Reading Process

For each reading, a pair of students will act as moderators for both the online and in class discussion of the reading, writing a primary response on the class blog that will also set up the framework for discussion in class. The primary response should be a minimum of 500 words, due Wednesday, the day before class, at around 3:00.  The moderators’ post should outline central points in the reading that the moderators feel pertain to the concerns of the class, respond to at least one of the framing questions on this page, and ask a new questions for other students to react to. Moderators will be required to guide the discussion on line, responding to and moderating commentary, as well opening as guiding the discussion in class.  Most classes will begin with a discussion of the readings.

All other students will also write responses to the reading in the comments section of the moderators post. They can provide additional information, opinions and comments to respond to the initial post and answer the framing questions provided on the reading page. Reading responses are due at class time, and should be about 250 words.

Required class participation: You will need to speak in class, and contribute to class discussion. If you don’t speak during class, you will not receive a passing grade. If you don’t submit a blog response or commentary in the permitted time, it will also affect your class participation, which is one third of your final grade.

Reading Groups

  1. Reading Group 1: Salome Asega and Scarlet Nisar moderate CAE’s Observations on Collective Cultural Action for 09 12 and Temporary Services’s Against Competition for 10 03
  2. Reading Group 2: Mirte Becker and Joely Saravia moderate Conceptualizing And Measuring Collaboration for 09 12 and Dreaming in the Dark for 10 10
  3. Reading Group 3: Sisi Liu and Brendan Ying moderate the article on Encyclopedia Pictura Collective for 09 12 and excerpts from Robert Kohls’ The Values Americans Live By for 10 17
  4. Reading Group 4: Ritika Bhagya and Mennie Shen moderate A Critique of Social Practice as Art for 09 19 and Excerpts from Collaborative Futures for 10.24
  5. Reading Group 5: Peter Chang and Carrol Shen moderate Jo Freeman’s Tyranny of Structurelessness for 09 19 and Grassroots Mapping: Creating a Participatory Map Making Process for 10 31
  6. Reading Group 6: Justin Charles and Auriel Rickard moderate Ellen Ostrom’s Governing the Commons Intro for 09 26 and Human Centered Design for 11 07
  7. Reading Group 7: Stephanie Farah and Joamir Salcedo moderate Richard Sennett’s The Culture Of New Capitalism for 09 26 and Students Choice for 11.14
  8. Reading Group 8: Vicky Hristova and Gustavo Simoes De Faria read Hayden’s Utopia for 10.3 and Students Choice for 11.21


For September 12th

  1. Read Critical Art Ensemble’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. 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).” What is your opinion on this? Have you had experiences which have supported or contradicted this?
  2. Read Conceptualizing And Measuring Collaboration p. 23-28 (actual page numbers, not PDF pages)
    • When, if ever, have you experienced the tension between individual and collective interest* as a kind of dynamism? Describe the scenario. *Ann Marie Thomson, James L. Perry, and Theodore K. Miller write: “The development of that goodwill need not depend on a complete lack of tension, however. In her evaluation of consensus building, Innes (1999) argues that tension holds within it the potential for creativity. ‘‘In totally stable environments,’’ Innes writes, ‘‘equilibrium powerfully hinders change [while highly] chaotic environments, on the other hand, produce only random responses, and systems cannot settle into patterns’’ (644). The key, she writes, rests in finding the intermediate state—on the ‘‘edge of chaos’’ (Innes 1999, 644)—where participating organizations can find the potential dynamism implicit in this tension between individual and collective interests by maximizing latent synergies among individual differences. These latent synergies are captured by the fourth dimension, mutuality.”
    • Ann Marie Thomson, James L. Perry, and Theodore K. Miller write: “The problem is this: Developing trust takes time and time implies the need for repeated interaction among partners that builds the credible commitment so necessary for collective action to occur.” Can trust be built in short-term collaborations? If so, when and how have you experienced trust in short-term collaborative environments?
  3. Read Making Cutting Edge Animation on a DIY Homestead about the Encyclopedia Pictura collective.
    • The article mentions that the group is in high demand and were making enough money to hire a small army. Their website says that the group had expanded to 18 people, started a youth organization and a small farm CSA, were dedicated to OS DIY ecology, but were also represented to the talent agency Verve. Their last post is from 12.11.11. Saxton is quoted as saying that maximizing potential to make money would slow down the development of the community. Other than power and money, what issues do you think could have taken down a group of this size, with these aspirations? Do you think that commitment to sustainable ecologies and collective working methods can successfully intersect with commercial industry and market economies? Why or why not?

