January 20, 2023

Learning and innovation in the post-covid era – How do we move from a gaseous to a solid(ary) society?

Written by:
Yanick Kemayou

Liquid humans with nomad and chaotic lives living in a globalized and fluid world. Zygmunt Bauman’s depiction of the strains required to survive in the late modern area of the 21st century has proven to be extremely relevant to understand our world. To build on Bauman’s construct of the liquid society, we might have moved even further to a gaseous society. The liquid society and the gaseous society share the same gold standards, namely flexibility and mobility. But in a gaseous society both reach extreme levels. Flexibility and mobility become so intense that the flux are hardly to be controlled. The present crisis we are living perfectly illustrates this. So we had a solid society, then we literally liquidated it for the sake of being modern, for the sake of what has been called progress, for the sake of more for some.

The transition from a liquid state to a solid one is freezing. I don’t want to freeze, not right now. Do you? I assume not. If we are however at a gaseous state with a kinetic energy much higher than a liquid state due to the extreme intensity of flexibility and mobility, then the transition we need to achieve is one from a gaseous to a solid state. This transition should not bring us back to any romanticized premodern solid area, but to a solid(ary) area of collective earthness. Physics calls the transition from gas to solid desublimation (or resublimation). Yes, that is exactly what we need!

We need to de-sublimate some narratives and to re-sublimate other ideas to solidify our collective humanity, our common earthness.

Ideas and narratives matter quite a lot. Some say even more than institutions. Desublimation (or resublimation) is an exothermic, i.e. an energy-releasing process. Let’s use that energy to debate and conjure the futures we want. And most importantly to devise how we might think, act and talk for giving those futures a chance. Now. The list of ideas and concepts we need to de-sublimate might include constructs and concepts such as Nature as a free resource, competition, and unlimited (economic) growth. On the other hand, notions of interdependence between humans and connectedness with Nature need to be re-sublimate.

In the solid(ary) post-covid area, important residues of pre-covid times will persist. Sure. Just like a post-democracy still has some democratic elements such as the ritual performing of elections, or like modern industrialization and colonial-based thought patterns are still to be observed in a post-modern area. The needed resublimation and desublimation will make emerge the defining ideas of a post-covid area.

Re-subliminating ideas around interdependence and connectedness is essential for achieving a post-covid solid(ary) world. Last December, I was privileged to curate a session during the UNESCO Global Futures Literacy Forum. I chose to engage the collective intelligence of the forum participants to explore the life in the world’s next megacities at the end of our century. A major aspect of the discussion was the need to reconsider the ideas underlying current debates on learning and innovation for the masses. Fast-paced urbanization at the peripheries is a challenge we need to address now. We cannot afford to start looking for sustainable ways of living together once cities such as Kabul, Niamey, Dakha, Mumbai or Lagos will each have more than 50 millions inhabitants. This is all the more challenging since these cities are right now already too busy with themselves to take ‘care’. Our common task as collective humanity of a post-covid world is to imagine, inspire and realize humane and milieu friendly new kinds of cities and communities. However, “what is the city but the people?”, as put forward by the Shakespearian Sicinius. The city is its people. And what are the people if not their habits of mind and heart, their technological knowledge, in a broad sense their prevailing ideas? The current narratives on learning and education hence reflect on how we design our cities and communities.

Ideas of interdependence and connectedness should be re-sublimated in our socializing and educational institutions. Now.

To move from a gaseous to a solid(ary) society, we need a pragmatic alliance of high-tech and low-tech. High-tech is what we typically see as technology, i.e. our rare-earth-loaded electronic gadgets, newest cars, robovacs, and so on. Low-tech is mainly embodied in endogenous knowledge systems. High-tech and low-tech should dialogue, inspire each other, but also regulate each other. Of course, high-tech and endogenous systems have already been in a relation. However, the discussions about the likes of biopiracy or cultural appropriation suggest that it is rather a toxic and exploitative affair than a true relationship for a common bettering.

Insider Knowledge by Denis Faneites

A real and open conversation between high-tech and low-tech (endogenous knowledge) can help us in designing new learning structures and experiences. This will allow the idea of interdependence and connectedness to take center stage in our educational processes and debates about innovation. Connectedness is an essential feature of endogenous knowledge. The symbiosis between Nature and the Human is, for example, at the heart of the African Weltanschauung. This can be illustrated by “Souffles”, Birago Diop’s poem which suggests we should listen more often to things than beings. Because the tree, the wind, the water, the rock all have meanings for us. The “things” have stories to tell. We should try and listen. And act. Now.

High-tech seems to be everywhere. Endogenous knowledge is there too. Sometimes everywhere. We just need to look beyond the centers to the peripheries. In Afghanistan, for example, more than 15% of the irrigated lands depend on water supplies from karezes and other traditional water management systems. In fact, recent research shows that in highly challenging and volatile environments such as in the northern Afghan villages in the Pamir mountains, food and even health sovereignty have been sustained through the use of endogenous knowledge. As further example, local architecture in the Sahel region in Africa can still teach us what sustainable, environment-friendly, and energy-efficient architecture can look like. If only we are to listen, if only we are to take notes. Going back to the endogenous water management in Afghanistan and other arid regions, the karezes are an element of social cohesion whereas the high-tech drilling of deep tube-wells is associated with excessive pumping of groundwater and conflicts. In contrast to the apparently value-free high-tech, the cohesion-oriented base of low-tech is a salient feature of endogenous knowledge. Furthermore, endogenous knowledge is per definition cumulative and adaptive while being highly circular. This of course challenges our very modern to post-modern liquid need to clearly delineates what is past, present and future. But maybe our destiny as humans does not evolve on a ruler with three markers for past, present and future but rather on a spiral-like structure similarly to the helix of our DNA. Let’s go for the next round. Together. Welcome to the solid(ary) era!

About the author: Yanick Kemayou is the founder of Kabakoo Academies, a pan-African network of creative schools offering sustainability-focused training for distributed manufacturing by merging high-tech and low-tech. Kabakoo Academies are houses of wondering; places of hybridized learning, part school, part makerspace, part citizen-science lab. Kabakoo has been recognized by the likes of the African Union, the UNESCO, and the World Economic Forum which has recently selected Kabakoo Academies as one of the 16 Schools of the Future around the world.