What is Working with People?


Latest news :
Working with People & the Ship’s First Shape
Working with People is a partner on “The Ship’s First Shape Was a Raft” project – a two-year collaboration between the New School, Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS) and the Fortune Society. Students in this project will be using WWP throughout their co-design process, and will be creating media and interviews that will add their voices to WWP itself. This is a project supported by the New School Collaboratory and the Rockefeller Foundation.

The Working with People : Keywords project

With its straight-forward title, “Working with People” creates a critical framework for the  increasing interest that has emerged in working with people beyond the academy, in collaborative and generative practices. “Civic engagement,” “design for social change,” and other types of “engaged” pedagogical practice create both opportunities and responsibilities for developing new curricula that explicitly focus on teaching and learning about collaborative practices and contexts. It is critical when, as is often the case, the people and groups in question are regarded as societal “others” and issues of sensitivity and translation across cultures or other real or perceived divides could become a challenge.

Yet, when we talk about collaborations between communities and universities, as well as between communities and artists, some powerful words are ill-defined; other critical words are conspicuously absent. This project and this online resource hopes to foster challenging collisions between different understandings of crucial keywords to build a more nuanced way of working with people.

Collaboration / Community / Difference / Empathy
Ethnography / Human / Participation / Politics
Power / Public / Representation / Sustainability

How did this project come about?
In 2009, project leaders Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani and Shana Agid identified that there is often a gap in resources and critical engagement for faculty, students, artists and organizations doing projects “with communities,” (and with universities) and sought to create resources and approaches to address this,resulting in the online media resource of the WWP website as well as a modular curriculum to investigate the keywords in these contexts. The project began by addressing the growing field of engaged design and liberal arts practice at the New School, but seeks to learn from, and be a resource for, many kinds of educational institutions, community organizations and arts collaborators.

How did we make the Keywords site?
The project began by interviewing New School faculty members across the different schools of the university, talking with people about the way they do their own form of civic engagement. We asked them to choose two of the keywords we had identified as being under-defined, or under-used, and to define what these two words meant to them in the context of their own work. The project’s collection of interviews continues to grow as we What you see here is a conversation between those sometimes-conflicting definitions of these complex words.

What is the curriculum?
The curriculum seeks to build a foundation for establishing reciprocal relationship-building through student and faculty interactions with community-based groups and non-profit organizations by exploring the complex and contradictory contexts in which users, collaborators, and organizations live and work. The curricular framework can be used in two ways :

1 Framework: To complement classes that in some way collaborate with community partners, or address real-world concerns, presented here as a framework format.

2 Stand-Alone: As a stand-alone short-course, potentially in preparation for later partnerships.



Public Programs Series
We often hold public programs and workshops around the Working with People project and the divergent definitions of its keywords. Information from past events is below.

Working with People at “Communities of _____”
Aronson Gallery, Sheila Johnson Design Center, The New School, 10/25 – 11/3/12

Working with People workshop for the New Challenge
The New School, annual workshop

Working with People workshop for the International Field Program
The New School, annual workshop

Working with People: A conference on Keywords & Contested Meanings
The New School, April 7, 2012
Organized by:
Shana Agid, The New School
Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani, The New School & Buscada

This one-day symposium focused on developing critical conversations around “civic engagement” and the pedagogy and politics of teaching “with communities.” The day’s conversations fostered challenging collisions between different understandings of six crucial keywords—community + collaboration; politics + citizenship; and representation + human—as we consider even the most seemingly familiar terms and concepts from new perspectives and begin to build a more nuanced way of working with people.

Session 1 addressed Community & Collaboration, two words that are often at the heart of partner-based projects but often lack definition. Judy Mejia, Director of Civic Engagement & Social Justice, Eugene Lang College The New School for Liberal Arts facilitated this session, and speakers included:

Lisa Yun Lee, Director, The Jane Addams Hull-House Museum
Jeffrey Hou, Chair of Landscape Architecture, University of Washington
Ari Wohlfeiler, Activist, Critical Resistance

Session 2 addressed “Representation & Human” as well as “Politics & Citizenship”, four critical words and concepts that often shape the landscape of design, social and political change, and education, both in their presence or absence. Deva Woodly, Assistant Professor of Politics, The New School for Social Research facilitated this session and speakers included :

Hettie Jones, Poet, The New School for Public Engagement & former chair of the PEN Prison Writing Committee
Jack Tchen, Prof of APA Studies, NYU & co-founder of the Museum of Chinese in America
Caitlin Cahill, The Public Science Project & co-founder of the Mestizo Arts & Cultural Collective

Working with People: Pedagogical Tools for Engaging Issues of Power and Difference in Community-University Courses and Partnerships
The New School, April 19, 2012

Shana Agid, Assistant Professor of Art, Media, and Technology and Director of Printmaking, Parsons
Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani, Visiting Assistant Professor of Urban Studies

The research and curriculum-development project “Working with People” has been investigating and developing innovative pedagogical approaches to teaching in and with communities that foreground the impacts of relationships of power that frequently shape these projects but are often not addressed. There is often a gap in resources and critical engagement for both faculty and students doing projects “with communities,” and the Working with People project is developing a curriculum and online resources using a framework of modules that investigate key words in these contexts. The curriculum seeks to build a foundation for establishing reciprocal relationship building through student and faculty interactions with community-based groups and nonprofit organizations by exploring the complex and contradictory contexts in which users, collaborators, and organizations live and work. Parts of this curriculum can be modified and used in a wide variety of courses. In this workshop for New School faculty and staff, Shana Agid and Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani introduced the project, with a focus on tools and practical concerns of participants.


Working with People has been supported by the New School’s Fund for Innovations in Education, the New School University Civic Engagement Committee, the New School Collaboratory, and the Rockefeller Foundation.