research for action

Matrifocal Orientation

Pattern ID: 
617
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
9
Lori Blewett
The Evergreen State College
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Because almost all contemporary societies are androcentric (male-centered), women's needs, interests, ideas, and perspectives on the world are often ignored or trivialized. Androcentrism perpetuates a patriarchal system that oppresses women and severely constrains (and damages) men's lives as well. An orientation toward social change that gives voice to women's perspectives and strives to replace patriarchy with an egalitarian, matrifocal society would go a long way toward creating a just and peaceful world for all.

Context: 

Although societies differ in the degree and form which male dominance takes, male privilege is generally maintained through systems of beliefs, laws, discriminatory practices, and cultural norms (including direct or indirect perpetuation of male violence). Patriarchy concentrates social, political, and economic power in the hands of men at the expense of women. Because gender oppression is ancient and insidious, a conscious effort is needed to recognize the gendered dimensions of social problems. Looking at the world with a matrifocal orientation can help create contexts in which women-centered analyses of social problems are fully incorporated into problem-solving processes.

Discussion: 

A matrifocal orientation to social change draws directly on women’s experience and knowledge and puts the needs of oppressed women at the center of social transformation. Matrifocal societies, real and imagined, do not challenge patriarchy by offering its mirror image--with women in positions of dominance over men. Rather, they embrace values traditionally seen as feminine: peace, nurturance, cooperation, and care for those most in need. A matrifocal society is one in which dominance over others is not supported (neither as an individual or collective goal). The needs and contributions of women are valued equally with those of men. Women’s interests are not special interests but human interests. Social distinctions between males and females may be minimized [depending on the culture], and those biological/social differences that remain do not inhibit women’s full participation in the society. A matrifocal orientation to social change recognizes that “the rising of the women means the rising of the [human] race” (1).

The need for women’s voices to be heard in order for society to become more just, has been recognized by progressive social reformers for centuries (and probably longer). This awareness led to the development of women-centered movements throughout the world. As a social/political orientation, the Matrifocus pattern is reflected in both feminist organizing in first world nations and community-centered women’s organizing in Third world nations. Historically, many Third World women’s organizations have been concerned with conditions of economic hardship, displacement, and state-sponsored violence affecting their communities as a whole, while first world feminist groups have focused more exclusively on women’s social and political rights. In recent decades the issue of violence against women has been a common theme of transnational women organizing (2). Regardless of the issue, whenever women organize with the goal of creating a more just and sustainable society, they are endeavoring to insert their voices and their perspectives into the public debate. By doing so, they are subverting the androcentric norm of male power and female silence.

Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo, for example, were able to subvert androcentric norms after initially making use of them. The simultaneous cultural respect for motherhood and perceived political irrelevance of women, allowed Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo to protest relatively unhindered at a time when public demonstrations were officially illegal in Argentina. By also making themselves visible beyond national borders, Las Madres fostered a successful international advocacy network to pressured government investigation into state sponsored murders during the Pinochet regime. The powerful example of Argentinean mothers refusing to be silent has inspired other women’s groups, such as Women in Black in Israel and elsewhere, to stand out publicly against state sponsored violence.

Not surprisingly, many organizations that can be described as having a matrifocal orientation have been “women’s” organizations. But this is not required by the pattern. Labor groups reflect a matrifocal orientation when they strive for gender equity policies, family leave policies, the right to organize in traditionally female occupations, and increased female union leadership. Anti-globalization groups demonstrate a matrifocal orientation when they recognize the significant impact of trade policies on women, and when they give voice to women’s knowledge as farmers, workers, parents, and preservers of culture. Environmental groups like the Chipko movement in India or EcoFeminists in the U.S. reflect a matrifocal orientation when they draw upon and amplify the voices of women, highlight reproductive issues as environmental issues, and speak with reference to the future of all children on the planet.

Regardless of whether a group consists of men or women or both, having a matrifocal orientation means that people ask, “How is the problem we perceive exacerbated by patriarchy, and how has our way of responding to it been limited by patriarchal thinking?" Resisting androcentric norms by putting women’s perspectives in the center, rather than the periphery, of social debates is a first step toward undermining patriarchy and the social ills it perpetuates.

