Find a Hole and Fill It: What Marxist Literary Criticism Taught Me About Community Building

By Michael Roderick  -  On 23 Oct, 2013 -  0 comments

As an English major you take a lot of classes about just the text of famous literature and, often, the very first class you take that deals with this is Literary Criticism. It’s a class about the different ways people have looked at literature over the years and often involves reading articles that make you look at the books you’ve read in different ways. You may, for example, find that The Little Mermaid is more about patriarchy than singing crabs, Frankenstein has links to Freud, and The Wizard Of Oz is actually far more political than you thought.

The form of criticism that leads to these discoveries varies but one that I always paid close attention to was Marxist literary criticism because it requires you to dig deeper into discovering the story behind the story. Basically, Marxist literary criticism asks you to look at the book in the context of when it was written in order to identify the gaps and silences in the story. It’s your job as the person reading the text to ask, “What is missing?” and to consider why those gaps exist.

So what does any of this have to do with building a community? Well, actually, a lot.

The communities that currently exist around you are a product of our times, just like the literature I studied was a product of the author’s time.

So, according to Marxist literary criticism, the natural approach to the study of our communities is to ask, “Where are the gaps and the silences? Where is the hole?”

For example, when I decided to start ConnectorCon I had just come back from a particularly bad conference. At that conference there was very little opportunity to interact and most of the information being shared was not really about educating the attendees.  Much of the focus at the conference was about the speakers’ success rather than the process of achieving that success; it felt like I was attending a conference just to see some famous people rather than to learn from people who have achieved fame.

I started asking my friends if they were seeing the same thing at conferences they attended and when they told me they had I realized that there was a hole that needed to be filled in the conference space.  In considering how to fill that hole, I started asking around to see if people would be interested in a conference that focused on process rather than product and on learning from each other as well as from the speakers. They all said, “Yes!” and we started to explore the idea.  I’m proud to say we’re now on our third iteration of ConnectorCon.

The ConnectorCon community was built on the idea of filling a hole in the conference industry.  If you are looking to build a community make sure to examine the existing communities first. Examine your community the way Marxist literary criticism examines a text; you’ll see the gaps and the silences and you’ll see the holes.

If you fill those holes you can fill up a room.

And that means everybody wins.