Topic 3 Values and Conviviality: Finding Meaning whilst Living Together

Sacred Values

Whilst throughout this module, we have emphasised a particular kind of understanding of extremism, but we have also tried to explore and unpack deeper values and shared different ways of listening to young people. It’s important not to position all young people as passive, groomed, manipulated etc, including those who become involved in violent extremist movements. Not all political violence is ‘extremist and some so-called extreme positions can sometimes be better understood as radical positions..

Scott Atran in his book Talking to the Enemy: Faith Brotherhood and the (Un)making of Terrorists is critical of approaches that are based on counter-narratives. He argues that young people who joined organisations like ISIS did so because it tapped into their ‘sacred values’. They felt a sense of agency, purpose and connection, and rather than being passively recruited, many sought out ways of joining it.

In a recent article, he suggests that counter-engagement that allows for re-framing and re-interpreting ‘sacred values’ is less likely to have the reactive backlash to counter-narratives, because ideologies are not ‘free floating ideas’ but bound up in embodied and embedded social, political, cultural, psychological etc conditions. They are not up for negotiation or trade off for material rewards. But symbolic exchange and recognition can be significant. But he also suggests that prevention work involves stopping violence-promoting values from becoming ‘sacred values’.

Whilst we have focused on the characteristics of extremism, part of this journey aimed explore deeper motivations and work with some young people at risk of getting caught up in violent extremism to find non-violent ways for them to live a life of significance connected to their ‘sacred values’. The work of educators is to support young people in finding purpose, significance and agency, even through ‘sacred values’ whilst channeling them into more pro-social, even radical, outlets and cultivating their curiosity about the world. This topic seeks to open this up.

Living Values Exercise and Reflection

Work first with the so-called “liberal values” topography. This exercise should give more depth and nuance to language of “core” or “shared” values.

Divide into groups of 5-6. Put cards with the names of each value turned face down on the ground.

Round 1: (Two Minutes) Each person turns over one card at random. The person speaks to the value from experience or story – no theorising or analysing!!) without over-thinking it. See what comes up. Use a phone as a timekeeper.

If you do not wish to speak, hold the silence for the allocated time until it is the next person’s turn. Move clockwise from first person. No interruptions or discussion. Simply listen. No chit chat or interruptions.

Round 2: (Three Minutes) Same as above. You have the following options:

  1. Stay with the same concept/value
  2. Choose a different one and the whole group stays with that one.
  3. Each person chooses a different concept/value each time
  4. Each person writes down a value that is sacred to them.
    • First they speak to the value
    • Then the group creates a new group of values and repeats Round 1.

Tools for Living Together

Les Back and Shamser Sinha (2016) tell us that Ivan Illich’s initial formulation of conviviality emphasises tools. By talking about tools, this gives a way out  ’out of either reducing conviviality to a sense of‘ identity’, or claiming a kind of underlying ‘cultural ecology’ that  structures and therefore explains convivial life’.

In their ethnographic study they paid careful attention to the experiences of young migrants in order to ‘find the capabilities and resources that enabled them to live, make space to live within a city that remains divided by racism’. In one of our policy workshops, one of our participants said ‘curiosity is a protective factor against extremism’. Fostering curiosity is surely the task of education!

Back and Sinha (2009) say “The first tool we want to foreground is the fostering of an attentiveness to the life of multiculture. What we see in the young lives of all of the people we have worked with is a capacity to listen to, read and be surprised by London’s complex cultural landscape. They are curious about their social worlds and, as we have already noted, sometimes come to see it with the enchanted eye of a tourist. This kind of attentiveness to everyday multicultural life stands in stark contrast to what Noble calls perceptively ‘panicked multi-culturalism”.

In the local context the terms of belonging can be redrawn as a result producing a kind of ‘neighbourhood nationalism’ that shifts partially the terms of inclusion (see Back, 1996).

“It is within the spaces of everyday life that prosaic negotiations with difference through intimate proximity take place and are often compulsory and necessary. These are best characterised as ‘micro-publics’ including workplace, schools, hospitals, colleges, youth centres, sports clubs and other contact zones of association including public transport” (2016: 533).

The key learning that they share is the following:

  • Tools of conviviality shape micro-publics rather than the other ways around. “The social ecology of multiculture [..] provides the staging of a micro-public – where profound proximity and encounter take place – convivial life is fashioned through these capabilities that are used to make a convivial life”.
  • Intolerance of intolerance means not putting hate in your heart
  • Worldiness: It’s important to widen one’s map of the world

🧐 Questions:

  • What tools of conviviality do you have available to you, and which would you invent?
  • How do you resist putting hate in your heart?
  • How will you widen your map of the world?

Back, L. & Sinha, S. (2016) ‘Multicultural Conviviality in the Midst of Racism’s Ruins’, Journal of Intercultural Studies, (37)5, pp. 517-532.