Open Spaces between Activism and Academic work II

How to act within a complex system, where there are consequences and impacts and where challenging our own privilege confronts us with difficulties in assenting to leadership from marginalized groups?  What are open spaces—or what could they be—that help address this question?  What is a design process to form, renovate, remodel, restructure our open spaces?

Bringing in the notion of a design process here suggests that we start from some observations or guidelines, four of which emerged from my review of the first day of autobiographical introductions, discussion, and reflection.

  1. Certain dispositions about action, such as intentionality, volunteering, and maintaining ideals about promoting liberatory social change lead us recurrently into situations where we are doing many projects and ask ourselves: “What direction is most important for me to pursue?”
  2. Our formation (used here to signify something more expansive than our schooling) involves opportunities offered and taken as well as setbacks turned int new opportunities—sometimes arising in formal settings; other times in retreats or alternative institutions.
  3. Interests in new ways of thinking and living develops in a range of settings—counter-cultural (i.e., experimenting with building the institutions we want for the future), D.I.Y. culture, blue-collar “let’s all work together fixing this old car”—from movement among places (including finding a way out of isolation), and from interventions by key teachers and in key classes at school and college.
  4. The tension between individual and collective in D.I.Y. (etc.) culture [see #3] and between making do and transcending previous limits is evident in many related tensions, such as, focusing on the figure versus seeing the ground (i.e., context) that contains the figure, between tightly controlled engineering and navigating the social realm, between becoming acquainted with something and enacting/embodying it.

Daily writing 16 May 2011 from the workshop “Open Spaces for Changing Science and Society


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (

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