[iDC] The Social Machine of Events

Danny Butt db at dannybutt.net
Mon Feb 6 22:09:54 EST 2006

> Just three questions, of course whitout ignoring everything from the
> somnolent accademic athmosphere :

Those are pretty good questions.

Genres, formats, and structures for gatherings are a relic from a  
previous era. What isn't? But anyone with facilitation experience  
knows that unstructured environments favour those with social and  
cultural capital.  So it becomes more interesting to examine instead  
a *demographic* consistency among those who call for an suppression  
of conference convention in the name of "openness" - we/they are  
often people quite at home being very active on e-mail lists, for  
example, and share similar biases around willingness to speak, what  
we see as important interaction, what conversations feel like they're  
"getting somewhere" (often, unsurprisingly, ones where we get to  
talk) etc.. I've become so used to formal "openness" being a cover  
for substantive epistemological and cultural homogeneity. I have to  
manually stop myself assuming that any group applying open-source  
derived philosophy to organisational structures will have the gender  
and ethnic composition of those who respond to surveys on free  
software. While I think in the arts and the academy we're a little  
more socialised, the stats are still fairly numbing.


Genre is a good way of thinking about group interaction. Some days  
you want to see video art, other days a chick flick is the ticket.  
One of the useful things about conference structures is that as a  
genre they provide a shared set of expectations, for better and  
worse, and most people are fairly used to assessing people against  
those expectations. This also becomes the basis for shared  
interaction and experience ("such and such was terrible", "read their  
paper", "great visuals"). Exchange already happens at events, even  
boring ones - at lunch, dinner, the bar etc. I see a lot of value in  
those remaining informal, because the *practical* benefit of such  
exchange is in ongoing interaction after the event is over. So I  
guess I am in favour of 2-hour lunches ;). I like interviews as much  
as anyone, but the quasi-Socratic idea that real-time verbal back and  
forth in front of an audience is the best way to advance everyone's  
knowledge needs some serious questioning: how do we really know that  
more interaction is better? It depends on the context and the  
composition of the group, and the "cultures of performance" that  
exist within them. For example, I prefer the 20 minute paper to the  
10 minute speech disguised as a question. There is a specific set of  
hierarchies in the high-interaction structure, but are also people  
whose contributions are better with more time to develop - and this  
means less people getting to present. That seems to work better in  
the art context, whereas I prefer my activists punchy and to the  
point (and a more combative form suits lol).

I'm not trying to suggest that rethinking the conference format is a  
waste of time, but just suggesting that  1) we need to pay attention  
to formal and informal dynamics at work and whose interests they  
serve; and 2) we be skeptical about our ability to generate  
structures that are egalitarian, as the historical record among  
collectives and communities is a pretty patchy one. For Cultural  
Futures in December, I found it useful that we were able to operate  
in a space (the marae) that had its own history and rules of  
interaction, a genre that was not available for us to reinvent. It  
had its own problems, but it was a different experience because the  
protocol was very different to the conference form, but had also been  
road tested over a few hundred years so we sort of knew what kind of  
dialogue was likely to take place. I guess a comparative ethnography  
of event structures would be a good resource. And this discussion has  
been as well - thanks Trebor and all!


Danny Butt
db at dannybutt.net | http://www.dannybutt.net
Suma Media Consulting | http://www.sumamedia.com
Private Bag MBE P145, Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand
Ph: +64 21 456 379 | Fx: +64 21 291 0200

On 03/02/2006, at 5:35 AM, liz at no-log.org wrote:

> Hello,
> Just three questions, of course whitout ignoring everything from the
> somnolent accademic athmosphere :
> Is the need for exchanges in the context of art/media conference  
> respond
> to the one of building a social ground when travelling a lot ?
> Is the banning of a classical model for conference creates a situation
> where disagreement is not possible anymore while being present  
> implicitly
> involves participating to a collective production ?
> Does the productivity of exchange bring to a formal self-sufficient
> activity ?
> b

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