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Education? Innovation? Formacion!

The production of organic intellectuals

One thing that’s puzzling about ‘the fourth blob’ in the schema of the new social economy - ‘the grant funded economy’ as Robin Murray termed it - is whether it’s an economy in any conventional sense, or whether it’s a movement? ‘Grant funding’ doesn’t necessarily seem to be the form of income that the work is funded from, and indeed, it’s the constant scrabble for survival and means, across a weird and painful mix of sources - grants, donations, tithes and deductions, charitable awards, voluntary contributions, gifts, open commons, informal loans, de facto sharing of spaces and means - which often characterises life and work in the ‘sector’. I have a hunch that the unity that might make a sector out of this might be the production of new capability; that is, the sector is a sector of production (and changed production) of radical, change-producing, collective labour power.

I see this as the basic agenda of a term that many colleagues feel is characteristic of Robin #formacion.

The Robin Murray group is working on a book, provisionally titled The Production of Transformative Social Thought: Essays in honour of Robin Murray. I’ve proposed a chapter for the book, on formacion. The outline for the chapter follows, and can be downloaded here in PDF. The chapter is an exploration of the §2 landscape of knowing and capability, addressed in the pattern language. It’s a story of the making of #organicintellectuals.



2019 08 28 - Formacion

Activist literacy, and an activist dance of knowing

Outline for a book chapter
This chapter is intended for Section 1: Method, alongside chapters by Stephen Yeo (on ‘Robin’s ways of being present at our own making’) and Julie Richardson (on making an ‘economy of wellbeing’); possibly also, something by Tim Crabtree on aesthetics of ‘making’ in radical economic development practice. The argument and vocabulary of this chapter connect closely with that of the chapter, From economics to organising, that I'm offering for Section 3: The state, globalisation and social movements.

This chapter addresses formacion as a significant version of ‘production’ thinking within Robin’s activist practice. It frames formacion as:


  • Practices of skilful, alternative production . .

  • of activist formations, which . .

  • have the capability to produce radically alternative, working ‘chunks’ . .

  • of forces of production (FoPs) . .

  • in three necessarily interweaving but differently inhabited landscapes of practice: material, cultural and aesthetic.


This conception puts us into a ‘cultural’ frame, which is to say, a frame of the forces of production of knowing and organising - which might be thought of as ‘a politics of knowledge’, although the chapter argues that active verb forms (knowing, rather than knowledge) are more powerful, being intrinsically materialist.


At the heart of this, the chapter proposes, is a model of a generative ‘dance of knowing’ which deploys skills of choreography across four mutually constituted domains of literacy: skill, genre, conceptualisation and storytelling. The present chapter displays a tendency of conceptualisation, while much of Robin’s work displays a tendency of storytelling. The relationship between these is considered within an overall perspective on literacies of activist organising in the dance of knowing, and the practical re-producing of (material) forms, (emotional) forces and (cultural, economic and aesthetic) formations. This is all part of basic literacy in what, in ‘From economics to organising’, I call the mutual sector.

Throughout, ‘alternative’ and ‘radical’ are interpreted in terms of relations of production (RoPs), and the chapter argues that this historical, cultural-materialist, forces/relations framing gives more practical traction - and is more radical - than the commonplace idealist framing of ‘social economy’ and ‘solidarity’ organising, in terms of (‘social’) values. The ’sharing’ implied by ‘shared values’ is central; but it’s the shared *valuing* (the mutual participation in live, self-aware practices of valuing) that warrants attention, rather than an espoused sharing of abstracted and stereotyped, verbalised or intuited  ‘values’. Formacion is - among other things - the self-aware conduct of that practice; which, simultaneously, materially constitutes the formation-of-formations which makes the values ’social’.

The chapter explores questions of both ‘infrastructuring’ (tools and extended material organisation) and ‘suprastructuring’ (structures of feeling), considering both in terms of FoPs and RoPs (in all of the three landscapes) which have become dominant in the period of post-Fordist capitalism. In this discussion, illustrative instances of formacion are identified in Robin’s late practice in Synergia, the coop university and Schumacher College, and in his 80s practice ‘in and against the state’, in popular planning at the GLC.

A particular concern of Robin’s was the issue of scale in radical economic initiatives, and the chapter shows how formacion can be regarded as a practical means of engaging with this, along with the nature of the ‘DNA’ of an activist formation, which Robin turned to in thinking about the scale question.

Finally, the chapter highlights pattern language - a practice pioneered by architect Chris Alexander in the 70s - as an emergent, systemic, participatory and evolutionary form of ‘theory-of-practice’, intrinsically well suited to activist formation and radical legacy, and considers Robin’s ‘ten principles’ for the new social economy in Danger and Opportunity (2009) as patterns in a yet-to-be written pattern language of Making the Living Economy. Semi-formalised, structured, formacion-oriented vocabularies for radical ‘social economy’ practice (the ‘trellis’ model that Robin shared with Tim Crabtree, the ‘weave’ adopted in the Synergia MOOC programme in 2019 and my own work-in-progress on a FoP/RoP pattern language) seem to have a common feature: a conceptual weave of some kind, combining a ‘structure’ and an ‘agent’ perspective. This characteristic warrants some consideration, in thinking practically about how to communicate and develop visions and enactments of transformational practice; in the forming of formacion; in the mutual dance of activist knowing.

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