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Urban Suffering Studies Center



Educate in complexity

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Benedetto Saraceno


There has been a great deal of discussion and writing about the formative role of italian television during the sixties: the unification of the language begining with the numerous regional dialects, educational transmissions ("Non è mai troppo tardi"), election campaigns the presence on television of great leaders expressing a "high-level" of political culture (Togliatti, Malagodi, La Malfa, Fanfani, Moro). The transition from the era of television to that of the social media represented a vertiginous drop in the quality of information and education expressed by the new media: after the paternalistic, educational function of the television of the sixties where the "educated" taught the "uneducated masses", but they really taught, the democratic illusion of the social media came into being where everyone freely expresses themselves with a typical phenomena of not even "regression towards the media" but rather a regression towards the lowest levels: the most ignorant of all dominate the media presenting a drammatic impoverishment of language (Matteo Salvini's blog and the comments of his followers who accompany him are an impressive example of linguistic poverty - instead of "Va, pensiero, sull'ali dorate " - "Fly, thought, on golden wings" a participant of the Saga at Pontida, believing that the chorus of the Nabucco was a fishmongers' song whose thoughts travelled on wings of bream and hake wrote: "Va pensiero sull'ali d'orate"- "Fly, thought, on wings of sea bream "). The contents of the short phrases that populate Facebook and other social media are not only expressed in a rudimentary language but above all they express poverty of thought, lack of information, approximation, vulgarity, prejudice, verbal violence etc: no one reads anymore, but everyone writes instead. And yet, those who write their own poor thoughts badly, due to an absence of information, have been to school. A school in Italy, outdated and always in the position of Cinderella when compared to those of other european countries. We read very few newspapers, buy very few books, frequent a run-down school, have difficulty in learning foreign languages but we write a lot on Facebook, all that anger and disinformation brings to mind, without time for reflection, without taking time for information, without taking time for comparison. We reply to the helplessness generated by ignorance with the omnipotence of a frenetic touch on the keyboard.
Who educates us? Who forms us? Who takes on this task and responsibility?
Who is capable of doing it? What do we want to be trained as when we are very young, young and then adults?
They are very general questions and perhaps even too generic. What interests us here is to reflect on the extraordinary educational opportunities that could and should be generated by the numerous and often excellent experiences of social, civil, technical commitment that have been established in Italy since the end of the sixties both in the public domain and in that of the private social.
The kindergarten of Elvio Facchinelli, the school of Mario Lodi, the experience of don Milani at Barbiana, the experience of Franco Basaglia in deinstitutionalization in Trieste, the innovations of Mario Tommasini in the world of the social cooperatives in Parma, the experiences of Libera of Don Ciotti in the South, the House for Women in Milan, the experience with Naga immigrants in Milan, the experience of the Health area of Naples are just a few among the many experiences of cultural, social, political transformation which have formed an extraordinary network, in some ways common and transversal, in values, languages and procedures. SOUQ is a Study Centre an expression of the experience of the Casa della Carità in Milan and it coherently fits in this tendency of "high-level" procedures of social transformation.
Now, the question that we have to ask ourselves is if this vast patrimony of unprecedented procedures has had and has the will and the capability of transmitting values, know-how, languages, namely to educate starting from its own innovative procedures.
The question is crucial because through the years the great gap in education has been gradually filling up with numerous proposals for training at all levels: brief training, task oriented or extremely abstract, with a primarily commercial aim: a market for training has been created where it is not clear anymore why it is necessary to train, who to train and to train for what but the only certain thing is that to train is a business for those who do the training and also a short-cut for the institutions that illude themselves that they are compensating for the lack of quality in the services they offer (above all public) by offering training to their bureaucrats.
The general question of the capability and the usefulness of training starting from groundbreaking experiences underlies in reality, many "secondary questions" all important but without a clear-cut answer.
First question:
To what extent does education, starting from a groundbreaking procedure, create the risk of crystalization and paralysis of the dynamics inherent in the innovation, by constructing defined knowledge which, therefore, has lost the propositive strength of innovation? In the mature phase of a groundbreaking experience there is the desire to pass it on to others not only as evidence but together with the theorical and practical instruments necessary for reproducing it and so making it transmittable. To be able to "educate" or transmit it is necessary to know how to formalize one's procedure and model the knowledge acquired from it. We are aware of the inherent risks in such a process that can easily paralyze and mummify procedures whose rational is just the contrary namely transform, deconstruct, deinstitutionalize. When Giovanni Jervis tried (with relatively modest results) to formulate a manual of critical psychiatry or rather tried to crystalize the groundbreaking procedures of the anti-institutional psychiatry of the sixties and seventies (Basaglia in Gorizia and Trieste, the english anti-psychiatry of Laing and Cooper, the first reflexions and details of the social psychiatry of Brown and Harris, the experience of Jean Oury in the XIII arrondissement) he was harshly criticized by Basaglia himself for having institutionalized in deadly immobility the transformative invention of the anti-institutional procedure. However, many learnt from the manual of Jervis (who was therefore capable of creating an educational process) but probably few used that critical knowledge to become in their turn professionals in deinstituionalization. In other words the dilemma is between formalizing knowledge (with the risk of impoverishing the innovative potential) or instead leaving it in practice, unspoken and hidden (with the risk of not being able to transmit it if not through the living experience and therefore to only a few "chosen" ones). The dilemma does not dissolve easily even though the stubborn refusal to formalize knowledge brings with it an inevitable "gnostic" attitude and therefore sectarian: come (here where the experience is concretely fulfilled) and learn and he who doesn't come can't learn.
Second question:
