Dreaming the Dark

This reading talked about how a group’s structure can be thought of “as patterns of communication that determine how information flows,” and specifically noted the benefits of a circle or web structure. People often think equality is a natural state that doesn’t have to be managed, but there still needs to be a way of organizing information, including information about relationships among people. The difficulty of actually doing this, makes me wonder if mutuality is ever really viable in our mainstream culture. Even the reading referred to moments of group implosion (during the air, fire, water, earth stages) and talked about how human nature  makes it impossible for the group dynamic to not be affected by other human impulses (such as attraction to one another). In nature, resources are used in a sustainable way, while humans exploit resources until they no longer exist. That notion reminds me of a game called, Fish Banks*, which is a tool used to teach people about the mechanics behind over fishing. The only way to win the game is by working across groups to share information in order to sustain enough fish for everyone, but people don’t figure it out until it’s too late since it is set up as a game where whoever makes the most money from fishing wins.

While there might be pockets of this idea of a shared culture in specific communities, I think that overall, people are stuck in the hierarchal model at this point in evolution. But is it worth trying to change the structure of hierarchal groups, or better to learn how to work those systems in a mutually beneficial way? I think a blend of hierarchy and equality is the ideal form for a group to have the most success.

And as far as the roles that Starhawk describes, I think they are a bit superficial. I don’t believe that one person is solely the clown or the self-hater. I think people are more complex than that, and different aspects of their personality come through at different times and in the presence of different people.




* http://forio.com/simulate/mit/fishbanks/simulation/login.html

CASE STUDY: Visiting WOW Cafe Theater at 59 East 4th Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenue

For Thursday, read this selection from Dreaming in the Dark, and come to the oldest all women and trans theater collective in the country (WOW, at 59 East 4th Street, between 2nd and 3rd Avenue in the East Village) with a 5-10 minute Midterm presentation. Your presentation should be a proposal to the group, with as much detail and consideration about collaborative process as possible. Do NOT make a presentation that requires  a projector, as WOW has told us that it’s unreliable. Feel free to post project ideas in the comment section of this post, so potential collaborations are made visible.

Midterm group project: Project Proposal

For their midterm presentation: students will write a one page proposal describing a collaborative project that they would like to work on from November 14 through December 12, the form this collaboration will take, and the case studies they imagine learning most from in the coming weeks. The proposal must include the resources (tools, people, books, spaces, and materials) the student currently has access to, as well as the resources s/he will need to access, to produce the final work. The proposal will be uploaded to the class blog, as well as presented verbally in the form of a 1 minute “elevator pitch” to members of WOW, a collectively run theater space in the East Village on October 10th.

Final group project: Collaborative Project

The Collaborative Final Project is a month-long effort to research, develop, and implement a collaborative project. This open ended assignment can focus on any topic, but must demonstrate an understanding of practices of participation (informing, consulting, collaborating, empowering), forms of collaboration (informal group, collective, cooperative, movement, partnership), approaches to decision making (straw poll, consensus, shared power), and critical reflections on encounters with contemporary, collaborative case studies throughout the course. A successful project could be produced by 3 students (forming a temporary collective) or by a single student engaging a million participants in a collaborative process online (forming a collaborative tool), so long as a clear and rigorous engagement with practices and forms of collaboration is demonstrated.

Learning Outcomes:
By the completion of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Articulate a number of methods, structures, and rationales for collaboration, such as crowdsourcing or forking
    and be able to cite examples of groups or situations in which they were employed.
  2. Translate an experimental method of collaboration or collective action into a project based response
  3. Be able to critically discuss and write about personal and contemporary collaborative work
  4. Give and respond to constructive criticism, in order to iterate and improve their own and others group projects.

Criteria for evaluation
Students in the course will receive feedback on the following areas:

  • Critical Thinking: To what degree has the student demonstrated and developed critical thinking skills over the course of the semester? Is critical thinking evident in the visual work, in critiques and presentations, and in written assignments?
  • Design Process: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the student’s design process? Is the student able to evaluate the work at different points in the process and to identify areas in their work for future development?
  • Contextualization and Connection: To what degree has the student been able to connect the themes and core concepts of the course to their work? Is this clearly demonstrated in their class participation, project presentation, and written work?
  • Integration and Appropriate Use of Technology/Medium: Is the student making good choices about the form and type of technology or medium they are using to express their design concepts?
    Communication: How well is the student able to express their ideas, both verbally and in written form?

