I am very grateful that I have been awarded a VICI grant by NWO for a large five-year philosophical research project on collective behavioral change & artistic imagination. My project is titled: “Change-Ability for a World in Flux: The next step for an embodied cognitive science of brain-body-environment systems”.
I define Change-Ability as the skilled coordination with a rapidly changing world. Climate change, obesity, social cohesion and the pandemic all call for change-ability. To shed light on the change-ability of communities, our philosophy of embodied cognitive science and skilled intentionality will be used to develop the new Change-Ability Conceptual Framework (CAF).
Figure: Sketch of the Change-Ability Conceptual Framework (CAF) to be developed in this VICI-project. Note that the living environment and communities are made central, while acknowledging that individual agents participate in them and can over larger time-scales be seen as continuing communal patterns of behaviour. Crucially, what individuals and communities have in common is that they are situated in the same ecological niche (the world in flux, in blue). In other words, individuals and communities share the rich landscape of affordances that enables and constrains what they can do.
The roots of this Change-Ability project lay at the expertise on change-ability that my brother Ronald Rietveld and our team at RAAAF have developed over the last 15 years, which is why I dedicate this project to Ronald.
Other people without whom this Change-Ability project would not have been possible are Julian Kiverstein and our ERC Skilled Intentionality-team at the University of Amsterdam/AMC as well as our collaborators and the many colleagues and friends who gave feedback on my draft proposal and presentation. Many, many thanks to all of you!
Academic summary of the Change-Ability project:
We are living in an era of accelerating social and environmental change, one that calls for greater change-ability: skilled ways of coordinating with a rapidly changing world. Yet people and the communities they form often find change hard to realise and sustain in their lives.
This project aims to open up a new perspective on change-ability, starting from the insight that what people do is both enabled and constrained by the affordances of their surroundings.
Affordances are possibilities for action provided by the living environment. Every activity from sitting in a chair to making architecture is enabled by affordances. Less recognised is the fact that affordances also constrain people’s ability to change what they do. Even when people know that excessive sitting is unhealthy, offices filled with desks and chairs make them less inclined to explore other possibilities.
We will create a conceptual framework for understanding change-ability in affordance-based terms that spans different scales: from the dynamics of active individuals, to communities and the living environment. The Change-Ability Conceptual Framework (CAF) will be applied to learn about obstacles to change in communities and how affordance-based architectural interventions and art installations can reduce such impediments.
Our philosophical method is unique in integrating findings from diverse scientific and artistic disciplines. We will participate in and reflect on the making of artistic interventions that allow visitors to experience what it would be like to live in entirely different ways. This will be done at RAAAF, an internationally renowned, award-winning practice for visual art and experimental architecture, which Ronald Rietveld and I founded.
We will break new ground by showing how affordance-based interventions in the living environment can increase openness to exploring unconventional possibilities that could spark collective behavioural change. By scaling from change-able individuals to communities, we seek lessons for how to break down obstacles to collective change at a time when it is urgently needed.