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 creative sessions weekend

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 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 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.

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.

NEXT: mappa mundi creative weekend





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.

NEXT: Transitioning, modelling and change

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.

NEXT: The Great Transition



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.

NEXT: Dimensions of Change 3





Dimensions of change 1

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.

NEXT: Dimensions of Change 2


Making a mappa mundi

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!

NEXT: Dimensions of Change 1

Knowledge, action and change

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 and 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.

Was it the moment while resting on a trip from Cambridge to London at Wadesmill in Hertfordshire, a few months after the publication of his essay, filled with anger at injustice and suffering, he promised to himself that he would dedicate his life to the abolition of the slave trade?

Was it the moment when the twelve men (including Clarkson) met in a London print shop in 1787 and formed the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade?

Or was it the passing of the Act?

Of course the outlawing of the trade by Britain was not an end to slavery nor to racism so the continuum of change didn’t stop there. This was only one of the first expressions of moral outrage against the human impact of imperialism.  

The first public collective expression of opposition to slavery by people in the ‘perpetrator’ societies was made by a group of Quakers in Germantown Pennsylvania in 1688, the very year that our own current regime, founded as it was on imperialism and constitutional ‘parliamentary’ monarchy, was established. The development of the legislative and constitutional processes and the articulations of opposition to slavery were a part of a continuum into which Clarkson’s urgency arrived and was continued by him and his co-campaigners.

Social change happens in long movements, like rivers whose different tributaries are at first almost invisible and subterranean.  It is very difficult to say at what decisive stage it has been accomplished.  The legislative moment is undoubtedly significant but this may be nothing more than a superficial sign.

Unlike rivers social change can go in contrary directions.  The underlying trajectory may be towards humanisation, liberation, consciousness, enhanced capability, enlightenment. Our changes, apart from temporary obstacles and reversals, may be towards our becoming more ourselves, realising ourselves and our potential.  Also, people wish a better life for their children.  An enormous sense of grief takes place amongst populations who do not feel they have the ability and conditions to create, at minimum, a generational continuity of conditions and circumstances.

This issue of the trajectory of humanity, the human project, is an existential question.  On any given day our sense of other human beings, and our assessment of what prospects there are for the human species, may be influenced by what happens in ordinary routine interactions, like at the bus stop.  It may be derived from our reflecting on ourselves and the distance between what we imagine we are going to do and what we actually manage to achieve or how we want to behave and how we really do respond to others.

There is an obvious difference between something that is written on the back of an envelope and something that is written ‘on the statute book’ of a given country’s legislative assembly.  Collective recognition and agreement does have material impacts.  Behaviour changes, attitudes shift, beliefs are abandoned or adopted, values are asserted and accepted or rejected and repulsed.  These movements are real events.

What is the relationship between the invention of a pedagogy (or a system of learning) and the construction of a school building?   The former needs some substantial space where it is put into practice and the latter, if it does not house an ongoing learning practice, is not what it purports to be.  From the point of view of efficiency and effectiveness the latter may seem, in principle, more attractive to those who want to put their resources into social 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?

Thomas Clarkson after his essay writing and after his personal avowal in Wadesmill set out to accumulate as much information as possible on the slave trade.  He gathered testimony from those who had direct experience of methods of entrapment, captivity and exchange and the conditions on the transports and shipping vehicles.  The process for him was to combine an enormous weight of information with an appeal to the sense of a justice based on an affinity with those enslaved (i.e. ‘they are human just like you, how would you like it?’).  The information was conveyed through documents, meetings of key players and public address.  Thomas Clarkson was on an almost continuous lecture tour from 1787 onwards.  People learnt, through attendance or contact with this process, about what was happening. The fact that there was a potential legislative process meant that people could feel they had both a responsibility and a power to effect change.

