How many times you must have heard heard the injunction ‘we must act’? This we hear from politicians, scientists, doctors, or anyone who has either sought or is seeking authority to do something about something. That raises the following question. What are we doing now? If not acting, what are we exactly doing now? That gives you the gist of the problem that exercises THE ACTS ARCHIVES PROJECT. To act means doing something other than what you are doing now. It is about changing the course, bringing something new to the scene. So we don’t always act. We act only when and if necessary to do so to change the course of something over which we are either seeking or to have authority over. When we act things are different. If we are lucky, we will bring something new to the scene. If not, who knows. Acting means living precariously and perhaps dangerously.
This is, of course, a very simplified version of what acts are. We are fascinated by the idea of acts for over a decade now. The idea has philosophical, psychological and religious lineages and despite more than a decade of work we have barely scratched the surface.
This site archives ‘acts’. It is a crowdsourcing of sorts though probably of interest to a very small group of people. If so inclined you can begin by reading a chapter entitled ‘enacting citizenship’ from Citizens Without Frontiers. There the development of the idea of acts is described in more detail. (We have yet to do the same with religious, sociological and psychological developments.) You can also read chapters from Acts of Citizenship, which brings together several essays on understanding acts. Or, you can read chapters from Enacting European Citizenship to learn more about how a group of scholars used the idea of writing acts for a new understanding of European citizenship.
It is perhaps best to think acts as repertoires of action. A key assumption here is that people cannot act without repertoires – various descriptions that give meaning to our actions. So when the injunction comes it follows that we must do such and such. Is it an act of war? Is it an act of kindness? Is it an act of generosity? Is it an act of cruelty? Is it an act of citizenship? What does the injunction call for? Such descriptions can be considered repertoires: a type of conduct that we habitually perform in everyday life. But an act is different from a repertoire in that although it may already exist as a type, it is actually a break from a routine or habitual everyday conduct because it changes the course of our – and others’ – lives. In fact, although we may live our lives most the time through repertoires of action, it is through acts that we become bring something new into the world. Often people think of acts not as acts but as decisions that they make in life. But acts are not decisions either in that we don’t often deliberate the pros and cons of doing something before we act. So a working definition of acts is that they are repertoires of action that bring something new into the world.
Clearly, there is so much more to say about acts but perhaps the most important thing about acts is that you can get cracking right away as a citizen-scientist: you don’t need elaborate training in social science and humanities methods to begin to understand acts. On the contrary, THE ACTS ARCHIVES PROJECT contends that we do it all the time but are unaware of our investigative sides most of the time. Without such an investigative side – a citizen-scientist – we would neither be capable of calling for or responding to the injunction to act. We understand acts. THE ACTS ARCHIVES PROJECT is an attempt to experiment with this contention. We want to see how many citizen-scientists we can gather on this site to tell stories as acts. But where do you begin?