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A pattern language for commons abundance

A work in progress…

This will most probably form a paper that we will submit at the Workshop of the Ostrom Workshop at Indiana University in April for our workshop in June, as building the case and setting the context and first orientations for a pattern language to accelerate the shift towards a commons oriented paradigm, generative of abundance.

Why a Pattern Language?

The idea of a pattern language comes as a natural next step in the inquiry that we have started in this group. Our inquiry revolves around three series of questions, as we see the current paradigm leading our system into the wall. Which paradigm would be 'ubiquitous enough',  'strong enough' and 'generative enough' to 'inform a transition' and become prevalent? How could change agents following their own individual engagement and action logics become 'structured' and empowered by this new paradigm? How could people learn to discover and understand each other and engage in emergent transformative processes in participatory ways that enhance their relational capabilities and their impact as change agents?

In a series of documents and articles, we have elaborated on the fact that the commons take multiple forms and could well be this paradigm and transition informing image. This approach already was leaning towards working on systemic principles and building blocks -components of a pattern language. NORA is a pattern language of sorts without the designation… We can go further with building blocks generative of commons. Sustainability itself could be rethought in terms of commons, providing appropriate elements of inquiry for validation. We suggested, here and there, that the commons would constitute a strong scaffolding vision or underlying logic that could be 'expressed' in multiple languages and help derive the 'narratives' that could at the same time empower change agents at their own 'location' and contribute to the coalescence of their efforts and the acceleration of what is already emerging. We looked at how the commons were actually embodied in parts or whole system in much of the change that was currently taking place and the actions of many of the various movements for change, so as to become the basis for an alternative political philosophy for systemic change where we acknowledge ourselves and each-other as part of the world, exploring what differentiates us and the choices we make to expand the impacts of our collective actions. Our goal is to create practical tools that change agents, activists and movements, or any multi-stakeholder group can use on the ground.


How can disparate efforts coalesce?

We all have a different opinion about the same reality and believe we hold the best one.

The problem is that we each try to convince others that our solutions are the best, or we want to construct and to agree on shared representations of reality, which leads us either to ineffective sameness that satisfies no-one (floppy consensus as we say in French), or to a reduction of variety that can ultimately put us at systemic risk (totalitarianism), or to conflict. Alternatively, when we look for solutions, it is extremely difficult to find, in the noise and mass of possibilities locked in databases or as disseminated experience, those that are in phase with our aspirations and that we would feel empowered enough to follow through with.

What creates the barriers to our understanding, collaboration and agreements are our limiting assumptions, theories and models of the world, our cognitive preferences and the ways we process information and meaning, as well as the language, words and forms of narratives we use, which all influence our understanding and interactions and hinder relational dynamics. These are at the same time barriers or limiting factors to productive collaboration in multi stakeholder environments, and what brings us together in our shared activities and defines the types of responses we are looking for.

We gather as communities of practice, assembling and reassembling in clusters of shared intentions, or groups of collective individuation (re Stiegler), creating frameworks around the objects of our attention, intentions or actions: the social objects relevant to our action or engagement logics. There are several types of variables and processes that come into play in the formation of these logics and frameworks. (to be developed there may be interesting additional things to explore here)(I would also like to develop here the notion of 'power' as the capacity to act as in Adam Kahane, Power & Love: that the love is the underlying force/aspiration that holds us together and power as capacity to act what focuses us to come to conclusions and to be effective on our action oriented social object… also that the 'boundary' Kahane got inspired by Martin Luther King's "Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.”)

On the one hand, these frameworks enable people to rally around specific causes and to align on representations of the world, priorities and pathways, and to make decisions in a cohesive manner, and it is important that they keep this effectiveness within their own niche of action, because the impact of a change agent speaking the language of his own community of practice will be greater for drawing adhesion and getting things done than the language deriving from an artificially constructed shared vision of the world. On the other hand, as these frameworks are bounded by the limiting factors listed above, they are 'exclusive' of other engagement logics and frameworks. They therefore exclude 'the other' by construction because they focus, prioritize, etc on their own object of engagement. Stiegler offers some thoughts on what actually occurs within ourselves and between each other in the processes of categorization and co-individuation ( &

If we can describe our reality and the phenomena we observe, and learn to distinguish in the perspectives of others what is different from our own, then we don't need to 'bargain' a middle ground or a synthesis. Just by acknowledging differences and by learning to discover what we don't know, we open up natural channels through which understanding can flow and things (including agreement) can happen. Probably the process is something close to what I describe from slide 4 in this presentation. When applied to group interactions, this is what Bonnitta Roy, Mushin Schilling and Anne Caspari call participatory clarity. (< add info on the experiment). This probably leads to what Stiegler describes as transindividuation, the process through which both the “I” and the “We” are transformed through one another.

Bonnie, Mushin and Anne define 5 types of participatory relations that help reach participatory clarity in a discovery process (to be further developed).

We try and reach clarity while we manage to let go of our limiting assumptions and processes. I see some commonality here with Argyris' Action Science methodology which underlines the need to walk each other through each other's thinking.

The clusters I have distinguished in the federating efforts presentation using action logics as described by Barrett Brown and Suzanne Cook-Greuter are descriptive of perspectives and preferences, and modus operandi and not prescriptive as Spiral Dynamics may be. There is no 'better' action logic than another, or no need to get people to evolve from one to another. All are 'real' and present. And they help inform the diversity of manners in which we construct meaning and make sense of things. There may be other ways of grouping and describing forms of engagement and action, other possible meaning making segmentations, ways of 'sorting' or grouping categories that emerge from various engagement patterns. We will be looking for others.

These clusters can be defined as participatory collectives that each function with their own logic and unity, they form 'nodes in descriptive enactments of participation' – Bonnie, to be 'unpacked' :).

Conceiving a pattern language integrating these dimensions would help create an architecture of participation oriented towards participatory clarity, and help learners and change agents in various communities of practice compose the 'solutions' to theirs 'needs' of in a more effective way. Such pattern language would be conceived around the elements that shape the various engagement logics and clusters of engagement and would help people in various clusters, navigate the space of possibilities in ways that resonates with their own engagement logic, to discover the unknown and expand the boundaries of their understanding and action. Some ideas of tools to enable this are outlined here.

The Commons as Transformative Paradigm

(under construction) Much of what sustainability and social change are about is related in a form or another to protecting the environment, people, resources from over-exploitation and abuse, in other words protecting what we share in common and is generative of life: the commons. Even if they seem engaged in different and sometimes opposed priorities and niche clusters of engagement, forming artificial silos, as we saw above, each social and environmental change agent holds a piece of a solution to the various manifestations of the tragedy of the commons and a piece of a response to making the world a thriving place, each takes care of one form or expression of the commons logic, whether it be an object of care, a process or practice, or an outcome. Show me the action and I will show you the commons is an article that shows how the commons logic spans way beyond what commons activists define as 'state of the art' commons. The commons logic can be seen at the same time as a manifestation of the unicity and diversity of ways of directing our participatory 'generative' attention and care to create or (re)generate 'plural' commons, and as the underlying logic that ties everything together to nurture and (re)generate the Commons as a whole. Recognizing this can help efforts coalesce and wholeness to be grasped without needing to create grand plans of unified vision and action.

On a high note, the abstract of The Participatory Collective and the Commons presentation that Anne Caspari, Bonnitta Roy, Mushin Schilling will be giving during our workshop at the Ostrom Conference reads:

At the end of the anthropocene era, the commons have been carved up into isolated islands. This has put the commons into jeopardy.  As we isolate our selves through categories of inclusion and exclusion, as individual people, nations, corporations — the commons has been subtly reduced to bounded places. We need to reverse this process, and reimagine the commons as a sacred, unbounded participatory place where we come to life, where we create more life, where we live in community with each other and participate in the larger life-affirming field of bio-psycho-cultural-conceptual diversity.
The truth is, we are always already participating — participation  is the fundamental requirement for life itself. The tragedy is that we are not participating fully, with full consciousness and absolute trust in the participatory nature of living-being.
It is possible to overcome the isolation by a process that interweaves individuals into participatory collectives that enhances bio-psycho-social-conceptual diversity without the need to unify them. In this process a new kind of “inner commons” emerges, as an expanded space that includes both the uniqueness and the interconnection between the participants. The sacred space is experienced first hand and can therefore function as solid, trusted foundation for reimagining the commons in the outer world, and gaining insight into the many facets of participatory diversity where all beings truly belong.

