The Pharmakon of Collaboration > Access & Tinkering: Designing Assistive Technologies as Political Practice

Thanks to the organisers for their invitation to this super-workshop on Access & Tinkering: Designing Assistive Technologies as Political Practice organised by the DFG-funded Dis-/Abilities – Nicht-/Behinderung und Medien im Kontext der Digitalisierung | Dis/abilities and Digital Media network.

There I will present on Friday 17, 2021 at 1:30pm-3:00pm CET at paper I am working on with Israel Rodríguez Giralt, called “The Pharmakon of Collaboration: Activating Research with the Independent Living Forum” (Chaired by Anna-Lena Wiechern).

Abstract

In this paper, we think with a concrete set of research practices afforded by a long and intense exploration of independent-living activism in Spain. At that time of the main indignados mobilisations in 2011, we started a collective research project on the topic. In an explicit gesture towards forms of ‘emancipatory research’ (Oliver, 1992), the project was conceived from the onset including different activist members in its advisory board, as co-researchers. We aimed to prevent researchers from ‘speaking for the other’ (Ruby, 1992) and to create instances of friction and shared reflection. 

In the course of these years we attempted to practice a wide variety of modes of research ‘speaking nearby’ (Minh-ha, 1992) if not explicitly ‘with’ them: hence engaging in a wide variety of collaborative forms of research with actors that were always treated as ‘epistemic partners’. Building on this, the paper analyses the impact this exploration had on us as researchers: or, to be more specific, on our ways of engaging with independent living activism, and to consider how this might inspire our ‘experimentally collaborative’ or ‘activated’ ways to engage in other activist settings (Estalella & Criado, 2018). For instance, we will describe how we were activated to share common spaces of discussion and debate or even presentation (in scholarly and activist workshops but also in academic events), plunging in ‘joint problem-making’: that is, collaboratively engaging in exploratory material and textual undertakings, such as in the collective En torno a la silla, attempting environmental interventions and remakings of wheelchair users and their surroundings. 

Far from telling a ‘happy’ or ‘utopian’ tale, we wish to remain attentive to the affordances as much the problems this collaborative research activation brought and opened up. For this, we will draw from Stengers’s conceptual work around the pharmakon–an ambivalent entity that for the Greeks oscillated between a drug and a poison, depending on doses, components, modes of preparation and administration. Following her concern to remain attentive to the practicalities of different research devices and tell technical stories “about the kinds of traps that each had to escape, constraints the importance of which had to be recognized” (Stengers, 2015: 132), we would like to close reflecting about the impact these collaborative undertakings had on us and on the people we were working with; and how this experience might contribute to (re)assess collaborative and engaged research from its frictions.

Workshop

By drawing on STS, Crip Technoscience (Hamraie/Fritsch 2019) and approaches from participatory design research and practice, this event discusses body-technology relations from inter-, transdisciplinary and cross-cultural perspectives. We argue in favor of extending the concept of materiality beyond the borders of the physical object to include practices and relations and consequently, want to question common concepts of norm, normality, and normativity. Because these notions are not only entangled with artefacts but also with their design and the practices they involve, which include bodies embedded in historical, cultural, infrastructural and institutional contexts. Thus, they can be considered situated (Haraway 1988). As a result, questions and demands for inclusion and social participation, too, become virulent (Star 2017, 1999; Winner 1980) and have been problematized as politics of assistive artefacts (Mills 2012). In sum, we propose to re/frame technology and body (differences) as interacting entities within societies.

The event aims to think critically through a theoretical framework in the context of dis/abilities that recognizes assistive technologies as political as well as situated interconnections. On this basis, we endorse to reflect on infrastructures of design for questions of inclusion and participation – cross-cultural, inter- and transdisciplinary. Reflecting on open source practices in medical and assistive technologies (e.g. 3D printing) will allow us to question the effects of heterogeneous interests, economic implications and everyday affordances of socio-material assemblages produced within the frameworks of participatory design research.

