As the old comic book exclamation goes… ‘It’s Alive…!’ And the aliveness of the Decidim community in Barcelona made itself known loud and clear during my fieldwork experience. ‘It’s Alive!’ is now the first of the storytelling devices I am using to both analyse and share the research. It started with ‘the sound of the hive’ [of the Decidim office] ringing in my ears after leaving Barcelona, and it’s still going. This sense of aliveness is now guiding me through an exploration of how collective intelligence works in Decidim.Barcelona and related tecnopolitical networks.
The Sound of the Hive
I had been embedded in the Decidim.Barcelona office and community for a month, video-recording office and community life, as well as carrying out interviews. And when I left Barcelona, I found ‘The Sound of the Hive’ [of Decidim] clearly ringing in my ears – like the imprint remaining on your retina when you close your eyes after staring at an image for a long time. So, I knew I had to follow and capture that, and started thinking through how the material recorded during fieldwork would articulate it too.
This produced a short experimental piece on ‘The Sound of the Hive’ [El Sonido de la Colmena] – as the medium is video (both audio and visual) this ended up exploring what the hive looks like as well as what it sounds like. This led onto a longer more organic piece on ‘The Hive of Decidim’ as a whole [La Colmena de Decidim] (to be published soon). For me, editing video material is a kind of testing process whereby I can work out constituent elements of a whole, including the inter-relationships between the elements.
Aliveness creating more aliveness
Getting to know Decidim.Barcelona is like getting to know a whole ecosystem of communities and networks, each with their own kind of life, and all of the interconnections and relationships between them have their own life too. Some fall under the umbrella of Decidim.Barcelona, others overlap with Decidim.Barcelona, while others may have a much more indirect relationship with Decidim.Barcelona.
In particular, Decidim.Barcelona relies on certain tecnopolitical networks, municipalist movements, and a general associative culture that generates countless interconnected associations, collectives, platforms and public assemblies (from historical street festival organising committees, food distribution during Covid, housing platforms, to a broader capacity to meet, discuss and organise in public) (1). Explicit in the structure of Decidim.Barcelona is MetaDecidim, the community and governance structure of Decidim.Barcelona – MetaDecidim co-creates and makes decisions about how Decidim.Barcelona works and develops.
To understand this in a bigger picture way, I think it helps to see this as a set of interconnected collective intelligences… with an organic capacity to connect people and groups on different scales…. where each collective intelligence works in its own way according to the context… and there is a capacity for one live collective intelligence to create another live collective intelligence. Aliveness creating more aliveness. This reproductive capacity for one collective intelligence to generate another may help specify (a) what aliveness means in this context and (b) what makes the Decidim.Barcelona community a functioning collective intelligence.
Putting flesh on the bones of this reproductive capacity – for example – it seems the collective intelligence of tecnopolitical networks co-created and continues to co-create the collective intelligence of Decidim.Barcelona. This fits with what I have observed, plus comments from interviews and discussions. For example, the idea that ‘Decidim Barcelona grew out of Tecnopolitica’s soil, even if some seeds came from the outside’ (Antonio Calleja, 2020), illustrated by this drawing below:
The nuts and bolts of how tecnopolitical networks co-created Decidim.Barcelona will be told in the Storytelling thread of ‘Changing the world for real’. Here, in this thread ‘It’s Alive…!’, we are focusing more on the conceptual and sensorial dimensions of the Decidim.Barcelona collective being.
Who are the Storytellers?
Classic authors in the collective intelligence universe have long placed a self-reproductive capacity at the centre of collective cognition. In particular, the work of Maturana and Varela (1973) on autopoiesis is a landmark in the understanding of self-producing systems (Wikipedia: The term autopoiesis (from Greek αὐτo- (auto-), meaning ‘self’, and ποίησις (poiesis), meaning ‘creation, production’) refers to a system capable of reproducing and maintaining itself). More recently, Escobar (2008) has drawn on Maturana and Varela in developing ideas on complexity in social movements – noting that complexity and complexity theory are a key entry point into collective intelligence.
Personally, I have concerns about the Maturana and Varela approach applied to society. The problem is that ‘self regulating systems’ can be used to justify a survival of the fittest approach – for example, the idea that Covid-19 is ‘nature’s way of balancing out human sins’. The ‘Blood and Culture’ Cornerhouse briefing is one of the best references I know towards understanding how a greeny Gaian systems theory approach can prop up right-wing/authoritarian politics. Not only the section explicitly on Gaian sociobiology but also the context of The Cornerhouse project itself. As noted at the beginning of the briefing, the author Nicholas Hildyard ‘worked at The Ecologist from 1972-97, assuming the journal’s editorship (with others) from 1990-1997. In 1997, political differences with the magazine’s founder, Edward Goldsmith, over ethnicity and gender issues led Hildyard and the rest of the editorial team to leave and to set up The Corner House.’ More notes on left-right political slippage through the portals of green-ness, decentralisation and libertarianism here, here and in references section below.
Therefore, going forward, given collective intelligence, aliveness and some form of reproductive capacity are all key to my research, I have to make a proactive effort to head off any slippage into ‘survival of the fittest’ or essentialist mentalities. Another reason why the intersectional approach is so necessary in this research project – integrated into the project by asking ‘Who are the Storytellers?’.
More later.. for now the caring responsibilities of confinement during Covid19 are taking me away from this screen…
(1) Based on my previous experience of living in Barcelona, in addition to fieldwork, interviews and ongoing research.
+info and references
The White Paper of Decidim
A brief overview: https://docs.decidim.org/whitepaper/en/decidim-a-brief-overview/
Full document download: https://metadecidim.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/decidim/attachment/file/2005/White_Paper.pdf
Arturo Escobar (2008). Territories of Difference. Place, movements, life, redes. Duke University Press, US.
Harry Halpin – Foundations of the Philosophy of Collective Intelligence
Marutana and Varela (1972). Autopoiesis and Cognition. Reidel, London.
Javier Toret, Datanalysis15M, Antonio Calleja-López, Pablo Aragón, Oscar Marín Miró, Alberto Lumbreras, Miguel Aguilera (2013). Tecnopolítica: la potencia de las multitudes conectadas. El sistema red 15M, un nuevo paradigma de la política distribuida.
Technopolitics: the potential of connected multitudes. The 15M network-system as a new paradigm of distributed politics. Summary in English of Toret et al., 2013.
Greeny Political Slipperiness and Eco-Facism
Nicholas Hildyard (1999) “Blood and “Culture. Ethnic Conflict and the Authoritarian Right”
Seminal piece from The Corner House signposting “Gaian Sociobiology” and the little known story of how – back in 1997 – the Ecologist magazine’s editorial team left following political differences with the magazine’s founder, Edward Goldsmith, over ethnicity and gender issues. The entire editorial team left to set up The Corner House.
Barbrook, Richard and Andy Cameron (2014). “The Californian Ideology”.
Another seminal piece on the left-right political slipperiness of eco-tech utopianism spawning both hippie communes and Silicon Valley, and “simultaneously advocating the New Left utopia of the electronic agora and the New Right’s vision of the electronic marketplace.”
Curtis, Adam (2011). “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace” TV Series. BBC programme information: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b011lvb9
Episode 1 “Love and Power”: https://vimeo.com/groups/96331/videos/80799353
Episode 2 “The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts”: https://vimeo.com/groups/96331/videos/80799352
Episode 3 The Monkey in the Machine and the Machine in the Monkey: link not found
A current example of eco-facism in action is the population narrative in the film ‘Planet of the Humans’ (2020). Critique of the film here.