Lance Weiler pinged me two days ago and asked if I’d have a chat with him about the MOOC we ran, why we design collaboration this way, what it takes to brave it, and what it means in terms of shifts in society. So we dived into the why and how and what of peer production. I had a stream of consciousness and Lance edited it quite nicely. I still need to learn to be more precise with language, but there are some gems in there. My part starts at minute 2:30. It’s a piece to lean back and let it wash over you, just see what comes up for you. Enjoy!
This small hand drawn mystical creature is based on the Greek nymph God, Pan and the Midsummer Night’s Dream elf, Puck. It’s the center piece for an interactive bricolage. It’s a work about lust and mischief; and about the suffering it involves. The temptation is represented by a beet, a melancholic vegetable in Tom Robbins’ magical realism.
The wall hanging is next to a deformable figure, a material that visitors can shape and fold into itself, changing its very nature without changing its original mass. The figure is an experiential, yet abstract topology put in context with the viewers’ archetypal imaginaries elicited by the drawing. The associations that occur at the intersection of erotic mythology and mathematical constraint render love as a topological assemblage; a Möbius strip that gifts us the illusion of progress while keeping us firmly grounded in its endless loops.
Here is a more nuanced interpretation:
The red beet – heart shaped – is temptation. Pan pruriently sniffs the beet while Puck nears it with playful curiosity. Yet the beet’s dryness reminds of melancholy. Its brittle leaves recur in the lover’s hair, a wild growth symbolising the seeker’s pandemonium: impulsive insatiable desire, time and again mistaken for love. Flies surround the frazzled head – they are the totem of rapid change. The androgynous figure has a goatee and small breasts, a comment on confusions that come with gender bending lifestyles. Leaning out of shallow waters, the emaciated body seems both anchored and confined. The lake is bleeding. Unnoticed withers the lover’s foundation. Without it, the erotic traveller is exposed to both liberation and uprootedness.
I drew the image without any meaning in mind. I just drew. Gradually I recognised the symbolism of my drawing. How Jungian. My revelations were deeply connected to my PhD research. I had used a mathematical theory to describe bricolage lifestyles: topology (see image).
The basic principle behind the topology is that a space can change its form without changing its mass. That means, the figure is at once changing and remaining the same. Thinking about society (or lovers) in terms of topology evokes interesting analogies. Imagine a spatial figure consisting of nodes and lines. There is no hierarchy, and no central control. All nodes have equal influence. And any movement of one node changes all other nodes. That means, everything happens in between. The focus lies on the path – think of these as relationships. Their ever-changing nature defies stabilization of the form. The figure is movement. Transferring the model to people means that we’re in movement. Inevitable is the surrender of the individual to the collective. Inevitable is embracing the unknown that rests in such emergence.
Pan/Puck’s torment is topological. Its heterogenous space offers liberation, because agency is granted. But its constant movement uproots the actor. With shifting external foundations, the actor needs a solid foundation within. It is hidden, like the Second Foundation in Asimov’s sci-fi novel. This hidden foundation is key to evolution.
In my bricolage, the plasticine is a topology. I wanted to connect the vast mythology of the drawing with the mathematical constraint, because together they render love and life as a topological assemblage; like a Möbius strip that gifts us the illusion of progress while keeping us firmly grounded in its endless loops.
This little installation can be observed and experienced at Art After Dark on November 13 (Melbourne) and November 20 (Sydney).
In October we were invited to Newcastle to run a two-part game called Be.Poietic.Punks. Our plan was to explore intuitive and associative ways of collaboration. Claire Marshall and I weren’t sure if we could make it to Newcastle that day, so we asked the incredible Maree Lowes if she’d be interested running the show on the day.
Maree had never heard anything about the game and, man, she’s the coolest; just dived in and excelled! To prepare, she ran a game test with friends and revelled in collective joy.
When the actual game day came, she facilitated the game smoothly. I did make it to Newcastle just in time to play and be a participant. It was glorious. The group sparked brightly. Thinking, building, crafting, drawing. The design question was: “How can we create a city without cars?”
