Clusters, clusters everywhere – could they be the shape of the new world?


When I wrote my previous piece on clusters I didn’t realise how much they are now part of modern thinking and practice.  I have been surprised to find that they are becoming an element of top-down bureaucratic systems, such as in the EU.

“Horizon Europe”, the EU’s key funding programme for research and innovation, is  “broken down into individual expected impacts around overarching themes”.  As follows:

•             Cluster 1: Health

•             Cluster 2: Culture, Creativity & Inclusive Society

•             Cluster 3: Civil Security for Society

•             Cluster 4: Digital, Industry & Space

•             Cluster 5: Climate, Energy & Mobility

•             Cluster 6: Food, Bioeconomy, Natural Resources, Agriculture & Environmen

In my first piece on clusters, written three years ago, I wrote about:

Clusters that develop naturally bring together like-minded individuals and organisations, with common aims and values, which come together for mutual benefit.  It is a togetherness that is seen by those involved as an explicit cooperative process of personal and business development.  It is a kind of development those involved expect to be sustainable. A kind of sustainability that complements ecological sustainability.

Whether the clusters are defined and initiated by top-down bodies, or come about as happenstances of human co-operation, their “internal” management and operation is a bottom-up process. But maybe “bottom-up” is misleading.  Is it part of our pre-pandemic mindset?

Clusters include individuals and organisations of widely differing academic and political views. They all agree that their cluster is necessary, and they all participate in the doings within it.

This overcomes the problem of “what is decentralisation?” And how to do it. Which has bedevilled thinking for 50 years or more, ever since Fritz Schumacher published Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered” in 1973. 

Clusters may be funded by other clusters, they may be agglomerations of like-minded co-operating businesses, charities or community organisations. Academically they are aligned in endless ways. They are not above each other. They are directly or indirectly connected. 

They crop up in so many ways. Mental care clusters are groups of people with similar characteristics, as identified from a holistic assessment, using a Mental Health Clustering Tool (MHCT).

China’s urbanisation is based on clusters. A huge-scale process for the development of mega-cities, which has been suggested would be usefully employed elsewhere in the world. Clusters of excellence have been discussed in the Irish press, albeit without agreement about what they are.

Clusters do not fit into our pre-covid mindset of how the world is organised.  They may even be to do with a potential understanding of the quantum world.

The Quantum Foundations Research Cluster at Wolfson College, University of Oxford, “unites members from the Computer Science, Materials, Mathematics, Philosophy, and Physics Departments of the University, making it an interdisciplinary activity unique in its kind.”

I am beginning to wonder whether hierarchies, decentralisation, equity and egalitarianism will all become irrelevant. Is it possible that the new world is emerging, of what for now, we will call “clusters”?

Endless clusters, small and larges.  Some independent, some overlapping, some within each other.  All self-sufficient.  A new kind of whole. A holistic interconnected world of de-growth. In which capitalism and socialism, as we know them now, cannot exist. A world we cannot recognise now as really possible. 

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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