When Steve Dietz, Artistic Director of Northern Lights.mn first broached the topic of co-organizing a symposium related to agonism, Susy Bielak (my colleague in Public Programs) and I had the same response as most people to that word, utter confusion. Steve sent us links to articles about agonism and through more and more conversations (and the occasional Wikipedia search) we began to make inroads unpacking this term. Here’s my shorthand:
Agonsim: the space between antagonism and consensus; discourse and debate amongst adversaries rather than enemies. In terms of game theory or sports, agonism is a competition/conflict between opponents who incite mutual struggle, respect, and admiration.
The question that Steve has kept drilling down since we’ve begun planning the Discourse and Discord symposium, is what are the structures (i.e. architectures, digital technologies) and processes that enable agonistic discourse? None of us being particularly interested in having an academic-type of conference where intellectuals read papers about political theory, we agreed that an event where there was a range of experiences embodying the ideas of agonism would be most interesting. As inspiration, we started to pass around images that seemed to get us talking about agonism. Here are a few.
This giant megaphone, made during the Futurefarmers residency in Open Field (another project co-presented by Northern Lights.mn and the Walker) requires teamwork and collaboration to support the voice of each individual.
Architect Mark Shepard, one of the participants in Discourse and Discord, sent us this photo of Foley Square in lower Manhattan. The square is dominated by civic buildings with several courthouses, the Jacob K. Javitz Federal Building and City Hall in close proximity. Security booths and cameras, street ballards, and cautionary road blocks send a strong message to citizens that this is a place controlled by the military state, rather than a public arena for justice and democracy.
Occupy protestors in Zuccotti Park summons to mind the participatory and organizing structures, like the human mic and the general assembly, that were utilized in the public sphere.
A shot of tea, anyone?
Next week, from April 12-14 the conversation about agonism goes public at the Walker. Join us as we continue to understand what it means, why it’s important, and how we design structures for productive discourse.