Adhocracy. From Political Choice to Formal Proposals

Drone Shadow. James Bridley

In his essay Adhocracy, Joseph Grima argues how design now is also inevitably a political activity with far-reaching social implications. These implications are even more evident in our time, with the pervasive downturn in the economy surrounded by political and ethical crises. In this context, we have witnessed the emergence of spontaneous interventions, the radical use of communication tools and, beyond that, the need to reinvent the concept of “city” and recover the rights of citizens.

The most disruptive implications of so-called European sovereign debt crisis were for Belgium, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Russia, Ukraine, Greece, Portugal and Spain; but it has affected more or less all of the 27 member countries of the European Union. German newspaper Der Spiegel has stated that “while sovereign debt has risen substantially in only a few eurozone countries, it has become a perceived problem for the area as a whole”. The banking system bailouts, government responses to the slowing of their economies after the bubble, and the loss of confidence in the democratic sphere have created a fertile ground for action. In Spain, the most activist, political understanding of the term “adhocracy” can be found in the #15M or #SpanishRevolution movements. This ongoing social revolution can be traced back to 2011, emerging from social networks such as “Real Democracy NOW” or the twitter hash tag #15M. According to the political analyst Francis Fukuyama:

“The nation will continue to be a central pole of identification, even if more and more nations come to share common economic and political forms of organization.”

This human need for identification, for a sense of belonging, has been dismissed by a capitalistic approach in the past years and has ended in the protests demanding a fundamental change in Spanish politics.

#17M in Seville, Spain. Antonio Rull

Indignant People’s March Northeastern column, 11 July.

But what is the relationship of this socio-political situation with “adhocracy”? Maybe some answers can be found in a new understanding of the organic nature of the city. The primary motor of human history has radically changed in the past ten years, and now people are once again valuing relational behavior, which used to be the essence of the city before the growing years. The main difference is that we now have access to tools that were unimaginable a few years ago, allowing rapid communication and organization, and creating new arenas for self-organization.

The momentous eruption of activism in everyday life brings with it questions about the value of spontaneous interventions, DIY urbanism and the power of people as catalysts of change. On this subject, Herbert Tonka wrote that urbanism is a field struggling with is own contradictions and those of society as a whole. He went further, describing the concept of “city” as an ensemble of urban practices. The events lived in cities like Madrid or Athens in 2011—somehow a spin-off of the Arab Spring—are the most plausible example that “the city is both the place of consolidation and of explosion”, as Jean Baudrillard pointed out. From the conflicted times we live in, the search for an utopian state has emerged. The most important issue might be to recognize that the utopian impulse is rooted in human nature and has been reinforced by the biggest change in the last twenty years: the tools we use as means of communication. This fact poses the question: Is it possible to use Utopia to build bridges between society and politicians?

Haliç Center. Yona Friedman

Are we talking about a new era of Utopia?

If Gregory Bateson proposed a rewriting of ecology in terms of information, maybe now —forty years later—we can think about rewriting the urban environment in terms of information. Some of the major demonstrations we have seen in Spain in the past two years were born out the confusion driven by the sector of capital. As a reaction, activists organized their actions with an explosive exchange of information, recalling Strum Group’s 1972 “The Mediatory City, a fotoromanzo”, which defended:

“We must use the new techniques to let people know about our struggles in the areas. The television sets in the bars can be used as an instrument of counter-information.”

Does this mean that we are recycling ideas from the 1960s and 1970s? At this point, it is important to avoid perverse interpretations of these events and to form a deep understanding of the relationship between the content, the idea and its manifestation as an urban action looking for a sense of depersonalization in search of the common good. Now we can imagine all the possible approaches to return society into its expression of freedom, born from the structural contradictions in the city. There are no certainties that can help predict the city to come —we just have small pieces of an infinite puzzle— but at least it’s possible to have some clues which tell us that we’re on the right way. New forms of economics and trade, such as crowdfunding and micropayments, based on the confidence and support of the network, are here to stay.

PANORAMIO analogic installation. Antonio Ottomanelli

There are so many lessons that we can learn from the convulsed, immediate past. The miners in Spain, protesting against unemployment, austerity, and the Government policies are an example of how things can be done in a different way. While some of the protesting miners have been involved in violent clashes with police, others have decided to participate in a long march as means of demonstrating their discontent. It was a successful way to make people aware of the situation they were living in, but it also showed how an organization works when it is born from bottom-up initiatives. The miners had food and water stations at several points along the way. During the long 284-mile walk, they halted at nine every evening, sleeping in public sports centres, until they arrived in Madrid. Maybe these kind of actions don’t solve current economic problems, but it has been a unique experience to see how people support each other, and how the miners were received and welcomed in Madrid by jubilant crowds. The presence of supporters swelled from a hundred to a thousand in the city’s Puerta del Sol.

It is time to demystify our complex ideologies and start transferring relational ideas and social behaviors to the construction of the city again. An adhocratic way of thinking may be useful to understand that the city, as a complex system, is capable of being completely rearranged while still maintaining its inherent order, in the words of the architect Giancarlo de Carlo, “at all the levels, from political choice to formal proposals.


This article has been written for the Adhocracy Reader. Adhocracy, curated by Joseph Grima with associate curators Elian Stefa, Pelin Tan and Ethel Baraona Pohl, is one of the two main exhibitions at the inaugural Istanbul Design Biennial.

The catalogue was co-edited by Vera Sacchetti, Avinash Rajagopal, Tamar Shafrir and Benan Kapucu. Designed by Folder (Marco Ferrari and Elisa Pasqual).

All the info related with Adhocracy at the Istanbul Design Biennial web-site.


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