Care in Trouble: Ecologies of Support from Below and Beyond

In the last year, my colleague Vincent Duclos and I have been working on different versions of an essay that has just been given green light by the Medical Anthropology Quarterly. It’s been a hard process, but also a wonderful occasion to learn from the inspiring work of many colleagues and a joyful opportunity to experiment together with a conceptual writing repertoire.

Titled “Care in Trouble: Ecologies of Support from Below and Beyond” the article wishes to map out how care has proliferated as an analytical and technical term aimed at capturing a vast array of practices, conditions, and sentiments. As we argue in our exploratory orienting essay–rather than a deep dive ethnography–care seems to have also expanded to many other reproductive domains of life, where it has been mobilized as a conceptual lens that affords privileged access to the human condition.

This essay is premised on the conviction that, in spite of and perhaps also because of its rising popularity, the analytics of care is in trouble. Drawing inspiration from STS, “new materialist” work, and the writings in black, Indigenous, anticolonial, feminist, and crip studies, we suggest that discussions within anthropology might benefit from opening care from both “below” and “beyond” in what we are calling “ecologies of support.”

Ecologies of support are not to be mistaken for all-encompassing environments. Their protective effects more often than not are discontinuous and unevenly distributed. Thinking about ecologies of support entails placing a new focus on how different kinds of bodies are differentially supported, cared for, and capable of influencing their own conditions of support. Because spaces of care and safety can also easily morph into forms of containment and exclusion, what is needed are more accurate cartographies of the many intersections and frictions between the enveloping and the diverging, the protecting and the containing, the enduring and the engendering, as they play out in care practices.

Our proposal is for anthropology to not simply seek to represent or bear witness to these practices, but also to reinvigorate care by experimenting with modes of inquiry and intervention that operate along new axes of movement and new relational possibilities—a dynamic ecosystem if you will.


The article is now available at the MAQ. We would be happy and eager to learn from your comments and reactions to it, if you had any.

Picture CC BY 2006 Vladimer Shioshvili


Over the last decades, care has proliferated as a notion aimed at capturing a vast array of practices, conditions, and sentiments. In this article, we argue that the analytics of care may benefit from being troubled, as it too often reduces the reproduction of life to matters of palliation and repair, fueling a politics of nationalism and identitarianism. Picking up the threads of insight from STS, “new materialisms,” and postcolonial feminist and indigenous scholarship, we discuss care from “below” and “beyond,” thus exposing tensions between the enveloping and the diverging, the enduring and the engendering, that play out in care practices. We propose “ecologies of support” as an analytic that attends to how humans are grounded in, traversed by, and undermined by more‐than‐human and often opaque, speculative, subterranean elements. Our proposal is for anthropology to not simply map life‐sustaining ecologies, but to experimentally engage with troubling modes of inquiry and intervention.

Published in Medical Anthropology Quarterly, doi:10.1111/maq.12540 | PDF

“The Lady is Not There”: Repairing Tita Meme as a Telecare User

Francisco Martínez & Patrick Laviolette have recently compiled the edited volume Repair, Breakages, Breakthroughs: Ethnographic Responses, which they explain as follows:

What does it mean to claim that something is broken? What is the connection between tinkering and innovation? And how much tolerance for failure do our societies have? Exploring some of the ways in which repair practices and perceptions of brokenness vary culturally, Repair, Brokenness, Breakthrough argues that repair is an attempt to extend the life of things as well as an answer to failures, gaps, wrongdoings and leftovers. The set of contributions illustrates the strong affective power hidden in situations of disrepair and repair; broken objects often bring strong emotions into play, but also energising reactions of creative action.

In response to their kind invitation, I contribute with a short piece, summarising a chapter published in 2012 in Spanish as part of my PhD. In an ethnographic snapshot–in the vocabulary of the editors–I address ‘repair’ from the particular work of underpinning users in a telecare service for older people.


