The ingredients of a regime

What are the basic ingredients of a regime?  This is an important question to answer if you want to make one or change one.  Here we are not talking about government nor constitution but about another more basic level of political and social organisation.  The UK has had plenty of governments and, of course, many of them have served to keep things the way they are.  There is an idea that, since the UK goes without a written constitution, it doesn’t effectively have one. It is unwritten and therefore less open to change although you could say that the Bill of Rights of 1688 or the Act of Union (with Scotland) of 1707 or the reform movement, the key staging posts of which are the Reform Acts of 1832 and 1867, may all be constitutional changes.  Not to mention the treaty which gave us membership of the Common Market in 1973!

There’s always a danger that constitutional change can bring about regime change.  But even so, for the UK, these may have been changes to the constitution without being changes of constitution.  The regime that was established in 1688 started its gestation with the separation from Rome, the Protestant Reformation of the 1530s. French society began a process of regime change in 1789 and completed it with the establishment of the Third Republic in 1870.  In between these dates it went through a number of constitutions.  The significance of 1870 was the establishment of a republic.

So what do you need to make a regime?  You need territorial integrity.  This was less of a problem for the English/British after union with Scotland.  At this point the effective construction of a combining identity could begin.  ‘We’ only became ‘British’ in the 18th century.  Of course this is not (and was not) entirely unproblematic.  The territory-defining process can start with a colonisation or ‘land grab’. A good example of this is Israel.  Equally Islamic State have made a similar attempt. Both of these state-building projects started (and continue) with armed terrorist-type actions.

Territorial integrity is not simply determined by an armed appropriation of land.  You need another ingredient which makes the land identifiable with the people and the people identifiable with the land.  Anybody who has thought of such matters (and may be familiar with the work of Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities) knows the importance of language in this respect.  However the reach of a regime is (or can be) more visceral even than language.  For example, the National Socialist regime in Germany that took power soon after the elections of 1933 created a network of concentration camps, thousands of them so that there would be always one local to any community within the regime’s territory.  The principle was that the infliction of pain and humiliation to one person should be effectively communicated to thousands more.  The ability for the state to ‘disappear’ somebody has an impact that communicates itself quickly within the ‘identifiable territory’ of the regime.  Likewise, the initial strategy for the National Socialists was to make strategic releases of ‘survivors’ from the camps.  These would be the messengers and their reappearance in the community had high communication value.  This is similar to the proposed measure announced by David Cameron to deprive suspected terrorists of their passports.  Everybody in range of this message would be thankful to have one.  Like when you hear about a theft, you feel for your purse with quickened tension.  There’s nothing like the fear of statelessness to make one identify with the state.  In other words, the territory only becomes integral when it is identifiable and is a united sensory field.

The corollary of this is exclusion.  The territory would not be worth having if there was no resistance to its appropriation.  So the process of exclusion is linked to identification.  God comes in handy.  If you want a regime, it really helps to have your own god.  At a deep level the justification for the Israeli appropriation of land is written in holy texts.  You will immediately notice that this is the same for Islamic state.  The formation of the French national regime, the monarchy that ruled France until the Revolution, was deeply linked to the work of the Inquisition. For a specific instance of this, Ladurie wrote a series of books studying the impact of the Inquisiton, ‘Montaillou‘.  In England the specific construction of a God that served the regime’s purpose of cohesion was linked to the development of Protestantism. Ironically, the core of the puritan movement, that sharpened its project in the English Civil War of 1642-1660, strongly identified with the Israelites.  This was based on the story, particularly compatible with protestant ideology, that the English were (are) the chosen people.  We know that this particular story was capable of being exported west in the foundation of the United States. Anyway, you really need God if you are going to kill and killing is definitely a part of regime formation.

Another ingredient that will take the process of regime formation even deeper into the interstices of social life and interpersonal behaviour may be described as social synthesis. This is how Alfred Sohn Rethel described the process of abstraction of social relations presented by the agreement about the value of money, what Spinoza in the Ethics describes as the universal object of desire that “occupies the mind of the multitude more than anything else”.  A key institution for the UK regime formation, and this is a sign of its prodigious modernity, was the Bank of England.  This was founded in 1694, obviously not long after the accession of William and Mary of Orange (1688), and the basis of its foundation was this deal: the bank could print money and issue coin (with the sovereign’s head on it) and the monarch could borrow money to conduct foreign wars. These wars turned out to be to the advantage of the merchants that had backed the setting up of the bank.  This was the simple bit. Enforcing this arrangement and ensuring that the currency was accepted in the integral territory was more messy.

In 1690 Thomas and Anne Rogers were tried and found guilty of having in their possession counterfeit coin and the implements that were necessary for forging currency.  Thomas was hanged drawn and quartered.  Anne was burnt alive.  The charge was treason and the punishments were exemplary.  Displays of killing like this were as intensive as possible to send the message out to all within the regime’s sensory range. The message was: trust the currency.  Clearly fear and trust are the opposite sides of the same coin.  Once the Bank had been set up things got no less violent. Major effort had still to be deployed to prevent counterfeiting. Isaac Newton, who in the later part of his life, after his exertions in optics, physics, mechanics and alchemy, became an employee of the Bank and was made a Justice of the Peace so that he could pursue malefactors indulging in coin-clipping and forgery.  A key role for the Bank of England is to maintain confidence in the currency.

You can only undertake programmatic killing of the sort which the Rogers underwent if you believe you have God ‘on your side’ or if you have the belief that you are battling an ineffable evil. So there is a connection between the central symbolic enactments of the regime, the monarch, ritualised slaughter and the creation of ‘social synthesis’.  A key component of this last is the agreement about money’s value.  This enables social relations to be regulated and thus money is able to perform its multiple, designated social function as both a means of exchange, of circulation and a store of value.  This means value can be retained and accumulated and there is stability in prices.

As well as core processes such as the administration of justice, policing, the creation of currency, the structuring of social relations through military organisation and deployment, there were also popular ‘displays’ such as parades with accompanying songs and symbolic enactments. As mentioned above the ‘glue’ which held these processes together for the English/British was the Protestant religion.  This was the basic combinative ingredient, the ideology.

English/British Protestantism was (and is) an extraordinary hybrid structure, sealed off, on the one hand, from the democratic tendencies of radical ‘dissenting’ Protestantism and and, on the other, by distinguishing itself from Roman Catholicism.  At a doctrinal level this effort of formulation is summed up in the 39 Articles. These form a part of the Book of Common Prayer, the English/British equivalent (maybe forerunner) of Mao Tse Tung’s Little Red Book.  Protestantism provided ‘litmus-test’ for loyalty.  All public officials had to swear their loyalty to this religion and in the early days of the regime had to take Anglican communion.  The lynchpin of the, only partly-disguised, theocracy of the English/British system was that the Monarch was the head of the church.  This meant that loyalty to the religion was corroborative of loyalty to the monarch.  We can see that, when the regime representatives are pressed, they come up with the requisite symbolic actions as proof of loyalty, witness David Cameron’s exhortation to Jeremy Corbyn to prove his loyalty by wearing a tie and by standing up and singing “God save the Queen’.  Those who look with scorn at the jihadists’ cries of “Allahu akhbar” should check for attitudinal consistency.

The connection between Protestantism and state loyalty reflected the crucial link between Catholicism and treason.  At a core level of regime solidarity the connection of an ‘enemy within’ with the ‘enemy without’ is essential.  It is in this way that military organisation permeates the interstices of the society.  The Royal Navy was the senior service, and this had impacts on the bureaucracy of state organisation.  The initial move in the 1690s by the regime alongside the renewal of the Navy was the creation of the Coalition Army with the Dutch against the French.  This was the first mobilisation of a UK army to fight in foreign fields for some time.  It was a Northern European Protestant alliance against the Catholic powers.  All of the UK’s wars, it goes without saying, were fought outside the integrated territory, and the co-ordination between the Navy and the army set the pattern for adventures right up the Falklands/Malvinas adventure.  However the Navy remain the ‘keynote’ armed service.  It also goes some way to helping to understand why our main ‘deterrent’ is the sea-borne ‘Trident’ system.

This also goes some way to explaining how UK polity was, and is, organised.  Up until the 1780’s the key government departmental organisation was the separation between the Northern Department, which engaged with relationships with the Northern European Protestant states, and the Southern Department, which dealt with relations with Catholic and Muslim (I nearly said Islamic) states.  It was after the defeat in the American War of Independence, a salutary and complex shock to the UK system, that the Home Office and the Foreign Office were formed to replace this ideologically and geographically-based bureaucratic organisation. The cohesion/exclusion processes of regime-making are structured, at the level of policy formation and execution, by the articulation of ‘home’ policy and ‘foreign’ policy. The relationship between these two departments of government remains, while the regime is intact, unquestioned like a basic assumption .

