Living in a projectified world

Listen to recent talks by political economist Gar Alperovitz and you’ll pick up his emphasis on the word project.

He uses the term to refer to good work — worker-owned companies, social enterprises, and so on — but also to a narrowing of focus that makes it easy to shrug off larger responsibilities.

From last week’s Seattle talk (~46:30):

My experience, in myself and in the people I know, is that we don’t quite want to take ourselves that seriously. ‘I’m just working on my project here.’

And from last year’s E. F. Schumacher Lecture:

So ultimately, if you are interested in systemic change rather than — and I’m going to use a loaded word — “projectism,” you must ask not only who owns capital but what it might look like if the system were democratized, were American in content, and were to give rise to the principles and nurture the principles of democracy, ownership, community, and ecological sustainability.

Systems specialist Ray Ison calls this phenomenon “living in a projectified world.”

From his 2010 book Systems Practice: How to Act in a Climate Change World:

My argument put simply is that the proliferation of targets and the project as social technologies (or institutional arrangements) undermines our collective ability to engage with uncertainty and manage our own co-evolutionary dynamic with the biosphere and with each other.  …

It is possible to capture the double sense of the meaning of project if one thinks of what we do when we project our projects onto the world. I have this image of shelves upon shelves, and now electronic files galore, of projects that have been labelled ‘finished’ and thus are hardly ever engaged with again.

See also: Ray Ison on the travesty of targets.

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