After Thompson: The Distribution of Wealth Most Conducive to Human Happiness

Andy Hewitt, Mel Jordan

Research output: Non-Textual OutputExhibition


Partisan Social Club: Art-Study-Action represents a body of artworks that are presented in exhibition projects in art galleries and an art biennial. A series of methods for study, collaboration and production were developed to produce participatory artworks and events. The Partisan Social Club use membership, shared study, tagging and publishing together as techniques for social art practice. Through membership we enable the coming together of those with shared interests, creating a temporary institutional framework to debate political issues, leading to the production of creative outputs. Shared study supports skilling, develops ideas and confidence and provides knowledge on agreed topics. ‘Tagging’, allows members to work together to design and produce their own public events. These ‘tagged events’ call forth new participants who become members. Thus, membership of the Partisan Social Club expands with each collaborative event.

For 'After Thompson: The Distribution of Wealth Most Conducive to Human Happiness' at the Coventry Biennial we took as the basis for shared study a text by the Irish philosopher William Thompson (1775–1833), his book, An Inquiry into the Principles of the Distribution of Wealth Most Conducive to Human Happiness; applied to the Newly Proposed System of Voluntary Equality of Wealth, (Thompson: 1824). It was Thompson’s first major work in political economy, and it contains his most comprehensive critique of capitalism as well as his proposals for a co-operative society as an alternative to the existing state of affairs, which saw acute poverty amongst the lower classes in Ireland and the UK. He condemned the narrow mechanical approach taken by political economists but also the naïvely utopian and moralist approach of philosophers and attempted to combine a scientific and ethical critique of the system, concentrating on how wealth is created and also how it is distributed. To this end he introduced the term ‘social science’ as a name for his approach.

The project included existing PSC members and called forth new participants to explore ideas of labour and economy as first expressed by Thompson. Our aim was to develop study-workshops where visitors could translate Thompson’s ideas into statements, texts and artworks, corresponding to their own experiences and viewpoints on working life, equality and happiness. From documentation of the first Thompson workshop we produced a billboard poster that we pasted and wrapped around the whole allocated space at Coventry Biennial. In a ‘tag- type’ process PSC members generated workshops ideas and sent out calls for participation.

We produced a Workshopping Manual #1, and PSC members designed and ran eight workshops, (including a one-day pre-exhibition text workshop). We turned the office space-come art space back to a site of work, hosting talks and workshops for and by PSC members. We produced a workshop manual to further disseminate Thompson’s ideas of the difference between wealth creation and distribution. Members hosted seven workshops at Coventry Biennial. Sound works, T shirts, posters, performances and slogan writing on ceiling tiles in the space were produced. A slogan scarf titled ‘Make all Capitalists Labourers’ based on his Thompson’s ideas was produced for the members.

The Distribution of Wealth Most Conducive to Human Happiness. Commissioned by Coventry Biennial, resulting in a new installation and a series of workshops at the biennial. Technical support, Travel and artist fee. £4,000. 4 Oct - 24 November 2019.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 4 Oct 2019
EventCoventry Biennial: The Twin - Coventry, United Kingdom
Duration: 4 Oct 201924 Nov 2019
Conference number: 2nd


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