At the same time in the 1780 and 90s, with the French Revolution and the Napoleonic campaign there was the first real threat of invasion since 1066, a significant change to the loyalty test took place.  Anti-Catholicism had served extremely well in providing the key cohesion/exclusion necessary for the sustaining of the ‘chosenist’ imperial expansion.  It could be ritualised at a popular level with Church and King festivities like Guy Fawkes bonfires. Fawkes was often replaced by Napoleon or even Tom Paine during the 1790s in such ceremonial effigy-burning.  Thus the new enemy became ‘Republicanism’ and it is significant that the oath of loyalty for the armed forces, at this point, dropped the Protestant component.  From that time you only had to swear allegiance to the monarch to serve in his (or her) majesty’s armed forces. To this day all members of Parliament, the armed forces and certain sections of public servants do likewise  The distinction between being public servants and servants of the crown is ill-defined.  It was some time later that Engels encapsulated the UK system as being like an inverted pyramid where the peak was at the same time the base:

The English Constitution is an inverted pyramid; the apex is at the same time the base. And the less important the monarchic element became in reality, the more important did it become for the Englishman.  The Condition of England F. Engels Vorwarts 1844

Popular sovereignty was magically transposed into monarchic sovereignty and we, poor ‘Ukanians’, remain subjects of the Crown, despite our more recent reaching out (apparently unsuccessfully) to European Republicanism and citizenship via the EU.

Another important ingredient is how the regime embodies itself, how it personifies itself. The emblematic character for the English/British regime is the English Gentleman.  All forms of national identification centre on this figure.  The central place of patriarchy, or the renewal of patriarchy in the constant ‘replaying’ of this particular character, connects with military, behavioural and temperamental codes.

So, an integrated territory with a sensory unity, ritual killing authorised by god, connected social synthetic processes  (money and language), military organisation and action sanctioned by god through the sovereign, all brought together in a symbolic figure, an emblematic personification, a functioning ideology that creates social cohesion through exclusion (in the UK’s case, this was first anti-catholicism, then anti-republicanism, then anti-communism and then ‘war on terror’), public displays and rituals that enact the basic ideological values, are the basic ingredients.

As one looks in more detail at these regime-making processes we can see that, underlying government, there are certain sustaining structures.  It’s as if the basic space, structure and furniture of a house were established and the processes of change and renewal were limited to curtains and fittings, decorative features and who it is that actually occupies the space.

How far are the ingredients of a regime the same as those of any human group?  Is the regime a species of human group?  Sigmund Freud in Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego extrapolated from smaller human groups and arrived at the idea that the basic organisational forms of larger groups were typically manifested in the Army and the Church.  In this regard, it is significant, in the UK case, that the monarch is both Commander in Chief and Head of the Church.  When Wilfred Bion (see Experiences in Groups) analysed the underlying structure of the human group he identified certain, what he described as, ‘basic assumptions’, occasionally applying these to whole societies.  Writing in the period immediately after the Second World War, he surmised that the structure of German society as the war was coming to an end, resembled a group dominated by the ‘fight/flight’ basic assumption.  This is one of three group structures that he identified: ‘fight/flight’, ‘dependent’ and ‘pairing’.  These interrelate and are in dynamic contention with a fourth: the ‘work’ group. In Elias Canetti’s work Crowds and Power he describes a morphology of human groups, for example, ‘increase pack’ group behaviour where a human group is structured by consumption that escalates mimetically: the more that is consumed, the more the group members feel that they must consume.  The question is: are these basic human group structures operational at the level of regime organisation?  How far is the structure of the regime a natural human phenomenon?  Does regime change involve a change in human nature?

I am unable to do justice to the three great observers of human group behaviour that I have cited above.  However, none of them were in a position to see what we can now see: that the human species is endangered by human activity itself.  The regimes that I have been describing, using the UK regime as the main example, are all historically specific and are, in complex ways versions of nation-state regimes.  I’m saying it is complex because the development of the different nation-state regimes were not autochthonous.  They developed mimetically.  The development of one borrowed forms from another.  They placed themselves against one another and mimicked each other.

So there are two perspectives from which we can look at regime change.  One, is to do with the fact that now, it is even more unlikely that regimes can change in isolation from other regimes.  The problematic history of the Communist Revolution in Russia after 1917 demonstrates this issue.  The other perspective is given by asking how far new kinds of people have to come into being first in order to create regime change.  Of course, people are always changing and developing and they do so at the same time as formulating what they recognise as being human. They inscribe these formulations in the societies they build. As regimes solidify and create international structures of conformity, hierarchic relations operate through groups of nations (G7, G20,) taking on the lead role in international social organisation. In these circumstances, where there is a universalisation of regime maintenance, there appears to be a growing multitudinous powerlessness proportional to the centralisation of power. Humanity as whole seems to be more powerful, more productive and therefore more destructive, but the overwhelming majority of human beings experience a lack of control over their immediate circumstances.  It seems as if we are living at a time of social disintegration where fewer and fewer people are able to engage in making our lives together. So often when thinking about the disfunctionality caused by inequality, privatisation, financialisation and dispossession one meets contradictions which appear to be deadlocks.  How can people change their political and social circumstances when as individuals they have so little power?

There are deep connections between inequality, powerlessness, global-warming anthropogenic climate change, racist divisions and patriarchal values and, because of this, it is difficult to know where to start.  Yet the overwhelming nature of the problems that we are encountering mean that action is necessary.  Two things occur to me.

One, is that reason and rationality, as we receive them, seem of limited help.  This is not to undervalue thinking but it means being critical of thinking of a certain type. We have to question common sense and received definitions of reality. Of course the risks are of isolation and illusion.  Is there some basic sense of humanity that we can test our intuitions against?  Can we continue to experience our humanity as a variable and dialectical process of realisation?  What is this work and what tools are necessary?  Reflection is important, but is it sufficient? One knowledge that I have found valuable arises out of the work that I have done in theatre and drama.  The starting point for me in this work, the creation of the aesthetic space in which the work can take place, has been the reduction of human interaction to a kind of neutral readiness and the gaining of a relaxed concentration.  Alongside various appropriate exercises, I am constantly inviting the people with whom I am working to do nothing, to ‘just breathe’.  This place of stillness is where we start from.  I connect this to the primordial, pre-verbal condition of humanity and when I have thought about this recently the work of the Tao Te Ching has been brought to mind, especially the idea of the ‘uncarved block’.  This is a complex idea developed in the work.  What it most reminds me of is the first period of our lives before we have language.  I believe that making contact with this ‘being’ is a prerequisite of action in the world. This action of society building (what Castoriades in his work ‘Philosophy, Politics and Autonomy’ calls ‘instituting’) is, for me, identical to changing the regime.

Two, this work should start with work in groups and work on making groups that can act as organisational examples of social generation as well as being effective communities of action.  This seems to me to be in accord with the recognition that we are essentially mimetic creatures, that we make each other through imaginatively transferring our selves to the other.  So, if regime change engages, as the psychoanalytic thinker, Otto Gross expressed it, with our ability to ‘replace the will to power to the will to relate’ (See Gottfried Heuer’s book about Gross), then it is in group work that I feel that this capacity to relate can be best practiced.

It would be difficult to overestimate the need for good clear thinking but it strikes me that regime change or revolution now, in our circumstances, needs deep passion more than anything else.  Going deeper into ourselves and our humanity is prescriptive of being truly active.









Activism and Az Theatre

Recently I led a session for Leading Edge, a series of talks that Dr Gottfried Heuer curates for the Association of Jungian Analysts. I did a participatory interactive event that invited the participants to look at the relationship between dramatic space, therapeutic space and everyday space. See the notice for this event

This has made me reflect on why it was that we have created a new mission statement for Az Theatre: Performing Arts, Inspiring Activism.  What exactly was intended by associating theatre with activism?

I did not intend that this means that the work of the company should always be directed towards issues that can be resolved by the achievement of some immediately attainable goal. I didn’t imagine that we should be involved in campaigns where theatre was an alternative to leaflets or public meetings or online petitions. Neither did we envisage that our work should be a public display of demands on a demonstration.  Though none of these possibilities is out of the question. So what kind of activism do we have in mind?

When we were struggling to define this outcome of the company’s work I used the word ‘activisation’.  Until it was pointed out that this sounded robotic and mechanical. However, I did want the sense that the work should activate people and make them disposed towards taking action. There didn’t seem to be any word that could describe the sense of revitalisation and animation that I had in mind. I recalled Hannah Arendt had used the word ‘praxis’ to describe the activity of involvement and participation in public and political life. She counterposed this to the passivity of totalitarianism.  But this word seemed too academic and the word ‘practice’ was too connected to preparation.

My thinking derived from simple observation about the human life with which I was surrounded.  The economic system, the transformation of the Earth’s resources through production, distribution and exchange, had become more unified and globalised.  This movement had become more and more dominated by financial operations which circulated values in almost unimaginable quantities.  The sheer size and complexity of the interconnections between supply and demand, between the extraction of natural resources, their transformation and consumption, had become hard to comprehend, even mesmerising.  This meant that individuals and relatively small human groups, including governing entities such as nation states, seemed to have little control.

