Self-Governing Without Guarantee: Introducing a Series of Notes on Submerged Political Forms Accessible to All

by Stefan Morales | Last Updated: February 8, 2024


The Idea

Defining Some Key Terms Above

First, a note about “definitions”(!) While I hope to provide some stability here, please also take each of these as sets of open research questions that I’m still working through. A lot of ongoing fascination and unfinished business here, with some more stabilized than others. Even so, I can be prone to bouts of deep skepticism of any of this, and normally I would rarely put anything like this set of notes out into the world, but am deliberately trying to change that orientation and be more openly reflexive, and less concerned about presentation and packaging of ideas, etc. and less concerned about calcifying biases, identities and projections on me by publishing.

“Intentional Engagement” is purposeful, considered, objective-oriented effort that follows a presumed linear model of causality (“we do X, so that…”). Non-linear dynamics are of course always present, which troubles the notion of “appropriate”, as any scale (spatial or intensive) can produce transformation that feeds back into the system. Is it possible to be intentional about intervening or effecting non-linear dynamics in some way, however? Perhaps, but it’s a bigger question I won’t cover here, and instead point to Delanda’s and others’ work, which stresses historical contingency and selection constraints within populations of objects as key processes of assembly formation.

“Spatial Scale” is how we commonly think of “social objects” within our social reality: a conversation is smaller and more ephemeral than the policy development process of a national government which can have a lasting and extensive effect across territory. Yet, the policy development process is simply nothing more than a series of conversations structured by previously agreed or decreed policies, procedures, principles, etc. So they’re analytically distinct, yet in actuality are nested, overlapping, networked, etc.

“Intensive Scale” is a less common understanding of scale as it has nothing to do with space, and everything to do with intensity. A local network of activists with a strong sense of solidarity, dense ties between each other and partner organizations, and clear working agreements that are iteratively developed and attended to, is of greater intensive scale than a loose collection of inter-agency bureaucrats who are charged with implementing a new policy with a limited amount of political will backing it.

“Deconstructing and Hospicing” see future notes.

“Social Objects” are the objects of social ontology – the study of the nature and properties of the social world – which in the common approach to social ontology, means the various entities in the world that arise from social interaction. Groups of humans in the form of organizations, communities, networks, etc. are what we commonly think of, but we can also include entities that we normally do not consider as arising from social interaction: like the individual, or their sub-personal qualities and traits. In flatter social ontologies like Assemblage Theory (AT), or Actor Network Theory (ANT), what are considered social objects, widens considerably, as well as the entities and processes that constitute them (see: “Socio-Ecological Objects” in future notes, where I’ll also argue that AT is a bit less flat).

“Assemblages” see the next set of notes.

“Socio-Ecological Objects” (SEO) see future notes.

“Navigation and Assembly” is a core disposition of the theoretical and practical applications of assemblage theory, which could be misconstrued as a new way to see and do strategy or tactics (I almost did in the beginning!). Navigation is simply what the dictionary provides: “the process or activity of accurately ascertaining one’s position and planning and following a route.” Note that a route is not an objective (see Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective by Kenneth O. Stanley for insights from the development of machine learning). It’s the path towards an end point. When we route, we are always re-routing, and we might completely shift the end point entirely. Assembly on the other hand is all about formation. The dictionary tacks closely with the social science concept, where assembly is “the action of gathering together as a group for a common purpose.” Sharma and Czégel define assembly as “the total amount of selection necessary to produce an ensemble of observed objects”, and they provide an equation utilizing Euler’s number. I’m still trying to understand and operationalize this, and compare with the work of Hector Zenil and others. The use of Euler’s number hints at the dynamics of growth, change and decay when applying assembly theory to social objects. To navigate and assemble then is to be continuously (re)orienting, (re)positioning, (re)routing, and (re)assembling within the given constraints of the system (i.e. “selection constraints”). It does not mean that we must adhere to, and “securitize” a specific objective, assembly, pathway, etc. “with” or “against” others. This is about centring metaphors of exploration, discovery, journeying, voyages, hikes, etc. rather than military metaphors that invariably make their way in when using notions of strategy, etc. And, by assembling, we are opening existing assemblies up to possible transformation and adaptation in the face of an emergent field of possibility, constrained by various selection pressures, rather than trying to retain the identity of a given social object in the face of stressors. But of course, I understand that by making this false dualism, I’m playing old identity games, and there is much more to say about other metaphors that could invite us to deconstruct the characteristic of this further.