The group was divided into 3 groups: the Future, the storytellers and the designers. Each of the groups worked by themselves but would feed their ideas into the other groups at certain stages throughout the game. So the Future determined that due to rising sea levels the city’s streets will be permanently under water. The designers took on the challenge and came up with a system consisting of floating community hubs, hydroponics, and peddle powered hover crafts. The storytellers developed a wonderful narrative arc that played out across time: There was a scientist in the past – Brett Better -, who has developed the beginnings of a (hovercraft) technology that would run on solar power. He never got it to work, though and was, unfortunately, assassinated by the government, because the technology threatened the wealth of corporations. When the flood hit, the people didn’t know how to organise themselves, because they had no transport and no communication technology. Then – the long lost daughter of our hero Brett Better – Lore Better – appears. She had never really fitted in with the community before, being more interested in drumming and tinkering. But she was pissed off that there was no more transport to get her drums to places, so she teamed up and shared her wisdom. Turned out that she had completed her father’s invention and they instantly started building it. Also, she had huge influence on how the community started communicating, because she knew the art of jamming. As a musician she knew how to feel others, pick up on cues and respond in a harmonious way. So, while everything seemed to be dire, the people started having a fabulous time, bringing themselves into play.
For day two, we had planned a lose walk-in experience, where we displayed the story and some keywords from day one and gave people post-it notes to draw their associations and place them randomly on a “red carpet”. The whole would assemble as a non-linear visual narrative. A bit like an exquisite corpse meets affinity mapping.
My favourite part was the music. We had asked three musicians to jam to whatever input they’d get from the participants. How’s that for serendipity!? Having an actual jam on day 2 was planned long before drummer Lore Better appeared in the story … !! …
Back in the room, every now and then someone would get up and show the band a drawing. There was hardly any speaking for about 1.5h. All that happened was drawing, placing, showing, jamming, reordering, contemplating. The musicians influenced the mood in the room – and the nature of the drawings – with their pace and rhythm. And the creative expression of the drawings they played altered their rhythm and pace. They had never jammed together and their play was spirited! We danced and I felt many people bonded, stayed longer, and just enjoyed the serene and playful atmosphere everyone created.
Our non-linear story didn’t really go anywhere apart from us enjoying the various interpretations of it. And our solution will not be developed or implemented by any of us. But that wasn’t the point. The point was that by creating something together we teach each other what we really care about. And that we are the ones that can and should be the change we want to see. And we tested what happens when we create intuitively and associatively. I believe there is a lot of important knowledge in our bodies that we forget to access, because we put so much emphasis on our minds. So we’re playing with empathetic ways of learning and working together.
Lastly, a word on the festival where all this took place: Critical Animals is a creative research symposium held annually as a part of This Is Not Art festival in Newcastle, Australia. It’s a forum for students, researchers, writers, artists, thinkers and curious individuals who are critically engaged with creative and experimental art practices. It’s an opportunity to present papers and ongoing research, as well as to challenge creative practices and work collaboratively with others in the field.
At this year’s Burning Seed Festival in the Australian bush I played my alter ego Dr Divine. I can’t really say any of this was planned, but it’s a perfect example how some things just emerge bit by bit and they come together in a much more coherent way than I could have ever thought up.
Meet my belly box. We found all materials at the Bower in Marrickville, a junk yard, reverse garbage type of shop. The best place to find odd little things. And we were so lucky!. Found the suitcase, a children’s harness that I could easily fit and attach, a small drawer that fit perfectly into the side, a candle holder, and all kinds of small items and curiosities that gave me first ideas for a love charm and some other games. Then I added velvet curtains behind which I hid some special tools and the magic book fitted perfectly into the center.
On the left I put a wooden tray, which turned out to be a sweet bowling lane for my story dice. Next to it fitted a colourful chest that was just big enough to hold a stack of superhero cards that I had made for another occasion. Then I added some random objects that I’d just embue with meaning if someone would point them out. All the dark jars have inscents, ear plugs, condoms, which I handed out when someone wanted to shut themselves off to the messages of life (ear plugs), or pay it safe (condoms). In the drawer on the right were oracle cards. It’s an animal totem deck. All of these things I had at home, they just fitted the belly box perfectly. At this point I didn’t really know what exactly all of this would be, so I kind of surprised myself when the first person walked up to me,
So, I asked the first girl who came up to me if she had anything in her life she wanted a comment on. She did, so I asked them to think of it. Then I took both her hands, locked eyes, asked for her name, and introduced myself as Dr Divine. I almost laughed, but it was perfect. I said that I didn’t know anything that she didn’t know herself, but that this suitcase held tools that can help her see. I was astounded at my spontaneous wisdom.
Sweet. I got into my role.
