Ezio Manzini: Politics of the Everyday


I hope I am not jumping the gun here to share a few initial thoughts after reading Manzini’s Politics of the Everyday. This seems like a great book to read now as we are diving into a practicum course. No doubt it will be even greater to come back to it again as we continue to reflect with breadth and depth on our localities, our world, and the changes towards sustainable futures that we would like to see. While I really enjoyed so many of the points that he touched on, two topics that stood out to me the most were Manzini’s ideas about social innovation and his perspectives on collaboration.

Manzini’s discussion on social innovation was intriguing. He mentions that the change produced has to be radical (p. 10), and, in his section on Transforming in Chapter 3, discusses how transformation really does stem from the initial idea that radically departs from the norm. I found this point quite central, as we think about a sustainable future. Where will radical change come from, and what radical ideas will take hold? What are the principles of collective action and community psychology that we can draw on to predict how best to initiate and effect sustainable changes? From which points specifically will be the points of departure, where will we prioritize change?

Linked to the ideas of social innovation are the ideas of collaboration. Manzini’s discussion of collaboration made me think about the concept in a very different way. The word “collaboration” for me typically conjures up an image of finding people with different technical expertise able to perform experiments or lend ideas and ultimately, together, answer specific scientific questions. I never thought about extending this concept to social movements, or society on the whole. In one sense, we are already forced into a concept like this in our world. We are all expected to have jobs (which pay the bills) and specialize doing a particular task to contribute to society in some way. Jobs play some role in making our society tick along so we have federal offices, courts of law, sanitation systems, hospitals and doctor’s offices, schools and education systems. What about collaborations that will result in changes to disrupt all these areas of expertise that are established and work together? I see the scientific collaboration can be quite analogous to what Manzini has in mind: the more one collaborates, the greater the chance of success; no one person can be an expert in all things, and bringing together those who excel in different realms exponentially increases the expanse of what is possible; relational values emerge when encounters take place and we work together towards shared goals. Perhaps most importantly, each individual involved sees themself as part of the vision and therefore can become part of the transformation.

I think it is important to note where Manzini is writing from, the contexts from which he draws his examples, and the scope of societies he implicitly or explicitly refers to throughout his text. I do not believe his ideas can necessarily apply to all contexts, geographies, cultures and political systems. While it could be considered a limitation on one hand, Manzini provides the framework for understanding how history has created the present, how to understand the present, and how to work towards visions of the future. Awareness of biases and limitations for any aspect can also be considered a strength.

Lastly, I want to comment on one thing I found both intriguing and humorous. In his section on Lightness (p. 31-32) Manzini discusses the importance of light encounters. He notes how light encounters in fluid mobile world are actually quite important; they can be infinite in possibility, could seemingly arise out of randomness or chance and give rise to something strong. It made me think about chemical bonding and solutions with Brownian motion. Some of what would be considered “weak forces” are truly the glue that hold the world together. I loved the idea that just we are all like molecules just bouncing around in a solution, having chance interactions that are actually so key to creating our world. Interactions are paramount, even if they are considered weak on the spectrum of weak-to-strong, once these forces are initiated, they can shape the entire landscape of whatever scale we are talking about.

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I agree with Veronica’s point about collaboration. Manzini’s definition and explanation of what he takes “collaboration” to mean really changed the way I thought about it. I’d like to use Manzini’s comparison of “life projects motivated by strong ideology” in the 20th century and the “post-ideological communities of the twenty-first century.” For the former were “founded on the ethical and political tenet that it was right to live together, sharing and collaborating. Having made this fundamental choice, the life project that led to these practices was the necessary consequence.” (59)
But for the latter, “the starting point is a practical agreement within the general framework of an idea, open and intentionally left vague, of neighborliness and collaboration: a group of individuals and families discuss how to live better sharing certain services and establishing good mutual relationships. They do so because, in some way, they like the idea of living near each other and sharing something, but the crucial point is what they actually choose to do together, in practical terms, and how to do it.” (59)

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Fascinating observation, Veronica, the analogy between molecular forces and the “relational values [that] emerge when encounters take place and we work together towards shared goals” in human social space. So much seems to turn on emergent and unanticipated outcomes of unexpected encounters.