April 21, 2016 § 4 Comments
The psyCommons proposal about how around three quarters of the UK population survive and flourish without psyprofessions help and the consequences of this, appears to be unchallenged. A wider political context for psyCommons recently emerged that may account for some of the distress from which the remaining 25% suffer.
Several decades of living afloat on the Thames in London included extended experience of the Thames as a wilderness. Intimate appreciation of the dynamics of this wilderness led to the realisation that the city surrounding it and urban civilisation in general was also a wilderness and that the split between ‘nature’ and ‘civilisation’ was a major category error2. Cities, the Internet, aircraft, washbasins and supermarkets are also ‘nature’.
‘Wilderness’ serves as an integrating notion for the split between ‘nature’ and ‘civilisation’.
The ‘nature’ and ‘civilisation’ category error is damaging, it leads to ‘nature’ being both idealised and abused. Supreme virtue is ascribed to ‘nature’ but this casts a shadow – the ‘civilisation’ where we live and work is neglected and its aversiveness is regarded as something to be tolerated.
While the global wilderness has civilisation and rural sectors, both are based on similar dynamics, solar energy provides a basis for food chains that are structured by predation. Rural wilderness tends to be self-regulating with surges and decline due to crises of climate, population or reproduction. In urban wildernesses predation as an action and a value has become detached from foodchains, one result is an ideological commitment to economic growth independent of foodchains. Predation freed from foodchains congeals into a belief that that global economic growth is ‘natural’ and ‘inevitable’ and also that domination is ‘natural’ and ‘inevitable’.
This free predation leads to gross social inequality and resource depletion. Related beliefs for example: that technocratic management is appropriate for wilderness, are fed and sustained by industrial strength trance inductions which blind us to, and marginalise, economic and personal alternatives.
Perhaps the most prominent and damaging of the trance inductions is that capital accumulation is ‘natural’ and ‘inevitable’. Capital accumulation driven by predation detached from foodchains, functions as a cancer driving uncontrolled growth independent of the health of the host and which threatens to kill the host.
Responses to this perspective on the global wilderness include the active development and support of existing social, interpersonal and personal immune systems. Their task is to encourage social practice and institutions that eliminate interpersonal and inter-institutional dominance and predation, and that prioritise ‘use value’ rather than ‘exchange value’. And parallel with this the immune system would actively puncture trance inductions that idealise the ‘nature’/’civilisation’ split; which celebrate free predation and unlimited growth, while insisting there are no alternatives.
Look out for more on how this supports and extends the psyCommons.
1 End-of-Life a term used with respect to a product  indicating that the product is in the end of its useful life Wikipedia
2 Category Error A category error, is a semantic or ontological error in which things belonging to a particular category are presented as if they belong to a different category. Wikipedia
The Commons – a new European concept? Inaugural meeting of the European Parliament Common Goods Intergroup.
May 31, 2015 § 2 Comments
As we gathered for it, this European Parliament Common Goods Intergroup meeting, promised to be intriguing… was the Parliament about to embrace the commons as a template for a more participatory politics?
It was indeed a political meeting, with the banners of the four parties who had come together in support of it prominent behind the podium, a coalition that, as Sophie Bloemen details in her excellent account of the intergroup’s formation, had required the mutation (dilution?) in its title, of ‘commons’ into ‘common goods’.
Such concerns were quickly overshadowed by the mix of culture shock, optimism, contradiction and sheer linguistic struggle that Europe-wide mutuality turned out to entail. But then this is 28 nation politics and I was new to it.
Shock and awe at the huge scale of the Brussels European Parliament building and the hushed modernity of its vast interior – the Charlie Hebdo effect piled onto the Bin Laden effect meant the whole place seemed imprisoned in that other aspect of modernity, security. There were also the twin Britshocks of realising during the meeting that what I was hearing were the voices of southern Europe, Italy, Spain, Portugal and France, and that of the 50-60 participants, I was apparently the only Brit. Coupled with this was the reminder that however good the four-language interpretation was, it put a huge burden on attention, and being able to grasp what was being said – Italian man speaking in the room – English woman interpreter in the ears.
The meeting started half an hour late, which despite effective facilitation put all the speakers under pressure. And speakers there were in plenty, arrayed in one-to-many conference style. There were repeated calls for ‘the need for debate’ but debate was overwhelmingly subordinate to a series of charismatic and often vociferous presentations mostly from the podium, peppered with multiple exhortations that the commons and common goods ‘were a good idea’, ‘we must…’ ‘we need…’ ‘we have to…’ etc., etc. Lot’s of talk about commons not much apparently from commons. When I spoke to ask the other delegates ‘who we were’ and how many had direct experience of commoning, around a third of the audience put up their hands, an indicator perhaps that less preaching to the converted would have been appropriate.