The kind of changes we are going through now are different.  National legislative assemblies do not have the same kind of power over commercial activity. The impacts of imperialism, or of the commercial-industrial production and exchange system that seems to have replaced it, are more complex.  The appeal to the human project effective in the affinity-plus-information-plus-legislative action array that characterised the abolitionist movement and that which which is effective within the conditions that characterise the current movement for social justice and environmental sustainability are different.  For example, in the latter ‘the appeal to the human project’ is made in circumstances where that project is faced with the prospect of extinction.

This prospect gives rise to all kinds of problems.  Not least is the mythic apocalyptic language that connects knowledge and action on change to ‘saving the world’.  Implicit in this is a more general current problem about information and knowledge.

In 1798, during the period when Clarkson and his colleagues continued their campaigning for Slave Trade Abolition, William Wordsworth was touring the Wye Valley in the West of England.  On July 13th of that year he wrote ‘Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey’ (the title shouldn’t be taken too literally!).  This was published later that year, along with other poems by him and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in Lyrical Ballads.  Both these poets were supporters of the Abolitionist movement.  Coleridge was outspoken and published articles on the issue.  He was black.

A few days after Wordsworth wrote his poem the French Army led by Napoleon Bonaparte took Cairo.  The progress of the Abolitionist movement was protracted.  In 1833 the legislation abolishing the Slave Trade in territories ruled by the British Crown was passed by Parliament but even then it excepted the territories in possession of the East India Company and the islands of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and St Helena.  These exception were only revoked in 1843.  Thomas Clarkson died in 1846.

“For I have learned

To look on nature, not as in the hour

Of thoughtless youth, but hearing oftentimes

The still, sad music of humanity,

Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power

To chasten and subdue. And I have felt

A presence that disturbs me with the joy

Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime

Of something far more deeply interfused,

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

And the round ocean, and the living air,

And the blue sky, and in the mind of man,

A motion and a spirit, that impels

All thinking things, all objects of all thought,

And rolls through all things.”

Lines (89 to 103) written above Tintern Abbey by William Wordsworth

How do we know about climate change, atmospheric pollution, economic systemic, energy resource depletion?  We hear stories.  News of environmental change is accompanied by photography.  We are connected up through the media to both documentary record as well as scientific information.  The latter is conveyed to us in graphic images.  We see lines going up or down and/or correlating on charts.  We are given statistics.  At one point science had a relatively simple array of instruments: the telescope, the microscope, the thermometer, the barometer.  Now the results of complex interactions of systems of measurement give data that is then processed by computers to give data that is then readable in ‘infographics’ in a variety of illustrative sophistication.

A variety of buoys that measure sea surface temperatures have to have their reading related to satellite readings that correct for wind speeds, this is extrapolated in the  measurement of flows beneath the surface important for understanding transmissions of heat in the thermohaline circulatory systems that drive through the oceans of the earth connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific in a continuous movement of energy transmission, of heating and cooling, that takes place at different speeds at different depths so that some ‘belts’ transmitting water take hundreds of years to move from ocean to ocean.  The oceans are a complex system.  One of the critical impacts of the ice caps melting is the introduction into the oceans of large quantities of fresh water.  Fresh water conducts heat differently from salt water and there is a chance that this incursion could change the ways in which heat is transmitted by the thermohaline conveyor belts.

We are connected in our knowing to a massively complex array of instruments through which we learn what is happening to our earth.  Does this knowledge alone, derived from scientific measurement whose results anyway have to be interpreted before we interpret them, change us, change our view of ourselves, change our habits, our practices, our behaviour?  Presumably there has to be other co-ordinate experiential events.

I leave out of account here how we similarly receive information about our economic system, equally scientifically verifiable with graphs that snake along the walls of TV studios and plummet into some kind of abstract abyss or climb to a perilous peak.  We know about energy bills, food prices, pension schemes, unemployment, impoverishment and enrichment by means of more immediate apprehensions.

We are left hoping, when we have the time to pay attention, that those who know can communicate with those who can do something.  These are supposedly the scientists and the policy-makers.

