Unplanned Coordination: Ensemble Improvisation as Collective Action

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The characteristic features of ensemble dance improvisation (“EDI”) make it an interesting case for theories of intentional collective action. These features include the high degree of freedom enjoyed by each individual, and the lack of fixed or hierarchical roles, rigid decision procedures, or detailed plans. In this article, we present a “reductive” approach to collective action, apply it to EDI, and show how the theory enriches our perspective on this practice. We show, with the help of our theory of collective action, that when it reaches or approaches its ideals, EDI constitutes a significant collective achievement, one that manifests an impressive, spontaneous, jointly cooperative and individually highly autonomous activity that meets demanding aesthetic standards. A good case of EDI thus emerges as an ideal form of collective action, not merely in the sense of being a clear case of collective action, but in being a good or valuable case of collective action. Its being socially good in this way is not a mere extrinsic feature of the artwork, but part of its aesthetic value. We end by discussing how this value is easily missed by traditional aesthetic frameworks, but is revealed by more contemporary frameworks like social aesthetics.
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Archival date: 2020-07-05
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