Assemblies: Modern Rituals

Pubic Assembly, Spain

The Evens Foundation launched an inquiry bringing together transdisciplinary knowledge and practice to explore the arts of assembly making.

Assemblies are ancestral and transcultural forms of sociality. Through the ages, they have embodied the ideas of popular sovereignty and democratic equality. While some of these forms, such as parliamentary assemblies, remain the foundations of our political systems, in recent decades an impressive movement of popular assemblies across the world, as well as various democratic experiments such as citizens' assemblies, have offered a compelling example of imagining a political community. A symptom of defiance of traditional forms of leadership and representation, and a reflection of the growing demands for radical democracy, the proliferation of assemblies bears witness to the desire to reshape the ways collective and political subjects are formed.

Assembly making has regained interest in democratic theory and generated a nascent "industry" of participative formats. However, many important aspects of a successful assembly remain under-researched, especially on larger scales. Moreover, in-depth transdisciplinary approaches seem to be rare.

Forms of collective intelligence, assemblies are instrumental to explore how our differences, some of them irreconcilable, can enable discussion and generate collective action. Focusing on the conditions for inclusive and egalitarian deliberations, the project aims to deepen the understanding of how we negotiate, debate, or deliberate, and sometimes come to a political compromise between people with widely divergent views.

More specifically, our inquiry questions the epistemic and civic effects of assemblies, the role of emotions and collective affects, as well as the place of conflict and dissensus in deliberative processes. Particular attention is given to the material and performative aspects of assemblies—the spaces, processes, attitudes, rituals and choreographies, exploring the implications of the formats on the knowledge, relations and effects they engender.

While there is a growing ambition to improve and standardise the deliberative procedures, we are committed to supporting experimentation, vital for advancing knowledge. The project invites contributors from a variety of fields such as social science, activism, art, design, and architecture, as well as interested citizens to collaborate and reinvent the forms of assembling. One of the examples of such collaboration is the commissioning of an experimental architecture to host forms of collective gatherings for a major European cultural institution.

A series of public events will accompany the process in order to open the discussion on the conceptual, methodological, and political aspects of assembly making. Our goal is to transform the topic into a matter of public concern and call to invest in the experimentation of these promising forms of collective policymaking.

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

The Evens Foundation launched an inquiry bringing together transdisciplinary knowledge and practice to explore the arts of assembly making.

Assemblies are ancestral and transcultural forms of sociality. Through the ages, they have embodied the ideas of popular sovereignty and democratic equality. While some of these forms, such as parliamentary assemblies, remain the foundations of our political systems, in recent decades an impressive movement of popular assemblies across the world, as well as various democratic experiments such as citizens' assemblies, have offered a compelling example of imagining a political community. A symptom of defiance of traditional forms of leadership and representation, and a reflection of the growing demands for radical democracy, the proliferation of assemblies bears witness to the desire to reshape the ways collective and political subjects are formed.

Assembly making has regained interest in democratic theory and generated a nascent "industry" of participative formats. However, many important aspects of a successful assembly remain under-researched, especially on larger scales. Moreover, in-depth transdisciplinary approaches seem to be rare.

Forms of collective intelligence, assemblies are instrumental to explore how our differences, some of them irreconcilable, can enable discussion and generate collective action. Focusing on the conditions for inclusive and egalitarian deliberations, the project aims to deepen the understanding of how we negotiate, debate, or deliberate, and sometimes come to a political compromise between people with widely divergent views.

More specifically, our inquiry questions the epistemic and civic effects of assemblies, the role of emotions and collective affects, as well as the place of conflict and dissensus in deliberative processes. Particular attention is given to the material and performative aspects of assemblies—the spaces, processes, attitudes, rituals and choreographies, exploring the implications of the formats on the knowledge, relations and effects they engender.

While there is a growing ambition to improve and standardise the deliberative procedures, we are committed to supporting experimentation, vital for advancing knowledge. The project invites contributors from a variety of fields such as social science, activism, art, design, and architecture, as well as interested citizens to collaborate and reinvent the forms of assembling. One of the examples of such collaboration is the commissioning of an experimental architecture to host forms of collective gatherings for a major European cultural institution.

A series of public events will accompany the process in order to open the discussion on the conceptual, methodological, and political aspects of assembly making. Our goal is to transform the topic into a matter of public concern and call to invest in the experimentation of these promising forms of collective policymaking.

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

Focus on Citizens' Assemblies

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, these formats are increasingly considered by public authorities as tools to restore legitimacy, generate public consent, and sometimes divert from and defuse 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 likely to be institutionalised. That is why it is important to critically examine their mechanisms, effects, benefits, and limits.

In the framework of the Assemblies: Modern Rituals project, 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: the French Great National Debate, the Citizens’ Convention for the Climate, and the Irish Citizens’ Assembly. Unprecedented in terms of scale, these nationwide experiments bring important elements to global research on deliberative democracy.

First empirical analyses by Courant have 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 the control by the organisers and experts, as well as the place of these forms of citizen deliberation in our democratic systems. Read the article here

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 experiential exercises, we tested different modes of assemblies and collective thinking. Read more