This was an inaugural meeting, so uncertainty and clumsiness can be excused, however on balance the presentations had a lot to say about common goods resources, i.e. a city’s water supply and much less about commoning, often a fragile flower growing out of peer-to-peer governance, commitment and emotional competence. The meeting certainly seemed in no doubt that a wider extension of the common goods theme might be one way to shape a new and very necessary politics. As Marisa Matias the impressive Portuguese MEP who had convened the meeting said at the end of her introduction, ‘the Left is lost’.
Was this a meeting then, as it perhaps seemed, where the old left was trying to befriend a new and promising flavour of the political month? There was no coffee break and apart from casual chat before the meeting, no interaction between the assembled delegates –the old paradigm of a representative polity?
And yet… in her introductory remarks Marisa Matias outlined two agenda items, ‘how to think outside the logic of the state’ and ‘how to handle the management of the commons’, both radical contradictions of neoliberal preferences. Perhaps this Common Goods Intergroup event was a way of introducing to an old politics, news of political innovation that was proving unexpectedly and improbably successful.
Only days before, Barcelona and possibly Madrid had elected officials with a ‘commons’ agenda; and… Anne le Strat outlined the successful Eau de Paris return of the Paris water supply to municipal ownership (paralleled by at least one other commune I know of in the Ardeche); There were several references to commons rights progress in Spain, and in Italy a supreme court decision had opened constitutional protocols to commons forms of organisation, along with the adoption of ‘beni comuni’ as a legal concept. Alongside this, as Benjamin Coriat outlined, in Barcelona the recovery of the commons appeared to be afoot.
A delegate from Transform made a reminder that there was a continuing need for recovery of the many public goods had been given to exponents of capital, she also argued for the establishment of a federation of commons. Paoli Napoli from CENJ, a French judicial research centre argued convincingly in favour of questioning the validity of state monopolies as a way of discovering commons. Ricardo la Fuente a Portuguese Free Culture activist drew attention to the scale of the capture of the internet commons by Facebook and Google, US dominated vertical monopolies that threaten the integrity and freedoms of the internet. He argued that safe-guarding access to the public sphere of the internet was a vital aspect of the commons agenda.
Michel Bauwens, a long-time peer to peer exponent, spoke about the digital commons, a driver of the unprecedented social change that underlies the commons movement. Bauwens outlined three digital commons institutions, one: the huge numbers of people who are contributors to the building of open public goods such as Linux, Arduino and Wikipedia etc (not to mention the countless millions of blogs like this!); secondly: the digital enterprises that feature peer-to-peer governance and transparency, he gave as examples: Loomio, Inspiral etc.; and third: for-benefit foundations such as the P2P Foundation and many others.
Bauwens warned that digital innovation presently tends to be compromised, since to pick up the resources to expand and develop an innovation, means becoming a ‘start-up’ with the likelihood of capture by venture capital. Devising alternative ways of financing commons innovation, he seemed to be saying, will be a vital part of an emerging commons economy. Bauwens left early to talk to the mayor of Ghent about another current proposal – Assemblies of the Commons – he also mentioned generating Chambers of the Commons, mirroring, at least in the UK, the ubiquitous ‘chambers of commerce’ and lastly the need, as he put it, to develop an ‘operating system’ for the commons. All welcome news.
In conclusion: Encouraging evidence from across southern Europe that there were a variety of instances of participatory politics inspired by, or already implementing commons/common goods. Great resources: the whole meeting was streamed live and by the following morning a video of it had been posted by the EFDD group with English interpretation.
And… the meeting had a classroom format – people sitting in rows facing expert speakers. As a groupwork facilitator I long ago learned that such a format inhibits or prevents the kind of face to face (and peer to peer) cooperation and communal knowing that commoning requires. This is not a minor matter, conversations are shaped by context. If this is the only Parliamentary format for commons/common goods discussion/negotiation/interpretation, I’d be concerned that this infrastructure could inadvertently exclude the intended benefits.
And yet… perhaps too much should not be expected from a body such as the Parliament which is devoted to scrutiny and correctivity, not usually a recipe for innovation. The European Parliament is an extant political forum, it mends and bends the proposals of European institutions. Diemut Theato, an MEP I happen to have met, some years ago demonstrated this when, due to her leadership and financial perspicacity, the entire European Commission had to resign. The Parliament’s potential ability to bounce back European legislation that ignores, compromises or damages the common good is very welcome. With regard to the common good, every little helps!
Video of the meeting: https://youtu.be/2WYHEWTHDek
Common Goods Intergroup members: the Greens, the left group GUE, the Social Democrat party (S&D) and the EFDD (joint president Nigel Farage) and which now includes Beppe Grillo with his Cinque Stelle party.
