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A Publics’ Anthropology: Setting Up Ecologies of Collective Speculation

Thanks to the gracious invitation by Gabriele Alex (Uni Tübingen), last April 12, 2024 I had the chance to give an online lecture at the Civis (Europe’s Civic University Alliance) “Social Sciences Going Public – Research and Practice with, in and for the Society” Summer School 2024.

I took the occasion to share my vision for what I have been calling not Public Anthropology but, rather, A Publics’ Anthropology!

A Publics’ Anthropology: Setting up ecologies of collective speculation

What does it mean to undertake anthropological work in contemporary domains populated by a wide variety of ‘publics’, ranging from technical experts to affected communities? Publics are perhaps the main collective condition of knowledge production and circulation in the contemporary: not just as media-provoked entities–e.g. the ‘public sphere’ or scientific and professional societies, connected through ‘publications’–, but also the many uncertain and emergent collectives that gather in different degrees of involvement under issues of concern, using a variety of mediums. As I see it, an anthropology aware of its public dimension should not just be one engaging in public criticism, but also, and perhaps mainly, one transformed by the very relation to publics, developing different forms of engagement and exploring different aims and effects. In my work, I have been inspired to do this in activist design endeavours with different kinds of urban agents. To discuss the different forms a publics’ anthropology might entail, in this session I’ll share with you two recent projects working with municipal actors setting up ecologies of collective speculation: the game Waste What?, an interdisciplinary team production as part of studying activist circular economy projects in Berlin, searching to simulate the conundrums of these initiatives as well as provoke a reflection on their predicaments; and the Department of Umbrology, a collective speculative experiment equipping a proto-municipal division to inquire on the social dimensions of heat mitigation projects, in the hope that his might sensitise technical professionals to consider the social in the plural.

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