mappa mundi introduction

Before you read the background documents to Az Theatre’s mappa mundi you might want to find out a little more about the project.

mappa mundi is an online interactive map collecting a patchwork of crowd-sourced drama videos that enable people to share their change with the world

It inspires participant groups to create drama videos based on stories of human change in relation to economic and environmental change through downloadable playtexts or drama workshop programmes. Mappa mundi collects the videos together online to form an interactive map.

This ends up as a collective work that becomes a touring exhibition.

mappa mundi is an adventure in people-power creativity expressing the great transition of our times.

Look at the appeal for participantsmappamundiparticpantappeal5

Go to the Az Theatre blog about the development of mappa mundi

mappa mundi get-togethers coming up

This is the last mappa mundi blog!

mappa mundi is on the move again after a winter rest!!  You can see the first three mappa mundi videos NOW.

We have two ‘get togethers’ coming up, on Thursday 21st February and Thursday 28th February 2013.  On these two evenings the participants in the November creative sessions are getting together with special guests to develop the mappa mundi project.  So these will be like focus group meetings and the emphasis will be on how to extend the project online and through other creative participant sessions. Aims: get a space up online! And more videos from more groups.

We are talking to Roberto Battista who works in audio-visual and interactive media about the design of the online interactive space where the mappa mundi 3-minute drama videos will be uploaded and interconnected!

We are very pleased to welcome Bryce Lianna who is coming to work with Az Theatre on a placement from the University of Leeds where she is studying for a BA in Theatre and Performance.  We are undertaking a training weekend in Leeds for Bryce and her colleagues where we will be making a mappa mundi.  She will also be working on selecting and developing another group who will be making their own mappa mundi later in the year.

Other work is being planned at the Red Brick Building in Glastonbury and amongst students at the Ecole Jacques Lecoq in Paris.

Our January 10th live event viewing of the three mappa mundi videos produced by the November workshops was a great success and it was from the conversation at this event that the following notes were made:

Notes and thoughts after the viewing event on Thursday 10th January 2013 from Jonathan Chadwick – January 16th 2013

What follows are intended to provoke the forward movement of mappa mundi.  They are like an assessment or progress report directly arising from the CREATIVE SESSIONS WEEKEND 2/4th November 2012, the feedback from participants and the live event on Thursday 10th January where the videos were viewed.

  • We will be having some follow-up get-togethers in February principally for participants but also open to companions.
  • We need more participant groups so we can carry through what we have learnt.
  • We need online space design skills.

Responses to the videos

SEEKING, EXPLORING and WITNESSING, the 3 three-minute videos produced from the work at the creative weekend 2/4 November, do not ‘stand alone’.  Seen separately or together as a series they may not convey the intentions or inspirations that went into the process of making them.  As dramatic works they may lack directorial intensity and the focus of a thoroughly worked script development.  They may actually not strike a clear meaning in the viewer even when the basic thematic of change is well advertised.

Viewing situation

It may be that the context that was given to the videos at our event, by my introduction, might have prevented people from fully responding to what occurred on the screen.  The expectation of significance can cause a kind of myopia, a perceptual dysfunction.

Larger work

On the one hand, these videos are not intended to be viewed in isolation.  They are a part of a larger work.  On the other, at this stage in the construction of the larger work, there is a need for the initial works to be inspirational and accessible.  This is important to attract participants.


There may be a simple mis-match between the aspiration of the project (to show or express human change) and the form (a three minute drama video).  It may be true that if this basic brief was given as a commission to expert (or aspiring professional) film-makers the results may be problematic simply because the processes of identification and elaboration, that we normally need to enter into for drama to work, cannot happen in three minutes.

Reason for limits

The three-minute time limit derives from a perception of how long people may watch things on the internet. It doesn’t come from a perception of how long it takes to convey a story about human change.

Videos as links between spaces

This may present a fundamental problem with our attempt to find a creative link between the creative space of human storytelling and the online interactive space of the internet.

Need for artistic development

These specific examples (SEEKING, EXPLORING and WITNESSING) may have been made in circumstances that did not permit a proper artistic development.

Time limits and quality

In assessing the quality of the work over the 2/4 November weekend participants commended the delivery of the exercises and the sense of communication, creativity and empowerment to which they gave rise.  Everybody realised that there was not really enough time to accomplish the tasks that were set and sensed that there was a certain amount of ‘cramming’.  The sequencing and timing of the process could be improved.  Some participants appreciated the creative benefits derived from the pressure of deadlines and the formulaic nature of the tasks.

Nature of the participant group

The group who were brought together on the 2/4 November were a highly creatively motivated and creatively literate group of individuals, a considerable proportion of whom were photographic, cinematographic or dramatic practitioners.

Imaging stories

The overall build-up to the ‘discovery’ and articulation of the stories of change that could be told by the group seems to have been on the whole well managed.  Key to this process was firstly, the creation of a space in which people could reflect on the nature of change as it manifested itself individually, socially and environmentally; secondly, the creation a space of trust and communication amongst the group; thirdly, the creation of a means of embodying images of stories that was in itself sensually and collectively engaging; fourthly, a tangible and imaginative engagement with the expressive and narrative capacity of moving picture images.

