Further exploration of librarianship as social design.

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 03/26/2017

Screenshot 2017-03-25 at 12.06.02 PM

Brief notes on librarian as designer.

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 03/21/2017


The shift: Library science -> Information Science only tells part of the story. Science is an inadequate model, as is information.

The dominant paradigm:  Information -> Knowledge is incomplete.

Librarians must be attentive to meaning, not just information/knowledge.

Epistemology -> Semiotics but ultimately the core of librarianship is experience design. 

Aesthetics then, becomes a core concern and the librarian’s new pedagogical model should be design school, specifically social design. [1]


[1] A case could be made for curatorial studies,  and although insights from the field would surely aid librarianship, it lacks some fundamental skill sets of design.



Democracy, Education, and Community in Vermont: A Barnard Manifesto

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 03/19/2017


“The competence of the exploiter is in organization; that of the nurturer is in order…The exploiter typically serves an institution or an organization; the nurturer serves land, household, community, place. The exploiter thinks in terms of numbers, quantities, ‘hard facts’; the nurturer in terms of character, condition, quality, kind.” – Wendell Berry


“No substantive sense of civic virtue, no vision of political community that might serve as the groundwork for a life in common, is possible within a political life dominated by a self-interested, predatory, individualism.” – Jean Bethke Elshtain


“If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the union and support of our institutions should languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont.” – Calvin Coolidge


Unfortunately, recent debates around education in Vermont have demonstrated that we are losing the battle to preserve the spirit of liberty Coolidge invokes. A pernicious vocabulary is being imported from other parts of the country – performance, value, efficiency, choice, accountability – are among the most common terms. These words have their origin in an equally pernicious worldview that sees economic questions at the center of human society, rather than questions of ethics or democratic governance. The exploiters are slowly displacing the nurturers and civic virtue is being sacrificed for the allure of individual achievement.

State government in Vermont is following a familiar path that seeks to centralize decision making into fewer and fewer hands. Proponents speak of modernizing, of expertise, of metrics, but they fail to acknowledge that a citizenry that can’t be trusted to control its own educational decisions is not comprised of citizens at all. And they fail to acknowledge that an education imposed by bureaucrats is not an education, it is indoctrination. Most importantly, they fail to acknowledge that the idea of education being relegated to administration by experts has failed throughout the country.

The model of education the state is attempting to impose might produce tremendous gains for some, but will relegate many more to the margins. School consolidation driven by a market mentality simply reproduces for students the same inequality that the market produces elsewhere. Equality of access, a liberal dream, is not equality. Thus, although everyone is, in theory, free to compete in the market, that freedom is curtailed by large structural inequalities. And given that school consolidation and increased curricular offerings have been instituted throughout the United States, it should be clear, given that economic inequality has skyrocketed, that any talk of educational equity is just cover for the centralization of power. Educational administration serves primarily to preserve the institution, the organization rather than the community and the will of its people. It serves itself, not the spirit of liberty.

Of course, education entails much more than schooling. As Vermonter John Dewey said, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” Thus, the resistance in Vermont to Act 46 is educational. Communities standing up for their right of self-governance is educational. Townspeople fighting to change the law, rather than simply caving into it, is educational too.

These are not mere philosophical disagreements, they are fundamental philosophical disagreements. It is an argument about whether education is a vehicle for individual accomplishment, or a community resource. It is an argument about whether education is meant to train future participants in the global economy or to nurture civic life. Of course it can be all those things, but the worldview of economic rationality so permeates the discussion, that one is considered a fool to argue against such hallowed concepts as “increased choice,” “flexibility,” or “economies of scale.”

Sadly, many of our democratic institutions have been eroded by a consumerist mentality that privileges convenience, standardization and cost efficiency over complexity, diversity and intrinsic value. Democracy, is inherently connected to education, and education to community, and all of them to scale. Democracy, education, and community are more than mere institutions, they are ways of living.

Thus, human life and human values must always be at the center of the discussion, rather than the operational needs of administrators. “Get big, or get out,” was a famous admonishment to farmers from the Nixon administration. That policy served agribusiness and government agencies quite well, but has been a disaster for our food system and environment. Vermont has been a leading voice for the value of human scale farming. It should do the same for education.

Vermont thrives, not despite its small size, but because of it. If it is to continue to thrive, rather than merely survive, we need to protect what makes Vermont different from other places, not eliminate those differences.

A relic unearthed.

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 08/25/2016

Way back in the day Jen Delos Reyes and I (among others), started a journal devoted to social practice. Gone, but not forgotten – the original domain is now a porn site, but you can still find the material here. I even gave it a face lift.


Two models of change in systems.

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 08/24/2016


The ascent of the disabling ecosystem of liberalism

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 08/21/2016


Thee square ov capture for design as enlivenment.

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 08/02/2016


A matrix of possibilities for food, leisure, democracy

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 06/29/2016


Intensification without representation – a recipe for collapse

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 06/20/2016

Inspired by M. Jahi Chappell (title above), Ivan Illich (relationship of energy consumption, social/economic inequality, and specialization) and Joseph Tainter (quote below). Needless to say the arts are subject to the same law of declining marginal returns. Also note that there is immense energy consumption involved in administrators maintaining the social coercion necessary for institutional buy in from the administered.