One problem with the Matrifocal pattern is its potential to reinforce male-female dichotomies. Whenever people speak up for traditionally “feminine” goals and values—particularly when they use the role of motherhood for political leverage--they run the risk of reifying patriarchal beliefs about the essential nature of women. Many reactionary movements have argued that their goals and strategies are in the best interests of women, and female voices are often used to promote these messages. Many western feminists, for example, have been hesitant to organize under the banner of motherhood not only because many women chose not to be mothers, but also because such representations may inadvertently bolster the idea that motherhood is women’s single most important function in society. Activist who use a matrifocal orientation must be careful to distinguish between biological femaleness and matrifocal goals. There are many males that value peace, nurturance, care for those in needs, collaborative problem solving, and an end to reward-oriented hierarchies. There are also many females that are not interested in creating a just society and prefer to amass what benefits they can within the current social order; some fully support patriarchy. Matrifocal is not synonymous with female or maternal.

A second problem with a matrifocal orientation is the misperception that everyone who adopts it will, or should, agree on particular social goals and political strategies. They wont. What is shared by people who adopt a matrifocal orientation is a consciousness that overcoming problems of violence, economic oppression, and gender oppression, requires replacing patriarchy with an alternative social order, and that increasing women’s participation in the public sphere is one step in such a transformation.

Solution: 

A matrifocal orientation keeps the system of patriarchy visible so that alternatives can be imagined and created.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Because almost all societies are male centered, women’s needs, interests, ideas, and perspectives are often ignored or trivialized. Matrifocal communities are organized around values traditionally seen as “feminine” such as peace, nurturance, cooperation, and care for others. A Matrifocal Orientation that gives voice to women’s perspectives would help promote a just and peaceful world for all. Women’s interests are not special interests, but human interests.

Pattern status: 
Released

Political Settings

Pattern ID: 
760
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
7
Jonathan Barker
University of Toronto
Version: 
2
Problem: 

The venues of political action are changing dramatically with the proliferation of new kinds of non-governmental organizations, the broadening coverage of the Internet, and the actions of governments to redefine and often reduce the scope of their direct interventions. We need concepts to describe these changes and assess their implications, both negative and positive, for democratic participation.

Context: 

Innovative political or social action fits into the existing field of popular and governmental activity. What political settings—as gatherings to inform, discuss, assert, dispute, debate, and decide important public matters—are available? What are their biases about who can participate, how matters are discussed, and what issues can be raised? Where do particular settings fit in the hierarchy of power? How do economic and cultural forces and physical threats influence the process? Will a new action create a new setting or alter an existing one? By asking questions like these, activists will better grasp the changes they are asking people to make, and researchers can analyze the changing shape and structure of political space over long or short spans of time. 

Discussion: 

Political settings are the basic physical units of collective political action. Each instance of a political setting has its own unique location in space and time. Many recur on a regular basis. Meetings and demonstrations are common types of political setting. Here are two recent examples from reports about political change in Venezuela. One is a small-scale political setting, a barrio meeting; the other describes two large-scale, competing political marches:

The Meeting
Nidia Lopez stood on one side of the brick built shack. It was like one of the thousands that made up the barrio of Andres Bello. The barrios, or slums, are where the majority of the Venezuelan population lives. Thirty people looked at Nidia. Some of them stood outside in the mud. The building was too small to fit them all.
Nidia spoke and her voice was clear and loud. She said, "There are 23 families living on the street in this barrio. In eight years what has this government done for them? In three years what has this Committee done for them? They need help now! What are we going to do for them now?"
The "we" that Nidia was talking about was the Urban Land Committee for the Andres Bello barrio. The Urban Land Committees...exist everywhere there are barrios in Venezuela and barrios are everywhere in Venezuela.
When barrio problems are discussed...the most common suggestion is to get organized. At the Andres Bello meeting, barrio resident Hector Madera said, “When the people of our barrio have a problem they mustn’t rely on the media, or go and whisper in the ear of a friend in a Chavista party, we need to organize ourselves.”
Nidia Lopez felt the best way the Andres Bello CTU could help the 23 homeless families was to take the appeal to the President. Everybody else in the meeting argued it was more important that organization happen first.
The families should...discuss with each other about what they wanted. They should also talk with the owner of the mansion. Only then should they approach the government for assistance if they still needed it.
Madera said the barrios needed to organize together, "When organized we can involve the people from nearby barrios, like Chapellin, and get their support. We will help them and them us. Together we solve our problems ourselves. We can march together."
( Source: Entitled to Democracy:Venezuela’s Urban Land Committees and Participatory Democracy. Saturday, Feb 11, 2006. By Alex Holland – Venezuelanalysis.com)

