Open Spaces between Activism and Academic work III

Emerging themes for design.

Open spaces are needed by everyone—activists and academics alike—because spaces get closed off in our activist or academic work and lives.  This work and our lives suffer as a result.  (“Be all you can be—design, create, and inhabit open spaces.”)  The closing off warrants analysis and appropriate action.  Principles that turn the closing off in a more positive directions include:

  1. Although we desire a supportive human response when we bring our person-ness into our work interactions, we should not expect it without first cultivating the person at the other end of the interaction.  (I call this Dan’s principle after a friend who explained that the most important thing he did to get a new curriculum phased in at his college was to spend time talking with colleagues about their families, that is, about a domain important to them but not acknowledge in professional interactions.)
  2. When we are unable to do #1 well, it is usually because there is “stuff” that we are carrying into the situation that still has charge for us—unfinished business that may have very little to do with the specific person or our history with them.
  3. The stuff can be sufficiently entangling and weighty that we have to retreat from attempting to get the supportive human response from persons X, Y, Z and instead we need to create an open space to help us stay engaged—or to re-engage—with our work and life projects and to clarify our best directions.  Open spaces are, however, an escape more than a retreat when we inhabit them without any effort to build the doorway and mudrooms and covered entrances across to the academic and activist realms that we chose to retreat from.

The connection between these principles and yesterday’s themes about dispositions, formation, and D.I.Y. tensions needs more thought.

Daily writing 17 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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