Departure from prior plan

In terms of time management and direction of the process of making the videos there was a departure from the ‘plan’ developed by the ‘directors’ at the point where the participants had refined their individual stories of change.  The previously conceived plan was to view all the images of the individual stories on the Saturday evening, leaving Sunday for the work of animating these images, exploring the connections between them, searching for how many stories could be distilled into one story, refining the dramatisation of narratives.

Clarity for non-participants

This last observation may not be clear to readers of this who were not participants.  Let me explain that each participant made an image of the key moment of change in their story of change using the bodies of other participants.  This process of definition and embodiment happened after an earlier introduction to the plasticity of image making and an earlier exercise sequence where the stories were selected and refined through exchange and role-play. The aim was to base the work that would go into the dramatic videos on the ‘real’ stories of individuals.

What was rushed

It was the adaptation of these ‘real’ stories into dramatic fiction that had to be rushed and this multiple task was simply given to the three working groups to accomplish. The groups were instructed and guided but there were not ‘hands on’ directed. There may have been damaging problems that arose in the ‘cramming’ or ‘rushing’ of the process.

Trust and creativity in the group

Because there was such a high level of trust and creativity in the group (which for the purpose of video-making was divided into 3 groups of six people) the  work was managed and accomplished with success but still this success may have been limited by the impact of this pressure.

Numbers of participants

It is worth noting that the group consisted of 19 people, four of whom were presenting exercises.  Our initial estimates for the work had given us a ceiling of 12 people.  It became clear during the work that given the time limits a working group of approximately 6 people was effective to make a short video. There were benefits from the overall group being so big.  It gave a feeling of variety and critical mass to the work.

Experiment and other models

Also, the weekend was deliberately experimental. There may be other ratios between ‘participants’ and ‘presenters’ that might have been more effective.  For example, if it was possible to combine the ‘presenter’ skills in two people, one of whom was particularly expert in video, and they were working with a group of 8 ‘participants’ and the aim was to make one three-minute video.  This may significantly change the timing and scheduling possibilities.

Editing process

The foregoing only deals with the shooting/filming of the videos. The editing process, which in the current project has been carried on so inventively, raises more questions about time and scheduling.

Whereas the editing process has been as collective as possible for SEEKING, EXPLORING and WITNESSING this was never thoroughly integrated into the scheduling of the project despite Marleen and Sara making clear how crucial this process was.  The fact that we have the finished products is a combination of real good fortune, generosity and sensitive skills.

Many stories, one story

We, the ‘presenters’ knew that a crucial stage in the process of arriving at a story of change was the way in which individual stories can be combined into one story.  There is a lot to be said about this stage of the work.  Each of the three groups undertook different processes in discovering the story that was to be told.  However more directional input should and can be given to this process.  I believe that this gap in the work over the 2/4 week-end was registered by many of the participants in the assessments they have given. The foreshortening of this part of the process was a major casualty of the lack of time.

Getting together

One of the main suggestions coming out of the event on Thursday 10th January was that the participants should be invited to get together again to help the ongoing feedback and project development process.

Movement from many to one/ from image to shot

There needs to be a more organic directional movement from the creation of individual images to the discovery of the ‘key’ story. There also needs to be a similar creation follow-through from the concentration given to the ‘image of the moment of change’ in the image work to the conception of the ‘key’ shot within the nine-shot form of the video.

Training and participation

There are other inputs that may substantially raise the quality of creative experience and outcomes.  Whereas we cannot expect a ‘conservatoire’ training within the limits of the project, a distillation of best practice and refinement of sensual creativity can be given.  However, the key to the mappa mundi project is participation and the key to the participation is rooting the work in people’s own lived experience.

Specific improvements

Firstly, more input can be made on the composition and execution of the filming of dramatic action; specifically, the aesthetic and narrative qualities of the shot.

Secondly, more input can be made on editing; specifically, what is the nature of the ‘cut’. Further to this we need to schedule into the work how the editing can be accomplished.

Thirdly, more input can be made about acting for camera.

Bringing arts together

How the dramatic and cinematic arts come together in our work and how we generate this capability in participants without an elaborate professionalization of the process and the product is a vital question.  We are trying to be formally inventive.  We want to propose the three-minute drama video as a means of expression and we want to link this to an online interactive space that serialises the work.

Functions and modes 

It is questionable whether the same members of the group should be involved in both story creation and filming.  The challenge is to find the key to creative fluency between these aspects of the work.  This includes ensuring that the exercises in one mode and the other flow well into each other.

Online delivery and connectivity

There was a ferment of discussion at the event about how the connectivity online may work, how one video might connect to another, might take scenes from another, might respond to another.  I wish I could re-capture this ferment.

There was considerable discussion about accessibility and how vivid material about the making of the videos could somehow trail or accompany the videos online.

In order for mappa mundi to work it has to break boundaries.  It can’t just be to do with leaving the cultural forms of expression as they are given.  This is why culturally diverse forms such as the haiku and the sutra come into play. Also, mappa mundi needs to be a popular art form so the idea of serialisation and of games (like ‘Consequences’) may suggest creative directions.