Organized by

Tom Bieling (Hamburg), Melike Şahinol (Istanbul), Anna-Lena Wiechern (Lüneburg), Robert Stock (Berlin)

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)

Civilising technologies for an ageing society? The performativity of participatory methods in Socio-gerontechnology

For the past couple of years Alexander Peine, Barbara L. Marshall, Wendy Martin and Louis Neven have been editing the book Socio-Gerontechnology. Interdisciplinary Critical Studies of Ageing and Technology. Its main aim is to outline a new academic field called “socio-gerontechnology.” As they state:

the book explores how ageing and technology are already interconnected and constantly being intertwined in Western societies. Topics addressed cover a broad variety of socio-material domains, including care robots, the use of social media, ageing-in-place technologies, the performativity of user involvement and public consultations, dementia care and many others. Together, they provide a unique understanding of ageing and technology from a social sciences and humanities perspective and contribute to the development of new ontologies, methodologies and theories that might serve as both critique of and inspiration for policy and design.

In all likelihood the book will turn into the ultimate compilation of works at the crossroads of Ageing Studies and STS.

With my long-time friend and colleague Daniel López we’ve had the immense luck to take part writing one of the chapters (our thanks to the editors for the invitation, and for their insights in the writing process).

Looking back at our involvement in the EFORTT project, our contribution is titled:

Civilising technologies for an ageing society? The performativity of participatory methods in Socio-gerontechnology

Given the importance of participatory methods in gerontechnology – especially to prevent the uncritical reproduction of discriminatory imaginaries in technological development – the lack of appreciation of how these methods can contribute to socio-material configurations of age and technology is striking. Inspired by the semiotic-material study of methods, this chapter provides a detailed account of how participation and public engagement were performed in a project on telecare both authors were involved in between 2008 and 2011. We show how the ‘civilising’ endeavour of this project was undertaken through the creation of two different instances of participation: in the first, representatives, experts and policymakers were enacted as stakeholders, in the second, end-users (older people and caregivers) were enacted as concerned citizens with telecare as a public issue. In foregrounding the realities enacted in the performance of these methods we emphasise, in conclusion, the need to address the materialisations of later life and technology, which these participatory methods help bring to the fore in Socio-gerontechnological developments.

Published as López Gómez, D. & Criado, T.S. (2021). Civilising technologies for an ageing society? The performativity of participatory methods in Socio-gerontechnology. In A. Peine, B.L. Marshall, W. Martin and L. Neven (Eds.), Socio-Gerontechnology. Interdisciplinary Critical Studies of Ageing and Technology (pp. 85-98). London: Routledge | PDF

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

Caring for intervention: Anthropology in multimodal design experiments > EE Forschungskolloquium Würzburg

Prof. Dr. Michaela Fenske and Isabella Kölz M.A. have invited me to join their interesting Forschungskolloquium WS 20/21 of the Lehrstuhl für Europäische Ethnologie/Volkskunde, Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, titled: “Lebenswelten gestalten. Neue Forschungszugänge einer Anthropologie des Designs

On November 19 at 6pm, I’ll be joining them to talk about a series of experiments in multimodal anthropology from my own ethnographic engagements in a wide variety of exploratory and speculative design milieus where care, openness and playfulness are vindicated as part of their attempts at articulating alternative modes of togetherness: what kind of anthropological practice can we learn from them, how do they teach us other ways of caring for intervention?

Gastvorträge

19.11.20 „Caring for intervention: Anthropology in multimodal design experiments” Tomás Sánchez Criado, Berlin | Zoom:  https://uni-wuerzburg.zoom.us/j/97756213954?pwd=SmtDd2JkK2JNUVNsVWZIQ1d2WGliUT09

03.12.20 „Aussortieren. Design Anthropologie des Alltags” Heike Derwanz, Oldenburg | Zoom: https://uni-wuerzburg.zoom.us/j/92100176369?pwd=aDBodS9OZnE1MW00V3JaTUl0azRXdz09


10.12.20 „Design – von der Idee zur Umsetzung. Beispiele aus der Praxis der Ausstellungsgestaltung“   Claudia Frey, Würzburg |                     Zoom: https://uni-wuerzburg.zoom.us/j/99973001306?pwd=ZGZTM2lURUx5VmFmNlJRZWVwT2J6QT09


