SSSP Annual Meeting, Identity Movements, and Political Education

Attending the SSSP annual meeting last week was really useful.   I got some help ideas on how to present and structure my own research presentations (i.e. focus on theory and design, connect the two).  I still need to go through the various notes from the conference and pull them into a more cohesive memo.  Perhaps that is what I will do later this week.  There were several literatures referenced that I think would be useful moving forward with my dissertation.  Specifically:

  • community empowerment (reference Krista et a paper in community org and prob session)
  • political education
  • worker education
  • community efficacy
  • life stories of social change folks
  • women’s movement and consciousness raising
  • identity movements (black power, chicano, LBGT)

In many ways youth organizing is very similar to other identity movements where groups or individuals have found themselves without power or voice.  While age is the defining characteristic, this group does not have political power.  So this is more similar to the fight against slavery and the abolitionists.  In some ways this is a different sort of paper here.

What seems to be a key thing to thing about is how personal transformation can lead to political change.  I really need to read the Beyond Resistance book and make more time for reading about some of these things more clearly.

It also occurred to me that there may be additional insights to youth political engagement by looking at the worker education movement and efforts for popular education especially around political education.  I should work now to bring these literatures into my work.

Politics of the Interpersonal

I’m transcribing the interview with JA that I conducted back in December as part of my dissertation research.  As she talks about her service learning class’s work with a middle schoolers at a pilot school, she brings up the concept of “politics of the interpersonal.”  The idea that folks may not become political activists in the traditional sense, but rather a consciousness about power and the cultivating of empathy and empowerment can lead individuals to transform their relationships with other.  So why individuals may not join political campaigns or large social movements, they may treat their children, family members and co-workers differently.  This idea of micro changes combined with macro efforts can have large effects.

In the interview she talks about positive youth development not really addressing the larger social or systemic forces.  At the same time, social justice approaches may not bring in the individual aspects either.  For her, the idea of community youth development seems to combine these micro and marco levels and are guided by social action.

In many ways, this is what the work Peter is engaged in is about.  By working on the processes of individual and group interaction we can change how individuals think and engage in research, their community and the world.  So it seems to me, I should bring these more subtle aspects into my interviews and perspectives.  This makes me think I should read a bit more into the literatures of “social action,” “group dynamics,” and “human development.”  I may find some new ideas to add here that could be useful to thinking about these dynamics.

It also occurred to me that I could use some of the processes and tools from Peter’s workshops for use with TCS project.  “Future Ideal,” “Daily Writing,” “Dialogue Process,” “Story Circles,” and other elements might help here.  I should familiarize myself with more of these tools via the book Peter is working on about research and engagement processes –

Local governments engaging citizens

Just finished reading Lee Worden’s rundown of the Woods Hole workshop and interestingly I dreamt last night of a group using workshop processes for engagement.  I also had a conversation with Walter last night that triggered the dilemma faced by many local governments and their inability to engaged the public.  What is it about these environments that make this so difficult?  Thinking on the collaborative knowledge workshop I wonder if it has something to do with unequal power arrangements or perhaps it is about lacking the models and capacity for engagement.  There is also the tricky problem of managing conflict or finding oneself in position of competing publics around directions and ideas.  This sort of problem can create political risks for those in local government.  I wonder if this is part of the problem.

The other part of the problem may a solution-oriented mindset the precludes individuals from seeking out new information or engaging with others as a means to seek out new information.  The pressure to perform and realize concrete products may also be at the crux of this issue.  I should talk to Rebecca M. A bit more and see what her thinking on this is.  This seems like the root of a new research project.  What are the strategies that local governments use to engage citizens in decision making process?  To what extend are these process truly participatory and to what extent do citizens feel engaged?  I could start by dong a comparison of all MA municipalities and look at some sort of activity that they all engage in.  Rebecca looked at economic development policies, but what are other policies?  I could focus on arts or creative economy policies?  I could look at local cultural councils or fire departments or police departments or some other municipal government office.  I already have a sense of the forms of municipal government and have some basic data as a result of the PILOT project.

What are the most likely ways in which municipal governments will want to engaged the community in decisions.  Planning and development seems like the most likely area, but then again I’d need to do some more research here and think about the kind of variation I’d be looking for.  This would be research project number three and I’d definitely need to start with some literature to see what is out there.