I continued saying that she can ask about any object she saw in the suitcase. And I told her about the three main attractions: dice, superhero cards and the oracle. She wanted the oracle. I shuffled, and told her to bring her attention to her heart. From the deck she drew blindly. The card was Antilope. The Antilope stands for action. I read out a few lines from the animal magic book and she started crying. Damn. I didn’t expect to make people cry?! What? I dropped out of my role and turned to her, asking if I should stop and that I was sorry. She was half joy, half suffering, and smiled and cried some more and asked me to continue. This moment was amazing. The card had just struck something in her, and she said it was spot on the thing that her family needed to understand to solve a situation. I was floating. How nice was that.
Meanwhile there was a small crowd that gathered around me and I started feeling self-conscious, but, wow, I did enjoy this. There was something profound that happened. When I took the hands of my guest and we locked eyes, it seemed significant. We made a contract, that for the time of our interaction, we were in a magic circle, a safe zone, in which it was just us, and the belief that something wonderful would happen. I could see it in their eyes.
I had about 15 interactions that night and I remember all the faces. One German guy chose the storytelling dice. He rolled them and got three images he couldn’t really connect. I got a bit nervous, because I hadn’t really thought this through, but then my consciousness just switched on and I came up with just the right questions that prompted all these profound insights in him. The story became about the thing that he had asked about but also about his attitude towards life in general. The details of the symbols made him connect dots that he hadn’t connected before. He probably stayed with me the longest. He just didn’t want to leave again. We ended up sharing details about our PhDs and how both tapped into intuition as a neglected source of life making.
While I was playing with my guests I noticed that most women chose the oracle while men chose dice or superhero cards. The superhero skills were pretty popular with anyone and I gave one to each guest at farewell even if they had chosen another game to play. With each explanation of the suitcase I got clearer that the dice were a game of chance, the superhero cards were banking on your skills, and the oracle was about faith. Chance, skills and faith. Ha. Three major way in which we as humans try to get a hold of our future. What a colossal insight. And none of this was planned. It really just emerged little by little by just starting with a vague idea and chipping away on it whenever it felt right. That’s a good way to work and bring meaning and joy into our lives. I like it.
BE.POIETIC.PUNKS: WHAT IF YOUR REBEL HEART RAN FREE?
We are at a point of transition. Of many transitions. Global politics, business, and technologies are shifting shape. And we are shifting with them. The question is: do structures form us, or do we form structures? The Italian Operaismo movement of the 1960s believed that it’s ultimately the people who change systems. So, we should look at our own agency and wondering – how can we shape the world around us?
Understanding poiesis is key to influencing this global transition. Poiesis simply means “becoming” or “bringing forth.” It means to act from the heart – heroically even – to contribute to something larger than oneself. In philosophy, the concept describes the poetic and aesthetic realities that surface through human reflection and emotional expression. What comes about through poiesis are subjective truths that are ethical, humanistic, and spiritual. Being in poiesis can be a liberating, even ecstatic, sensation of congruence between body and mind. Imagine what the future of work would look like. A future in which you do what you love, with people you like, towards something meaningful that protects resources and ourselves.
Sound like a fantasy? As a design ethnographer I have dedicated countless hours to exploring poiesis and social innovation through storytelling, collaboration and hands-on education. As part of my PhD, I co-founded a collective called Learn Do Share, a group of collaborators sharing their minds, hearts, and hands to invent new ways of working and learning. The collective’s poietic work has gained momentum and attention from people and organisations wanting to join the movement. We have worked with the United Nations, UNICEF, Columbia University, and Google Creative Labs, and recently ran games at OUIShare Paris and Re:publica Berlin.
Recently, some of us developed Be.Poietic.Punks, an anarchic game all about exploring poiesis. This culture hacking game is designed to give people an experience of their political agency with the aim to elicit associative ways of co-creation. Part 1 is a sci-fi card game employing anarchic collective problem solving fusing sci-fi storytelling, speculative design and rapid prototyping. In part 2, participants create an “exquisite corpse” style wall carpet, representing a remixed story of the project that was prototyped in part 1 of the game. At the end, dancers and musicians perform an ad-hoc choreography based on the wall carpet story. The process throws everyone into disorientation, intense time boxing, and lots of laughter. We simulate process as something largely unplannable, and I’m interested in testing how people react to embracing such chaos, giving up their instinct to control the environment. The whole game is a mad challenge to trust intuition and associative reasoning.
Another project is called Sherlock Holmes and the Internet of Things (IoT). This MOOC (which we call a Massive Online Offline Collaboration) is an ongoing prototype developed and run by Learn Do Share at Columbia University. With meet-ups in close to 20 cities, 1000+ collaborators from over 60 countries, the pilot MOOC creates a massive connected crime scene consisting of smart storytelling objects. Teams take on roles from the novel to create, design, build and test prototypes in local and global groups. They explore the ethical and political implications of IoT. By creating shared assets collaborators raise questions on shared authorship and ownership, which ultimately leads them to engage with new concepts. A transition to the commons as a way of exchange is one example.
