experiences. Presentation of
the model will sometimes cause laughter, giggling or feelings of
embarrassment among audience participants as they become
aware of their own covert moral positioning in daily life. Some
persons learn very quickly how to understand and apply parts of
the model to their own cases, and it will only take a few hours to
learn how to use the whole social positioning model as an analytic
tool.

In professional groups with complicated tasks, there are
often tensions leading to conflicts and certain risks for over
moralized interaction. Participants under social and psychological
stress, might react by displacing the inner conflict to a moral
judgment on the behaviour of others. By introducing the EIMmodel
to professionals they can learn how to handle these
tensions in a way to minimize the moral positioning within a
group, and also in relations to clients. People with noticeable
disabilities who will meet imposing attitudes can learn how to
handle these and secure their self-esteem, self-confidence and
model power. As it’s easy in an underdog position to become ruled
by other people’s preconceived opinions, it may be necessary to
oppose stereotypes and imposed identities in a clever way. The
social positioning model can be used as a tool for that.

One can learn how to move focus from one dimension to
another while scrutinizing the conflict. Asking questions like:
What dimension is dominant at the moment? From where come
my feelings of unease? In which dimension belongs my own and
others acting? Which identities are activated? How is the
constellation personalized? Where am I in that? For what life
qualities are the others and I fighting? Are they threatened?
What similarities and differences are obvious between the
parties’ perspectives? What sort of solutions and compromises
could balance the situation? What life qualities can be agreed on
as mutual and basic? What is a fair balance of capital in certain
significant aspects? With questions like these, it is possible to
expose the way in which the conflict involves morality, existence
and interest matters and what sort of problems one has to deal
with. As such, the social positioning model offers a structure that
allows anyone to produce critical and analytic questions.

Moral positioning seems to work as a stand-by social
function and can be activated anytime when significant
imbalances are recognized. One possible way of resolving a
morally locked situation is to use this model to clear out the
person’s perspectives, concerns and drives and disentangle the
actors from embarrassing moral identities. By balancing
existential and interest conflicts one can contribute to morally
neutral relations. Controversial moral positions may fade out, if
not for good perhaps for a while. As every participant uses social
patterns to form his/her best constellation in social interaction, it
means that every constellation is both individually and socially
constructed, otherwise it wouldn’t work. In a social positioning
analysis, one needs every significant perspective to be able to
understand the use of constellations, how conflicts are
constructed and how positioning for balance is enacted.

Author

Thomas Aström, Ph.D.
University of Stockholm
Skontorpsvagen 4, S – 120 38 Arsta, SWEDEN
Phone: + 46 8 914294
E-mail: thomas.astrom@chello.se

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