The Proteus Initiative

approaching an ecology of consciousness

We work with all aspects of social change – consulting, facilitating, writing, teaching. We strive to bring together a sensibility for, understanding of, and practice towards the relationship between ecological wholeness and social coherence and healing. Enabling people to stretch their processes of inner and outer development to greater edges and depths; this is the foundation for socially responsive and life-supporting practices.

This innovative approach to Reflective Social Practice can be taken further by undertaking a postgraduate training up to and including Masters level, to see more about this go to proteusschool.org.uk.

Have a look...

  • Living With and Beyond Fear - a workshop for women - Cape Town, October 2017
    "When the root is deep there is no reason to fear the wind" - African Proverb
    We are living in the darkest of times. For the first time in the history of our world, a future – for all life on this planet, and for our beloved Earth itself – is no longer a given. Fear, rage and rising hopelessness are rife. How do we navigate our way in a time that has no precedent? How do we face this collective ‘dark night of the soul’? How, in the face of crushing fear and anguish, can we find a way, not to close down, but to open to our deepest humanity? Read full brochure here.
  • Integrating Goethe - professional development for social practitioners - an invitation to join a group in Cape Town
    Those of us who have been exposed to − and by? - the ‘Goethean Glance’ know that it renders the world a World once more, with all the promise that it contained in childhood, deepened and strengthened by our experiences of coming up against it. We know that it leaves us able to see further − though such seeing can also be painful. We know that seeing further ‘out’ can only be achieved simultaneously with seeing further ‘in’ − and we know what that entails. Read full brochure HERE.
  • The Wholeness of Life - Towards a New Practice of Change - New Zealand 2017: An Introductory Residential Workshop with Sue Davidoff and Allan Kaplan. We live in a complex world; a world of ambiguity and uncertainty. Every time we act within a social context, we are confronted with this unpredictability, ambiguity and uncertainty. A conventional response to this is to try to simplify it. We strive to reduce complexity, in order to better manage our world. Such a response seeks to control life, not to enhance it. But our very attempts to ‘manage’ in these ways create the ‘problems’ which then appear to overwhelm us. Read full brochure HERE.

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Writing as a Way of Observing

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The Proteus Initiative brings a Goethean phenomenology to bear on processes of social and environmental change. This means, amongst many other things, that we emphasise observation, the art of paying attention, not just as a means for understanding situations but also as a specific approach towards facilitating change in complex situations. There are many senses employed in the process of observation (not to mention a disciplined imagination), and Goethe noted that “every phenomenon rightly perceived opens a new organ of perception”. Clearly observational rigour develops the practitioner as much as it provides insight for appropriate approaches to specific situations.



We often think of writing as a means for recording things already seen or thoughts already generated. But writing, thought of differently, is one of our most important means of enhancing our faculties of observation. Writing can be far more than a recording of things past (as in a report); writing is a supremely generative activity, enabling us to see things that we had never seen before. When observations, and phenomena, are taken by the observer or practitioner into the realm of writing, our imaginative thinking – always present anyway in any act of observation – facilitates an illumination of the phenomenon. In this way we are allowed to see further and deeper and more accurately, and the phenomenon is encouraged to reveal more of its essence, more of the ‘open secrets’ (Goethe again) enfolded inside. Writing, practiced in this way – openly, as experiment, as adventure, as foray, as portrayal, as wisdom – can catapult sensory observation into a new accuracy of perception; the more we see, the more we understand, and the more we understand, the more we are able to see.



This first newsletter from The Proteus Initiative, which serves to launch the newly updated and more interactive Proteus Initiative website – you may never be able to ‘like’ us on Facebook, or tweet us on Twitter, or kiss us at a drive-in movie, but you will now be able to interact on a whole other level with our website – also serves to notify interested readers of a number of writing ‘events’, generated by Proteus, which you may not have had access to before. The section of our website entitled Readings, which has always contained interesting material, has just been augmented by three relatively recent papers not included before … and we disseminate as well a further invitation to our now annual Writing Block, held at our home base, the Towerland Wilderness Retreat Centre.



The Writing Block, offered for the first time in May of 2013, proved to be a very fine international gathering of individual and independent writers and aspirant writers, all pursuing their lonely craft within a porous and constantly metamorphosing community of socially-minded practitioners who bounced ideas and readings off each other as they pursued their individual writing paths. It was a tremendously generative time, and Towerland Wilderness came into its own as it enabled each individual to meet themselves and so form a living community for awhile.



Last year, in the middle of 2013, Allan had an article published in the peer-reviewed Community Development Journal of Oxford Journals, jointly written with a close friend and colleague Dr. Peter Westoby of the Community Development Unit at Queensland University in Brisbane. The article is entitled: Foregrounding Practice – Reaching for a responsive and ecological approach to community development. Its subtitle reads: A conversational inquiry into the dialogical and developmental frameworks of community development. An exploration into these frameworks provides the departure point for a whole new look at the discipline, and particularly the practice, of community development, seen now in the light of ecology. It is available here and also at http://cdj.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/reprint/bst037?ijkey=ktwPJn9TKOHT2rs&keytype=ref



In 2011, in response to a workshop that they facilitated, Sue and Allan wrote and disseminated the report entitled The Singer, not the Song.It concerns the ‘vexed questions of impact monitoring and social change’. When it was first disseminated it gained a hugely appreciative readership, but has never been included on the Proteus Initiative website. Over these last couple of years the struggle between an increasingly bureaucratic approach to accountability, on the one hand, and a plea for a more generous approach to social development practice, on the other, has led to heightened complexities and fractures with respect to these vexed questions. This paper, The Singer, not the Song, with its innovative and powerful portrayal of two conflicting paradigms – the logic of achievement and the logic of emergence – as being at the heart of activist choice with respect to the dynamics of social change, has been spoken of as the most important contribution to this debate yet.



Also in 2011 Sue and Allan wrote a report for a client, the Tshwane Leadership Foundation, entitled Freedom’s Ground – Challenges of an Adult Social Activism. With the organisation’s permission, The Proteus Initiative is now making this report publicly available on its website. We are doing this because, for anyone working in the field of social justice and human development, the Tshwane Leadership Foundation’s story is hugely important and instructive; we are also doing this because we believe that the piece provides an example of how narrative writing can take us beyond the blandness of conventional reporting – which all too often mutes, neutralises and deadens our world – as opposed to how somewhat more creative writing can bring our world and ourselves alive in new ways, while proving to be an even more accurate form of observation at the same time.



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Guest Thursday, 22 June 2017