Assemblies: Modern Rituals

Pubic Assembly, Spain, 2011
© Foro Social de Segovia

In 2018, the Evens Foundation launched a long-term, cross-disciplinary inquiry into the phenomena of assemblies, bringing together diverse knowledge and practice to explore their potential for re-imagining politics.

Assemblies are ancestral, transcultural ways of coming together as a community. Through the ages, they have embodied the ideas of popular sovereignty and democratic equality. While parliamentary assemblies remain the foundations of many political systems, over the past decades, multiple social movements have reappropriated these forms of collective organization as a prominent component of political struggle. At once a symptom of the distrust of traditional forms of authority and representation, and a reflection of demands for radical democracy, the recent proliferation of assemblies illustrates a growing desire to change the ways in which politics is practiced.

Assembly-making has also regained interest in democratic theory, and has generated a bourgeoning "industry" of participative formats, largely supported by public authorities seeking to reframe public deliberation as another tool of government. One notable outcome of this process is the rise in attempts to improve and standardise deliberative procedures on the basis of a speculative ideal.

Our project takes a different approach: cross-disciplinary, experimental, and critical, our inquiry opens to the diversity of forms and practices of assembly-making across histories and geographies. The project casts light on artistic and political experiments by exploring the material and performative aspects of assembling—its spaces, architectures, technologies, choreographies, habits, and rituals. In doing so, our aim is to examine the lived experiences, the effects, and potentialities of assemblies, as essentially non-governable forms of political life.

Read more about the different phases of the project below.

In 2018, the Evens Foundation launched a long-term, cross-disciplinary inquiry into the phenomena of assemblies, bringing together diverse knowledge and practice to explore their potential for re-imagining politics.

Assemblies are ancestral, transcultural ways of coming together as a community. Through the ages, they have embodied the ideas of popular sovereignty and democratic equality. While parliamentary assemblies remain the foundations of many political systems, over the past decades, multiple social movements have reappropriated these forms of collective organization as a prominent component of political struggle. At once a symptom of the distrust of traditional forms of authority and representation, and a reflection of demands for radical democracy, the recent proliferation of assemblies illustrates a growing desire to change the ways in which politics is practiced.

Assembly-making has also regained interest in democratic theory, and has generated a bourgeoning "industry" of participative formats, largely supported by public authorities seeking to reframe public deliberation as another tool of government. One notable outcome of this process is the rise in attempts to improve and standardise deliberative procedures on the basis of a speculative ideal.

Our project takes a different approach: cross-disciplinary, experimental, and critical, our inquiry opens to the diversity of forms and practices of assembly-making across histories and geographies. The project casts light on artistic and political experiments by exploring the material and performative aspects of assembling—its spaces, architectures, technologies, choreographies, habits, and rituals. In doing so, our aim is to examine the lived experiences, the effects, and potentialities of assemblies, as essentially non-governable forms of political life.

Read more about the different phases of the project below.

Research

Focus on Citizens' Assemblies I An increasingly topical and global phenomenon, citizens' assemblies are formed by a randomly selected representative sample of a country’s population, mandated to draw policies on important political and legal issues. In times of severe social polarisation and distrust in political institutions, public authorities are demonstrating a renewed attention to these formats as tools to restore legitimacy and generate public consent, and indeed for their capacity to defuse or divert from other forms of political mobilisation.

Be they alternatives to traditional policymaking or complements to ageing representative institutions, these forms of participative and deliberative decision-making contain a promising collaborative potential, and are also often likely to be institutionalized. That is why it is important to critically examine their mechanisms, their effects, and their limitations.

In 2018–2020, we conducted in-depth fieldwork when the Evens Foundation was invited to join the group of researchers who observed two major national experiments in deliberative democracy in France: the Grand National Debate (2018), and the Citizens' Convention for Climate (2019–2020).

Our research was informed by conversations with leading international scholars, who joined as our scientific advisors. To conclude this phase, we have attributed the Evens Research Fellowship to political scientist Dimitri Courant (University of Lausanne and University Paris 8). Courant carries out a comparative study of recent European cases of citizens' assemblies, including French and Irish iterations. Unprecedented in terms of scale, these nationwide experiments bring important elements to global research on deliberative democracy.

Courant’s initial empirical analyses has been published in the French review Archives de Philosophie du Droit. The article focuses on the design of these assemblies, the tension between the power of participating citizens, and their control by organisers and experts, as well as the place of these forms of citizen deliberation within democratic systems. Read the article here

Experimentation

New Sites for Assemblies I In 2020, we invited several artists and architects to reinvent forms of assembling by imagining new spaces, scripts, and rituals. Aleksandra Wasilkowska, Markus Miessen, and raumlabor responded to the call—their proposals for new ways of gathering are presented in our forthcoming publication What Makes an Assembly?

In partnership with the Centre Pompidou in Paris, we then decided to launch an experiment through the co-commission of a prototype for a new assembly space.

The Berlin-based collective raumlabor, recipient of the Golden Lion at the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2021, has imagined an open, organic, and utopian form that comes without clear protocol of inhabitation and use. Located in Forum-1 of the Centre Pompidou, Forms of Assembly is a modular and versatile structure that can be used for discussions, lectures, performances, and film nights. It provides an assembly space from May to September 2022, and will be activated later in other contexts and for other events. Read more

Public Engagement

The Publication I What Makes an Assembly? Stories, Experiments, and Inquiries proposes a critical examination of the potential of assemblies to shape political subjects. The book weaves together the anthropological, aesthetic, and political aspects of assembly-making, featuring 25 original essays and conversations with artists, activists, and scholars, as well as 3 architectural experiments specially commissioned for the publication that attempt to imagine models for a future assembly.

From assemblies in Indigenous territories of Brazil to those of the Yellow Vests in France, from medieval communes to street parliaments in Africa, from citizens’ assemblies set up by public authorities to practices forged from emancipatory traditions, What Makes An Assembly? explores the tensions that exist in all assemblies between the need for form and the danger of formalization; between the scripts, rituals, and architectural settings from which they derive, and their capacity to capacity to perform, deform, and transform.

Edited by Anne Davidian and Laurent Jeanpierre.
Co-published by Evens Foundation and Sternberg Press (September 2022).
Read more about the book here. Order the book

Talks & Workshops I A series of events comprised of live public forums, bringing together different fields of knowledge were planned in advance of the outbreak of Covid-19. These cross-disciplinary conversations with artists, architects, activists, historians, philosophers, and social scientists were intended to transform the topic into a matter of public concern and to call for experimentation with these promising forms of collective policy-making. The pandemic put these real-life encounters on hold, and a book emerged as a possible place to host the conversations that we hope will soon continue in other forms, and in other places.

Read below about the past and upcoming public events.

News | 23 June 2022

Talk What Makes an Assembly? at Centre Pompidou, Paris
A conversation with the contributors of our forthcoming publication: architect Markus Bader (co-founder of raumlabor), historian Patrick Boucheron, and political scientist Delphine Gardey. Moderated by the book’s editors, Anne Davidian and Laurent Jeanpierre, the talk was hosted in the new assembly space designed by raumlabor, commissioned and produced by Centre Pompidou and Evens Foundation.

News | 13 April 2019

Raumlabor Workshop at Akademie der Künste, Berlin
Organised in cooperation with architects collective raumlabor, the workshop invited participants to test different scripts and modes of assembling and collective thinking through a series of experiential exercises. Read more

Spaces for Assemblies