Anthropology as a Careful Design Practice?

As part of the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the Zeitschrift für Ethnologie (Journal of the DGSKA – German Association for Social and Cultural Anthropology) Kristina Mashimi, Thomas Stodulka, Hansjörg Dilger, Anita vonPoser, Dominik Mattes and Birgitt Röttger-Rössler curated a plenary in the DGSKA 2019 in Konstanz titled ‘Envisioning Anthropological Futures‘ in which I had the honour to join a conversation with inspiring colleagues Janina Kehr, Sandra Calkins, and Michaela Haug.

Later, our contributions compiled into a manuscript for a special section of the ZfE that has recently appeared as part of the Zeitschrift für Ethnologie/Journal of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 145 – 2020, 1.


As the editors argue in their introduction:

“The contributions in this special section discuss the challenges, tensions, and prospects of doing anthropology today: How do we position ourselves as anthropologists in a time that is marked by the rise of populist and fascist movements, climate crisis, and related environmental disasters? How do we respond to highly unequal processes of social inclusion and exclusion? How can we not only describe but also contribute to an imagination of the horizons of possibility amidst capitalist ruins (Tsing 2015)? Or in other words: What is the role of anthropology in not only representing but maybe also envisioning and shaping alternative futures? Although anthropology has been entangled with geopolitical issues ever since its inception, our current “troubled times” (Stoller 2017) have brought the political back to center stage within the discipline (Postero and Elinoff 2019). They have also provoked many anthropologists to rethink the conventional descriptive or critical practices of our field and to reflect on new ways of engaged and activist anthropology (Low and Merry 2010; Huschke 2015) – or in other words, on the role of anthropology in carving out and shaping spaces that offer alternatives to dominant socio-economic arrangements, characterized by growing inequalities” (p.15)


Kristina Mashimi, Thomas Stodulka, Hansjörg Dilger, and Anita von Poser (2020) Introduction: Envisioning Anthropological Futures (and Provincializing their Origins)

In my contribution, I speculate on the possible futures for anthropological practice that might open up when, rather than studying or collaborating in corporate or professional design activities, we undertake anthropology as a careful design practice: to envision a future – for anthropology and beyond – there is perhaps no other way than to pry open the un- certain, but also deeply asymmetric and expertocratic conditions of the present. For this, we may need to place at the very core of our anthropological endeavours a critical desire to design conditions for opening up to a plurality of knowledge platforms, so as to heighten our joint arts of learning how to know and live with one another. A careful practice to undo the conditions of those whose actions have the potential to be harmful. Drawing from this, and if anthropology wants to contribute to more careful modes of togetherness, so that diverging and plural worlds can thrive, perhaps we need to envision ways of engaging with design, not just through superbly written stories with a critical or conceptual twist, but also learning to affect it ‘from within’ its own practices.

My appreciation goes to the editors for their kind invitation, and for pushing me to clarify my arguments. Many thanks to Ignacio Farías and Ester Gisbert for the mutual inspiration in envisioning pedagogic avenues for anthropology to be relevant in architectural worlds. Also, thanks to Francisco Martínez, Daniela Rosner and Janina Kehr, who commented on versions of the manuscript at various stages.

Anthropology as a Careful Design Practice?

How can we envision the future of anthropology in the present times of crisis, when the social as we knew it, and the conventional descriptive and critical practices of our discipline may no longer be adequate? Here I tentatively draw on work at the crossroads of design, where the future can be reclaimed as a disciplinary concern for anthropology. Design has recently become a significant source of methodological and political inspiration for our discipline to take part in the materialisation of alternative forms of world-making. Yet, as design is not a unitary field, I will particularly dwell on how I have re-learnt and experimented with what being an anthropologist might mean in encounters with urban accessibility design activism. In these careful explorations I have found not only an inspiring field of inquiry within knowledge politics, but also a relevant domain for interventions seeking to create technical democracy. Describing a particular case of how I became ‘activated’ by this design activism – drawing inspiration from their practices for teaching future architects – I speculate on the possible futures for anthropological practice that might open up when, rather than studying or collaborating in corporate or professional design activities, we undertake anthropology as a careful design practice.