“Co-constitutive Authority” before I can define this type of authority, we need a brief foray into Max Weber, who identified three distinct “ideal types” of authority. Weber was himself aware that these “ideal types” were exactly that – an expression of organizational “reality” that has never and will never exist in such a ‘pure’ form. Not to mention the Eurocentric bias and absence of the role that gender dynamics would play in these ideal types (the lens of patriarchy offering the understanding of authority structures as fundamentally structured as “protection rackets”, as Susan Rae Paterson argued):

“Dynamic Ordering” see future notes.

“Double Articulation” is the process of identity formation/deconstruction of an assemblage. It is comprised of two axis: one which underscores the degree to which an assemblage is destabilized or stabilized; and the other underscoring the degree to which an assemblage is loosely held to more ephemeral or implicit forms of structure, code, etc., or tightly held to an explicit code, rule set, conduct, practice, etc. Next week’s notes on the assemblage goes into more detail, so I won’t reproduce that here. There are many ways to express each axis, and I am play-testing distributive structures and diagrams for both an audience of folks who want to use the original axis of assemblage theory (Coding — Decoding / Territorialize — Deterritorialize), and a wider audience (in the form of a Liberating Structure) who need something more accessible to explore context and processes of identity formation. My hope is obviously that these distributive structures are used in ways that are inclusive of all forms of life vital to the sustainable and regenerative formation or deconstruction of a given assemblage, but the reality is that they can be used for any context or purpose. If you are thinking of using them in other, more ‘traditional’ business-as-usual contexts (i.e. product development, etc.) please reach out to me! I’m sure we can explore ways they can be used in service of traditional innovation AND sustainable and regenerative production and consumption methods. With other brave souls I’m currently designing and playtesting new LS and trying:

So far, it’s yielding interesting results, but it’s all in the invitations and ‘schizzes’ that accompany the diagram! (but more on this later!) I will update progress here and on the mailing list.

“Distributive Structures” are micro- and macro- structures that distribute participation and control among actors (human and non-human alike). A microstructure refers to the small-scale patterns of social interactions and relationships among individuals or within small groups. Human behaviour, social norms, and group dynamics are studied at this level of analysis, and Erving Goffman is perhaps the best known theorist in this field. A macrostructure refers to large-scale and longer-term patterns of social interaction, which can mean anything from institutional policies and programs to the built environment itself. We unknowingly occupy these structures all the time, and they don’t often come into our awareness as something that we can design to accommodate distributed participation and control – especially at the micro- level. Instead, we more often (un)consciously design these structures for more centralized or hierarchical forms of participation and control: from how we meet and gather around leaders who present or manage the discussion, to how we structure our built environment to enable various forms of social control. Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz compiled and created many different microstructures that distribute participation and control under the banner of Liberating Structures, which are “…easy-to-learn microstructures that enhance relational coordination and trust [and] quickly foster lively participation in groups of any size, making it possible to truly include and unleash everyone.” There are of course less-accessible distributive structures that require trained or expert support to facilitate or utilize: from architectural design to blockchain protocols to different forms of participatory narrative inquiry (Kurtz, Snowden, etc.) to service design processes, institutional ethnography, expert-driven strategic planning processes, multi-stakeholder negotiations, etc.

“Reflexive Adult Development” (RAD) – see future notes.

“Affect Noticing” – see future notes.

“Ethos” – see future notes.

Attribution & Linkages

thx for reading along,