Role and place in sociopolitical development

Trying to work out how the mechanics of my interviews will progress while at the same time fretting a bit about the slow progress in things getting started.  As long as I get the adult interviews completed by June to mid-July, I should be good.  I’m starting to worry a bit about how this is all gong to get done.  I need to spent time each week keeping my mind focused on the dissertation research and coming to insights about the orgs.   Mapping my time commitments should help here.  If I think just about Organization A and Organization B the two environments seem very different.  Organization A is a housing organization that has long-time tenant involvement and youth who regularly come to the center to hang.  Some of these youth have come to the site for years.  Organization B has youth that come from all over the city and are engaged for intensive summer sessions.  They appear to have very specific consciousness raising activities.  Organization B is more formalized in its operations and demonstrates a greater deal of organizational capacity.  Both organizations have been in operations for some time.

It would seem that the youth at these two centers would have very different outcomes in terms of thinking about their roles.  I wonder if Organization A’s youth would have a greater sense of belonging and connection to the organization.  If they would feel part of things and would Organization B’s youth feel as though they went through an eye-opening experience?  How might each of these environments shape the youth.  As for Organization C, a jobs and environmental conservancy organization, youth seem to come to this organization in the capacity of a summer job.  It would seem that youth would come to an understanding of things through practice and contact with adults who are contributing their time.

So this makes me think about the role of employment.  S said that LTC provided her with opportunities for growth.  The stability of the job made this learning possible.  A number of teens at Organization A are hired on as teen staffers.  How does this employment signal a believe in the young person?  What sort of confidence, if any, comes from employment?  So these two categories of place and role might be worthwhile to explore a bit further.  I really need to start transcribing the three recordings that I have.

Today’s not the day

Not quite sure where my mind is at this morning.  All of those daily tasks are starting to rush back in and it is indeed difficult to get focused on reflective writing.  Creating space for such activities so easily falls to the bottom of the list.  Yet in a place like the NewSSC these practices became quite natural because they were scheduled into the day.  They were officially part of the day.  In some ways, I wonder if this should be the very first activity that I take on for the day.  Before any other routine task.  I say this because at the moment I am finding my mind drifting to other things that “need” to get done.  Mundane things like clean the house, sort through papers, etc.  I’ve started to put these writing up on line.  Not in a very public location, but in a location where I can refer to them and perhaps refer others to them.  I should consider putting the Woods Hole and Arouca posts up there as well.

HUD has new funding available for dissertations.  I am wondering if I can spin my research to be read as a community development exercise.  I definitely think that communities could think more solidly about how to create inclusive and participatory settings.  These in turn could inform how individuals transform their communities.  How do we create “open spaces” within the context of our urban landscapes?  How do we express value for individual contributions to creating thriving city environments?  I should read more widely in this area.

I definitely have a lesser quality post here.  I guess I need to get into a more meditated mindset.  Actually set myself up and get myself going.  But hey, at least I got myself going.

Organizational features for individual and collective goals

Referencing the Burning Man, the idea of collectivist and bureaucratic processes that run from under-organized to over-organized is again thinking about how individuals relate to larger societal and group goals or processes.  I’m not sure I totally agree with how Chu is defining “collectivist” and she seems to combine a number if disparate practices into one category.  A bureaucracy has much more clarity.  I suppose the task would be to do some research or make an inquiry into definitions of “collective” and “bureaucracy”.  So my schema would have a matrix that was about individual and collective goal and the degree to which these goals are prioritized. Or perhaps upon further thinking it is about thinking not about these two definitions but rather a series of differentiating features such that realize themselves in organizational forms such as individual agency, collective will, levels of constraint.

This brings back my thinking from the last days that relating to emerging new organizational forms.  So what would an ideal organizational form look like?  Here are some possible features:

  1. Individuals can easily move in and out of the organization
  2. Individuals have a good deal of flexibility in what skills, knowledge and commitment they bring to the table
  3. Individuals are able to grow new skills, expand knowledge, and increase commitment
  4. Group goals are clearly articulated and individuals are encouraged to engage in the realization of these goals
  5. Group goals are presented as a way for individuals to belong, contribute, and create meaning.
  6. Groups create a mechanism by which individuals are brought into meaningful connection with others.
  7. Facilitators work to ensure that both group and individual goals are met and that the organizational space is maintained as an “open environment”
  8. Values, practices / routines, and norms act as the primary bonding agents and could serve as boundary objects connecting them to other groups.