Seven American Utopias

Dolores Hayden’s article explores the historical development behind the construction and collaboration of societal structures, taking an architectural perspective. In the XIX century there was a boom of idealists that saw the New World as an opportunity to set their ideals and experiment communal structures. In this text, Dolores Hayden provides a report and analysis in how this communities into the development of Utopian societies.


The opening of this article began with a description of the American landscape. As Columbus’s discovery, the land provided many freedoms and opportunities for exploration and experimentation. There was a liberating mentality where the land is a “new heaven” and a “new earth. ” Building a social structure with such freedom allowed for much analysis to take place. The relationship between personal prosperity and the prosperity of the community became very relevant. One of the most successful of these developing groups was called The Shakers which called their society a “living building.”


As these communities expanded, they developed very different ideals and described themselves in different ways. Marx and Engels described these changes as the “utopian socialist”. These groups expressed their social ideals into the architectural structures in order to build a perfect society.

The seven communitarian groups were called the Shakers of Hancock – Massachusetts; the Mormons of Nauvoo -lllinois; the Fourierists of Phalanx – New Jersey; the Perfectionists of Oneida- New York; the Inspirationists of Amana – Iowa; the Union Colonists of Greeley – Colorado; and the Cooperative Colonists of Llano del Rio-California. In this book, Dolores examines the conflicts and between authoritarian and participatory processes. The community planners came with ideals that would work for everyone and ones that could be replicated throughout. However, the end result was not as expected. The societies required more specific set of structures and the more detailed the planners got, the more they were focussing on specific groups of people rather than the whole. The issues between communal and private property also arose. The mentality of the people that they would prosper more, the more they use their resources to the fullest. However, this showed to not be of the best interest toward the community as a whole.

Vicky and Gus.


1] Is there an utopian structure for collaboration? How would you describe a perfect collaboration?

2] How important is it for a collaboration structure to be replicable in a different setting?

3] Meerkat seem to have a perfect balance between community and privacy, in which artists can work on their own projects, but also can work collaboratively. What can you take from Meerkat to structure your own collaborative environment? Are there aspects that can hinder you?

Temporary Service’s Against Competition

“When it becomes clear that you operate from a place of generosity, people become more generous with you…”

Funding for arts and cultural endeavors are becoming scarce. Traditional routes for acquiring resource are becoming narrow and this truth has made the landscape of production more competitive. Temporary Service argues against this competition by promoting the benefits of joint efforts.

The quote about generosity is great because it’s really about support (emotionally, monetarily, in-kind). The more individuals support each other, the more the collective can accomplish. We all have access to different resources and have gained different skills. When we are open to sharing these things, there is a potential for us to acquire what we lack from others.  The generosity Temporary Service speaks about is not unlike an informal bartering system.

We should start from a place of abundance and realize that as a “global network” we possibly have everything we need. Mapping what and who you already have access to has potential to spark new avenues for conceptualizing a project. If not to open up your network and forge genuine relationships, you should stray away from competition because it requires less consuming. A good example of this is the Peace Pentagon building on Lafayette St in SoHo. The building is occupied by about a dozen activist groups that have varying missions but all convene at a place of wanting social and political change. Some groups share offices. They share computers and printers. The same camera equipment Deep Dish TV might use for their documentaries Granny Peace Brigade might use to document one of their actions. There is just less stuff to consider for each group when a larger network of people are sharing.


Have you ever been hesitant to tell someone about a project idea? If so, why?

Can you think of good models of groups that have created a system of support/generosity?

The reading asks, “How can we build a stronger network among people with shared interests and values?” But alternately, how can we build networks among people with different interests and values? Is that important?

What does it mean when generosity/support is not reciprocated? How should you react?


CASE STUDY: visiting Meerkat today at 10 Jay Street in Brooklyn

Reminder: we are visiting Meerkat today!

Please take the train to 10 Jay Street in Brooklyn (http://goo.gl/maps/gcelA), to arrive outside the building on the water at 3:50pm. We will head up to their offices (Suite 720) as a group.

