LO's and Metanoia - Alberoni's Perspectives on Metanoia LO27351

From: Artur F. Silva (artsilva@mail.eunet.pt)
Date: 10/04/01

Linked to LO25939

Dear Lo-learners:

Please see below my next post of the series on "LOs and Metanoia"




A Search for LO's and Metanoia

Part III The Metanoia Concept

III.1.2 Alberoni's Perspectives on Metanoia

For me, the Italian sociologist Alberoni is the main reference in what
concerns the concept of Metanoia. Not because he has studied explicitly
that concept, but because he studied the kind of phenomena where metanoia
frequently takes place. So the word is recurrent in his studies.

The "birth stage" of movements

Like many sociologists, namely Durkheim and Max Weber, Alberoni has
studied civilizations and especially the birth and growth of
civilizations. But, contrarily to other sociologists, he was not so much
interested about the ideology of each civilization, or the way
civilization institutions work, but about a special kind of social
phenomenon that is, in his opinion, at the origin of all civilization

Alberoni is specially interested in studying "social movements", some of
which have profoundly changed social institutions and the flow of
civilization. This includes religious, political and cultural movements.
On the religious side, one can include the birth of Christianity (the
movement of the first Christians), the birth of Islam or Buddhism, but
also the Reformation. On the political side, the French Revolution, the
American Revolution, or the Russian Communist Revolution. On the cultural
side, for instance, the Enlightenment Period (known in French and in the
Latin languages, very correctly, as the "Renaissance" a "Rebirth" or
"Revival" civilization period). But one can also think about other more
narrow social movements, like the hippie's movement, or the feminist
movement, which influenced some parts of society. By definition, all
movements are collective -- they concern "social groups". And, as we shall
see, the minimum dimension of a group is two...

Alberoni has studied many types of movements, and how they were born and
evolved some have extinguished themselves, some have originated new
institutions and influenced civilization. But within social movements he
has been particularly interested in what he calls the "birth stage" or
"birth phase" (or "beginning stage" or phase) of those movements -- that
initial phase where the enthusiasm is great, people adhere "en masse" to
the movement, and the personal experience of changing paradigm, of really
being "reborn" (hence, "metanoia") is maximum.

Alberoni's interest in the "birth stage" of movements began very early
with his study of the same tittle ("Stadio Nascente") in 1968. But his
major study is in his book "Genesi" (GEN) from 1989 , a very detailed and
rich picture of movements and institutions through history, especially in
the Occident. "Genesi" is plural and means "origins", "beginnings" or
"genesis", but here it doesn't refer, as in the Bible, to the beginning of
the Universe, but to the movements that have been in the beginning
(genesis) of all civilizations.

A note I must make immediately is that I have read Alberoni's books either
in Italian or in Portuguese translations, both languages having similar
structures. I never read Alberoni in English so I will have to try to
translate the concepts from Italian or Portuguese to English. I have not
the time right now to obtain and check my translation with an "approved"
English translation. But I strongly recommend you get a copy of "Genesis",
because it is really interesting -- and then you can check my
translation... A second note: I don't know how many of you have been part
of a social movement in its initial phase. I have been lucky enough to
take part in two such movements. And reading "Genesi" I often said to
myself: "yes, I saw that" or even "I have lived that". I think that those
of with similar experiences will feel the same. The majority of my
quotations will be from "Genesi". But I will begin with a different book
from Alberoni...

In his reflection about the "birth stage" of social movements, Alberoni
came to understand with the same frame of reference (the same "paradigm")
many different phenomena that others don't see the same way.

