The Evens Foundation has launched a research and experimentation project dedicated to assemblist practices and the conditions for collective decision-making, aiming to contribute to the revival of emancipatory democratic processes.
We assemble because we are divided by matters of concern and want to come to some kind of provisional (dis)agreement. 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 ?
Building both on deliberative and agonistic theories, our inquiry seeks to explore how we can form a political community. This three-year-long project aims to bring knowledge from political science, sociology, architecture, visual and performing arts, sound design and activist practice around a common task: to examine and renew the forms of assembly making.
This task has become a democratic challenge. Our often dysfunctional and obsolete democratic structures fail to meet the increasing demands of citizens for effective participation in political life. Hence citizens' assemblies are increasingly used as a governance strategy and a tool to promote the ideas of democratic equality and responsible citizenship, to produce political decisions and, more importantly, to produce public consent. Often mere tokenism, these forms of participative policymaking contain nevertheless promising collaborative potential and are likely to be institutionalised. This is why it is important to critically examine their mechanisms and effects, their benefits and limits.
In times of increasing social polarisation and distrust in political institutions, our inquiry seeks to foster reflection on this alternative to traditional policymaking and rethink forms of civil dialogue.
The project brings together researchers and practitioners to study what exactly happens when we assemble by delving into the “black box” of collective deliberation.
More specifically, the project focuses on the necessary conditions for inclusive and informed deliberations and the emergence of collective wisdom, by examining the epistemic benefits of diversity and its influence on the quality of deliberation and the transformation of opinions, the civic effects of assemblies, the role of emotions and collective affects, as well as the place of conflict and dissensus in deliberation processes.
Moreover, the project questions the forms of assemblies, i.e. the relation between the spaces, architectures, choreographies, formal & informal interactions and the knowledge and effects they produce. In other words, it considers the forms of assemblies as intentional forms, a "semiotic contract" that conditions the possibilities of action for its users.