Published as Criado, T.S. (2021). Anthropology as a Careful Design Practice. ZfE | JSCA 145 (2020): 47–70 | PDF

Uncommoning the city | Hacer la ciudad poco común

Guillermo Fernández-Abascal and Urtzi Grau recently edited the bilingual compilation Coches, humanos y bordillos, aprendiendo a vivir juntos | Learning to Live Together: Cars, Humans, and Kerbs in Solidarity, which has just been published by Bartlebooth. A volume on the conflicts and possibilities of new more or less digital forms of city-making and urban life.

Contribuciones de / Contributions by Ibiye Camp, Brendan Cormier, Noortje Marres, Hamish McIntosh, Simone C. Niquille / Technoflesh, Marina Otero Verzier, Tomás Sánchez Criado, Brenton Alexander Smith, Lara Lesmes + Fredrik Hellberg (Space Popular), Liam Young.

[ES] Viviremos todos juntos, eso es inevitable. Pero la llegada de los vehículos autónomos al entorno urbano plantea otra cuestión urgente: ¿cómo se integrarán estos coches sin conductor en la vida cotidiana? Las industrias tecnológicas y del automóvil que desarrollan estos vehículos también están diseñando el futuro de nuestras ciudades. Sus visiones muestran calles que incorporan tecnologías autónomas y donde los humanos deambulan, despreocupados, por un espacio público donde máquinas automatizadas circulan a alta velocidad. Estas visiones se proyectan en un tiempo lejano, y al hacerlo, ignoran las cuestiones que la llegada de estos vehículos plantean en el futuro inmediato.

En respuesta a tal descuido, este ensayo, y las reflexiones que lo acompañan, exploran los conflictos inminentes asociados a esta tecnología y como estos transformaran nuestras calles, con una hipótesis en mente: el despliegue de la tecnología sin conductor, rápida y disruptiva, no conlleva una solución urbana integrada, más bien plantea preguntas y exige imaginar como responderlas. Este libro identifica algunas, responde a otras y, sobre todo, imagina cómo humanos y maquinas podrán influir en las decisiones sobre el ecosistema urbano, colectivamente.

[EN] We are on the verge of sharing our cities with autonomous vehicles. Recent developments in driverless technologies are having an impact on our urban environment, raising questions about how self-driving vehicles could be integrated into our daily lives. Automotive and technological industries are not only developing the vehicles but also envisioning the future of our cities, a future where streets have seamlessly integrated driverless technologies and humans wander about, unconcerned by the presence of new automated machines circulating at high speeds through public space. These visions skip to a distant time and ignore the issues that these vehicles raise in the immediate future.

In response to such an oversight, this essay and the accompanying meditations explore the conflicts soon to be unleashed by this new technology and the transformation of our streets it will trigger. The current implementations of driverless technology, which are fast and disruptive, do not suggest an eventual integrated urban solution. Yet this book allows us to imagine how humans and cars might collectively influence the urban environment.

In my contribution to the volume I share a provocation on the project of urban unification of ‘smart city’ initiatives: What if rather than trying to contribute to urban unity, contemporary urban planners and designers relearnt, through different techniques and procedures (algorithmic, sensor-based, DIY or otherwise), to be affected by an uncommon city? In other words, the processes whereby cities are treated not as places of homogeneity but of divergence.

Published as Criado, T.S. (2021). Uncommoning the city | Hacer la ciudad poco común. In G. Fernández-Abascal & U. Grau (Eds.), Aprendiendo a vivir juntos: Solidaridad entre humanos, coches y bordillos / Learning to Live Together: Cars, Humans, and Kerbs in Solidarity (pp. 123-130). A Coruña: Bartlebooth | PDF EN & PDF ES

Online talk at the STIS, Edinburgh > Presenting the ‘An Uncommon City’ book project (April 12, 2021)

Next Monday 12th April 15:00-16:00 (GMT) I will be presenting my book project ‘An Uncommon City: Bodily Diversity and the Activation of Possible Urbanisms’ at the Science, Technology and Innovation Studies (STIS) online seminar of the University of Edinburgh.