In Wordsworth’s poem he describes an experience of a landscape that is animated by his affection.  I think this is called a pathetic fallacy.  He is conscious of a kind of energetic power that flows through him and the landscape that makes him feel at one with it.  He talks about standing on this particular piece of earth as if he, the knower, is joined with it, the known.  You can read for yourself.  It is a description of a kind of transcendent experience where his love and feeling for his sister is interfused with his love for the earth.  He talks about the solace this heightened environmental consciousness gives him particularly in helping him deal with living in a city.

What is the relationship between a agronomist climate scientist at a university, international and local policy-makers and a peasant rice farmer in the Mekong delta? A really significant and (if this is the right word) influential bit of the earth’s structure is the Himalayan mountain range.  The immediate cause of this landscape feature is the collision between the Indian subcontinent and the Euro-asian landmass.  This was one of the last and most dramatic movements that took place during the period when the current terrestrial configuration took shape.  Our knowledge of this particular process was confirmed by the geological evidence derived from our discovery of tectonic plates.  The Indian subcontinent is one such!  Tectonic plates were detected, analysed and proven to exist only in the late 1960s at around the time the first photographs were taken of the earth from space.

The Himalayas are the highest mountains on earth and as a consequence are the most massive.  Their protrusion into the atmosphere leads to large precipitation.  The run off of water from the Himalayan are related to no less than eleven river deltas, of which the Ganges/Bramaputra, the Yangtze and the Mekong are the best known.  This means that these locations are sites of maximum interaction between fresh water and sea water.  The tidal and seasonal flows of these river deltas provide extremely fertile locations for rice agriculture.  The rising level of the ocean consequent on global warming is having impacts on them of decreased river discharge and saline intrusion.  This means that things are changing and rice crop yields are endangered.  Farmers in the region have traditionally managed the volatile interactions and have made assessments about rice seed types accordingly.  To change rice seed strain involves various complex consequential impacts and has economic consequences in terms of the number and timing of crops and the markets for the types of rice produced.  The farmer will be bringing together a knowledge of soil, tides, water salinity, types of rice, markets for crops.

The crop scientist will be able to create a computer model of crop behaviour and link this modelling with the information about possible sea level changes derived from regional extrapolations of climate change computer models and apply these to GIS modelling of the topography of the river delta to predict changing patterns of fresh/saline water mix.  They will be able to make recommendations to research biologists who are able to create strains of rice that respond well to certain levels of salinity.  They will be able to give advice to investment bodies who are looking at various forms of sluice-gates to control saline incursions or rice seed producers.

In between the scientists and the farmers may be representatives of the public authorities who have an oversight of the production location.  The Mekong delta is divided between China and Vietnam so there may be conflicting interests being played out between these political entities.

The crop scientist and other ‘climate change impact’ scientists may well be aware of the arguments about the conflict between local and scientific knowledge.  They may well be working with social scientists who are advising much closer collaboration.

Consequences of this complexity are numerous. One is a rethinking what scientific truth is. Some of these ideas are expressed as ideas about post-normal science and the co-production of knowledge in the work of Jerome Ravetz. Another impact is the growing tendency for scientists to work in interdisciplinary teams.  For example, ecological economics originated in ecologists and economists working together.

This raises the question of the impact of scientific knowledge in regions of the world where the impacts of climate change are not so immediate as the river deltas of Asia.  I am talking about the societies of the temperate West. Does this knowledge lead to change?  How are climate or environmental change transmitted and what are the impacts of this transmission?

Paul Samuelson is one of the most influential and best known economists of the 20th Century.  When challenged by physicists to name any law discovered by economists that was true and non-trivial, he proposed David Ricardo‘s Law of Comparative Advantage.  This law is an argument that a given economy (usually defined by national boundaries, that is, by monetary unity) will always have a comparative advantage in the production of a certain commodity that will make trade a benefit to it. (Apologies! There are better definitions around!) This is the argument used by economists to make economies concentrate on a particular sector or crop or commodity.  At one point Ruanda was persuaded by an IMF structural adjustment programme to concentrate on coffee with disastrous consequences.  Countries that are rich in natural resources are persuaded against economic diversification with the consequence that they become dependent on transnational corporations and their government are weakened by corruption.  China clearly has a comparative advantage in labour i.e. it is able to cheaply produce people.  The UK even more clearly has a comparative advantage in financial services and so should concentrate on this ‘industry’.  Apparently we are really good lending and borrowing money!

