The whole and its parts

The whole & its parts


Some years ago I participated in an event called “Agora”. We were invited to take part in a multitude of debates. We were in a large space where many themes were proposed. Tables had been set up with a moderator and a person knowledgeable of that subject. Participants could join the tables and contribute to the discussion. It was an event I enjoyed a lot as it fostered a lot of thoughts and ideas we could take with us. It’s an experience I remember as enriching.

This event recreated something similar to the Agora in ancient Greek city-states. The Agora was a central public space, one which allowed free-born citizens to gather. It became a single place where education, politics, religion, oratory, philosophy, arts and athletics flourished. This space was an important contribution to the Greek way of life and its democracy through its integrative function.

Along the centuries this space was constantly transformed and shaped by society. The ascendance of the church, for example, created religious spaces transforming the agora into secular spaces.

In modern times the agora almost disappeared through the rise of industrialization. It lead for example to long working hours during which workers were in the factories. Industry was also widely supported for example by creating more and more streets to ease the use of cars.

This started to change again since the 80’s where public spaces gain in new importance and use. Some cities also started to back off from a “cars first” towards a more pedestrian way of life in city centers.

What has not come back is the integrative aspect building democracy the agora used to have.

In France, President Macron set out to recreate at least a temporary agora. With a letter published on several news websites, he invited the French population to a large national debate. In this letter, he named four of the areas he sees as the major subjects to be discussed to shape the future of France.

These subject have partly been fueled by the “yellow vest” movement. A movement which has been impacting the country in the last months but which has not been able to create a clear discussion with the government. This situation might have lead to a search for a new way to integrate and channel public discussion.

It also showed one of the challenges communication has today. How to find or create a space where people can talk with each other in a meaningful way? How to have a space from which results can emerge which are accepted?

The ability to share thoughts and ideas with “everyone” via the internet seems to create more and more “one-way” communication. We lack options to channel dialogues in a constructive manner.

In his letter, President Macron invited all the French citizens to contribute to specific areas he named. They can do it, either with answers to the questions he suggested or with any other ideas they want to share.

Depending on how the answers will be collected, organized and discussed, we might see a new way emerge to enable citizens to be seen and to contribute to our democracy.


Letter to the French (only in French): “Grand débat national : la lettre aux Français d’Emmanuel Macron




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