Steve and Steve put together this reading list for participants in the School for Creative Activism and the Art Action Academy. Intended to be helpful follow-up information from the workshops, here we share it with everyone.
Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy by Stephen Duncombe — (free pdf) part analysis of popular culture, part how-to guide to creative activism, Steve make a case for how activists can, and must use fantasy and spectacle in theor work…and do it ethically.
The Strategic Questioning Manual by Fran Peavey – (free pdf) A great shift in perspective on how we approach audiences, and how we can use respect and questions (instead of providing answers or challenges) to be more effective.
The Moral Equivalent of War by William James — (free pdf) Classic essay by the great philosopher and psychologist on how we must understand and respect — and appropriate — the good desires that motivate people to do bad stuff.
Rules for Radicals by Saul Alinsky. Almost 50 years old but still the great guide to organizing. And a fun read too.
Beautiful Trouble: A Toolbox for Revolution edited by Andrew Boyd and David Oswald Mitchel. An invaluable collection of examples, theories and case studies for those interested in creative activism.
Re:Imagining Change: How to Use Story-based Strategy to Win Campaigns, Build Movements, and Change the World by Doyle Canning and Patrick Reinsborough. People like stories. They help us make sense of our world and our place in it. This book shows you how you can use this in your work.
Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. A book that changed the game by insisting that educators (and organizers) need to meet people where they are.
Theatre of the Oppressed by Augusto Boal. Translating Freire’s ideas to theatre, and using performance for social change.
Electoral Guerrilla Theatre by L.M. Bogad. From our own West Coast branch director, an important book on how activists have hijacked the electoral system as a stage to perform their own of politics.
“The Gospels” and “Acts,” from the Bible. You don’t need to be a believer or even approve of religion to appreciate that Jesus was a master creative activist and his apostle Paul was an effective — if opportunistic — organizer. See also Moses, Muhammad, Buddha, et al.
A User’s Guide to (Demanding) the Impossible by Gavin Grindow and John Jordan — (free pdf). “This guide is not a road map or instruction manual. It’s a match struck in the dark, a homemade multi-tool to help you carve out your own path through the ruins of the present, warmed by the stories and strategies of those who took Bertolt Brecht’s words to heart: ‘Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.'”
The Cultural Resistance Reader edited by Stephen Duncombe. All you’ll ever want to read about Cultural Resistance in one place.
“Poetry Is Not a Luxury,” from Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde. A non-poem by the great poet about the importance of culture and creativity in allowing us to reach places that our socialized minds tell us we can’t.
Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain edited by by Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson. Looking for rebellion in unlikely places: punk rock, reggae, skinhead culture.
“Emphasis on Sport,” from Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic by Bertolt Brecht. The radical playwright’s advice to his fellow artists that if they want to have an impact they they need to make their art more fun…like soccer.
Beyond a Boundary by C.L.R. James. Memoir of the great Caribbean intellectual on his love for cricket: an Imperialist game that, ironically, made James an anti-Imperialist.
Prison Notebooks by Antonio Gramsci. Stuck in a fascist prison, Gramsci thought and wrote about organizing and the role of culture in politics. A bit cryptic, but full of invaluable insights.
The Politics of Aesthetics by Jacques Ranciere. Useful discussion from a contemporary philosopher on the different ways that art can be political, from reflecting the world to rearranging our very sense of it.
“Trojan Horses: Activist Art and Power,” by Lucy Lippard. Now more than 3o years old, this is still the most concise and articulate argument for what activist art can do and why it matters.
“Introduction” from Rabelais and His World by Mikhail Bakhtin. What does a Soviet literary scholar writing about a medieval French writer have to do with activism? One word: Carnival! A great meditation on the subversive quality of laughter and spectacle.
Combahee River Collective Statement. A manifesto written by a black feminist collective in the mid-1970s. Classic articulation of the specificity of ones opression and identity. Useful to remind us that we are always dealing with particular people in particular contexts, not abstractions.
A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn. Classic overview of US history from the perspective of those fighting the powers-that-be.
PR! A Social History of Spin, by Stuart Ewen. Ewen, an historian of advertising and Duncombe’s mentor, looks at how story, spectacle, and performance was used by corporations and marketers, as well as progressives, in the early 20th centrury. We can learn from them all.
Political Process and the Development of Black Insurgency, 1930-1970, by Doug McAdam. A great history of the Civil Rights movement, making the point, among many others, that the movement understood the power of performance.
Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics by Frederic Spots. A sobering reminder that arguably the most sucessful artistic activists of the 20th Centrury were the Nazis. Arts and activism is a powerful combination, and ethics are always important.
Don’t Think Of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate: The Essential Guide for Progressives by George Lakoff. How morals and values guide even our most “rational” political decisions. An accessible introduction to this important field.
The Unpersuadeables by Will Storr – Very readable overview on why facts don’t work. Storr covers how “the stories we tell ourselves about the world invisibly shape our beliefs, and how the neurological ‘hero maker’ inside us all can so easily lead to self-deception, toxic partisanship and science denial.”
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. An international best seller and winner of several awards, this book helps get clarity on how humans think, make decisions, and evaluate change. Kahneman is the scientist behind the research, and does a great job at explaining the concepts and staying engaging.
“The Conservative Psyche: How Ordinary People Come to Embrace Paul Ryan’s Cruelty” (free link) by Joshua Holland. A good, quick interview of cognitive theory and its importance in understanding why people hold the political ideas that they do.
The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of a Nation, by Drew Westen. A psychologists look into how emotions guide our political beliefs and decisions. Useful in thinking about and directing the affective power of creative activism.
Using marketing techniques to promote healthy behaviors. These are books we recommend often.
Promoting Nutrition and Physical Activity Through Social Marketing: Current Practices and Recommendations by Rina Alcalay, PhD and Robert Bell, PhD – (free pdf) If you can get past the fact that you are reading an academic report, this is solid gold.
Fostering Sustainable Behavior: An Introduction to Community Based Social Marketing – Doug MacKenzie Mohr and William Smith – more readable (uses narrative examples) intro to social marketing with environmental examples.
Creativity and Being An Artist
Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils and Rewards of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland – Lambert bought this and given it away more times than he can remember. Kevin Kelley sums it up with “Easily the keenest insight into making art that I’ve ever read. One continuous aahhaaa.”
Creating a Life Worth Living by Carol Lloyd – Lambert coincidentally found this book when he worked at a motorcycle shop and decided he wanted to get out. Good little exercises to help jog your mind.
Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon – a small, quick reading, visual book filled with some great bits of wisdom.
On Creativity by Isaac Asimov (free link) A recently discovered essay by the great SF writer written back in 1959, giving advice to a think tank working on missile defense projects: “How do people get new ideas?”
Re/Search: Pranks – entertaining, and often inspiring even if the examples don’t apply directly or are… let’s just say unethical.
Only Joking by Jimmy Carr – If there is a book on comedy theory (that you’d actually want to read) this might be it. Analysis of the history of comedy, different theories about what makes us laugh, and lots of jokes.
Sataristas by Paul Provenza and Dan Dion – First hand interviews with comedians of all kinds. Many valuable insights that, with a little creativity, you can apply to your practice.
Truth in Comedy: The Manual of Improvisation – If you take a class in improv, they’ll probably tell you to read this. Or they should. Covers some key ideas that can be helpful: agreement, building a scene, working at the top of your intelligence, and “truth in comedy” – a grounding in the truth is more conducive to comedy than entirely fabricated material.
Dead Funny: Humor in Hitler’s Germany – There were jokes in Hitler’s Germany – Nazi jokes, resister jokes, Jewish jokes. This book provokes us with the question; as many subversive jokes as there were in Nazi Germany, what impact did they have?
How to work more efficiently, smarter, and with more ease and pleasure.
Getting Things Done by David Allen – yes, it’s aimed at a business demographic, but damn does it ever work.
The Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play by Neal Fiore – If you have even the slightest tendencies of a perfectionism or procrastination (and who doesn’t?) the insights in this book are incredibly helpful.
Oblique Strategies created by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt. A deck of cards, each card offering an aphorism intended to help artists (particularly musicians) break creative blocks by encouraging lateral thinking. You can also view them online
Utopia, by Thomas More, edited and introduced by Stephen Duncombe. (free pdf ) The book that named the practice — much more interesting and politically useful than you might remember from High School. Check out the companion website as well.
Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit – keep handy for when you’re feeling negative about your work. This got Steve Lambert through the disappointment of the 2004 election.
No better place to start looking than the open-ource, user-genererated, totally-free Actipedia.org, developed by the Center for Artistic Activism and Yes Lab, with content provided from artistic activists around the world.