Theoretical Underpinnings Of Symbolic Modeling

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By Judy Rees

Second draft, 4 May 2006 (incorporating some suggestions from James Lawley)


Symbolic Modelling is a practical methodology for change, and for modelling success, and so tends to tell its own story through anecdotes and case studies. 

However it is informed by, and consistent with, various well-established theoretical perspectives.  This document aims to make explicit the links with these bodies of knowledge, and suggests directions for further reading. We hope it will clarify where Symbolic Modelling fits in and perhaps inspire fresh thinking and debate.

It is not intended to be exhaustive – Symbolic Modelling is a relatively new field, and is in the process of forming new links with the work of other academic communities around the world. 

Symbolic Modelling was developed by Penny Tompkins and James Lawley from the work of David Grove. For a full description of it, see James and Penny’s book, Metaphors in Mind (The Developing Company Press, 2000). 

James Lawley’s list

The following areas of study have been among those with the greatest influence on Symbolic Modelling, according to James Lawley (private correspondence):

  • Experiential Constructivism (as a core philosophy)
  • Cognitive Linguistics (the academic study of metaphor, cognition and language)
  • Evolutionary Dynamics (as a model of the change process)
  • Systemic process (as the basic model of human cognition and relationships)
  • A developmental perspective
  • Modelling (as the principal methodology)

In the remainder of this document I will take each of these in turn, offer a basic definition and suggest further reading.

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