CONSTRUCTING SOCIAL CHANGE: Desire and Utopia, Art, Knowledge and Direct Action

Date: 22 June 2006 – 26 June 2006
Location: Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

CASA
The Cultural Analysis Summer Academy (CASA) came into existence in
2003 as an international forum that seeks to discuss the shifting
functions of academia and the scholar in a globalized society. Until
now CASA organized two meetings to provide a platform for these
discussions. Two years ago people from seventeen countries all over
the world engaged in the discussions under the broad headline of
‘Acting – Spectating’. The meeting proved to be successful and
created on-going debates that have resulted in an e-journal and a
proposed book publication. In 2005 a second meeting was organized
that focused on the intersection between academic research and
activism by discussing three thematic threads: borders, markets and
movement(s).

CASA continues to be an interrogatory process on the continuum of
activism and academia. The CASA meeting 2006 will focus on debates
around the construction of social change.

Change
The leftist tendency of embracing change as intrinsically positive,
as if all transformations were emancipatory, veils two important
facts. First of all, it presents the world as manageable. While
change is inevitable it is not always the result of rational choices
within collective action processes. Secondly, when human agents
attempt to give change a certain direction, they still need to take
into consideration that the effects of their actions cannot always be
predicted and anticipated, but are subject to contingent factors and
can take surprising turns. The unpredictabilities inherent in a
project of transformation make it necessary that change becomes a
reflexive and ongoing process.

Social relations
The project of changing social relations has been related to the
transformation of material dimensions of class relations and given
form by a politics of redistribution. Yet a long tradition of
criticism has shown that class is not the only social organizing
principle that constitutes our position in a complicated and wide web
of power relations. When we speak about oppression or exclusion we
equally have to mention gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, health,
age, etc and social, economic and symbolic/discursive relations that
construct and sustain the norm. Accordingly, knots of resistance and
social transformation are generated from these different positions
reflecting different forms of labor, different ways of living,
different views of the world and differing desires.
Departing from such fragmented subject positions we would like to
open up a discussion about the possibilities and limitations of and
strategies for creating more equal and ! inclusive social relations.
Inclusion involves changing these social ordering principles by
deconstructing the norms that nourish the production of social
hierarchies without constructing new exclusive norms. Equality does
not refer to sameness but to the acceptance and negotiation of
differences that can be articulated in dialogic processes. To strive
for equality in social relations involves the creation of the
conditions that would allow everyone to take part in the process of
social change, from her own particular social context.

Constructing social change
Dialogic processes for change in a world that is not manageable
cannot flourish when one departs from the concept and practice of
‘directing change’. ‘Vanguardism’ is no valid option for a
participatory collective process. Therefore, we would like to speak
about constructing change,! which refers to a collective participative
process that involves the articulation of differences by creating
permeability and mutual contamination between different struggles and
ideas.

CASA 2006: Constructing social change

CASA 2006 will be centered on four interrelated strategies for social
transformation, focusing on a different strategy each day. These are:
desires and utopia, art, knowledge, and direct action.
All these themes can -and hopefully will- be discussed from many
different angles. Possible questions are (but should not be limited to):

Desire and utopia
How does desire relate to social change? How can reflections on our
own desires for change and its implications be developed? Can desire
be changed or directed? What is the role of desire in research? Can
desires for alternatives help to shape an effe! ctive research
strategy? What is the role of utopian writing for the stimulation of
social change? What can be considered as utopian movements? What are
the utopian aspects of social movements and knowledge construction?
Art
How can art contribute to emancipatory change? Is art merely
reflecting social change, or can it be transformative in itself? How
are art, knowledge and desire interrelated? How should we imagine the
agency and autonomy of art in the age of global culture industries?
Can art be a form of direct action? In what way is art related to the
social? What is the role of the artist, and what is the role of the
public in both the production and experience of an artwork? How can
we discuss social responsibility of the artists?
Knowledge
In what ways can knowledge be used for social change towards more
inclusiveness and emancipation? Which agents or parameters determine
different types, modes and sites of knowledge production and
transmission, knowledge hierarchies, the organization of knowledge
and of academia? What alternatives are available concerning the
production, distribution/sharing and use of knowledge? What is the
role of education in processes of transformation?
Direct Action
What kind of interruptions and interventions are useful for reaching
emancipatory transformation? How and by whom are direct action
interventions carried out and to what ends? What kind of knowledge is
produced by direct action? Can direct action also be used for
knowledge construction and the interruption of hegemonic academic
practices? Can we talk about “aesthetics” of direct action as a way
of politicizing and mobilizing aesthetic experience?

Participation
The format of the CASA meeting is as crucial as its content. We want
to ask all of you to engage in a construction of interactive spaces
that contribute to constructing emancipatory change that is inclusive.
Interactivity, here, means acknowledging that knowledge construction
and knowledge transmission are not one-directional but rather
collective processes. Thus participants of all kinds (presenters,
discussants, facilitators, technical assistants, and organizers)
should actively engage in collaborative processes rather than in a
mere conveying of knowledge. We are open to alternative formats -
from workshops to performances – that would open spaces for
participation and collective production.
Inclusiveness, here, means open to variety. We want a large diversity
of contributions to the CASA meeting by inviting academics, artists,
artist projects and collectives, utopians, utopian writers, non-
institutional intellectuals, activists engaged in direct actions, and
other interested individuals to share and exchange thoughts and
practices. We also anticipate a diversity of practices to open debate
and reflection. CASA 2006 can be a continuum of debating,
intervening, thinking, reflecting, inspiring, inventing and
constructing inclusive emancipatory initiatives.

Proposals for contributions within the four outlined topics are very
welcome and can be submitted until April 1, 2006.

For further questions, contributions or participation please mail to:
info@casa.manifestor.org Website: ! http://www.casa.manifestor.org