How everyone is connected which precisely creates each person's (or being's) uniqueness may also be made clear through the Buddhist metaphor of "Indra's net". Imagine a net extending in all directions, at each node of which is a jewel – which reflects all other jewels in the net. Anything that happens anywhere in the net will be reflected somehow in each jewel; in a sense the totality is contained in each single jewel. However, each jewel reflects the totality in its particular way depending on where it is situated, so each reflection is unique and not reducible to the others.

In practical terms, we will look for and describe the various forms of commons logic that underlie various change and engagement logics, and we will focus on the transformative and generative mechanisms in use to protect, nurture, grow every form of commons and commons logic and to actively out-design and prevent enclosure, over-exploitation and abuse of the commons as conditions for existence. We will also focus on actively spreading and instilling the logic of the commons and the associated generative patterns in social change activity and alternatives that already exists, to accelerate an emergent transformation process. We will add in the mix the provisions that would prevent this logic and the resulting commons to be co-opted, so that agents of change can feel more confident that the practices, models or policies they recommend actually prevent abuse, over exploitation or enclosures.

In other words, we are looking for practical applications for bringing to awareness the common ground elements that would help 'activate' and leverage agency wherever it can be found (and in particular in the mainstream) in ways that nurtures the commons at all levels and in all its dimensions and that could lead on the one hand to the elaboration of learning and multistakeholder dialogue facilitation methodologies, and on the other hand, to systems of 'orientation' within possibilities and solutions, for people and groups to assemble their own sets of solutions that 'fit' their aspirations and engagement logics.


Pattern Language & the Commons

The Peeragogy handbook quotes Christopher Alexander:

"…work in piecemeal ways to decentralize the process of learning and enrich it through contact with many places and people all over the city: workshops, teachers at home or walking through the city, professionals willing to take on the young as helpers, older children teaching younger children, museums, youth groups traveling, scholarly seminars, industrial workshops, old people, and so on. Conceive of all these situations as forming the backbone of the learning process; survey all these situations, describe them, and publish them as the city's "curriculum"; then let students, children, their families and neighborhoods weave together for themselves the situations that comprise their "school" paying as they go with standard vouchers, raised by community tax. Build new educational facilities in a way which extends and enriches this network."

Encounters with and making sense of diversity is key to learning… Learning as a journey of discovery, transforming learners into explorers…

Looking at the actual elements of Alexander's patterns beyond their conceptual description, what comes to mind is that they are not only problem solving principles, but they are also systems-structuring and generative elements with their own 'virtuous' feedback loops that can be applied at various levels and scales 'as we go', as things are unfolding, enabling to go from liquid to solid… the diversity of which creates a resilient 'structure' that is generated both in a constructed and in an emergent way, creating a form of meshwork… It's like the scaffold is being built as we go, and the existing structure becomes the scaffold for more… enabling to add new 'blocks'… Lego… Imagine elements with all the hooks and bridges that would enable connection and reconnection to other generative elements to form a newer always more resilient and 'true to purpose' whole… with ways to visualize the parts and wholes as things unfold and evolve, to navigate the adjacent possibles from our respective localities… learning and identifying needs and opportunities on the way… a mosaic of possibilities  assembled in the logic of each community of practice, cluster of engagement logic.

One can refer to Christopher Alexander's more recent idea of "centres" as the 'why/what for' determinant of the attributes of a design and from there relate to the notion of "pattern".  Centres are, for Alexander, the essence of life. "Patterns" are combined in 'generative sequences' to create/(re)design better "centres."

Centres in our specific case would be what people rally around, what I called social objects above towards which people direct their attention/care, intention/purpose and action/practice, driven by their own engagement and action logics. Seeing centres as essence of life, as nodes of embodiment of commons logic, sits quite well with the definition of commons as factors of livelihood and enablement, generative of abundance, to be nurtured or (re)generated or with Marina Garcés' approach of commons or the common world as the conditions for existence (see alternative political philosophy of systemic change doc).

These centres are constitutive of commons health and protection, designed or 'constructed' not as representation of a desired social order, but as generative systems. And the patterns, assembled for each centre/social object according to its own internal drive or engagement logic would be aimed at 'bettering' the commons in whole or in part in all its forms and dimensions.

So in practical terms, the patterns we envision are not prescriptive of solutions, they are prescriptive of generative principles, mechanisms, and inquiry processes and they orient retrieval of information and decision making towards specific systemic effects (re)generative of the commons.


Scope and Milestones

The pattern language we envision is based on the underlying logic of the commons – scarcity/ abundance – non exploitation/ non enclosure, elements that would contain the protective/nurturing and participatory elements of the commons as conditions for existence, mapped on forms of engagements / action logics. It will connect research with relevant data and documented practical solutions, maps of the commons or alternatives, in particular it will connect elements of NORA and other knowledge bases, with observations of commons 'in action' shared at The WOW5 conference in June in Indiana, and with the findings that we will arrive to with our collaborators in the our WOW5 Work Session around various forms of meaning, sense-making and engagement logics, and the latest research on generative processes and participatory methodologies. Peeragogy will intervene as far as learning and diffusion patterns are concerned, and we will seek a partner in media/art, building learning and discovery journeys… Partnership with the GAP and UIA would expand our capabilities as far as learning, action research, and solutions databases are concerned.

This language would serve as a basis for commons friendly sustainable design and provide ways for vetting sustainability initiatives and other declared commons friendly policy as suggested here.

DEEEP and CONCORD are moving the Johannesburg Global Citizens Movement process forward. The process team of which Helene is a part will be holding space for various civil society movements and activist groups to discover and make sense of each other and find ways for their efforts to coalesce without needing to build any common 'program'. Such a pattern language would help achieve this more effectively.

This initiative would be the point of connection between several projects in various disciplines and a way to clarify the complexity of what we have been discussing… This is an attempt at describing what we are up to in a new de-complexified (?) way.


A Pattern Language (re)generative of the Commons

This project is about creating the framework for a pattern language system (ecosystem, ecology?) for a paradigm shift so that change agents in each cluster of engagement logic can create their own stories, and point to their own pathways,  changing paradigm locally around them, with multiple distributed vectors for change orient themselves however toward a shared aspiration or way of being and doing, even if this aspiration cannot be described and structured in an universal way… so that disparate efforts can coalesce.

A 2011 research program shows that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. (The thesis is developed in Gladwell's Tipping Point 2000). This article does not provide a link to the actual research and we would need to investigate further and find other sources.

The idea is to initiate an ongoing process of locally animated change everywhere and on every scale at once, with change occurring in various shapes, tastes and colors…



We see this pattern language founded on the logic of the commons as generative system, understood as what we hold, nurture, care for in common (our shared assets and conditions for existence mindfully managed), how we do it (in a participatory generative sustainable process) in order to find pathways to thrivability (as outcome)…