Repair has been addressed in the growing body of literature in the social sciences either as a restoration of social order or as a form of care for fragile things. Drawing from ethnographic work on a telecare service for older people in Spain between 2007 and 2011, I address here repair from the ‘flesh and bones’ side of it. In particular, I focus on the work undertaken by service workers, users and contacts alike that helps to maintain an infrastructure of usership: not a restorative form of medical rehabilitation, but a constant restoration of a web of embodied, legal and technical practices so that someone could be considered a user of a service. That is, an infrastructure creating and ensuring the conditions for (tele)care to happen or take place in compliance with contractual terms. Rather than as a form of ‘re-instauration’ (going back to square one, revitalising and polishing in practice the terms of the contract), I call their form of repair ‘underpinning’. It entails going with the flow, and acting thereon. Underpinning could be described as a form of repair that addresses habits as things going beyond the skin, in and through different mediators that connect uneven events and places. To underpin, hence, is to ensure on the go a certain topology of habit: a habitality.

Published in Repair, Breakages, Breakthroughs: Ethnographic Responses (pp. 67–72). Oxford: Berghahn | PDF

Erfahren: Experimente mit technischer Demokratie in Entwurfskursen

Séverine Marguin, Henrike Rabe, Wolfgang Schäffner and Friedrich Schmidgall have recently edited a compilation in German featuring interesting and relevant work in different creative disciplines foregrounding modes of experimenting.

Titled Experimentieren. Einblicke in Praktiken und Versuchsaufbauten zwischen Wissenschaft und Gestaltung (published open access by Transcript Verlag) the scope of the book is as follows:

Forschen und Gestalten sind experimentelle Vorgehensweisen, die darauf ausgerichtet sind, etwas Neues, noch nicht Existierendes hervorzubringen. Sie haben beide Projektcharakter, denn sie führen an einen Nullpunkt des Wissens. Doch welche Strategien und Verfahren sind es, die aus diesem Nichtwissen, diesen Vermutungen und Ideen zu konkreten Ergebnissen führen?

ForscherInnen aus 23 Wissenschafts- und Gestaltungsdisziplinen berichten in diesem Band über ihr Experimentieren und geben Einblicke in ihre Praktiken und Versuchsaufbauten. Er bietet damit eine Bestandsaufnahme zeitgenössischer Experimentalkulturen im Spannungsfeld zwischen Wissenschaft und Gestaltung und skizziert eine Praxeologie des Experiments.

Ignacio Farías and I contribute to the volume with a chapter, where we adapt and translate into German some of the insights from our pedagogical experiments with technical democracy’ at the TU München’s Department of Architecture.

Erfahren: Experimente mit technischer Demokratie in Entwurfskursen

CC BY NC ND 2017 Design in Crisis 2: Coming to our senses (Sofia Ruíz, Irene Landa, Sophie Razaire, Emilie Charrier, Léo Godebout and Lambert Drapeau, Technische Universität München, 2017)


In diesem Aufsatz erzählen wir von pädagogischen Herausforderungen, denen wir an einem der größten deutschen Institute für Wissenschafts­ und Technikforschung (STS), dem 2013 an der Technischen Universität München gegründeten Munich Center for Technology in Society (MCTS), begegnet sind. Konzipiert als „integratives Forschungszentrum“ mit Lehrstühlen an verschiedenen Fakultäten, will das MCTS nicht nur verschiedene STS­Traditionen unter einem Dach zusammenbringen, sondern auch mit Formen der Kollaboration und Intervention in den Natur- und Technikwissenschaften experimentieren. Zwischen 2015 und 2018 lehrten wir an der Fakultät für Architektur, wo wir einen vom STS geprägten stadtanthropologischen Ansatz zu aktuellen Herausforderungen technischer Demokratisierung vertraten. Im Folgenden möchten wir experimentelle Strategien aufzeigen, die bei den Entwurfskursen für Masterstudierende der Architektur zum Einsatz kamen. Unsere Experimente hatten ein zentrales konzeptionelles Anliegen: die Bedeutung und die Möglichkeiten von technischer Demokratie für die Ausbildung zukünftiger EntscheidungsträgerInnen in Sachen gebaute Umwelt entfalten.

Published in Experimentieren. Vergleich experimenteller Kulturen in Wissenschaft und Gestaltung Repair (pp. 57-70). Bielefeld: Transcript | PDF

Can ANT be a form of activism?

Throughout the last couple of years Anders Blok, Ignacio Farias, and Celia Roberts have been editing The Routledge Companion to Actor-Network Theory.

As they conceived it, rather than as an hagiographic repetition of ANT ‘as is’, the companion has been crafted singularly so that each contribution shows and develops a question whereby ANT is mobilised, expanded, put to a test and taken further: In explorations and inquiries where all contributors have felt accompanied in different ways ‘near ANT’, as the editors describe in the introduction.