The Marches
Venezuelans celebrated International Worker’s Day yesterday with two large marches that wound through the streets of Caracas. One in support of the Chavez-led "Bolivarian Revolution," and the other with the opposition. This marks the sixth year in a row that Venezuelan workers have held separate marches on May 1st.
The opposition march was led by the Confederation of Venezuelan Workers (CTV) which, according to the Venezuelan daily El Universal, called for the participants to march for increased salaries, back-pay, a dignified social security system, and freedom for CTV President Carlos Ortega, who was sentenced last year to 16 years in prison for his role in the two-month 2002-3 oil industry shut down.
"Things are turbulent. With this government everything is turbulent," yelled 15 year- CTV veteran, Israel Masa, from the opposition march. "That’s why we are marching -- to demand transparency in the next elections, because we in the opposition know that we are the majority and that we are the true democrats."
The pro-government march was led by the National Workers Union (UNT) and officially entitled, the "Bolivarian March Against Imperialism and Free Trade Agreements," highlighting the international importance of today’s celebrations, and calling attention to the recent motives for Venezuela’s withdrawal from the Community of Andean Nations.
"This demonstration is a struggle against imperialism and the conspiratorial plans of US imperialism against Venezuela," announced Venezuelan National Assembly Representative Dario Vivas ...at the start of the march. "The people of Venezuela are ready to do whatever necessary to guarantee our liberty."
(Source: Opposition and Chavez Supporters March Separately for Mayday in Venezuela, Tuesday, May 02, 2006. By Michael Fox - Venezuelanalysis.com)

As these two examples show, the respective contexts -- social structure, rules of entry and action, physical layout, and cultural expectations -- heavily influence the quality of participation and the content of decisions and messages. “Political setting” is a particularly useful concept for describing political action in context, the venues of face-to-face political communication that are the building-blocks of public political life. They encompass all occasions in which issues and needs of general importance to a community or a society are discussed, contested, and decided. They may be open and democratic, but very often they explicitly or implicitly bar certain groups, certain perspectives, and certain issues. It is important to investigate how they filter participants and ideas.

Although many of meetings and debates that seek to influence community-wide matters take place in government institutions, an increasing proportion occur in voluntary associations, social movement groupings, and invitation-only meetings. Internet discussions demonstrate the growing importance of virtual political settings and raise questions about how they differ from face-to-face meetings and how uneven access to computers affects political outcomes. The rules and culture of each setting influence the quality of communication, deliberation, and decision-making it embodies. Are they open or secret? Which voices do they amplify or exclude? What about women, poor people, people of low status, different cultures and religions? What is their impact?

The idea of political setting draws upon ecological psychology’s concept of "behavior settings," but it puts the focus on activity that aims to influence public policy. It opens the door into exploration of the evolving pattern language exemplified in the face-to-face political actions from below that are emerging in meetings and demonstrations around the world with all their limitations as well as their strengths.

Solution: 

Seeing and analyzing popular politics through the lens of political settings promises to generate a useful and realistic view of the political resources available for popular action and of the obstacles that such action faces.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Political action venues are changing with the proliferation of new kinds of nongovernmental organizations, the broadening reach of the Internet, and the actions of governments. Political Settings are the basic units of collective political action.The idea of political settings opens the door to exploration of evolving civic intelligence exemplified by political actions from below.

Pattern status: 
Released

Civic Intelligence

Pattern ID: 
401
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
1
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project
Version: 
2
Problem: 

The human race has multiplied tremendously since its origins in Africa millions of years ago. During its stay on earth, it has changed the world dramatically through social and technological innovation. In spite of great success in increasing its numbers and gaining dominion over much of the planet, the problems that humankind has created—war, famine, environmental degradation, injustice, and a host of others —may be increasingly immune to its attempts to correct them. Unfortunately there is ample evidence that the economic and political elites of the world are not able—or willing—to address these problems effectively, humanely, and ecologically responsibly. Civil society is emerging as an important force to address these problems, but in spite of best intentions, civil society efforts are often disjointed, duplicative, inflexible, ineffectual, and destructively competitive.

Context: 

The social and the natural environment face profound challenges at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Society often develops intelligent collective responses to collective problems, often through citizen activism. Civil society and ordinary citizens are often at the forefront of the creation and adoption of new paradigms, ideas, tactics, and technologies that are used to address shared problems and create a better future.