We are orienting ourselves toward multi-variable multi-layered pattern language, constructed around the notion of 'social objects' as "centers" or nodes of embodiment of commons logic and 'connective tissue' that bring various cohesive elements together. The pattern language, as design ecosystem would comprise:
  • A set of underlying design principles, the underlying logic, or 'grammar' including the mechanisms, participatory and generative processes and feedback loops that will enable the commons to be protected, nurtured, grown 'by design' and preserved against over-exploitation, abuse, or enclosure, as well as the anti-patterns and mechanisms to identify as corrupt, and to stay away from from..
  • The heuristics, inquiry processes that will help combine complementary patterns to build new 'centres'. This would include principles of pharmacology  and self-regulation of pattern application such as described below, as well as provisions to avoid co-optation of a pattern.
  • The derived building blocks, or 'vocabulary', that will help change agents in each cluster of engagement logic compose solutions and pathways and create the narratives, or expressions of these underlying principles in forms and narratives or realities they can relate to, and that will appropriately help operate change 'locally', with all the diversity and meshing generated across clusters.
  • This ways of connecting the elements above to existing practical applications, the connections between these elements, and their relationship with cultural aspects and forms of sense making and engagement which would enable their easy discovery and retrieval, making databases of solutions 'actionable' – an 'orientation system', and which would also enable to navigate between domains.
  • The protocols for 'conversation' within and between 'languages', for mutual understanding in multi-stakeholder groups, discovery of each other's logics and operating modes, and dealing with conflicting interests, trade-offs, etc… in participatory processes.
  • The means of composition and diffusion of narrative within and across action logic clusters via media, art, SOLE and Peer Learning accelerators, enabling self and peer discovery pathways.
  • The tools and technologies that would make visualization, contextualization, matching, navigation, learning easier…
Picture source:
In the ancient fable of the elephant and the blind men. People can describe each part of the elephant from where they stand, but can't make sense of the whole elephant. The pattern language would try to bring the reality (or possibility?) of the elephant into each part, so that it's the elephant materializes as a whole when all piece are described… and not a set of unrelated parts…
The need for collaboration arises because we are different, not because we are the same. If we were all the same, why would one have to supply what the other cannot – we could all do the same things! Thus the different men see different parts of the elephant, and it's only when there is effective communication among them, recognizing that they will necessarily sense different things depending on where they are, that they can begin to realize what that beast really is. Trying to deny, eliminate, or gloss over our differences will prevent us from ever seeing what each of us alone cannot see.
What makes this way of viewing change unique is how it refers to both the information and logics we have and operate on and the information and logics we're individually missing, at the same time… What it takes to find the complementary shapes one thing can use with others to build new things involves exploration and questioning, a playful mind and approach it's often said. A participatory process leading to participatory clarity as described above.

On structure and order

Structure and order are often points of contention when it comes to problem solving. If the various forms of generative processes, each with specific internal dynamics, would prescribe specific types of structure for the commons as Bonnitta Roy suggests in her paper referenced in the notes below, there are many other variables in play in 'deciding' or settling which structural mechanisms are to be involved and how order can be 'constructed' or understood, that may influence choices and decision making. Some are internal to the decision maker's situation, others are contingent:

Internal variables comprise:

  • The type and degree of homogeneity in action logics / worldviews of a decision group (Graves/Cook-Greuter)
  • The types of cognitive preferences of a decision group and their degree of homogeneity (Jung/MBTI) 

Catalysts or 'retarders' comprise

  • The degree of empowerment of a change maker or a team and its capacity to assess a situation
  • The degree of autonomy of a change maker or a team in self-designing and recomposing structure
  • The resources available
  • The tools and methodologies available for making sense of situations and generating mutual understanding for 'co-constructing' required elements of structure.

External variables comprise:

  • The degree of complexity and predictability of situations (Cynefin)
  • The requirements and effects of time and accumulation on the process and the organizational life cycles
  • The scale of an activity and level of intervention
  • The Interdependencies/trade-offs that may need to be negotiated
  • The relational dynamics and power relations

For example beginnings as open infinite games or conversations within the greater open infinite game can be structureless and then activities structures themselves on their own contingencies as conversations progress and projects crystallize, in more or less 'liquid' ways, with 'shape' being a function of what arises, in relation to what the other variables allow.

In the case of cities for example, patterns are composed and recomposed, generating and regenerating a scaffold as they grow, optimized with models such as Alexander's pattern language, which can explain why organizations die (they don't know how to recompose and recombine), but Cities don't (Geoffrey West)…


Questions answered

The pattern language would orient people toward combining elements of solution and structures generative of commons the most relevant to their context and action logic, and guide them through the process, answering questions such as:
  • Within my own context, how can I assess the ‘generative potential’ and participatory nature of a given activity and my margin of maneuver to propose and implement change?
  • Within a given activity, what generative processes and structures would we need to set up, which of them would we need to change to generate a greater ‘generative’ outcome/impact. How can the message be effectively conveyed?
  • How could I reorient my work towards something meaningful. If I am looking to make a certain type of impact, which activities and processes would be the most suited for me and my group, the context I’m in etc…
  • We are a group of change agents, activists, NGOs, organizations seeking to collaborate. How can we identify the type of generative outcome we each contribute, how can our activities nurture each other, what is missing for our individual and collective action to be more generative?
  • We are a group of stakeholders with conflicting interests, or we are negotiating commons friendly or sustainable policy. How can we assess and compare the participatory and generative potential of various options? How can we design our proposals to minimize risks of co-option?

In particular, as far as language or vocabulary are concerned (and vocabulary twist has been an issue in discussion among commons activists), solutions associated terminology could be submitted to the following heuristics:

  • What type of alternative/solution is this term associated to. What issues is it meant to solve. 
  • What  are the elements/interpretations that go against the commons logic: In  which conditions can the term be detrimental to the commons logic/not  acceptable – How/why would it prevent the issues to be solved – How  could the term serve corrupt goals if its application is not associated  to the right mechanisms (anti-pattern) – What should anyone using these  terms to 'advance' sustainable goals should beware of and check  (privatization, creation of a market, extraction for profit, reduction  of access, etc… elements that go against the commons logic) 
  • What  are the elements/interpretations that work in favor of the commons  logic: In which conditions is the term beneficial to the commons  logic/acceptable – How would it help solve the issues – How could this  particular term serve the commons logic even better (patterns,  mechanisms). What are the things to examine, look at (reduction of  exploitation/extraction/abuse, and or participatory governance etc). 
  • What  associated terms/patterns can help address the issue more effectively in a commons logic. (That's a goal of the pattern language to combine solutions optimal to improve commons health, and what NORA – the knowledge base of the CAN-  currently proposes through approaches for creating greater abundance).


NORA as the premises of a pattern language

NORA, the knowledge base of the Commons Abundance Network, works as a classification system that puts in relation observations of commons experience on the ground with libraries of knowledge and solutions, and shows how things are inter-related, very much in the way Christopher Alexander or Douglas Schuler built their pattern language.

The pattern language such as we are envisioning it would make NORA, and other 'libraries of solutions' much more 'actionable' by adding an exploration, learning and action 'engine' to it. Making the data accessible and assemblable in ways that address cultural/cognitive and inter-subjectivity challenges…

Wolfgang writes on NORA and interoperability between maps of Commons:

The logic underlying NORA may be useful in creating interoperability between maps.
Those maps which primarily address needs would fall under the Needs aspect of NORA. For example, maps of food security issues, access to clean water, etc.

  • Maps that show where different kinds of commons have been established, where there are credit unions, cooperatives of various types, etc., would fall under the Organizational Forms aspect of NORA.
  • Maps showing the quantity and quality of resources, ranging from air quality to biodiversity, and including assets created by people (for example, transport and communications infrastructure) and intangibles (such as knowledge resources) would fall under the Resources aspect of NORA.
  • Finally, maps that attempt to integrate information from all three of the above areas would fall under the Abundance aspect of NORA (for example, maps attempting to show sustainable well-being defined in various ways).

The above classification system could work not just for entire maps, but also for each information category on a map – for example, if a map includes both needs and resources related information, each of these information items could be classified within the NORA system.

On how knowledge bases of observed practices/applications and patterns relate (what Joe call the 'connective tissues'), Wolfgang refers to the four-volume work "The Nature of Order" (Volume 2, Chapter 11: The Sequence of Unfolding), in which Alexander provides a set of instructions on how to go about designing/constructing a Japanese tea house.

Designing/constructing is a single process for Alexander, it is an ordered process of first attending to one aspect of the layout that has to come first, then to another and so on, until you get a tea house with its garden that provides a sense of tranquility and peace even if that place is surrounded by a busy city. That set of instructions Alexander calls a "generative sequence," the perceived similarities among tea houses constructed in this way can be taken as a "pattern," while the tea house that results is a centre that itself consists of many smaller centres, and exists in close interaction with surrounding centres (as for example the garden, the vegetation in it, the garden wall, etc.).