The Common Goods Intergroup and this meeting was facilitated by Elisabetta Cangelosi and Pablo Sanchez Centellas
November 1, 2013 § Leave a comment
The psyCommons began as a flicker of intuition.
A decade of necessary resistance to the state’s attempt to capture psychotherapy and counselling in the UK masked a more important perspective – around 75% of the population have no need of ‘mental health’ services. What is it they know and do that keeps them psysavvy?
This video begins to examine and define these capacities – the ordinary wisdom and shared power of the psyCommons. If you have anything to add or subtract, let’s hear it.
The second in a series of videos about the psyCommons looks at how the basic human capacity to resolve and survive the ordinary difficulties of daily life through family, friends and local communities, is undermined by the psychological professions, along with their pharma allies.
The psyCommons and its Enclosures: Professionalized Wisdom and the Abuse of Power
A third video is a bit of a sideways step. Butterfly Therapy builds on some images I made a while back to honour the common sense capacity we have to survive, recover and flourish from many, if not all, of the challenges of the human condition.
October 16, 2016 § Leave a comment
Current welfare policy is dominated by a pair of narrowly defined and contrasting concepts: the ‘public’, which is usually equated to the state, versus the private, which is treated as equivalent to narrow economic self-interest. This is an unhelpful framework for thinking about the welfare state as a whole and social care in particular. Thomas Allan, in this important essay, challenges the current thinking about care and asks us instead to return to an older and more useful conception of care – as part of the commons.
Care is something intrinsic to being human; a part of the human spirit that doesn’t lend itself well to the institutions we have created and the norms to which we are accustomed. Take its management, for example:
- How would we measure care?
- Can care be efficient?
- Can we optimize care or maximize returns on it?
- How can we incentivise others to care?
This is an economic or managerial representation of care; one that sees care as a transaction or economic process, and questions that revolve around policies that construe citizens as rational economic beings in every field of life – something that is profoundly misleading (Habermann 2012).
To care is to be intuitive; to perceive the intangible and experience the imprecise, formless, confusing and the painful dislocations; as well as the warm, comforting and reassuring. Care cannot be categorized, counted or separated for purposes of analysis, and includes attachments to time and place, patterns of life and thought, reproductive activities and habits of the heart (Harvey 2007) – something Denis Postle has termed a “Wilderness”(Postle 2016).To understand this wilderness is to perceive complexity and adopt a fully holistic approach.
Yet trying to care in a system that doesn’t is a thankless task. Bureaucratic systems legitimise poor standards (Jackson 2015). The marketization of care leads to repressed wages for frontline staff (Jackson 2015). Thoughtless and inhuman policies are leading to “a new wave of institutionalised practice,” and the ongoing managerial drive for cuts and ‘cost efficiency’ leads to organisational failures as well as personal crises (Jackson 2015; Griffin, McGrath & Mundy 2015).
The government pays lip service to ‘Big Society’ and ‘Strong Communities’. But in truth, our capacity to organize networks of mutual care is being endangered by the pursuit of economic power and political goals about which there is no real debate beyond the palliative consultation.
Part of this is that, as managers or employees, we seem to have fallen foul of the McNamara Fallacy: making decisions solely on the basis of what can be measured – something a management colleague once described to me as “looking through the wrong end of the telescope.” Seeking to reduce care to manageable proportions, we have become blind to the more intricate patterns of human interaction that are subtle, qualitative, long-term and complex (Bollier & Weston 2012).
In health and social services, management and professional services resemble a closely related exercise in the art of gate-keeping: extracting information from people who need support and their families to populate over lengthy and technical assessments, before data inputting into vast IT systems to ‘evidence’ preordained decisions on cost savings. Can you communicate the bad news nicely to the distressed and the disenfranchised? We speak of the person centred principle in our work, yet people are made to fit the system rather than the other way around.
The tendency has been to reduce care to the measurable and the technical, targeting the isolated individual. This thinking reduces personal experiences such as mental distress and social marginalization – challenges relating to the social environment in which people live (Griffin, McGrath & Mundy 2015) – to technical tweaks, ameliorative revision or, most perniciously, resorting to deficit based thinking and victim blaming (Ryan 1971) – problematic or maladapted individuals. It is blind to the social contexts in which personal and organizational issues arise. This is especially problematic when we are trying to promote a more caring, inclusive society.
In many organizations, foundational and much fetishised principles of management such as efficiency have taken on turbo charged and fanatical proportions, reinforcing the view that improvement in care is a question of ever more efficient resource allocation. Social economist Mark Lutz wrote presciently:
“One could see the present age as dominated by a religion of economic efficiency. Everything is to be interpreted in its light. Institutions must justify their existence in the name of efficiency, the state itself being no exception” (Lutz 1999).