"Innamoramento e Amore"

In a short (aprox. 150 pages) and very interesting essay he applies the
same framework to the birth/ beginning phase of... love. The tittle of the
book is "Innamoramanto e Amore". "Amore" is "love" and "innamoramanto" can
be translated as "the process by which one gets in love". Even if the
tittle of the American translation (I just saw in Amazon) is "Falling in
Love", I am not sure if that is a good translation of the title, as
"innamoramanto" presupposes a process and a phase, not only the moment
where one "falls"... Indeed, I wonder if the "falling" analogy doesn't
make it difficult to understand the phenomena as it passes through stages
of doubt, of "asking for evidence", etc. In his "Essay on Love", Sthendal
used the analogy of "crystallization", but prudently described a "first
crystallization" ("maybe she has some qualities") followed by a period of
doubt ("I wonder if she loves me?") and ("If yes") followed by a "second
crystallization" (YES, she has ALL qualities!") in that moment one has
"fallen", I suspect. "Innamoramanto" is everything that happens between
the moment one gets to notice someone and the moment one "falls" in love.

The reason I am beginning with this book is that for someone that has not
been part of the initial phase of a social movement the "innamoramanto"
analogy may be helpful... But I think that some of you are asking "but how
can someone see an analogy between such different phenomena?" Alberoni
answers this question immediately in the first sentence of his book.

"What is *innamoramanto*?" he asks "It is the birth phase of a collective
movement of two. This definition could be given in the end of a detailed
analysis of facts and interpretations, but I have preferred to give it in
the beginning, so that it can be used as a guide."

After that he quotes Durkheim in relation with the "collective
effervescence" of social movements. "Man (I apologize to all women, but I
am just translating...) has the impression of being dominated by forces
that he doesn't recognize as his own, that dominate him. He feels
transported to a different world from the one where his quotidian life
takes place. Life there is not only different, it is qualitatively
different. He forgets himself and gives himself entirely to the common

He also quotes Max Weber (Max Weber, by the way, talks about the
"charismatic leader", but Alberoni says that what is "charismatic" is the
collective movement, the leader being someone that only "interprets" and
"crystallizes" the common aspirations): 'Max Weber in his study of
phenomena where creativity, enthusiasm and faith happen in a profound
way... (periods where people) "cut with tradition" (talks about those
periods, or about their leaders as) "conducting people to an heroic
adventure, producing... an experience of interior rebirth, a "metanoia" in
the sense of St. Paul.'

(The above quotation is from "Innamoramanto e Amore". St. Paul is quoted
15 times in "Genesi", many of which in relation with metanoia or
particulars of that experience).

The word I have translated as "rebirth" is "renascimento" (like the French
word "renaissance"). When applied to a person it means rebirth. As I have
already referred, the same word applied to society and capitalized is the
Latin word for the "Enlightenment Period". I find interesting that the
same word is used to characterize a personal "interior rebirth" and the
social movement of the Enlightenment Period -- indeed a "rebirth" period
of Humanity, a collective metanoia. The "Renaissance" implied an important
paradigm shift from the medieval, theological oriented world view to the
positivist rationality all things can be understood like machines, one has
to divide the whole in parts, understand each part and the relationship
among parts and then one will understand the whole and be able to modify
it. Let me call this the "Cartesian Systems Thinking". If it is true that
we are in the transition to a New Age, a paradigm shift, a "New
Renaissance" (a "New Enlightenment Period") is now strongly needed, I
think. That shift will not be fulfilled through the replacement of a
mechanist view by a systems view that still accepts the other "constructs"
of the Positivist Rationality. The profound civilization change we are
terribly in need of, will, I believe, imply a "social movement", a
collective metanoia that will have many dimensions. In what concerns the
cognitive dimension the replacement of the positivist "world view" by a
perspective that recognizes emergences, wholes and profound change is the
direction to follow. But that civilization renaissance will also mean, in
my opinion, a profound change of values, a new ethic, as well as a
profound emotional movement. That is the reason why I believe that
reflecting on the birth stages of civilization movements is now of a great
importance, both to our organizations and to society as a whole. But
before that let me conclude the summary of "Innamoramento"...

