Monday, October 03, 2005

Meetings, meetings, meetings...

I've just started reading Freedom Is an Endless Meeting by Francesca Polletta. And, having just spent 4 out of the past 5 days facilitating meetings for a variety of organizations, i've got meeings on the brain. Then a friend sends me links about meetings: The Real Agenda in Boring Meetings and Get The Best Out of Meetings. It's certainly worth thinking about the pervasiveness of meetings in social and political life. And these articles do touch on some important facets of meetings. But, typically myopic ( in a Taylorized kinda way), they focus on the minutiae of meeting dynamics or, alternatively, the micro-acts of rebellion which, of course, play into the very dynamics that these articles implicitly challenge. It would be nice if the Guardian, of all papers (and The Observor, as well), saw fit to address the problem at its roots - or at least, in these somewhat amusing articles, tip their hat to them, i.e. the relations power in a corporate capitalist hegemony.

The conclusion from these articles should either be that meetings are often being used for the wrong purpose or that they are examining the wrong piece of the puzzle. Instead they myopically share tactics of manouevre which keeps the focus off the real problem.

These articles give me a strong feeling that there's a need to analyse (in a dialectical, popular education kind of way) so-called "meeting culture" from the point of view of a thorough analysis of power (a la Foucault, Gramsci, et al). Not to come up with better technocratic (perhaps even rebellious) "skills" and "techniques" but rather to structure and exercise real strategies of resistance. Not sure what that would look like.

This resonates for me with what i've long-believed is a major weakness in the way that popular education was brought to Canada (with the important exception of Quebec). Lots of well-intentioned mostly middle class white activists went to Latin America (me being one of them) and witnessed and participated in the revolutionary pedagogy and politics that make up popular education. We were understandably enthused by it and thought, with good conviction and solidarity, that we should bring this practice home. We did so. But i think something important was left behind. What came home was mostly the better "process" of learning and meeting and so on. What was left behind was mostly the revolutionary engagement with power relations or, more simply put, the resisting oppression stuff. Those who returned to Canada with popular education in their starry eyes, did not, needless to say, have the experience of oppression (nor the risks of choosing to confront and resist oppression) that gave rise to popular education in the first place (albeit popular education has roots as far back as the French Revolution as well as overlaps with many other forms of radical learning). And, i've long suspected that related to this lack of experience was a relatively naive understanding of power relations. We've gotten better. But slowly. And thus the popular education movement in Canada is unfortunately weighted towards it being a practice that is simply better process. And that counts for something. It is more just. But unfortunately it's weak when it comes to promoting the radical, even revolutionary, politics of social change which also includes the necessary reinvention of the person (or "subject" in the Foucauldian sense). Yeesh, i can wax on, can't i....

(Thanks for the links, Corvin.)

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