At the same time, people became more and more conscious of the impact of the material transformations on the environment.  Knowledge could be produced through scientific measurement and extrapolation that could confirm people’s instinctive feeling, based on day to day observation, that unforeseen consequences of economic (mainly industrial) growth were creating circumstances with which human social organisation appeared not to be able to cope. Because of the massive inequalities that are endemic to the system amongst the more affluent societies there was a tendency towards distribution and consumption rather than production.  Consumption itself was made to appear like a productive activity.  The accumulation of wealth due to the sheer volume of transactions benefitted the rich countries and exacerbated inequalities. The domination of consumption and distribution was creating enormous dependency at the same time as giving the illusion of autonomy.  All of these developments were creating the conditions in which people were likely to feel overwhelmed, confused and passive.

This passivity was further complicated by the disablement of the political institutions that interfaced with masses of people.  These government entities have become more and more enslaved to the apparently impersonal needs of the system for the cheaper and cheaper provision of human labour.  At the same time major corporate and financial entities (the front organisations for the plutocratic elites) started to prey, through privatisation, on public and common goods, like welfare systems and other public services.   The nation states, as well as being taxed by the corporate plutocracy and made to pay vast sums in assuring the functioning of the system, were constrained to move their operations from that of caring for, and educating, their respective populations to policing them. This has further weakened people’s ability to envisage how they can exert control of the vital processes of their lives.

Furthermore, when the system exhibited major malfunctions because nobody could determine what money or goods were worth and the there was a breakdown in the financial systems, the nation states were put in the position of footing the bill and the deprivation of public goods continued at an even higher rate through austerity-based policies.  The outcome of this pressure on national entities has been the growth of  demagogic discourses promising to create safeguards and protection but in fact being little more than another illusory front behind which the robbery continues.  This continues the process of disablement and though the apathy is now accompanied by a raucous desperation, it further divides people who, in their best interests, should unite against their common oppressors.

In a situation where the further paralysis of fear is being added to the deep sense of marginalisation and loss of control, it seems even more necessary for us to become at least as deeply active as the surrounding passivity.

But the question remains, what kind of activity will give us the keys to the future?  All political processes consist of resistance and there is no doubt that resistance has to be a major element in the activism that we are proposing.  But resistance itself rarely goes beyond the parameters determined by the powers that be and therefore cannot be the only element in the activism that is needed. The danger is that resistance can be incorporated into the system itself, particularly when it ranges itself against it in a like-for-like way.  For example, forms of violence can very quickly transpose themselves across lines that appear to distinguish two sides in a conflict or a struggle. The tendency for opposition to become similar to that which it opposes is a major human problem exemplified by considering the fix that arises when fear is counterposed by fear.

This encourages us to think that we must have the ability to engage in resistance at the same time as being able to enact a different story, a story that exhibits different human qualities than those installed in the current institutions of power.  The refusal to accept the definition of power that is affirmed by the established order, a refusal to believe that this power can be apportioned in our favour, or that it has been overcome or changed when it appears to allow us entry into its glamorous orbit, is increasingly necessary.

So the activism that we are proposing is far from the simply mechanical, resistant version that can be so effectively subsumed by the system. It is paradigmatically different from the institutionally mimetic forms of oppositional activism that have become traditional.

One way of expressing this is to say that the activism needs to be internally as well as externally vital.  Can we realistically and practically call for an activism that is philosophically and imaginatively mobile, that is quickened by the capacity to deny the dominant narrative and world view? Of course we can and it is clear that the emerging social movements have precisely this capability but of course nothing arrives in its pure form.

So why was I provoked to review exactly what we meant by activism at this session delivered as a part of the seminar series organised by the Association of Jungian Analysts?

We set out to investigate what might be the relationship between these different spaces.  We started by comparing the process of transference and counter transference in the psychoanalytic therapeutic space with ‘catharsis’ in the dramatic space. Elements, in the form of references, representations, states of being and feeling, are carried into both these spaces by the participants. They are reconstructed and transformed and, in the souls and lives of those taking part, they are carried out again into the everyday space.

I have been influenced by Augusto Boal’s work in my thinking about theatre since I first came across Theatre for the Oppressed in the early 1980s. In the theatre that Boal proposes, the participants are able change roles and engage in processes of control and loss of control. This enables them to see the consequences and implications of their imaginative activities and leaves them ready for action. He describes his proposed theatre as a ‘rehearsal for life’.  This is a good and fruitful way of looking at the relationship between the dramatic space and everyday space.  Boal, and his progenitor Paulo Freire, were quick to see that passivity was key problem facing human beings in modern societies.  When he was asked to endorse our War Stories project in 2002 his message was clear: ‘Peace, yes: passivity, no!’

When the theatre is working, neither as a peep show nor as a display of physical ability, when it is achieving its true potential, it makes visible the invisible. Can this space where we lose ourselves and are subject to processes of confusion (or just fusion), where things are what they aren’t, where we catch sight of things that are not really there, where the magic of invisibility is conjured, be somewhere that generates activism and political change?

I have already said that the quality of activism I am working to define is more like a process of ‘activisation’, of drawing people into action rather then proposing a set of activities that we already know as activism.  Also, I have said that this is not only mechanical and practical (as it were, external) but is driven by thinking and imagination and is consciously aimed at stimulating inner processes.

During the Three Spaces session I started by using exercises to create a sense of relaxed concentration and presence that a full sense of being can give. I described this as being the basis for the work of creating the dramatic space.

Another way of describing this sense of being is to relate it to what the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu calls ‘the uncarved block’. This is described as being nameless and without desire and is associated with the state of being like a new born babe. I associate the ‘uncarved block’ with the first period of our lives before we have words.  It is the fundamental condition of humanity.

Certainly we can only remember this state of being indirectly, through other related experiences.  During this period we live in an undifferentiated world of feeling.  We notice everything and absorb all tensions and impressions.  It is the basic material condition of our lives.

If some shock occurs in later life, some pain or upset, this can resonate in the ‘uncarved block’. Energies that are contained there may be released.  Fissures and deep movements can occur that are like subterranean volcanic events.  Things may settle down or the basic instabilities may persist and we are unseated, disturbed, deranged.  Equally, our sense of what is true and what is real is connected to this deep movement of feeling in us. I believe that social change is charged by the energies that derive from this sense of being. Without connecting with this basic human condition we cannot overthrow the dominant narratives of the powers that be.

If the major consequences of the forms of social organisation, that have become more and more prevalent in the modern period, are feelings of passivity, lack of control, a kind of infantilising dependency, an inability, at a profound level, to be able to take care of ourselves then resistance and refusal and activism have to be effective at the most profound levels of our human experience. The current system, literally presents us, as human beings, with a existential crisis.

One obvious indication of this is the use made, by our political institutions, of fear as a means of social organisation. The key co-ordinating strategy that links ‘home’ policy with ‘foreign’ policy in many countries is the ‘war on terror’. Fear and terror are contagions that cannot be counterposed by the production of even greater fear and terror.  The promise of security so often looks and feels like a threat and is based on corrupt idea of strength.

The realisation, articulation and restructuring of stories in the aesthetic space has a power and an energy that resonates deep in us in a way that music can.  It can shatter us and mend us.  This is to do with the nature of symbols and the power of metaphorical transpositions.  Symbols reflect the objects of the world of the senses but also connect these impressions to deep patterns in our inner life.  This is not a sacerdotal or mystical process but an ordinary part of how we discover meaning.

Symbolic enactment could also be described as story or narrative.  But stories and narratives are never without context. They are embedded in ideologies.  It is a commonplace that the dominant ideology of a given society is the ideology of the dominant social group.  If it this is true of ideology then it is also true of the dominant narrative or story. Is it possible to unseat and replace these narratives?

The theatre of activism is a microcosm of social change because, in this theatre, stories are changed as they are enacted. They are tested against the deep resonances they meet in the participants and altered accordingly.  Theatre work can be both a reflection and a part of social change if it connects with an activism that refuses to accept the terms and parametres set by the dominant narrative. This means it can activate the core energies of the participants and bring into play the deep realisation of their humanity.

Also, during the Three Spaces session we worked at forming a group as a way of creating different spaces.  Group formation was necessary as a way of working to understand the spaces we were dealing with but it is important in its own right.  Successful group work is a crucial transitional space between the individual and society.  This seems to me to be another attribute of the activism I am proposing. I am attempting to extend my understanding of this by engaging with the Art of Hosting.

Many of the projects that Az Theatre is now undertaking are influenced by these preoccupations.

