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Emergent forms of social action

Organising, power, and participation

Published onFeb 22, 2021
Emergent forms of social action

As a practitioner in the field of social and community development over 8 years, I have observed a dissonance between what is planned and programmed, and the messy, relational, ambiguous nature of what I see happening in the field:

Despite the best of humanistic intentions, the unspoken habits of the sector hold sway (Kaplan, Emerging Out of Goethe, p. 16). 

During the past five years, I have been especially exploring how emergent forms of social action appear in the interplay of diverse groups of people coming together with a collective intention.  I am inquiring into the ways in which actions happen when they are not guided by pre-planned processes and/or undertaken by management teams; but instead are emerging responses from constant interactions amongst the people involved. I have found these experiences deeply relational, responsive, and participatory, and have become interested in how they can inform the ways in which development projects are undertaken. 

I am paying attention to my experience of organising within my work as a consultant and facilitator with social movements and NGOs, and within the Project of La Bolina, of which I am a founder member (this is a project that seeks the integration of migrants in the depopulated rural areas of Spain, through creating sustainable livelihoods in regenerative agriculture and local, circular economies). I am interested in identifying patterns of relating that form ways of organising. How do moments of significant shift occur, how do we give or create meaning out of them, and can this shifting of awareness start to form a recognisable practice? Can this, in turn, guide and inform other practitioners within the field of development? How do patterns of participation and distribution of power emerge amongst those participating: communities and NGO workers; amongst migrants, refugees, and project organisers?


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