This companion explores Actor-Network Theory (ANT) as an intellectual practice, tracking its movements and engagements with a wide range of other academic and activist projects. Showcasing the work of a diverse set of ‘second generation’ ANT scholars from around the world, it highlights the exciting depth and breadth of contemporary ANT and its future possibilities. The companion has 38 chapters, each answering a key question about ANT and its capacities. Early chapters explore ANT as an intellectual practice and highlight ANT’s dialogues with other fields and key theorists. Others open critical, provocative discussions of its limitations. Later sections explore how ANT has been developed in a range of social scientific fields and how it has been used to explore a wide range of scales and sites. Chapters in the final section discuss ANT’s involvement in ‘real world’ endeavours such as disability and environmental activism, and even running a Chilean hospital. Each chapter contains an overview of relevant work and introduces original examples and ideas from the authors’ recent research. The chapters orient readers in rich, complex fields and can be read in any order or combination. Throughout the volume, authors mobilise ANT to explore and account for a range of exciting case studies: from wheelchair activism to parliamentary decision-making; from racial profiling to energy consumption monitoring; from queer sex to Korean cities. A comprehensive introduction by the editors explores the significance of ANT more broadly and provides an overview of the volume

In our contribution, Israel Rodríguez-Giralt and I mobilise the ANT-inspired repertoire of ‘activation’ to discuss not only how to study forms of collective action or techno-scientific activisms, but also–and mainly– ‘experimentally collaborative’ or ‘activated’ modes of research deriving from those engagements. Drawing from our several years long work together with the Spanish independent-living movement, and in particular with their activist explorations into the worlds of design, in our chapter we ask:

Can ANT be a form of activism?

CC BY SA 2011 Diversitat funcional BCN 15M


In this chapter we search to think with a concrete set of activist practices: the En torno a la silla collective, and in particular the research engagement afforded by its intense social and material explorations in the environmental intervention and remaking of wheelchair users and their surroundings. We characterize this particular form of research activism as ‘joint problem-making’: comprising a series of social and material interventions to problematize, transform, and account for the worlds being produced together with others. Building upon this, the chapter analyses the impact it had on us as researchers: or, to be more specific, on our ways of engaging ethnographically, and to consider how this might inspire the ‘experimentally collaborative’ or ‘activated’ ways in which ANT researchers might engage in other activist ecologies. Our hope is that in exploring our engagements with activism, ANT could become a more open and nonconformist research space: an ‘activated’ practice, problematizing in newer ways the relationship between description and action, exploring the manifold ways of being an analyst or a researcher that might be available when engaging in activist settings.

Published in The Routledge Companion to Actor-Network Theory (pp. 360–368). London: Routledge | PDF

The world/s at the ends of the city – Institutskolloquium, IfEE, summer semester 2019

It is our great pleasure to invite you all to the upcoming summer semester 2019 edition of the Institut für Europäische Ethnology’s (Humboldt-University of Berlin) Institutskolloquium (our departmental lecture series):

The world/s at the ends of the city

Explorations in urban and environmental anthropology

These public lecture series will take place each Tuesday 2-4pm (except otherwise stated, *) from April 9, 2019 until July 2, 2019 in the Room 0007 at Hausvogteiplatz 5-7 10117 Berlin. 

We would be really grateful if you could share it with anyone interested.

If you happen to be in Berlin any of those dates, don’t hesitate to come!

Organised by Ignacio Farías, Tomás Criado & Jörg Niewöhner


What if the city was not a world in itself, but an interface to multiple, overlapping, often invisible and conflicting worldings? That is, more or less powerful, more or less precarious ways of composing urban ecologies that sustain–and impede–forms of life. But also, what if those worldings were the end of the city as we have come to know it to date? This departmental lecture series wishes to explore the world/s at the ends of the city, giving this term a twofold sense:

• Firstly, the series pays attention to nonhuman worldly forces both shaping and challenging urban cohabitation. The challenges these forces bring with them lead us to explore the potential shape of an urban cosmopolitics in the Anthropocene. We are thus interested in understanding how organic and inorganic, geological, chemical and biological forces challenge our understanding of the city and the modes of operating in it.
• Secondly, we want to zoom into critical and experimental ecologies of practices un-doing and re-doing the city at the edges of habitability. That is, social movements but also movements or, rather, displacements of the social be they reclaiming infrastructures, apprehending or appropriating urban ecologies. We aim to explore what it could mean to rethink urbanism, in its constructive and moral/citizenship dimensions, from different kinds of engagements of human and nonhuman others. We aim to make visible arts of survival, inquiry, and design that unfold in the ruins of the city as a modern project of social integration through infrastructural connection.

