Convivial writing experiences – Insights from the Polička Collective

While many departments, research institutes and universities offer a fertile ground for intellectual collaboration and mutual support structures, like-minded scholars also happen to work outside these formal frames, often hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometers away. In this blog post, we reflect upon how a group of ten scholars writing joint articles based on individual research became what we currently call the emerging Polička Collective: a spatially dispersed and interdisciplinary alliance of scholars interested in diverse and community economies in Eastern and Central Europe (CEE) and the Former Soviet Union.

In this blog entry, we reflect upon what made our encounters possible and provide insights, perhaps only short glimpses, into the processes of creating a convivial atmosphere, on the one hand, and the planning as well as execution of collaborative writing efforts in between relatively short physical meetings and long periods of spatial dispersal, on the other hand. Rather than offering a blueprint for how to grow organically into a spatially dispersed scholars’ collective, we trace this genealogy with one main goal: we hope this self-reflective account can provide helpful insights for other collaborative projects and collectives, especially since both creating a convivial atmosphere and writing collaboratively remains often tacit and embodied knowledge among participants in collective projects.

Despite the tendency that internationalized collaborative projects are increasingly regarded as stimulating, there remains little guidance on how to grow together. We will make explicit some important rules of conduct, methods and activities that helped us in working together, narrated in a somewhat chronological order for the sake of simplicity.

How we got there

The origins of the Polička Collective are multiple and diverse. Notable prior work leading to the Polička Collective consisted in the organization of a conference session at Liviana 2020[1], organized by members within the Community Economies Research Network (CERN). The session dealt with postcommunism and diverse economies from a more global perspective. In post-Covid 2022, within the scope of the Regional Studies Association Central and Eastern Europe (RSA CEE) Conference in Leipzig, a CERN-related group organized two closed special sessions more specifically on the diverse economies of post-socialist Eurasia.

Meanwhile, other conference participants from Prague and Cottbus, who have previously applied the diverse economies framework in their work, organized thematically aligned special sessions. For many of us, it was the first time meeting each other, at least physically, although some, mostly dyadic, partnerships existed beforehand.

After the initial conference reception, this group of aligned conference participants got collectively acquainted with each other in a nearby café. With a relatively stable core group attending each other’s special sessions in the following days, we finally gathered again, reflecting on the RSA conference itself but also possible ways forward.

Given the shared feeling of mutual interest in diverse economies of the East, the group decided to come together in the future to develop an article that continues the work by Ottavia and Lucie, who in 2022 published a paper entitled “The end of postsocialism (as we knew it): Diverse economies and the East” in which they explore the mutual enrichments for both diverse economies and readings of postsocialism drawing on their previous work.

That evening, Ottavia mentioned the Promotion Fund of the University of Bern, where she works, which sponsors networking events for early career researchers. Subsequently, the idea emerged, reflecting the composition of our group, to write a short proposal for a joint writing retreat in which early career scholars, guided by few senior scholars, would embark on developing a new research agenda.

Several factors determined the strong sense that collaboration would be a worthwhile effort. First, each of us knew that there are not so many people working on DCE in the East. Suddenly finding many of them at the conference felt enriching from the onset. Second, we realized that at the Leipzig conference, development-skeptical approaches of imagining liveable worlds were quite rare, but at the same time attracted much attention. Hence, there was a gap that this group of people could fill together. At this conjuncture, we proved to be lucky and somewhat privileged that a suitable funding opportunity was available that could channel our interest into a meeting. This meant an administrative burden for the applicant. Also in subsequent retreats, likewise funded through external sources, we experienced different extents and intensities of commitment by different people depending on the situation of each. At the same time, we avoided a competitive atmosphere or a reliance on formal hierarchies.


With successful approval of the proposal, organizational tasks appeared. Already during the RSA CEE conference, we tentatively settled for accommodation in Polička, Czechia as the location for the retreat, guaranteeing a) location within CEE and thus relatively good access (for most of us via train), as well as b) relatively affordable prices for both travel and accommodation. Lucie and Ottavia prepared this event meticulously, receiving great advice from Jenny Cameron from the Community Economies Institute with regard to both structuring a convivial meeting with a flexible programme and organizing a collective paper writing process, which had been declared as a goal for this retreat.

