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Conceptualisations and attributions of agency to co- and non present forms of otherness in actual, fictional, ludic and simulated possible worlds

Conceptualisations and attributions of agency to co- and non present forms of otherness in actual, fictional, ludic and simulated possible worlds

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Published by: Patrick John Coppock on Nov 26, 2010
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Conceptualisations and attributions of agency to co- and non present forms of otherness in actual, fictional, ludic and simulated possible worlds0.0 Introduction
Linguistically, and more specifically, semantically and pragmatically speaking, theterm ‘agency’ has been, and still is, attributed a wide range of different meanings
1
,some of which refer to observable cultural actualities that are fairly
tangible
incharacter, others less so. Given the amount of space available for this article it willclearly not be possible to address in detail all these different shades of meaning here.So, as a kind of compromise, and as a way of opening up one possible angle for further semiotic investigations the concept of 
agency
, let us examine a selection of some more or less common contemporary meanings attributed to it – with a glancetoo, at some visual and other metaphors used as encylopedic vehicles to envision or embody these meanings. Our aim is to see if this approach can contribute to a fruitfuldiscussion of the notion of agency conceived of in terms of lived experience of enactive relationships with co-present, or non co-present forms of 
otherness
in actual,fictional, ludic or simulated possible worlds.To provide a first overview of the tiny cluster of stars and planets that populate thespecific sector of the global semantic-pragmatic universe we shall visit in the courseof this treatise, I offer a few combinations of binary pairs of core metaphoricalmeanings related to the notion of agency, starting with some more
tangible
 conceptualisations of it, and moving on to others that are increasingly
intangible
incharacter.
1.0 Ostentatious and non-ostententatious forms of agency
In everyday talk, in the mass-media, and in most good dictionaries
2
and lexica, one of the most commonly occuring conceptions of the linguistic term “agency” is a fairly
concrete
one: agency envisioned pragmatically and metaphorically as a kind of 
ostentiously transparent 
“good helper”: a private or publicly run aid, assistance or service instance prepared to take upon itself, and to guarantee, a systematicorganisation and execution of necessary, specialised, well-defined operations,mediatory actions, business transactions or other similar services, on behalf of individual, corporate, public or other institutional clients.Travel agencies, advertising agencies, financial planning agencies, investment banksand brokers, and even contact and marriage agencies are typical contemporaryembodiments of such a conception of agency.At the core of this way of envisioning agency lies the notion of an institutionalisedcoordinating instance that has developed a professional capacity to guarantee afunctional organisation of necessary human, material, technological, legal, economicand other resources in order to produce a planned concatentation of actions that, as aresult of the comprehensive efforts of the agency as an organic whole, produce

1
For a presentation of conceptualisations and models of agency currently being discussed incognitive science and semiotics, see Andreassen, Brandt & Vang (2007), which is devoted inits entirety to the theme of Agency.
2
See for example these contextualised results of a search for “agency” on Websters OnlineDictionary:http://www.websters-online-dictionary.org/definition/agency 
 
 predictable, well defined consequences on behalf of their clients. Furthermore, thereis a presuppostion that the results of these efforts will always be in as closecorrespondence as possible with initially negotiated, carefully defined, subsets of client needs, desires and formal requirements regarding their fulfillment. Viewed interms of 
intentionality
3
, then, this type of agency is characterised by its ability todevelop and offer systematic forms of 
 planned action
designed to extract, map out,remediate and execute as faithfully as possible desired practical consequences of alimited number of well understood,
 
well-defined
client intentions
.As an example of a simple visual metaphor for conceptualising and further concreticising this form of agency, I offer a screenshot (Figure 1) from a freedownloadable computer game based on a procedural
4
ludic modelling, or simulationof a fictional possible world that represents core organisational characteristics, work  patterns and other practices of a modern travel agency. This ludic environment, itsgameplay and rules of play seek to capture and communicate in as effective andentertaining way as possible some of the inherent complexity and interconnectednessof owning, managing and working in this type of agency.Figure 1
5
 Here we observe at the top left quadrant of the image a number of potential clientssitting waiting with questions they want to ask, or other things they have on their minds, “hovering” over their heads, while in the bottom half of the image, we see

3
For an overview of principle philosophical and conceptual questions linked to the notion of intentionality, together with a comprehensive literature list, see the following section of theStanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online:http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/intentionality/.See also Overgaard & Grünbaum (2007) for careful discussion of the relationship between perceptual intentionality and agency from a primarily husserlian perspective.
4
See Bogost (2007, p. ix) for discussion of the role of 
 procedural rhetoric
– “the art of  persuasion through rule-based representations and interactions rather than the spoken word,writing, images, or moving pictures” in construction of what he refers to as the “unique persuasive power” (Ibidem) of videogames.
5
The
Travel Agency Game
is downloadable here:http://travel-agency.relaxlet.com/ 
 
individual agents in conversation with clients, seeking to understand and attend totheir needs, or carrying out other kinds of agency functions, perhaps connected withmanagement and training. At the top right hand corner of the screen is a calender,clock and a record of dollars earned so far by the player, and a proposed goal for their current month’s earnings. In this particular game the player is cast as owner of theagency. In order to succeed, through setting and achieving goals, players are expectedto develop and expand the agency as a business organisation over time, by winningclients, increasing services and sales, engaging, managing and training more and better staff, and so on.Closely associated with the above conception of agency is another type of “concrete”agency that not only serves the interests of single individuals, or groups of individuals, as a tourist agency does, but also of larger cultural entities such as states,governments, federal, and even transnational, institutions. This implicates that thecoordinated actions these agencies carry out are connected by proxy to a wider objective of comprehending and defending shared intentions defined in terms of regional, national or global cultural values, and seen as promoting, or protecting thelarger 
public interest 
– however this notion might be defined. As we can see, thiskind of agency is also characterised metaphorically as a kind of professional “goodhelper”. It differs, however, from the agency types mentioned previously in that it willoften be seen to require – for strategic, political, judicial or other reasons – 
less
 
ostentatiously transparent 
forms of organisation and operation. This in turn leads to
modus operandi
that require veiled, hidden, or clandestine methods to map out,remediate and meet desired consequences and requirements of their political or institutional client intentions.Real or fictional
 secret agents
such as Mata Hari or James Bond (007), and thegovernmental (or other) counter-espionage and investigation agencies these agents are presumed to work for: MI5, CIA, FBI, KGB, Mossad and so on (Figure 2) can be saidto be typical contemporary popular culture embodiments of this conception of agency.Figure 2
6
 
2.0 Direct and Indirect Forms of Agency
The two sets of examples mentioned above – which, as we have seen, alsodemonstrate a difference between
ostentatious
and
non-ostententatious
(or 
transparent 
and
non-transparent 
) forms of agency mind-set and behaviour – bring to
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From left to right (all Wikipedia: public domain): Photograph of Mata Hari performing,from the Mata Hari Museum; Ian Fleming’s image of James Bond; commissioned to aid the
 Daily Express
comic strip artists; M15 Insigna; CIA insigna.

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