Convening every Sunday, the Community Reading Group is a gathering committed to the study of community as a political category in popular, philosophical, and legal discourse. We focus on literature that complicates affirmative invocations of community, in both grassroots and organizational contexts, as the proper aim of activism. Examples: community building, resilience, preservation, displacement, health, rights, and wealth. As readers, we come from a wide spectrum of professions and interests; however, most commonly, many of us are involved in three—arguably interlocking—movements: the fight to defend housing as a right, to protect education from labor exploitation, and to overturn inequitable structures in arts institutions.
Whether by chance or by correlation, the fact that so many of our members, who work for “the public good,” claim the above struggles as their own suggests a far-reaching urgency to confront anew community and its associations: the individual, the family, the neighbor, the public, the political, and, most importantly, commonness as such. Taking our cue from the spirit of the tertulia—literary, social gatherings that were a critical locus for anticolonial thought in South America—we aim to foster a supportive space for anyone to challenge their inherited ideas about common being. If you love the exercise of close reading a text, then you will be in good company here.
In 2018, the Community Reading Group began as a general interest study group to explore the continental response to the communitarian debates in the Anglophone world throughout the 1980s and 90s. Our first meeting was supported by the Liberation School of Los Angeles and generously hosted by Skira Martinez, Director of CIELO Galleries and Studios in Boyle Heights. (The impetus to form this initial meet-up would have never come to fruition if it were not for the encouragement of artist Hans Kuzmich, to whom a special debt is owed.) In 2019, we moved to our permanent home at the Los Angeles Contemporary Archive in Chinatown.
Over time our numbers ebbed and flowed; nevertheless, a steady stream of new arrivals kept our philosophical pursuits alive. Today, our focus has shifted away from communitarianism and toward philosophies of freedom, histories of emancipatory struggle, and theorizations of the commons (and its appositional under-). We have amassed a consistent and committed group of intellectuals who attend our weekly seminar and, in their respective ways, integrate the question of community in their praxis. In addition, our focus has broadened beyond the mere discussion of scholarship and is now aimed toward discursive production. While many voices have shaped and perfected our commitment to one another, some deserve to be amplified in particular; they are Olivia Leiter, Joy Park, Hailey Loman, and Michael Berlin.
– Andrew McNeely
Los Angeles Contemporary Archive ⟶
LACA is an art archive, library, and exhibition platform that collects underexposed artistic modes of expression happening in our current moment. Challenging established concepts of the archive and art space, LACA sustains a unique experimental environment for critical inquiry, artistic research, and public dialogue. The collection at LACA is artist–run, meaning that living artists are donating and deciding what is valuable and generating language for inventorying their work on their own terms. LACA is not affiliated with a larger institution and, as such, it maintains an archive free from limitations associated with prevailing, traditional structures.
Critical Theory Index ⟶
CTI catalogues texts fundamental to the framework of the art world. A collection ever-expanding with current dialogues around contemporary art, culture, and society, the index allows for the public to engage with critical research and inquiry outside of formal academic institutions through its presentation as an online library and open forum inviting submissions.
When does the Community Reading Group (CRG) meet?
We meet every Sunday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. either online or in person or both. Instructions for upcoming meetings will be sent out by email on Tuesdays with a reminder sent Sunday mornings.
Do I have to read the current book to participate in CRG?
CRG members are committed to joint study—genuine engagement with the interests of others is core to our mission. However, “engagement” may take other forms than reading, and we regularly share working notes so anyone can follow along. Please be mindful, however, to make space for those who have read. We encourage you to join us as you are; we are always thrilled for new faces and perspectives.
What does CRG do that other reading groups do not already provide?
CRG is a reading group in which we strive to enact the object of our inquiry through a model of reciprocity. Our study coheres around the following questions:
How does community symbolize commonness?
How does invoking community further democracy?
How might we comprehend community more expansively?
How might we commit our community activism to this expanse?
How is LACA different from CRG and vice versa?
LACA is an art archive and library that hosts CRG in person in its reading room and online. CRG is an experimental study group whose focus informs and enhances the social commitments of LACA.
I missed a few books but want to jump into the new reading. Is that okay? And is it okay to participate here and there? Sometimes I can be consistent.
CRG is open to join at any time. We do not have expectations regarding your bandwidth and are just happy when you can join us.
How does the book selection process work?
Our course of study is collective, which means that we vote on the books we read. After each book is finished, the organizer nominates someone to propose several books to be subject to a vote. Once the winner is decided, members have one to two weeks to procure a physical copy of the book, although digital copies will always be made available. The intervening week(s) between each member’s turn is dedicated to CRG programming, namely guest speakers or presentations by participants (e.g., group crits or workshops).
When do I get to pick a book?
Participants who commit themselves to reading and discussing at least two books in succession are given priority for book selection. (Selections do not necessarily need to be a book; they may also take the form of an article, a film, an exhibition, or music [provided that all are accessible online].)
I am interested in starting a CRG in my neck of the woods. Would this be supported by CRG?
Absolutely! And, in fact, our ultimate goal is to help others build their own CRG gatherings. We are especially interested in supporting Mandarin and Spanish-language branches of this project. So, if our vision for the collective study of political language speaks to you, then please reach out to us. We will help you grow it.
Los Angeles Contemporary Archive
709 N. Hill St
We are graciously housed under LACA.
Donate here to contribute.
CRG’s governance structure follows in the tradition of loosely affiliated peer-support groups or rather, to borrow from the ethos of a well-known leader in the temperance movement, a longstanding model of “benign anarchy.” At the center of CRG’s governance structure is the reading group or groups, whose health is entrusted to members of an advocacy group. Advocacy group members oversee financing initiatives, inter-group communication, and coordination of public-facing activities.
Each reading group is organized by a steward, an individual who has committed him, her, or themselves to building and preserving an independent branch of the project. Stewards are entrusted with ensuring that a group’s collective study, no matter what trajectory it may take, remains in orbit with the project’s twinned, inaugural explorations: the limits of community and the duties of common life.
and Hailey Loman
Andrew McNeely, Chinatown Group