Care in Trouble: Ecologies of Support from Below and Beyond

In the last year, my colleague Vincent Duclos and I have been working on different versions of an essay that has just been given green light by the Medical Anthropology Quarterly. It’s been a hard process, but also a wonderful occasion to learn from the inspiring work of many colleagues and a joyful opportunity to experiment together with a conceptual writing repertoire.

Titled “Care in Trouble: Ecologies of Support from Below and Beyond” the article wishes to map out how care has proliferated as an analytical and technical term aimed at capturing a vast array of practices, conditions, and sentiments. As we argue in our exploratory orienting essay–rather than a deep dive ethnography–care seems to have also expanded to many other reproductive domains of life, where it has been mobilized as a conceptual lens that affords privileged access to the human condition.

This essay is premised on the conviction that, in spite of and perhaps also because of its rising popularity, the analytics of care is in trouble. Drawing inspiration from STS, “new materialist” work, and the writings in black, Indigenous, anticolonial, feminist, and crip studies, we suggest that discussions within anthropology might benefit from opening care from both “below” and “beyond” in what we are calling “ecologies of support.”

Ecologies of support are not to be mistaken for all-encompassing environments. Their protective effects more often than not are discontinuous and unevenly distributed. Thinking about ecologies of support entails placing a new focus on how different kinds of bodies are differentially supported, cared for, and capable of influencing their own conditions of support. Because spaces of care and safety can also easily morph into forms of containment and exclusion, what is needed are more accurate cartographies of the many intersections and frictions between the enveloping and the diverging, the protecting and the containing, the enduring and the engendering, as they play out in care practices.

Our proposal is for anthropology to not simply seek to represent or bear witness to these practices, but also to reinvigorate care by experimenting with modes of inquiry and intervention that operate along new axes of movement and new relational possibilities—a dynamic ecosystem if you will.

**

The article is now available at the MAQ. We would be happy and eager to learn from your comments and reactions to it, if you had any.

Picture CC BY 2006 Vladimer Shioshvili

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

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

Care in the (critical) making: Open prototyping, or the radicalisation of independent-living politics

ETS

New article forthcoming in Alter – European Journal of Disability research, Revue européenne de recherche sur le handicap 10 (2016), pp. 24-39 (Special issue on Care & Disability, edited by E. Fillion, M. Winance, A. Damamme).

Care in the (critical) making: Open prototyping, or the radicalisation of independent-living politics

Written in collaboration with Israel Rodríguez Giralt & Arianna Mencaroni

ABSTRACT

In this paper we reflect empirically on some collective attempts at intervening the ways in which care for and by disabled people is being devised and carried out in Spain in austerity times. We highlight the novelties and challenges of the way in which these projects seek to tackle the current crisis of care through different forms of self-fabrication of ‘open’ and ‘low cost’ technical aids. We analyse them as forms of ‘critical making’ expanding the repertoire of independent-living and disabled people’s rights politics to the experimentation with technological production. Through the deployment of an empirical example of the prototyping process by the Barcelona-based activist design collective En torno a la silla we show how open prototyping constitutes a major challenge for the radicalisation of the independent-living movement’s precepts of control and choice, displaying the matter of care arrangements and making available its transformation.
KEYWORDS
Care; arrangements; independent living; critical making; prototypes

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

This research is part of an ongoing and very interesting discussion on careful design practices with our En torno a la silla mates (Alida Díaz, Antonio Centeno, Marga Alonso, Núria Gómez, Rai Vilatovà & Xavi Duacastilla) as well as the very nice people we have learnt to think with in the construction of its interactive documentary. To name but a few: Alma Orozco, Joaquim Fonoll, Mario Toboso, Carlos ‘Txarlie’ Tomás, Montse García and the Functional Diversity Commission at Acampada Sol. These ideas have also been extremely well taken care of and re-elaborated in the course of discussions and passionate politico-ethnographical reflections on design and care with Adolfo Estalella, Asun Pie, Blanca Callén, Carla Boserman, Daniel López, Jara Rocha, Jaron Rowan, Marcos Cereceda, Manuel Tironi & Miriam Arenas.

FUNDING

This work was supported by the Spanish National R&D Programme 2012-2014, Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness under the research project: Expertise, Democracy and Social Mobilisation (EXPDEM): The Political Action of Groups Concerned with the Promotion of Independent-Living in Spain(CSO2011-29749-C02-02); and the Alliance 4 Universities postdoctoral grant for Tomás Sánchez Criado’s individual project A study of participatory and collaborative design experiences of care and independent-living technologies(ExPart, Oct. 2012- Oct. 2014).

Full text: UNCORRECTED DRAFT | PDF

Vulnerability Tests. Matters of “Care for Matter” in E-waste Practices

"Waste-picker in the squatted warehouse in Barcelona extracting some copper pieces welded in a motherboard" CC BY Blanca Callén

Blanca Callén and I collaborate with an article in a special issue of  Tecnoscienza we are particularly happy to take part in: a whole exploration on ‘Maintenance & Repair in Science and Technology Studies‘ edited by our colleagues Jérôme Denis, Alessandro Mongili & David Pontille (thank you for the editorial work!).

