This is from Julia Rowntree: one of the TUS team –
The best writing I have found on civil society is in the essays and writing of Vaclav Havel. After suppression of civil society in the communist era, it was necessary to articulate democracy’s foundations in civil society- helpful to us now.
“Civilities” to me include the courtesies of conversation: listening before talking, always seeking to take a conversation forward rather than using social interaction for ‘ladder conversations’ or a platform for advancement; to tease out common experience or to open oneself up to being changed by another’s opinions.
It’s also about hospitality and generosity and mutual obligation and fostering engagement on equal terms, ensuring everyone has their say.
I use ‘cultural commons’ to describe a social space in which free exchange of knowledge can take place. A ‘cultural commons’ is not just a blank space but one that exists because it is facilitated through rules and civilities. I think of it like a village common on which many different things can happen and different people can meet but, if neglected, it falls into disuse and takes on a threatening air. The arts have a part to play in imagining what can happen in this open access place and in ‘writing’ and ‘re-writing’ the rules and the invitations.
There is a growing commons movement relating to knowledge, water, energy use, biodiversity conservation etc. Elinor Ostrom, the first (only?) female Nobel prizewinner for economics, is one of the foremost scholars and de-bunked the widely accepted theory of the tragedy of the commons – i.e that common resources were always destined for overuse and degradation.
My introduction to this world was through Jeremy Rifkin and David Bollier. As I delved for up-to-date information about David i discover that this very day he is organising a conference in Berlin that i would love to have attended…. Here he is with Elinor Ostrom.
I found these ways of thinking incredibly useful when trying to shape a new relationship with power in the form of engaging with businesses. If you change the invitation, you change the performance… it’s the only power of the ‘powerless’.
As to differences with “Big” society…. the jury’s out.
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