So, in a knowledge base, we can work on providing (and subsequently improving on) patterns and potentially generative sequences as well, that can be used to create better centers. The experience of working with these patterns should of course feed back into our efforts, so that our knowledge base becomes increasingly useful.


Pharmacology and the limits of accumulation

A notion to incorporate in our patterns is the notion of pharmakon developed by Bernard Stiegler.

"Pharmakon is the Greek word meaning both poison and medicine… Stiegler proposed the concept of pharmacology (positive and negative) requiring a general organology that includes all artifices (tools, machines, prosthetics, recording and communication devices) that inform the politics and ethics of care (health vs. disease)." Nootechnics website

As much as a medicine can become a poison when abused, and a poison can become a medicine in small quantities (re arsenic in homeopathy), patterns can become anti-patterns if abused, and small doses of anti-patterns can be beneficial if only to keep the system in 'watch'.

One can refer here to the work of Bernard Lietaer & team on sustainability of nature's complex flow systems applied to monetary structure, describing the “Window of Viability” in which all sustainable natural ecosystems operate, at the point of optimal balance between two polarities such as efficiency and resilience. Similar approaches could be taken with other polarities such as competition and collaboration… etc…

Anything that is over applied reduces the variety and resilience of the system and makes it brittle or ends up by poisoning the system. One of the reasons our system is going into the wall is that we over apply recipes, loosing track of why they were used in the first place. We over-apply models or patterns and concentrate on measuring the rate of application of the models not the outcome and the accumulated effects of the model, or we apply the wrong models to situations.

We will be looking at which 'pairs' of patterns can help optimize each other, and at incorporating in our patterns some heuristics to explore the points at which a patterns can become an anti-pattern.

See Clayton Christensen on scarcity or abundance of capital and circumstance contingent application of models start at 8'20'' the view of a Harvard Business School professor on the capitalist dilemma.


Relating patterns: example 1

It's useful to remember that a "pattern language" isn't just a collection of patterns, but also an indication of how the patterns fit together.  Here's an example image from the Peeragogy Handbook that shows how some of the main peeragogy patterns relate to one another, to the main chapters of the book, and to some "individual problem solving heuristics".
When looking at the organization of this image, it's useful to remember Christopher Alexander's admonishment that a "City is not a Tree".  A language shouldn't be, either.  The tree-like structure indicated above is only a starting point!   A more detailed, interconnected, and possibly recursive structure will be observed in practice.  Nevertheless, this simplification is useful for visualizing the structure and main ideas in the Peeragogy Handbook.

Relating patterns: example 2

If we look at pattern grouping in terms of sense-making or understanding, then we can create navigation for self- or collaborative discovery and learning pathways, where people can explore the unknown from what is familiar, and navigate from one possibility to another, to broaden horizons, such as described by Helene here, giving life to Stuart Kaufman's 'adjacent possible' as described by Stephen Johnson in The Origins of Good Ideas, WSJ Sept 2011.
"The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore them. Each new combination opens up the possibility of other new combinations. Think of it as a house that magically expands with each door you open. You begin in a room with four doors, each leading to a new room that you haven't visited yet. Once you open one of those doors and stroll into that room, three new doors appear, each leading to a brand-new room that you couldn't have reached from your original starting point. Keep opening new doors and eventually you'll have built a palace."
The example below, showing Lexical distances among languages in Europe is a good illustration. Imagine if possibilities and patterns could be mapped by degree of familiarity/closeness with each other, creating an impressionistic map of the domain of the possible… enabling by successive hops to discover other clusters and worlds…


Further references

1. More recent work by Christopher Alexander is about "connecting centers."  He proposes that there are 15 different "underlying" patterns (to use Helene's term):

(1) Levels of Scale, (2) Strong Centers, (3) Thick Boundaries, (4) Alternating Repetition, (5) Positive Space, (6) Good Shape, (7) Local Symmetries, (8) Deep Interlock and Ambiguity, (9) Contrast, (10) Gradients, (11) Roughness, (12) Echoes, (13) The Void, (14) Simplicity and Inner Calm, (15) Not Separateness.

One simple way of blending the "early Alexander" with the "mature Alexander" would simply be to connect each of the patterns we generate with one or more of these underlying ways of connecting things.  See: (overview) and (excerpt).

2. An article, “Manifesto 1991” by Christopher Alexander, Progressive Architecture, July 1991, pp. 108–112, provides a brief summary of Alexander’s ideas in the form of a critique of mainstream architecture.  Some highlights are excerpted here.  It's important take care when understanding Alexander's stance, i.e. although he proposes a very general system, he himself has a particular cultural orientation.  We can be aware of this without ourselves judging it as right or wrong — but let's proceed with due caution.

3. A book (or paper?) on P2P Urbanism by Nikos Salingaros: takes Alexander's patterns to another dimension: "The definition and ideals of P2PUrbanism are constructed from the bottomup. This process takes scientific results and theories on human biological and social needs and adds them to the ontheground experience of a myriad of actors and agencies (architects, urbanists, small firms, professional studios, NGOs, social workers, etc.) that are confronted daily with urban problems on the microscale."

4. An article "Leading the 21st Century : The Conception-Aware, Object-Oriented Organization" by Bonnitta Roy, decribes a Generative Systems Model : The “G5” – Five Generative Processes that "entail unique internal dynamics, give rise to unique types of structural organization, and operate in fundamentally different ways". It would be interesting to explore how this model can help design patterns to generate and nurture commons, and how process narratives come in the picture in relation to generative processes and action logics.

5. As far as what we know and don't know and therefore in terms of how/when to apply which type of inquiry, what comes to mind is Snowden's Cynefin Model. We could further explore how this can be relevant to the pattern language system.

6. Liberating Voices: A Pattern Language for Communication Revolution by Douglas Schuler

7. Apprenticeship Patterns: Guidance for the Aspiring Software Craftsman  – looks relevant for learning-related stuff; not quite the same as peeragogy but adjacent.

8. Other resources for pattern languages and sense making are available here.

Discussion (26)

  1. Here's a link (in German) about a conference that was organized earlier this month in Vienna by Franz Nahrada, on a pattern language for commons:

    I think this is something we should link up with; I'll be in touch with Franz about that.

  2. Cool yes! In particular, it would be interesting to know the orientations that they are taking in relation to what we have imagined. Are there any outines in English? Or cold you see Wolfgang how the two approaches relate to each other?

    Maybe Franz could join us in Bloomington?

  3. Also I see that @brigitte-kratzwald has made the link between the two projects in a comment on the symposium website. Hi Brigitte 🙂

    @franz-nahrada is also a member here. Hi Franz 🙂


  4. Profile photo of John Glass John Glass says:

    Hi…I am new to the group (got here through Peeragogy!), but thought I would share that Doug Schuler and others have a really cool site on patterns that includes a number of patterns that seem ready-made for the commons (indeed, there is a pattern entitled, "The Commons"). I think this would be a great resource to investigate.

    • Thanks @johneglass! Great resource indeed. I had noticed you mentioning it in the Peeragogy context. We have a pattern language peartree with several interesting links. Liberating voices is part of the list of card decks selected by Emergent by design that may be useful to peeragogy to.

      I would say Liberating voices patterns could be part of the 'vocabulary'. It would be interesting to connect the various vocabulary pattern languages together.

      The hard bit I would say will be what I called the grammer (not sure yet it's the appropriate term), that would include generative processes and assembling and orientation machanisms.

  5. Profile photo of Joe Corneli Joe Corneli says:

    @admin, @johneglass:  I agree that some of the "generative processes and assembling and orientation mechanisms" are missing – no one seems to theorize these explicitly, although there is a bit more available on the "application" end. 

    In short: I want to know, how do pattern languages grow?   (This is very much the "meta-commons" idea.)

    Christopher Alexander talks about "piecemeal growth" – but again, in the application domain, which for him is architecture.