 Here’s some more from Zara and Jay at Meerkat:

  • This video the LLC did for the Tenement Museum (which is referenced in the sample budget I’m attaching)
  • This video we did for Participatory Budgeting Project, which was a hybrid LLC/Collective project with no profit margin
  • This trailer for Brasslands, a Collective project which we were able to fund (in part) through Collective grants and LLC loans (I can speak more to this)
  • This short video (made in 24 hours) a few members of the Collective did for Occupy Sandy, which had no budget, but used Meerkat gear, and received a small microgrant to cover the hard costs of production (cabs, etc)

Culture of New Capitalism

Richard Sennett addresses three challenges that he sees as the sociological aspects of the global capitalist workplace in developed countries. The first one, is how to manage short term relationships and how to adapt to a changing “life narrative.” Bennett suggests that people take pride in being good at something and need this to be happy. The second challenge is how to develop new skills as “reality’s demands shift.” This idea of learning to do many skills is short lived, one that has many skills Bennett feels are displaced with a loose narrative.  The third one is about surrendering, every one is replaceable. No one is entitled to his or her position at an organization. Pass services do not mean that an employee is entitled to their position.

While Bennett views the capacity to learn new skills as being economically valuable, his lack of appreciation for the role of the “expert” is troubling. In cross disciplinary collaborations, success isn’t necessary achieved by teams being comprise of many people who are all somewhat flexible in their skills. Often times, it is the various mastering of skills across members that benefit the group as a whole. The ability for everyone to think outside their own craft’s “box” is important, but the skills needed for many complex social problems often require years of study and work. It is unrealistic to think that the same level of progress can be achieved by someone or a group that has to constantly learn a new skill and will not have the time to fully comprehend. Our ability to learn is important to our life’s narratives, and Bennett makes an interesting argument that an individual’s personal identity is deeply affected by one’s inability or ability to achieve success. However, there has been a strong movement in the DIY front as the internet makes it incredibly easy to access instructions for learning basically any skill.

Furthermore, it seems unfair to generalize that people define their happiness by how well they do a job, we would argue that it’s more about what that job is. What collaboration needs is passionate people from different backgrounds who all have something to contribute to the whole, and are able to be flexible with learning the skills they need to accomplish their goal. The ability to move between different worlds is more important for the role of facilitator in collaborative groups or workplaces.

Do you agree or disagree?  Think about how you identify yourself based on your skills and skill level. Write down each skill you have, skill level, and level of happiness. Do you feel that these skills will be transferable to many different careers?


Joamir and Stephanie

Reading Response: Governing the Commons

Ostrom lays out three models for the ways in which groups govern themselves. The first is the “tragedy of the commons” as Garrett Hardin called it, which she defines as symbolic of “the degradation of the environment to be expected whenever many individuals use a scarce resource in common.” This tragedy is illustrated by a pasture on which many herders allow their animals to graze. It is in the best interest of each individual herder to have as many animals as he can but it is not in the collective interest for all herders because if everyone is maximizing their number of cattle then the pasture is being overgrazed. The only way to curtail this overgrazing is for each herder to control individual herd population thus limiting the gain one can make from that herd.

The second model is the prisoner’s dilemma game. I didn’t really think Ostrom’s explanation of the actual game was particularly clear having played the game before so I went to trusty old Wikipedia for this explanation:

Two members of a criminal gang are arrested and imprisoned. Each prisoner is in solitary confinement with no means of speaking to or exchanging messages with the other. The police admit they don’t have enough evidence to convict the pair on the principal charge. They plan to sentence both to a year in prison on a lesser charge. Simultaneously, the police offer each prisoner a Faustian bargain. Here’s how it goes:

– If A and B both confess the crime, each of them serves 2 years in prison
– If A confesses but B denies the crime, A will be set free whereas B will serve 3 years in prison (and vice versa)

If A and B both deny the crime, both of them will only serve 1 year in prison

Because betraying your partner (by confessing) always rewards more than cooperating with them, all purely rational self-interested prisoners would betray the other, and so the only possible outcome for two purely rational prisoners is for them both to betray each other. The interesting part of this result is that pursuing individual reward logically leads both of the prisoners to betray, but they would get a better reward if they both cooperated.

I feel like that’s pretty straightforward but there are many ways to play this game that don’t necessarily need a literal prisoner as a character. The idea is that you have individuals who stand to do better working toward a collective interest than solely individual interests but rational humans are expected to act in their own best interest most of the time.

