Monday, May 7, 2012
In my work (nonprofit social service programs), I think we face the same issue: stuck in the grammar of nonprofits or the grammar of social services, we are increasingly less effective as the need goes up and thus the amount of work and organizing goes up - while at the same time there is an illusion of scarcity of resources & increased competition for financial resources via grants and contracts. Maybe it's time to think differently. This is my way of trying to think about this. If anyone reads this, and if anyone reading this works in a similar field or is familiar with emergent design, please feel free to comment on this.
I'll start by naming some of the concerns I see:
1. Perception of Diminishing Resources: Money is less available to nonprofits. Individual donors are giving less. Foundations have less resources. Government budgets are shrinking. Yet with unemployment higher, more people with more skills are looking for work, and/or for opportunities to keep their skills current, and/or for a switch to a more meaningful career. Additionally, monetary wealth is still being generated and it's going somewhere.
2. Increasing need: Higher unemployment, noticeable increases in the price of basics like food, gas, and housing. Greater numbers of people falling below the poverty line. Workers taking on increasing workloads as staff size shrinks. This results in, for example, reduced quality of services, reduces responsiveness to shifting or individualized needs, increased risk of staff burnout, an often frantic work environment, etc. See Laura van Dernoot Lipsky w/ Connie Burke, Trauma Stewardship, for example.
3. The Volunteer Problem: How to find, train, retain, and create a feeling of fulfillment for volunteers. This occurs within a system where some people are paid to get volunteers to do unpaid work. There is a perception of unfairness in this system. It also potentially undercuts the happiness of the volunteer unless there's a good process for matching volunteer talents, skills, and desires with the needs of the volunteer position. Not to mention that there is a cost for the volunteer - in transportation, for example, and loss of time spent doing something else economically productive. Not to mention that volunteers are feeling the same pinches I've already mentioned.
4. The EBI Paradigm: While evidence-based interventions are an important component of service delivery, the underlying assumption is that an intervention is a template that can be overlaid across a broad array of organizations - a top-down approach that may or may not work, based on the correct alignment of all kinds of factors within an organization.
5. The Professionalization of Social Services: Let's be clear - I benefit from this system. I applaud the approach that pays people to (in my view) do the work of our society. I believe that our moral/ethical duty as a society is to care for those who are (a) unable to care for themselves due to disability, injury, etc.; and/or (b) need assistance because they are on the receiving end of social ills like labor exploitation, racial injustice, and the like. I believe that we as a society are in - or nearly in - a position to provide basic services like food assistance, medical care, etc. to those who for whatever reason need it. In the same way that we hire fire fighters, teachers, and others, we hire social service providers to do the work of the collective community. However, as we do that, we have created a professional class of providers which can set up a structure that can be inaccessible to consumers/clients by creating a "grammar of social services" and a set of unquestioned ideas about how social services should be run. I'm not saying this is all bad, but it does seem to have some unintended negative outcomes.
6. The Provider-Client Paradigm: Similarly, the professionalization sets up a dynamic where there are providers and those who receive the service. Like nearly all dualisms, this creates a lopsided power dynamic. Such a power dynamic, coupled with some of the other things above, can make a pretty hot mess. Including power struggles, superiority complex, perceptions of dependency, and all kinds of other manipulations on both sides. Let me be clear - I'm not blaming individuals within this system. This is a problem with the system itself and people, regardless of their good intentions, can sometimes fall victim to this stuff because everybody is really just trying to get by the best way they know how. Consumers and providers are just trying to get their needs met. Yes this doesn't excuse individual abuses, but I want to keep my focus on the system right now.