Our UNFORESEEN project is forming an online community of young creatives in the UK and Palestine. Our recent work, bringing together a group of creatives in London to produce work to send to our colleagues in Gaza, was a good example of activism and group work.  In a weekend, the group of ten people researched, devised, and shot a short drama, I MUST LEAVE, I MUST RETURN for release later in the year at an event that will link via Skype to Gaza, Palestine. See video of our last UNFORESEEN live exchange with Gaza

Our production plan for THE CANNIBALS by George Tabori involves a consensual casting process that is design to build an acting ensemble to produce this astounding modern classic.

Our development of the world premiere Arabic stage adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace for production later in the year by Theatre for Everybody in Gaza will be accompanied in London by an installation/exhibition space, HERE, THERE AND EVERYWHERE, that will be created by a group of artists involving interactive and participatory activities aimed at social engagement.

Our new local project, the ISLINGTON NORTH DRAMATIC ARTS GROUP will be a company formation project that will involve activism and group work.

A trans-disciplinary group that has come together to explore the mentalities that hold together the Israeli state project is another example of this tendency in our work. Our participation in this group arises from a conference on Trauma and Political Violence in November of 2015 where I presented Az Theatre’s work.

mappa mundi getting out there in the world

We had two exciting ‘get-togethers’ in February that have given new perspectives to the work on mappa mundi.  You can read notes from the event held on the 21st February 2013 click and 28th February 2013 click

We have successfully completed our training session at the University of Leeds on the weekend of the 8th, 9th and 10th March!  Soon we will have the next prototype mappa mundi video from this weekend’s work.  You can look at a report on the all the exercises from these session here.

Also you can take a look at our new appeal for participating groups and individuals here.

A drop in the ocean is making waves

The Gaza Opening Signs project which is the current phase of the Gaza Drama Long Term project, a collaborative partnership between Az Theatre in London and Theatre for Everybody in Gaza is well underway and is involving more and more people as it moves forward.

Facing the situation of deliberate mass civilian punishment and a strategic underdevelopment that amounts to a quasi-genocidal operation by the Israeli state with the compliance and collusion of the so-called international community, the people of Gaza need more than a drop in the ocean.

That’s the way I would describe our project, just a drop in the ocean.

All the work in the UK is voluntary.  We have a team of three people working on the project, two of our team, Ciara Brennan and Caroline Moore are working directly with the wonderful drama teacher and nine young people at College Park School London.  They are calling in movement expertise from Sissy Likou and theatre signing skills from David Sands.  The young people are getting a quality input and the project is impacting on the school community which includes other staff and parents.  You can read about the progress of this work on this blog by going to the Gaza Opening Signs at College Park School strand.

We need to raise another £1000 to reach our fund-raising target.  This will enable us to follow up the money we have sent to Gaza for the training process.  This training consists of two phases.  One, is the training of Theatre for Everybody directors, Jamal Al Rozzi and Hossam Madhoun in signing for the deaf.  Two, is the training of a group of four young practitioners, two of whom are deaf, in drama workshop facilitation.

Listen to what Theatre for Everybody director, Hossam Madhoun, has to say about our project:

These are the trainee drama workshop leaders in Gaza:

Trainee Drama Workshop leaders in Gaza

Here they are in action during one of the training sessions run by Theatre for Everybody:

Gaza Opening Signs trainees in action

The next stage in Gaza will be the workshop programme with a group of young people from Deir Al Balah.  This will be a very special group because some of them will be deaf and some of them won’t.  We are accomplishing our aim of working across disabilities and across frontiers.  Working for good communication, breaking down barriers and creating an exchange between the project there in Gaza and the project here in London.

The other member of the London team, Jenny Bakst, amongst the other things she has done for the project, was responsible for producing the successful project launch event at the Sackler Studios at The Globe Theatre in London on Saturday 22nd September.  Watch the short video describing this event.

The issue of deafness and disability is of real and symbolic importance.  As Theatre for Everybody director, Jamal Al Rozzi says in our GAZA BREATHING SPACE FILM, for the deaf in Gaza it is like suffering an internal siege.  Engaging with abilities and disabilities, moving beyond frontiers, drawing people into knowing the consequences of political positions, using creativity as a means both of communication and of self realisation, our project is a drop in the ocean which is making waves….and signs!

Levels of being and Az Theatre now

As usual lots of things are happening at lots of levels in our lives.  Sometimes we are only conscious of a slim bandwidth of what we are actually going through.  I don’t want to imply deep is good and superficial is not so good.  In fact at times the surface everyday connects most vibrantly to the deep unconscious.  Parapraxes are what are most commonly offered in evidence of this.  But, as it were, inversely we can be fixed in the accomplishment of tasks and projects that have almost lost their meaning at an ordinary conscious rational level, but are driven by deep needs recognised at prior points in time.

These tasks are like sails thrown up to catch the wind from the boundlessness of unknowing, making significance in the sea of infinity.  The yearning for spatial definition and rootedness is strong.  How easy it is to forget that we must live on the edge of this delicious pain, the delight and terror of our mortality.

I am reading Jerry Brotton’s A History of the World in Twelve Maps which could make it look as if the primary task accompanying civilisation is map-making in the broadest sense.  How we are impelled collectively by boundlessness, by apeiron, is only partially understood by our subjective experience of the void that pushes at existence.  How we huddle together to better pretend that in the gaze of the multitude or in the embrace of the other there is a shore against the vast ocean of limitless time! And this only partly explains our tendency as creatures to turn these longings into oppressive political and social structures.  It’s as if there is a complicity between the oppressed and the oppressor, taken up in a dance of institutional power that gives to both a perfect blinker against the glare of the universe.

And the embrace in this dance is that of fear.  How social this particular emotion is can be felt in the reaction the fearful has to one who is more fearful.  Equally, of course, actually frightening (or terrorising) the other is a means of gaining security.  Thus these primordial triggers are aggregated and institutionalised, performed in orchestral arrays of oppression, ranging from a perfect suit, a winning speech to kettling protestors, to tear gas and baton charges

Perhaps freedom can never come or maybe it only comes in waves.  It is only by actualising our tenderness that the false promise of power, in its pretence of banishing fear by inculcating it, can be exposed to the withering light of humanisation.

Az Theatre launched its Gaza Opening Signs project at the Sackler Studio at The Globe on Saturday. This event, brilliantly put together by Jenny Bakst, was the perfect complement to the launch of the project at College Park School Westminster, equally brilliantly put together by Ciara Brennan and Caroline Moore a week or so earlier.  These women are the Gaza Opening Signs creative team. We are making a short ‘promo’ video, including a sequence in which the wonderful singers, Reem Kelani and Leon Rosselson together with, Theatre Signer, David Sands lead the audience in a rendition of Leon’s song ‘Song of the Olive Tree‘ where the chorus is sung and signed ensemble.

Next week Change Catalyst Agent, Debbie Warrener, will get together with Sara Asadullah and Marleen Bovenmars from Insightshare and me to plan the mappa mundi creative sessions which happen on 2nd, 3rd,4th November.  Yesterday I saw the perfect venue for this work and my fingers are firmly crossed.

Also we have had a really creative response to our mappa mundi project from a company who may turn out to be our technology provider partners.  I don’t want to jump the gun but Imano bring a really exciting array of talent and skills.

On Tuesday we had the Annual General Meeting of the People’s Palladium at which we agreed that the company should register with Companies House as ‘dormant’.  Jameal, who has recently been the creative mainstay of the company is going to New York, having been offered representation by an agent after his work this summer with the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.  A major blow to the development of The Peoples Palladium was the illness suffered by Shebul’s wife which meant that he was unable to join us earlier in the year.

A wonderful group of people have assembled around this company and it is a sleeping beauty, waiting for the prince.  Since 2006 Az has been working with colleagues from the Bengali community in the East End of London to create a unique company rooted in this community and open to creative people and influences from everywhere.

This is a snapshot of Az Theatre now at the end of September 2012.  Thank blog for reflective space!


Gaza, Mexico, London, Oxford.

Gaza Opening Signs launch event at The Globe

On Friday 14th September we launched the Gaza Opening Signs project at College Park School in Westminster.  Ciara Brennan and Caroline Moore are working with a group of school students to create an exchange with the young people who will work with Theatre for Everybody at the Deir Al Balah Rehabilitation Centre in Gaza.

College Park is a special school.  The group of students there have special needs and learning difficulties.  The group in Deir Al Balah will be a mixture of deaf, partially hearing and children who are participating because they have shown signs of being particularly disturbed and face difficulties because of violence and living conditions in Gaza.

Ciara is responsible for the drama work and Caroline for the video work with the College Park students.  Our idea is to use drama and video as a way for the two groups of young people to send messages to each other.  The first step will involve the groups in exchanging images of spaces they have particular feelings about in their school or their locality.

The College Park students were enthusiastic and pleased to welcome us to their school and to work with us in drama.  It is going to be so exciting to see what they can come up with.