The third model is Mancur Olson’s logic of collective action, which basically says that it is assumed that individual members of groups will all work toward the commons goals but this assumption is not necessarily reflective of reality. If the fruits of the groups labor are publicly available then some members may choose to “free ride”, allowing the few to do the work on behalf of the many. Free riding also can water down the outcome, making it less successful than intended or perhaps even causing failure. What all three models have in common is the conflict between self interest and the collective good.

As a member of the MFA DT community and occupant of the lab we lovingly call D12, I’ve seen a bit of the “tragedy of the unmanaged commons” and logic of collective action at play. At the start of last semester the lab was a complete wreck. People had left the remains of projects strewn all over the place. There were pieces on the windowsills, some labeled by their creators and others not. The whiteboard walls had gotten so dirty that the leavings of whatever people had written needed some elbow grease to get erased. Students regularly left meals in various states of completion on the tables as if this were a restaurant and someone would bus their table. What I didn’t understand was that it’s in everyone’s interest for this space to be pleasant and clean. Why wouldn’t everyone want to keep it orderly? The leaving of food on tables suggests that people expected to be cleaned up after. People just assumed that the powers that be would take care of everything. What’s become clear to me in my time here is that, at least in this program, everything is what we make of it. But it’s in your average busy DT student’s self-interest to keep her head down and make things. To fast-forward to the outcome of this, we organized a “Spring Cleaning” day that a lot of students took part in and the lab was cleaner than it had been since I’d laid eyes on it.

What working examples of models such as the tyranny of the commons, the prisoner’s dilemma, and the logic of collective action can you think of from your own experience with groups you are a part of? Did you find yourself agreeing with what Ostrom said or disagreeing? Are the collective good and self-interest opposed by definition or is there space to negotiate these seemingly divergent aims?

Reading response: A critique of social practice art

1. What is the role of art in social practice? And what kind of role or function could it play? Does art has this responsibility to participate in social practice?

An artist basically uses art to communicate his idea to a group or community of people. Once an artist’s idea is communicated, then it can be built upon by other social practitioners. As far as social practice is concerned, art can be used as a way to promote the practice. Like the example given in the article, the occupy movement used art in order to promote the movement. Similarly, there are various communities in Asia, where administrators destroyed and rebuilt entire villages for capitalistic motives, but they said it is for aesthetic concern. Those residents in the villages used to have strong social connection or belongingness toward their community, in order to not hurt those residents’ feelings (or, to create a nicer saying to the public), the administrators used the saying that the purpose is for pursuing higher common profit of citizens. The re-building is termed as social practice because it is being done for the people who live there by building architectural structures or art galleries. A lot of times, designers come up with possible solutions for social change and give it a form of art in order for their solutions to reach out and speak to the community they have been targeting. We have seen architects doing that while re-building different communities. For example, companies, architects and NGOs want to re-build the slums in Mumbai, all for different reasons but leading up to the same goal, some of the reasons are capitalistic yet some are not, but still stick on to the idea that it is to bring about a change in the lives of people who reside there.

2. Is art a tool, form, container, or an approach in social practice? What is the idea behind an artistic action?

Art is also totally dependent on how people use it. Rirkit Tirivanija’s 1992 artwork example, mentioned in the article; was about serving curry and rice to people visiting the exhibition; but why is it art? or even social practice? Serving curry is building an aesthetic relation to the art piece by involving people in the art itself. But what led to this artistic action? Was it just a way to have people participate in something the artist made and eventually only a means for the artist to promote themselves? Art becomes social practice when it is not only addressed to the community but also does something for the community.

3. If art has the function of carrying out social practice / idea, since usually the society / community has longer existence and history, how fundamental could this idea be? Would it be just a temporary thing?

How does an artist know if what they are building is going to live for a long time or just temporarily be a piece of art that is spoken or debated about by other people. As mentioned above, art is an idea communicated through the art piece to a community, but a community stays together for a long time, in that case how is it that art can continue to influence the community without being exhaustive? How do we know that an idea put across by an artist is something that is going to be relevant for generations in the community?

4. Is collaboration inherently anti-capitalist? If so, how so and why? If not, why not?

Collaboration is not entirely anti-capitalist, but at some point the monetary desires need to be set aside in order for the collaboration to work out. At some point however, it is going to be driven by capitalist motives. Put together a group of artists and social practitioners to come up with an idea for a space in the city; both would be working on the same goal, but in order to make the most of the space it is important for them to collaborate. A balance between monetary and social aspects should be maintained in order for the collaboration to work out well.

