Readings Surveying for collective learnings into ressources

From Gender and Tech Resources

Surveying (Arpentage in french) is a method of discovery of a work by several people, with a view to its critical appropriation, to nourish the articulation between practice and theory.

This method can be used on law books, theories, tutorials, wiki pages.

While it can be difficult or boring to bear the burden of reading, studying and understanding written resources - which can reinforce a situation or feeling of isolation - surveying provides a collective dynamic for appropriating knowledge. A method that can be deployed in safe/brave spaces.


Method of collective reading coming from the working class culture (working class circle) in XIXe century to read books known to be difficult to read and then reused by practitioners of mental training during the Second World War by resistance fighters ( Joffrey Dumazedier), more widely disseminated by Peuple et Culture, popular education movement, from the 1950s.

Its goal is to achieve, in a limited time (2 - 6 hours), to "brush" a work by pooling the knowledge, experiences and intuitions of the participants.

Readings surveying is about raising collective and political issues.

Surveying, which refers to the action verb "to survey", consists first of all of appropriating space, of being in action. The people walk through the room or an outside place and get to know each other before starting to read, To plant their « ice axes » in knowledge that becomes available to them.


  • Desacralize the object text or book or wiki page or whatever felt as hard to understand, popularize reading
  • Spread an effort over several motivated and determined people
  • Experience cooperative and critical work
  • Facilitate understanding by a heterogeneous group
  • Create a common culture around a subject, a theoretical and/or technical knowledge
  • Understand that no knowledge is neutral, that all points of view are situated in a political field
  • Put participants in capacity:
    • to reflect individually on collective reflections;
    • to share knowledge, ideas and insights;
    • to approach reading in a singular form: collective and partial.


Equipment and needs

  • Two or three copies of the chosen work,
  • Large sheets of paper, pens, markers, simple papers for notes
  • Copies of the cover, the table or index and the image attached to the book if it is not on the cover (e.g. back cover).
  • Scissors or knife
  • A place where people feel safe end free to be themself

Number of participants

from 4 to 20 people?

Remember never to overcrowd a space at the risk of creating bad feeling for those present.


Depending on the size of the text or content to be surveyed, allow between 2 and 6 hours.

And especially plan for breaks and breathing times.


Explain, introduce, provide context

Explain Who, why, what, how, what for, collective and individual rules to people

Introduce the purpose and aims fo this session

Putting the book and its author in context

The facilitator proposes content that he or she has read and that is of particular interest in relation to the theme or themes that the group is working on.

(e.g. documentation on installation and use of TAILS during a workshop, or Data as capta: from information visualization to graphical expressions of interpretation or an Angela Dabis Book)

Presentation by the trainer of any particular information about the author or the group behind the project studied, its place in the intellectual universe, the time and reasons for writing (the code is writing) this book and the image attached to it. The person can also invite the group present to comment on the title and everything that the group may have observed about the work in question up to the formulation by the group of elements of the content of the document (make hypotheses about the ideas developed in the book or doc).

Organizing the reading

  1. cut the book, or the printout, or the copies, to distribute an equal part of text to each without regard to the chapters (by dividing the number of pages by the number of readers)
  2. tear off each of its parts to assign them to each reader − one part tear off for one group
  3. ~ 45 minutes to read about ten pages per group
  4. possibility to isolate oneself at the place that is suitable for reading. Each participant reads his or her part as he or she wishes.


It starts when it starts and it ends when it ends. The people who read are the right people and they are in charge.

Bring together

The reel

Open the plenary session with a space/forum for expression, free reactions at the end of the reading. This step allows the form or the content to take a foothold in the restitution, including on the register of the sensitive. For example "he wrote badly...".


The restitution does not necessarily take place from start to finish of the read. Each person will be allowed, without obligation, to answer a few questions in order to reconstruct elements of his or her reading:

Table of exploitation of the book, resources or whatever, for each one

  • key ideas
  • questions I have

what I already knew

Restitution in plenary group by part, one restitute, another written on paperboard or on a window or a paper tablecloth in front of him or on the sheets of paper posted on the wall, the "strong points" approached by the reader. On the "poster" are indicated all the chapters of the book as cut out by the number of readers.

Back to the readings surveys method

Reactions at the end after the operation on the surveying technique: everyone's experience, reuse? Possible openings from this reading?

Exploitation or extension of Surveys

Proposal to write, alone or with others, a text for the exploitation of the work based on four questions:

  • "what echoes my practice and knowledge prior to this reading"?
  • what I agree or disagree with" with the purpose of the work
  • "what I'd like to say to the author(s)".
  • " choose a word, a notion, a concept, that you would like to define (in academic version and in general public explanation version) and/or a couple of words that makes you think "


If necessary critical comment on your part either on the method of the survey (cold of the exercise), or on its reuse in another context in your presence, or on the attempt to transmit ideas strength of the work to other people who have not read the work

Where to use?

Here are some situations in which we have used it and it worked :