Principles such as market competition and optimization dominate the debate, leaving little space for democratic decision-making, or critical reflection on the lived experience of people in their everyday lives; two vital considerations in the satisfaction of human need (Doyal & Gough 1991; Gough 1994).
In public, private and even nonprofit sector organizations, cost savings, cost efficiency, rapacious downsizing and restructures have become common sense and good business; or, for those less inclined, unfortunate side effects of economic downturn but necessary for survival.
Displaced and bewildered staff are the ‘engaged’ subjects of ‘necessary’ change in response to the ‘inevitabilities’ of economic globalization, managed through faceless systems of performance measurement to deliver efficiency, productivity and profitability to the market. Precarious employment, reduced wages and welfare, stress, anxieties, insecurity and a crisis in public health are all inconvenient ‘externalities’ to the mainstream economist’s efficiency models.
Contradictions and confusion reign. Human bonds are broken. Huge sums are invested in vast data systems to collect information for ‘efficiencies’ in the market, while poorly paid and over-worked care staff leave to be replaced by expensive agency staff or unreliable technology. On reassessing disability welfare entitlement, meanwhile, academic David Stuckler points out that “the government’s own estimates of fraud by persons with disabilities is less than the sum of the contract awarded to the company carrying out the tests.”
Most disturbingly, while evidence traces the actual human cost of austerity (Basu & Stuckler 2013), key decision makers press on, offering policies based on an impoverished conception of human welfare. Whether constrained within organisational hierarchies or blinkered by free market ideology, we are unable to find a way out of the impasse.
There is inevitably a human consequence of such organization. This political rationality – the logic of the market – imposes itself on our values, shapes our identities and our perception of ourselves and others, in a manner French Philosopher Foucault called governmentality. It extends its influence into our minds, our personalities, and inhibits empathy; isolating us from others (Meretz 2012; Verhaeghe 2015). It threatens the public ethos and reconstructs notions of citizenship in its image. The impact of austerity, belief in free markets and the doctrine of balanced budgets are undermining our human relations: the very bedrock of our free civil society.
But how can we make visible the human relations that underlie care? Is there a more caring alternative? The answer, I believe, lies in the notion of the commons.
Reconceptualising care and the commons
Social activist and author John Restakis points out it is profoundly false to refer to care as a product, or to the recipients as clients. Says Restakis:
“It is the unthinkable urge in a market society to commodify human and social relations. Neither state bureaucracy, which depersonalizes social service recipients, nor private sector firms, which instrumentalize recipients as a source of profit, can ever be suited to the provision of relational goods.” (Restakis 2011).
In this sense, care is not a ‘thing’ that we produce and distribute through standardized state systems or impersonal market mechanisms, but connections that are made on the basis of our natural predisposition to love, empathise, reciprocate and share meanings. As Restakis makes clear, both state and market take as its starting point an economistic assumption of deficit or scarcity of care in society, ignoring that care is an intrinsic human response to others in need.
As a set of free market policies dismantle the welfare state and privatise public services, the burden weighs heavy on the public sphere to provide the fix. This is the sphere – an often overlooked and taken for granted sphere sometimes referred to as the ‘commons’ – where community organizes and provides its own services: family carers, civic and voluntary associations, cooperatives, ‘user’ led advocacy or parents organizing their children’s playgroup.
Massimo De Angelis, author and Professor of Political Economy at the University of East London, explains:
We find commons in community organizations and associations, social centers, neighbour associations, indigenous practices, households, peer-to-peer networks, and the reproduction of community activities organized within faith communities. (De Angelis 2012)
But De Angelis urges us to be wary of the always ‘revolutionary’ management strategies we are exposed to, instead asking us to understand commons as an informal social activity from the bottom up known as ‘commoning’. This is where the real ideas for change are conceived and grow.
The Commons – “a vision of empowered citizens taking charge of their lives and their endangered resources”(Bollier & Helfrich 2012) – is a field of possibilities and new social practices, based on sharing, cooperation, reciprocity and socio-cultural change. These practices are providing pioneering solutions to the challenge of how to reproduce our livelihoods beyond market and state.
Yet a ‘commons fix’ (De Angelis 2012) is not a replacement for properly funded public services, so we can turn a blind eye to the social and ecological disintegration around us. To avoid being co-opted into neoliberal narratives of the ‘Big Society’ or ‘Strong Communities’, the act of ‘commoning’ also involves asserting our political rights, writes Brigitte Kratzwald:
Rethinking the social welfare state from the perspective of the commons means stepping out of the private sphere and reclaiming the state and the public sphere. In this context, “state” includes all levels of government, including the federal states and the municipalities. This means that commoners need to consider themselves part of the public sphere again, the sphere of politics. (Kratzwald 2012)
Can these commons really happen? They already are. According to recent publications by the Commons Strategy Group we are already showing an intrinsic desire as citizens “to collaborate and share to meet everyday needs as a powerful strategy for building a more fair, humane social order” (Bollier & Helfrich 2015); from people “organising to defend their forests and fisheries, reinvent local food systems, organize productive online communities, reclaim public spaces, improve environmental stewardship and re-imagine the very meaning of “progress” and governance” (Bollier & Helfrich 2012).