We started our first retreat in Polička (this is why the name Polička Collective remained) with a discussion about our individual expectations. This was followed by a discussion about the preliminary proposed programme and our various roles with regard to housekeeping and work meetings. We believe it was extremely helpful to reflect and then collectively commit to various reproductive and rotating tasks (logistics with regard to eating, necessary equipment, organizational tasks) and share the proposed roles during work meetings (facilitator, time-keeper, synthesizer, note-taker) among the group. This contributed significantly to smooth, solidary and mindful collective processes, especially at times of heated discussions and exhaustion. Furthermore, thanks to Nadia, we also decided to have a long hike together in the middle of the retreat, to spend some leisure time together and appreciate the beautiful location, which proved to be very helpful in maintaining a good working atmosphere and establishing social bonds.

Figure 1 The proposed preliminary programme for the first writing retreat in Polička

It proved very helpful to have had a homework assignment for everybody on the way to Polička to reflect upon and fill in a template for an article, especially with regard to the audience we want to reach, the contribution to the field (‘angle’), main claims, ‘hook’ and preliminary conclusion. This procedure facilitated a focused discussion on what is the aim of our collective scholarly endeavor and planned article. We voted on different interest points that were accompanied by stimulating discussions, and shared among each other our respective empirical data and analysis the article can build upon. This resulted in the preliminary ‘section teams’ and section-leaders, who were to coordinate respective chapters, as well as a ‘steering committee’ that would coordinate the whole process (incl. submission).

This distribution of commitments was preceded by a non-judging and honest reflection round of each member’s capacities (time-wise) within the next 6 months and was crucial for a collective commitment that happens besides other responsibilities and, for some, even beyond wage labor. Based on the discussions, the so-called skeletons of each chapter were already written during the retreat by the section leaders and discussed collectively. Every section leader had around 1 hour time to write down the main idea of the section, as it was discussed in the plenary. Doing that exercise right away, under time pressure, proved very productive. When we separated spatially, we had at least some notes to build upon, thus avoiding the blank-page syndrome. In the final round the timeline and milestones were determined together along with next potential dates for a subsequent retreat in the autumn 2023. The retreat was concluded with a collective sharing circle.

Figure 2 One of the many lively writing retreat work discussions in Polička

Many members of the Polička Collective met up and engaged with each other also at the International Degrowth Conference in Zagreb where we submitted a panel session with reflections from prior or ongoing, individual and collective research but also presented the preliminary Polička paper draft, called “Diverse Economies from the East”. Furthermore, we organized an interactive session to bring together activist-scholars interested in the nexus between Degrowth & East in the form of a World Café which resulted in vivid and enriching group discussions around four respective questions/tables.

Afterwards, we reflected upon the discussion process and outcomes and decided to write down our table notes for a preliminary blog. Serendipitously, a month later we received an invitation to submit a contribution for a Special Issue on Degrowth in and beyond Central and Eastern Europe and collectively developed our first notes into a collective essay that discusses Degrowth from the East which was submitted by the end of January 2024. World café organizers and subsequent essay authors also include a range of scholar-activists who were not present during the Polička retreat but who had previous, sometimes longstanding, engagements with some of the collective’s members.

Figure 3 Interactive session in Zagreb Degrowth Conference

Our second writing retreat took place in autumn 2023 in Dolní Kounice (Czechia) where this time Petr had found an opportunity to stay in a historical monastery. Anja and Tom explored possibilities of financing the retreat through the Bavarian-Czech Academic Agency and the subsequent application by Tom proved to be successful. This retreat was characterized mostly by extensive revision rounds of our collective article but also included vivid discussions on the title, open questions and submission process (e.g. journal selection).

As a collective academic endeavor between ten scholars inevitably includes numerous comments, suggestions and re-phrasings, we paid extra attention into making sure that while discussing all relevant open questions we also reach our goal of having ‘solved’ most of them and trusting the final revision and submission process into the hands of the steering committee, consisting of three members. One of the important meetings in Dolní Kounice also involved the question around authorship order. After two hours of thorough discussion we managed to find a good compromise between alphabetic and meritocratic acknowledgement of different contributions for the article.