Individual vs. collective — the life trajectory

So, I am thinking about Rita’s suggestion that I should write down my thoughts and experiences related to the various groups I’ve been involved in and the lessons I’ve learned about group processes and dynamics.  Perhaps by doing this, I would come to some understanding of how to craft environments that are most conducive to individual and collective learning.  During Peter’s seminar / workshops presentation yesterday, it was clear to me that these “open spaces” not only needed to support and grow individual creativity, exploration, reflection, discussion and clarity, but that these spaces should also allow individuals to connect to larger group processes and shared collective goals by creating a sense of ownership, belonging and contribution.  These are the ideas reflected in the writings of Rousseau about civic and public spaces allowing individuals to see how their own individual interests can be connected to the interests of others and larger publics.

I was also reading Walter’s “life story” which in essence is his autobiographical sketch and that in many ways these past experiences have shaped how Walter has come to think about the 119.  If Mary Ann were to do a similar sketch, how would that combine?  What about others at the 119?  From a series of sketches, could we come to understand hoindividuals move in and out of the space and where the intersections might be.  The idea of spaces being these dances in reverse is interesting.  That we come in and out of space to learn, grow, contribute, connect.  I think I should also follow up with the “Kindness in Work” ( website as well.

This idea that “open spaces” serve goals at the individual, group, and social goods and goals.  I was working out yesterday how Durkheim, Weber and Marx tried to map out the shifting relationship between individuals and the larger society during the transition to a modern industrialized form.  As we have moved toward the fragmentation of post-modern and now the reconnection as part of a global society what are the needs of individuals?  The needs of groups?  How does collective action occur?  What does such action require?  What happens when individuals no longer find meaning in institutions (i.e. the state, the church, the workplace)?  What happens when we all become free agents?  Yet the impulses to reconnect, to belong, to contribute, to find meaning is strong.  At the same time, imperatives for individual meaning, exploration and fulfillment prevail.  So we need to ignite individual passions and motivations.

Also, what was it that made me breakdown yesterday?  In part it is the memory of my parents and their loss.  But also, it is my core belief that so many people need support and spaces where they are valued and can belong.  They need spaces that allow their ideas to flourish and prevail.  I think my work at LTC is most reflective of this.

I think I should go back and create an intersecting process map of my life trajectory. Where my personal relationship, work, and intellectual paths are the main components.  I would need to add in key points of reference as well.  I did this once and found that I had these retraces.  I would help to do this again.

Working out research tasks

So what should I be writing about?  The two main projects I have on my mind at the moment are my dissertation and this emerging research around the self-organizing groups and the challenges of growing and sustaining such organizations. At this point, the dissertation is a set of routine tasks that need to be completed and as I go along new ideas and thinking added.  In terms of the self-organizing project, what is it that I have to accomplish?

Well, an initial literature review would help.  I think I might be able to have Matt work on that during his summer internship.  He has 10 hours a week for 12 or 13 weeks.  That is a120 hours or so.  The literature review stuff should take about 40-60 hours.  He will also want to come to a couple of 119 Gallery board meetings and I may have him do an analysis of some things I have for my dissertation research.

I am also thinking that I will test out the ED interview questions for my dissertation on Jessica.  I want to use the autobiographical sketch exercises with this.  So could she spend 10-15 minutes doing that and I’ll then need to go back and look at the other questions I have.  For instance, talking about the dynamics of the funding, board interactions, staff interactions, interactions with youth, vision for future.  What are the challenges the organization is currently facing, etc . . . . depending on how that goes, we will see.

So what am I bringing from this workshop back into my own work?  Certainly the idea that collaboration in any environment is indeed a difficult thing.

If I were to design a research study on the 119 Gallery what would it look like?  I think more of a grounded theory / ethnographic / participant observation type of endeavor.  I would want to know how does a group like the 119 accomplish its goals and are there lessons to be learned that could inform larger scale environments that have a common goods production aspect to them?  What is the key question then?  Or is it that I am more interested in the lessons learned by individuals within such environments about their roles as active participants in their own lives?  The idea would be to talk to selection of people or maybe as many people as I can and see what issue arise out of those interviews.  Perhaps I can enlist others in doing this.  So what would I ask?

