Welcome back, Frances. I'm always pleased when you drop by for comments, but especially with this topic. Non-local causality is on my mind much, mostly because I have not worked through it. I have intuitions, but nothing clear, not even a working hypothesis, so take everything I say here as tentative and uncertain.
First, I agree that traditional pedagogy overwhelmingly limits itself to local causality, with its linear curricula and lesson plans that lead to specific educational goals and assessment regimes for both students and teachers, and cohorts marching lock-step toward graduation. I don't have an issue with this, as such; rather, my complaint is that it is too limited to account for all of education. By itself, local causality limits our field of reality. All of life—certainly education—is better, larger, richer if it includes circular and global causalities in the mix. These additional causalities, for instance, enrich our views of and interactions with events and people such as Rhizo14. These causalities make something such as Rhizo14 possible. I have a better handle, I think, on circular causality than global, but I'll try to apply both to Rhizo14 to make abstract concepts concrete—not just for you, but mostly for me. I'm convinced that if I can't make it concrete, then I don't yet understand it.
For me, circular causality is most easily understood in the feedforward/feedback loops that exist among entities and their environments. Edgar Morin describes circular causality as an engagement between systems (let's say people in Rhizo14) in which energy, matter, information, and organization is fed from one entity into the other, modified, fed back, modified again, and so on, around and around for the duration of the engagement. In Rhizo14, I fed energy, information, and organization into the group, the group processed and fed it back, and I processed and returned the feed. This is the appeal of a Rhizo14: the ability to cultivate many loops, connections, and interactions, as opposed to traditional education which limits feedforward to an information flow from teacher to student and feedback to responses on formal tests, with interactions between students and with other information flows severely restricted and managed. Circular causality obscures local causality as it becomes impossible to tell what locally caused what, landing us in the old question of which came first, the chicken or the egg, which is a confusing question only if you are locked into local causality. Circular causality reveals the silliness of the question.
Global causality is more difficult for me to illustrate, but just now, I'm thinking of it as more the pull to local causality's push. As a group such as Rhizo14 emerges, the group pulls the participants into arrangements and relationships and begins to increase the likelihood of some behaviors and configurations while decreasing others. Leaders, followers, and lurkers emerge—Facebook becomes viable, Google+ less so, LinkedIn not at all.
The key is to remember that all these causalities are working at the same time. They are not mutually exclusive. Thus, looking for the single, local cause of some event (the reductionist approach) is often too limited. It misses the other causes and influences from which any event emerges. This approach is especially tragic in a community such as Rhizo14 in which circular and global causalities are much more obvious and brought to the foreground. The first step in coping with such incidents as happened in Rhizo14 is to enlarge our field of reality to include circular and global causalities in trying to understand such incidents. So while one person did in fact say one thing that seemed to affront others, that local cause—while necessary—is not sufficient to explain what happened. We also have to account for the circular causes—what others were feeding in, processing, and taking out, engaging and disengaging—and for the global causes—how discussion of Deleuze and Guattari became less likely, much to my own dismay.
Well, I could say more, and will eventually, but I've been traveling this weekend and deeply engaged in a conference, so I'll stop here. Let's keep talking this. I always learn more when I talk to you.