Termed “commons transition”, the concept is associated with a movement and policy proposals aimed toward achieving a more humane and environmentally grounded mode of societal organisation. Business and social researchers alike articulate what such an economy would look like and which policy recommendations would be required. These ideas of a “social knowledge economy” is based on free an open access to knowledge as well as circular modes of exchange. Our goal with Sherlock is to introduce as many people as possible to options that help them rethink their Ayn Randian neoliberal parameters.
All this may sound a bit unattainable, but as Margaret Mead famously said:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
I’m lecturing a rad MOOC! It’s called Sherlock Holmes and the Internet of Things (IoT) and because of its experimental setup we renamed MOOC a Massive Online Offline Collaboration. The MOOC itself is an ongoing prototype developed and run by Learn Do Share at Columbia University. With meet-ups in close to 20 cities, 1000+ collaborators from over 60 countries, the pilot MOOC creates a massive connected crime scene consisting of smart storytelling objects. Teams take on roles from the novel to create, design, build and test prototypes in local and global groups. They explore the ethical and political implications of IoT. By creating shared assets collaborators raise questions on shared authorship and ownership, which ultimately leads them to engage with new concepts.
Here‘s an overview of the program.
For the MOOC that I lecture in (Sherlock and the Internet of Things) I created two short vids. The focus is on a few interrelated topics I have been researching for a while. Here’s the second vid and a short intro below.
In our Sherlock MOOC, we create shared assets and raise questions about shared authorship and ownership. That means we’re dealing new concepts of society, such as creative commons.
In this clip I briefly introduce the underlying concept: the commons. It has a long history, meaning public owning and sharing, and it has often been deemed as tragedy. I explain why that is and give some aspirational reminders what it takes to overcome this obstacle. My main point is that the key to success lies within everyone themselves as much as in between two or more people. To consider someone else’s interest as much as your own is not altruism but a smart way to accomplish a life of poiesis, which we talked about in session 1.
The term “commons transition” is associated with a movement and policy proposals aimed toward achieving a more humane and environmentally grounded mode of societal organization. Business and commons researchers alike articulate what such an economy would look like and which policy recommendations would be required. These ideas of a “social knowledge economy” is based on free an open access to knowledge as well as circular modes of exchange. Sherlock wants to train as many people as possible to rethink their Ayn Randian neoliberal parameters. This transition is tricky, because we’re doing “poiesis” which is easily confused as Randian, so we need to clarify how these two work together.
For the MOOC that I lecture in (Sherlock and the Internet of Things) I created two short vids. The focus is on a few interrelated topics I have been researching for a while. Here’s the first vid.
Why is this important? Global politics, business and technologies are shifting shape. And we are shifting with them. The question is: do structures form us, or do we form structures? The Italian Operaismo movement of the 1960s believed that it’s ultimately the people who change systems. So, we are looking at our own agency and wonder – how can we innovate the world around us? This is poiesis. My philosophical introduction to poiesis explains the concept in more detail, and how we can actualise it in collaborative spaces.
See second vid here.
And then I wrote a second – more orthodox – thesis and got two straight 1s. Same topic as PhD #1 (see why it failed here) but PhD #2 has a completely different setup and argument. It’s an easier read than #1 but has fewer interesting ideas.
Creativity Unbound – An Analysis of Open Collaboration between Experience Design and Poietic Practice
This thesis concerns social engagement at the intersection of open design and media technology. The study reflects on the practice of a group of creative entrepreneurs, who seek new methods and contexts for collaboration both online and offline. My case is an international collective called Reboot. They co-produce games, narratives, and workshops that aim at engaging others to become activists for social innovation through experiential learning and applied creativity. I investigate what drives them, what they desire, how they learn, and how they co-create. The core problem is: how does a focus on innovating process shape the way individuals approach work and life? Ethnography forms the central research method. It tracks the exchange and performance values expressed by members of the Reboot collective. I use an experimental enactive research design, which enriches current academic practices in media and design ethnography.
