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This thread is part of the online component of the Occupy-Commons strategy conversation at the OWS Forum on the Commons in New York, February 16-18, 2012 described here.
Theory making (in Appreciative Inquiry) “refers to a theory of intentional collective action, designed to evolve the vision and will of a group, organization, or society as a whole. It is an inquiry process that affirms our symbolic capacities of imagination and mind as well as our social capacity for conscious choice and cultural evolution…”
“Social theory is therefore a communal creation. Social knowledge is not ‘out there’ to be discovered, rather it is created, maintained and put to use by the human group…” (David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva)
What these quotes tell us is that the development of a theory of collective action is too important to leave to the theoreticians. It is an affair of all us, given that we are all what Gramsci called “organic intellectuals“. But why should we bother? Why should we get involved with it? What can a good social theory do for a social movement? According to Cooperrider and Srivastva, there are five things they can do for us:
1. Establishing a conceptual and contextual frame. Theory acts as a device that subtly focuses attention on particular phenomena or meanings while obscuring others. As with a new lens, a new theory allows one to see the world in ways never before imagined.
2. Shaping expectations of cause and effect. Theories help shape common expectations of causality, sequence, and relational importance. By attributing causality, theories have the potential to create the very phenomena they propose to explain.
3. Transmitting a system of values. Social theory is infused with values. Every social theory facilitates the pursuit of some, but not all, courses of action. We would be better off to abandon the myth of value-free science, and to accept theoretical work as a very human enterprise.
4. Creating a group-building language. The invitation to inquiry makes theory an actual shaper of society. Knowledge of a social system can be used to change the system itself. This phenomenon, made possible through language, invites us to actively participate in the creation of our world by generating compelling theories about what is good, just, and desirable in social existence.
5. Extending visions of possibility or constraint. Theories gain their generative capacity by extending visions that expand our sense of the possible. Theories designed to empower organized social systems will tend to have a greater effect than theories of human constraint. The vision becomes a common vision to the extent that it ignites the imaginations, hopes and passions of others through the articulation of ideals which lend meaning and significance to everyday life.”
To develop together a Commons-inspired Occupy theory of collective action, we need to envision strategy as a practice-led social theory of collective action, which provokes such questions as:
- What interaction between “thinking” and “doing” is needed?
- How can OWS foster a politics of the commons? Or a politics AS commons?
- What kind of organizational forms, actions, structures, etc. can help us to build the commons (or from the commons) in political work and action? How would, or do they look like?
- What does “political work”, “political action” and “political thought” mean from the standpoint of the commons?
- How would a movement of the commons look like? Is OWS that movement?
- How can Occupy occupy the strategy space and equip itself with the organizational, material and intellectual resources it needs for helping the 99% win?
- How can those interested to learn thinking together better, faster, and more strategically, form and benefit from a strategy-focused knowledge commons?
(Questions 1-5 were offered by Vicente Rubio.)
Do the above questions speak to you? What is your question?
What do you think, where should we start exploring them?