One of the major aims of the event was to bring to the participants and to the other interested people (those I referred to as the ‘companions’) a more overall sense of the project and to set the creative sessions work within the context of the collective work of creating an online space, a changing map of a changing world composed with people’s dramatisations of stories of change, a mappa mundi!  I believe the event was achieved this agenda shift.  But the event at least reminded me of how much work there was to be done!







mappa mundi creative sessions weekend

Go back to the the first mappa mundi blog and start at the beginning of the story of the development of mappa mundi

The mappa mundi creative sessions weekend took place on 2nd, 3rd and 4th November 2012 at Whittington Park Community Centre just off the Holloway Road in North London.  Nineteen people participated and, after a medley of exercises based on the work of Augusto Boal, Joanna Macy and participatory video, we shot 3 short drama videos about change.

The participants were culturally and generationally diverse.  About a third lived in the environs of Holloway/Finsbury Park.  There was a high creative energy and sharing within the group.

People were very inventive in the video exercises given by Sara Asadullah and Marleen Bovenmars from Insightshare, the experiential exercises given by Debbie Warrener opened up people’s perspectives and enabled them to share their stories and the drama exercises given by Jonathan Chadwick enabled people to define and stage their stories.

We are editing the videos and preparing for a presentation on Thursday 10th January 2013 at Whittington Park Community Centre.

Were discoveries made?  Beside the creative enthusiasm and the high productivity, were advances made in our understanding of how this work can be accomplished.  The key process of creative transformation that we were working for was the discovery of a general story about change derived from the individual stories.  In a debriefing session between Jonathan Chadwick and Debbie Warrener, the latter referred to this generalising component as the ‘meta-story’.

By asking people to share their experiences as stories and then to explore the similarities between them we wanted them to gain a sense of how the stories may express something about human change in general.  By focusing on these similarities, using the framework offered by Boal in ‘The Rainbow of Desires’ (Routledge London 1995), that entails differentiating responses between those of identification, of recognition and of resonance, we were attempting to make the transformation equivalent to what Boal calls the making of ‘the image of the images’.  In practical terms for Boal this involves taking the essential gestural image from participants stories and composing one image of them.  The images are made like tableaux, using the shaped and staged bodies of other members of the group.

The approach to this latter part of the creative process was undertaken on our weekend by three smaller groups of six people each.  What seemed to happen was that as the group recognised the specificity of a given individual story and realised it at a more and more specific level the general dimensions of all the group’s stories seemed to emerge.  The process of generalisation actually derived from the process of specification and actualisation.

This may seem to be counterintuitive.  The process of generalisation would usually be associated with an effacement of detail and specificity.  However this creative movement is consonant with what Joseph Campbell observes about myth as an underlying story.  Also, in Jung‘s work there is an awareness of how the particular self, as it engages with its own particularity, at a key moment is immersed in the collective unconscious and realises itself as a larger Self.  This is the basis for his work on archetypes.  It is also close to how Antonin Artaud perceived the transformations that are wrought in the act of giving representations of the human in theatre.

Looking back at our work over the weekend the collective character of the mappa mundi project has confirmed itself.  This is really only the beginning.



Something went wrong in the mid-1970s

I went to the TUC’s Conference on Poverty on Wednesday 17th October.  I am looking for other ways of pursuing work on The Deal besides the mappa mundi project.  I like this process of searching.  You put yourself in front of experiences and ideas in order to find connections.  Sometimes, of course, connections are not forthcoming.  This is a minor risk in a game that depends on balancing the expected with the unknown.

I was interested in this conference because Owen Jones, who wrote Chavs: the Demonisation of the Working Class, was down to speak.  This book tells a vital part of the story of the last 40 years: how the working class’s organisational defeat that centred around the pit closure programme and miners’ strike of the mid-80s has been accompanied by an ideological onslaught.  It is all the more interesting because this process is viewed from the perspective of someone who was born at the apex of this movement, in 1984.

This dimension of the extraordinary story of the success of neo-liberalism during this period was also brought to my attention while watching No, a film shown at the current BFI London Film Festival by Chilean filmmaker Pablo Larrain about the 1988 plebiscite in Chile that recorded a popular majority against the continuance of the rule of the military Junta under Pinochet that brought itself to power on September 11 1973.  In the film we see Pinochet reiterating the aim of the military dictatorship as being ‘to make Chile a country of proprietors, not of proletarians’.

The 1973 coup in Chile announced a new world order and this process of renewal by war was the template for the aspiration expressed by Bush Senior in the first Gulf War of 1991 and of Bush Junior and Blair in the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

At the TUC conference the opening address given by Danny Dorling who with Bethan Thomas has recently published Bankrupt Britain: An Atlas of Social Change.  This man is a fountain of lurid and colourful info graphics delivering a fugue of repeated variations on a theme: we have become one of the most unequal societies in the world and this process of inequality started in the late 1970s.  As he tantalisingly expressed it: ‘something went wrong in the mid-1970s’.  ‘Yeah’ someone scowled from the audience, ‘a centrist labour party!’  Possibly, but that in itself may be an effect rather than a cause.