Alberoni describes the "birth phase" of love with the word metanoia as he
claims that through "innamoramento" one is changed so profoundly as if one
had been rebirth. The explanation of how that happens is really

Suppose that someone tells me something that contradicts my own experience
or beliefs, something I can't assimilate within my current "mental model".
I can always "deny" or not pay attention to what the other tells me maybe
he is lying, maybe he is wrong, maybe he has incorrectly interpreted the
events. Why shall I give to someone's words the same or even more
credibility than I give to myself? I see the world through my mental
models -- I don't recognize (I don't see) what is incompatible with them.
Someone external could eventually think that I refuse to think about what
the other tells me; but he would be wrong indeed, sometimes I am not even
able to "see" what the other tells me.

A quotation from Piaget that is more interesting in French due to the fact
that the same word means "data" and "given": "Les donnees ne nous sont pas
donnees; elles sont construites par les theories qui nous permetent de les
Translation: "Data (the "givens") is never given to us it is
constructed by the theories that allow us to see it".

But now suppose that I am in the process of "innamoramanto". I am creating
with someone a collective group of two (at least, for sometime, eventually
for life). I can't "deny" what she is saying, unless I want to deny
herself, but that would mean to "deny" the "group of two" under
construction, to deny myself and to stop the "innamoramanto" process. So I
will have to listen, I will have to try to understand. Maybe I don't
agree; but at least I have to consider what I have heard as a "plausible"
point of view in the maximum I will "convert" to the position she
expressed ("that's true, why haven't I been able to see that before?"); in
the minimum I will conserve my position but accept her's as an equally
valid one. In other terms, in the special case of "innamoramento" I can't
discuss, or deny as if I was talking with a stranger I have to "dialogue"
(my words, not Alberoni's). And I am not talking here of "simulated
dialogue" as we all frequently do in the workplace (or in lists) when we
don't argue in an effort to be "polite", but knowing very well that we
don't agree. I am talking of really "suspending judgement" and considering
that "the other may be true let me listen carefully..." But after that, if
I still don't agree, then I will have to express clearly my position and
hope she will understand it. We have to reach a real agreement -- or to
stop the "innamoramento" process...

On the other hand, during the "innamoramanto" phase, lovers-to-be describe
to each other their previous lives and experiences and they will jointly
reinterpret both histories. If I am considering leaving my previous family
and create a new partnership, I have to know everything about her, and
have my history (or a reinterpretation of it) told and accepted. I will
have to ask, to inquire, to ultimately give and receive a global YES (or
NO). I can't unilaterally protect myself (or her) I have to express my
feelings, and accept hers. We will both win or both loose -- no one can
"play games".

Really, if this "Innamoramanto" is going to become "love" I know I will
change and, maybe for the first time in life, I want to change. The
different other is not someone I can deny we have to learn together... (I
would prefer to use the French verb "apprendre" that means to learn but
also to teach...)

More, I can't lie. I can't put myself in a position where if I win (lose),
she will lose (win). I have to fight for a win-win situation. I can't
make any "attributions" about her behavior, that I will not immediately
try to test. If I attribute to her some negative ideas I will have to ask,
to inquire, until I obtain a clear answer. I will have to test any
attributions. I can't unilaterally protect myself or her. I have to
express my feelings, and accept her feelings. We have to create a new
common "world view" where both will change.

As a conclusion: in our life, the process (or processes) of
"innamoramanto" is a process of change, of paradigm shift, of
transformation of "world views", of profound (double-loop) learning, of
metanoia. I think that the majority of you can identify yourselves, in a
certain moment(s) of your life, with this description.

Please note: the previous point is not a direct quotation; I have
respected Alberoni's thoughts, but I have used some words that Alberoni
has not used (but I thing he could have used...), like "dialogue" and
"assumptions". These small changes will be useful later to relate
Alberoni's perspectives with Argyris and Schon's Model I/II (Part IV).

To finish the references to "Innamoramanto" (and create the bridge to
"Genesi"), let me repeat that Alberoni makes a clear distinction between
what happens during "innamoramanto" (the movement or birth phase) and what
happens after the two parts have "fallen in love" and recognized it (the
"love" or institutional phase). Eventually, they will become partners, and
they will no longer be in the birth stage but in the institutional one.
The love phase will eventually be good. But the initial "energy", passion
and enthusiasm for learning and transformation can't be sustained forever.