Just in case anybody should suppose that this ‘law’ is the discovery of an intrinsic and natural property in the material world and is an eternal verity of human organisation operating as a truth in all circumstances known to human beings like it may be said of tectonic plates, we know from Ricardo’s diaries that the work of analytical thinking  precedent to him coming up with this ‘law’ was seventeen months after the Battle of Waterloo was fought in June 1815.  This battle was the final act of a protracted history of conflict for the domination of global markets started in the late 17th century when, after the glorious revolution of 1688, William of Orange put together the Coalition Army of the Dutch and British to fight the French. It established British Imperialist hegemony for 100 years.  This was the battle that was said to have been ‘won on the playing fields of Eton’.

I am simply making the point that whether or not ‘comparative advantage’ is true depends on what point of view it is viewed from. I am emphasising its historical genesis and the social context in which it was thought up. It’s true if its useful and its more likely to be useful for developed countries in their relations with less developed ones.  Also even scientific laws are relative.  On the development of relativity and quantum physics there was a tendency to assert that these theories rendered Newton’s work invalid.  However Newton’s Laws of Motion are true for the behaviour of a certain level of matter.  The point is they are not universally true.  The idea of absolute truth in science had to be reframed with the development of ideas about probability and uncertainty.

Looking at Goethe’s scientific work, based on the perceptive capacity of the whole human being i.e. the concept that the human being is the ‘greatest and most exact scientific instrument that there is’, we can see intimations of forms of apprehension that bring the ‘knower’ and the ‘known’ into a more complex interaction than a strict division of subject and object will express. See Philosophy  This also reflects the perception that at a certain level of particle analysis the object of examination is produced by the instrument of examination. This is to do with the activity of knowing and is a problem associated with Werner Heisenberg‘s ‘Uncertainty Principle

This means that knowledge and action cannot be causally connected in a simple way.  There is no direct relationship, for example, between the strength of proof of anthropogenic global warming and the coherence of action to mitigate climate change through changes in policy and thus in production processes.  People are not going to change more radically as the evidence becomes less open to question and as uncertainty is dispelled.  People are not going to change the economic system simply because there are clear arguments undermining classical economics.

It is through struggle, communication and action (in which knowledge and information play a part) that people become activated and societies change. The only way that people can learn is by doing.

We live in a culture that systematically divides up our capacity to know the world and divorces analytical knowledge from creative knowledge.  This takes its most obvious form in the division of arts and sciences at school.  I think this division is a key element in the regime we have here in the UK.  It is installed in the institutions that were formed in the regime building process that occurred after the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660.

What is the relationship between the ‘knowing’ expressed by Wordsworth as he communed with nature on July 13th 1798 on a hill top overlooking an abbey ruined during the state nationalisation of the monasteries in the early 1530s and the knowing of a Vietnamese rice farmer in the Mekong delta, and a crop-modelling climate scientist (Andy Challinor is a good example), and David Ricardo working out scientific arguments for so-called ‘Free trade’, and us watching polar bears struggling with smaller and smaller ice bergs sequenced with computerised modelling of arctic summer ice cover and statistics turned into graphics on excel to depict the same?

How are we on the earth?

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 to 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.

NEXT: Making a mappa mundi







Mode(l)s of change

There are many different models of change.

Those who are concerned with human change at all its various levels – individual, biological, historical, political, economic, social – (all of which are, without doubt, interrelated in complex and intricate ways) must at some point wonder whether human beings haven’t always been pre-occupied by change.