    Ward Cunningham made a "pattern wiki" as one of the first wikis – and of course, wikis do grow in a piecemeal way.  Indeed, piecemeal growth and development of the pattern language seems like good common sense – but we already run into problems with it in peeragogy, where the pattern language has not had much significant updates since the first year of the project.

    The Liberating Voices pattern catalog is at least large — which means that it grew over a long time with many contributors.  There's a chapter in there about "work in progress" (which I just started looking at yesterday…).

    I wouldn't quite call this a grammar, except, gulp, at the meta-level.  The typical idea of grammar would mostly apply at "application level", generating new structures following Alexander's or someone else's pattern language.   But we're concerned with "language learning and language development on the fly" as well as with application.  In other words, with a mutually-supporting connection between practice and theory.

    Here's one picture related to that:  (very simple but we might as well begin with simple things!).


    • @joe-corneli. I've been browsing through Liberating Voices, the book, and some chapters could provide some insight on assembling patterns. I'll have a closer look.

      Also I think we are talking of two different areas of application of generative processes. I'm looking at generativity of patterns and generativity of assembled patterns (i.e. patterns generative of commons), while you seem to be talking of growing the language itself. Both are necessary.

      I like the idea of the catalogue. Wikis are indeed catalogues. And there are loads of problem/solution databasis that could be seen as or turned into patterns. One could even imagine a bundle of pattern languages (it seems the public sphere projects is working towards this as they talk of 'several pattern languages'). The question is how do you get these solutions 'out' of their 'stogae space', to be combined and used, so that catalogues and databases are 'leveraged'. That would be also the role of peeragogy or the accelerator I would say… to put good patterns / solutions to good use… And language generation / pattern gathering would be indeed gain from a back and forth between practice and theory (what we are set to do in Indiana…).

      I particularly like the Liberating Voices template for pattern generation that @johneglass shared in another Peeragogy conversation. Especially the discussion points:

      I'm thinking of creating a template bringing a bit of a focus on processes generative of commons, i.e. how a pattern/solution helps grow commons, how it can be misused, etc… A form of heuristics of the commons… That could also be applied to 'vocabulary' to help uncover underlying assumptions, something like having the pattern and anti-pattern associated with a word/concept/meme…

      I started thinking about a glossary related to pattern language:

      I'm thinking here also about the conversation I'm having with the philosopher R.C. Smith who works on the idea of an alternative political philosophy for systemic change:

      He says: "fundamental ‘systemic change’ requires an understanding of the ‘truth context’ of ‘social progress’ to underpin its qualitative and quantitative evaluation: in other words, there needs to be a ‘truth context’ that acts as a backdrop to how we measure holistically the ins and outs of ‘social progress?’ To put it differently, we need to ask ourselves: ‘How do we identify whether a certain form of change is truthful to the notion of ‘social progress?’

      I think this type of pattern language can help do exactly that… if we define progress as generative of commons…

  6. John, Helene, Joe, – I still think we need to make the jump to connecting the "word patterns" and "natural process patterns".  It really is in the **successions of processes** where nature "does it".  

    I'm a bit handicapped by being exhausted from presenting it over and over, for 30+ years too, getting hopelessly diffident responses from a great varietty of different social and scientific communities.  So my "get up and go" has sort of "got up and left", without having anyone seem to "get it".  But, still…  any kind of stable organization in nature follows about the same life cycle pattern of  1) building up from small stuff (growth/development) then 2) building up to become stable (convergence/integration) then 3) building down (decline/disintegration) to become unsustainable and 4) vanishing (fading/decay) away…  Every oganism and organization has those fairly readily recognizable periods of irreversible accumulative organizational change.

    Wha makes them most distinctive and then later comprehendible is that each of those periods usually emerges with fairly systematic processes, exhibiting fairly regular proportional change.    They correspond directly to the emergent forms of distributed organizational development, recognizable as unified development processes,  

    Each period of development begins by its own process of development, and ends by running its course.    So that's four developmental processes of change in each life cycle (growth, maturation, decline, decay), each with its own shorter life cycle.  Each of those four processes also corresponds to the labyrinthian "conversation" between the many parts, that allows them to work together as a whole, their "commoning" as it were, that follows the expanding and then contracting steps of each period of organizational change.

    How I could noticed that, a very clear pattern of successive steps of beginning and ending natural cycles, that had somehow gone so unstudied by the natural sciences I couldn't get anyone to recognize what I was talking about, wello, … is another story.  That's at least as deeply mysterious as the workings of nature themselves!

    The Natural Life Cycle of Transformative Events  (a story of self-organizing natural system events)
             Five Development Periods: evolving organization, transforming relationships & scales
    (Five Processes, Five Labyrinths)
    ·         Six Turning Point Events:  punctuating the narrative at smaller scales to change directions


  7. Oh, it's because it's not the patterns that are generative.   It's the *searches you do with them*.   In nature what is generative of commons is search patterns by the participants, that go beyond pattern in generating new for.   It's not the application of patterns.   For natural systems what you're then searching for is the orgnaic nature of the systems, for the patterns you can recognize that *they* have discovered as they developed, that are evocative of the organization of the whole.  

    One would use patterns like the ones I suggest as *aids*, like a doctor might use a magnifying glass or a stethescope for isolating key features of the living things they are studying, to discover what makes them tick or how to avoid harming them.   The doctor actually isn't studyig her magnifying glass or her stethescope, except for using them to help her discover why her patient came to her.

  8. correction, "that go beyond pattern in generating new form", not "new for"!   Wish we could edit these comments…

    • Jessie, when I talk of generative patterns, I'm talking of the generativity of the ACTIONS that the patterns are supposed to model (or describe). If I have patterns on growing food, the way of planting the seeds or of taking care of the garden will be more or less generative. It seems to me the pattern of the search is a search pattern or an observation pattern that can be more or less generative of a result.

      I'm trying to identify patterns literally generative of commons or of components of commons. And commons are not necessarily forms, they can be processes (manners in which) or outcomes/output generative of something else.

  9. OK, but the "pattern" of creative construction in nature is finding new ways to build on the "matching of opposites", i.e. joining things that "fit togeter".   You see it in "hind sight" looking at any collaborative design, like how "cup" and "water" are complementary opposites, male and female, wall and door, wheel and axel, etc. etc.  Things that 'fit' together they have symmeterically opposite shapes (or cycles or behaviors… etc).    The generative "pattern" is the two part "search for complementary connections" + "then finding that productivity recreating the conditions in which it was discovered".  That sketches out the basic reproduction cycle for building a new form of organization, with both the innovation and environmental response sides of it taking place *without* rules for where it's going, or what to look for until it has already systematized.   

    What an observer will very commonly notice as evidence of it happening, like when a community is discovering a new way of building on complementary connections, is the evidence of "something taking off", as evidenced by a pattern of increasing scale or activity, following a sequence of regularly accumulating proportional changes (growth pattern ¸¸.·´ ). So "growth patter" is a pattern you can use to draw your attention to "some innovative design process happening".   It's not just a circumstantial "stumbling accross" a complementary fit of one thing to another.  That would not build.   It's the feedback of *also* having the productivity of that complementary fit result in creating the conditions that make the likelihood of it being rediscovered more likely.   Then that complementary fit occurrs again and again with increasing regularity.   

    Alexander's patterns of evolving public space rely on the form of the spaces co-evolving with the public culture of the people using them.  So accumulative changes in the form of a plaza and the ways the culture uses it, reinforce each other to create new forms of public habitation.    In economics innovation the fits a market's interests adapts as it develops into a new form of product.   The personal computer when through that process, first thought to be a trivial educational toy and turning out the be an enormously important educational toy.   

    A family outing that goes especially well is likely to result in everyone looking for those happy coincidences in future outings or occasions, some of which may serve to anchor new family culture…   So the generative pattern of "innovative development" includes things of all sorts that grow from improvised beginnings, all tending to do so by a pattern of improving match making, progressing by accumulative proportional change, as evidence of the feeback of complementarity fits occurring.   Studying them fills one's mind with the examples of systems doing them, and new ways to search for what's happening in any given case.   