– Ritika & Mennie

Reading Response – “Tyranny of Structurelessness”

From my understanding, this reading is more than merely a description of how structurelessness took place from the past to modern times.The idea of “structurelessness” was created because of the women’s liberation movement. It is an extremely critical commentary that gives us a completely different insight of collaboration. It might be really normal for people to participate in a group and then spontaneously have a center of authority. As we always think of the typical type of leadership, the informal structure is continuously set. However, the fact that this “usual” matter which happens all the time in our daily lives can have an enormous impact to the group improvement and achievement. The lost of structure in fact gives several people in the group much more power but without a formal standard, which means they are not responsible for their actions nor can be taken over since there is no legitimate way.

Structurelessness was originated from the movement of feminism. It is easy to see the benefits of forming groups without formal regulations. Women at that period were more conservative in a way that most of the participants were given the power to talk but unable to. And even at the times that people were not being so sensitive about what might happen running a group without a structural organization in the future, there were still lots of boundaries for women to be part of the movement. There were also lots of different standards for women to get into the elite group of feminist organizations such as being not single or lesbian. It is obvious that even from the old time we can tell the only way being part of the elite group is to make yourself like them and pledge a sorority.

I really like how Jo Freeman describes this matter. She wants to clarify that informal structures and structureless groups are different. A structure group can have both formal structures and informal ones, but not for sturctureless groups. As a matter of fact, mentioned in the paper, informal structure is inevitable. It’s not bad but inevitable. But only unstructure groups are totally governed by it. I am really impressed by this description of how real it is that explains the problems we encounter while collaborating and how we should cope with them. There are also several useful guides stated on last pages of how we can form formal structures and engage more group members in a democratic fashion.

From my own experience, I like small groups more than large ones. After reading this paper, I started to understand why. Not only because I feel more comfortable being with friends, which is also not a good sign for task accomplishing, but also having the power of controlling things the way I want them to be. I have to admit that being as authority in a group but also irresponsible (no rules that make me an leader) like the author implied, is actually a very good feeling. It is a very great examination after reading this and looking back to my own communities and thinking whether there should be structure principles that make the group goal more achievable.

Therefore, here are my questions:

  1. Have you ever been in a less structure group? What were the factors that took place beside professional ones (such as friendships with other members) in the decision making process?
  2. If you have been in a less structure group, do you view yourself as an “STAR” or the ones who try to get into the elite group?
  3. What kind of situation do you think is better to form a less structure group?
  4. Which one do you prefer, structure or structureless group?


It was popular and successful in the 1970s, because the original purpose is to encourage participation and elicit personal insights. While the author pointed out two main reasons that structurelessness can’t be extended. The first one is that the “structureless” group was built to only prevent the formal structures, not the informal ones. The second reason is that any group of people will inevitable structure itself. For example, people can participate in its activities only when they know the rules.

Also the author talked about the nature of elitism. Elitism is one of the informal structures. The author clearly described the formal and informal structures. I think the interesting thing about elitism is how new people join the group and how they participate in it. Most of the groups are created according to people’s levels of skills. However the way to value people’s skills is complicated.


Reminder: Attend Theaster Gates Artists’ Lecture next Wed Sep 18th, 7:00 pm, 66 W12th St.

Info here.


Sheila C. Johnson Design Center
Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries

September 18 – October 15, 2013

Forum: Wednesday, September 18, 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Thursday, September 19, 10:00 am – 12:00 p.m.
Theresa Lang Community and Student Center, 55 W. 13th Street

Opening reception: Thursday, September 18, 5:00 – 6:30 p.m., Arnold and Sheila Aronson Galleries, 66 Fifth Avenue

Artist Lecture and Prize Presentation: Wednesday September 18, 7:00 p.m., Tishman Auditorium, 66 W. 12th Street

Curated with support by Theaster Gates, recipient of the inaugural Vera List Center Prize for Art and Politics, this exhibition and forum are the culmination of The New School’s engagement with the artist and his work. It offers a view into how the artist creates synergies within his work, and examines the complex ways of creating and maintaining an expanded studio practice rooted in institutional engagement, object making, and the production of space. The installation includes drawings, videos, and a rickshaw, inspired by visits to Haiti and Mexico, and related to Dorchester Projects, a space for artistic production on Chicago’s South Side.