One of the earliest philosophers in the West (here, of course I am talking about those who managed to record their thoughts in writing), Heraclitus (he who pointed out that we never step into the same river twice) considered the essence of reality to be change.  He considered fire to be the fundamental element in the becoming and passing away of all things.  But in the aeons of human time before his lifetime (he lived 2500 years ago)  people may have always been aware of different kinds of time.

The advent of the awareness of death as an individual event, the movement that brought about our need to make a ceremony around death, the recognition of planetary time in the menstrual synchronicity that is a significant and unique fact of women’s biology (which some anthropologists e.g. Chris Knight claim to be the key factor in the origin of human culture), the recognition of the relationship of human lifetime to other periodicities, (such as vegetation growth) all may be capable of being historically instantiated from the paleo-ethno-graphic record.  These moments may mark developmental stages in the evolution of the species like the advent of agriculture or indeed that of industrialism.

Consciousness of change presents itself sometimes as a strange partial denial of death in the so-called ‘advanced’ industrial societies.  In our political discourse there is an obsessive presentation of the benefits and necessity of change. This seems to demonstrate a common knowledge that things cannot remain as they are yet it defends rigidities and the maintenance of the status quo. Almost by repeating this idea, and thus taking possession of it, the old order can use it like a mantric prophylactic against change. The same process applies to the idea of sustainability.

Though there is no objective way of verifying it, the perceived discontinuities in lifestyles and life conditions experienced from one generation to another in our world today is a massively significant factor in contemporary humanity’s story.  This is to some extent measurable through the amount of transport and travel taking place.  It is discernible in displacement and human migration.  Experiences of rapid enrichment and impoverishment and growing economic inequality are indirect indexes of the experience of change. Also material conditions, landscapes, built environment, resource availability are changing in ways that are directly related to productivity or the efficiency of human tools.

Paulo Freire bases his work on the observation that our contemporary world is characterised by relationships of oppression and domination.  It is for this reason that he ascertains that liberation is the emerging action.  This characterisation would mean that change is often imposed on people and that people are not in the majority of instances (this is impossible to verify) in control of change and are responding to it rather than initiating it.

So it seems that there may be considered to be two aspects of change.  One aspect is material change, an outer objective change, a change in circumstances or conditions; the other is the response to change and this, at first sight, seems to be an inner process, one of assessment and then adaptation and engagement.  It can be noted that the adaptation and engagement may well be action that, in turn, changes material circumstances.

Over the recent days while we have had the Olympics in our city we have been constantly told by the media that the winners of medals have been ‘making history’.  It has been an obsessive and almost desperate refrain.  Whatever one’s enthusiasm for the various sports might be, whatever level of admiration one has for the whole organisation of the spectacle, and of the achievements of the athletes, the personal commitment and the collective endeavour, this idea of history may stick in your throat.  The political strategy, satirised by Juvenal in his observation about governing by means of ‘bread and circuses’ (panem et circenses literally, ‘bread and games’), is similar to the division of the state apparatus in Louis Althusser’s work into the repressive and the ideological and the more colloquial twin strategy of the ‘carrot and the stick’, was played out during the London Olympics with full orchestration and repetitive thematics.  The reduction of history to the inscription of names on a kind of roll of honour is like history as a list of Kings and Queens.  It perfectly eclipses and obscures the process whereby people may change the social and political structures in which they live.  Like ‘change’ and ‘sustainability’ the repetition of ‘making history’ through sheer acts of verbal exhaustion comparable to a mantra, can numb sensibilities and actually obstruct the real process that is named.

Is it difficult to distinguish between the initiation of change and the response to change? Do the apprehensions, beliefs, values that we inherit form the material circumstance that we cannot change? When Marx formulated his idea that ‘men make their own history not in circumstances of their own choosing but in those handed down to them by the preceding generations’ can we  easily distinguish between that which we can determine and that which is determined for us?  Of course all the available wisdom tells us that this can not be resolved by theory or intellect but only in the course of action.