Abstract: In this presentation I would like to discuss with you a book project on what I am calling ‘an uncommon city.’ The book is an anthropological exploration of bodily diversity and its impact in the material and knowledge politics of city-making. Drawing on field and archival work of independent-living and disability rights movements, paying attention in particular to their urban accessibility struggles as well as their pedagogic interventions in the training of architects, city planners, and designers (with materials mostly from Barcelona, but also from Munich), I trace a wealth of activist initiatives caring for an epistemic, material and political activation of urban design. These initiatives have or had at their core the production of singular situations—made out of policy documents and building codes, infrastructures and standards, collaborative design processes and prototypes, and manifold sensitising devices and documentation interfaces—through which designing technologies, urban landscapes or institutions and political spaces is to be attempted from the appreciation and articulation of bodily diversity: from the demographic identification of bodily patterns to the invention of inclusive and universal design, also connecting with the contested history of urban accessibility struggles, or the perpetual emergence of many access issues in contemporary forms of city-making where bodily diversity appears as the main concern to address by different actors. In particular, the book wishes to unfold three ways – (i) activating prototypes, (ii) activating public infrastructures, and (iii) activating design studio projects – in which a concern with bodily diversity mobilises the uncommon prospects of the city, opening up other possible urbanisms.

Join on your computer or mobile app: Click here to join the meeting (Teams link)

Ensamblajes peatonales: Los andares a ciegas como prácticas tecno-sensoriales

Nuevo artículo publicado en AIBR, Revista de Antropología Iberoamericana junto a Marcos Cereceda.

Ensamblajes peatonales: Los andares a ciegas como prácticas tecno-sensoriales

Resumen

¿Cómo andan y cruzan las calles las personas ciegas? Esa es la pregunta, solo aparentemente sencilla, que hemos abordado a partir de un estudio etnográfico en la encrucijada de la Antropología Sensorial y los Estudios de Ciencia y Tecnología (STS) realizado en los últimos seis años en la ciudad de Barcelona. En él hemos seguido a diferentes activistas por los derechos de la diversidad visual en su cotidianidad, así como en sus trabajos de politización de las infraestructuras urbanas. A partir de una atención a la agencia múltiple y distribuida que equipa e in/habilita modos de desplazarse por la ciudad, esta pregunta nos permite describir la complejidad corporal, social, material y técnica que encierra este vulgar acto cotidiano. Nuestra indagación gira en torno a dos elementos principales: (a) la descripción de prácticas sensoriales para caminar a ciegas y (b) la descripción y examen del papel que juegan conjuntos de elementos no-humanos (animales y tecnológicos) que conforman el «equipamiento» para andar a ciegas. Profundizando el giro material y corporal de la antropología urbana sobre las realidades y prácticas de los peatones, transeúntes o flâneurs, en el presente trabajo queremos resaltar la importancia de prestar atención a los ensamblajes peatonales y las prácticas tecno-sensoriales que habilitan particulares desplazamientos: unos ensamblajes que en lugar de una ciudad hecha para el encuentro indiferente entre distintos sujetos, nos muestran una ecología compleja de soportes y acompañamientos para acoger la diversidad corporal.

Publicado en AIBR. Revista de Antropología Iberoamericana, 16(1), 165 – 190 (junto con Marcos Cereceda, 2021) | DOI: 10.11156/aibr.160108 | PDF

Towards a multimodal urban anthropology (DGSKA 2021, workshop)

Together with Ignacio Farías we are convening the workshop Towards a multimodal urban anthropology for the upcoming biannual conference of the German Association of Social and Cultural Anthropology (DGSKA-Tagung 2021, “Worlds, Zones, Atmospheres. Seismographies of the Anthropocene”) that will take place September 27-30, 2021 at the University of Bremen.