In health and social care, the Dutch Homecare organization Buurtzorg is a managerless network of 7,000 nurses formed by Jos De Blok in 2006. This not-for-profit organisation is drawing interest both in the Netherlands and elsewhere as a genuinely person focused and democratic organizational form, born out of former District Nurse De Blok’s passion and frustration with his profession falling foul to managerial principles of productivity, protocols and administration – losing its social value.
With District Nurses “alienated from their profession,” they had become “imprisoned in administrative tasks;” their skill and expertise “barely called upon anymore.” Tellingly, De Blok also felt the drive for efficiency was undermining the essence of what care is:
“The cause of the malaise is the product-oriented approach that first appeared around ten years ago in the homecare sector and is, by now, widespread. In this vision, care is seen as a product that you can chop up into various activities. You then try to carry out these activities as cheaply as possible.”
Restakis meanwhile presents a model of the social cooperative with improved accountability to people who need support; one that doesn’t compromise the obligations and prerogatives of government, while moving “beyond defensiveness” of the traditional political battles between supporters of either public or private delivery models.
This model is based on an experiment with new ways of funding social care by the foundation Fondazione del Monte di Bologna e Ravenna. It involved 6 key principles, abridged below from his book Humanizing the Economy (2011):
- Shifting the production of social care delivery from government to democratically structured civil institutions, with government retaining its role as prime funder to these services.
- Government funding should flow direct to people who need support who would then select services they need from a choice of accredited organisations. Independent consumer cooperatives should be funded to assist people (e.g. without mental capacity) and their families in the identification, evaluation and contracting of care services.
- Social care organisations must have the legal ability to raise capital from members and civil society more generally on the basis of social investing.
- Surpluses generated by these social care organisations with public funding would need to be held as social assets and a reserve held for the expansion and development of that organisation and its services.
- The primary role of government would be to continue to provide funding for social care and establish the rules of the game, in partnership with service providers, caregivers and people who need support.
- Service design and the assessment of need would take place at the community and regional level of delivery. This decentralisation must include the democratisation of decision making through the sharing of control rights with people who need support and care givers.
These are some examples and a brief introduction to different ways of thinking about care and the means for its provision. In truth, it is unclear what the future holds. We often talk about ‘risk’ in care – risk to vulnerable individuals, groups or organisations – and to some these solutions may seem unnecessarily risky. But what is clear is that we can no longer talk only about risk to one individual, group or piece of the system, but of the failings of the system itself.
When we take a longer term view and understand the consequences of bureaucratic and free market thinking on human welfare, it is arguably more risky to leave things the way they are. Rethinking care should be a priority.
Given the certainty that we will all need care and support as we move through life, we should be very concerned about our leader’s willingness to accept the social consequences of economic ‘improvement’, and the modelling of our care delivery systems on decision making frameworks such as those designed to maximize efficiency in large For-Profits, such as Sports Direct.
The commons gives us a framework and generative power to take affirmative individual and collective action ourselves now, holding decision makers accountable and looking at how we can create, organize and manage our common resources as communities of free people.
Basu, S & Stuckler, D (2013) The Body Economic: Why Austerity Kills. New York. Basic Books.
Bollier, D & Helfrich, S (2012) Introduction: The Commons as a Transformative Vision in The Wealth of the Commons: A World beyond Market and State. Amherst, MA. Levellers Press.
Bollier, D & Helfrich, S (2015) Patterns of Commoning. Amherst, MA. Levellers Press.
Bollier, D & Weston, B (2012) Green Governance: Ecological Survival, Human Rights and the Law of the Commons in The Wealth of the Commons: A World beyond Market and State. Amherst, MA. Levellers Press.
De Angelis, M (2012) Crises, Capital and Co-optation: Does Capital Need a Commons Fix? in The Wealth of the Commons: A World beyond Market and State. Amherst, MA. Levellers Press.
Doyal, L & Gough, I (1991) A Theory of Human Need. New York. Palgrave Macmillan.
Gough, I (1994) Economic Institutions and the Satisfaction of Human Need. Journal of Economic Issues Volume 28 Issue 1 Pages 25-66
Griffin, V. McGrath, L & Mundy, E (2015) The Psychological Impact of Austerity: A Briefing Paper. Psychologists Against Austerity. Published online at https://psychagainstausterity.wordpress.com
Habermann, F (2012) We Are Not Born As Egoists in The Wealth of the Commons: A World beyond Market and State. Amherst, MA. Levellers Press.