For September 19th

  1. Read A Critique of Social Practice (word doc here) in prep for Theaster Gates
  • In response to Ben Davis’ article, Rick Lowe wrote: “Project Row Houses and our housing program have never been about “solving” the housing problem for Houston. We thought that by contextualizing housing as an artistic exploration, we could symbolically show the value of developing housing that embraced the existing people and history of the community. I agree with Ben Davis, Project Row Houses has not solved Houston’s housing problem. But, the symbolic quality of the project has generated dialogue within our community and others about the value of existing community context when developing.” How do artists/designers balance the assumed need to make systemic social change, with the perhaps more attainable goal of creatively modeling potential solutions? How might artists/designers balance or fuse initiatives of prefigurative politics (a new society in miniature) with struggles for policy reform and state accountability?
  • Ben Davis writes: “You cannot prevent innovations in art from eventually being given a capitalist articulation.” Is collaboration inherently anti-capitalist? If so, how so and why? If not, why not?
  1. Read Jo Freeman’s Tyranny of Structurelessness, focusing on excerpted sections within the yellow brackets.
  • How do you determine the rules in a structureless group with implicit codes? Describe a situation where the implicit rules were overstepped, becoming visible.
  • Have you been in a collaborative group that makes agreements about explicit decision-making structures, or have all of your collaborations relied on establishing friendships in informal structures with implicit rules? Describe potential pros and cons of formal and informal group structures.

For September 26th

  1. Read: Ellen Ostrom’s Governing the Commons, Ch1, pg 1-6 on Prisoners Dilemma
  • Looking at self-governing communities, Ostrom shifts focus from Hardin’s famous “tragedy of the commons” to what she calls the “tragedy of the unmanaged commons.” Ostrom writes that “communities of individuals have relied on institutions resembling neither the state nor the market to govern some resource systems with reasonable degrees of success over long periods of time.” Describe a self-governing structure of accountability that you use in a group you’re part of. For example, what explicit or implicit rules do you have around the dishes in your home?
  1. Richard Sennett’s The Culture Of New Capitalism, p. 11-15
  • In another work by Sennett, Together: the Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Collaboration, Sennett promotes process-oriented collaboration for the subjectivity it produces: one of empathy, listening, and sustained practice. In this reading, Sennet writes that “a self oriented to the short term, focused on potential ability, willing to abandon past experience is — to put a kindly face on the matter– an unusual sort of human being. Most people are not like this; they need a sustaining life narrative, they take pride in being good at something specific, and they value the experiences they’ve lived through. The cultural ideal required in new institutions thus damages many of the people who inhabit them.” Do you agree with his statement? Do you think that people oriented towards short term, deskilled work are capable of process-oriented collaboration?

For October 3rd (Meerkat) MEET at 10 Jay Street in Dumbo, by the water

  1. Read: Dolores Hayden’s Seven American Utopias p. 1-14
    • Writing that “since the communards’ collective dwellings and workshops were constructed in an American context, they are steeped in our national lore of self-reliance, democracy, and moral superiority,” Dolores Hayden refers to European settler-colonists as “Americans,” omitting the massacre of American Indians by settler-colonists and the transformation of indigenous, communal land into a commodity to be owned, bought, and sold by settler-colonists. Just as Hayden erases a history of capitalism and massacre by omitting indigenous forms of communitarianism, in most collaborations, some stakeholders can be exploited, under-recognized, silenced or made invisible. How do narratives of collectivity in art/design relate to potential conflicts between altruism, moral superiority and self reliance? Have you been required to “help” a “community” by the New School?
  2. Read: Temporary Services’s Against Competition
    • Temporary Services writes: “When it becomes clear that you operate from a place of generosity, people become more generous with you — sometimes offering things like free use of equipment, huge discounts on printing and even free use of a storefront in Rogers Park (the location and arrangement that has kept Mess Hall going for over two years now).” If visible generosity has the potential to build social capital, opening up relationships to people recognized as generous, how does that visibility operate? How, where and when can one be visibly generous? Where and when are you invisibly generous? Is the depth and breadth of visible generosity limited by face-to-face encounters, duration of encounter, social status, or charisma? Do people get recognized as being generous because they are already in the spotlight? Does a culture of professionalized creativity (educational debt or 5-6 figure payments in exchange for access to creative opportunities), make visible generosity less possible?
  3. Review this administrative document: Equipment Calendar – Meerkat Media

For October 10th (WOW)

  1. Read Chapter 7 – Circles and Webs: Group Structures from Dreaming in the Dark
  • Please note: there will be no moderators for this week’s readings, but everyone should still post to the blog. The first person to post can respond to the questions below, or anything else they like. Others should respond in the comment section of that initial post.
  • Starhawk describes 6 formal roles for groups. In this class, or in other classes, tell a story of a moment where you’ve taken on one or more of these roles: facilitator (observing the content of the meeting, keeping it focused and moving), a vibeswatcher (helping people check in, breathe), a priestess/priest (watching and moving energy), a peacekeeper (difusing potential violence, listening to hard-to-reach people), a mediator (helping others resolve conflict), or a coordinator (keeping track of information and tasks).
  • Starhawk describes 10 informal roles, positioned as peripheral to central to any group. Have you taken on a combination of roles, or moved from one position to another in a group? Have you moved between the lone wolf (critical but uninvolved), the orphan (assume others dislike you), gimme shelter (looking for reassurance, visibility), filler (feels unimportant, does little of consequence), the princess (anxious, sensitive to all tension), the clown (never serious), the cute kid (feigns incapacity to get out of responsibility), the self-hater (perfectionist, never satisfied), the rock of gibraltar (reliable, but wanting the group to need you), the star (most important person)? Explain.
  • Starhawk’s description of the spokes model reminds me of Darwin’s paradox which asks how coral reefs, being amongst the richest and most diverse ecosystems on earth, can flourish surrounded by tropical ocean waters largely lacking in nutrients. How does this happen? Coral use resources wisely (recycle nutrients), support many symbiotic relationships (provide protection for algae that gives them energy), their structure is good for communication (taking in and distributing fresh water), and their structure, although continually evolving, is incredibly stable (provides a barrier for the more delicate stuff within).
    Question: what do you think about the evolutionary importance of hierarchical models vs models of mutuality in the animal kingdom? Where do you think humans fall in this continuum, at this current stage of their evolution?