In the meantime, we have received video material from Gaza that we will use at our  Gaza Opening Signs project launch at the Globe Theatre on Saturday 22nd September.  Hossam Madhoun and Jamal Al Rozzi are telling us how important drama work is for extending the capabilities of young people in Gaza, how difficult the lack of space makes life , how dreadful the impact of the violence is, how privacy is difficult to claim and how this means that people find it hard to really listen to each others needs.  They tell us how the big space of expression that theatre and drama can give helps people to think about themselves and to succeed in facing the tasks that life presents them with.

Hossam and Jamal have been learning signing and preparing to train deaf drama workshop facilitators so they can run sessions with deaf children.

Also in this video material is a wonderful signed message from one of the candidate trainee deaf theatre facilitators trainees telling us how much she wants to work in drama to help her to be more conscious of the other and to be able to relate.

Signed message from trainee drama facilitator at Deir Al Balah Rehabilitataion Centre, Gaza

See first short video message. See the second

At the same time my friend in Mexico, with whom I studied economics last year at the University of Leeds, wrote and told me how exciting (‘sad and yet relieved and happy’) to see our Gaza Breathing Space Film and the work of Theatre for Everybody in Gaza.  She tells me that her work in an organisation she set up with friends to help young people to learn mathematics and science might well be advanced by using drama.  At the moment they improve their grades but not their ‘behaviour and mental situation’.  Could drama help?  She is going to be organising a screening of the film in Mexico.

Tomorrow I go to Oxford to meet our colleagues in Insightshare.  We are working together on the mappa mundi project.  They are participatory video practitioners and we are planning to collaborate on the creative sessions we are holding in early November where we will be trying out our ideas for making drama videos about change using participatory techniques.

These are very exciting times in the work of Az.  Lots of ideas about the use (and the importance and the magic!) of theatre and participatory methods in drama and video all coming together in both main projects the company is running, mappa mundi and Gaza Opening Signs.

mappa mundi extracts

Read ‘mappa mundi…so far‘ below first.

What follows consists of quotes from other blogs relating to mappa mundi.  The original blog is given in italics at the end of the quotation.  If you are reading the mappa mundi blogs from the beginning this may only be a reminder of what you have already read!  This is just a summary.

In ‘Innovation, technology and change 1‘ I was considering whether mappa mundi was a technological innovation.  I concluded that the innovation was in the way we were combining digital technology with creative processes.  Maybe original combinations of already existing technologies are technological innovations. from Innovation, technology and change 2

The content of the ‘uploaded videos’ of which the interactive mappa mundi space will consist is ‘change’.  Of course we find a resonance between these ‘micro’ story/images of change and the ‘macro’ changing map.  We are creating a collective image of a changing world through collecting stories of human change.  Through the systematic organisation of these story/images in the interactive online space we are engaging with an image of a complex system.  However, what is this ‘change’ that we are asking people to express and engage with?

Not only is there a possibility that mappa mundi may constitute a technological advance and also engages with personal and social change, it may deliver social change.  Or is it just an elaborate game carried out by people who are a part of an exclusive club of those ‘in the know’ for their own benefit and affirmation? from Innovation, technology and change 2

mappa mundi draws our attention to individual change, or change as its experienced by the individual because in the dramatic space that is animated by characters this is a crucial creative focus, a focus necessary for creativity.  It does not make this focus obligatory. from Innovation, technology and change 2

The keynote for mappa mundi is that it is in the stories that people tell that the relation between these different impacts may be discerned.  Also, the project doesn’t rigidly insist on people interpreting change from the point of view of the environment or the economy.  Anyway, as was implied earlier, these changes happen through people and not apart from them.  This means that they happen in the midst of other life changes; they echo, play against and are sometimes precipitated by these individual factors.

In order for a group to find a common story or image of change that they can all identify with or recognise they have first to look at their own individual story.  This accumulation of many stories into one story is something that the methods of work that we will be encouraging through the mappa mundi toolkit is derived from Augusto Boal’s work on The Rainbow of Desirefrom Innovation, technology and change 2

Az is looking for a ‘technology provider’ as a partner in the development of our mappa mundi project.  We believe we can attract funding from organisations that promote innovation.  The National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts are such an organisation and they have a Digital Research and Development for the Arts and Culture Fund that they are running in partnership with the Arts Council of England and the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

If our project is an innovation then, is it technologically innovatory?  Furthermore, since the project is an investigation of change, it’s worth asking whether there are ways in which it delivers change.  I am using the word ‘deliver’ deliberately because any individual and organisation that will support mappa mundi will have to be satisfied about delivery.  What links technological change with social change and how does a project that is focused on ‘cultural action’ relate to these kinds of change? from Innovation, technology and change 1

One is concerned with the ‘reach’ or ‘depth’ of the audiences relationship to the experience of art.  This is to do with interactivity and in their description they verge on the realisation that the audience may in some respects be the makers and that digital technology may have a specific impact on participation. This is highly relevant to mappa mundi and because these basic categories form the criteria for the judgement of applications to NESTA’s fund this is an important indication of the direction of the conversation we can have with NESTA.

The second is concerned with art form development, the third with how value creation is measured and the fourth with management and governance.  All of these aspects of the impact of innovation on arts and cultural organisations are  relevant to our project.

mappa mundi aims to bring together the vibrancy and creative fertility of the drama space, (the rehearsal room or studio ‘floor’, the performance or location space) with the quickness, interconnectivity, interactivity and inclusiveness of online space.  The inspiration is social networking.  We are interested in rephrasing the relationship between online space and live events.  For mappa mundi live events are the meetings of participants making mappa mundi and also meetings of participants and audience viewing and experiencing the exhibition/performance stage.  These spaces are as linked, for example, as the virtual space of social networking with the live space of Tahrir Square during the revolution in Egypt in 2011.

So the technological design is crucial. The site will not simply be a means of collection and distribution but a source of inspiration, always precipitating live events.  This means that the sensitivity of the systems is crucially important.

Also, digital technology will enable innovation in the art form.  The hybridity of the mappa mundi, (the videos that will be uploaded) could be rich; maybe soap opera, thriller, horror, documentary, flashmob, pop promo, dance video forms will intermingle and new idioms and forms of expression will be found by participants.

The visibility of product and how an uploaded video will impact on the total design of the interactive space will depend on technological ingenuity. The ways in which participants and potential participants can respond/assess/comment on mappa mundi will have to connect fluently with other evaluative processes. The co-curation and moderation systems will be based on ‘radical trust’ and this will be a keynote for the management and governance style and procedures of the project.

The capability for the online space to be both a collection and delivery point and a source of inspiration is specifically to do with the dynamic interactivity between the functional design of the space and the ‘toolkit’ or ‘toolbox’ that people will download as a guide to the making and uploading process.  These elements have to be able to sing to each other.  The technology and design have to be as close as dancing partners.

I don’t think mappa mundi will be creating technological innovation.  For example we have to ensure that the site and its full functionality is accessible from moderately advanced computers. We have looked at ‘second life’ technology but will not be using programmes requiring a high throughput or digital broadband consumption.  The innovation in our project will be to do with the creative use of digital technology and using already existing technology and combining it with offline activities in imaginative ways. from Innovation, technology and change 1

During this recent period when I have been once again preoccupied by change through work on The Deal and on mappa mundi I have continually returned to the insights given by Paulo Freire about the nature of change.  At one point he describes learning something profound from one of his literacy students, when he announces: “Now I see that without man there is no world”.  When the educator extrapolates and gives an image of a world without human beings, the man (who Freire has already pointed out is ignorant from the point of view of a ‘banking’ idea of knowledge) responds: ‘Oh no! There would be no-one to say: This is the world”.  Freire then goes on to quote Sartre: “La conscience et le monde sont donnes d’un meme coup” (“Consciousness and the world happen at the same time”) and Husserl in a quotation too long to give here but that can be found on page 63 of the Penguin edition of The Pedagogy of the Oppressed or page 82 of this pdf.

This moment of insight has always appeared to me to be profoundly important without me really knowing why.  During the work on planning our sessions for mappa mundiDebbie Warrener and I came towards a similar understanding of something fundamental in Joanna Macy‘s placing as the philosophical grounding of her work the Buddhist idea of ‘dependent co-arising‘.  At  a certain point, Debbie exclaimed, after struggling with an idea of our human relationship to the environment, “We are it!!” from Philosophy

It was in this journal that, in an attempt to ‘historicise’ my feelings, I concluded that the situation of the society that I had grown up in was specifically and deeply marked by its imperialist past.  I started to understand that living in the wake of this colossal movement certain kinds of human sensibilities were developed and certain character traits would become dominant.  I started articulating an idea about the ‘imperialist personality’ as a personal embodiment of a regime. See The Image of the Human

In this respect the mappa mundi project links back to this thinking.  I proposed to myself in the journal that I was embarking on a ‘philosophical and sentimental quest’.  This was a quest to find a way of situating my experience and my story in the wider picture of world history. from Starting Points

Does mappa mundi deliver social change? If you had a certain amount of resources (like energy, time, money) and you wanted social change, would it be efficient and effective to put it into this project?  Is social change measurable?  Take Clarkson for example.