Harvey, D (2007) A Brief History of Neoliberalism. Oxford. Oxford University Press.
Jackson, R (2015) Who Cares? The Impact of Ideology, Regulation and Marketization on the Quality of Life for People with Intellectual Disability. Sheffield. The Centre for Welfare Reform.
Kratzwald, B (2012) Rethinking the Social Welfare State in Light of the Commons in The Wealth of the Commons: A World beyond Market and State. Amherst, MA. Levellers Press.
Lutz, M (1999) Economics for the Common Good: Two Centuries of Social Economic Thought in the Humanist Tradition. New York. Routledge.
Meretz, S (2012) The Structural Communality of Commons in The Wealth of the Commons: A World beyond Market and State. Amherst, MA. Levellers Press.
Postle, D (2016) ‘Nature’ v ‘Civilisation’: End of Life Notice. Published online at https://wildernessweb.org/2016/04/21/nature-v-civilisation-end-of-life-notice/
Restakis, J (2011) Humanizing the Economy: Cooperatives in the Age of Capital. Gabriola Island, BC Canada. New Society Publishers.
Ryan, W (1971) Blaming the Victim. New York. Pantheon Books.
Verhaeghe, P (2014) What About Me? The struggle for identity in a market-based society. London. Scribe UK.
The publisher is the Centre for Welfare Reform.
Beyond Efficiency: Care and the Commons © Thomas Allan 2016.
Posted here by permission of the Centre for Welfare Reform
August 9, 2016 § Leave a comment
Guest post by Thomas Allan
These representations of a variety of human activities in the wild are usually set against a backdrop of rare spaces of natural beauty. Ancient woodlands with spectacular spreads of bluebells, beautiful lakes and wooded dingles cut into hills, meadows where Owls and Kestrels hunt. These exuberant and fertile landscapes awaken our senses, helping us get back in touch with our selves, with nature and leave the real world behind.
In fact, according to Community Psychologist and researcher Carl Walker, much research demonstrates the curative impact of green and waterside environments on mood, where regular use of the natural environment reduces the risk of mental ill health.
‘Nature’, though, is often represented as much by what it is not, as by what it is. It is places of natural beauty: countryside and rivers, mountains and creeks. It is not production or social organization: towns, roads, cars, offices, airports or factories. One, the profane, implies ‘contemporary sources of unfreedom’; mundane individual and societal problems. The other, the sacred, carries ‘a promising but unspecified sense of an alternative’. Manufactured objects, landscapes and the negotiation of social relations are not part of ‘nature’.
Yet, to a large extent, an individual’s capacity to access ‘nature’ depends on a range of contingencies embedded in everyday social and economic life. You’ll need physical health, mobility, cognition and psychosocial wellbeing (or otherwise access to social support). You’ll need communication, and affordable transportation such as a car, bike or public transport. You’ll need entitlement to time (paid or unpaid leave), money, food, clothes and equipment. You’ll probably want somewhere to stay and perhaps some company.
In our familiar notions of work, production and value, ‘nature’ is produced and repackaged as ‘leisure’ or ‘recreation’: apparently free time spent away from our work organizations, career building, formal education and domestic households. Yet this is a separation that ignores the economic and social forces which capture free time from an individual and sell it back to them as a commodity. Today, zero hours contracts, endless workplace restructures, reduced wages and welfare, anxieties, insecurity and a crisis in public health have left many without the means to traverse ‘real life’ into ‘nature’.
And if you are serious about leaving it all behind? You will need to consider other issues of accessing nature. According to an article in the Guardian, the UK has 60m acres of land; two thirds of which is privately owned by 0.36 percent of the population. The project of living within ‘nature’ is subject to the rules and exclusions of private or state land ownership and management. Historically, Simon Fairlie describes how the enclosure (privatization) of land in the UK over a number of centuries has led to extreme levels of land ownership concentration, depriving most British people of access to agricultural land.
However, many decades living afloat on the Thames in London led to author, activist and group therapist Denis Postle’s extended experience of the wild. For Postle, ‘Wilderness’ serves as an integrating notion for the split between ‘nature’ and ‘civilisation’: “Intimate appreciation of the dynamics of this wilderness led to the realisation that the city surrounding it and urban civilisation in general was also a wilderness and that the split between ‘nature’ and ‘civilisation’ was a major category error. Cities, the Internet, aircraft, washbasins and supermarkets are also ‘nature’.”
Here, nature and civilization are two inseparable spheres in symbiotic relationship. One may be described as the natural environment, not altered by human intervention. The other as what Castree (2001) and colleagues have termed ‘social nature’, referring to how societies physically re-constitute nature ‘intentionally and unintentionally’ to the point it becomes institutionalised and ‘internalised into social processes’.