17.12.20 „Dinge am Lebensende“ – eine designanthropologische Studie“ Francis Müller & Bitten Stetter, Zürich | Zoom: https://uni-wuerzburg.zoom.us/j/95172005633?pwd=dkdWNHdOUzhkRzR5emw5bEZxcCsyUT09


28.01.21 Gespräch auf der Grauen Couch Lioba Keller-Drescher & Gudrun König, Münster/Dortmund | Venue: Gebäude PH1, Hubland Süd, Hörsaal 1, Lehrstuhl für Europäische Ethnologie/Volkskunde, Am Hubland, 97074 Würzburg

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

Constitutional graffiti: Emergent landscapes of Corona protest in German cities

(French version below)

Munich, Germany – Only seldom do constitutional debates take the streets. However, these bureaucratically heated disputes–regularly discussed in the secluded spaces of courts–sometimes catch media attention and stir political debate. After the implementation of stark public health measures to fight against the expansion of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic in Germany, a mounting controversy has opened up in the last weeks. Federal states like Bavaria have issued public space use guidelines to prevent the virus to spread: these recommend not only a safety distance of 1,5m, but also include bans affecting many institutions and big shops, which have closed or been reduced to essential-mode only; in the streets and parks groups of only 3 people are allowed, with the sole exception of larger groups living in the same household. When appreciated in a comparative gaze, these measures are far less strict than most of the neighboring EU countries. However, different political factions in Germany consider that they affect the rights of free protest and the freedom of assembly.

In the last weeks there have been scattered protests all over the country, having some support across the political spectrum, against what some have called a ‘Demoverbot’ (ban of demonstrations). Some wonder: What should go first, fundamental rights or health? The debate, of course, takes different connotations, left or right. And there are different expressions related to it. Some weeks ago, a man was photographed in Karlsruhe carrying a makeshift book copy of the Constitution tied to his back. On May Day several ‘Spontis’ (spontaneous demonstrations) took the streets in the popular districts of Berlin in protest for the ban. Walking by the Isar – Munich’s river – some days ago, I found another modality: a graffiti fight painted on the pavement in a bike lane from the green spaces running parallel to the water in the Glockenbachviertel’s embankment. A collision of political views in yellow and white. In yellow someone had painted a statement whereby ‘Corona’ came to stand as the ‘Demoverbot’ in itself. In white, someone felt compelled to correct this: ‘Corona’, that person thought, is a ‘virus’, whereas ‘capitalism’ would be ‘the problem.’

[FR] Munich, Allemagne – Il est rare que les débats constitutionnels se déroulent dans la rue. Malgré tout, il arrive que ces disputes bureaucratiques de haute volée — habituellement réservées aux espaces confinés des tribunaux — attirent l’attention des médias et suscitent un débat politique. Ces dernières semaines, après la mise en œuvre de mesures de santé publique draconiennes pour lutter contre l’expansion de la pandémie de SRAS-CoV-2 en Allemagne, une controverse grandissante a émergé. Des États fédéraux comme la Bavière ont publié des directives sur l’usage de l’espace public pour empêcher le virus de se propager : celles-ci recommandent non seulement que soit respectée une distance de sécurité d’1,5 mètre, mais comprennent également des interdictions touchant de nombreuses institutions et de grands magasins, dont la plupart ont fermés ou ont été réduits à un service minimum ; dans les rues et dans les parcs, seuls les groupes de 3 personnes sont autorisés, à l’exception des collectifs pour peu nombreux qui vivent sous le même toit. Lorsqu’on les compare, ces mesures sont beaucoup moins strictes que dans la plupart des pays voisins de l’UE. Cependant, différentes factions politiques en Allemagne considèrent qu’elles affectent les droits de manifestation et la liberté de réunion. 