What is this action?  One substantial definition of it is given by Hannah Arendt in The Human Condition when she analyses human activity into three categories: work, labour and praxis and defines the last of these as being the ‘history-making’ action.  Another idea of what it might mean is suggested by Freire when he draws a distinction between a ‘banking’ idea of knowledge where facts are accumulated and an ‘active’ knowledge, acquired in the course of changing the world.  Something similar to this is implicit in Augusto Boal‘s definition of the ‘spectactor’ although in both these last two examples the idea of action is closely connected to the question of knowledge and meaning, but this makes more obvious something that Arendt is driving at in her definition of praxis, since for her praxis is action ‘in the public realm’, a space defined by its ‘publicness’.

This also brings the idea of ‘change’ close to that of ‘action’.  This is why we have presented mappa mundi as being in favour of activism.  In fact our ideas about change are defined by movement towards or away from activism.  The online interactive space that the project provides is comparable, from this point of view, with the ‘aesthetic space’ of theatre described by Augusto Boal (in his book The Rainbow of Desire) and the ‘public realm’ described by Arendt (in her book The Human Condition). For Freire this process is connected to that of ‘naming’. Bear in mind that his work derives from methods developed during work on literacy.

Marx‘s view of what composed the ‘circumstances’ which people do not choose but in which and, in a sense out of which, they make history was connected to what he described as the natural history of humanity, the relationships that human beings created in the course of transforming elements of the earth into things that they could use and/or consume.  It was the basic interaction of humanity’s production system with the material world that gave rise to social relations.  Read John Lanchester’s wonderful review of Marx’s work for the London Review of Books

There is no simple formula that can lead from an analysis of a given mode of production (even if one accepts that these can be analytically distinct!) to a given social structure. Marx’s view that this relationship was transmitted and worked out through class struggle is convincing if the definition of class can be refined by taking account of both a common relationship to the apparatus of production and the organisational capability of expressing a collective interest.  OCCUPY’s assertion that they are 99% versus 1% can be illuminated from this perspective.

Marx dedicated his main work Das Kapital to Charles Darwin yet there seems to be immediately noticeable differences in the models of change that are presented in their work.  In a simple reading of Darwin’s work, applying evolutionary concepts to human development there seems to be an obscurity around the role of consciousness and human design capability.  If evolutionary change is transgenerational and is determined by sexual selection of required adaptive characteristics to environmental exigences it is easy to reduce Darwin to a simple determinism.  You can see how Darwin’s work can give rise to science fiction (and operationally programmatic!) fantasies about super races.

Within the perspectives offered by psychoanalysis both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung give different versions of change.  Implicit in Freud’s definition of neurosis and his theory of repression and sublimation, also in his later descriptions of civilisation in terms of Eros and Thanatos and in Jung’s development of the theory of the collective unconscious and how this was structured by archetypes, are implicit images of human change. Although these ideas have implications for social organisation the operational space of psychoanalysis is the intersubjectivity characteristic of the relationship between the analyst and the analysand.  It is the participation of the analysand in their own therapy that makes this process an ‘activisation’.  The relational structure of the  dialogue involved is comparable to Freire use of the dynamic interplay between the educator and the educated.

Though it is not always easy to see, in psychoanalytic practice, how this work of transformation at an individual level relates to collective and social change, it is interesting to notice, for example, in the work of the transition network how the movement of the individual involved in transition is likened to that of someone trying to rid themselves of an addiction (See Chapter 6 of The Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins now republished as The Transition Companion) because dependency on an oil-driven economy is likened to other forms of habitual dependences.

Jung’s study of alchemy with its description of a conjoined inner and outer journey that takes the spiritual traveller through the darkness into the light echoes the sense of religious convertion typified by St Paul’s blindness and subsequent renewed sight.  Models of change are articulated through metaphor and imagery and it is not a co-incidence that a crucial stage in the fourfold movement of change described by Joanna Macy is from ‘Honouring the Pain’ into ‘Seeing with new eyes’.  The fullest and best written description of this process is in the book, Active Hope, that she wrote with Chris Johnstone, whose principal work as a psychotherapist is working with addiction.

