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What is Transcommunality?

“John Brown Child’s case for transcommunality is most significant for its courage to hope. Hope in a better future does not come easily these days”

Arif Dirlik, Postmodernities Histories: the Past as Legacy and Project, Rowman and Littlefield, New York, 2000, p. 229.


Ntunnaquomen, mattapsh yoteg awassih, cuttunchemokous
[I have had a good dream, come sit by the fire, warm yourself, I will tell a story.]

--From the Algonkian language of my Native American Massachusaug ancestors.

Transcommunality is a general, open, improvisational mode of cooperation that emphasizes coordinated heterogeneity and autonomy across “identity boundaries” not only of those such as “ethnicity” “race,” “class,” and “gender,” but also of organizationally, philosophically and cosmologically diverse settings. Transcommunality entails a changed way of thinking, a paradigm shift, or to use the Andean Indigenous terminology of pachakuti, “a change of direction,” that moves beyond the classic Eurocentric progressive emphasis on an homogenizing “unity” based on the leadership of one group, while on the other hand also escaping from the aimless splintered relativism of current perceptions of compartmentalized diversity in which there is no constructive contact among different peoples.

Transcommunality emphasizes a general ethics of respect in which mutual recognition and acceptance of diverse, divergent, sometimes opposed perspectives occurs among dynamically interacting partners who themselves are transformed through their mutual contacts. Transcommunality sees distinctly rooted group locations (geographical or philosophical), with their often clear-cut boundaries and internal senses of communal integrity as positive foundations for interaction. It is precisely from such rooted locations that diverse communities can reach out with confidence to one another, so creating constellations of cooperation that reinforce rather than undermining their own identities.

These ethics of respect can lead to some positive transformation of interacting participants as they learn more about one another. However such transformation is not a one-sided assimilative “melting pot” conversion to a single perspective. Rather it involves an overall opening up to shared understandings. My development of the concept of transcommunality is influenced in large part from Indigenous models of alliances in the Americans, including those of my Massachusaug and Brothertown-Oneida maternal ancestors. These alliances generally offer flexible approaches in which the autonomy of the cooperating participants rather than a top down enforced uniformity is the key.

The glue holding such transcommunal ties together is that of face-to-face interpersonal relationships of mutual trust built up through “Shared Practical Action” in which people from different locations or “Emplacements of Affiliation” work together around shared tasks and objectives. Such practical work involves the maintenance of a high degree of coordinated autonomy among such participants. On some issues of common concern they work as partners. On other issues that may go separate ways. This ability to both come together and to move apart in a respectful manner allows for distinctive affiliations or identities to be maintained while also supporting constructive mutually reinforcing interaction when it is necessary and viable. In this way transcommunal cooperation differs dramatically from traditional vertical political structures that demand a constant state of being “on” as members under any circumstances. Transcommunal networks, such as those of the famous Native American Iroquois Great League of Peace (the Haudenosaunee) can combine themselves as whole structures at some moments, decombine themselves into their autonomous constituent parts at other moments, and then come back to being the larger structure when that is necessary. It is in this sense that transcommunal networks are open and fluid while also having a coherence that provides a framework for ever expanding cooperation of increasing mutual understanding and cooperative heterogeneity.

Hope for victory over the ravages of gigantic centralizing, militaristic systems of economic profit and power that are sucking life from the beings of our earth requires that we draw from the transcommunal interweaving of the many diverse forms taken by the spirit of justice and freedom among the peoples of the world.

[I have finished with my story]

John Brown Childs Editor, Transcommunal Cooperation News
Santa Cruz, California
May, 2007

* Drawn and revised from J.B. Childs, Transcommunality: from the Politics of Conversion to the Ethics of Respect, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 2003.

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