Cultural Graffiti: A 5 Day Experiment – Day 3 – Sanctioned Subversion

Today may be the hardest day of this 5 Day Experiment, because i want you to create a sanctioned space for subversion. You may feel that you can complete this activity, or it may daunt you: it’s fine not to complete it, but i would encourage you to spend time reflecting on why that is, and the consequences for your own, and your Organisation’s, ability to change.

Formal voices are easy to hear – protest voices that exist in hidden spaces are safe to shout – but change will likely be seeded in the Edge-Land spaces.

Sanctioned Subversion is a term to describe a specific type of space that we may create: it’s a space to hear the graffiti voices, the voices of protest, commentary, or dissent, but it’s sanctioned, so that it is safe. This is the hard trade off: are you brave enough to listen?

There are a range of techniques that you can use to allow for ‘Sanctioned Subversion’: i will describe two of them here, and you can decide which one to try.

Poster Spaces

Poster Spaces are incomplete posters, or posters that invite themselves to be defaced. You could draw half a picture, or make a statement surrounded by white space, and invite people to add to it, or deface it.

Last time i did this activity, it was working with an NHS group, who drew posters with provocative statements about a formal change programme, and left them in staff spaces, for people to add to.

Interestingly, engagement varied: some were left untouched, but others proliferated comments.

The factors that related to this were how visible the poster was, but most importantly, the presence of a second handwriting, a second voice, almost always triggered many more. It seems as though the first commentator takes the greatest risk (think back to our conversations about ‘aggregation and amplification’ in the first 5 Day Experiment on Storytelling).

In a safer way, you can make a poster (which may simply be a statement), and share it with a defined group, not a fully public one.

Structured Dissent

Structured Dissent is a similar activity, in that we are asking for different voices, but it’s safer because it is carried out by email, and we give people defined roles to play.

So you may start by making a statement, and you ask people to add to it in a defined way. For example:

  • Take this statement and add a voice that agrees
  • Take this statement and add a voice that dismisses
  • Take this statement and add a voice that comments upon it
  • Take this statement and add a voice that tries to kill the conversation
  • Take this statement and add a voice that tries to amplify it
  • Take this statement and agree strongly
  • Take this statement and add humour

Your Activity

Create a space for Sanctioned Subversion, either using one of the approaches described above, or make up your own.

Examples to inspire you:

The following are simple ideas, but again, feel free to make up your own. Create a poster (even a simple A4 sheet, printed) with the invitation “graffiti this poster”. Examples could be:

  • “Change is always good”,
  • “What we do today is not enough”
  • “We are at the peak of our potential”
  • “More new ideas are always better”
  • “Different generations think differently”

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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