Unlocking Networks coordinator Megan shines a light on peer network theory’s relevance to our culture, our politics and offers her view on who’s responsible for making our communities strong.
“There is a lot of effort, resources and work going into making us divided and weak. It’s my job, as an artist, to bring people together.” – Alabaster DePlume
I’m walking through a park in Hackney with a man who calls himself Alabaster. We’re drinking over-sweet banana bread beer and chatting about his work, still buzzing from the show. “I see something like what we’re seeing in the news recently, in politics, I think – who has failed here? We have failed – artists. Who’s job is it to do the opposite, to bring people together and make them strong? It’s our job.” Someone passes us singing a tune and the wind drops briefly, I ask him what he means “…I love to connect with different groups around London, around the country too, and bring them together. Link them up. Sometimes you feel like “they’re getting more out of this than I am” – but really we all do each other good in this way. I find it can take honest courage to put effort into connecting two parties who will then benefit from their connection without you –” What he’s describing brings me back to something else I’ve been working on in the very different setting of my role in Shared Assets.
He’s telling me about Stella, “she’s been helping me with my work – she’s able to remember people and facts (I forget loads) and connect with people while I’m working (also sell merch and so on)… But she is also a different character to me, and able to connect with people from a different background. She also is able to seek others to do similar work, and – crucially – she believes in the socio-political aspect of this work, she feels it fully.”
In peer network theory we refer to people like this as network weavers; they bring disparate groups together and provide the spark for collaboration, creating a web of connections until a network is formed.
Maps that look like constellations pick out the connections forming and show how strong the network is. The maps change shape as the network develops, moving from single dots and occasional clusters, to sprawling, densely connected networks with a periphery of orbiting newcomers. These developments are defined by the actions of key members of any community. Our understanding of the best choices for these key members, is the focus of peer network theory.
The high notions of my artist companion might seem incongruous in the stale confines of what we imagine peer network theory to be but this is precisely what such work is about. In my role at Shared Assets, I’m convening a programme to support peer networking for community businesses and it’s becoming clear to me that the responsibility of bridging divides and making strong communities, can be taken on by any of us. To get started, all we need to do is bring people together and give them something they can collaborate on.