About the Kitchen Seminar

By Jaan Valsiner

The “K-seminar” (“kitchen seminar”) is a “think tank” that has been continuously running through weekly face-to-face and videoconference meetings since 1997 (first at Clark University; since 2013 at Aalborg; and in Salerno from 2019). Its focus is on discussion of new or unfinished projects (research designs, drafts of publications, new ideas for research). It has created (through weekly deliveries of discussion materials directly into e-mail boxes) a dynamic international research community that counts around 400 members from all over the World. It operates on the basic principles of full equality of expression of constructive ideas independent of seniority or discipline. Its key restriction is the explicit avoidance of political discussions (of science, as well as of society). While these are important issues for sure, they also can divert scientists from concentration on research problems that need to be solved. The general rule is: everybody can come and go whenever one desires, so the focus that keeps people together is joint interest in the topic discussed.

The person, whose work is to be discussed on the following Wednesday, sends the materials to the list voluntary keeper (one’s own draft together with background readings) by the previous weekend. The list keeper distributes these on directly to all e-mail addresses in the K-Seminars List to all members.

The calendar of the K-seminars

How does K-Seminar work

The K-seminar event happens every Wednesday from 15 to 17 hours (CET Time). The time is selected to allow both the Americas and the Orient to take part via videoconference. The author of the materials under discussion gives a short (10 minutes or so) introduction that further specifies in which direction s/he wishes the discussion could go. It is assumed that the participants will have read the materials—in reality it may sometimes be quick reading, requiring reminders of the relevant details. The discussion then starts, with some specific features:

1. No formality (=no introductions, beyond name if the person is new). Power points are to be avoided (since these indicate ready-made presentational style) and are used only if there are materials that feed into discussion.

2. The tradition is not to think of time (even if, for technical reasons, the time is specified by the 2-hour slot). This has been marked by the rule that “we start when the coffee is ready”.

3. When coffee is ready, it is directly being served (often starting from the most junior or new members in the group). This is important (in contrast to “coffee is out there, take it if you want” mentality) since it is a social gesture of offering. The offer for coffee is being made all through the 2-hour period (until coffee resources last), so the offering by the server is constantly in the background of the discussion. There are often foods on the table—cookies or cakes—that are passed around by the participants from one another.

4. The group creates consensual local social norms that involve breaking (in small ways) the regular social norms of society. Through that a specific unity of the group is being created and maintained for the event.

5.The usual rule of conversations to honour one another’s “keeping the floor” while speaking is blatantly violated in the discussions. People—when enthusiastic about an idea—“jump in” with elaboration of the idea at any moment, and that is the local social norm, accepted for the time of the event by all participants (but would be considered very rude in regular interactions). It allows for lively—yet at times highly diverse— collective growth of ideas, without boundaries. The mentality is—we are here trying to solve the problem, if I have an insight it should “burst out”. Of course, it is not always simple to accept that local convention of spontaneity. But the spontaneity is not required—a participant can remain silent while observing others “burst out” ideas. This changed social norm is the centrally important feature of the event as it grants its freshness and creativity.

How to join

If you would like to join the Kitchen Seminar, email Luca Tateo (lucatateo@gmail.com) or Pina Marsico (gmarsico@unisa.it).

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