An autobiographical sketch and also the narrative exercise from Woods Hole.  What were you doing and what was your life like before you first started to get involved in the 119?  How did they first hear about the gallery and how did they become involved?  How long have they been involved?  What sort of things have you done here? If you were to think about yourself contributing to the space and its community, what do you bring?  What is it you get?  Can you tell me about one of your best moment here?  How about something that was really challenging?

Ok so now I have a beginning set of questions that are really about how folks grow and develop, etc.

So what about a sampling strategy?  First let’s see about roles – past and present — “board members”, event organizers, artists (musicians, exhibitors, performers), audience members (from guest list).  Survey about general perception of the 119 Gallery and what it does.  This would be anonymous and sent to – Facebook fans, Constant Contact folks, selection of city leaders, funders, etc. . . . Go through old website materials as well as board materials, and other things to reconstruct the space.

I am mostly concerned with the organization during its existence at 119 Chelmsford Street.  I should also place the Gallery within the context of larger collectivist art movements and the growing interest in “creative” economy.  I am wonder if I could have Matt do a search and literature review on this.  I also wonder if he might do some searching on small, community-based arts organization and think about designing a survey that could be sent to them related to their management challenges.  I could show him the NCCS database and we could request datafiles and then seek organizations in the arts and culture category with budgets of under a certain amount.  How would we capture very small organizations?  Perhaps those who only filed a 990-N?  I think Matt might find this to be of interest.

Creating and equalizing power

My conversation with Rita yesterday about her vision and intents for the research group makes me realize how one individual with a desire to transform a workplace can have real impact.  My conversation with Nelson also solidified for me how working at the individual and small group level can really have concrete impacts in the transformation of individual lives and subsequently larger social environments.  Education and training in new processes for working and living can have ripple effects.

Also I am beginning to understand Peter’s desire to create spaces that allow individuals maximum space for their own creative and exploratory processes.  By creating space for individual knowledge and creativity, do we then create environments that allow for more individuals to be actors and agents in their own journey’s?  In some ways, these workshops seem almost like therapy for group and institutional environments that have closed down these impulses.

I am also wondering why it is that I am experiencing some inner tension and stress.  I clearly have to work through my issues with authority and my inclination towards subservience that are highly detrimental to my own sense of confidence.  What is it that is causing me to be in tension?  I think some of it is my own misinterpretations or readings of things said.  I am doubting my own intelligence and knowledge.  Why is that?  I struggle with some of these concepts.  I too often present my language as certainties.  What is that about?  I often feel like such a dullard when Peter is explaining things as though my mind simply can’t grasp what is going on.  Is part of the issue that I’m tired.  I think there is part of me that still feels like that tween who was told she could be part of things and felt that there were too many controls in her life.

So what does this mean for collaborative knowledge?  I suppose that for all to be present and participating in such environments, that those who feel less confident or weaker need to be supported.  They also need to have the space to develop and present their own ideas and voices.  They need to feel safe and have trust in others and they need to be comfortable in having ideas battled and challenged.

Power, autonomy, and control

So what is it that I’m going to focus on today?  Well it seems to me that to think about collaboration and working with others that that initial connection has to be made.  I am also thinking about power dynamics within collaborative environments.  The LCTC worked in part because LTC had resource and there was an expectation of working together as a condition of the grant.  So I wonder, would folks have worked with us if we did not have the opportunity control the funds?  My feeling is that the collaboration may still have worked.  We had begun to meet because we individually needed support in our work and found that working together helped that.  We shared similar goals and missions.   That idea of negotiation and compromise that Daniel was talking about seems to be a good way to talk about tension and conflict.  What do you need to have in place for good negotiation to happen?  Daniel and I had started to talk about power dynamics.  What else is required?  Perhaps literature on dispute and conflict negotiation as well as mediation might help here.

Again ideas of autonomy and control arise.  Those with little autonomy and no authority may find themselves in positions that constrain their ability to act.  When I think about the 119 Gallery and the issues we have attempted to resolve in trying to make different parts of the mission work, it seems to me that we have spent a lot of time on communication.  I know that I often play the role of “mediator” or “negotiator”, but also the tensions that arise are often about conflicts in procedure or systems.  These are easily resolved by looking for a common solution.  However, there have been times when the priorities for each program feel at odds with the others.  Here I am thinking about the art work that was damaged.  It took a lot of discussion on this one, with several solutions happening including a change in the performance programming.  I know seems as though these two area work much more smoothly together.