    There's an interesting thing happening presently in the financial community, a new way of recognizing the simply enormous economic liabilities for climate change, that had long been "seen" but from a distance somehow, and not factored into financial decisions before!   That's helping expose the fact that the same is true for ALL the many harms to our future that environmentalists and social activists have been yelling about for SO long, without getting the economic consequences understood.  

    It's bringing about an emerging realization in the finance world that, "Hey, we're responsible!", and that "fiduciary duty" had actually always been an obligation of professionals to act in the interests of the people and organizations they made decisions for.   Well, now finance is getting the message that today it really includes making choices for "sustainability", and not just for one thing or a short list of things.  Today it's the interests of our having healthy economies as part of the interests of the people and organizations investment managers make decisions for, and the "common interest" in the system as a whole and the earth too.   

    It's hard to know what process of building complementary fits it was, that started this new realization really developing.  The starting point and end point were always fairly obvious to anyone who thought about the contradictions involved, BUT the path of development that led there was missing before.

    • Profile photo of Joe Corneli Joe Corneli says:

      Maybe it would be helpful to distinguish between the technical term "pattern" (as used by Christopher Alexander) and the informal word "pattern" (which always refers to things that happen in the world in a recurring or otherwise "patterned" way).   At the moment I think we're suffering a bit because we're using the same 7 letters to describe 2 very different (but related) things!    It might be helpful if we always talk about "Design Patterns" when we're talking about the Christopher Alexander sort of thing.  This could make things more clear.  I will try to make use of this distinction in the rest of what I write below.

      This terminological distinction will certainly help me make the following point:  We also see "patterns" in the way we work on and with "Design Patterns".   Sometimes, creating "Design Patterns" IS the action that takes place in the world.    But why do we create them?   What interest do they hold for us?

      I think the idea is that "Design Patterns" are somehow supposed to give us some more leverage over the everyday "patterns" that we see.  Again, thinking at the level of text and documents — you could say some of the same things in a standard everyday document as you could with a catalog of "Design Patterns".  Christopher Alexander himself uses standard everyday prose for a lot of his exposition, and doesn't use "Design Patterns" for everything!

      In a recent experiment, I've been taking a sort of upside down approach.  I'm trying to rewrite an existing document entirely using "Design Patterns".   The document is still very recognizable as a document, but it now has the various advantages afforded by the "Design Pattern" methodology.   The example (still a work in progress) is here:

      The advantages I see:

      • small pieces of text (individual sections are short, and are made up of smaller pieces)
      • uniform style (at a typographical and pacing level, each of the sections has the same sorts of things as the other sections, allowing us to focus on what the content says)
      • the way the "modular pieces" fit together is reasonably clear (i.e. one just leads into the next… but this is different from a non-modular approach in which the prose just flows as a whole)
      • It could be converted back into a normal document, just by deleting the boldfaced tags in paragraphs, followed by a little by-hand cleanup with connecting words, etc.

      @jessie-henshaw and @admin, I'm sorry for the pedantic quoting in the above! —  All taken together, THIS document presents one further example of a "pattern" 🙂 

  10. Joe, It's certainly good to notice our using the same words in different ways.   The word “pattern” has lots of meanings.  We often fail to distinguish between spatial and behavioral patterns, or between natural and perceptual patterns. There's a difference in usage between speaking of patterns as “being observed” or “being used”, or between patterns applied by design and patterns that emerge during design.    It so much depends on context, and trying to understand what unspoken issues are on the mind of someone else.   We also have the perennial communication problem nature gave us, letting us speak words with our own meanings, and having them almost always heard as expressing the listener’s meanings…  That helps confuse everyone. 

    I've generally thought Alexander was talking about the patterns that emerge during design, not applying patterns for design.   I also note his language is so elaborate and personalized I'm never quite sure how much I’m missing of what he's talking about…. 😉   In any case, I myself am most interested in how new forms of organizations emerge during a design process, and working back from the emerging patterns to the system producing them, and so I tend to pick that out to focus on. 

    Where I connect with Alexander is as an architect, and how architects are endlessly searching for how to get the patterns that will solve their problems to emerge.  Architects are generally searching for "patterns of living", really, not so much geometry or hierarchy or semantic meaning, generally.  We tend to think that when we find the right pattern of living that quite often it’ll also have a resonant geometry, hierarchy and semantic meaning, as byproducts of serving the living purpose.  

    That approach makes the task of communication a challenge for architects, as the language of life they dwell on finding expression for isn’t easily discussed at all.    Partly struggling with that I’ve paid a lot of attention to how language is built, at the same time being organized "patterns of meaning" as well as "patterns of living" at the same time too.   I often recognize that in the many words that refer to natural subjects that are self-defining rather than linguistically defined, like “staircase” referring to a “case” of “stairs” as an assembly of working parts.  The same is true of “business” that refers to a community of people working cooperatively as a whole. That duality of words, defined both by semantics and tied to the self-defining forms of nature grounds them in a way we often overlook, on the complex realities of life that connect all our words and what they refer to.   

    There's a tension between that "naturalist" point of view and the "conceptual" view that words need to have specific defined meanings explicitly shared with the listener, or otherwise conceptual constructs might seem to have little to connect them.   That, of course, helps one build wonderfully useful specialized ways of thinking, that then also divides discussions into silos of thinking, separated from others.   Conceptual thinkers seem quite fooled by it themselves, amazingly often really.   Our “concepts for the world” easily seem to us to BE the world… for example.  

    So that's one of the most tricky features of word meanings, when they “take over our realities” as become ideologies to get lost in.   I’m also a physicist too, and so get part of this view from watching my own intellectual communities wander off the deep end into mysticism… over and over…  Physicists will commonly make up our own abstract meanings for common terms, taking words like "particle" and "force", and decide that those richly complex terms  with deeply rooted meanings can be reduced to mathematical terms in equations, and then that abstraction mysteriously coming to be referred to as what rules the natural world!    The patterns of physics are wonderful patterns, but also generally block the view of physicists for recognizing more individualized patterns of organization one finds.

    So that's all a bit far afield perhaps, but is also background for mentioning my version of editing the “semantic pattern” I find in documents.   In writing I find myself struggling a lot, finding that as I write I record thoughts that are working backwards from some end point, or the reverse, that lead forward from some beginning point, and mix them up often enough.  When I first look at what I've written it's all mixed up, at least for a reader’s need to learn about a subject from their starting point context of thinking.  The reader would not start with having my end points in mind, nor the reasons I’d have for starting at some beginning point, as they attempt to read.  

    In dealing with that I’ve been noticing a pattern recently, that might be related to what you're talking about.  As I read the way I've tried to express myself I recognize important sentence fragments that are "out of sequence", and it often takes several drafts to get them in the right order and reshape the connections between them, working them over and over to get them properly presented.   In the first draft it's like I'm writing for myself, and then in the editing I'm rearranging and reassembling it for someone else.   Is that related to what you do with your document "rewrite" process?  

    • Profile photo of Joe Corneli Joe Corneli says:


      Thanks for the note!  To answer the question at the end – yes, it is indeed related, although I'm revising someone else's first draft. I don't have all the information about what was "in his head" – so what I'm working with is the content after the "lossy" process of writing has taken place.  But a benefit of coauthoring is that I can supply a rich, embodied, and concrete "someone else." 

      As a very general reflection back on what you wrote about patterns, words, and concepts: lately, I've been thinking that concepts somehow ought to be directly associated with patterns and practices.  A physicist will have certain concepts, and an economist will have certain other concepts — in each case, related to his or her professional practices.  It seems very interesting – but challenging – to relate "conceptual" talk back to the underlying real-world patterns.

      Concepts (like your example of "staircase") are often somewhat disassembleable, and to some extent, so are at least some practices… but lived experience is generally a holistic and non-algorithmatic thing.  Here the idea of "implicate order" is useful, but I don't have time at the moment to expand the reference.  The main point is that practices don't just unite with a "hypen" — "-" — as we might unite stair-case or house-boat or boat-house, etc. — rather, they "unfold".

