Friday, February 24, 2012

Discussion groups

At our first six Australian events, three prompted interest in starting discussion groups on ideas like ours. We have been asked to provide some basic advice on starting such discussion groups. Our response follows.

The co-editors of Life Without Money have both participated in discussion/reading groups before. A few decades ago Frans was involved in the Melbourne Marxian Discussion group which met weekly and went for ten years. Not many groups are that successful over such a long period. Like many groups they usually rely on one or a couple of instigators, and attract quite a few people many of whom drop by the way side through differences or lack of interest.

Frans' group was started by four or five people and grew to 55 by the end of the first year, then splintered into a whole series of disputing factions. In the end about 12 people remained. Frans thinks 8 is ideal for a discussion group, 12 at the most. But a handful of keen people is all that is needed to start with.

Meeting weekly is pretty full on. Fortnightly is more practical. Some groups every three or four weeks. How much reading you can do for a session often depends on the amount of time you leave between meetings. A chapter or article or two is often ideal for detailed discussion though sometimes a book might be devoured at a time.

Through the women's movement in the early 1970s, I was involved in 'consciousness-raising' groups, which sometimes functioned as reading groups. However, because these groups focused on personal and intimate de-briefings of everyday challenges to women, working out ways to 'confront the patriarchy', they weren't purely or in many cases at all, reading groups. One that I was involved in had a reading bent because she edited a feminist journal and another woman participating was one of a feminist publishing collective, so for them reading was part of everyday life. It depends on the people attracted to the reading group how much it functions specifically on reading and ranges round people's thoughts about how they are experimenting with change in their everyday lives.

In terms of starting up a group we think that the best way is with a loose reading agenda for a series of meetings and then everyone can decide what you do next. For instance, you might set Life Without Money for a chapter by chapter analysis over 11 to 12 weeks, identifying another reading to complement each chapter too (say those that appear in footnotes and/or sources of the extracts in boxes throughout the book).

Frans's group used to spend quite a bit of time deciding on their reading for the next 6 to 12 months. Everyone needs to be fairly comfortable with the agenda so they keep motivated to be involved and often there needs to be give and take.

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