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

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.

Public Lecture Series of the Center for Metropolitan Studies (TU Berlin) – WiSe 2018/2019 “Technologies of the City”

I am particularly happy to take part in this Winter Semester’s Public Lecture Series of the Center for Metropolitan Studies (TU Berlin), under the theme “Technologies of the City”.

Hence, next February 5th 2019 I will be presenting the following talk:

Infrastructure as ‘the people’: The social-technocracy of Barcelona’s accessible sidewalk standards

Disability rights activists have for a long time advocated for cities hospitable to bodily difference: de-stigmatizing, enabling, and supportive of their bodily diversity. Since the 1970s protests, many cities of the Global North have developed processes to sensitize architects, engineers, and civil servants so that such environments could be made to exist, creating the conditions for urban infrastructures to embody concrete arrangements of ‘sidewalk democracy.’ Drawing from archival, interview and observational work in the city of Barcelona, I would like to show different attempts at this: from the instalment of ‘free-barrier’ policies and architectural standards to more contemporary problematizations around ‘cultural’ and ‘multisensory’ approaches. Grounding on STS and Anthropology works, I would like to provide an account of the particular ‘infrastructural style’ of these undertakings, and the challenge it poses: or how a de-stigmatizing agenda is predated by its very mode of implementation.

To exemplify, I would like to reflect on the ways in which the city’s accessible sidewalks and crossings have been made and implemented to stand as infrastructures for ‘the people’. First, I will delineate the participatory governance processes–involving several representatives and associative movements of people with disabilities–through which the system of ‘urban elements’, including accessible sidewalks, was developed by the city hall. Second, I will show recent civic, techno-legal and techno-political controversies that have arisen after the enactment of a newer state-wide regulation, entailing an alternative sidewalk configuration: this will allow me to pay special attention to a ‘shared streets’ implementation in the iconic Passeig de Gràcia, which created as a response a united front of disability rights activists self-denominated ‘streets for all’, whose articulate demands were put on hold because ‘a technical solution was needed’.

In paying attention to the contested modes of composing those accessible urban infrastructures, I would like to analyze the relational architectures there arising, also reflecting on the challenges they pose to urban democracy. Even though the aspiration is openly and overtly social-democratic–these infrastructures standing for an aspiration to achieve an inclusive society for all, undoing and reworking the stigma of bodily diversity–, I call this infrastructure of public space and mobility an instance of ‘social technocracy’. In order to democratically respond to the many social demands of different stigmatized collectives and activist initiatives wishing to further use the city and move around, the only available strategy is a very paradoxical one: to produce an expert-managed, materially sealed, and procedurally closed-down to public scrutiny type of urban infrastructure. Rather tragically, in seeking to provide urban infrastructures and practices to tackle with manifold forms bodily stigma and social cohesion, newer versions of ‘inclusive exclusion’ are invented, of technocratic origin. Or, put otherwise, the material mode of expression and urban articulation of these political aspirations foregrounds infrastructures as ‘the people’. Against this background, alternative politicizations around accessibility, both intra- and extra-institutional might show us a way through: how, rather than engaging in classic political contestation, a technical democratization of these urban infrastructures is needed to avoid redoubling technocratically the harsh effects of stigma.

Antropologia de les Infraestructures i les Mobilitats – GRECS (UB)

El próximo viernes 9 de noviembre Roger Sansi organiza en Barcelona unas jornadas bien interesantes sobre antropología de las infraestructuras y la movilidad. Gracias a su amable invitación, ahí estaré andaré presentando mi trabajo más reciente sobre las infraestructuras accesibles de la ciudad de Barcelona.

Dejo por aquí el programa:


Universitat de Barcelona, Facultat de Geografia i Historia, Aula 411

C.Montalegre 6, Barcelona.

9 de novembre 2018

10.45. Presentació  

11.00 Infrastructuring urban mobility: Discipline, culture and a tramway construction in Cuenca, Ecuador. Sam Rume, Universitat de Barcelona

11.30  ‘Baka Motility and Fascia: Mobilities, Infrastructures and Moving-Sensing Bodies’. Doerte Weig, Movement Research | Lancaster University, UK

12.00  Infrastructure as ‘the people’.The relational architecture of Barcelona’s accessible sidewalk standards. Tomás Criado, Humboldt-University of Berlin

12. 30  Infra-demos: Infrastructures and democracy in Greece Dimitris Dalakoglou, Vrije University Amsterdam

13.00 Discussió i debat general, a càrrec de Roger Sansi, Universitat de Barcelona GRECS

3. 00 La infrastructura de la supervivencia urbana. Chatarreros senegaleses en las calles de Barcelona Mauricio Chemás, Universidad del Valle /Universitat de Barcelona GRECS

3.30  Las formas de lo informal. Estampas etnográficas de un garage klando en Ziguinchor, Baja Casamance (Senegal). Marta Contijoch, Universitat de Barcelona GRECS

4. 00 Aproximación antropológica a la infraestructura central del transporte en la Baja Casamance: la Gare Routière de Ziguinchor. Romina Martínez Algueró, Universitat de Barcelona GRECS

4.30 Discussió i debat a càrrec de Pedro Jose Sanchez, Université de Paris Ouest, Nanterre

5. 00 Aproximació panoràmica al marc general del desenvolupament contemporani d’infrastructures bàsiques a Cap Verd (Àfrica). Gerard Horta, Universitat de Barcelona GRECS

5.30 Fitzcarraldo al Sàhara: les vicissituds del telefèric d’Ifni. Alberto Lopez Bargados, Universitat de Barcelona GRECS

6.00 Discussió i debat a carrec de Manuel João Ramos, ISCTE-IUL Lisboa.

Per més informació :