The strength of groundbreaking experiences is always that of crossing complexity, knowledge, disciplinary boundaries to construct complex answers to complex questions, to construct meaning from "nonsense" that the dominant culture assigns to those who are lower down in the hierarchy of society. What is the knowledge of he who constructs complex answers to complex questions, of he who creates sense? Which discipline and technology is this knowledge based on? This is knowledge capable of mediating between complex needs and questions not always easily decipherable and/or homogeneous (but always and anyhow combined as a result of diverse and heterogeneous suffering - illness, marginalization, exclusion, poverty, stigma, discrimination - and answers which are themselves composite in that they result from the action (or inaction) of institutions and different services, with different mandates and often uncoordinated or even in conflict with each other. Therefore a knowledge that combines technical knowledge, experience, ability to navigate among the possibilities and the impossibilities that characterize each service, each institution.
Therefore the dilemma of training is between educating for a technical and disciplinary knowledge (and so perhaps sacrificing the challenge of complexity) or educate for a complexity as complex as it is vague (with the risk of constructing general knowledge, generic and all in all poor).
I wrote on SOUQUADERNI of April 2011: "It is certainly true that technical skills may be impractical owing to the conditions of the context in which the operator acts: often a simple lack of time can make listening, that the operator would like to render accessible to the user, impractible, in the same way the wretchedness and the environmental inadequacy of the services in which operator and user meet can render impractical projects for the promotion and growth of the independence and the abilities of the user. Therefore, space and time often work against the feasibility of many technical skills making them unspendable in reality. Also, very often, technical skills are simply useless (even if practicable) that is out of keeping with the needs and demands of users and this has to do with the traditional distance between training venues - schools, universities etc. - and places of social action." But then is there no need for technical training? Is there or isn't there the need of training in a specific discipline?
Even in this case the dilemma is not easily risolvable with clear-cut answers. Operators trained in complexity can sometimes actually be operators trained in generalities and approximation that combine well with the more regressive and paternalistic welfare cultures. Operators trained in specialized technical skills can sometimes actually be operators trained in blindness towards complexity and the arrogant defence of their small specialized heritage. We need to train in complexity but starting from solid disciplinary bases, we need specialists capable of setting aside their specialized skill but able to reuse it at any moment. In fact in the document of 2011 I wrote "dancing the samba while piloting a jet plane: maintain the grace and the energy of the samba while controlling the thousand and one sophisticated instruments of the airplane".
Third question:
Should we teach the "doers" (namely those who know how to do but might not know neither how to abstract/theorize nor teach) or the "thinkers" (namely those who think and generally theorize about what others do and who could at times "adjust" the theory not keeping to the truth, that is, the results of the practice but the ideology of the practice)? Even for this third question a clear-cut answer is missing. The experiences of makeshift "schools" in the locations of groundbreaking practices do not seem very encouraging. The "learners" have had the experiences, have maybe asked the operators some questions but they haven't really acquired a solid and structured skill. The limit of an education excessively biased towards the experiential dimension is that of acquiring information excessively contextualized and not learning processes of abstraction, of distancing and basically not acquiring a critical method. The education offered by the "thinkers" obviously gives the inverse problem: it gives abstract solutions but it fails to confront the contradictions that are evoked only by reality and practice in reality. "Doers" and "thinkers" should construct a joint form of teaching and in this sense the experiences of collaboration between users and professionals of mental health are extremely illuminating: "knowledge by experience and knowledge by theory" if intelligently structured and combined produce powerful educational effects. The three above mentioned questions not only have no univocal and clear-cut answers but they do not complete the problematic nature of the issue of education in complexity, especially if we reflect on education from the perspective of our more extensive consideration on Urban Suffering and the answers that must and can be given. The encounter between the suffering of single individuals and the "social factory" they inhabit defines and establishes that complex condition of psychological and social vulnerability of individuals and groups that exposes them in time to marginalization, poverty, social exclusion, criminalization and crime, physical and mental illness, deprivation of rights.
The immense patrimony of knowledge based on the accurate and intelligent description of the links between poverty, inequality, injustice, social exclusion and disease does not generate in itself transformation of policies and interventions. There is urgent need for economic, political, social workshops of thought that challenge the theoretical and moral poverty that characterizes the present. This implies that the workshops of thought are to be established starting from the capacity to train/educate new subjects for change capable of producing social transformation: professionals, policy makers, health professionals, managers and executives of Welfare, Health, Education, Culture and the world of the Cooperatives and the private social services who are concerned and motivated to give right and rational "answers" to urban suffering. As Centro Studi SOUQ-Casa della Carità we are seriously thinking of becoming subject trainers namely becoming capable of transmitting, starting from our decade of practice, values, languages, content and technologies capable of giving replies to urban suffering.
The training we are thinking of must contribute to:
• Looking at the city but also having a dream of a city
• Knowing how to observe and describe urban suffering
• Knowing how to contribute to the transformation of vulnerable people excluded from rights, from objects to be assisted to subjects of citizenship
• Knowing how to conceive, design, organize and put into effect the delivery of fair and rational replies to urban suffering.
In the attempt to try and plan the specific contents of the training of SOUQ-Casa della Carità we have identified some pillars of our teaching that we would like to be able to form into the practice of complex interventions, in defence of the rights of the individual and of groups, in the case of effective action in metropolitan emergencies and finally in an effective and affective institutional management.
The "strong" themes of the training that we offer are those historically consistent with the practice of the Casa della Carità:
• Health
• Rights
• Economy
• Employment and Social Inclusion
• Immigration and Criticism of the Culture of Emergency.

