collective self-education in the arts and culture…

Formats of Work in Collective Self-education :: Ana Vujanović

related concepts and terms: research, dermatologist art practice as research, experiment, de-institutionalization, deschooling, self-organization, methodology, open source

Current cultural-artistic initiatives and conditions of work at the independents scenes today require new formats of education, learning, knowledge production and sharing, that go beyond models established in official educational institutions. As the scenes grow, the formats become more articulated and organized, thus emphasizing the importance of the process of self-organized learning in collective instead of gained amount of knowledge as the result of this process. Besides, the articulation of the formats render their methodologies available for sharing, further applying and/or improving by others. It also prevents us from over-enthusiastic understanding them.

Among characteristic organized formats of work in collective self-education, one can find: workshop, laboratory, working group or workgroup, and reading group.

Workshop and laboratory, as we know them in contemporary art and culture, are similar formats, sometimes considered variants. Moreover their etymology is the same – both are about “work” or “labor”. However, they are not the same nor at practical neither on conceptual level.[1]

Workshop is the most often about skills or similar particular (piece of) knowledge. It is realized as organized passing on of certain technique, specific knowledge, skill, experience, or method. Workshop is led by a workshop leader (up to 3) who already has or knows that technique, skill etc, and includes several participants who are interested in it. In collective self-education, a group gathered around common interest or aim is the one who invites certain workshop leader according to its concrete need. Workshop is framed in time, and it usually lasts from one day to one week. Laboratory is meant as wider and less organized infrastructure for artificial providing optimal conditions for experiments, discussions, and creative processes of a group of collaborators. An educational laboratory shouldn’t be led; it rather gathers horizontally collaborators in a cultural-artistic process in order to put certain subjects in question, to test methods, or to try new solutions and ideas. Therefore, there is usually a moderator or facilitator – instead of leader – of the laboratory. Laboratory can be realized without predetermined duration, as an open process, but because of economic reasons it is actually a rare case and it usually appears as a problem-solving format.

Speaking conceptually, although work is starting point for both workshop and laboratory, it is treated differently. Work-shop (in previous periods connected with crafts) is about “selling and buying” knowledge that can be integrated in future work of the participants. On the other hand, laboratory (from lat. laborare > laboratorium “a place for labor or work”) is about improving the work through extending knowledge about it, inventing it, questioning it, or destabilizing its premises by putting it into an experimental situation.[2]

Working group in the addressed field is a community gathered around common educational aim: particular task, research project, problematics, topics… It is temporary format motivated just by the aim, and after it is completed working group disintegrates. Number of members, their roles, as well as duration and organization of a working group depend on the very members and type of the aim. In the situation of collective self-education this format implies a “post-pedagogical” shifting the roles of those who know and those who are taught, those who ask questions and those who give answers. In that way each member of the group can learn from the others and learn them, orient the work of the group and follow the stream proposed by someone else. Because of the complexity caused by multi-directional “togetherness” of educational process and one predetermined aim on the other hand, working group requires precise organizational structure and decision-making process. Otherwise it can easily transforms in standard hierarchical educational or research situation.[3]

Reading group is also a temporary educational community, but whose work is intellectually orientated and focused on studying certain literature. It is usually not motivated by a particular task or aim, but by common field of interest and will to research on it by reading, discussing and thinking in a collective situation (but without a request for togetherness). Typical form of work within reading group is “seminar”. It is practiced also in official high education, when a group of students self-organize themselves in order to read together certain book or author. This kind of work concentrated around written material implies Rancierean horizontal educational situation, where “the book” is material artifact that engages directly all present intelligences in equally valuable understanding and interpreting it.[4] From the process of work within a reading group who benefits the most are the individual participants, who can work separately from each other and whose collaboration within the group don’t necessarily requires solidarity or common vision of cultural or artistic practice. However, it can be a starting point for certain group work or action in future.

[1] See more about art practice as research, laboratory and experiment in contemporary art in Ana Vujanovic: entries “Reasearch, Laboratory/Experiment”, and “Open Work”, Performance Research: Lexicon, vol. 11/ no. 3, Routledge, London, 2007.

[2] See more about popularity of research and labs in contemporary performing arts in Mårten Spångberg: “Overwhelming, The Doing of Research” (manuscript), 2006.

[3] See more in Oxana Timofeeva, “From the ‘Inoperative Community’ to the ‘Workgroup’”, at, May 17, 2009 / “Od ‘neoperativne zajednice’ do ‘radne grupe’”, TkH, no. 13, Belgrade, 2007.

[4] More precisely it is the situation of professor Jacotot; see: Jacques Ranciere, The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991.

Category: Dictionary of Self-education

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Deschooling Classroom

Deschooling Classroom is a project that addresses the contemporary independent cultural scenes in the region, researching and offering an alternative to the hierarchical models of education in the art and culture. Methodologically, the project moves away from the concepts of individual authorship and expertise, and advocates open collective educational structures where self-organised communities facilitate horizontal production, exchange and distribution of knowledge.