I mean, of course, Thomas Clarkson.  At what point along the trajectory between him writing about slavery for an essay competition when he was a student at Cambridge in 1785, that includes the introduction by Wilberforce of the slave trade abolition bill to Parliament in 1891, the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833 and its amendment in 1843, can be said to be the most significant moment of social change. from Knowledge, action and change

mappa mundi provides a space for collective expression.  This space is made up of two spaces: the online interactive ‘map’ and the creative space of enacting or dramatising stories.  It is the way these two kinds of spaces are linked up that gives to both their vitality and meaning. This linking is also the way in which mappa mundi (the whole work) takes its place in the public realm. In other words, its significance, the reason people will take notice of it, is to do with the way it links different participants’ creativity in a collective work.

Does this provision of space deliver change?

from Knowledge, action and change

If there was a proportional formula that captured a kind of recipe for social change would mappa mundi be an ingredient?  Is making drama video portraying stories of change actually a part of social change itself?

My argument is relatively simple.   Unless people can re-imagine their lives there can be no change towards humanisation.  It may not be a sufficient condition for social change but it is a necessary one.  There is nothing that will force people re-imagine.  Thankfully imagination is only accessible to limited forms of coercion.  Whether mappa mundi can provide an inspirational space is open to question.  It is certainly possible.  It stands a chance because there is no reason to suppose that change cannot be perceived by the people undergoing it and there is no reason to believe that they are not the best people to tell others about it.  It is probable that when they do so they will tell it not as a scientific theory but as a story, the recounting of an experience of events.  It is possible that those same people will have the skill to enact the story and put it into moving video images.  Hopefully they will be inspired to do so by the knowledge that others are doing similar work and that it can be collected together in an online space and then shown at exhibition events. from Knowledge, action and change

I am just working on the invitation for participants to join Debbie Warrener and I on the workshop sessions at which we will test out our scheme of exercises and tasks that will guide a group towards ‘making a mappa mundi‘.

At the moment I am calling the whole project mappa mundi, the online interactive space that will inspire and collect crowd-sourced drama videos about change, as well as the 3 minute drama videos that will form the larger work.  So all the participants are making the mappa mundi and each participant group (or individual!) is ‘making a mappa mundi’ or ‘doing a mappa mundi’.  I hope this works i.e. it isn’t too confusing.

The reason I like this is because each drama video is like the map of the world made by that particular group.  The space of drama is like a world.  This is a metaphor that Shakespeare uses at significant points in his plays sometimes subtly with a glancing word or phrase and sometimes more explicitly.  The most famous example, is Jacques speech in As You Like It that begins: ‘All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players’ (Act 2 scene 7).  He uses it again in King Lear when he refers to our birth and how ‘we cry when we are come to this great stage of fools'(Act 4 Scene 6).  A similar trope or turn of thought is used by Prospero in The Tempest as he dismisses the masque that he has conjured up to entertain Miranda and Ferdinand and explains that like the disappearance of the masque with all its scenery, ‘the great globe itself, Yea all that it inherit, shall dissolve, And like this insubstantial pageant faded, Leave not a rack behind.  We are such stuff as dreams Are made on; and our little life Is rounded with a sleep.’ (Act 4 Scene 1).

It is a commonplace with those who spend their lives or part of their lives making theatre that making a performance is like making a world.  When Shakespeare’s company moved their theatre to the south bank of the Thames from Shoreditch, having called it there simply The Theatre, they then renamed it The Globe!

So making a map of a changing world can happen in the mappa mundi project both  locally and centrally.  Also by equating the microcosm and the macrocosm the sense that the local is central can be made real.

We are also planning, by the way, to ensure that the online interactive space will be co-produced and co-curated by participants.  Undoubtedly we will return to this organisational issue that we have associated with the employment of ‘radical trust’

These initial workshop session will take place in London over a weekend in early November.  The participants will be volunteers.  We will be joined by people who worked for Insightshare, the innovative participatory video company based in Oxford.  We will all work together to create a 3 minute drama video.  We will learn from this work how we can best put together the TOOLKIT that will guide participants.

I don’t think we will be able to create a three minute drama video in a weekend but who knows!!!  Obviously we won’t be able to edit it.

That isn’t the only unknown.  Will we be able to describe a series of creative sessions that will end up with a group of participants being able to produce a 3 minute video?

These sessions will have to address how to make a creative working group, how to explore stories of change, how to focus on specific stories, how to combine these stories (maybe this can be done by creating a dramatic central image that takes from all the individual stories), how to elaborate the work in dramatic scenes (maybe this can be done by making a story board), how to rehearse, how to organise the participants into a cast (that does the acting) and a crew (that does the filming), how to choose locations, how to film the scenes, how to edit the material and how to upload it onto the online interactive space.

Should this TOOLKIT consist of words only or should it have video instructions or animated instructions?  How can we bring this process alive for downloaders of the TOOLKIT?

Also, do participants have to do it as we describe it?  Can they follow their own path?  Will there be space for flash mob type depictions of change?

We are considering having different ‘pathways’.  So the TOOLKIT itself is like a kind of garden.  Maybe everybody comes in the entrance gate (inspired!) and goes out of the exit gate (with a 3 minute video!!).  However there are a number different ways through.

In our original thinking we thought of three different types of mappa mundi.  One, was like a flash mob, a performance in a public.  Two, was a very short text by a dramatist that would be open to interpretation and could be performed anywhere in any style (we were inspired by Caryl Churchill’s SEVEN JEWISH CHILDREN).  Three was a group devised and produced original drama story (this is what our workshop sessions in November will be focused on).

But these types are not totally distinct.  For example the flash mob has to be devised.  The original drama story could use a very short play text. Any of them may be performed in public!!  Maybe this mix is exciting because it means that people will come up with original cocktails.  Or maybe its confusing and we will have to simplify! from Making a mappa mundi

We are starting to look in more detail at how the mappa mundi TOOLKIT will suggest people work to produce their own drama from their own stories of change.  This immediately brings up the question of the relationship between individual change and collective or social change.

Is the division between these kinds of change real?  The optic that dramatic art offers is that we do not develop in isolation.  We are a part of each other.  We make each other.  So it may be more truthful to say that change is experienced in different ways, sometimes individually, sometimes collectively.

The reason why this is such an interesting question is that in attempting to construct stories in a group process it is first necessary to explore the lived experience of the different members of the group individually.  This is the only way to get at the truth of people’s perception of change.  This means that people need to reflect on their lives.  And they do this together in a group.  In so doing they get a view of their lives as a story.

They are being asked, in our creative sessions where we are planning to formulate the guidance for mappa mundi participants, to consider what have been the moments of change in their life.  As these moments of change are considered they are being asked to choose a particular moment.  This distillation is a part of the making process.

In order for the story to be capable of being expressed in the ‘aesthetic space’ of the drama, in other words, for it to become capable of being shared, it has to be capable of being performed.  So for the individual participating in the drama work the defining process, the distillation process and the embodying process happen synchronously.  This process accomplishes itself with all the participants putting their story in front of the rest of the group.

Change is continuous and multifaceted.  It becomes manifest though time and space.  For example, in Taoism this all-embracing movement is called ‘The Way’.  In one of the key books of taoism, the I Ching: the book of changes, this is expressed as a constant interaction of two energetic components, the yin and the yang.  One facet of the yin is the yielding or receptive and this corresponds to the facet of the yang that is assertive or determining.  Each of these components has different interconnected modalities.

So if change is continuous how can we find a story that can express it?  We are in the midst of change and sometimes this can be expressed in biological, sometimes in psychological, sometimes in sociological, sometimes in ecological, sometimes in economic, sometimes in historical terms.  For it to be expressed in dramatic terms it has to be actable.

What makes an action (or process or series of events) actable is that it can be embodied in the perceptual space of theatre.  This means that it can be communicated in the ‘here and now’ space in which actors and spectators are brought together. We associate drama with moments where the rate of change increases or where a number of different facets of change come together.  Of course there are dramas in which very little happens and there seems to be no change and events seems to be circular, like Becket’s Waiting for Godot but this example only shows that the expectations that are brought to a theatre event are a part of that event.

If drama is concerned with an increase in the rate of change in life processes then this is often expressed by the irreversibility of the events or perhaps by quantitative processes yielding qualitative transformations.  These moments, of which stories consist, are like turning points, decisive or defining moments.  In order to tell people what has happened to us we often have to find these instances.

So in the work of devising a drama video the first part of the work aims at putting on the specific stories of change from each member of the group.  What form this ‘putting on’ takes is important.  It has to be a distilled moment from each story.

The next part of the making process has to generalise these specific pieces.  These specific stories need to be made into one story.  The participants have to find a way of putting all the stories together in one story of change that captures the crucial movements in all the stories.  It is this respect that Augusto Boal‘s work in The Rainbow of Desire (Routledge London 1995) is helpful.  He describes, in a different context, how a group can be actively and collectively involved in this process.