Au cours des dernières semaines, quelques manifestations ont été organisées dans le pays, avec un certain soutien de l’ensemble du spectre politique, contre ce que certains ont appelé un « Demoverbot » (une interdiction de manifester). On s’interroge : qu’est-ce qui devrait passer en premier, les droits fondamentaux ou la santé ? Le débat, bien sûr, prend différentes connotations, à gauche ou à droite. Et différentes expressions y sont associées. Il y a quelques semaines, un homme a été photographié à Karlsruhe avec un exemplaire de la constitution fait maison attaché dans le dos. Le 1er mai, plusieurs « Spontis » (cortèges spontanés de protestation) sont descendus dans les rues des quartiers populaires de Berlin pour contester l’interdiction. En me promenant le long de la rivière Isar-Munich, j’ai découvert il y a quelques jours une autre modalité d’expression : un combat de graffitis peints sur une piste cyclable du Glockenbachviertel, au niveau des espaces verts qui longent l’eau. Une confrontation de points de vue politiques en jaune et blanc. En blanc, quelqu’un avait peint une équation dans laquelle le « Corona » se substituait au « Demoverbot ». En jaune, quelqu’un s’est senti obligé d’en rectifier les termes : Le « Corona », selon cette personne, est un « virus », tandis que le « capitalisme » serait « le problème » (kindly translated by Jérôme Denis)

Publication and rationale

This short picture & text is a guest contribution to Scriptopolis (11 May 2020), the wonderful archive documenting material approaches to writing phenomena curated by Marie Alauzen, Jérôme Denis, David Pontille & Didier Torny.

Although the brief accompanying text provides contextual info on the picture, some relevant phenomena (like the 9pm clapping & the vast support of the measures) are obviously missing in this attempt at charting out landscapes of protest in German cities under Corona public health regulations. However, I wanted to document this to reflect how different liberal versions of ‘exposure’ might be emerging…

Interestingly, there are also newer landscapes of protest operating with an idea of ‘shared protection’: Disability rights movements like AbilityWatch have been exploring forms of demonstrating ‘at a distance’, particularly at a time when they feel even more exposed by a re-enactment of eugenic-like measures in health care using the hashtag #UNsichtbar. +info here: https://maiprotest.de/

Come what may, and beyond the more or less spectacular display of street protests, a looming question seems to linger: even if might sound like a minor issue, a too-civil concern, appreciating the constitutionality of these measures has become also a debate between jurists, given that they might have a jurisprudential value – hence, exploring their juridical and scientific grounding becomes quintessential, since they might be having a future impact.

Some background references

Jan Fährmann, Hartmut Aden, Clemens Arzt (15 Apr 2020). Versammlungs­freiheit – auch in Krisenzeiten!. Verfassungsblog: On matters constitutional.

SZ.de (18 Apr 2020). Verfassungsrichter kippen Stuttgarts Demoverbot. Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

Reuters (26 Apr 2020). Coronavirus: dozens arrested in Berlin protesting against lockdown. The Guardian.

Walther Michl (28 Apr 2020). Die Kohärenz als Begleitmusik zum infektions­schutz­rechtlichen Tanz. Verfassungsblog: On matters constitutional.

Felix Bohr, Uwe Buse, Anna Clauß, Markus Feldenkirchen, Barbara Hardinghaus, Wolfgang Höbel, Guido Kleinhubbert, Martin Knobbe, Julia Koch, Dialika Neufeld, Christopher Piltz, Max Polonyi, Andreas Wassermann and Alfred Weinzierl (1 May 2020). Germans Split Over Lifting of Lockdown. Der Spiegel.

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Maik Baumgärtner, Felix Bohr, Roman Höfner, Timo Lehmann, Ann-Katrin Müller, Sven Röbel, Marcel Rosenbach, Jonas Schaible, Wolf Wiedmann-Schmidt und Steffen Winter (8 May 2020). Sturm der Lügen. Der Spiegel.

Thomas Anlauf (10 May 2020). Ohne Masken, ohne Abstand. Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

Repair as repopulating the devastated desert of our political and social imaginations

Drawing together a wide variety of contributions and approaches to different strategies of repair and recovery in post-crisis Portugal, Francisco Martínez has compiled the volume Politics of Recuperation, a comprehensive anthropological approach to the meanings of the crises in Southern Europe. As explained in the back cover:

How did Portuguese society recover after the economic crisis? Through a range of ethnographic case studies focusing on the Portuguese recovery, this book begins a conversation about the experience of recuperation and repair. It addresses how the recovery of relations creates something transcendental, adds a human dimension to the public sphere and expands our conception of what constitutes the political.