Dorling also drew attention to the key importance in social change of the bottom 90 per cent of the top 10 per cent.  He pointed out that their adherence to and belief in the top 1 per cent was decisive for social cohesion.  At the moment this relationship, so thoroughly cemented by Thatcher, is deteriorating.  Of course the Coalition are desperately attempting  to apply repairs.

The mystery of the story of the last 40 years (I mean the success of neoliberalism and economism) has been how people have been persuaded to vote for their own immiseration.  This is a fantastic aspect of the process.  I went along to the conference with this firmly at the front of my mind.  It is a commonplace to say that nobody has more to gain from progressive social change based on equality and democracy than the poor but nobody is deprived more obviously of the means to effect that change.  It is difficult to see past the idea that that only way to empower the poor is to enrich them.  It is the accompanying illusions that have secured the rule of the rich elite.

I opted to go to a workshop session called Reciprocity: What rights? Whose responsibilities?  The talk in this workshop was informed by direct experience.  People working with Unemployed Workers Centres, self-help community organisations, job advisory organisations spoke with authority about the history of the welfare state from Beveridge’s work in the early 1940s where the concept of a national insurance scheme was formulated and operationalised and also of how the link between contribution and assistance had been systematically destroyed.  Crucial to the inception of the national insurance system was the accompanying commitment to full employment. These people were experienced in the day-to-day operation of the system for unemployment and it was out of this experience of how the system humiliated and disempowered the unemployed that certain demands and questions emerged.  One simple demand was for the claimant’s agreement, with its obligations on the claimant, to be met by a reciprocal agreement on the part of the state. This would oblige the state as a part of an agreement to ensure support and advice within a generally acceptable code of conduct.

What immediately interested me was the distance between what might appear to be a minor reform – something that may from certain points of view be called procedural – and the demand for full employment.  Of course underlying both is a radically different conception of the public state.

Any move towards full employment would necessarily involve the state becoming a major investor even if it did so, as it does at the moment, through the enrichment and financing of the private sector.  The decision-making processes in the relevant strategies would have to be transparent and open to public accountability.  Any redistributive programme poses the problem of how to make the processes involved collective and democratic.  This involves questions of justice that have been barely rehearsed.



Old problems, new visions

Bertolt Brecht

Brecht‘s last poem:

And I always thought: the very simplest words                                                                   
Must be enough.  When I say what things are like                                                            
Everyone’s heart must be torn to shreds.                                                                            
That you’ll go down if you don’t stand up for yourself                                                      
Surely you see that.


Well it’s the last poem in his Poems 1913-1956 (Eyre Metheun 1976) anyway!

I thought of this poem when I was listening to Michael Alpert speak via an online video about alternative economics.  He was talking about the importance of having an alternative model of how things might work.  It involves a redefinition of work and how it is rewarded, organised and managed.  You can find out what he thinks for yourself.

He talks about things you can change and things you can’t.  If we spent all our effort on combatting ageing, he points out, we would be wasting our time.  He points out that capitalism (an economic system where there is a division between the people who organise and the people who do….so his definition covers most forms of socialism as well!) is not like ageing in that it is not given and unchangeable.  But we have to believe in an alternative.  This means we have to have a vision of it.

He says that the mentality that considers it inevitable has too much sway.  He uses the example of a conversation he had with someone during the bombing of Afghanistan in 2001.  He got his friend to agree that if they could get 10 million people out to protest they could stop the bombing of Afghanistan.  But, his friend added, they would find somewhere else to bomb!

The difficulty is that we live in the present not in the future.  We can have a vision of an alternative but how does this affect how we live now?  We cannot wish this alternative into being.  If we had the resources to live out this ideal vision now we would already have achieved our dream.  If we obey the dictum: ‘be the change!’, we may find ourselves living in a little ideal world inside this less perfect world.  Of course if everybody changed in this way then the whole of social life would be transformed.  But if they didn’t then there would be certain people living in their ideal world and the rest would be living in the ‘normal’ world.  If all the discontented people became content because they were living out their dream then things would pretty much remain the way they are!

All the struggles that we undertake to make our lives and the lives of others better may lead to success in which case the current system will have proved itself viable, credible and desirable.  History and experience seem to tell us that change comes when people move into action.  They get together with other people to try to change something in their circumstances.  In the course of these struggles people become aware of the obstacles placed in the way by the system and those guarding the status quo.  So how in this instance does having a vision of an alternative economy (or society) come into play?

This sounds like an old problem, the relationship between reform and revolution, or even between tactics and strategy.  This leads me back to Brecht’s poem.

I have always been interested in selflessness.  This is why at a certain point in the War Stories project I started to use the Alcestis story from Euripides’s play. Alcestis is the only person willing to give up her life to save her husband.  I saw the shape of this story in one told during our War Stories worskhops in Belgrade in 2004.  When NATO bombed Belgrade and the siren sounded this young woman remembered how she had only one thought in her head and that was for her little sister.  She frantically rushed around and until she discovered the little girl playing, mindless of any danger.  She remembered that panic though.  It taught her something about herself.

