This started as a footnote. It got expansive. So here we are. A word I use a fair bit is ‘progressive’ however it’s important to note that its a charged and inherently biased terminology. We each have our own ideas of what progress looks like. I suppose that my affection for it as a word is that it encapsulates various things relating to movement towards a preferable future, from my personal, biased, skewed and influenced point of view. Which is a confusion when using it as a communication tool.
Progress is either moving forward or onward towards a destination, or it is development towards an improved or advanced condition (according to whatever dictionary Google throws up). The definition of the destination or of what qualifies as improved or advanced is entirely subjective. For me progressive is moving towards a destination I’m more comfortable with, even excited by. It is defined by most in that way I imagine. Yet people differ a lot in their opinions of what a comfortable destination looks like.
For me, largely that’s a pseudo-anthropological/sociological perspective. That’s what I see as a ‘progressive’ (if hardly new) analytical approach. It includes aspects of systems thinking and complexity. It includes a lot of feminist theory, which in fact helped me to stitch together a lot of influences from psychology to sociology and, more recently, anthropology. This progressive approach sees everything as a web. It tries to embrace interconnectedness and perspective. And yes, it sees everything as complex, dynamic, pluralistic and relational.
I seem to also refer to progressive in a very political sense and that ultimately leans towards the left, towards socialism, feminism, diversity and representation. The two definitions seem strongly but not necessarily exclusively linked. In trying to understand concepts of dynamics, especially pertaining to power, whether along gendered, class, racial or less popularly discusses sociological axes. And once you do that, you most likely see that various nefarious and actively clandestine influences betray any concepts of meritocracy in even the most smug of societies (read: economies).
You end up in discussions akin to the pragmatism (right/central) vs idealism (left/liberal) with people – which seem to hinge on: we’ll all, on average, be richer if we accept that gross inequality is a driver of our mean wealth. What I’ve come to prefer, in my definitions of destination, is that even with less mean wealth, a more equal society is, by and large, a better one. I frankly don’t know enough to say that the argument is a) valid or b) that simple. It is certainly neither in entirety. But it seems to be one of the major fulcrums to consider. From another perspective, one argument seems to prioritise economic progress, the other sociological. And so we come full circle. Definitions of progress, of aspiration, of what ‘good’ looks like.
Bringing it back to work – what has this got to with anything other than analytical lenses and polticised statements of opinion? This has a feel of tying into definitions of progress even at a project/programme level. What is good? For whom? When? What is bad? Why? For how long? It’s a perpetually complicated set of questions to address, but one we each do regularly. We make these judgments regardless of how conscious they are. So what’s good? What’s bad? What is progress? We’ll see.