I am not here going to describe what I understand these techniques or procedures to be.  There are many suggestive ways of looking at this process.  For example, if each individual story had a key image, as if there was a photograph of the key event or scene in the story, and you could superimpose all these images from the individual stories onto one another, an image that expressed what was common to them all could emerge.  The common feature of change derived from all the stories could emerge.

This would then be the starting point for the next part of the making process.  So it is that something collective is made from individual elements.  This reflects the dynamic of the mappa mundi process.  A changing image of a changing world is made up of stories of change from different participant groups. from Dimensions of change 1

On Monday (10th September) I have the opportunity of attending a discussion about how an economic model may be developed to express (I am having to choose words carefully) The Great Transition.  This project is central to the work of the New Economics Foundation, who are hosting the discussion, and is an inspiration and starting point for mappa mundi.

All models are also images.

I am also in the middle of thinking about the creative sessions we will run to devise our TOOLKIT so I am thinking about images and stories of change. Thinking about a number of things at the same time gives rise to confusion and whereas I don’t want to cause confusion it is not entirely unwelcome.  After all total clarity is ineffable, unspeakable, a glacial OM, not very communicative.  So what follows is a bit of a ramble.

The Great Transition is a policy document that describes the policies that can take us from the current regime, based on growth and measured by finance, to an environmentally sustainable and equitable regime.  The title is an allusion to Karl Polanyi‘s master work The Great Transformation.  His work is significant because he brought anthropology towards economics and vice versa.  This was critical.  It meant that economic relations were conceived of as being embedded in social relations and not abstracted from them.  The most telling critique of classical economics (of which neo-liberalism is a renovation) comes from an anthropological perspective.  This is what makes David Graeber‘s work (see Debt, The First 5000 Years) so relevant for our mappa mundi project.

Using an input-output model of economic activity means you can trace material flows through an economy in a way that shows the interconnection between different sectors of production.  Using a matrix mathematical format that interrelates quantities in a complex way you can see that change in one sector will have a consequential change in a sequence of other sector.  One sector’s output is another sector’s input.  Increasing the number of houses built will increase the amount of cement produced.  Because cement production emits carbon you can read how this increase in housebuilding increases carbon outputs.  Also new domestic appliances may be related to new house building therefore more steel is required, also there may be consequences for the water infrastructure.  Simple and not very good examples but the point is that instead of modelling the economy as a circular movement between households and firms with government as a kind of all-pervading ghost, input-output modelling gives a granular picture of the economy as a complex network of interrelated activities. Working with this modelling is like being able to pull a thread in a complex woven fabric and seeing the multiple consequences.

The problem with circular models, no matter how many feedback loops are introduced they create the illusion of ‘closedness’.  Although, of course, natural resources can be included, it is more difficult to gauge the consequences of pollution or other unforeseen consequences.  Input-output modelling depends of course, as does every modelling exercise, on high quality data.  However, this ‘input/output’ image (all models are images) of economic activity as being the transformation of the material world both through input (natural resources) and through output (waste or unforeseen consequences) is more in accord with the vision of ecological economics where the economy is studied not as a separate closed circular system but as an open system dependent on, and a part of, the larger Earth system.

Input-output modelling yields results that have given rise to understanding how changes in demand for specific goods have multiple consequences.  The specific good whose demand fluctuates is like a single thread in a complexly woven fabric.  The way that input-output modelling can quantify the carbon emission consequences of the production/consumption of a given product is that it can trace the complex material flows that have gone into its production.  This is tremendously interesting because the view of human activity is akin to the anthropological.

If you took an artefact from a preceding civilisation and looked at it as a way of discovering the production processes and socio-economic life from which it is derived you would be looking with careful scrutiny at a remnant of a fabric from which the story of the whole fabric could be told.  The object is evidence.  The object is saturated with the social conjuncture from which it comes.  Say, it was a pot.  The clay would have been dug from a particular river bed with a particular tool that was made by a particular craftsperson using metals from a particular mine the equipment for which came from a particular region and so on.  You might be able to see that certain enamels used in the glazing would have to have been imported into the region where the pot was found. The wood used on the wheel was different from the wood used in the oven etc. The object is a complex coagulation of materials and production processes.

In a developed economy that has complex trading relationships and production processes, the objects that are a part of our lives are extremely complex combinations.  They get to us through labyrinthine supply chains, production processes and transport routes.  Different components are shipped around the world and assembled in distant places, packaged in another place, and so on.  All those production processes could be said to be embedded in the product.  Like a microcosmic sign of a highly complex system of production, we carry around aluminium mined in Africa with rare earth mined in China with rubber from Malaysia etc. Input-output modelling enables economists to identify the carbon emissions component embedded in goods due, for example, to their production in China. By the way this raises issues about where the responsibility lies for those carbon emissions.

One of the strategies for climate change mitigation is behaviour change.  Behaviour change could change consumption patterns away from products that have large carbon emissions consequences.  It is easy to see that the modelling we have been talking about is capable of measuring the impact of these changes.  However this is a minimisation of the implications for social knowledge that these techniques hold for us.

Just as objects (products, commodities) are microcosmic signs of social and economic spaces so too do the smallest social groups of a society contain the whole composition of the larger social space of which they are a part.  This also goes for small, even intimate events, within a whole social structure.

I want to make it clear that when I say ‘structure’ here I mean ‘combination of processes’.  If you can talk about the structure of an ocean wave then you can talk about a social structure.  A social structure is in motion. Analysis can demand that we stop the motion in order to view its operation.  This may be a necessary illusion.  When movements are almost imperceptible it seems easier to use structure as a perceptual metaphor.  For example, the structure of a mountain may be easier to encompass in thought than that of a wave but who would deny that mountains are in motion?

All of this leads us to a clearer understanding of the relationship between change at an individual level and change at a social level, but how?  This help us understand how the individual specific stories that are brought out in the creative sessions are related to a more general story that can be used as the basis for a collectively produced mappa mundi – a three minute drama video, but how?

In Augusto Boal’s The rainbow of Desire he writes (at the beginning of the first section entitled The Three Hypotheses of ‘the cop in the head’):

“The smallest cells of social organisation (the couple, the family, the neighbourhood, the school, the office, the factory, etc.) and equally the smallest incidents of our social life (an accident at the corner of the street, the checking of identity papers in the metro, a visit to the doctor, etc) contain all the moral and political values of society, all its structures of domination and power, all its mechanisms of oppression.

The great general themes are inscibed in the small personal themes and incidents. When we talk about a strictly individual case, we are also talking about the generality of similar cases and we are talking about the society in which this particular case can occur.”

I am deeply grateful to Augusto Boal for this insight.  It arises directly from the use of theatre as an optic, an instrument with which to view human life, a gnoseological tool.

An economic model is also a gnoseological tool (a tool that gives rise to knowledge, that produces learning).  Theatre is a way of modelling the world.

Seeing the world in terms of domination and power arises from the kind of exchanges that theatre can present.  This ‘structuring’ of the world is what Boal takes from his great progenitor, Paulo Freire (though, of course, Freire was not a theatre practitioner but a teacher of literacy).  For mappa mundi I am emphasising the transformational character of this view.  Change in our world is towards greater oppression or towards liberation.  This can be transposed into other ideas about change being towards or away from sustainability or towards or away from activism.  Particularly the latter because, for both Boal and Freire, the structure of domination are those that are internalised by the oppressed and in this process they are rendered passive.

Social structures are not held together only from the outside but also (and perhaps mainly) from the inside.  So change if we are talking about regime change will happen from the inside as well as from outside.  Maybe this talk of inside/outside is not completely useful.  It relates to the relationship between the individual and the collective, the cell and the organism, the microcosm and the macrocosm.

For this reason it has always intrigued me why economics, despite its august and insistent claims to the scientific objectivity of a natural science, is split as a discipline between microeconomics and macroeconomics and why it is that these two parts of the discipline don’t really fit together.

In the first economics lesson I attended I remember the teacher told us that there were certain principles on which economics was based.  One principle was that economics was a study of the allocation of scarce resources.  The second principle was that demand was infinite.  I immediately put my foot in it by blurting out that this was completely absurd.  One of these principles relates to macroeconomics and the other relates to microeconomics.  When you put them together they fall apart.

Alchemy is considered to be magical rather than scientific thinking.  Most of OIsaac Newton‘s work was in this discipline.  Carl Gustav Jung devoted a considerable amount of his time to its study.  It is from alchemy that the expressions, microcosmic and macrocosmic, come. In the art/science of alchemy the correspondence between these components is expressed by the famous aphorism: ‘As above, so below’.  Also it is in this discipline that the synchronous, magical correspondence between what is called the ‘outer work’ and the ‘inner work’ is articulated.  It is in Alchemy that this convergence of processes where darkness and light and the transformation of base metal into gold stand in a metaphorical relationship to ignorance and knowledge.