Open for submissions. Deadline: 15 February 2021

Flying City CC BY Maasaak 2014

Towards a multimodal urban anthropology

More-than-human approaches in urban anthropology have convincingly contributed to rethinking the plurality of modes of knowledge, the assemblages and the kinds of actors that constitute our cities. But what do these conceptual interventions do to our ethnographic modes of inquiry? This workshop starts from the assumption that beyond a change in conceptual repertoires, decentering the all-too-human object of urban anthropology might require a multimodal transformation of our ethnographic practices, in at least two ways:
Firstly, since the ‘observation’ of more-than-human entanglements requires more than taking part in social situations, what are the conditions in which we could appreciate and learn to be affected, attuned and concerned with a wide variety of phenomena and processes, ranging from atmospheric and ecological to multi-species and/or socio-technical? How would our practices of note-taking and field-working be affected? In contexts where fieldwork becomes an active co-production of situations, we invite contributions reflecting on multimodal transformations of fieldnotes, practices of rapport / friendship / interlocution and correspondence. Secondly, to the extent that these often-experimental collaborations involve more-than-textual devices for ethnographic description and conceptualization, we would like to explore the anthropological potentials of current displacements of the media and modalities of ethnographic accounts. In a context where collaborations with art and design are becoming a common practice, we particularly welcome contributions that reflect on the intervention these devices entail for the project of urban anthropology.

E-mail: stadtlabor AT hu-berlin.de

Care in Trouble: Ecologies of Support from Below and Beyond

In 2018-2019, my colleague Vincent Duclos and I worked on different versions of an essay that was given green light by the Medical Anthropology Quarterly last August and has now been included in the 34(2) issue. It was 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.

**

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

Abstract

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 as Duclos, V., & Criado, T. S. (2020). Care in Trouble: Ecologies of Support from Below and Beyond. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 34(2), 153–173 | PDF

‘Welfarocene’ or ‘Medicene’? A provocation to rethink the future of care

DGSKA 2019 Konstanz – Plenary ‘Envisioning Anthropological Futures’

Under the theme ‘The End of Negotiations? / Das Ende der Aushandlungen?‘ the DGSKA (German Association of Social and Cultural Anthropology) celebrated it’s 2019 conference from September 29th till October 2nd at the Universität Konstanz.

Kristina Mashimi and Thomas Stodulka (on behalf of the DGSKA board) organised and moderated the following plenary session, to which they invited some of us “mid-career scholars” – Janina Kehr (Universität Bern), Sandra Calkins (FU Berlin), Michaela Haug (Universität zu Köln) and yours truly – to envision anthropological futures departing from our own experiences engaging in public, inter and transdisciplinary settings, their epistemic and methodological opportunities and limitations.

Below you could find further information on the session, as well as links to the videos / audio files of our interventions. Hope you enjoy it.

Plenary session IV: Envisioning anthropological futures

Tuesday, 1.10.2019, 9.00-11.00h, Audimax

In the wake of political, economic, and ecological transformations of the contemporary world, and the far-reaching impact of digitalization and mediatization, social and cultural anthropologists are challenged to continuously rethink their theoretical, methodological, and professional practices. Not only are they required to respond to the emerging topical challenges of globalizing, postcolonial research settings by engaging the expertise from other social science and humanities’ disciplines, the wider field of area studies, and the natural and health sciences. They also face growing expectations from their interlocutors, funding organizations, and their immediate professional environments in regard to shifting standards of research ethics and data management, the engagement in various modes of collaborative research, and meeting their responsibilities to society and the public.

This plenary assembles presentations from 4-5 early to mid-career scholars who discuss the challenges and tensions they face when doing anthropology today. They will outline their visions for future positionings of the discipline regarding its epistemological and methodological opportunities and limitations in inter- and transdisciplinary research settings. Furthermore, the panelists will discuss the discipline’s engagement in academic teaching and the move towards open access publishing, as well as its intervention in public debates. As a forum for innovation, the plenary session is less concerned with systematic reviews of previous disciplinary discussions than with the articulation of future visions for practice and collaboration in and beyond the context of anthropology (or, in the German-speaking context, Ethnologie or Sozial- und Kulturanthropologie). The contributions will be published in the upcoming 150th anniversary issue of the Zeitschrift für Ethnologie (ZfE, 2019) which will be edited collectively by the DGSKA board and is due to appear in time for the 2019 conference.

Videos / Audio files

Janina Kehr (Universität Bern): Crafting the Otherwise in Medicine and Anthropology

Tomás Criado (HU Berlin): Anthropology as a careful design practice?

Sandra Calkins (FU Berlin): Writing planetary futures: Plants, loss, and intersections of STS and anthropology in Germany

Michaela Haug (Universität zu Köln): Looking into the future through the lens of hope: environmental change, diverse hopes and the challenge of engagement

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

Rationale

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?

Programme

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