[NetBehaviour] "Networked Conversations as Activism"

Max Herman maxnmherman at hotmail.com
Mon Dec 2 17:33:21 CET 2019


Hi Helen,

Your chapter title is very relevant and makes a lot of sense.  Civic engagement cannot occur without a fundamental basis in conversation; and conversation is always infused with aesthetic and visual context, habit, and preference.  Therefore starting a conversation by saying "conversation is informed by our art context, and is itself an artform" is a good place to start and to practice iteratively.  This approach highlights for people that true conversation is creative not pre-determined, and a suspension of judgment as to who "wins" or "is correct" is the only way for this creativity to have the freedom it needs (especially for network forms of expression like conversation and many other cultural processes that require participatory communication).

Open conversational practice, of course within whatever limits are deemed appropriate and/or necessary, also suits the dynamics of change and implementation in complex systems.  The field of implementation complexity provides strong evidence that system change cannot be completed anew out of whole cloth but will always be a gradual, partially random, and decentralized process or set of processes evolving in time and subject to influence by all the other complexity going on.  This of course does not at all mean that change is impossible, can never happen, is a waste of time, or cannot be influenced at all by local choices.  There must be a commitment to new modes of behavior and expression, but one which is balanced with an understanding that not all outcomes can be controlled, known in advance, or forced to happen on a strict timeline.  Some degree of Hippocratic humility is always advisable to avoid worst outcomes while making best ones possible.

To some degree these were the goals of some of my past work, of course very inconsistently achieved.  In some cases I wanted to ask as wide a variety of people as possible to answer the same three questions.  I tried to precede this with as little performance as possible on my part, while hoping that the questions themselves and collecting as many answers as possible within a time constraint would prompt sufficient uniqueness of expression, generating a creative diversity and independence of viewpoints on a shared theme.  There was an aspect of data integrity here as you might have in a social science survey so that to some extent it could be said (and known to myself) that I avoided scripting or goading people's answers as much as possible.  It was also an aesthetic imperative though -- if there wasn't genuine creativity by the interviewees the whole thesis that such creativity is possible from simple origins would be unconfirmed.  My contribution would be to ask the questions, answer the questions myself for the video, select what footage to include, and read some relevant quotes from various authors.  Also there would be some attempt at visual interest in the image selection, to enhance context and watchability, like trees, animals, architecture, etc. "local" to the interviews.  Then I would do my best to create a video that others could view, allowing permutations on the theme to potentially continue (ideally in a scalable, adaptive, and evolving way that included both new insight and error-correction).

There was certainly a fair amount of conversation though in some of the interviews, where I would try to follow up with additional questions or comments to the interviewees.  Results in these cases were very mixed so much of that footage was edited out.  Some was kept where I felt there was an aesthetic or philosophical rationale to leave it in, it didn't overpower the unique expressions of interviewees, and/or illustrated some flaw, deficiency, or mistake on my own part as a means of error correction.

I still believe that improved mediation and support of open conversation is a viable goal for our network age, if not a survival imperative.  It seems likely to be a necessary but not sufficient condition of addressing many of society's greatest challenges, not guaranteeing success by itself but being a crucial element of solutions, improvements, and ameliorations.  Open conversation has always been under threat by social censorship, so in many cases a judicious caution is pragmatic.  Some theory has argued that open conversation is a false goal, because interactions are always determined by power relations.  I don't believe that to be an absolute truth however, and open equal communication can occur, if only episodically, even where there are power imbalances (often this is achieved situationally by obtaining a suspension of hierarchy among the conversational participants).  The nature of complexity (and recent time theory) means that equality is only ever approximated and time-bound, therefore better described as "equivalency" which is time- and context- specific.  Where power imbalances and hierarchy dominate the conversation, whether consciously or unconsciously,it's not really conversation but coerced scripting.  Even in such contexts small episodes of true conversation, even one word, can emerge and usually do.

Judging by the state of things it is easy to call conversation a fool's illusion, but there may be a temporal obligation to keep attempting it even if it is impossible just in case it isn't.  🙂

Best regards,

Max


________________________________
From: Helen Varley Jamieson <helen at creative-catalyst.com>
Sent: Monday, December 2, 2019 4:25 AM
To: Max Herman <maxnmherman at hotmail.com>; NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Subject: Re: [NetBehaviour] "Networked Conversations as Activism"


hi max,

thanks for reading & responding :)

i can't speak for all of the performers & participants, but for me the conversation is part of the whole event, therefore part of the performance / art / activity. it's preceded by a cyberformance which is definitely an artistic action, and the intention is that the cyberformance part of the event informs the conversation part of the event by provoking, questioning, challenging, shifting, encouraging participants to open up their thinking, to hear other points of view, to engage in discussion rather than argument. in many contexts our conversations have become very combative, about trying to convince others to agree and believe in the same things as we do, rather than actually listening, sharing, thinking. i try to approach the topics as openly as possible, drawing material for the cyberformance from a wide range of sources and involving individuals and groups who have different perspectives in creating and presenting the cyberformance. it can become a complex, layered collage, which demands a lot of focus from the audience & is often other than their expectations. so before the conversation begins, they have been shifted somewhat, & this means that the conversation starts from somewhere different. so yes, a change of consciousness can occur; even if it's a small & subtle change, it can niggle away under the skin like a tiny splinter & lead to longer term changes in individual's thinking and approach. these things are pretty impossible to measure, i'm basing my thoughts mostly on personal feedback from colleagues or associates who, years after participating in one of these events, mentions the ongoing effect it's had. it's personal & small-scale but i believe longer-lasting & ultimately highly impactful. there are also the further conversations that participants have beyond the event, & the ripples those cause, that i don't always know about but they do happen.