Located in the cracks and gaps between the state and society, recuperation appears as a social and infrastructural answer linked to reciprocity, critical urbanity, generational interweaving, alternate ordering and reconnection of different bodies and histories. With chapters looking at public art in Lisbon and recuperative modes of action, this collection takes a thorough look at a society in crisis and shows how the people of the community create micro-politics of resistance. Ultimately, Politics of Recuperation reflects on the meaning of personal and collective resilience in Europe today, as well as on the limits and interstices of contemporary politics.

Repair as repopulating the devastated desert of our political and social imaginations

In my contribution––originally conceived as a comment in a workshop where the different chapters were discussed, and here framed as a conclusion to the volume––, I reflect on how the different works resonate with a growing series of recent works addressing Southern Europe in/as Crisis. Indeed, the recent post-2008 crises have rekindled the fear of ‘going backwards,’ still very vivid in migration tropes from the 1960s–70s. However, this assessment of ‘backwardness’ unfolds a wider European genre of telling ‘what the problem is’, with peculiar connotations for Southern Europe: where ‘modernity’ and its alleged univocal drive towards ‘progress’ comes centre stage: Europe, here, appears as a particular poetics of infrastructure.

But these crises have also rekindled a ‘slight orientalism’ of Southern Europe: a nearby place conjuring images of the far away or, more precisely, a slightly far away nearby place. This slight orientalism has been over the years conveniently mobilised over and over again in the ways in which tourism is branded and marketed. Interestingly, it has also served later on to underpin the ‘exceptionality of Europe’ trope and its violent incarnation in the perceived threats of non-European migration: fierce – when not most of the time overly brutal – border and sea control, detention and containment or racialised police checks. Southern Europe as both leisure resort and boundary-maker of ‘Fortress Europe’.

However, beyond these tropes, and in a context of experimentation with ‘neoliberal’ forms of government the financialisation of life and the expansion of indebtedness have also brought with them other explanations for what the problem was and what to do about it. Indeed, to many, the Common Market, and later the European Union, have been quintessential mechanisms for that economic transformation. One in which the developmental issue of Southern and Eastern Europe was addressed beyond explicitly racialised terms, yet forcefully reinstating a particularly modernist ontology of the social: a scalar one, which not only classifies actors in terms of a grid of the big and the small (macro and micro; the state and the people; society/group and the individual), but also creates concomitant orders of worth and causality with regards to what it might mean to take political action.

Against this background, the works here compiled offer alternative accounts. Notably, the Portuguese verb reparar has a nuance that the English ‘to repair’ does not have: one that goes beyond ‘to fix something that is broken or damaged’ and ‘to take action in order to improve a bad situation’ (the two main definitions found in the Macmillan English Dictionary). Reparar also means ‘to observe’, ‘to pay attention’. The descriptive repertoire that this anthology brings forward would thus help us shed light on the distinct nuances that different groups, people and collectives might be bringing about, unsettling unified narratives around what might have happened and what to do with it. Observing, paying attention to the forms of repair, hence, might be the best antidote to ready-made explanations of the ‘what’ and ‘why’, and any ready-made concepts or frameworks suggesting what should be done and how: an unsettled response to an unsettling condition, perhaps?

In my opinion, what is at stake in the particularly reparative practices and relations beyond scale, assembled in this anthology (dances, moneylending, the retrieval of ancient legacies, caring for discarded goods or engaging in different forms of urban activism) is a dispute of the actual definition of ‘welfare’. In other words, the works here compiled might portray a reinvention of ‘welfare society’ that does not bear the mark of disaster, but of hope: a hope that in these particularly disastrous times of ours – when crises do not seem to have an end – they might be ‘repopulating the devastated desert of our [social and political] imaginations’, to say it with Stengers.

As I see it, the allegedly small has never been more important to recasting our hopes, to repopulating our imaginations of the greater good, devastated by austerity and the path-dependency of neoliberal rule. Especially when everything seems lost, these modes of repair show the hopeful character of how things might be created anew: not going back to ‘what we were’, but experimenting with modes of togetherness yet to be defined.

Published in Politics of Recuperation (pp.207-220). Oxford: Bloomsbury (2020, F. Martínez, ed.) | PDF