Genesis of social movements

More generally, in "Genesi", Alberoni discusses many types of movements,
or "birth phases" and the corresponding institutions they have created --
religious, political and social movements are discussed. And always the
birth phase has the properties of a "metanoia", where people feel reborn,
and the institutions created have a "stable", "continuous" orientation --
power games will be played again, people can again stay at "arms length"
of each other. "Normal life" has regained its normal course.

In Alberoni's own words:

'Observing many different phenomena (of beginning of social movements
before they transformed in institutions) I came to the conclusion that the
most original characteristic, and the more specific, that is present in
all of them is something that happens in the mind of the individuals -- an
experience, a way of seeing the world and relating to others, that I have
called the "birth stage". When they live that experience individuals tend
to create very intense solidarity fields and they show a capacity for
renewal, for risk, for proselytism extraordinarily greater than in
quotidian life'.

'The process that generates the movement, the birth phase, happens at the
individual level, but is simultaneously an individual and collective
phenomenon ').

'This book discusses phenomena that goes from the experience of an
isolated individual to the creation of a church, a nation or a big
ideology. All those processes that have in common a sudden and explosive
beginning, in which the individuals suffer an internal mutation and behave
in a way that is not the one they used to behave in quotidian life. They
cut with the past and begin a new way (of life) to fulfill an
extraordinary objective, the dream of a happier world, of humanity being
again in peace with itself and the cosmos'.

'It's an error to think that social movement are created by leaders that
obtain followers. It's the small group that is created when 2 or 3 people
in the "birth phase" encounter, meet, recognize themselves and begin to
prepare a common action'.

'Big movements only appear when, in the social system, new economical,
social or cultural conditions have grown up and originated many
simultaneous individual "birth phases"'.

'The birth phase (stage) is not a state of mind that the subject obtains
with adequate practice. It's a subversion, a volt-face, a new way of
seeing the world and oneself -- as it happens in religious conversion or
in scientific discovery'.

'The movement begins with a discovery, a revelation, a new perspective
about reality'.

'The movement is the historical process that goes from the birth phase to
the institution and ends when the institution is consolidated and able to
reproduce itself and the quotidian life'.

'The birth stage is an exploration of the function of what is possible, to
maximize what, from experience and solidarity, is possible in a certain
historical moment'.

'At an individual level, the birth stage is a conversion, an interior
change, a metanoia, sudden and profound renewal of the way of being and
thinking of someone, following the discovery of revelation that can be
religious, philosophical, artistic, political of even emotional, as in
love. The individual can change slowly through learning or personal
mastery, but the great changes present themselves under the form of
crisis, discontinuity, real (processes of) death-reborn!" (Please note
that except the words between (...) which I have added for better
understanding, all the others are Alberoni's).

"(the birth stage) is the discovery that our previous life was wrong, that
the world is different from what we thought before and it can be
changed... It's not a consequence of reasoning -- It's an emotional and
intuitive process, but not fool or absurd..."

"In every case the beginning of the birth stage requires an extremely
complex set of pre-conditions very difficult to control... It happens as a
consequence of situations that no one previously programmed, in such a way
that, in the majority of the cases, it surprises the organizations and
even the religious or political agitators".

My comments: Alberoni never refers to the chaos theory but his description
is clearly close to the chaos theory and to the self-organization of
complex open systems. Even if he doesn't refer that explicitly, I think he
analyzes the social movements as if they were living beings, that have a
birth, grow up and eventually dye (when they institutionalize). On the
contrary, he explicitly refers Kuhn and says that scientific revolutions
are a particular case of metanoia and birth stage of movement within a
particular scientific community and normal science is an "institution".
The conclusion is that a movement can't be artificially created through
the learning of any disciplines, neither through the external creation of
conditions. But it can be discovered when it happens to arrive and
eventually guided (nurtured) through its early phases of development and,
as all learning experiences, the "birth stage" will not normally happen
within closed systems or closed organizations everything that opens the
system, that facilitates contacts with the environment, that enlarges
diversity, will allow for the growing of the different conditions and
perspectives that eventually will facilitate the beginning of a (re)birth