The natural environment: climate, weather and natural resources, affects social nature: human survival and economic activity. The ‘economy’, originally conceived of as household management and by extension the commons, relies on nature in the form of resource extraction to produce commodities that we buy and sell in private markets for profit or use; while traditionally the state has harnessed ‘nature’ through investing in infrastructure such as roads, bridges, airports, railways, buildings and power stations to facilitate expansion, employment and ever more production and accumulation (market growth).
Different forms of production and social organization for survival are not unique to the modern era. But the endless drive for strategies of growth in the era of industrialization has fundamentally transformed human geography such as through extensive urbanization and agricultural land conversion, disturbing the ‘metabolic interaction’ between humans and the earth. One ‘nature’ has modified, displaced or diminished the ‘other’.
More reflections from The psyCommoner to follow…
January 30, 2016 § Leave a comment
Practical householding and other, creative demands, have distracted my attention from psyCommons for a while.
Happily this hasn’t been so for everyone.
Thomas Allan, who has been developing the psyCommons notion with enthusiasm posts these extracts from a recent conversation.
‘Reaching Sustainable Agreements in Negotiations on Commons’
Brigitte Kratzwald (BK), Thomas Allan (TA), Jed Walls (JW) and Nora Masch (NM) discuss the psyCommons at Leuphana University Online Course “The Psychology of Negotiations –”.
TA: With a background working with people with intellectual disabilities, I’m concerned about the ability of government bureaucracies, markets or some combination of the two to adequately respond to and meet individual and community need. I’m also concerned with issues of social marginality in negotiations. How can we support people who have few resources and little control over their lives to engage? How can we prevent people being excluded from both the processes and outcomes of negotiations? My experience is that negotiations still overwhelmingly happen as a top-down approach which professionals initiate and retain primary control over the processes of planning and decision making. Community members are subsequently invited to join a consultation which is typically a less democratic process as decisions have often already been made by ‘experts’. UK Social Care Researcher Dr Sarah Carr explains:
“Research concerning the involvement of people with learning difficulties indicates that effective interaction within a consultation can only happen when there is an attempt to redress the power balance between managers and policy makers and people with learning difficulties. It is also emphasised that professionals still exercise considerable power over disabled people’s lives. Each profession assumes a language, a set of values and practices that privileges the practitioner. Hitherto, a clear division between the expert provider and lay user has reinforced their enhanced status.”
Secondly, the approach taken on The Psychology of Negotiations is that negotiations on commons happen locally at the level of social networks, groups, small organizations and so on. But marginalization can occur at individual, community, professional and structural levels as well. Interpersonal relationships are ‘nested’ within broader social structures and influenced by issues around ownership and control of land and organizations, public policy, welfare and legal structures, and inequality of income and other resources. This in turn can affect cognition, perceptions, behaviours and psychological processes at the individual level, as explained in influential books such as ‘The Spirit Level’. So I’m also conscious that negotiations are human experiences with human connections and emotion as well as instrumental, material benefits and opportunities.
So is it possible to integrate the idea of the psyCommons (psychological commons) into The Psychology of Negotiations? The psyCommons is explained by Denis Postle on the P2P Foundation as follows: The basis of the proposition of a ‘psychological commons’ is that everyone develops a store of knowledge about all of the key elements that could be called ‘psychological’ – their own and others motivations, recognition of patterned behaviours, how they and others make decisions, and so on. This flux of myriad understandings, insights and expectations forms a resource, a commons – a psychological commons that we are free to tap into and add to. And on occasion to challenge – that’s to say, as with any commons, there are issues of governance.
BK: As far as I understand it psyCommons reminds me of social critic Ivan Illich’s “Entmündigung durch Experten”. I’m not quite sure whether it is “The Age of Disabling Professions” in English, but I think so.
But perhaps we should not have a nostalgic look to the past. In the past many people didn’t have access to psychological support; some didn’t understand their own needs nor learn to express them and to communicate with each other in an adequate way. Many people were not even considered to have their ‘own’ needs, but had to submit to the needs of others and their individuality was broken systematically. Women, children, older people and sick people were mistreated and suppressed. So for some these new psychological professions brought real improvement.
But it’s true that in the last 50 years or so there was a huge emphasis on psychological issues in our societies. A process Michel Foucault called “biopolitics”: how politics aims on the very subjectivity of individuals trying to fit them into the system’s logic. At the same time individuals have become ever more isolated from each other.
The consequences are outlined very well by Denis Postle. Different modes of behaviour or dispositions are turned into “diseases” that require treatment; each problem has its own professional expert and solving problems without experts becomes suspicious. People become dependent on experts and lose the ability to solve problems themselves.