That's what I'm thinking about, as I'm reading. Feel free to pass along suggestions. I know I'm not the only one - and judging by the date on the article, I'm coming rather late to the game here.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
This collection reminds me that one of my favorite genres is farce. When it's done well, farce makes you laugh at the situations without turning away from the hard realities it describes. This book does that - makes me laugh and almost cry at the same time. While I don't know much about the realities of Mexican-US border life, I suspect that the underlying realities that Urrea describes are actually as stark and unjust, even if the actual people are not as broadly drawn, as slapstick, as he writes them. His descriptions of American missionaries are perfect! I'll be reading more of his books. View all my reviews >>
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Review for The Good Dance: Dakar/Brooklyn
Reggie Wilson & Andrea Ouamba / Fist & Heel Performance Group and Compagnie 1er Temps
April 3, 2010 at YBCA
Most collaborations I see are all about the love of working together. Artists share compliments and tributes with each other in a general lovefest. Dakar/Brooklyn was something much more complicated and beautiful. While it was obvious the two choreographers and the two companies worked well together – and had tremendous respect, and trust for each other – this work showed a more complicated view of collaboration.
The dances were full of conflict, frustration, and even violence. Imitation, correction, disjunction, domination, and even lynching figured into the piece – even as beautiy, grace, lyricism, and intimate collaboration also threaded through the series of dances. Witness the direct and muscular challenges between dancers of all sizes, the almost fighting that happened at some points – and at the same time, other moments in which couples and trios of dancers climbed, held, swung, and morphed their bodies together into singular creatures.
Given that these artists are portraying not only their own collaboration, but a complicated history of continental African and disaporic (especially American) African people. This tone was apparent from the beginning dance, a single dancer looking back and trying to imitate a series of singles and couples dancing together. Her own movements were more graceful in comparison with the crispness of those she imitated. Yet she showed her frustration in trying to adapt her own style and body in imitation of the others.
This show was not beautiful in the traditional sense, but more beautiful in the variety of bodies, styles, and combinations. The water bottles glistened magically in a rather obscure reference to…the Mississippi and Congo Rivers, concerns about potable water, the waves and floods of influence, or the work of building up and tearing down?
The wide-open set, spare and harshly lit to the point that flying sweat and dust were visibly part of the mix, added to this feeling of a spacious ground for the complicated nature of collaboration. Reggie Wilson’s role as a sort of fatherly narrator and caretaker added an interesting and welcome addition to highlight the often-hidden role of the choreographer. Andreya Ouamba’s role was made more subtle, but no less powerful, by not identifying himself until near the end, when he walked among the sprawled bodies of the dancers, speaking in another language – and dance the final, almost-awkward duet with Mr. Wilson.
As someone unfamiliar with the language of dance, as well as possessing little knowledge about the African diaspora, I found the piece to be uncomfortable in a good way. Rather than a feel-good back-to-Africa piece, this one portrayed how histories of separation, violence, romanticism, paternalism, slavery, and co-optation leave a legacy on bodies and movement. One of the poignant references throughout all the pieces portrayed dancers lynching each other and lynching themselves. Toward the end, dancers donned gauzy costumes that seemed to reference the American Southern gentry, a surprisingly emotional reference to the cultural histories that hang around all of us – sometimes hampering movement and sometimes providing a strange enhancement to the performance.
On the evening I was there, the audience seemed to not know what to do with the performance. It was certainly uncomfortable for me as a progressive white person to see the embodied truths portrayed directly in front of my eyes – the effects of history and culture on bodies, and the difficulties as well as possibilities inherent in partnership. And perhaps more difficult – the imperfect relations between the many peoples in Africa and their disasporic kin.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
It will keep you warm at night.
It will dry your dishes, dust your table,
And praise God, it will
Not be too prideful.
It will not be extravagant
Or brightly colored or adorned.
People will not admire it -
Or at least I will not
Acknowledge their praise.
I will make it in tiny pieces,
After all my duties are done,
A few minutes while boiling
The potatoes, rocking the baby,
And praising God, I will
Not be too happy painting it.
Useful - putting food on the table,
Teaching my kids, planting crops,
I will first use the paint to
Paint my neighbor's barns
And use the leftovers
If there are any,
For my useful painting.
(part of The Artist's Way exercises, 11 Jan 2010)