Some other characteristics of the birth stage of movements:
 - the birth stage is always a collective phenomena; there are
    conditions that influence many individuals but it is the
    "encounter" of two or more that allow for the state to appear
    in each of them -- the new solidarity of the group is a
    fundamental characteristic of movements; in some movements,
    people feel reborn and they even change names;
 - as new shared models must be created, there are always
    discussions, and frequently "public confessions", where people
    describe their feeling, share their discoveries, and confess their
    sins and are forgiven or helped by the group;
 - movements always create within their members the conviction that
     a "New World" and a "New Man" are under creation; the "new man"
     contradicts the old one -- those people that have not yet "seen the
    light". But, if one of those will "see the light" he will be
    immediately accepted as a part of the movement, with the same
    right to speak his truth as the older members. New comers
    frequently introduce new ideas or perspectives to the initial
    group, and can even in some rare cases become one of
    the leaders of the group (the example Alberoni gave is again
    St. Paul).
 - Any movement creates ethical dilemmas to its members.
    To become part of the movement one has to show (to oneself
    and to others) that he really is a member of the group. He has
    to abandon old ideas and fidelities; "leave everything and
    come with me"; "leave your father and mother and join us".
    Those dilemmas are normally in the form of double bind:
    "leave your father and mother" and simultaneously the
    commandment "honor father and mother". For this type of
    dilemma each member must find a creative solution. "The new
    doesn't always suppress the old, it surpasses it". As these
    "ethical dilemmas" will have to be solved through a "new vision",
    creativity is a normal characteristic of the birth stage.
 - Frequently, even through discussion, the group tends to create
    a unanimous view or model about the crucial matters. Against the
    (old) institution, the movement is in search for the "truth", and
    the "unique truth". This will in some cases conduct to the
    exclusion of people that contradicts the most important features
    of the new model.
 - People in a movement are all brothers and sisters. Even if these
    words are not used, there is a profound sense of brotherhood
    between the members (later, the institution will try to "simulate"
    this characteristic that no longer really exists).
 - The movement is out of the quotidian, economic life. All members
     are equals and frequently some sort of "communism like" life is
     accepted (but not imposed) between members.

I will not summarize the all book (but I recommend it).

Application to the organizational world Introduction to next posts

Alberoni never speaks about organizations (companies or others) but only
about communities and social movements and institutions. And, of course,
he never speaks about learning organizations. He was not even interested
in learning, but only in change but we have already understood that
learning and change are closely related. Maybe learning and change are
only different names for the same phenomenon, as in the tale of different
blind people touching different parts of an elephant.

In the next post, I will try to analyze how Alberoni's concepts of
metanoia can be applied to organizations, and especially to the concept of
the learning organization. I will refer to Authors that have analyzed
organizations using a framework that clearly resonates (at least for
me...) with Alberoni's perspectives, and try to understand the relations
between both concepts.

Having a new perspective on the learning organization is important to try
to understand how the attempts to change ordinary organizations into
learning organizations have a low rate level. But it is not enough, I am
afraid. We will have to see if there are specific inhibitors of individual
and organizational double loop learning and metanoia, and what has been
tried to enhance metanoiaic states in organizations. Even if I don't claim
to have a complete solution to that, I will try to analyze the subject in
part IV.


Francesco Alberoni, "Innamoramento e Amore", 1979 (Portuguese
Edition, "Enamoramento e Amor", 1992, Bertrand Editora, 167 pages)

Francesco Alberoni, "Genesi", 1989 (Portuguese Edition, "Genese",
1990, Bertrand Editora, 591 pages)

Francesco Alberoni, "Estados Nascentes", 1968.


"Artur F. Silva" <artsilva@mail.eunet.pt>

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