But there is a positive aspect too. In days gone by a child may have been considered to be lazy or not very clever if they couldn’t follow the curriculum at school. Today there are a lot of special programs [and practitioners] to support and encourage children with different disabilities that were not even known some 20 years ago. Or, for example, if you tell your boss you are tired and you need a day off, they may say if you can’t meet the required performance you should look for another job. But if a medical professional states that you suffer from burnout or have a certain condition in need of special support you’ll find understanding and sympathy everywhere – oh, take any time you need to recover!
Also, I think in a time where things change so rapidly and traditional relations and experiences are not working for you, counselling and coaching might be very helpful. The most important thing, I suppose, is whether the ‘experts’ prescribe what is best for you or they help you to find out yourself what is best for you.
I’m not sure how to integrate the topic of the psyCommons into the psychology of negotiations, but I’m curious to find out. Probably in negotiations with ‘shared power’ which value ‘ordinary wisdom’ negotiations are more likely to be successful; but, on the other hand, we know that facilitators can be very helpful in commons negotiations. If the psyCommons can help people recognize their needs, resources and how to match them, a psyCommons could be an additional outcome of a commons negotiation?
NM: Denis Postle broadens the perspective of commons to psychological resources as well. The idea of common sense knowledge and knowledge we gather in everyday interaction with others as commons is interesting. Understanding the world around us is a soft skill crucial for personal and professional development. Postle gives this example:
“A mother and grandmother are walking home with young grandson who is riding his bike. At a pedestrian crossing he appears to be ignoring a bus that is approaching. His mother shouts at him very loudly. He is very upset by this – An hour later the grandson is still very tearful because his mother had been so angry and had shouted at him. His grandmother says – listen, your mother wasn’t angry, she was afraid, she thought you were in danger. Hearing this, the grandson’s distress evaporates.”
I recall that Eric Berne [creator of Transactional Analysis] used a similar example for the common sense of knowledge. He argued that young children are like aliens. They are not “stupid”; they just don’t know the rules yet. If we experience an irritating or frightening situation we can take a step back and view what happened from a distance. Children often cannot distance themselves from their direct (emotional) experience. This leads to problems with understanding and community, because in many situations there is no grandmother to translate the child’s experience. He might get the idea that if he is happy and plays and runs his mother doesn’t like him the way he is. This misunderstanding can lead to greater problems in the child’s behaviour if he understands different situations this way.
For me this creates new questions. Can this knowledge be negotiated? How can one negotiate in their community to lay a good basis for learning and developing?
TA: Brigitte, I really like the link to Foucault and how you say ‘politics aims on the very subjectivity of individuals trying to fit them into the system’s logic’. I tend to see psyCommons as important to both process and outcome of negotiations. The description of the psyCommons by David Bollier is useful here: “..the realm of the informal, the customary and the local – the social spaces in our lives that are largely exempt from bureaucratic or legal control, the spaces where people can negotiate their own shared understandings of intersubjective reality..”. The intersubjective experience is empathic experience; seeing things from another person’s perspective, which is very important in, say, conflict resolution. Conflict resolution is an important issue in negotiations and emotions play a central role in this. For example, negative emotions may cause conflict to escalate and break down, while positive emotions can facilitate the reaching of an agreement. Negotiating these social spaces is an important aspect of negotiations on commons.
Norah, I see this knowledge as socially constructed: knowledge created through social interaction in everyday contexts. Can knowledge be negotiated in the way that rules are put in place by parents for their children? For example, thoughts, feelings, attitudes and behavioural patterns based on lessons learnt from parents and other ‘parental’ or authoritarian sources. Many might accept negotiating knowledge based on empathic concern for learning and safety, but rule making can also have a negative effect where rules are insisted upon restricting the natural inquisitiveness of the child to grow and flourish, and where adults don’t question the rationale or ethical basis of this knowledge. This can transmit prejudicial views to children regarding the ‘usefulness’ and value to society of people with disability or other disadvantages. I think Transactional Analysis has useful techniques to uncover and understand these dynamics.
NM: A very important part of this question is personal growth and change, and psyCommons are very important for that.
What about the idea of psyCommons? What do others think about the concept and can you think of examples or relevant aspects to this concept?
JW: PsyCommons seems to detail the psychological landscape of cultures in a given environment. If I’m correct in this (and the rest of my comment hinges on that idea being correct) then it is a comment on the makeup of common sense, social representation, and media psychology as it affects cognition. Lots of good authors to explore in that world: Moscovici, Kurt Lewin, Lippman, for starters.
TA: Yes, those are useful connections. Negotiations are not limited to material resources but also cultural meanings. As I understand it, the psyCommons challenges dominant cultural narratives and media representations of mental distress (the ‘dangerous mental patient’) and the stereotyping and stigmatization that comes with this.