The departmental lecture series ‘the world/s at the ends of the city’ will thus shed light onto what an urban politics might involve in the face of disruptive irruptions of both nonhuman and unruly forces through the boundaries, thresholds and interstices of urban worlds: that is, the spaces where what we call ‘the city’ not topographically, but mainly ontologically, ends. Exploring these ends is critical, especially considering that while in policy worlds cities are increasingly targeted as a key site to achieve a sustainable future, many other critical voices suggest we should dismiss the city as a useful analytical and political category. In this context, it seems crucial to articulate the discussion about worldly forces at the ends of the city with the question of the ends (telos) of our inquiries and interventions in urban worlds. At stake are not just the conceptual apparatuses to decenter the city, but most prominently the necessary re-articulation of the epistemic politics of an urban and environmental anthropology.

Three interrelated avenues of disciplinary reflection might shape our conversation: How to follow and immerse ourselves in the life of urban biomes, bees, microclimates, tsunamis, so that we can represent and give a voice to such urban actors? How to learn from the methods invented by different urban ecologies of practices and collectives to know, represent, intervene and engage with unknown worldly forces? How to collaborate with scientists and artists in the production of in/commensurable accounts of the world/s at the end of the city?


9. April | NaturenKulturen: Denkräume und Werkzeuge für neue politische Ökologien – Book Launch
Michi Knecht / Katrin Amelang (Uni Bremen). Commented by Tahani Nadim (MfN/HU Berlin)

16. April | Growing city surfaces: anthropology and the urban soil sciences
Germain Meulemans (EHESS, Paris)

23. April |The air as an end of the city?
Nerea Calvillo (CIM, Warwick)

30. April | Beyond Concrete: Imagination, Material Futures and Construction in Times of Ecological Crisis
Rachel Harkness (University of Edinburgh)

7. Mai | Integrating edible city solutions for socially resilient and sustainably productive cities
Ina Säumel (IRI THESys, HU Berlin)

14. Mai | Quer-denken – A cosmo-politics of urbanthropocene?
Anders Blok (University of Copenhagen) / Regina Römhild (HU Berlin) / Jörg Niewöhner (HU Berlin)

21. Mai | Ruderal City
Bettina Stoetzer (MIT)

28. Mai* | Violence and vigilance: on militarized sentience and phantasms of terror in Paris, France [*Sondertermin: 6-8pm c.t.]
Robert Desjarlais (Sarah Lawrence, NY)

4. Juni | Autonomia ethnographica: liberal designs, designs for liberation, and the liberation of design
Alberto Corsín Jiménez (CSIC, Madrid)

11. Juni | Low Tide: Submerged Humanism in a Colombian Port-City
Austin Zeiderman (LSE)

18. Juni | Re-imagining detoxification beyond the molecular register
Nick Shapiro (UCLA)

25. Juni | Quer-denken – Remaking the city: How to care?
Tomás Criado / Martina Klausner / Beate Binder (HU Berlin)

2. Juli* | Für eine Anthropologie des Urbanismus (inaugural lecture/Antrittsvorlesung) [*Sondertermin: 6-8pm c.t. am IfEE, Raum 408]
Ignacio Farías (HU Berlin)

For more information, please follow the events at IfEE’s FB channel

Technologies of friendship: Accessibility politics in the ‘how to’ mode

Thanks to the joyful invitation by Joanna Latimer & Daniel López–possibly two of the best editors in the planet, capable of hosting the nicest people and make all of us enjoy wonderful and lively debates–, I am honoured to take part in their absolutely flabbergasting Sociological Review monograph ‘Intimate Entanglements’ with an impressive line-up. Do not miss this one!

The monograph focuses on rethinking the relation between “the abstract and general connection between entanglement and knowledge-making by grounding it within specific socio­material relations”, proposing us to pay special attention to intimacy not as a category of the local and experiential as opposed to the scientific or universal. Instead, as the editors suggest, “by foregrounding what is often made invisible in extant accounts of how knowledge is done, the authors explore how a focus on affect restructures possibilities for more situated knowledge, that involves non-anthropocentric modes of relatedness in a wide range of substantive domains and communities of practice”.


