A former student of mine interviewed me on the local collective we started up a few years ago, Jamaa Al-Yad.
B: What motivated you to start the collective?
DD: This is something that has always been present in my mind as an alternative to the usual individual or hierarchical models of working. I tried forming similar groups when I was in New York, both in terms of publishing a “communal” magazine as well as an online web site which grew out of my Masters program final project. But adherence to such a group requires a mindset and way of looking at oneself and one’s work which is difficult to maintain in cultures and societies that consider marketing or branding of self as valid, which aim at self-promotion over community, or which are globalized into such ways of seeing things.
So this got me thinking about what kind of environment supports such a group, or is hostile toward it. I have been researching for a long time activist groups that manifest themselves artistically: The talleres of revolutionary Mexico, the Black Panther Party in the United States, just for two examples. I have tried to examine what keeps such groups together, but more importantly, the internal and external factors that often lead to their demise. We took almost two years to write our bylaws and charter which are based heavily on ideas of removing all negative incentives along these lines from the group. My lawyers thought I was a bit crazy to go to all of this extra effort instead of just using the government-supplied template; but the template was full of these negative incentives: hierarchy, elected officers, parliamentary procedure, etc. Now they say that the bylaws and charter we produced set a precedent for non-hierarchical structuring of such organizations, especially since our non-traditional approach was nonetheless readily approved by the government here.