Jess McCabe

I am a journalist and these are some of the stories I've been working on lately

How to be on a collective

Image by Shirin K. A. Winiger and shared under a Creative Commons license on Flickr

Image by Shirin K. A. Winiger and shared under a Creative Commons license on Flickr

Most of us are well-trained in working in a hierarchy – particularly in our workplaces. When we get involved in groups or organisations structured in other ways, it can be a challenge.

Being part of a consensus-led group, The F-Word bloggers’ collective, could not be more different to the newsroom environment of my workplace. Hungry for more help on how to contribute more effectively, I have been soaking up information as and where I can find it: much of the experience of feminist and womanist collectives is hard to access.

Joan Braderman, director of The Heretics documentary, has posted the entire archive of feminist art magazine Heresies online. Fascinating to dig through in its own right. However, one of the most precious roles of this documentary as far as I’m concerned is the interviews with former collective members about all-night meetings in artists lofts, the testy creative process of putting the magazine together – the drawbacks and benefits. Just for example, swapping roles each issue gives everyone a chance to experiment with the different aspects of magazine production, but some lessons are lost as learning is not transferred. (Look out for my interview with Joan and review of this film on The F-Word, later this month). Of course, these meetings were not recorded – and many of the insights on how to publish a magazine (or a blog!) as a collective are in danger of being lost. And we end up becoming experts in wheel reinvention.

Jo Freeman’s Tyranny of Structurelessness will leave you with no illusions that it is possible to simply launch into a collective or consensus-decision-making group with no guidance or thought:

“This means that to strive for a ‘structureless’ group is as useful and as deceptive, as to aim at an ‘objective’ news story, ‘value-free’ social science or a ‘free’ economy. A ‘laissez-faire’ group is about as realistic as a ‘laissez-faire’ society; the idea becomes a smokescreen for the strong or the lucky to establish unquestioned hegemony over others.”

To hone my skills at ‘doing collectives’ more successfully, I attended a very useful workshop this weekend, put on by Seeds for Change. Sparing you the thorough debrief I have  already emailed to The F-Word collective email list, nonetheless I have to link up this fantastic set of online, copyright-free resources.

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