Discussion: 

In early 2003, days before the United States invaded Iraq, Robert Muller, former assistant secretary general of the United Nations, called attention to the incipient otential of the citizenry: ‘‘Never before in the history of the world has there been a global visible, public, viable, open dialogue and conversation about the very legitimacy of war’’ ( Twist 2003). He was describing the unprecedented movement that arose simultaneously in hundreds of places around the world. What this movement represents is the advent of an immensely powerful force. Muller called it a ‘‘merging, surging, voice of the people of the world.’’ And James Moore (2003), a multifaceted scholar, activist, and businessperson, called this same phenomenon the ‘‘second superpower’’ whose ‘‘beautiful but deeply agitated face . . . is the worldwide peace campaign,’’ and ‘‘the body of the movement is made up of millions of people concerned with a broad agenda that includes social development, environmentalism, health, and human rights.’’ Both are expressions of pent-up desire and a will to work for a better world, and both are manifestations of civic intelligence.

To meet the need for civic problem solving, governments, companies, nongovernmental organizations ( NGOs) citizens, and ordinary people are beginning to acknowledge the vast problems that humankind now faces and are devising new strategies, tactics, and paradigms to ameliorate them. To help with these daunting tasks, a growing array of sociotechnical information and communication systems is being developed. People and organizations need both general paradigms and specific ideas to help them devise tactics and strategies that further their objectives while working cooperatively with other people and organizations.

Civic intelligence, like Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence (1995) or the various types of intelligences identified by Howard Gardner in Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (1983) (or even erotic intelligence, the cover story in a recent edition of the Utne Reader (September/October 2003)), is a type of intelligence, one with a specific focus; it can be used to explore and invigorate a flexible and powerful competence that goes beyond the traditional notion of intelligence (which is typically equated to what IQ tests measure) in several important ways. Civic intelligence is a type of intelligence that focuses on the betterment of society as a whole, not just on individual aggrandizement. Moreover since it is a capability of society as a whole, its manifestation is collective and distributed throughout the population. The boundary between one person’s ‘‘intelligence’’ and another person’s ‘‘intelligence’’ is permeable, indistinct, and constantly shifting. Ideas in your mind today might be central to my understanding of the world tomorrow. How ‘‘intelligent’’ would one person be without interacting with other people directly (through discussion or argument) or indirectly (through reading books, watching television, or pondering works of art) or with the nonhuman world (observing nature, for example).

Civic Intelligence builds on what we know about how people learn and maintain knowledge about the world and their place within it. Intelligent behavior in individuals is rich and multifaceted. It involves perception, monitoring, deliberating, remembering and forgetting, categorizing, coming up with new ideas and modifying old ones, negotiating and discussing, making decisions, testing hypotheses, and experimenting. Society as a whole engages in analogous activities, and these are embedded in our institutions, traditions, artifacts, and conversations. That these activities of collective intelligence exist is indisputable. Less obvious but also true is the fact that they are all subject to change. The idea that they could and should be consciously improved is the heart of this pattern. This recommendation is bolstered by the findings of Jared Diamond, the prominent historian and author at the University of California at Los Angeles, who has extensively studied how societies face challenges with potentially catastrophic consequences. Somewhat incredibly, Diamond’s research reveals that the ‘‘commonest and most surprising’’ of the four ways in which societies fail to address their problems is their ‘‘failure even to try to solve a problem that it has perceived,’’ even one that ultimately results in that society’s collapse. To avoid that mistake, we must go beyond examining how we as a society collectively think and take a critical look at how our knowledge and ideas are—and could be—channeled into actions.