  11. Joe, OK, so we agree that there's some kind of difference between conceptual patterns and holistic patterns, something basic having to do with being constructible by following rules or not, like by an algorithm.   But then, if we expect words to help us communicate, could we use only words that are constructible with rules to communicate holistic patterns that aren't?  Gödel's Incompleteness theorem seems to do display a case of that, if only by negation, saying holistically that the axioms of mathematical proof can't prove themselves to be self-consistent… is how I recall the idea.   That's not really so useful here though, if what we want is to be able to recognize BOTH definable and holistic patterns, AND communicate them along with their inter-relationships, somehow. 

    Maybe theorem at least demonstrates the value of asking what questions a theory can't answer, though.  That’s been my most productive question over the years.   Our main concern with the difference seems to be that any definable pattern leaves out all sorts of things present in the holistic patterns they are based on, that they are really not “faithful” to the originals.   

    Have you ever thought about what's generally missing from the holistic patterns that someone may try to depict with definable ones?     One those “missing things” I noticed more or less recently is that conceptual patterns are based on an internally self-consistent set of rules, and so basically defined as having no environment.   Holistic patterns are generally notable as features of their environments.   In itself that's not so useful of an observation, of course, until you ask the follow-up question, i.e. "what is it that’s missing" because of that?

    Would that be useful for any of your discussions of the pattern languages for use in commons?


    • Profile photo of Joe Corneli Joe Corneli says:

      @jessie-henshaw : I was reading Clifford Geertz's "Interpetation of Cultures" today.  One thing he says that seems very sensible is that culture includes two kinds of models:  models of things in the world and models for acting in the world.   Some models are both at the same time, and I suppose the "dream" with Design Patterns is to build a model of the different architectural and life patterns out there, one that could then be employed for guiding the design and construction of new, livable, cities and buildings.   Or other things.  [I think the emphasis is usually on models for.  After all, Christopher Alexander is an architect, and lives in a world with lots of blueprints and designs.  Design Patterns are his offering into that space, but they're innovative in terms of being more careful about including more models of existing behavior and design.]

      Geertz talks about how important culture is for humans, since our behavior is not, in general, genetically encoded.  We can build dams and we can sing, but we don't do this like beavers or birds.  Many cultural patterns are "holistic" — to use your term.  We can read books about hydrolics or music theory, but learning on the job or as part of a choir are embodied and really cultural, not just conceptual.

      So, yes, I think that "what is missing" from the idea of a Pattern Language is the truly cultural aspect, including active use, the growth, refinement, and embellishment.  The idea of a Pattern Language is fine of course!  But just like we've distinguished between "pattern" and "Design Pattern", I think we need to distinguish between "Pattern Language" and "holistic practices of Pattern-Based Design" or something like this.

      The fact that I'd like to try to make a Pattern Language that describes holistic practices of Pattern-Based Design is a bit quirky but still, I think, sensible.  The bigger picture is that of making models for, as well as a models of commons-relevant practices.  I think Pattern-Based Design is relevant because it makes it relatively easy for people to talk about and contribute to the design process.  This is mostly just a hunch at this point — but I'm trying to flesh out my hunch with an example — more work in progress, here:

      Again, I think the main thing to keep in mind, which could help avoid (generally) "Gödelian" problems, is to keep developing the theories in direct contact with practice.  Let's not expect a perfect or even self-consistent Pattern Language to exist outside of practices of holistic Pattern-Based Design.  (And these practices will themselves be imperfect, heterogeneous, and "human".)

  12. @jessie-henshaw, @joe-corneli great comments! Sorry I have been quite absent. We are indeed talking about patterns at so many different levels. Let's try and map these levels maybe? I'll start doing that.

    Agreed that we have design patterns, and search, observation, learning, behavioral, generative patterns. We also have cultural patterns.

    I think one important thing in terms of patterns and language, is that we need to work in multiple directions. Vertically to link theory and practice, concepts and reality etc etc… But also we need to work horizontally, between cultural frames of reference, whether they refer to nature or social constructs.

    And then we have the commons, as Archetype:

    ar·che·type [ahr-ki-tahyp]


    1. the original pattern or model from which all things of the same kind are copied or on which they are based; a model or first form; prototype.

    2. (in Jungian psychology) a collectively inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc., universally present in individual psyches.

    Will hopefully get back to the discussion and document very soon. Jessie, please, pursue on all what you shared here on the natural language doc!

  13. When studying world systems I like to find "partitions" to help me define natural organizational features of the environment I can use to define categories of information and build information models that correspond to natural forms.   Examples would be separating "inputs" from 'outputs' for something, or locating systems by the division between things that are "inside" and "outside".  

    That is "applied phenomenology" as I see it, and gives me something like "natural categories”, and allowing words for and discussion of recognizable roles in nature, as well as objects and categories of information.   I find that approach really improves the correspondence between my information models and the organic subjects of the world I get my information from.   

    I also find it particularly useful to do the reverse, study the words that someone else defines and examining the long held traditional meanings of words, to discover what natural phenomenology they might refer to.    "Archetype" is a great one for that!    The question I ask is "What recognizable feature of the natural world might it refer to?"   Your mentioning it brings back something I’ve been kicking around in my thoughts for some time.

    For 1. "archetypal model", would an example perhaps be: "A work of art that is exemplary of a particular style of art, from which the style might be replicated" ?   

    For 2. "archetypal behavior", would an example be something even as simple as: "Animals of any kind act ‘cornered’ when they're 'cornered' "?     

    I think either sort of "archetype" interpreted that way might be considered as a "role", and as “a place in the relationships of the world that defines what will be responded to, channeling the behavior of anything in that steps into that role”.   A classic sort of example would be the characteristically different behaviors possible on a mountain top, and how they differ from what is possible at a valley bottom.  You could also study the archetypal behaviors possible  “indoors” and “outdoors” or “in love” and “breaking up”, and go on and on with all the wonderful varieties of roles that bring out particular types of behavior.   

    "Systems" tend to be chock full of roles that steer the behavior of the things in them, but also fluidly change when all those roles change together, like a higher level archetype of the “system as a whole”.   We see most of the individual roles in the world economy changing ever faster, for example, not independently but only all changing together.  

    Ironically people in all kinds of roles regularly feel they are prisoners of "the system" too, having no power to change it.  It’s a very common complaint I've actually heard from many of the most and least powerful as well as the most and least knowledgeable!  The system itself is changing all the time, though, but oddly the people complaining they can’t change it also don’t usually study what it is that IS continually changing it!   😉

    So perhaps thinking about “archetype” as “characteristic natural roles” opens up a lot of fruitful angles for discussing “commons” as systems of connecting roles, not “rules” so much, each role exemplifying some more general “archetype” of relationships? 

  14. @jessie-henshaw, yes, I like to operate in 'reverse' or also in what we could describe as 'taking a walk' through each other's signified…

    As far as archetypes are concerned, I'm wondering if you couln't add archetypal outcome to the list, the 'result' that is modeled, that is different from the form/object itself and the behavior.

    We talked about Baudrillard @joe-corneli the other day. And I came across something really interesting, that you may like too Jessie, because language and reality is addressed there too. It's the chapter "Symbolic Exchange and Death" in Mark Poster' Baudrillard Selected Writings 1st Edition p119 to 148.

    "Value rules according to an ungraspable order: the generation of models, the indefinite chaining of simulation. Cybernetic operationality, the genetic code, the random order of mutations, the principle of uncertainty, and so on: all of these replace a determinist and objectivist science, a dialectical vision of history and consciousness. Even critical theory and the revolution belong to the second-order simulations, as do all determinate processes. The installation of third-order simulacra upsets all of this, and it is useless to resurrect the dialectic, "objective" contradictions and the like, against them; that is a hopeless political regression. You cannot beat randomness with finality; you cannot beat programmed dispersion with prises de conscience or dialectical transcendence; you cannot defend against the code with political economy or "revolution." All these old weapons (including those of the first order, the ethics and metaphysics of man and nature, use value, and other liberatory referentials) have been progressively neutralized by the general system, which is of a higher order. Everything that gets inserted into the definalized space-time of the code, or tries to interfere with it, is disconnected from its own finalities, disintegrated and absorbed — this is the well-known effect of recuperation, or manipulation: cycling and recycling at each level. "All dissent must be of a higher logical type than that to which it is opposed.""