Toward a theory of spiritual ecology…

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 06/16/2016


#soilpractice + #socialpractice coordinates with (mostly) unrelated notes

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 05/01/2016



Facebook comment of mine:

And thus the arts are subjugated to the disastrous apparatus constructed by the Enlightenment cleaving of self/other. One of the most egregious examples of this is the forced submission of all manner of creative play to (linguistic) domination in the form of “criticality,” which is a technique of dissociation that replicates the very mistakes that its proponents seek to solve using it as a tool!

“Criticality” as fertilizer

Initial applications lead to tremendous yields while ultimately degrading the ecological substrate. Everywhere the miraculous results are lauded as revolutionary, liberating us from various “externalities.” Criticality/fertilizer is seen as a cure all – making a degraded condition seem easily rectified while masking the fact that said cure alls are the mode of degraded experience itself. Criticality/fertilizer is supplied by large centralized institutions under the auspices of empowerment, but it really means a lifetime of debt and dependency.

Addendum as manifesto: “All we have to do is look around: toward a local social practice syllabus” Part II

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 04/11/2016

Robert L. Thayer’s LifePlace: Bioregional Thought and Practice should get all the credit (or blame) for this, especially his chapter “Learning” where many of the following quotes and paraphrases are lifted from.

In a a post from several years ago, I lamented the state of social practice education – a placeless, homogeneous, view from nowhere. In short, social practice education is like most so-called education in the United States an empty embrace of the values of abstraction and global capitalism.

All we have to do is look around: toward a local social practice syllabus – Or, an idiosyncratic “arty party” field guide to Vermont.

In the ensuing years, things have continued to devolve with students mostly being trained to join not a specific community rooted in a specific bioregion, but rather to join a global capitalist network – “the art world.” Ironically, the overwhelming emphasis in graduate art education is the inculcation of a fetish for criticality. Of course, it is a highly selective form of criticality, one that does not turn its gaze on the notion of criticality itself, but more importantly, does not turn its attention to the abstracted space and values of the educational apparatus. Well, it certainly does in terms of a liberal concern for identity politics and student debt, but does not seem to connect the dots to understand how debt is as disembodied as the structure of education – a purely fungible relationship of data points where course credit equals monetary credit…

So universities, banks and art schools continue to act as centripetal forces – pulling resources into vast global flows while the animate earth on which the entire edifice is built, continues to be ignored, or is itself only considered through the lens of a global climate crisis. And despite the congratulatory backslapping of an activist class that brings all of its intellectual and critical faculties to bear on the matter, they are blind to the fact that they have been trained by institutions mired in a fundamental category mistake which they themselves emulate.

To paraphrase David Orr, there are some debilitating myths at play – that ignorance is a solvable problem rather than a fundamental feature of being human; that knowledge (and technology) are, alone, enough to solve problems; that the increase in knowledge (rather than wisdom) is an inherent good; and that the education of students is primarily concerned with knowledge (or in the arts, with learning to be critical consumers of knowledge). But maybe it would be better to quote Orr:

All education is environmental education. By what is included or excluded, students are taught they are part or apart from the natural world. To teach economics [or social practice], for example, without reference to the laws of thermodynamics or ecology is to teach a fundamentally important ecological lesson: that physics and ecology have nothing to do with the economy. It just happens to be dead wrong.

So, in the intellectual parlor games of e-flux and other smarty pants organs of the academic-art-financial nexus we don’t find the cultivation of (via Thayer) spiritual sensitivity, gentleness, caring, compassion, or generosity. Some may bristle at the suggestion of a spiritual role in the crisis we face equating it with some sort of magical thinking, but in the downward spiral of an accelerationist embrace of an intellectual homeopathy, we find a truly absurd form of wizardry. As Orr notes, the earth has been degraded on a massive scale by the educated, by the products of a system of displacement that trains even its supposed avant garde to search for solutions in the very intellectual tools that are the cause of the problem.

An education must be rooted to be radical. As Wes Jackson has said, there is only one serious major on offer at colleges – upward mobility (be it in terms of financial, social, or cultural capital). But as generations leave their homes to become citizens of a discipline rather than citizens of a watershed, or biotic community, fundamental questions are cast aside – “who am I?” and “what should I do?” often remain, but the answer to those end up being distortions in which membership in a professional class becomes the enduring identity – I am an artist. I should make art (build a vitae).

But another question, one that provides an interlocking context for the other two – “where am I?” gets cast aside. In today’s refugee crisis we see the heartbreak of an uprooted people. Academics decry this, all the while being seemingly oblivious to their own displacement, having no home (that truly deserves such a name) of their own. They are adrift in the gig economy, in the cosmopolitan nomadism of academia, replicating “monocultures of the mind” as Vandana Shiva would put it. And like technological approaches to agriculture that apply a specialized, highly trained, expert perspective to solving an urgent issue, we are left with an illusion, not only of mastery, but of plenty. Meanwhile more and more communities are being poisoned or starved. We must abandon the rootless sky, settle upon the earth and build practices of permanence, regeneration, and love – or, you can’t have social practice without soil practice.