We want to combine: information, technical training and experiential storytelling and, doing so, we must avail ourselves of both trainers who come from the world of academics and research and trainers who come from fieldwork.
We have identified as "integrating principle" of all the strong themes that are important to us, that of overcoming the emergency dimension of social intervention. In the same way as we have always referred to the notion of deinstitutionalization now we want to make use of a new neologism that, even if linguistically unattractive, seems to us to express our concern and our intention: DE EMERGENCYALIZATION.
In other words we denounce the contrived creation of emergencies that are actually the consequence of systematic, systematic and persistent shortcomings and inadequacies of the political, social, economic and cultural system which in the presence of fundamental and legitimate requests for justice and rights "creates" a culture of emergency and consequently an emergency "market".
Every winter is cold just as every summer is hot but one speaks of "cold emergency or hot emergency". The migratory flow continues unabated because war, poverty and despair continue unabated and one speaks of "immigrant emergency".
We want to shape and deconstruct the culture of emergency and build a culture of rights and hospitality.
To do this we need "high level" disciplinary contributions but also experiential contributions of the same "high level". We need to form for a critical and at the same time affective style of work: a critical but anaffective job would simply stage the ideology behind the operation and nothing else while an affective but uncritical job would stage a confused practice based on emotions, often on feelings of guilt and alas on generally disastrous, salvific vocations. Instead the style of work should be characterized by the coexistence of an emotional dimension directed towards the individual and of a critical dimension capable of de-constructing the logics of the institution that reproduces and repeats itself tirelessly and is never defeated. Therefore this style implies a double digit, constructive affectivity and deconstructive criticism, the result of which is nothing other than the construction of daily micro liberations.
In order to implement all of this we need a new political platform that combines genuine affection and uncompromising radicalism.