Jan Palach

Jan Palach

Likewise the first play I wrote, The Performance, which will be revived as a staged reading at the Municipal Theatre in Zlin in the Czech Republic in December, is about Jan Palach who burnt himself to death in January 1969 when the Warsaw Pact Countries invaded Czechoslovakia to prevent the reform movement connected with Alexander Dubcek’s government’s programme to create socialism with a human face, the movement that became known as the Prague Spring.

Antonin Artaud

In performance there is something both self augmenting and self destroying.  It is both ‘self-ful’ as well as selfless.  This is the drama of the martyr.  I was intrigued by Antonin Artaud’s description of actors being like figures signalling as they were being consumed by flames, like heretics.  I loved heretics.

Giordano Bruno

John Wycliffe

Jan Hus

Give me Giordano Bruno, John Wycliff and Jan Hus.  These are the people I felt close to as I grew up.

Mohammed Bouazizi

Of course I am reminded of Mohammed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who burnt himself to death in Tunisia on the 4th January 2011.

So I love Brecht’s tender admonition and I can see that sticking up for yourself is not necessarily the contrary of sticking up for other people.  But I also know that fear is the great enemy of change.  Maybe deep down the real vision of the alternative economy connects with a deep belief about oneself.  It was also interesting to hear Michael Alpert encourage the audience not to be swayed by charisma.  He invited them not to believe what he was saying, not to be impressed by the way he was saying it.

He was making a plea for participation.


Maps, models and Az work

Not only are maps the antecedents of systemic models, the first maps, according to Jerry Botton’s wonderful book A History of the World in Twelve Maps, are descriptions of creation.

They describe what exists and, by implication, how it came into being.

Homer conceived of the world as a disk, Anaximander as a cylinder.  Interestingly it was Parmenides who believed the world was round because the universe was.  I can remember from my youth, D. H. Lawrence’s description of the dynamic relationship between man and “the circumambient universe” (“The business of art is to reveal the relation between man and his circumambient universe at the living moment.”).  That last phrase gave me an image.  I understood that I was surrounded by the universe.  The implicit image is that of a circle or globe.  How can I tell how far this apprehension is a product of an instinctive response to experiences that arises from the operation of the senses?

When the sun is up, light is all around us.  Sounds emanate from every direction.  Air surrounds us.  Is this circumambience an extrapolation or is it culturally determined?

It is difficult to imagine a time when people didn’t come together to share their sense of the shape of the universe.  By this last phrase I mean: what people believe exists and how it came into being.  At a certain point in the development of our lives together here on earth, religions started to organise this collective believing and thinking.  Providing, ordering and organising rituals and developing symbols that could co-ordinate people’s beliefs has involved all kinds of constraints and inducements.  To hold sway over people’s sense of themselves in the universe is a massive endeavour and it is unsurprising that this has been deeply connected with social and political organisation.

Whether I espoused a particular brand of religion or whether I was trained in any orthodoxy – neither of which I believe happened to me – it is protestant christianity that is the dominant liturgical orthodoxy in my social group.  These shaping influences arrive in one’s life as a set of assumptions rather than as dogma learned by rote.  Or maybe that is the liberal carapace of this particular brand.  The residing apprehension is that god, belief and the shape of the universe are deeply personal issues.

It is, of course, possible that the personal or private quality of this process of decision or discovery is an illusion.  Or it may be that you really can only go so far on your own.  What a given human being construes to be the borderline between the known and the unknown may be an inner movement that is timeless but in each social instance it must take on a specific form of expression.  Joseph Campbell in his investigation of human mythology alights with vigour on the conception in Indian philosophy that being is configured by two interrelated processes.  One is the marga which is continuous movement of creation, ‘the way’.  The other is the desi which is the specific phenomenal form undertaken by being in particular social circumstances.  Without the marga the desi would be meaningless, random substance.  Without the desi the marga would be incapable of being perceived.  Words float over this binary dialectical structure, reflect it but fail to provide absolute definition.

There is a moment in the process of meditation when, after the attention has been sufficiently concentrated, the consciousness is opened out and the focus can be on that which is infinite and timeless.  This moment of being in the void holds the conscious being at the centre and, at the almost simultaneous moment, the centre is everywhere.

It is evident from Brotton’s work that maps always presume a centre.  To begin mapping you have to know where you are.  So the original maps being descriptions of creation also means that they arrived out of an articulated sense of the borderline between the known and the unknown.  The moment of being just referred to in the meditative process is, in Patanjali’s yoga sutra, synchronous with the unity of the ‘knower’ and the ‘known’.

In Brotton’s introduction he quotes Mircea Eliade’s Images and Symbols: Studies in Religious Symbols, (trans. Philipe Mairet Princeton 1991):

“In the case of the Babylonian world map, Babylon lies at the centre of the universe, or what the historian Mircea Eliade has called the ‘axis mundi’. According to Eliade, all archaic societies use rites and myths to create what he describes as ‘boundary situations’, at which point ‘man discovers himself becoming conscious of his place in the universe’.  This discovery creates an absolute distinction between a sacred, carefully demarcated realm of orderly existence, and a profane realm which is unknown, formless and hence dangerous.”

