Assemblies: Modern Rituals

Pubic Assembly, Spain

The Evens Foundation launched a research and experimentation project dedicated to assemblies as forms of collective action. Unique in its ambition, the project aims to bring cross disciplinary knowledge and practice around a common question: how can we form political communities ?

People assemble because they are divided by matters of concern and want to come to some kind of provisional (dis)agreement. An assembly thus is a place where a plurality comes to think and act together.

But how do we negotiate, debate or deliberate, and sometimes come to a political compromise between people with widely divergent views ? How can our differences – some of them irreconcilable – enable discussion and engender solutions for collectively-faced challenges ?

The project focuses on essential yet under-explored aspects of a successful collective deliberation, by building on the knowledge of social scientists, activists, designers, architects and artists, who have researched and experimented on the instrumental forms of being together at the core of assembly making.

Through the ages, public assemblies have embodied the ideas of popular sovereignty and democratic equality. In times of severe social polarisation and distrust in political institutions, they are increasingly considered by public authorities as tools to restore political legitimacy and generate public consent.

Be they alternatives to traditional policymaking, or complements to our ageing representative institutions, these forms of participative policymaking contain a promising collaborative potential and are likely to be institutionalised. That is why it is important to critically examine their mechanisms, effects, benefits and limits.

This task has become a democratic challenge, encouraging us to rethink the forms of civic dialogue and contribute to the revival of emancipatory democratic practices.

The Evens Foundation launched a research and experimentation project dedicated to assemblies as forms of collective action. Unique in its ambition, the project aims to bring cross disciplinary knowledge and practice around a common question: how can we form political communities ?

People assemble because they are divided by matters of concern and want to come to some kind of provisional (dis)agreement. An assembly thus is a place where a plurality comes to think and act together.

But how do we negotiate, debate or deliberate, and sometimes come to a political compromise between people with widely divergent views ? How can our differences – some of them irreconcilable – enable discussion and engender solutions for collectively-faced challenges ?

The project focuses on essential yet under-explored aspects of a successful collective deliberation, by building on the knowledge of social scientists, activists, designers, architects and artists, who have researched and experimented on the instrumental forms of being together at the core of assembly making.

Through the ages, public assemblies have embodied the ideas of popular sovereignty and democratic equality. In times of severe social polarisation and distrust in political institutions, they are increasingly considered by public authorities as tools to restore political legitimacy and generate public consent.

Be they alternatives to traditional policymaking, or complements to our ageing representative institutions, these forms of participative policymaking contain a promising collaborative potential and are likely to be institutionalised. That is why it is important to critically examine their mechanisms, effects, benefits and limits.

This task has become a democratic challenge, encouraging us to rethink the forms of civic dialogue and contribute to the revival of emancipatory democratic practices.

Phase 1 | Research

Focusing on the central concerns of a global research on democratic innovation, our inquiry examines the conditions for inclusive and egalitarian deliberations and the emergence of collective intelligence. The purpose is to deepen understanding of epistemic and civic benefits of assemblies, the role of emotions and collective affects, as well as the place of conflict and dissensus in the deliberative processes.

In addition, project investigates the forms of assemblies and the relation between the spaces, architectures, choreographies, (in)formal interactions and the knowledge and effects they produce.

Currently, we commissioned researchers to study real-life contemporary cases that are unprecedented in terms of scale: French nationwide experiments, the National Great Debate and the Citizens’ Convention for the Climate, in a comparative perspective with the Irish Citizens’ Assembly. More research assignments will be added alongside the development of the project.

Phase 2 | Experimentations

An increasingly topical and global phenomenon, assembly making generated a nascent "industry" that builds on relatively recent research in democratic theory. Many of our oldest democracies, for exemple, started experimenting with citizen assemblies where a representative sample of a country’s population is mandated to draw policies on important political and legal issues.

However, due to the fact that these assemblies are often organized by public authorities with high political stakes at play, the margins for experimentation – vital for advancing knowledge – are being constantly reduced. Many important aspects of a successful assembly remain under-researched, especially on larger scales. Moreover, in depth interdisciplinary approaches are almost inexistent.

We plan to design and organise assemblies where social scientists, practitioners, artists and other interested citizens will jointly work to develop forms and protocols for experimentations. We are discussing opportunities to carry out this phase in partnership with grassroots movements or political institutions.

These experimentations will be studied by researchers and results will be widely disseminated, in particular among organisers, in order to enrich our knowledge of assembly making.

Phase 3 | Public Outreach

The project builds bridges between academia, civil society and politics through a series of public events. Researchers and practitioners will be offered the opportunity to share thinking and practice, by discussing conceptual, methodological and political aspects of assembly making. These public events also aim at transforming the topic into a matter of public concern and calling scientists, policymakers and citizens to invest into experimentation and innovation of these promising forms of collective policymaking.

A dedicated publication (The Assembly Book) will gather the state of knowledge on assembly making.

News | 13 April 2019

Workshop Spaces for Assemblies at Akademie der Künste, Berlin
Organised in cooperation with architects collective raumlaborberlin, the workshop invited participants to explore and bring into being spaces for assemblies. Through a series of embodied exercises, we tested different modes of assemblies and decision-making processes. Read more