This ‘success’ significantly increased our trust in such collective endeavors within our group because we tried hard to consider all different feelings and needs of all the contributors and authors involved.

Once again, it proved very useful throughout the whole retreat to have shared all roles with regard to work meetings as well as care commitments right at the very start of the retreat. All these roles (facilitator, timekeeper, notekeeper and synthesizer) proved crucial in complex and sensitive debates, for instance around authorship or title. In between and after our work sessions we spent some leisure time together. Furthermore, thanks to the efforts by Petr and Peter, we had an opportunity to visit a local winery (Vinařství Osička), in the frame of a common degustation and dinner. The vinery proved to be an inspiring example of ‘diverse economies’ and brought us to an idea to explore and initiate such formats of coming-together with locals even more in the future retreats.

What was also special in Dolní Kounice was the fact that we cooked all our seasonal lunch soups together while discussing further future plans. Cooking not only represented an inevitable task for physical reproduction, but a meaningful and fun activity, guided by Lilian’s soup making skills. Paper-related debates, and re/productive activities were thus closely aligned, stimulating each other. Lastly, the small sub-group that also attended the Zagreb degrowth conference used the Dolní Kounice retreat to agree on a structure and writing process for the reflection essay, this time priorly prepared by Ondrej who came to visit us for half a day from Prague. Similar to our first collective paper, sections were devised, writing teams formed and a steering member (Lilian) agreed upon. Based on our reflections, we made a commitment to meet again in January 2024 in Leipzig to further develop our research agenda and potential research proposal.

Leipzig retreat at the end of January 2024 was focused on very different outcomes as we had just submitted the Degrowth essay based on Zagreb conference sessions and were about to submit the collective article on Diverse Economies from the East (currently under review) to a journal. We had further work sessions for brainstorming about collectively shared research agendas during which we came up with content-related frameworks for potential research proposal development. In addition, we discussed how, and to which collaborations to ‘open’ the collective without losing our small, caring and efficient group dynamic.

In the previous months, we were increasingly aware about various like-minded scholars that had expressed their interest in joining one way or another. In trying to find a compromise between ‘expanding/opening’ and ‘protecting the precious group dynamic/trust that we had collectively caressed over time’ we decided for a dual solution: creating a mailing list as a loose network for all activist scholars interested in the same nexus (Global East, CEE, postsocialism & degrowth, diverse economies, post-capitalism etc) and at the same time maintaining a small half-open collective of authors to be able to continue nourishing collaboration in mutual trust and remain efficient with regard to funding the retreats and organizing the logistics.

Further valuable and thought-provoking events within the Leipzig retreat included a collective Cooking & Discussion event which built upon, and expanded, the logic of cooking during the previous retreat, and members’ interest in food-related topics. We invited and met local Leipzig food activist-scholars in a collectively-organized kitchen which was organized by Markus, Anja and Lucie. We prepared a delicious portion of borscht soup as well as Georgian pkhali. Lively discussions addressed the different (political) subjectivities and collaboration/interaction in/around Leipzig between community-supported agriculture (CSA) initiatives and allotment gardens, the local Food Policy Council (“Ernährungsrat”) and more.

Another community event was organized as an open short movie evening with two films thematizing local diverse economies in the Georgian countryside: “Shaolin Bus” by Berlin-based director Magnus Lorenz, who was also present at the screening, and “The Trader” by Tbilisi-based director Tamta Gabrichidze. Furthermore, one of our collective members, Peter North, also held a lecture at the University of Leipzig around diverse economies[2] and initiated a discussion in a neighborhood bookstore and library,  further seeking exchange with  interested audience to discuss on diverse economies-related topics[3] while he was in Leipzig. The Leipzig retreat has been enabled through funding by the Wageningen University, and has been administered by Lucie.