This sense of being – the discovery of consciousness of place – this renewed transport between the inner and the outer is also a description of how things come together in art.  It is the vibration of meaning.  If this can be made and not simply given then the experience is one of authenticity rather than dependence.

These ponderings contain the guiding principles of the work this week for me.

In conversation with Caroline Moore, the video practitioner who is working with the young people at College Park School (see Gaza Opening Signs at College Park School) we talked about how the work there was developing in terms that caused her to reflect on why she had undertaken participatory, rather than ‘signature’, arts.  My assertion was that all true art is participatory.  It is activist.  It is contrary to the relations that characterise our society where production is divorced from consumption and where consumption is passive.  To create is to resist.

This is what makes our Gaza project work, not just of aid but, of resistance.

Can we generate this spirit of activism and resistance around the mappa mundi project?  By using an interactive online space in conjunction with people’s making can we engage people in creativity, can we activate people?



Transitioning, modelling and change

The centrepiece of the New Economics Foundation’s work on The Great Transition is the development of a new economic model.

This is the way the Foundation describes its ambition for this work:

“What we’re doing
From 2009, we will be working with other economists on a radical new approach to economic modelling. Standard models take no account of resource use and environmental constraints, and are blind to social outcomes in terms of equity and, of course, human well being. They are open-ended by nature, with growth being the primary output of interest. Inputs feed in, interact with each other, achieve balance (or equilibrium) and outcomes result.

Our approach turns this on its head. We will start with the hard outcomes we need – environmental sustainability; equitable economic justice; and high levels of human well-being – link these to relevant economic determinants within the model (aggregate output, income distribution and working hours, respectively, for example) and to ‘reverse engineer’ what this would imply for the levels and types of differing inputs.”

Although it is not clear what ‘standard models’ are – it is common knowledge in the economics field that systems dynamic modelling was used to described natural resource limits in Limits to Growth in 1972 and that accounts of social outcomes have been derived from input-output models and have been popularised in the form of carbon and ecological footprinting (related to equity and well-being) for some years now – the aspiration to create a new modelling paradigm is very exciting.

The fact that this is linked to movement building and campaign work that, with the new modelling, is put at the centre of the New Economic Foundations work is promising.  The aspiration to turn existing modelling work ‘on its head’ is consonant with the provocative and imaginative thinking that the Foundation has put into its document The Great Transition.  Also the way this is connected to the development of a popular economics promises new access and participation by people in thinking about economic and social processes.

That modelling, based on working backwards from where the desired change may take us, can act as a guide on the pathway to that change represents a departure from the positivism that dogs economic thinking.

The Foundation is the first to point out that this work entails collaboration and that there are not any immediately easy answers.

It is not completely clear what ‘reverse engineering’ means in this context but the idea of ‘back-casting’ is a commonplace in sustainability work.  How economic modelling work can be used for back-casting rather than fore-casting is a good question but it does present difficulties. One of the problems is that models rely on the robustness of the data that is fed through them as well as the accuracy of the representation of the interconnectedness of the processes that are modelled.

It is difficult to envisage a model of a future social configuration that doesn’t have a similar algorithmic structure to a model of the current one.  Also we obviously do not have data for the future.  We only have projections and scenarios.

In some respects modelling may create mentalities that appertain to ‘sympathetic magic’ rather social change.  The illusion (powerful though it may be) that if I stick a pin in this doll (or image) of this person that it will do them actual harm is a magical use of model-making.  It goes without saying that creating a model of an economy is not creating an economy even though one can contest that the model is true because it all adds up and even if a model of a future economy adds up better than a model of the current economy, even if it is morally better and even if its more desirable and, by all accounts, will make people happier!

Another way in which model-making can be thought about is the way models are used in architecture.  This is different from sympathetic magic but may be as wishful!  It is different from economic models because it is representational in a different way.  But it reminds us that models can be used to test out whether real construction are viable or desirable!

Is work on making models of the economy helpful to social change?  What is the relationship between making a model and making an economy?  If the economy or (if this is the same thing) economic relations are ’embedded’ in social, political and geographical processes and not a separate abstract systemic sphere, as is asserted in the work of Karl Polanyi, how useful can a mathematical model of it be in working for, or imagining or guiding, social change?  How do you input decisive unquantifiable variables?

In the description of their ambitions for the new model nef envisage a macro-economic model that is ‘not geared towards growth’.  In modelling work all social processes are expressed as quantities or ratios.  Is it axiomatic that a process that consists of quantification must express development as increase? Maybe.

But I have changed the words deliberately.  I want to steal back the word growth! I think people are understandably attracted to the idea of ‘growth’ but not necessarily to the idea of ‘increase’.  We want our children to grow, for plants to grow, for our understanding to grow, for ourselves to grow, but we don’t necessarily want them to increase!!

By the way, it is interesting, in this respect, that Paulo Freire uses the analogy of banking to describe the accumulation of knowledge as information and draws a preferential distinction with  active knowledge.