My own humble contribution to this collective effort is a particular ode, entangling intimately with the practices and spaces of ‘mutual access’ we pried open when searching to inhabit En torno a la silla.

Technologies of friendship: Accessibility politics in the ‘how to’ mode


This text is an ethnographic account of a singular, Barcelona-based activist endeavour called En torno a la silla (ETS): a do-it-yourself and open design and making collective engaging in a very peculiar form of accessibility politics beyond a ‘disability rights’ framework. In it, I entangle intimately with ETS’s relational interventions, in the form of making and documentation processes. What animates me is a political engagement with the practice of ‘re-description’, paying attention to the singularity of what relational vocabularies and practices bring to the fore. In describing the context of its appearance, as well as several of the collective’s endeavours, I address ETS’s relational register. Rather than being a clear-cut activist group with the aim of materialising the ‘inclusion’ of ‘disabled people’ through ‘technical aids’, ETS engaged in producing what they called ‘technologies of friendship’: frail and careful material explorations opening up interstitial relational spaces of ‘mutual access’ between bodily diverse people. Through circulating tutorials, poetic accounts, digitally and in workshops and presentations, ETS’s technologies of friendship became also ways of addressing how relations can be materialised and reflexively described, making available in its wake ways to re-enact them. Thus it produced an inspiring ‘how to’ accessibility politics: a material-political concern with the speculative opening up and materialisation of conditions for the very happening of relations, relating at the hinges of unrelatability.

Published in the Sociological Review, 67 (2) 408–427 | PDF


This article has benefited from a series of kind spaces functioning as ‘technologies of friendship’ in themselves. I would here like to warmly thank: Isaac Marrero Guillamón and the 2016 Goldsmiths’ Anthropology ‘Research >< Practice’ seminar series; Gonzalo Correa and the 2016 MA in Social Psychology students at the Universidad de la República in Montevideo; Marisol de la Cadena and the attendees at a 2017 UC Davis ‘STS Food for Thought’ event; Joanna Latimer, Daniel López, and the commentators at the 2018 ‘Intimate Entanglements’ workshop in York; and a 2018 seminar of the CareNet group in Barcelona, all of whom greatly helped me finetune the article’s main ideas. I dedicate this account to my friends from En torno a la silla, in the hope that this could serve to bring ourselves closer to yet-to-be-found intimate others.

Nordic Design Research Society (Nordes) 2019 conference “Who cares?”- Keynote on ‘how to care’

The Nordic Design Research Society (Nordes) organises its 8th biannual conference next 3–4 June 2019 at the Aalto University in Helsinki (Finland), under the timely topic ‘Who cares?‘, whose call looks fantastic:

 What do, or should, we care about in design and design research today? Underpinning the question are issues of culture and agency – who cares, for whom, and how? Taking care, or being cared for, evokes the choice of roles, and processes of interaction, co-creation and even decision-making. Caring, as a verb, emphasizes care as intention, action and labor in relation to others. Care can be understood as concern for that beyond oneself, for others and, thus, human, societal and even material and ecological relations are at stake. The question of care is also a call for questioning relationships, participation and responsibility, democratic and sustainable ways of co-existing. From this expansive societal standpoint, we could even ask who cares about design? And what should we do about it? The 8th biennial Nordes conference poses the question, “Who cares?”, exploring related questions, issues and propositions concerning responsibilities, relationships, ways of doing and directing design today.


In the 2019 Nordes conference, we draw inspiration from notions of care as a lens through which to reflect upon and critique as well as potentially to refocus and redirect design and design research. Care might be understood in relation to philosophical lines of inquiry in other disciplines exploring theories, politics and ethics of care. Care might be understood concretely in relation to the ideals and infrastructures of welfare and healthcare systems, or service interactions. Care might be understood personally as a mindset seeking out what is meaningful for people, and for life, and with design as reflective and skilled action concerned with improving things and preferred situations.

Thanks to the generous invitation of the organising committee I will have the immense honour to act as one of the keynote speakers, contributing to one of the main themes of the conference: ‘How to care?’ (Care and care-ful materials, methods and processes in design and design research) – For this, I will be sharing my anthropological work on and my different modes of engagement with inclusive design.