Philosophical Practice


Understanding problems, negotiating change, developing insight, actioning knowledge

Our philosophical practice and consultation

Dionne van Reenen is based in the Free State and JC van der Merwe is based in Johannesburg. They are independent consultants at Philosophical practitioners usually offer private consultation or assist organizations with facilitated presentations, workshops, training, continual professional development (CPD) and dialogues. Client organizations may wish to initiate facilitated group sessions on topics such as: sex, gender, sexuality and sexual practice; race, ethnicity, colour and culture; class, size, age and (dis)ability; personhood, identity and power. Often, these sessions are scheduled in response to a problem reported by a member of the organization or has been detected in the organization. Alternatively, clients may want to cover more practical areas such as critical thinking; problem solving; ethical conduct; policy discussion and decision making. As practitioners, we are well equipped to meet either requirement and usually meet/chat with the organization’s representative to schedule and plan the session in advance.

Consultation, workshops and facilitated dialogues

Purpose: Human interaction is seldom perceived as straightforward. Sometimes, we need to consider multiple frameworks for navigating the various complexities involved in working with the diverse worldviews of individuals and groups. In organizational contexts, the purpose of these discussions is simply to open up dialogue on the chosen topic in order to: increase understanding among participants; minimize harm; undo assumptions and misconceptions; and think rationally together across different points of view or approaches.

Planning: Depending on how many topics the client wishes to include or how much time is available, a single group session may be as short as 60 minutes while workshops may extend to multiple sessions (with tea/lunch breaks) over a full day. The practitioner will quote the client per hour and the client usually covers travel/accommodation expenses. These details are agreed upon with the organization’s co-ordinator before the session to ensure that the client’s needs and expectations are well met.

Format: Each session usually consists of a presentation, followed by an open dialogue in which all participants may join. Participants are encouraged to raise real-world issues and dilemmas that they experience in their organizations in order to give context and meaning. Throughout presentations and the dialogues following, participants are also welcome to raise any questions they may have on the content or clarification they may need. All questions are welcome and there are no stupid questions.


As practitioners, we get many requests for “ethics training”. In group settings, we usually proceed from the premise that any system of rules, regulations, policies and guidelines wishes to utilize ‘good’, ‘right’ and ‘just’ ethical or moral codes. We do not typically train groups in theoretical lectures (like one would have in a philosophy course) which can be very abstract and sometimes boring. Rather, by utilizing real-world examples from the participants, theories are demonstrated to participants as models that can be applied in various institutions or ‘life worlds’ through which people move every day. This also helps participants understand the nature of systems, as well as what might be expected from their own thinking and actions within the parameters of those systems. In considering moral or ethical dilemmas, decisions and actions, the practitioner will guide the group on how to: identify dilemmas; declutter and demystify problems by discerning what is relevant; prioritize issues; project different logical outcomes; consider consistency in application oof principles, and so on. These are vital skills for any member of an organization.

Example of a tool framework with which we typically work

A possible way to think about the complex nature of problems is to think of them as existing on a spectrum. On one side of the spectrum, there is the individual which can be seen to lie in the singular, subjective I or particular own-group (we). On the other hand, there is the everyone which would include all those actually and possibly making use of an organization’s provisions. In each of the sections below, participants are encouraged to provide examples that may have arisen in their everyday experience with a view to enhance their experience of group collaboration:

1. The influence of belief systems and worldviews
2. Ethical and moral dilemmas. What must I do?
3. Personal stories and circumstances
4. Meaning and representations in everyday life
5. What we know, learn and are taught
6. The influence of ideology
7. Social, political and cultural drivers
8. Policy, rules and regulations in institutions
9. The importance of rationality
10. Creative approaches to tasks, problems and solutions
11. Aesthetics and cosmetics
12. Law and legislation, policy and regulation
13. Communication and conversational cues
14. Evaluating “the science”
15. History and different eras
16. Notions of ‘truth’
17. Understanding the human element

Encouraging creative thinking from the group

At the end of workshops, many organizations wish to consider “ways forward”. Again, we do not provide instruction for the group. In these discussions, we facilitate groups coming together in creative ways to consider things like the following:
• Keeping abreast of new developments in policy, terminology, definition, research, information and best practice.
• Considering rights and responsibilities, shared information, fair treatment, dignity, equal access, member autonomy, and so on. If the practicing environment does not have such documentation, it would be advisable to develop one, based on constitutional (or human rights) principles and values of dignity, freedom, equality, peace and justice.
• Personal awareness, raising issues, questioning and judgement.
• Is there more place for an attitude of ‘Other-centredness’ and transformative thinking?
• Affirming conduct and attitude that moves away from pathologizing and unnecessary or unproductive conflict.
• Resistance and resilience, enhancing social and peer support.

Academic Publications: Dionne van Reenen, PhD

• (Paper) Van Reenen, D. 2012. Interfacing metaphors and postures for understanding deep communicative divisions at a tertiary institution. Communitas. Bloemfontein: University of the Free State.

• (Paper) Van Reenen, D. 2014. Is this really what women want? An analysis of Fifty Shades of Grey and modern feminist thought. South African Journal of Philosophy. (33)2: 223-233. Online: Taylor and Francis.

• (Co-written monograph) Van der Merwe, JC & Van Reenen, D. 2016. Transformation and legitimation: Reading discourses from ‘Reitz’. Stellenbosch: African Sun Media.

• (Paper) Van Reenen, D. 2016. Maintaining plausible deniability. Detecting mechanisms of subtle discrimination in a South African higher education institution. International journal of education sciences.

• (Paper) van Reenen, D. 2018. Communicative rationality in conflicted language ecologies post #RhodesMustFall at the University of the Free State. Southern African linguistics and applied language studies. (35)3. Makalela, L., Mwaniki, M. & van Reenen, D. (eds.).

• (Chapter and co-edited volume with Prof J.T. Grider) Van Reenen, D. 2018. One gentleman and one lady: Relating bodies in the ballroom. Exploring erotic encounters: The inescapable entanglement of tradition, transcendence and transgression. Grider, J.T. & van Reenen, D. (eds.). Boston and Leiden: Brill Rodopi. ISBN: 978-1-84888-537-1.

• (Paper) van Reenen, D. 2019. What are we witnessing? Student protests and the politics of the unknowable. Journal of student affairs in Africa. Special issue. “Space, language and identity politics in South Africa’s post-Apartheid higher education”. Tumubweinee, P. and Luescher, T. (eds.).

• (Chapter) van Reenen, D. 2020. Where is the virgin? Analysing the Contestations Around Eroticised Performance and Representation in Commercial Hip Hop Imaging. Expanding and restricting the erotic: A critique of current and past norms. Lawrence Buttigieg, Sophia Kanaouti, Lily Martinez Evangelista and Robert Scott Stewart (eds.) Boston and Leiden: Brill Rodopi.

• (Paper) Stewart, R.S., van Reenen, D., Watuwa, R. 2022. Sexual Minority Rights Are Not Just for the West: Health and Safety Considerations in Africa. Journal of Health Ethics. The University of Southern Mississippi.

American Philosophical Practitioners Association

For further information on philosophical practice, publications and the American Philosophical Practitioners Association, please follow this link to visit the homepage.