By the same authors:          Dancing the samba while piloting a jet plane   SouqBiblio: annotated international bibliography*  A Return to the Way leading to Happiness   Aporeia of empowerment  Deconstructing the paradigm of "migrant emergency"  Defend the ways of liberation  Describing reality but also changing it  Empowerment  Global health, local health: a paradigm of the failures of globalization   Health systems are not designed for the needs of citizens  Reject Ferocity, Not Migrants  Souqbiblio (number 1)  SouqBiblio: international annotated bibliography number 8  SouqBiblio: international annotated bibliography*  SouqBiblio: internazional annotated bibliography (number 6)  SouqBiblio: annotated international bibliography  SouqBiblio: annotated international bibliography  SouqBiblio: annotated international bibliography  SouqBiblio: annotated international bibliography  SouqBiblio: international annotated bibliography (number 5)  SouqBiblio: international annotated bibliography (number 3)  SouqBiblio: International annotated bibliography (number 7)  SouqBiblio: internazional annotated bibliography (number 4)  SouqBiblio: References (number 2)  The association Poverty - Mental Disorders and its implications for outcome and care provision   The Confusion to be managed  The paradigm of urban suffering  Time of Siege  Urban Resistance  Verbal violence and social paranoia 

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Center for urban suffering

The study centre wishes to study the phenomenon of urban suffering, in other words the suffering that is specific to the great metropolises. Urban Suffering is a category that describes the meeting of individual suffering with the social fabric that they inhabit. The description, the understanding and the transformation of the psychological and social dynamics that develop from the meeting of ...

Who we are

The Urban Suffering Studies Center - SOUQ - arises from Milan, a place of complexity and economic and social contradictions belonged to global world.Tightly linked to Casa della Carità Foundation, which provides assistance and care to unserved populations in Milan (such as immigrants legal and illegal, homeless, vulnerable minorities), the Urban Suffering Studies Center puts attention on ...


Centro studi Souq Management commitee: Laura Arduini, Virginio Colmegna (presidente), Silvia Landra, Simona Sambati, Benedetto Saraceno ; Scientific commitee: Mario Agostinelli, Angelo Barbato, Maurizio Bonati, Adolfo Ceretti, Giacomo Costa, Ota de Leonardis,  Giulio Ernesti, Sergio Escobar, Luca Formenton, Francesco Maisto, Ambrogio Manenti, Claudia Mazzucato, Daniela ...
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ISSN 2282-5754 Souquaderni [online] by SOUQ - Centro Studi sulla Sofferenza Urbana - CF: 97316770151
Last update: 20/04/2019

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