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.

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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

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 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

Abstract

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

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”.

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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

Abstract

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

Acknowledgements

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:

JORNADES INTERNACIONALS ANTROPOLOGIA DE LES INFRAESTRUCTURES I LES MOBILITATS

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 : rogersansi@ub.edu.

2018 Winter School of the Estonian Academy of Arts “Building Lives”

Delighted to be in Tallinn for the 2018 Winter School of the Estonian Academy of Arts (15-19 of January), thanks to the invitation of Francisco Martínez.

In particular, in my presentation–titled Technologies of friendship? Open design objects and their figurations of relatedness–I will be speaking about some of the particular creative processes of En torno a la silla (or ETS, the Barcelona-based critical disability and open design collective I have been part of since 2012), gadgets and indoor/outdoor spatial interventions whose conception and execution have entailed a  series of experiments whereby the relation between the people involved was granted particular architectural and design affordances. Indeed, and thanks to particular relations they have afforded, I will refer to them using the particular name the very collective has employed: i.e. technologies of friendship. Thinking from there I will search to unfold how En torno a la silla’s open design objects should not only be described as inscribing and supporting already existing relations but also affording a plexus of potential figurations of forms of relatedness, whereby the process of making is also a process of relating. Or, as I would call it, an exploration into a ‘how-to’ friendship: a particular mode of relating premised on the very concern of discussing and showing the how-to of relations.

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This Winter school, with the title Building Lives, invites for a reflection on the place buildings occupy in peoples’ biographies by studying the transformations of built forms and its correlation with individual subjectivities and societal changes at large. Specifically, the objective of the event is to explore the possibilities to correlate personal maturing and the life states of buildings and provide new tools, concepts and frameworks for understanding the plural life stages of the built environment.

A key proposition behind this Winter School is that comparisons can be drawn between the biographies of persons and the biographies of buildings, yet perhaps the metaphor of biography highlights a too linear process of change, instead of the eventful discontinuation and change of states they might go through.

The programme is set up to reconsider the birth, death, and reconstitution of the built environment by paying attention to the different relations that emerge between buildings and people. The event will consist of lectures, workshops and artists talks, including a keynote and four excursions. Some possible lines of thought addressed by papers may be:

  • What are the recognised stages of a building’s life?
  • Can we use human metaphors to study the built environment?
  • In which ways do buildings store personal memories and social significance?
  • What discrete activities are engendered to maintain buildings alive?
  • When or what is the ultimate no-return point that marks the death of buildings and their functional discontinuation?

Organiser: Francisco Martínez

Invited scholars: Tomás Errázuriz (Andrés Bello, Chile); Andres Kurg (EKA); Patrick Laviolette (Tallinn Univ.), Michał Murawski (Queen Mary Univ. of London); Tomás Sánchez Criado (Munich Center for Technology in Society)

Artists, designers & architects: Andra Aaloe; Flo Kasearu; Paul Kuimet; Laura Kuusk; Karli Luik; Triin Ojari; Margit Säde; Ingel Vaikla and Tüüne-Kristin Vaikla.

Programme

15th, Monday (Suur Kloostri 11, Interior Design Dept.)

10:30 Introduction and lecture by F. Martínez, Architectural Taxidermy

11:45 Seminar by P. Kuimet

14:00 Seminar by L. Kuusk

15:00 Lecture by T. Errázuriz, When new is not better: the making of home through holding on to objects

16:00 Seminar by T.K. Vaikla, How long is the life of a building? Screening the film ‘The House Guard’ (I. Vaikla, 2014),

17:00 Excursion to the F. Kasearu Museum.

16th, Tuesday (Suur Kloostri 11, Interior Design Dept.)

10:30 Students’ Seminar.

14:00 Excursion to the Estonian Museum of Applied Art and Design.

16:00 Excursion: Sense of Domesticity by A. Aaloe & M. Säde.

17th, Wednesday Independent research by the students, preparing their own work on the biographical correlation between people and buildings / the built space.

18th, Thursday (Suur Kloostri 11, Room 103, Art History Dept.)

10:00 Keynote Lecture by M. Murawski, People make buildings (and buildings make people), but not under conditions of their own choosing. Chair, A. Kurg.

12:00 Round table about the life stages of buildings with T. K. Vaikla, K. Luik, T. Ojari, A. Kurg, and M. Murawski.

14:00 Independent research by the students

19th, Friday (Suur Kloostri 11, Interior Design Dept.)

10:30 Lecture by T. Sánchez Criado, Technologies of friendship? Open design objects and their figurations of relatedness.

12:00 Lecture by P. Laviolette, Buildings A-live

14:30 Presentations by students.