Collaborative Futures

Open Relationships

Like romantic relationships, open collaborations are based on mutual trust, and trust alone can be too fragile a social fabric to support human interaction. Most romantic relationships base their trust in terms of sexual and emotional exclusivity, a contract that is socially accepted and helps both members of the relationship feel safe by agreeing to restrict their intimacy with others. It is a simple rule. Respecting that rule shows respect for the partner, both privately and socially; breaking that rule shows disrespect and can lead to social humiliation, pain, and nasty breakups.

Many find this convention dull, sexist, and restricting, but when eliminated - when the simplicity and the clarity of the contract is gone - the need to create new boundaries quickly follows. These transplanted borders establish new rules where that respect can manifest itself again. Those who refuse to do so find themselves single very quickly, or very frustrated. 

In an open relationship a different social pact governs. Each couple decides their own rules, but they establish these rules so as to map out boundaries, and abide by them. These rules preserve the cohesiveness of the core relationship, prevent awkward or uncomfortable situations. Some agree to “never take your lover to our favorite restaurant” or “you two should never hang out with our mutual friends”. Some rules regulate special times, such as “don't spend the night” or “don't celebrate birthdays” in order to keep the sense of exclusivity. Whether more rigid or more flexible, all of these rules serve the same purpose: to make sure nobody gets hurt and nobody feels cheated. 

So, the traditional arrangement of sexual exclusivity simplifies the terms of romantic partnerships. In the non-romantic world, people avoid getting hurt or cheated in a collaboration by using a contract; in traditional work settings this contract is written down on paper, and signed, but in a less formal collaboration this is a social contract, an agreement or understanding.

Under a contract, the terms of collaboration are clear and legally binding. When collaboration is open and there is no explicit contract, the binding terms can be a shared passion, a common goal, a sense of community (or the lack thereof), but nevertheless, the need for implicit and explicit structure remains.

Depending on the specific collaboration any number of norms (either rigid rules or informal social practices) may need to be established to address the regulating issue. Generally healthy collaborative processes establish norms to cover behaviors relating to coordination, transparency, attribution, autonomy, generosity, respect and freedom of movement.

Contract = temporary contract
(friendship and otherness)

A temporary contract is a virtual deal or document between people interacting or working with each other, actualized in a specific time (e.g. the duration of a project) to aid in initiating modes of communication and/or articulate possible positions taken within it. Perhaps we can here speak of a soft contract (without a legal document) that allows flexibility and shifting between these various entities/selves. Within a cultural assemblage (which is already contaminated by the law and governmental structures) is it advisable to avoid contractual language and vocabularies—or does this lead to tyranny (see The Tyranny of Structurelessness)? Can we speak of a social contract without reproducing vocabularies and strategies of legal/illegal bureaucracies? Can we transform them into valuable tools? Are there agreements that can advance a certain common set-up and strategy based on friendship, the affirmation of otherness, and selves constantly undergoing shifts and transformations?

What can friendship bring into questions of deals between selves, based on a “processual self creation” (Félix Guattari)? In his text ‘Friendship as Community: From Ethics to Politics’ Simon O'Sullivan (2004) notes: “[...] important is the involvement in what Guattari calls the ‘individual-group-machine’—basically, interaction with others which allows for a process of resingularisation—in which individuals ‘create new modalities of subjectivity in the same way an artist creates new forms from a palette' (Guattari, 1995).” For O'Sullivan “friendship as community [ultimately] has to be lived: one cannot produce Spinoza's common notions without experiencing joy—and one cannot, following Guattari, creatively produce one's subjectivity in isolation from others. If there is to be (as Hardt and Negri amongst others claim) a new society, it is not one that will arrive from ‘out there’, but one that will emerge from right here—from ourselves working on the stuff of our own lives.” Following this logic, the temporary contract here becomes intrinsically linked with our lives, with the here and now, and with something that might escape regulation systems. At least it potentially precedes and blocks them.