As a theoretical framework, I draw on cultural topology. More specifically, I focus on three characteristics of topology – contiguity, continuity, and poiesis. Headed by these three pillars, my chapters include theories on performativity, affect, and free labour. My data substantiates the workings of these three topological characteristics individually and across chapters. Firstly, in terms of contiguity, I investigate performativity as a theoretical possibility within a topological framework. Reboot offers physical spaces for collaborators to connect. Here, I argue, the group facilitates productive contiguity. I scrutinise their experience of interaction enabled by design in order to make an assessment about performative agency. Secondly, with respect to continuity, I examine affect as a driver of relationships and activity. Reboot facilitates remote collaboration through digital online technology. I show that affective interaction helps to re-establish connection and build relationships to foster further engagement, and that these practices corroborate continuity. Lastly, regarding poiesis, I discuss the notion of free labour against the backdrop of commons-based peer production. I show that collaborators frame their free labour in an emancipatory fashion that reflects high hopes for virtuous behaviour among collaborators and ignores worries of exploitation. I identify this practice as poiesis.
This matters, because these collaborative producers are found to act upon their hopes that they can co-create long term systemic change in society; they experiment with new tools to do so; and they spread their techniques by engaging others. This thesis thus locates itself amongst – and adds insights to – current debates on human passion that drives socio-technical innovation.
1.1. A QUESTION OF DEVIANCE AND PASSION?
1.2. CASE OVERVIEW
1.4. CHAPTER OUTLINES
2. METHODOLOGY: EMERGENT ENACTIVE RESEARCH
2.1.1. GAINING ACCESS
2.1.2. FROM STUDYING PRACTICE TO STUDYING DESIGN PRACTICE
2.2. ENACTIVE MULTI-SITED RESEARCH
2.2.1. MEETING THE TEAM ONLINE AND IN PERSON – WHAT CHANGED
2.2.2. IN(TER)VENTION AS DATA: LEARN DO SHARE BOOKSPRINTS
2.2.3. DESIGN AS DATA: WISH FOR THE FUTURE OPEN DESIGN GAME
2.2.4. USAGE OF DIGITAL PLATFORMS
2.3. EMERGENT RESEARCH FROM FIELD TO THESIS
2.4. TOPOLOGY: CONNECTING DATA, RESEARCH, AND OUTCOME
3. CONTIGUITY: PERFORMATIVITY IN NARRATIVE CO-DESIGN
3.2. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
3.2.1. PERFORMANCE AND PERFORMATIVITY
3.2.2. NARRATIVE DESIGN AS PERFORMATIVE AGENT
3.3. EMPIRICAL INVESTIGATION
3.3.1. IMPERFECTION: INCOMPLETE BY DESIGN
3.3.2. INTERVENTION: HACKING AS METHOD
3.3.3. APPROPRIATION: CONTIGUITY AS CATALYST
3.4. DISPERSED PERFORMATIVITY: WHAT DRIVES TOPOLOGICAL CULTURE?
4. CONTINUITY: AFFECTIVE ENGAGEMENT
4.2. METHOD: AUTO-ETHNOGRAPHIC ENACTIVE RESEARCH
4.3. THEORETICAL PLACEMENT
4.3.1. AFFECT AND EMOTIONS
4.3.2. REASONED AND EMOTIONAL VALUES
4.4. EMPIRICAL INVESTIGATION
4.4.1. PRINCIPLE 1 – HOW AFFECT ENGAGES: APPRECIATION
4.4.2. PRINCIPLE 2 – HOW AFFECT ENGAGES: PASSION
4.4.3. PRINCIPLE 3 – HOW AFFECT ENGAGES: PROMISE
4.5. DEEP, FLEETING, AND ALLURING AFFECT
5. POIESIS: FREE LABOUR AS EMANCIPATORY ACTUALISATION
5.2. THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
5.2.1. CAPITALISM CRITIQUE
5.2.2. COMMONS-BASED PEER PRODUCTION
5.2.3. CONSIDERING POIESIS
5.3. EMPIRICAL INVESTIGATION
5.3.1. FREE LABOUR AS ENTREPRENEURIAL AGENCY
5.3.2. FREE LABOUR AS ALTRUISM
5.3.3. FREE LABOUR TO BUILD SOMETHING BIGGER
5.3.4. FREE LABOUR AS ENTREPRENEURIAL TRAINING
5.4. A POIETIC NON-LABOUR SYSTEM?
5.4.1. BELONGING TO SOMETHING LARGER THAN YOURSELF – REVOLUTION
5.4.2. KINDNESS AND ALTRUISM – SELF-EXPLOITATION
5.4.3. GIVING LEARNING EXPERIENCES – VIRTUE
5.4.4. EMANCIPATORY AGENCY – ENTREPRENEURSHIP
5.5. THE DO GOODERS
5.5.3. TOPOLOGICAL ACTIVATION