The play between individual change and social change that is animated by a link between a particular production regime and its individual embodiment in characteristic personal behaviour is something that I explored in The Image of the Human.  In the context of the transition movement the ‘regime’ or system is characterised by the key energy source i.e. oil rather than, as in Marx’s work, by the mode of production but the issue of causal determination is similar.

In Joanna Macy’s work she uses the spiral as an image of change wherein movement brings people back to similar positions but at higher levels of development.  In Chris Knight’s work on the origins of culture mentioned earlier he concludes his key work, ‘Blood Relations: the origins of culture’, with an analysis of history that brings together the sense of cyclical movement at different levels of development with his observation of the potential return of women’s power after millennia of patriarchal dispossession.  He also likens this idea of change to that represented by a spiral.

The study of entropy first undertaken in the middle of the 19th Century by Rudolf Clausius and related to thermodynamics has helped earth scientists to understand the effects of the consumption of carbon in its main mineral forms (coal and oil).  The irreversibility of the use of energy has given a timeline to the production regime based on fossil fuel and scientists in interdisciplinary groups have been engaged in studies of how the move to a low carbon economy can be undertaken.  One such project, Transition Pathways to a Low Carbon Economy, envisages a model of change from one energy regime to another as being driven by three spaces in the social structure each with its own logic: one, the market; two, the state and three, civil society. It images the interaction of these three ‘spaces’ in a fourth space in the centre of the triangle composed of the other three which is described in their work as an ‘action’ space where complex combinations of activities from the three spaces take place.

In the work of the Berkana Institute change is figured as the relationship between two semi-circular loops.  One is the old regime that is in decline and the other, its inverse, is the new regime in development.  The graphic depiction of these loops show them disconnected and the work of the Berkana Institute is focused on the space in between. See the video on Berkana’s Theory of change

This imaging of change is accompanied by a new conception of human leadership that models itself on the ‘leader as host’ in contradistinction to the ‘leader as hero’.  This specification of personal qualities called forth by the current circumstances of regime change or, as it is expressed by Berkana, paradigm change (thus echoing the work of Thomas Kuhn in his exploration of the development of science) is also relevant to the earlier blog on The Image of the Human.

In Berkana’s work there is also a correlative shift in how knowledge happens.  This is to do with their conception of community and how they have learnt from evolutionary biologists’ observations of resilience in ecosystems.  Knowledge is created not through hierarchy but through network and this defines resilience as being brought to an entity by the multiplicity of connections of mutual interdependence.

Work on climate change has brought an analysis of what constitutes adaptive behaviour.  On the one hand there has been a strategy proposal that emphasises ‘behavioural change’ and this can be looked at in terms of social practices which are parcels of connected activities.  The analysis on which this work is based has been developed by UK sociologist Elizabeth Shove and is based on practice theory and the work of Theodore Schatzki.  Alongside this is work that emphasises the central importance of ‘bottom up’ strategies (which implicitly, of course, still accepts this vertical model) and of local as opposed to expert knowledge.  This latter work is associated with Jerome Ravetz and his work on post-normal science.

I mean only here to give a superficial list of different models of change and these are by no means the only ones.  There’s more to be said about the question of knowledge and its relationship to information and change.  I’ve called this blog modes or models of change and could equally have used the words ‘images’ or ‘paradigms’.  I have meant to be suggestive rather than definitive.  We think of change often in images and we can see that continuous change may not be perceived as change. We are aware of complex systems that are characterised by non-linear transformations but equally we know that a glass of water that gets colder and colder is undergoing change that we may only become aware of when we touch it but when, relatively quickly, it turns to ice we are aware of the quantitative cumulative change becoming a qualitative change.  How we perceive this change makes a difference to our assessment of what the change involves. Equally a caterpillar that develops into a chrysalis and then, once again, relatively quickly into a butterfly is undergoing a complex change that offers us another image that might shed light on our own transformations.

NEXT: Knowledge, Action and Change