The Connective Practice Approach

The different enquiry labs and practices that make up the Kassel21 –Social Sculpture Lab all share the ‘connective practice approach’.

This is a set of root methods and strategies that link the aesthetic dimension, social engagement, and the practice of enquiry.

The connective practice approach – developed by Shelley Sacks, over 4 decades, in her social sculpture arenas in many different contexts and countries, as well as in a university  context in Masters and Doctoral programs in the Social Sculpture Research Unit in Oxford – builds on Joseph Beuys’ Social Sculpture ideas and proposals, with insights from Goethe’s phenomenology, Schiller’s Aesthetic Education, and Steiner’s social senses, as well as from many cultural movements and activist thinkers including Paulo Freire, Hannah Arendt, Ngugi Wa’Thiongo, Joanna Macy and Rabindranath Tagore.  The connective practice approach enables an experience of the very real connection between the field of outer action and the inner field of attitudes, values and habits of thinking. It offers creative strategies for inner climate change and helps develop our capacities as agents of personal change, social change and system change.

Connective Practice

The term ‘connective practice’ refers to understandings, strategies and methods that can be used in many contexts, disciplines and fields -that highlight and strengthen the relationship between freedom and responsibility, and increase the connectivity in our thinking, our planning and decision making processes, and our practice. It enables us to understand the link between the inner fields of perception, awareness, feeling and thinking and the outer fields of planning and action.  Connective Practice also gives us a lived sense of how the whole is more than the sum of the parts, especially when it comes to planning and thinking-together, and to developing agendas for transformation. Connective practice is a form of field awareness that can be learnt, practiced and intensified. It helps us become more ‘joined up’ participants in the personal, social and super-social field.

Making Social Honey

“Individual bees collect nectar, but it does not become honey simply by bringing it into the hive. It has to be worked on, together. So too with individual insights. We need to develop new ways of thinking together to make the social honey that is needed to create a humane and ecological future.” (Social Sculpture Lab/Sacks)

In the Kassel-21 Social Sculpture Lab – the Survival Room, the online exchanges and the context based ‘connective practices’ offer people an approach to working with imaginal thinking, to understanding ‘warmth work’ and to finding new ways of thinking together to make “social honey” [Sacks:2018].

Social Sculpture’s Invisible Materials

Joseph Beuys described the materials of social sculpture as the “invisible materials of speech, discussion and thinking”. Over the years it has been useful to widen these materials to attitudes, values, questions and habits of thought. Becoming conscious that this fine non-material ‘stuff’ is very real and gives rise to thought forms, idea forms and physical forms – we can take more seriously “the urgent need to work with our thought structures and get to the habit level”. [Sacks referencing Swami Nisreyasananda]

Connecting Inner and Outer Work

We often think of the field of work and action as outside of us. The inner field of thought-structures, ideas, plans, fears, intentions, attitudes is not often seen as a workplace or a field of action.  In the field of social sculpture and connective practice there is as much emphasis on the inner field as on the outer. All the ‘Connective Practices’ shared in the Lab are designed to give people a direct experience of this inner field. How to become more active, more conscious of the what goes on in there, and to develop more ways to transform existing habits of thinking.  Through the ‘space of imagination’ practices in the inner field, we also experience clearly that process of making sense: taking the outer field in, and expanding our selves through this perpetual oscillation between going out to come in and coming in to go out. This is one aspect of the lemniscate [figure of eight] in the Survival Room space.

Aesthetic as Enlivened Being and Responsibility as an Ability-to-Respond

Responsibility is often interpreted to mean ‘duty’, and equally often, imposed from without. Can we conceive of a kind of ‘response-ability’ that arises from within? In the field of social sculpture and connective practice responsibility is a capacity that is nurtured by connection with what is: with the pain, the challenges, the questions. Through becoming an enlarged ear and receiver of what is around me, the negative form of responsibility as duty imposed from without, increasingly becomes an “ability-to-respond”. [Shelley Sacks: 1978]. A widened view of the aesthetic helps this. If we understand the aesthetic in contrast to the anaesthetic or numbness, then aesthetic can be lifted out of it confines to the art-world or to meaning ‘taste’ and ‘style’ and become everything that enlivens our being and promotes an experience of relatedness. This lived experience of my relationship to something, might mobilize me to act: might enhance my ability-to-respond.

The I-Sense as a Social Sense

In the field of transformation toward a more ecologically viable future, egocentric is often replaced with ecocentric. In the field of social sculpture the I, or consciousness of ‘self’ plays a central role. Without a strong sense of self there is no-one to meet another, and little possibility of developing new forms of collective action that do not undermine the I for the sake of the whole. But we need to be able to perceive how the enlivened ‘I’ is the foundation of the social field. Otherwise there is a risk of confusing the selfish ‘I’ of capitalism with the social ‘I’ of the future.

Living Planning

Most plans start off well. With insights into needs, and an enthusiasm for possibilities.  However, after a little while they often lose momentum and become quite dead. The Connective Practice approach to planning enables people to work from the source of their energy, to re-cover their intention and to allow things to unfold. Initiatives can grow, plans can emerge and be formed as part of a process. Working with ‘invisible materials’ of intentions, ideas, needs and constraints as an artist, as a Gestalter of new thought-forms, is an image that encourages people to stay in dialogue with the plans. It allows more of a dynamic engagement with the plans, which stay alive longer as part of an ongoing process of reconnecting and tuning.