Our text (see below for more information) is an exploration on “mending cultures” and their modes of “care for matter” understood from the “vulnerability tests” there being mobilised. It derives from a presentation in 2013’s CRESC conference, where we attempted to think comparatively on our projects on DIY technical aids and e-waste. Despite this comparison is something we might work a bit further in future publications, I’d like to thank once more Blanca for her generosity in allowing me to “think with” the materials of her very interesting project “Scrapping Politics

Vulnerability Tests. Matters of “Care for Matter” in E-waste Practices

Abstract: In this paper we will think ethnographically about how material vulnerability is dealt with and conceived of in the practice of informal menders. We explore different practices to “care for matter”, mobilized in dealing with obsolete computers, categorized as electronic waste, and will analyse the epistemic repertoires to acknowledge and intervene in such computers vulnerabilities. In dialogue with STS and Repair and Maintenance Studies literature, we will move from vulnerability as an ontological quality of the world to the enacted properties and epistemic repertoires emerging from concrete “tests”, through which we might learn how vulnerability matters. In particular, we pay attention to three specific vulnerability tests performed by these informal menders, underpinning particular distributions of labour as well as concrete enactments of vulnerability, and how to make it matter. Namely, sensing matter: manipulative practices of electronic waste whereby vulnerability is enacted as a property of materials; setting up informal experiments: informal practices of trial and error whereby vulnerability appears as a result of dis/functioning technical systems; and intervening in obsolescence: whereby sociomaterial orders regulate how material vulnerabilities are redistributed and put to the test.

Keywords: maintenance & repair; matters of care; vulnerability; test; electronic waste.

Published in Tecnoscienza: Italian Journal of Science and Technology Studies 6 (2) pp. 17-40 | PDF

Image credits ‘Waste-picker in the squatted warehouse in Barcelona extracting some copper pieces welded in a motherboard’ CC BY Blanca Callén

Older People in a Connected Autonomy? Promises and Challenges in the Technologisation of Care

connected autonomy

New article published in the REIS (Revista Española de Investigaciones Sociológicas), nº 152 October – December 2015, pp. 105-120 published in English & Spanish

 

Older People in a Connected Autonomy? Promises and Challenges in the Technologisation of Care

(co-authored with Miquel Domènech)

Abstract

This paper offers an ethnographic interpretation of how in a changing context of family care different Spanish home telecare services provide older people with social links to prevent their isolation, granting them ‘connected autonomy’: the promotion of their autonomy and independent living through connectedness. To do so, services need to craft a network of ‘contacts’. Different versions of the term figuration are employed to describe the practical materializations of the forms of relatedness put in place by such services: what roles become available and explicitly supported; what other figurations of relatedness (e.g., kinship, friendship, neighbourliness) they come across; what happens when these different figurations of relatedness meet. In doing this, our aim is to allow space to reflect ethically on the practical relational promises and challenges of these forms of technologized care of older people.

Full textPDF in English

¿Personas mayores en autonomía conectada? Promesas y retos en la tecnologización del cuidado

(escrito en colaboración con Miquel Domènech)

Resumen 

Este artículo propone una interpretación etnográfica de cómo, en un contexto de cuidado familiar en transición, servicios de teleasistencia españoles buscan proveer a las personas mayores de vínculos sociales para prevenir su aislamiento, articulando una infraestructura de conexión y monitorización para promover lo que denominamos «autonomía conectada». Para funcionar estos servicios necesitan articular redes de «contactos». Empleamos diferentes acepciones del término figuración para entender los significados de la materialización práctica de diferentes formas relacionales por parte de estos servicios, prestando atención a: los roles que hacen disponibles; con qué otras figuraciones relacionales se encuentran y qué ocurre al encontrarse. A partir de esta descripción, abrimos un debate ético acerca de las promesas y retos relacionales que enfrentan los intentos por tecnologizar el cuidado de las personas mayores.

Texto completoPDF en castellano

Of Sensors and Sensitivities. Towards a Cosmopolitics of ‘Smart Cities’?

sensors

 

Together with Martin Tironi we have written this review essay on the smart city, published in the latest number of Tecnoscienza.

Of Sensors and Sensitivities. Towards a Cosmopolitics of “Smart Cities”?

ABSTRACT
This essay reviews diverse strands of empirical and theoretical work in different urban studies areas (urban planning, urban ethnography, urban geography, and STS) reflecting on the manifold ways in which the smart city project is being “opened up” for scrutiny through experimental projects developing digitally-mediated sensing practices of either a specific or broad kind: i.e., producing both devices formally devised for sensing specific parameters, and sensing devices –emerging from less specific digital technology arrangements– used to share experiences, show solutions or politicize different urban issues. In doing this, we seek to understand, from an STS standpoint, the different ways in which a broad range of works are analysing the development, intervention, maintenance, and opposition of these ideas. In the first section we focus on understanding the definitions, features and clashes that several of these corporate projects (mostly municipal in nature) have come across, deploying smart devices, such as sensors to produce an “algorithmic city”. In the second section we expand the meanings of “smartness,” focusing on grassroots appropriations of broader digital arrangements and politicizations of open source infrastructures to display other forms of urban sensitivities, contributing to the cosmopoliticization of the “smart city” project.
Full text: PDF

En torno a la silla’s special TV feature with English subs

En torno a la silla“, the collaborative design collective seeking to self-fabricate and self-manage the production of DIY and P2P technical aids for independent living in which I collaborate ethnographically since 2012, was featured in La2’s (Spanish National TV network) “La aventura del saber“, broadcasted originally on April 13th 2015. Now with English subtitles!

We speak of the collective “En torno a la silla”, composed by a heterogeneous group of people seeking to collaboratively fabricate taylor-made prototypes with functionally diverse people in order to experiment with personalized solutions seeking to meet the needs of each wheelchair user. All this to make a more accessible city. The live footage used in the broadcasting was shot by Arianna Mencaroni for the webdocumentary “Off catalogue”

I will be showing it tomorrow July 1st 2015 at the inauguration of TUM’s Munich Center for Technology in Society (where I will be working as Senior researcher within Ignacio Farías’s reseach group ‘Infrastructure & participation‘).