    What I understand in this Baudrillard piece is a description of the current order as assemblage of pieces of code that tilt things currently in one direction (accumulation: the finality imbedded in the code), absorbing dissent in the process. And I'm not sure what Baudrillard means by a higher logical type than what to which it is opposed, and what he had (if he had) something in mind to 'transcend' the 'code'. It seems to me this code is 'omipresent' that's why it 'absorbs', and it absorbs because it's 'the system' or the 'milieu' which is open, not something 'closed' or 'circumscribable' that you can 'transcend'. It's the embodiment of the 'invisible hand' in other words…

    As suggested by Baudrillard the cooption and neutralization of dissent is not by 'annexation' but is an 'absorbtion by the code', a 'dilution into the code'. But then one could see dissent at any level as attempting to actually 'dilute' the existing code by praxis to the point that it will have disolved it…

    That's why I find the commons so powerful, because the commons logic contains not only a finality, but also processes and measureables that can be 'encoded' in effective ways, anchored in reality of everyday praxis at multiple levels and scales.

    The goal of the pattern language, would be to 'encode' the commons into the general system code so that it mutates…

    Maybe commons growing GMO is the higher logical type…

    • Profile photo of Joe Corneli Joe Corneli says:

      Hi @helene-finidori, welcome back.  Glad to see you're enjoying some French philosophy 🙂

      Here is an example from that book of something that at least momentarily goes outside the boundaries of the code: graffiti, particularly some "semantically meaningless" graffiti: 

      "In the spring of 1972 in New York a spate of graffiti broke out which, starting with ghetto walls and fences, finally overcame subways and buses, lorries and elevators, corridors and monuments, completely covering them in graphics ranging from the rudimentary to the sophisticated, whose content was neither political nor pornographic.  These graphics consisted solely of names, surnames drawn from underground comics such as DUKE SPIRIT SUPERKOOL KOOLKILLER ACE VIPERE SPIDER EDDIE KOLA and so on, followed by their street number  EDDIE 135 WOODIE 110  SHADOW 137, etc or even a number in Roman numerals, a dynastic or filiatory index SNAKE I SNAKE II SNAKE III, etc. up to L (50) depending on which name, which totemic designation is taken up by these new graffitists."

      Baudrillard explains the city: "Multiple codes assign a determinate space-time to every act and instant of everyday life."  (Per @jessie-henshaw's talk above about roles, but with a psychogeographic flavor.)

      The system can do without the industrial, productive city, the space-time of the commodity and market-based social relations.  The signs of this development are evident.  It cannot, however, do without the urban as the space-time of the code and reproduction, for the centrality of the code is the definition of power itself.  Whatever attacks contemporary semiocracy, this new form of value, is therefore politically essential: graffiti for example.   According to this new form [of value] there is a total commutability of elements within a functional set, each taking on meaning only insofar as it is a term that is capable of structural variation in accordance with the code.  Under these conditions, radical revolt effectively consists in saying "I exist, I am so and so, I live on such and such street, I am alive here and now."  This would still be an identitarian revolt however, combating anonymity by demanding a proper name and a reality.  The graffitists went further in that they opposed pseudonyms rather than names to anonymity.  They are seeking not to escape the combinatory in order to regain an identity (which is impossible in any case), but to turn indeterminacy against the system, to turn indeterminacy into extermination.  Retaliation, reversion of the code according to its own logic, on its own terrain, gaining victory over it because it exceeds semiocracy's own non-referentiality.  SUPERBEE SPIX COLA 139 KOOL GUY CRAZY CROSS 136 means nothing, it is not even a proper name, but a symbolic matriculation number whose function is to derail the common system of designations.

      I think that gives enough context. 

      Regarding the earlier quoted definition of archetype, I think (1) is pretty much synonymous with paradigm.  (2) is somewhat more unique.  I think I can understand (2), in a way, by reading Geertz and Baudrillard together.  The two of them talk about culture as "code" or "programming".  Thus, for instance, the archetypes in the 2nd sense would be something cultural — a bit of code — that is installed inside of us, presumably not in a genetic manner, but "collectively inherited" through other mechanisms.

      In this way, something like KOOLKILLER can become an "archetype" (in the second sense) even though it signifies nothing.  However, it's not especially paradigmatic, except for the next instance of KOOLKILLER.

      As graffiti has become normalized, it seems to have lost the symbolic force that it once had.  But in another sense it does become paradigmatic for the Baudrillardian proposal of symbolic exchange.  A couple more quotes to close this out:

      We must therefore attack by means of difference, dismantling the network of codes, attacking coded differences by means of an uncodeable absolute difference, over which the system will stumble and disintegrate. There is no need for organised masses, nor for a political consciousness to do this — a thousand youths armed with marker pens and cans of spray-paint are enough to scramble the signals of urbania and dismantle the order of signs.

      Curiously, moreover, graffiti turns the city's walls and corners, the subway's cars and the buses, into a body, a body without beginning or end, made erotogenic in its entirety by writing just as the body may be in the primitive inscription (tattooing). Tattooing takes place on the body. In primitive societies, along with other ritual signs, it makes the body what it is — material for symbolic exchange: without tattooing, as without masks, the body is only what it is, naked and expressionless.

      PS. For a bit of fun “primary source” reading:

      • I did a study related to the NYC graffiti generations, and this gives a good opportunity to show the value of "data" for recognizing the emergence on new social commons.   The graffiti 20 years later had transformed itself into the unique written language of a remarkably imaginative emerging new sub-culture, Hip Hop, that also transformed NYC in triggering a grand citywide cultural succession.  Like any other language only the authors would know what any of it meant, is one of the important things to notice, I think, but you could tell it was "language" because of the incredible devotion to "being seen", as if every word meant "me" "me" "me" and that expressed everything.

        One could see continuities as the graffiti artists slowly developed their styles on the street, eventually as exiting explorations of a wildstyle generative way of thinking, to then truly explode onto the culture and art scene in the late 80's.  One of the big ripples from it were its emergence as a real economic  force, as well as new music industry, that everyone is well aware of.   

        Maybe more importantly it also emerged as a real cultural alternative for young kids that, by that time, were looking for any escape from the crack drug culture.   I think the evidence shows the crack culture then precipitously collapsed, as if purely for lack of recruits !   That role of the emerging artistic sub-cultural, displacing the old evil sub-culture, is very little known, even to the social scientists it seems.  You'd never guess unless you carefully studied the curves and tried to explain the dynamics of the shifts displayed.   

        Why I say "collapsed" is that the dynamics show the NYC murder rate dropping as fast as if the neighborhood cultures changed overnight, and abruptly just stopped giving up any more children to it.   That (statistically) began in the early winter of 1991 **three years before** the administration of the mayor credited with causing the miraculous change in New York!      

        So, what looks from an outside view in Baudrillard's mind, as a way to:

        "turn indeterminacy against the system, to turn indeterminacy into extermination.  Retaliation, reversion of the code according to its own logic, on its own terrain, gaining victory over it because it exceeds semiocracy's own non-referentiality."

        is in another whole world's emergence an exciting new symphonic discovery !


  15. Very Kool! Now I have my response! Baudrillard had an idea in mind. How do we 'tag' the commons then 🙂

    I've expanded a bit on this comment in the Alternative Philosophy Doc:

  16. Here's an excellent presentation on Signals and boundaries in Complex adaptive systems by John H. Holland, shared here for further unpacking:

  17. John Holland models life as a machine though, adding loose marbles to replace the bursts of animated organization everything real in nature gets made by…   That should point us toward which is the more solveable puzzle… but it doesn't seem to.     We'll apparently just keep looking for which are the "right" loose marbles never the less, as would be needed to make sense of it.   We might instead take it as evidence that systems of many parts working as wholes couldn't possibly "make sense" as self-contained logical models in any case, and stop looking for that, and then begin to question why we keep looking for them to be.

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