When we hear that our society may not grow we are worried because intuitively we know that societies must develop and change.  So there is a semantic clash.

I think there are many people who dislike and distrust ‘bigness’. The question of scale is crucial and economists and ecologists are aware of the extraordinary thinking of Schumacher who it shouldn’t be forgotten worked for the National Coal Borad as well as for the Soil Association.  I would recommend looking at his moral treatise, A Guide for the Perplexed as well as his more famous ‘Small is Beautiful, a study of economics as if people mattered’ (which is, of course, where nef gets its strapline from: ‘economics as if people and the planet mattered’).

It is always interesting when economists abandon the strict framework of their discipline and talk about moral questions.  It is a wonderful corrective to the way we normally view the work of Adam Smith to read his Theories of Moral Sentiments.  Equally, in Amartya Sen’s Idea of Justice he pursues the wonderful work he accomplished as an economist to criticise, with paradigm-shifting movements similar to his ‘replacement’ of utility by capability in Development as Freedom, the abstractions of John Rawl’s work.

If you want to read more about mappa mundi there are CLICK HERE


The Great Transition and modelling

The Great Transition is a document produced by the New Economics Foundation.

It deliberately ‘quotes’ the title of Karl Polanyi’s book about the development of market capitalism, The Great Transformation.  This book written in 1945 looks at social and economic development with an anthropological perspective.  It portrays economic processes as being ‘embedded’ in social, political and geographical processes.  Economic relationships are culturally circumscribed and instantiated.  These relations are not seen as something that is abstracted from the society of which they are a part and they do not have objective laws of development free of the shaping circumstances of the people and societies in which they develop.  The economy is not, in this version of social reality, a separate sphere. This work has given rise to a significant trend in Economic Anthropology.

This movement represents a deep critique of Classical Economics in the sense that, for example, markets cannot be considered, from this perspective, to be ‘natural’ and are therefore not capable of being analysed as if they are subject to laws akin to those of the natural sciences. It is clear to any anthropologist that markets are constructed by states (see David Graeber’s Debt, the first 5000 Years).

The Great Transition has a remarkable quality of freedom as a document because, though it is written by economists, it doesn’t start out from economics.  It starts from the idea of well-being and constructs, on this basis, an aspirational and utopian vision of a future society and then proceeds to put economics at the disposal of this vision.  It starts out by asking what is the purpose of economics if it cannot deliver a prescription for a more equitable and sustainable society.  There is a key section which asks ‘What is the purpose of it all?’ that starts by an outright defiance of quantification:

‘It is a virtual axiom of orthodox economics that more is always better’ p. 14

This is a rejection not just of the value system implicit in classical economics but of its methodology.  The quantification processes are connected to the construction of the economic system as an abstract entity and as a natural, ‘a priori’ structure.

Later this section goes on to describe how practical elements like:

‘financial regulation, taxation and welfare policy, or reducing our carbon intensity’ p.15

cannot be changed separately from the people who inhabit, are governed or are regulated by them:

“But we need to remember that, as important as these are, in a democracy, none of these changes will come about without the will and desire of the people. And people are not like the passive automatons of economics textbooks. They have goals, beliefs and aspirations and they actively construct the world around them through the ways in which they talk, behave and make meaning.” P.15

So what is envisaged is a process of change where economic processes are ‘embedded’ in other processes.

The document then goes on to imagine some provocative policy suggestions for example, a 67% inheritance tax to pay for a basic investment in the from of a kind of personal grant to every citizen of £25,000.  This is in the section on the The Great Redistribution.  In another section entitled: The Great Revaluation, a shift in the habitual means of measurement of economic health is envisaged making self assessments of happiness and well-being a social process in place of the quantification of production in the Gross Domestic Product figure that is currently used as a measure of growth.  I am not going to review the entire book.

It is deliberately provocative, stimulating, eccentric, imaginative and, by some yardsticks, unrealistic.  The reader may be reminded of the famous slogan from 1968:  ‘Be realistic, demand the impossible’.

It sets aside the question of implementation.  It is clear that many of the measures recommended if they were considered from a policy point of view could only be implemented by a state regulatory and legislative operation that would involve the government having massively extended powers.  It really goes without saying that this could only happen if a consensus in favour of the kind of changes proposed had been created.  Basically it implies that the first step towards this is to re-imagine what is possible but it doesn’t do so by simply dreaming.  It mixes a practicality with its propositions by costing them.

There is no other document quite like it from a major think tank or centre of thinking and doing.  What interests me about its lack of orthodoxy is that it offers the basis to imagine a national economy such as that of the United Kingdom departing from the global consensus in an act of unilateralism that may not be culturally uncharacteristic of a society that managed the Reformation and the First Industrial Revolution.  In fact the question of unilateralism and the idea of an inventive development programme for what might be considered to be an already developed country has a kind of poetic and historical justice.  As far as the industrial development of the country goes it might be a question of ‘First in, first out’. The early development of the industrial revolution is a key ingredient in the development of Britain’s empire and the empire is the key ingredient of the domination of the banking and finance institutions.  The development of self sufficiency and sustainability must entail the removal of the stranglehold of these institutions on our lives and on our imaginations.  This may be why The Great Transitions proposals for a Great Re-skilling  is so visionary.

