— Cultural Sources of Newness

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If Berlin feels especially energized this week, it may be partially thanks to the participants of the world conference of the Applied Improvisation Network (AIN). Over 225 men and women from 36 countries working with impro/improv/improvisation in diverse fields poured into the Kalkscheune  in Berlin-Mitte on October 3rd and again today to share their ideas and questions. And to advance the establishment of improvisation as a source of renewal and, in some cases, resistance to the new.

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Taking a break from formulating the conclusions to a chapter I am writing about artists’ reflections on artistic interventions yesterday evening, I went to a concert. The program was 17th and 18th century folk music from Slovakia and Hungary. A good break from work and thoughts of newness, I expected. Instead I found evidence that cultural newness starts at home.

 

Hauskonzert Trio Dulci Chordae September 29 2013

Hauskonzert Trio Dulci Chordae September 29 2013

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There are at least three potential sources of newness offered by attending a PhD defence ritual abroad: you get to read a brand new thesis, you get to experience sparks of dissonance in the interaction, and you get to observe a (for you as a foreigner) new academic ritual. By accepting Ulla Johansson Sköldberg’s invitation to attend the defence of one of her PhD students, Marcus Jahnke, on Friday afternoon September 20th at the HDK – School of Design and Crafts, University of Gothenburg I had the great fortune to reap value from all three sources—and more: I witnessed the emergence of a new twist to the academic ritual.

PhD thesis Marcus Jahnke 2013

PhD thesis Marcus Jahnke 2013

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“Can artists make the world a better place?” Not surprisingly, given the high-culture context for the discussion (Aspen Ideas Festival) and the panellists (Damian Woetzel, former Principal Dancer at the New York City Ballet and co-initiator of Arts Strike; designer Fred Dust at IDEO; and philanthropist Dennis Scholl, initiator of Random Acts of Culture), the quick answer is a resounding “yes!” Under the skilled leadership of BBC journalist Bridget Kendall the panellists and the audience came up with questions and thoughts that both supported this claim and illustrated the disturbing societal challenges involved. The program is still available online, so I am capturing here only a few points that struck me, many of which resonate with my research findings.*

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Conferences have such formatted spaces that just attending them becomes a burden.”

Two big themes officially set my agenda in Montréal these past few days, and I ensured I had the energy to work with them by making space and taking time for meaningful conversations inside as well as outside the program. The overall theme for this year’s EGOS conference was “Bridging Continents, Cultures and Worldviews, and the theme for the track I co-organized with Stefan Meisiek and Steve Taylor was “Identity in Art, Design, and Organization (ADO).”  In the ADO track we found various ways to break out of the burdensome conference format referred to above in an email I received from a colleague (who did not attend the conference). We interrupted our process a couple of times to listen to keynote speakers who addressed the overall conference theme.  

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“Things can work even when they don’t fit together” and “Misunderstanding can contribute to coordination”—these were the first two insights that David Stark shared with us at the workshop that we organized at the WZB June 26-28 in preparation of the book with the working title “Valorizing dissonance. Cultural perspectives on newness.” Where did we—a group of 17 academics from different parts of Europe and North America—go from there? One part of our agenda was to get from dissonance to newness, a concept that was foreign to many of our guests.

Beginning two days of discussions

Beginning two days of discussions

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In the face of over-illuminated night skies researchers join forces. The conference The Bright Side of Night tackled the issue of so-called light pollution on June 20-21 in the  Leibniz Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning (IRS) in Erkner, close to Berlin. The event was organised by the interdisciplinary research project Loss of the Night and assembled panelists with research backgrounds in political science, history, economics, law and urban planning in front of a just as diverse audience including also physicists, engineers, ecologists and local citizens. Despite the extreme summer heat discussions were lively and the audience attentive. I take it as an indicator for the quality of the event. (Part I)

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Die Referentin Dr. Mareike König vom Deutschen Historischen Institut Paris hat mich überzeugt. Es heißt das Blog – schließlich handelt sich um eine Wortkreuzung aus Web und Log, also um eine Art Internetnotizbuch. Und das macht Sinn, auch wenn Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler die Möglichkeit des öffentlichen Aufschreibens, Dokumentierens und Austauschs im Netz nur zögerlich für ihre Arbeit nutzen (WZB Empirie). Die gepflegte Internetidentität kann heute aber durchaus karriereentscheidend sein, erklärt Mareike König im Rahmen der WZB-Veranstaltung “Forschungsjournale im Netz: neue Publikations- und Kommunikationswege über Twitter, Facebook und Wissenschaftsblogs”. Es folgten hilfreiche Tipps und Infos und zehn gute Gründe für mehr Text.

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Flying unprepared to an international conference to which one has been invited as a keynote speaker can be considered arrogant and/or unprofessional. I hope I am neither, but this is what I decided to do last week for the 3rd Participatory Innovation Conference in Lahti, Finland . I had not taken the decision alone: the idea was born out of a conversation with Finnish artist Nanna Hänninen , who had been invited to contribute an artistic response to a selection of papers that had been submitted to the conference. During the conversation we had in my office at the WZB in May about artistic interventions in organizations, we decided to propose to the conference organizers to transform our separate roles into a joint contribution that would combine academic and artistic perspectives. Co-chair Helinä Melkas welcomed our unusual and risky suggestion, which she felt fit well with the theme and nature of the conference: innovation and participation as performance. And I felt that the idea fit well with one of the key findings of my research on artistic interventions in organizations, namely that one of the most valuable contributions that artists bring into organizations is the capacity to engage not-knowing. The conference offered an opportunity for me to shift from writing about the concept to actually trying to do it in partnership with an artist.

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Sign of newness--designed by Bernhard Koppmeyer (photo Barbara Schlueter)

Sign of newness–designed by Bernhard Koppmeyer
(photo Barbara Schlueter)

How do you know newness when you see it?“–that was the question 20 participants at the Objects of Newness symposium worked on yesterday at the WZB. They had each brought an object that somehow represented newness to them. These included items as diverse as a magnifying glass, the cloud that enables big data research, an empty white plate, a small plant, and a mosaic with a (Luhmannèsque Differenz-)line found in a souk.

 

Sharing and comparing objects of newness (photo Barbara Schlueter)

Sharing and comparing objects of newness
(photo Barbara Schlueter)

Over the course of 65 minutes (the timing coincided symbolically with the 65th birthday of Michael Hutter that the symposium was intended to honor) the participants circulated from table to table, sharing and comparing their objects of newness.

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