See also: Toward a #soilpractice + #socialpractice manifesto: ending the art system and restoring aesthetic ecology

Thee eightfold building block ov ‪#‎soilpractice‬ + ‪#‎socialpractice‬ (design qualities, methods, goals)

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 04/10/2016


s³ + sae = (#soilpractice + #socialpractice ecologies)

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 03/13/2016


Toward a #soilpractice + #socialpractice manifesto: ending the art system and restoring aesthetic ecology

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 03/06/2016


Screenshot 2016-02-27 at 10.15.10 AM - Edited

The art system is like industrial food production focusing on the products that are most readily brought to market. It creates monocultures, vast swaths of easily consumable, but highly infrastructure dependent crops.

Its model of research therefore requires institutional gatekeeping (museums, galleries, expert panels, curators, and especially credentialling – the MFA program, etc.) in order to maintain its economic viability. No seed sharing between neighbors, no advice from your grandmother will suffice. Folk wisdom is for anthropology, but not the arcane science of the fine arts. These institutions and their representatives act like Monsanto taking up vernacular practices, formalizing them, squeezing the living core out, and controlling their distribution and viability.

The study of art then becomes about how to increase yields of proven commodities, and how to effectively market those commodities to convince the public that there is no alternative (T.I.N.A.) to the shitty tomatoes on offer. Actually thriving aesthetic communities that exist outside the system are ignored at best, mocked and degraded at worst.

This degradation of the soil of aesthetic experience is the same folly conventional farming employs. The multi-century wisdom of soil ecology is plowed under and poisoned by the faddish inventions of centralized economic and cultural elites. “We are feeding the world!” they say. “Other methods will lead to starvation.” they say. And yet the hunger is a scarcity they invented by decimating communities and practices and also a hunger for something more substantial than the cleverness of packaging experts, or merchandising, of disconnected, consumerist art products.

So Sholette’s “dark matter,” is a metaphor from astronomy, but maybe we need one from agronomy instead. Rather than “dark matter” as the great missing mass of the art world, it is “mycorrhizae” that is more apropos. Art historians and critics completely miss the vitality and complexity upon which the monocultures they study depend, their eyes trained only to see the field of wheat rather than the diverse ecosystemic relationships on which it depends.

The art system must be destroyed before its toxic practices further degrade the potential quality of our aesthetic ecologies. We are being poisoned. To paraphrase Vandana Shiva, “NO MORE MONOCULTURES OF THE MIND.”

Tagged with: , ,

With apologies to Darren O’Donnell

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 03/01/2016


A continuum along which soil practice and social practice occur

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/27/2016

Screenshot 2016-02-27 at 10.15.10 AM - Edited

From notes today:

the art system has become industrial agriculture
aesthetic ecology as gardening – learn from your grandmother and your neighbor, pick up some magazines or books, watch some YouTube videos and get growing, no gatekeepers, no degrees required

the art system says the only real gardening is done by experts

seed saving (AE) vs. industrial ag research (AS) – person to person innovation (AE) vs. institutionally controlled validation (AS)

museums, galleries, and universities act much like Monsanto taking up vernacular practices, formalizing them, squeezing the living core out, and controlling their distribution and viability

aesthetic ecology favors diversity – formal, institutional practices, but also backyard gardeners, community gardeners, homesteaders, etc

Collaborative matrix for social practice

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/21/2016


Logo for Human Ecology

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/20/2016


MFA in Soil +Social Practice

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/20/2016


Thee iceberg ov social practice

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/18/2016


Social practice and ecological democracy

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/18/2016

Élan vital for social practice

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/16/2016


Thee hemodynamics ov social practice

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/16/2016


Thee cycle ov engagement and detachment in thee astrology ov socialpractice

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/07/2016


Coordinates of scheming and dreaming?

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/07/2016


A map of earth and sky

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/07/2016


The terrain of aesthetic experience: a magic square for social practice

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/01/2016


Social practice in an expanded field: against art historical noodling and for Sunday morning doodling

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 01/31/2016



…But I remain interested in social practice to the degree that it remains social practice, rather than social practice *art*. So when we inquire into the aesthetics of participation for instance we don’t get bogged down in all the art historical noodling that paralyzes so many critics from the old school. It is important to emphasize that all kinds of “problems” are solved by recognizing that art [frieze/e-flux/triple canopy type art], is just a highly specialized and mostly pointless parlor game played with, and within, aesthetic experience. If we remain attuned to aesthetics and aesthetic experience (especially from an embodied, phenomenological point of view) or to “the arts” or “the art of” or “the artful” rather than to Art, we increase the chances of having the “dynamic, complex and difficult dialogues” *** seeks rather than the insular professional tiffs of the Art world.


thee myths ov MFA conspirators create occult circumstances in which art is cursed and infinitely esoteric

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 01/17/2016