For October 17th (Christopher Robbins & NLE)

  1. check out No Longer Empty’s website to read about their participatory curatorial process
  2. Read: Robert Kohls’ The Values Americans Live By

For October 24th OS / Free Software

  1. Read Excerpts from Collaborative Futures, sections 15, 16, 24, 27
    • Share first and maybe collaborate later (pg 88-89)
      • CF writes that centralized hosts of p2p protocols broker a new balance between centralized federated models, and a network of networks model (distributed autonomy): they facilitate coordination but do not mandate it. They write “DVCS excels in constantly switching between a coordinated action and an individuated one.” Branching does not require any permission or up front coordination, material is offered up freely for others to use as they wish, opening the door for potential re-appropriation or future collaboration.
      • Q: What do you think are the benefits and potential pitfalls of this model? Other than for code / software development, where do you think this could be well used? Where should it potentially not be used and why?
    • Concept of Failing Forward (p 100 (103 in pdf)
      • CF writes that forking lowers the price of failure in a distributed network, by allowing leaders to fluidly rotate. One may lead for a while, get stuck, then be replaced by another forking and leading in a different direction, allowing for the open emergence of leadership. This ad hoc process of emergence is related to but significantly different from the conscious but self organizing principles of anarchic networked based communities like nettime, and unintentional, rule based systems of emergence, like the flocking behaviors we described earlier.
      • Q: What advantages do you feel that forking behaviors foster? What disadvantages? What forms of social relationships are facilitated? Suppressed?
  2. Optional Read: Ray & Graeff’s Reviewing the Author Function in the Age of Wikipedia

For October 31st (Public Labs)

  1. Grassroots Mapping: Creating a Participatory Map Making Process
    • Note: The idea of black boxing, of viewing a technology as separated from its social, political, cultural and legal contexts is quite interesting. As PLOTS also referenced, Langdon Winner described this issue quite well in his 1988 chapter called “Do Artifacts Have Politics?” from Whale and the Reactor. The technical and systems references he gave were from the time of his writing, the late ’80’s: advances in industrial farming and nuclear fuel production.
    • Q: Can you describe a more current instance where you feel people have black boxed, or failed to understand the social, political or cultural impact of a particular technology? What did this ignorance lead to?
    • Q: What tools do you use (on a daily or weekly basis) that scale horizontally*? Do you know or care where the inputs (data/material/information you contribute) go? Why or why not?
    • Note: One of the most powerful aspects of the design of our tools is that they specifically select methodologies which scale horizontally rather than vertically; that is, while it would be impractical and inefficient — both in labor and technology — for Google or a national government to use balloons and kites to map large areas, such an approach is eminently scalable for small communities and individuals. The transfer of these practices is also most easily achieved in-person and on-site, through personal interactions and collaborations — as opposed to from polar orbit. This horizontal “design feature” tends to preference public and participatory use by small communities, but as we have learned in our discussions with UNICEF and the World Bank, this is not always so simple.”
    • Q: What did you think of the ethical question PLOTS faced when querried by a Houston police about whether their system could be used to monitor crowds? When the police and community views of the same situation would be virtually identical? How does contextualizing the system as a horizontally based tool for small groups to record and archive their own information (potentially at odds with data collected by larger systems of power), intersect with your views on open information?

For November 7th (IDEO)

  • Read: Human Centered Design: the Introduction to HCD by IDEO and the following worksheets from: Goals and Methods for Hearing (pg 39-40), Qualitative Research and Methods (pg 44-45), Community Driven Discovery (p 63), and Observe vs Interpret (pg 79), Identity, Power and Politics field guide worksheet (page 169)
  • Q: The language of the Introduction (Desirability Lens, Value Chain) seems to be geared for a different audience than the language of the toolkit (develop deep empathy, question assumptions).  Many of the methods described in the toolkit seem to be based on solid design thinking, but do you see negative ramifications or disconnects in this Human Centered Design approach?

For November 14th (Student Control)

  1. Student Choice TBD

For November 21st (Student Control)

  1. Resnick_TurtlesTermitesTraffic.97(1) Read pages 1-15.

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