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3.2 The Dialogical Experience

The precondition for a dialogical experience to take place is that the parties involved admit the idiosyncratic character of their respective mental habits, and they dialogue precisely in order to perceive the singularities of those habits through the ambiguities they both generate by exchanging their viewpoints. Although they appear to be exchanging referential meanings, they are in fact exchanging margins of ambiguity, which they both believe to be susceptible to interpretation by reshaping their own respective mindsets.[1] The primary condition for an individual to form an attitude for dialoguing—and therefore for dealing with mental habits— therefore consists in offering to share her/his own mind with others and 'betting' on reciprocation, with the rules and temporal and spatial conditions it has to comply to be effective. To apprehend them, it seems expedient to resort to a metaphor, and precisely to the scheme of the 'silent trade' Herodotus (484-425 B.C.) refers to in a passage of Histories, which is worth quoting in full:

The Carthaginians say also this, namely that there is a place in Libya and men dwelling there, outside the Pillars of Heracles, to whom they have come and have taken the merchandise forth from their ships, they set it in order along the beach and embark again in their ships, and after that they raise a smoke; and the natives of the country seeing the smoke come to the sea, and they lay down gold as an equivalent for the merchandise and retire to a distance away from the merchandise. The Carthaginians upon that disembark and examine it, and if the gold is in their opinion sufficient for the value of the merchandise, they take it up and go their way; but if not, they embark again in their ships and sit there; and the others approach and straightway add more gold to the former, until they satisfy them: and they say that neither wrongs the other; for neither do the Carthaginians lay hands on the gold until it is made equal to the value of their merchandise, nor do the others until the Carthaginians have taken the gold (Herodotus, 1890).[2]

Let us now detail the main requirements for exchanging something (be it “words, goods or women” as the anthropologist would say) in delicate/risky conditions similar to those just depicted:

– reciprocal exposure of the parties involved. Though the parties in the silent trade do not come into direct contact, they lay themselves open to each other in conditions of extreme vulnerability. The physical exposure of one to the other is not only the preliminary step for a mutually advantageous exchange to occur in a prospect of a 'repeated game', but also symbolises making her/him the gift of one's own safety—putting it into her/his hands—thus gambling on the willingness to reciprocate (Godbout & Caillé, 1993). “Copresence—Boden and Molotch (1994) write significantly—is 'thick' with information. [... It] delivers far more context than any other form of human exchange” (p. 259);

– capacity to suspend urge. In the scene quoted above 'waiting' is the key attitude for exchange to succeed. The scene develops in separate acts, which are divided by waiting pauses, and everything occurs as in slow motion. Dialogue too entails reciprocal 'exposure' of something precious between parties, which are somehow extraneous to each other, not because they do not reciprocally know, but because they start dialoguing by hypostatising that such extraneousness of respective mental habits is the pre-condition for exploring differences between them. And as with the silent trade of goods, exchanging 'minds through words' requires the parties to moderate any urge while being conscious that this exercise allows them to express their viewpoints (and ultimately their minds) with calm and confidence;

– space interposition. Along with time, space plays a crucial role within the above

scene, because it is only thanks to the relative distance parties interpose between each other that they can reciprocally expose themselves and their goods without fearing attack. A third space is purposely created with respect to their own 'territories', where they alternately place offers and possibly achieve exchange. Again like the silent trade, the device the dialoguing parties resort to is the creation of a shared mental third space between them, with respect to which they repeatedly perform that double exercise of shuttling from/to it and sitting and waiting, which makes exchange possible[3];

– sense of sacredness. Respective 'private' spaces and the common space are sacred to the parties involved, as well as the 'goods' they lay in the common space. Though goods in the metaphor and words in the dialoguing experience are destined to be picked up by the 'other', they remain untouchable until the parties have 'silently' agreed to exchange them;

– silence. Exchange happens without the parties bargaining verbally each other,

because this would imply very close physical proximity, which is highly risky. This means that an enigma arises with reference to the dialogical experience, which can only happen through somehow intimate exchange of words. As we shall show a few lines below, the solution cannot be found anywhere other than at the symbolic level;

– (cautious) openness to external space. Silent trade is a form of long-distance

exchange (Curtin, 1984). Though the Carthaginians are patient, silent, and focused on the restricted space of that small piece of the Libyan coast, they range across larger spaces, in which to launch ventures. The calm, the softness which connote their behaviour in fact constitute a short provisional pause within a wider exciting and maybe turbulent traffic net. The dialoguing condition too entails wider spaces around which to be allowed to range by the parties involved: to avoid entropy, the space of dialogue must remain cautiously open to the external world, and induce guests to make a mental shuttle between the two. Voices, buzz, and also noise coming from the external world must enter that protected space, albeit in a softened manner, to remind parties that their dialogical experience is a temporary though precious suspension of everyday social life, and not at all a comfortable refuge from it.[4]

An actual topology of space thus comes into being, where the topological character means that space assumes a generative power, in that it helps to mould the subjects' mental attitudes. In the case of silent trade, the interposition of a sacred space between respective territories induces them to experience the symbolic dimension, in that from then on that space serves to set and also fix a special kind of social relationship between them (a sort of “equilibrated reciprocation”, according to the Sahlins (1974) tripartition of reciprocity. In the dialogical experience, where physical proximity matters a lot,[5] minds are the parties' private, intimate spaces and the third common space is essentially a mental creation, the symbolic repository of exchanged words, emotions and also silences. The fact that parties may reify that mental space into the short physical distance which lies between them, with its arrangement of objects, however simple it may be, is none other than the device they resort to ensure that their dialogical experience remains acknowledgeable in time, and to evoke the possibility that precious but always singular and frail experience may renovate.

With this, we are now reaching the crucial point, which concerns relationships between space and knowledge, and ultimately between space and creativity. This is crucial because the question arises, on the normative side, if a deliberate physical arrangement of space, through design and maybe planning, can help to shape learning and creative attitudes. And this is even more crucial if we remember that learning and creativity have become the driving forces of socio-economic development. The next section will be devoted to dealing with this issue, which lies within (or beneath) most current contributions to the regional science, but remains (in our opinion) somehow inconclusive, due both to a certain ambiguity about the adopted notion of knowledge and the lack of consideration for the role the symbolic-and-emotional dimension plays within learning. Examination will bring us, firstly, to meet the well-known notion of 'milieu' in regional science, which we shall try to provide with a more substantial foundation than it has in that literature and, finally, to define two analytical tools—'Knowledge-creating Milieus' (KCM) and 'Knowledge-creating Services' (KCS)—which will prove to be particularly suitable for both theoretical and empirical investigations in the realm of the knowledge economy.

  • [1] On the generative role of disagreement within a hermeneutical approach, see Ciancio (2012)
  • [2] The Muslim traveller Ibn Battuta (1304-1369 A.D.) refers to similar practices alongside the Volga (Battuta, 1929)
  • [3] It is no accident that from Galison (1997) onward scientists of very different domains (Derry, Schunn, & Gernsbacher, 2001; Gorman, 2010, among others) have increasingly been concerned with the metaphor of “trading zones” to explain the socio-spatial conditions that make exchange possible between sub-cultures (including scientific sub-cultures)
  • [4] See Goldoni, in this book
  • [5] Only by being proximate each other parties can reciprocally show their full availability to open their mind each other, and also to be 'touched' in this very delicate part
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