What are the similarities in the modelling work that is going on in alchemy and in economics?  What kind of knowledge is produced?  For whom?

Is Augusto Boal’s insight that in ‘the smallest incident of our social life’ is inscribed the structures of domination and power of the society in which the incident takes place? What is this inscription? We are reminded of a conundrum that we often face as people who want to understand social change: the individual won’t change until the regime changes (outer macrocosmic), the regime won’t change until the individual changes (inner, microcosmic)!  The regime must be inside the individual.  This is what Augusto Boal calls ‘the cop in the head’. I have blogged before about the conceit of policy-makers to which this conundrum relates.

The inscription of the general relationships of domination, oppression and power into the smaller ‘cell’ unit, can be read (becomes legible) when a smaller (‘cell unit’) incident is re-presented in the theatre space.  The enactment requires that the event, as it is re-presented, is transformed into what is actable.  This entails various forms of compression (of space and time), distillations, omissions, (even distortions!).  This is the imaginative, or image-making, process.  A part of this process is a discovery of the general in the particular. It is what Boal refers to as an outcome of ‘pluralisation’.

He talks about this process being effected through articulating a number of possible perceptual relationships to the enactment (the putting of the image of the story into the ‘here and now’ of the theatre space).  He enumerates three of these possible relationships: identification, recognition and resonance.  In so far as a story or image of a story can be perceived as such – in other words so long as it is not perceived as nonsense and can’t be ‘read’ at all – it may be grasped by the spectating participants in these three ways.  Anybody who wishes to take this further can read what Boal has to say about this (The Rainbow of Desire p. 68, Routledge London 1995).  By activating a variety of responses to these image/stories – in the case of mappa mundi they would be stories of change – it is possible to construct one image/story which will be composed of the underlying general story of change.  It would not be quite true to say that this would be the typical story or the summary.  By creating what Boal calls ‘the image of the images’ a process would occur whereby what is general in the stories is drawn to the foreground.

This brings us closer to understanding this crucial movement in the process we are envisaging in the creative sessions we are planning. These sessions will give us a way of testing out what guidance can be given in the mappa mundi TOOLKIT to groups who want to make a devised drama video about change.

What this means is that the individual stories will be seen in the light of the bigger picture.  Throughout the mappa mundi work this relationship between the part (micro) and the whole (macro) is enacted and activated.  By putting a video up on the mappa mundi interactive online space, and thus changing it, participants will be setting their story in the framework of a larger story.

I have drawn a very fanciful parallel between the modelling of economic activity by input -output models and the kind of imagining that can happen in a theatre.  I should be careful to point out that this is a theatre of a particular sort, the sort envisaged in Boal’s work and also in Brecht‘s work – particularly in the The Messingkauf Dialogues (Methuen London 1965) where he explores the uses to which theatre may be put and comes up with a neologism, ‘theäter’ comparable to Boal’s ‘spectactor’.  I am going to push this parallel a little further.

A theatre like the one described by Aristotle in his Poetics has a particular image of the human as its basis. The hero is a victim of fate.  I make no apology for this gross simplification. In classical economics the individual is subject to infinite demand.  In this model the preference of the individual must always be for more of everything.  After all if he or she doesn’t want it they can always give it away.  This a definition of rationality.  In classical economics the human is a victim of demand.

According to Augusto Boal in his theatre the participants are ‘spectactors’.  The interaction of production and consumption is recognised.  The image of the human is active, determined yet determining.  The image (or model!) of the human implicit in ecological economics is both an ‘inputter’ and an ‘outputter’.  The economy is conceived as an earth system.  It is itself an environmental factor.  The environment is not a condition of it, as in classical economics. from Dimensions of change 2

mappa mundi is offering theatre as equipment for imagining.  Since imagination and re-imagining oneself is a part of realising change we are encouraging the use of mappa mundi as a way of enacting stories of change as well as a way of activating change.  These two processes may be interconnected.  Sharing our stories of change, conceiving of ourselves as changing and in the process of change and actually changing may be almost the same thing.

This is the reason why we are working with the ideas of Joanna Macy and Augusto Boal in our creative sessions.  Also with the transformative work of participatory video as it is practiced by Insightshare but at the moment I know less about this.

Joanna Macy’s has worked out a theoretical framework for personal and social change and has articulated this in a practical workshop format.  mappa mundi is a pluralistic project and is not based on any single method of work or body of philosophy.  Also it is not pretending to ‘reinvent the wheel’.  Our work is co-dependent on other people’s work.

We are envisaging four stages in our creative sessions work.  We are modelling and structuring this work through the four basic movements outlined in ‘the work that reconnects’.  We have recognised that mappa mundi is a ‘making’ process and this distinguishes it from Macy’s work.

The process described in the last blog of what Boal calls ‘pluralisation’ in other words finding the general story from an array of individual stories is similar for our purposes to the shift between the second (called ‘honouring the pain’) and third (called ‘seeing with new eyes’) basic movements of Joanna Macy’s ‘work that reconnects’.

Is there really a correspondence between these two moments in these different processes?  Why do we want to overlay or interconnect these two methodologies?

Macy’s work is aimed at an activation of change.  The connection between personal change and social change is at the centre of it and permeates it (runs through it like a river).  The image she uses is that of a spiral. The whole four movements of her workshop form are figured as a spiral but also the spiral is a fractal form that inhabits each cell of the work.  It is a movement that is developing but also returns, a combination of a line and a circle. So in each of the movements all four movements are present but at different stages of development.

Boal’s work is aimed at liberation from oppression.  The key movement in his work is the transposition of experiences into the ‘theatre space’.  Then the original experience and the embodied (or enacted) image of it are held in dynamic tension (he calls this holding both the image of reality and the reality of the image) , separated so the image can be reconstructed, connected so the results of the work on the image can be reintroduced into reality (he calls this ‘theatre as a rehearsal for life’).

I really don’t want to flatten both these processes so they appear the same.  What I want to do is bring Macy’s imagination of change towards Boal’s imagination of liberation from oppression.  What these two moments (movement from ‘honouring the pain’ to ‘seeing with new eyes’ for Macy and the ‘pluralisation’ process that involves confirming the ‘reality of the image’ for Boal) appear to me to share in common is what I would describe as ‘seeing the self in the other’.

I can imagine that this could be obscure and difficult to come to terms with if you don’t have a basic knowledge of these two practitioners!!

So our creative sessions will have four movements.  There will be three layers.  There will be the ‘Macy’ layer, the ‘Boal’ layer and the ‘participatory video’ layer!

The first movement will have as its keynotes: gratitude and presence.  This is a focusing on the ‘here and now’ so it is a preparation of the ‘aesthetic space’.  It is a physical warm up and focuses on breathing.  It is aimed at building trust in the group and giving the space for play.  The recognition of what we have to be grateful for is central to this process.  Also there will be an exploration of the three basic stories that can be used to describe our current circumstances.

The second movement focuses on the development of individual stories.  The underlying movement is looking at the obstacles to change, encountering grief and honouring pain.  Seeing the individual’s pain in the light of the pain of the world. This will be a process of exploring stories, teasing and combing out the separate strands.  It will look at isolation, aloneness. The direction of the work will be inward and reflective and then at the end of the movement there will be the activity of embodying the story/images (the separate strands), of showing them in the ‘aesthetic space’. making the invisible visible.  The assembly that this movement ends with is the basis for the group to move onto seeing the general in the particular, seeing the self in the other and thus moving towards the next movement.

(Bear in mind that this is not a mechanical but a creative process so it is possible that things can go backwards as well as forwards.)

This third movement is characterised by ‘seeing with new eyes’ and is to do with the group extracting the way they want to tell their story of change from the stories they have witnessed.  We are imagining that the part played by participatory video in the process will be developing.  Here the group is creating an ‘image of the images’, ‘pluralising’, continuing the work of seeing the self in the story of the other through acting out the story and working to break down this key image into a series of images.  This could be like ‘story-boarding’.  This is the movement where ‘making’ is more dominant.

The fourth movement is that of performing and videoing the drama story.  This continues all the main thematics that have been set in train by the work.  Each movement may involve going back to the beginning, to basic group trust and breathing together but now it is in the context of creating a picture to make a part of the bigger picture.  Joanna Macy calls this last movement: Going Forth. The filming includes the editing and uploading of the video.

This is a very rough outline of the creative process for our sessions.  We believe that this process will be transformative.  It will also involve conflict and struggle and fun and pain and joy. from Dimensions of Change 3

In the movement for economic literacy the pedagogy of the oppressed and the strategies of cultural action for freedom (Freire’s work, by the way, is unafraid to define itself as Utopian) that I have talked about elsewhere in this blog and which is at the heart of the work on mappa mundi may be something that should be considered more deeply by the New Economics Foundation. from The Great transition and modelling