The Past and Future of Research Club
by Research Club
In the last year and a half, Research Club moved away from planting its own original projects towards a role of tilling the soil for the ambient projects in the surrounding community. Our own project became the study and development of a certain variety of community dynamics. What little conscious theory that I applied during this period of time was developed out of our Heavy Meta tour, especially the conversations I had with directors at the School of Life in London and Per Schumann of Entwurf Direkt. In proper meta-fashion, this theory was directly addressed and extended by the material taught by one of the ambient projects that we helped activate, What Philosophy Can Do for Art II. Direct experimentation and collaboration with like-minded organizations and projects comprised the rest of this study.
The theory goes something like this — New organizational structures and patterns are developing in the gaps between the areas controlled by existing institutions and conventions or in place of failing ones. The patterns at work here are social manifestations of patterns that have established vocabularies at various locations of cultural production — especially the arts, education, and internet culture, but also in mathematics and the natural sciences. The social manifestation can be see in local, artisan economies, alternative or cooperative education, open data, and community organizations.
The broadest differences we see in these patterns are:
- networks instead of hierarchies
- adaptive and integrated production and consumption instead of centralized production mass-marketed to non-producers
- promoting systemic integrity instead of controlling access to power
These patterns have a built-in self-referentiality, because they apply to distribution as much as they do to engagement. Part of the pattern is to say “If we support this way of doing X, we will also distribute the means and idea of doing X according to similar principles.” That’s the systemic integrity piece. If that seems to abstract, this is what I mean:
Take the example of tool libraries. The DIY culture they serve is organized around the idea that the people or communities that use goods should be able to fix or build them themselves when possible and prudent, rather than stepping outside of the cycle of use and maintenance by buying new things and throwing out old things. But some of those goods are tools, so if everyone goes out and buys their own tools from outside their community, that just relocates the displacement of resources from the inefficient purchasing of end consumer products to the inefficient purchasing of tools. The DIY repair culture isn’t just about fixing and repairing — it’s about self-sufficiency. So places like tool libraries extend the idea of meeting one’s needs where they are located rather than appealing to outside support. They unite this idea from the actual fixing and making of goods to the distribution of the means to do so. That is what I mean by systemic integrity.*
The general rule is that if the net effect is the empowerment of all the parties involved, than the system has integrity. (What about Home Depot? Won’t it sell fewer table saws now? We can talk about the integrity of the system again when there are so many tool libraries that Home Depot feels anything on its bottom line.)
Since coming back from Heavy Meta, we’ve been trying to operate according to these patterns and principles as strictly as possible. That means:
- little to no outside funding
- no conventional advertising
- cheap-or-free admissions
- stone-soup style programming.
The system is not so well-oiled that participants always spontaneously organize around ideas and needs, but as chief stone-provider and gap-filler, I can guarantee you that most of the support I have provided — financial, edible, conceptual, or participatory — has been purposely inadequate, so all of our successes are authentically participatory and because of the many, many people who have chosen to contribute for their own reasons. (As are our failures.)
The point of this is that we are trying to devise a way or ways to scale up the self supporting growth manifested by communities organized around these patterns to a degree that has not been done before. There is a magic to the way that communities can innovate, grow, and support themselves from within that is more efficient and more empowered than conventional means, and since coming back from Heavy Meta, fostering and studying that magic has been my only real reason for putting so much time and effort into Research Club. The Portland Passport project is an attempt to build a new way to spread that magic more than it spreads already.
The plan was to build cross-community momentum with a series of events at the same time as building the infrastructure of the network — a website and a set of printed passports. The conventional way of doing this would be to develop the website and promote it and the events like crazy, probably while raising money to do so. The integrated way is to share the idea and open up some venues and let the people who get excited by it turn it into something bigger.
So, that said, it’s not working right now. Many organizers and individuals have thrown in with the stone soup, and it’s a bigger and heartier soup than we’ve ever had before. However, we were trying to build a feast, and that’s not happening.
I’m just being frank — this isn’t a call for help or an admonition. I don’t even think it means that it can’t be done, but it is a very difficult thing that we are trying to do. Please see the passport project for more.
So what does this all mean for the future of Research Club?
Most of our events in the last year have been events that are meant to be nodes in a network rather than terminal destinations. They have done very well as events, but I think they have reached their usefulness as network-builders. We’ve learned from the Passport Project that we need more support than we currently have if we want to increase the scale of the network.
Brunch — brunch is very easy to do, and I encourage anyone who is interested in keeping it going to give it a shot. You can feed about 40 people for about $20 with our recipe, and we can put you in touch with a few venues that would be interested in hosting it. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions you’ve got.
Future Events — There will be more events in the future, but they will be on themes that are personally interesting to me or other active members of the Research Club community. Any network-building or collaboration that comes out of them will be purely accidental. They will probably not be free, but they won’t be expensive. They may be through other organizations.
In the meantime, we still have a reservation for the Norse Hall on July 21, and New Ranch at Silver Falls State Park for Labor Day weekend. If you want to make something of these venues, email email@example.com
Publishing — We’ve been too busy facilitating other projects to properly disseminate the many wonders in our archive. Look for many updates to the website, the long-promised Heavy Meta documentary, and possibly a quarterly in the next year.
Thanks everyone for your participation and interest over the last few years. Think of this as a cocoon stage for Research Club, but a cocoon where a badger enters and a three-subject notebook and a cup of tea emerges. There, that should explain everything.
* This is where people will start calling you a socialist, because one of the reliable means of of making money is to buy something that people want so you control their access to it, and then profit from that control. Arguments that involve those sorts of accusations are boring and usually pointless, because what both sides are arguing over is the restriction of freedom. “Socialism” is a bad word when it looks like a tool to take away freedom, just as is “capitalism.” I have yet to see a community organization like a Tool Library spring up because of a deep, local and agreed-upon need to restrict a party’s freedoms, so forget the name-calling and look at the effects of these patterns (Conversely, you can often find outside influence in local organizations that do work to restrict freedoms)