The number of organizations exhibiting civic intelligence today is vast and growing. There were ten times more transnational advocacy organizations in 2000 then there were in 1900 ( Keck and Sikkink 1998). Not only are these organizations more numerous, but they are increasingly thoughtful and forward looking. While in the past, protest may have been simply opposed to something, it is not uncommon today for organizations to develop sophisticated analyses and policy recommendations. In an earlier exploration of civic intelligence (Schuler 2001), six dimensions were identified (orientation, organization, engagement, intelligence, products and projects, and resources) in which organizations and movements that demonstrate civic intelligence are likely to differ from those that do not. The set of attributes associated with those dimensions that tend to characterize civic intelligence organizations and movements is a first approximation of a descriptive model of civic intelligence. Some notable examples (among tens of thousands) include the worldwide Indymedia network, the World Social Forum, the Global Fund for Women, Jubilee 2000, Science for the People, and New Tactics in Human Rights. Civic intelligence can also be manifested locally. The graphic at the beginning of the pattern, for example, shows how neighborhood art —in this case a mural about the causes and effects of asthma—can be educational and lead to political engagement and other proactive civic activities. Many of these efforts are of necessity holistic, multidisciplinary, and entrepreneurial since the people and organizations that the efforts would ideally engage with cannot necessarily be expected to do what might be considered the right thing. In an interesting turn of events, the idea of collective intelligence, which is not necessarily aligned with civic intelligence (also a form of collective intelligence), is now receiving attention from various quarters. One group, the cyber pundits, are hoping it will be the ‘‘next big thing.’’ Tim O’Reilly (2006), publisher of O’Reilly books and the man who coined the expression ‘‘Web 2.0,’’ defines it as ‘‘the business revolution in the computer industry caused by the move to the Internet as platform, and an attempt to understand the rules for success on that new platform. ‘‘There is another side of this growing interest in collective intelligence as well. This approach is less concerned with making money and more about solving global problems. While these two groups have different aspirations, both of their revolutionary visions are generally based on side-effects or technical aspects, such as new algorithms, semantic webs, or tipping points. Both groups seem to place less faith in the value of collaboratively working together and thereby trying to address the problems that humankind is facing by actually addressing the problems.

A complementary model (illustrated below and described in more detail at http://www.publicsphereproject.org/civint/model-functional.html) of civic intelligence that depicts its primary functional processes has also been proposed (Schuler 2001). This model (or framework) is an amalgam of concepts from social change theory and models of education and human learning. The model is aimed at providing useful exploration in these areas as opposed to offering an algorithm or mechanism that always behaves accurately and with the prescribed result. Generally the two models are to be used in tandem: the descriptive model describes the what, while the functional model describes the how. The functional model contains three main components: the environment, which includes everything that is relevant to the organization yet outside the organization; the mental model (or core), which corresponds to the sum of knowledge that the organization uses; and the remaining constituents of the organization, including its resources (e.g., people) and, most important, the interactive processes under the control of the organization that link the environment and the mental model. The functional model contains eight types of interactive processes that a movement, organization, or other group exhibits when engaging in civic intelligence:

1. Monitoring. How the organization acquires new relevant information nonintrusively.
2. Discussion and deliberation. How organizations discuss issues and determine common agendas, ‘‘issue frames’’ ( Keck and Sikkink 1998), and action plans with other organizations. The mental model of any participants or the organization itself can change as a result of the interactions.
3. Engagement. How the organization attempts to make changes through varying degrees of cooperation and combativeness.
4. Resource transfer. How noninformational resources like volunteers and money are acquired from the environment.
5. Interpretation of new information. How new information is considered and how it ultimately becomes (or does not become) part of the core. New information can also include information about the organization.
6. Maintenance of mental model (includes resource management). How the organization maintains its organizational integrity by consciously and unconsciously resisting change over time.
7. Planning and plan execution. How a campaign is initiated, carried out, and monitored.
8. Modification of mental model. How the core itself is scrutinized by participants in the organization and modified. Another term for this is organizational learning.

The effectiveness of each of these processes will help determine the effectiveness of the entire organization. For that reason, it is important to develop surveys and other types of diagnostic tools that can help organizations use the civic intelligence paradigm effectively. This information could be key in evaluating actions or developing plans. Some of the other uses of this knowledge are inventorying civic intelligence initiatives of geographical regions or thematic activist areas, convening interorganizational workshops, designing curricula, planning campaigns, or even developing new organizations. One of the most important uses of this information is metacognition: examining and evaluating how the processes are used within an organization and changing them as necessary.

The physical, social, and intellectual environment is changing rapidly. Intelligence, more than anything else, describes the capacity to influence and adapt to its environment. Organizations with civic missions have the responsibility to keep their principles intact while interacting effectively with other organizations, both aligned with and opposed to their own beliefs and objectives.

Solution: 

An effective and principled civic intelligence is necessary to help humankind deal collectively with its collective challenges. People need to develop and set into motion theories, models, and tools of civic intelligence that can help integrate thought and action more effectively.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Civic Intelligence describes how well groups of people address civic ends through civic means. It asks the critical question: Is society smart enough to meet the challenges it faces? Civic intelligence requires learning and teaching. It also requires meta-cognition — thinking about and actually improving how we think and work together.

Pattern status: 
Released
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