Reading Responses for CAE’s Observations on Collective Cultural Action

CAE mentions several reasons to collaborate creatively; including diversifying technical and media related skills. Media projects continue to get more complex. Much like the previous era of making films, which might have involved different people for writing, acting, camera, sound, and editing; newer media projects might involve different people for audio, video, graphics, interaction or game design and back end coding.

Question: What experiences have you had creating projects large enough to diversify creatively and technically, and what was the result? When does “collaborate with me” mean “do the technical/skilled labor I am ignorant about for free” and when does collaboration fuse the skills and ideas of all collaborators? Would you consider doing your thesis project collaboratively, sharing ideas and labor? Why or why not?

CAE writes that “Members must be able to interact in a direct face-to-face manner, so everyone is sure that they have been heard as a person (and not as an anonymous or marginalized voice).”

Question: What is your opinion on this? Have you had experiences which have supported or contradicted this?


While reading this piece, I was reminded of something Chinese philosopher Mozi wrote in a piece about “indulgence in excess.” He  writes excess renders certain groups of people invisible and creates hierarchies based on social markers like class. And he warns that indulging in excess contradicts any sincere call for change by reinforcing power dynamics. Mozi believes that this indulgence hurts collectives and produces inequities (Book 1, Section 6).

Collective building, at the different scales described by CAE, all share a need not only for establishing trust, but also a process for self-reflection– a time to check your indulgences.  I can give an example. I was recently working on developing a public program with a small arts group where I was the only person of color/woman on the team. There were moments during our planning meetings where maybe I didn’t speak up as much because of fear and, reciprocally, the three other men felt like they had to be more vocal to be heard (sometimes even silencing each other). I had to express how the way we were communicating with one another wasn’t adding to our overall growth as a group or our planning efforts. We collectively arrived to a decision to become more self-aware as means of building trust.  For us, this process of self-reflection included sharing readings around privilege, acknowledging how much each member was talking during meetings, and making pizza together (“convivial relationships beyond the production process are necessary”). And maybe understanding excess and indulgence happens best at a cellular level because there is more opportunity for face to face interaction, but I think acknowledgement of self and others is key to working together.

Consequently, there has always been a drive toward finding a social principle that would allow likeminded people or cells to organize into larger groups. Currently, the dominant principle is “community.” CAE sees this development as very unfortunate. The idea of community is without doubt the liberal equivalent of the conservative notion of “family values” – neither exists in contemporary culture, and both are grounded in political fantasy.

By far, one of my favorite moments in the piece. While I also choose to shy away from the word “community,” I don’t completely agree with CAE’s reasons for tearing it down. I think the word is void of meaning when you use it to describe a group of people as a monolithic organization (ie. “the gay community,” “the black community,” etc). But I think people operate in multiple communities simultaneously and that a group of people can value an individual’s dissimilarity in the same way that similarity brings them together. Almost immediately, Afropunk comes to mind. Afropunk is part music festival, part zine fair, and part marketplace. This annual summer event draws crowds of folks who feel like they operate outside of what is widely accepted to be “black culture” (whatever that means) in hopes of expanding definitions of blackness. The festival has a range of attendees that identify in a multitude of ways, but all share the affinity of race. This festival provides a platform for truly different people to commune, cross lines, and celebrate their differences. Calling a community like Afropunk a “minority” just seems like giving the original issues around the term “community” a new face.

Also, I wish CAE detailed their understanding of coalition building. I didn’t really understand how a social subsystem lacks social solidarity. Moreover, I wish CAE defined what counts as “conflicting” when social subsystems are supposed to put aside “any conflicting differences” as a step towards building coalitions and alliances.

A friend once beautifully related the process of alliance building to rehearsing in an orchestra. First, the different sections– strings, brass, etc.– rehearse on their own to strengthen their sounds. Once the different sections feel confident to share, the entire ensemble comes together to rehearse together. I think different social subsystems need this time to “rehearse” because it allows for self-definition, so you are not muted out by the other instruments. So many thoughts on this.


Some questions I’m left with:

How does a collective anticipate reaching critical mass?

How have collectives turned down new members? Is that cool?

How can cellular collectives create formulas for new collectives to initiate?

How does a social subsystem lack social solidarity with other groups?

What are examples of conflicting differences between social subsystems?

What does it mean to be an ally?

“Indulgence in Excess.” Chinese Text Project. W. P. Mei, 10 Sep 2013. Web. <>.


2 thoughts on “Reading Responses for CAE’s Observations on Collective Cultural Action”

  1. I was really intrigued by the structure (through a lack of structure) of Nettime. Most people have this preconceived notion that anarchism is a way of rejecting hierarchal structures, however there are benefits of initiating collective action using the philosophy of anarchism. Groups such as the No Border movements, People’s Global Action, the Zapatistas, and the Autonomen, are all examples of anarchist theory put into practice.

    Nettime is also a great example of emergent behavior among humans. When people are left to regulate themselves, they tend to produce spontaneous order. I saw this when I volunteered with Occupy Sandy at one of the distribution hubs in Brooklyn. Anyone that wanted to take on a leadership role was able to, provided that someone who had previously done the job trained them or they trained themselves. The longer you worked in one position the more knowledge you gained in that specific area, which led to you being the best person to make decisions regarding that position. However, the system revealed its weak points during many moments, when people avoided taking on the necessary responsibility (/decision making role) under the pretense that “there was no heirarchy.” In group work at school, I personally believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion on executing a task or project; however if they fail to contribute during the ideation phase, they forfeit their right to make final decisions- i.e., you can’t criticize everyone else’s ideas if you don’t contribute your own.

  2. I always think it’s amazing that a collaborative group is usually based on those group members with different abilities / skills. Also in this reading, the author mentioned that solidarity is not based on similarity, but on difference. I somehow like this point a lot. It sounds opposite to the meaning at first, but then after thinking, it makes sense to me. However, I’d like to make this statement more specific. For me, it’s the similarity of goals but difference of the group members’ skills that can achieve the solidarity.

    While I was working with a performing director and his team, everyone in the group was very different. I was not a performer, either had any experience about acting, however, the director choose me simply because he needed a person who looks like a little girl and can sing, so I just fulfilled the elements that he was looking for. It was my difference from others that made it. From this experience, I didn’t feel that I was a labor who was just utilized according to this personal difference, also not for other people in the theater. Of course, the director was the person in this group that has the actual power to control and decide everything, so we need to fulfill his requirement. But his requirement was also from his speciality, which is knowing how to make a good performance. And that, was also everyone’s common goal to achieve, though we all had different backgrounds and skills. Besides, the working experience was a little different from other experiences I had. In the processing of rehearsal, we did not follow a specific script. The director gave us some instructions, but we had spaces to react or adjust, even suggested using the way we like. And after every rehearsal, the whole group would sit in a circle, then we discuss, give notes and suggestions to each other. For me, it was more like a collaborative processing of creation, since we have certain space / power to influence the final display.

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