Assemblies: Modern Rituals

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.

Research Questions

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.

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.

Research Questions

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.

Phase 1

We started by submitting our initial research questions to a Scientific Council composed of distinguished scholars and specialists. Their mission was to help focus our inquiry on the questions that needed further research, formulate hypotheses and advice on experimentation protocols.

We also started gathering knowledge on real-life contemporary cases. Two nationwide French experiments—the National Great Debate (2019) and the Citizens’ Convention for the Climate (October 2019 - January 2020)—are being analysed in a comparative perspective with the Irish Citizens’ Assemblies. With the support of the Evens Foundation, researchers will carry out a qualitative study based on ethnographic observations, content analysis, and interviews. Those cases, important in terms of scale, are under-researched and will bring crucial elements to the global research on democratic innovation.

Phase 2

We have started putting together an inventory of innovative or successful assemblist practices with the goal of organising a public event: a three-day forum on assemblies in 2020. The aim of this event is 1) to share thinking and practice, discuss conceptual, methodological and political aspects of assembly making, formulate questions for further research 2) transform this intellectually and politically stimulating topic into a matter of public concern and call researchers, activists, architects, artists, and more broadly, citizens, to invest into experimentation and innovation of these forms of collective policymaking.

This phase will be designed and carried out in collaboration with the curatorial collectif Council.

Phase 3

Experimentation is an important aspect of our work. We are planning to design and organise assemblies where researchers, activists, artists, and other interested citizens will jointly work to develop forms and protocols for experimentations. We are looking for opportunities to carry out this phase in partnership with a grassroots movement or a political institution. The aim is to connect the knowledge and skills of those who experiment with forms as part of their practice and those who are shaping our political lives.

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