Thursday, February 24, 2011

Participatory culture: frameworks & sensibility

Several of us have already blogged about Wess Daniels’ recent talk on Quakers and participatory culture at Quaker Heritage Day. (See posts by Wess, Robin, Rik, and me.)

After hearing Wess’ ideas, I recommended that he look up the work of Nina Simon, author of The Participatory Museum and the blog Museum 2.0. Now I’m trying to draw parallels to Quakerism from a blog post by Nina about museums. She writes:

At one point, [Mark Allen] commented that there's a difference between the "framework" and the "sensibility" for engagement. The framework is the format or setup for how community members are invited to participate. The sensibility is the content and the style with which the engagement happens.

In terms of Quakerism, I think “framework” would apply to the forms of our practice: how we worship, how we conduct our business meetings, how we nominate people to committee service. “Sensibility” might apply to how we welcome newcomers, how transparent we make our practices, how we handle announcements and e-mail within the meeting, what kinds of events we schedule and where they are held. (Any thoughts on whether these are the right analogies?)

After sharing some museum examples, Nina writes:

It's easy to assume that an informal sensibility implies an open framework and vice versa--but that assumption doesn't bear out in reality. A museum can be friendly, or serious, or funny, while maintaining a traditional relationship with visitors as consumers of experiences. And alternatively, an institution can conduct co-creative projects with community members without altering its external sensibility or institutional tone.

I’m aware that our Quaker frameworks have a lot of hidden structure, in many ways quite formal, but we’re somewhat reluctant to define it clearly. Some of it is spelled out in the Faith and Practice of various Yearly Meetings, but we often expect people (including our children) to observe our peculiar ways and figure them out by osmosis, and may only offer explanations when we think someone is doing it wrong.

Our sensibility varies widely from one monthly meeting to another:

* In general, we’re not very welcoming. Vanessa Julye’s ministry has raised up for many of us how this can alienate people of color, but it’s broader than that. Many visitors come once, and don’t find anyone approachable during coffee hour.

* Newcomers who do stick around can easily fall into the assumption Nina points out, “that an informal sensibility implies an open framework”. It can look like our framework is more “do it yourself” than it really is, so hackles and misunderstandings can be raised when someone with little seasoning among Quakers plunges in enthusiastically.

Do we expect people not to be full participants until they’ve been around us for a while? Isn’t this a mystery to most people new to Quakerism? There’s clearly some hurdle to membership; how do people know when they’re ready to leap over it?

Nina closes her post with some queries:

These days, I spend a lot of time working on new models for both framework and sensibility. It's hard to say which is more important--or challenging--to transform. What's more interesting to you--changing the voice and sensibility with which you engage audiences, or changing the framework for doing so? Do you see these as separate, connected, or conflated?

Some meetings, such as those pointed out by Micah, are experimenting with different frameworks. I suspect most of our meetings would be reluctant to make changes that go beyond how we do our announcements. Are we willing to experiment with our sensibility, and how we reach out to engage newcomers?

4 Comments:

At February 26, 2011 at 11:45 AM, Blogger Robin M. said...

Newcomers who do stick around can easily fall into the assumption Nina points out, “that an informal sensibility implies an open framework”. It can look like our framework is more “do it yourself” than it really is, so hackles and misunderstandings can be raised when someone with little seasoning among Quakers plunges in enthusiastically.

I have seen this happen. It's difficult for the new and the old. It helps when we are clearer about the existing expectations, then the oldtimers can relax a little and the newcomers can find the right channels for their enthusiasm.

 
At February 26, 2011 at 2:53 PM, Blogger Lisa H said...

Robin's post on faithful betrayal raises good questions about whether our existing frameworks serve being faithful to God's purposes.

 
At March 3, 2011 at 9:52 PM, Blogger Chris M. said...

Pink Dandelion has thoroughly documented the "behavioral creed" of unprogrammed Friends: We're thoroughly rule-bound when it comes to practice (waiting worship, only certain topics are "appropriate" for vocal ministry, don't speak twice, etc.), and yet open-ended when it comes to the (theological) content.

The challenge for newcomers is that the rules aren't written down or explained clearly. And yet the sensibility or vibe they pick up is, "Anything goes! We're liberal Quakers!"

Sometimes at coffee hour, someone will say, "We don't do X," but usually not before the new person has done X.

This helps explains why the card game Mao is or has been so popular among some Friends.

 
At March 4, 2011 at 8:47 AM, Blogger Lisa H said...

@Chris: Great comment! I usually run the other way when people are playing Mao, as I have a strong preference for knowing the rules first. But I recognize that I've been lucky to have people around to coach me in the Quaker "rules": my father, and older Young Friends who modeled Quaker process.

In the '80s and '90s, the Western Young Friends New Year's Gathering examined framework frequently and often explicitly, while having the most "do it yourself" sensibility of any group of Quakers I've known. People play Mao there a lot.

 

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