Collective Construction

Antonia Antrobus-Higgins

Collective construction can be understood as the shared process of building meaning. This often results in community healing. Since no human being is the same (compounded by different experiences, oppressions and privileges) this process of course includes listening, negotiation and sympathy.

Unlike traditional western knowledge creation, it is collaborative. Thus collective construction does not create ‘his’ story, but rather stories which are owned by all who are involved.

This has radical potential considering the ‘othering’ & silencing nature ‘his’ story has traditionally created. Typically the most powerful have had a monopoly on our narratives, and so have constructed it in their image. Take for example, Operation Legacy. The destruction of records of colonial atrocities were one of the many ways the British reconstructed the history of its empire. This allowed the empire to be understood largely as a benevolent endeavour.

The toppling of slave trader, Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol in the summer of 2020 is an example of collective construction in action. Ironically, this was achieved by the deconstruction of the statue. The removal of him from his plinth which had described him as a ‘great philanthropist’, signalled a collective statement that Bristollians will no longer be proud of their colonial past. Throwing him into the same river his slave ships docked was a sort of ‘poetic justice’. It solidified his true legacy and history - a philanthropist, enabled by enslavement and murder, who donated enough money to ensure he would be remembered favourably.

In its place, the plinth was showered in BLM protest signs held in the hands of those involved. The moment a black female protestor stood on the plinth was then immortalised as her statue filled the now vacant platform.

The radical nature of collective construction is demonstrated by the backlash the toppling of the Colston statue received. In response, the current Tory Government (in a pandemic) focused on protecting such inanimate statues.

However, one could argue whether collective construction can ever be possible, as the initiator / coordinator is ultimately named - as demonstrated by the below examples.

Temporary installation by Marc Quinn

Rwanda Healing Project (designed by Lily Yeh and built by the community)