Figure 4 Transdisciplinary cooking session with members of food policy council, community-supported agriculture and civil society in Leipzig

Following these events we reflected as a collective how much we want to engage in, and further initiate, such different (community) formats and meet locals during our next retreats as this enriched and stimulated our collective discussions. Furthermore, as many of us also identify themselves as scholars engaged in action research, such community events and interactive formats between different groups also align with our desire to intervene for the sake of contributing to caring and convivial futures.

Currently, we are looking forward to organizing our fourth physical meeting. Different career paths, partly unsecure fixed-term contracts and vastly differing work and leisure cycles (e.g. holidays, fixed teaching obligations etc.) notwithstanding, we preliminarily opt for Haus des Wandels ( in Eastern Brandenburg region, Germany in October this year. Nadia in the meantime has already communicated her desire to focus on other meaningful activities more in the future, while Tom’s contract at LMU has just ended during the Leipzig retreat. The future location is close to the housing project in which Sunna is an active member and resident and we are all excited about the possibilities that this embeddedness in a rural project and community can offer.

To sum up, we highlight a few key points that we deemed important in our own quest of establishing a more convivial mode of scholarship, defined by long periods of spatial dispersal and short physical meetings. These points can be hopefully a source of inspiration for others.

First, a contingent mix between serendipity and strategic thinking is crucial: while most were aware that we will meet each other at the RSA CEE conference in Leipzig, we were not imagining a future cooperation on this intensity. It became only possible in the process as we learned from each other.

Second, to make a more intense cooperation possible, we found it crucial to temporarily suspend formal hierarchies. Instead, we forged alliances of more established and earlier stage scholars. The presence of senior scholars was helpful to access funds, substantiated by claims about mentoring, but during the retreats and in the writing process, earlier career scholars were taking charge of preparation and implementation. Earlier career scholars benefit from the content and process knowledge of senior scholars. The suspension of hierarchies and the lead of earlier career scholars is also reflected in e.g. discussions about authorship.

Third, cooperation thrived upon the awareness, tolerance and active engagement with the circumstance that people are at different stages of their career and life, with varying levels of access to important resources that are crucial to sustain engagement over time (incl. funding opportunities, motivation, salaries, and time). This necessitates thorough planning to find suitable dates for physical meetings but also co-determines the tasks individuals are willing to take on during times of spatial dispersal. The suspension of hierarchies can be regarded as a precondition to engage more deeply with the different needs and circumstances of the members, which was itself a precondition to create a more convivial atmosphere: not seniority but a mixture of needs (and dices) was e.g. crucial in determining who can have a room on his/her own during the retreats and who would rather share it.

During the retreats, forth, we found it crucial to find a balance in what could be called a triad of a) structured work b) open discussions (both of which entailed different distributed and previously assigned caring tasks) and c) the importance of spending a convivial time together (e.g. cooking, eating together, leisure time such as hiking). While conviviality can hardly be engineered or enforced, we find it crucial to give ourselves time to reflect on, and take a break from, the demands and duties posed to us by our jobs, families and communities. If meetings were too intense, we would hardly find the motivation to organize events together again, given that we already have many other obligations and tasks in our lives.

Fifth, we also highlight the delicate balance between openness/closure of the collective, resisting the group to become something too formal or big, making us less able to negotiate the needs of its members. At this conjuncture, there are crucial trade-offs to be negotiated between caring capacities and potential impact.

In the future, we hope to amend this blog post into a more structured paper output.

About the authors

Markus Sattler is writing his PhD on Armenian and Georgian innovative enterprises and their embeddedness in the web of life at the Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography. He is particularly interested in reconstructing political economy to better grasp the dynamics and stakes of entrepreneurial activity.

Lilian Pungas has just defended her dissertation on Eastern European dachas as a form of sufficiency-oriented good living and is currently exploring forms of unconditional basic services (UBS) in the Soviet era.

Polička Collective is an interdisciplinary group of scholars engaging with diverse and community economies in the Global East. From top left to bottom right: Markus Sattler, Peter North, Sunna Kovanen, Anja Decker, Ottavia Cima, Thomas Smith, Lilian Pungas, Lucie Sovová, Nadia Johanisova, Petr Jehlička




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