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Vocational training for multipliers in adult education (4. – 8. June 2016)

Facing numerous challenges in today’s society – a competitive and an ever faster moving economy, changing in family structures, a diversification of living models – more and more people are seeking for alternative modes of living and working together that go beyond traditional family roles and employer/employee-relationships. Since the rise of the new social movements in the 1960s, the squatters movement of the 1980s until today, Berlin has been a laboratory for new living models. We took this opportunity to visit different intergenerational housing projects in the region and to discuss together with residents and activists about social, political, financial and legal aspects of community building.

In these 5 days, mixing theoretical inputs and excursions, we’ve gained the vivid impression that building a ‚community‘ is a very ambitious task. Other than in the common understanding of the term, in which ‚community‘ is more or less arbitrarily used to characterize any kind of social unit (neighbourhoods, religious communities, (sub)cultural groups, family and friendship relations etc.), community – in the strong sense of the word – rather seems to be something scarce, fragile, but nevertheless powerful, implying and creating a strong social cohesion and commitment. It’s not describing a ’state of art‘, but an open process of developing a common ground among its individual members and of experimenting with new ways and new qualities of relationships.

Other than in rather instrumental concepts of ‚community management‘, which make use of initiatives ‚from below‘ but within a pre-structured organisational setting and with pre-given aims, we focused on the challenges of building a community democratically from scratch and ‚bottom-up‘: e.g. with practical methods like ‚dragon dreaming‘ or through decision making in consensus. We furthermore visited projects that are part of the Germany-wide „Mietshäusersyndikat“ (rent housing syndicate) and the smaller PAG (project workshop based on reciprocity) – two networks that try to establish alternatives to financing models based on private property.

Not only these practical and material aspects reminded us that communities might face a lot of challenges, problems and frustrations. Other than in a romanticizing perspective we focused especially on group-internal conflicts, that can arise and that may take communities to a critical point, where they might even fail, as well as on strategies of conflict resolution. Crucial for this internal work is the ability to deal with conflicts in straight way, openly and constructively, the ability of critical self-reflection and reflection of dynamics of power within a group.
Building a real community is a process that never stops. It does not mean to follow the illusion of fleeing on a ’safe island‘ that’s not affected by the mechanisms of the existing social order. It rather follows the impulse of a ‚concrete utopia‘: starting here and now and by trial and error to show on a small scale that alternatives are possible.

Thanks to our participants for the great time we had together and for giving us insights into the variety of community projects in Italy. And thanks to the people from StadtGut Blankenfelde, Regenbogenfabrik, M29, Wukania and KuBiZ who took their time to share their experiences with us.