Also, by the way, this unilateral departure from the so-called international community may be just the element needed in the face-off with the ‘developing world’ that is the signature of every climate change negotiation.  I will resist the economisation of this strategy so I will not talk about ‘first mover advantage‘. Also I will not decorate this idea with the already discredited fantasies of ecological modernisation and ‘decoupling‘.

Also, it is possible that this idea of unilateralism is dynamically linked to localism.  In fact, localism is unilateralism in the making.  One only has to look, for example, at the implications of the ‘local energy descent plans’ proposed by the Transition Network movement to see this.

So the decision by the New Economics Foundation to make The Great Transition the central dynamic element in their overall work is a very exciting move.

How do you relate the work of the economist, which is based on making mathematically-based models of economic social processes, to building a consensual movement and campaigning on particular issues?  This is not easy.

In a blog for the New Economics Foundation the outline of the model they are constructing is described as a part of an intervention nef has made in the argument between Paul Krugman and Steve Keen about the definition of aggregate demand.  Also on page 10 of the slide presentation there is a link to the presentation that nef made to the Conference of Ecological Economists in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012.

This modelling work is a ‘work in progress’ and they are focusing initially on how to find a way of modelling the impact of bank lending – or credit creation – on the volume of economic activity.  They do this by defining the rate of increase of lending/debt. This is a differential.  They express this as a measure of planned lending/debt and thus they are attempting to quantify expectation.

You can see why their focus is on banking and trying to shed light on the operational impact of financial institutions.  The consequences of this modelling work and its interaction with building consensus and campaigning work have yet to be seen.  They have only been working on the model for two years. Its not easy to find this alchemy.

At the moment the glory of it seems to be that it can participate in the ‘big fights’ (e.g. Keen versus Krugman) in the ideological slugging matches of the machismo culture of objective truths, that it can talk to the Bank of England, that it might even one day put an authoritative visiting card on the table at the Treasury.  Of course these ‘big hitters’, the mainstream ocean liners of the consensual apparatus, will always look with openness at any action on the ground that they can incorporate or extinguish with scorn.

In this regard the methodologies are not value free and the culture of the ‘big fight’ can become strategically restricting when applied to building a movement.

In the field of Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation there is a considerable amount of work about the mentalities (‘top down’) that emerge from knowledge that is ‘black-box’ computer derived.  Maybe the expert scientist ‘speaking truth to power’ in the person of the ‘policy-maker’ is a paradigm as defunct as a quasi-Leninist model of movement building. The way nef describe their training work is through ‘masterclasses’.  There’s always a danger when you get your hands on the levers of an economic model that you may get delusions of being ‘masters of the universe’!

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.

To construct an authoritative position when presenting the modelling work I think that nef should make clear that systems dynamics was first used comprehensively in 1972 in ‘Limits to Growth‘.  Also, it should survey, in an introductory spirit, more carefully other modelling work, like the E3 work by Cambridge Econometrics or the REAP input-output modelling which is the basis of work at the Universities of York  and now in Multi-Regional Input Output modelling at University of Leeds. I think a broader pluralistic approach to ‘models of change’ would be a good idea. See mode(l)s of change. Be hegemonic and inclusive. It should be emphasised how accessible the STELLA and VENSIM tools are for analysis of systems dynamics.  We covered it in a couple of weeks on the Masters in Ecological Economics course at Leeds.

Opening up modelling and creating access to it must be a vital part of a popular economics.  Why is this so difficult to do?

I think that what is happening at the New Economics Foundation is really exciting.

Dimensions of change 3

Hint: Best to read Dimensions of change 1, then 2, then this.

I am still banging on about change and addressing the question of the relationship between change at the level of the individual and at the level of the society.  I have talked elsewhere about how economics and theatre are based on an image of the human.  They assume an image of the human.  An image of the human is implicit in them.  This ‘imaging’ of the human can be shared across practices.  The framing of this ‘imaging’ is culturally specific and it is anthropology that studies these determinations.  The use of the expression ‘homo economicus’ and the presentation, in the model of classical economics, of a rationally self-interested individual demonstrates this ‘imaging’ work.  Alternatively, for example, the Deep Ecology movement works for the realisation of the ‘ecological self’.

Can we in the course of our lives remodel ourselves?  Can we move beyond the culturally determined and practiced identities that we grow into?  What part does this imaging work or (more simply put) the imagination play in these processes of change? Do we passively wait for change to come even if we know it’s coming, even if we feel it’s coming? How do we imagine ourselves on earth? How on earth do we imagine ourselves?

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 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 (Boal’s Rainbow of Desire and Macy’s ‘work that connects’) ?  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 process 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.

Dimensions of change 2

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 in the signs of 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 Isaac 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 between the modelling work that is going on in alchemy and that which is going on 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 of a social entity into a smaller ‘cell’ unit can be read (becomes legible) when a smaller (‘cell unit’) incident is re-presented in the theatre space. The staging of the incident is a kind of decoding. 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 the articulation of 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 is 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.