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Anthill: a place of knowledge about community work and community management

Reflections on an Anthill:
Budd L Hall, University of Victoria, Canada
A Review of Anthill: A Place of Knowledge about Community Work and Community
Management by Neil Stuart, John Rule, Kate Nolan, Roy Bishop, Gael Kennedy
“Anthills eloquently show us the power of the collective, the power of community
knowledge”. The Anthill Mob draws our attention over and over to the importance
of ants, to the collective creativity of ants both as force of nature and a metaphor for
human community. Anthills achieve remarkable things by working together in spite
of the fact that they have neither leaders nor a common shared vision. Each ant
communicates with the other ants by way of pheromones, their partial knowledge
connected with partial knowledge of the others allows for a collective mind that can
feed thousands, build extensive shelters, protect the young, reproduce and more.
For the authors of this creative and thoughtful storying, the anthill represents an
space where knowledge might be arrived at by listening to stories.
The Anthill Five are non-Aboriginal community workers from Australia who have
been engaged in a variety of community work and community management
activities for 40-50 years. This is remarkable book that can be ‘read’ by opening up
the book at any place one likes. The reader is invited to jump to another story
anytime s/he wishes. But what is the book about I hear the reader wondering? It is
about stories as knowledge, about power and language, about the subversion of
community processes by the state, about the perpetuation of relations of dominance
in the guise of liberatory concepts, about an education in re-imagination, and about
understanding theory in news ways.
The concept of community management is central to the discussion. This is not a
concept that I am familiar with in the Canadian context, so I had to do quite bit of
reading to understand the context. It would seem that community management
may have had long and democratic origins, even linked to more progressive or
radical social movement collectivities at one time. The case made in Anthill
however is that the Australian state at a certain time took either co-opted a previous
discourse or simply constructed a parallel approach to community management in
order to exert state control over the processes of community action. The authors of
this book have been both witnesses or even partial collaborators over the course of
their work in community. But beginning some 15 years ago they began a process of
self-education and reflection on the complex processes of colonisation, hegemonic
control, and suppression of emerged communities.
“Stories are knowledge and/or stories express knowledge” they suggest. Stories lie
at heart of the human experience and precede and interrogate theory. So the book
is a series of stories interwoven with stories from others such as bell hooks, Paulo
Freire, Patti Lather and Aboriginal Elders. They are stories that carry method, that
carry tears, that carry regrets, that carry rage and carry hope. I cannot tell the
reader what kind of a book this is. Perhaps that provides the best evidence of what
the authors seek to achieve. I can tell readers that this is utterly fascinating and that
for those who work with community, this really is a must read.
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