Throughout this year i am carrying out a critical reappraisal of my own published work and retrospective analysis of my ideas around the Social Age. These things will, combined, contribute towards the writing of a Social Age Guidebook later this year. This work will include a reflection on certain key communities, experiences, and conversations, which have challenged me, or helped me to find insight and understanding. Today, we will visit the Vegan Punks in Boston, as part of a reflection on ‘community’ and ‘spaces’.
I find myself on my hands and knees, on the roof of the old Rum Distillery. It’s high up here and i’m uncertain as to how much weight the structure can bear. A vast building, we must be six or eight stories up by now. The building is clearly generational: odd structures added to the sides and top, strange angles and pitches on the roof around us.
I blink in the sunlight, before realising that there are other people here: from doorways and hatches, other faces emerge. Climbing up and out into the fresh air.
I’m here as a guest of the Vegan Punks, an ad hoc collective of artists and musicians who have made this space their home, and through their hospitality have given me an insight into the fluid relationship between people, space, community and performance.
Probably my overriding memory of the Distillery is nonlinearity. Nothing is divided in the ways that i expect: not horizontally nor vertically.
The couple i am staying with inhabit a space that is sandwiched between the ‘inside’ and the ‘out’, between the ‘up’ and the ‘down’. I cannot remember the exact layout, except that at one point we climbed through a void and into a different studio, this one an elderly female sculptor, whose ‘gallery’ conjoined my new friends studio space. Her space was silent, vast, with works that seemed kinetic and yet frozen in time. There was a stillness in the light.
We went for (vegan) ice cream, drank tea, walked, played music, shared stories. At one point we tried to synchronise heartbeats, a co-adaptive behaviour that, once one overcame the slight discomfort of close quarters, was meditative.
We spoke about creativity, within community: of how people found each other, of how together they found space, and how they inhabited that space. How they learned, and shared. I heard the stories that they told about each other, and about the ‘other’. I learned how they made each other more.
A day later, i found myself at the Pentagon, briefing a group of Generals, and having pretty much the exact same conversation, but in an entirely different context.
A conversation about community, and the spaces (and ways) that it inhabits.
Both were conversations about capability, about learning: not formal, taught stories, but socially co-created and validated ones. Social Learning through Social Being.
The stark familiarity of the conversations pivoted my thinking about community, to a recognition that we are, at heart, and at the centre, social. It’s the context that changes, not our social nature. The systems we construct around our ‘selves’ vary widely, from the highly formal and structured, to the entirely emergent and social, and yet the forces that govern the social space, the currencies as i would now describe them, are common.
The notions of convergence, of ad hoc connection, and of a fluid relationship with physical spaces (and later i would consider digital ones too), leads into the notions of evolutionary narratives, of stories of self belief which in turn lead into stories of performance. In some ways, both a reflection on the creativity of the Vegan Punks, and the mission driven social learning in the military, both in their own ways an exploration of the movement of crowds and the waves of ‘belief’ in what is true, both these things inspired me to explore further.
In later work in New York (which i will explore in a separate post) i would come to look at this more explicitly, and to bring it together: to look at how formal and social communities may inhabit the same space, but in different (and often entirely oblivious) contexts. And in later research i would explore more directly the reasons why people describe their social systems as more trusted, connected, valued, and indeed effective.
As i write this, i realise the experience is diluted: my memories are a somewhat freewheeling series of snapshots, and the insight felt quite visceral. Indeed, i suspect in the latter part of my journey was was relatively incoherent as i tried to communicate my insight without the right structure around it.
That is, perhaps, part of the role and skillset of the generalist, the trans-disciplinary practitioner, and social storyteller. To find language. To share experiences. To explore.