the global-local connection is important because it brings unexpected contributions & this stops us from falling into familiar patterns. sometimes it's surprising to learn that things are almost exactly the same in different places, & other times things are totally different. the conversation goes between the universal & the particular, & somehow in this balance there is an openness & understanding. i like your image of unknotting, it's very fitting - we can become so knotted up in our own realities that we need someone or something from somewhere far away to be able to see where the knot needs to be picked at to loosen it up & undo it.

i've written a book chapter that explores these methods & projects in more detail if anyone is interested in reading further, it's in "Convergence of Contemporary Art, Visual Culture and Global Civic Engagement", https://www.igi-global.com/chapter/we-have-a-situation/172764

h : )

On 28.11.19 19:16, Max Herman wrote:

Hi Helen,

My internet is not working so I'm typing on phone, but I like this article and these ideas a lot.  Verfremdungseffekt is a good new word I didn't know.

Are the performers and participants generally thinking of the conversations as art, an art form?  I think that idea of participatory art forms is important.  Bohm writes about group conversations in On Dialogue, thinking that if they happen similarly to what you describe then a change in consciousness occurs and new consciousness can occur.  He means dialogue as "through-meaning" or meaning-flow rather than exchange per se.  He doesn't really view it as art, more from a science standpoint, but the idea of "no pre-set conclusions" is key.

One challenge of the open-ended discussion I agree is effectiveness or "result." There can sometimes be a very predictable repetitive outcome, or an attempt to "do too much" that is either overwhelming or unfocused.  I do think there must be a middle road something like "beginner's mind" that can be both a worthwhile state in itself and contributive to something larger or in process (like say a method or manner, methode so to speak).  This mid-range is part of theater and literature since their prehuman origins I think, including shared visual imagery, symbols, abstractions, etc.

When you refer to global-local that has a relevance to middle or betweenness, with an emphasis possibly on the "present" as this meeting-space.  Where the present knowns of the past, our packets of info, can be called into play in the context of massive future challenges or unknowns, resulting in a known/unknown mix in the present space that can be literally new and permutations can lead to ideas or conditions that didn't exist at the start of the conversation.

I have usually found this approach to have a lot of elegance and relevance but it doesn't seem to fit most typical definitions.  Frankfurt school communicative theory sort of relates, but I'm not sure that Marx or Freud really do.  Postructuralist theory sometimes seems unnecessarily complex to me and perhaps obfuscating.  You can get a lot of complexity and change, perhaps sufficient, from rather simple "ingredients" like those you describe.  Certainly the natural world has tremendously complex and adaptive, innovative capacity with arguably no theory whatsoever.

Rambling now, but knot-riddled shoulder (I have device-shoulder symptoms lately) makes me think there is a vocabulary of nodes or topics, topoi, which come up in conversation but are often knotted.  Your method seems well designed to ameliorate these, and I think there may be a larger historical era calling for this.  It would be something like a network-literate set of manners for each node, methods that defer the fight/flight fixity that freezes up the knots.  The nodes roughly correlate to the spheres or disciplines of knowledge, so each discipline would need a conversible network-orientation to be achieved, plus popularly known or at least to those in conversation.  These would be site specific somewhat or situational, so I think your reference to situation is very relevant.

I do think the core method you have of conversation is the key though, say a general network intelligence method, which can be applied to all particular methods and help elucidate them.  For example network genetics, network biology, network dramaturgy, network math, etc.

Thanks for the very interesting article and link,

Max


________________________________
From: NetBehaviour <netbehaviour-bounces at lists.netbehaviour.org><mailto:netbehaviour-bounces at lists.netbehaviour.org> on behalf of Helen Varley Jamieson <helen at creative-catalyst.com><mailto:helen at creative-catalyst.com>
Sent: Wednesday, November 27, 2019 8:40 AM
To: NetBehaviour for networked distributed creativity <netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org><mailto:netbehaviour at lists.netbehaviour.org>
Subject: [NetBehaviour] "Networked Conversations as Activism"


my article "Networked Convesrations as Activism" was recently published in the latest issue of Interact, a portuguese online magazine for art, culture & technology. the article discusses the use of cyberformance and networked conversations to encourage critical thinking & civic engagement. (it's in english).

https://interact.com.pt/30-31/networked-conversations-as-activism/

the theme of the issue (30-31) is art, activism and digital networks, & it also includes a review (in english) of the cyberformance "Letters to the Earth" which we did in april this year (https://interact.com.pt/30-31/letters-to-the-earth/). there are lots of other interesting-looking articles, if you can read portuguese.

h : )

--

helen varley jamieson

helen at creative-catalyst.com<mailto:helen at creative-catalyst.com>
http://www.creative-catalyst.com
http://www.upstage.org.nz

--

helen varley jamieson

helen at creative-catalyst.com<mailto:helen at creative-catalyst.com>
http://www.creative-catalyst.com
http://www.upstage.org.nz
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