Much like the years that preceded it, School of Commons 2020 began with a new cohort of fresh-faced fellows, full of ideas and expectations, ready to embark on an unknown and exciting journey into peer-to-peer learning, intent on unearthing dormant knowledges, novel insights, and establishing common ground in the spaces between. And what a year it turned out to be. As is often the case with School of Commons, nothing was quite as expected. Though this time it had less to do with the unexpected encounters and revelations that form part of the territory of peer-to-peer learning, and more to do with the uncontrollable external factors that caused significant rifts and shifts across the globe, in turn, challenging our everyday realities. Despite the undeniable hardships and divisions 2020 produced, the year offered us at least some consistency in that it once again brought together an exciting range of individuals with diverse backgrounds, skill sets, knowledges, and bearings within the School of Commons framework. Through this publication, we hope to offer you an insight into the people, projects, ideas, and experiences that made School of Commons 2020 such an enriching experience, during what was otherwise an extraordinary and unprecedented moment in our shared histories.
By way of short introduction, School of Commons (SoC) is a yearly, 10-month long, community-based programme dedicated to peer-to-peer learning and the development of self-organized practices with do-it-with-others methodologies. We promote a broad, integrative understanding of the term 'knowledge' and ‘learning’. In doing so, the content and position of SoC is very much defined and led by our community, rather than a predetermined programme. All of SoC’s research is conducted through the framework of three separate, yet interconnected Labs: LEARN, MAPP, and READ. Each Lab is run as a peer-based, collaborative endeavour with annually changing members. This means that each year brings with it a variety of participants and guests who generously share their curiosity, skills, and visions through conviviality, collaboration, and exchange. The results of such endeavours are regularly published online on the SoC website and presented during public displays. It is important to us that all the content produced within our Labs is openly accessible, and that anyone can apply to join a Lab. This was the precise framework that we continued with for the 2020 edition of School of Commons, albeit under very different circumstances to those we had experienced before. SoC 2020 was, therefore, difficult, but also nice, and we got to know a little more…
The onset of the pandemic, now approaching almost two years ago, meant that we – like everyone – had to rapidly adapt to new and unfamiliar circumstances. Though SoC has always strived to find a balance between physical encounters and online gatherings and meet-ups, our new conditions meant we were provided with the opportunity to experiment further with digital means of correspondence. Whilst challenges were still presented in the promotion and upkeep of motivation, and connection between all participations, on the flip side, our newly found methods of communication that included experimental gaming environments, collective email chains, and apps designed to for us walk together, no matter where we were situated geographically, made it possible for people from all over the world to participate in, and contribute to SoC in full, ultimately leading to a more diverse and inclusive program. For this experience we continue to be grateful, and are excited to develop these new methods of exchange into our longer-term framework.
Whilst not without its challenges, 2020 brought forth an incredible array of voices, which, despite the difficulties, still managed to find resonance and harmony, and produce unexpected encounters and exchanges. It is in this spirit that this publication functions as a compendium of sorts, compiling the topics, projects, and people that have made up the School of Commons during this particular, and peculiar, year. All of the 14 projects presented in this publication were grown, shaped, and realised over the 10-month period of the School of Commons programme, through an assortment of presentations, conversations, workshops, peer-to-peer learning activities and extensive periods of research, study, collaboration, and production. Despite the individual nuances, complexities and idiosyncrasies that make up these individual projects, all are united in their foundational focus on self-organisation, commoning, and collectivity. Ways of being and doing that are almost now more integral than ever as we face increased political, societal, economic and planetary frictions. Despite the limitations the year brought with it, the SoC 2020 fellows jumped at the challenge of finding new, innovative, and experimental ways to communicate, collaborate and connect, in turn shaping their ideas and research into compelling outcomes and results.
We are hugely thankful to all of the 2020 School of Commons participants from the LEARN, MAPP and READ Labs, for the time, energy, ideas, and commitment each offered over the course of the programme, even with the difficulties the year posed. The results of such efforts will continue to live on beyond the scope of this fellowship and publication, in shaping the School of Commons, it’s frameworks, and resonating throughout our expansive network of participants, alumni, partners, collaborators, and friends.
We sincerely hope that you enjoy delving a little deeper into the inner workings and thinking of the School of Commons 2020 fellows and their projects through this publication, and that it offers an insightful and inspiring experience.
It was difficult but also nice and we got to know a little more
Prologue. Josephine Baan, Marea Hildebrand, Philipp Spillmann