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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dejo por aquí el programa:


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

C.Montalegre 6, Barcelona.

9 de novembre 2018

10.45. Presentació  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Per més informació :

Experimental Collaborations – Book launch events

Experimental Collaborations: Ethnography through Fieldwork Devices‘ (#xcol), Adolfo Estalella and I’s co-edited book (Berghahn, 2018), is finally out! *

As stated in the book description:

In the accounts compiled in this book, ethnography occurs through processes of material and social interventions that turn the field into a site for epistemic collaboration. Through creative interventions that unfold what we term as ‘fieldwork devices’—such as coproduced books, the circulation of repurposed data, co-organized events, authorization protocols, relational frictions, and social rhythms—anthropologists engage with their counterparts in the field in the construction of joint anthropological problematizations. In these situations, the traditional tropes of the fieldwork encounter (i.e. immersion and distance) give way to a narrative of intervention, where the aesthetics of collaboration in the production of knowledge substitutes or intermingles with participant observation. Building on this, the book proposes the concept of ‘experimental collaborations’ to describe and conceptualize this distinctive ethnographic modality

The introduction’s PDF is freely available for download here

It has been a long journey, full of conversations and collaborative writing: A process of learning together how to practice contemporary anthropology; a collective project that required the generosity and effort of many people involved in the project. Therefore, we would like to share some of our joy and open up conversations of what it might imply in a series of forthcoming events:

#xcol-book launch event_1 Barcelona, 3 de mayo de 2018, 18–20h [ES]

Colaboraciones experimentales. Un inventario de dispositivos para la etnografía contemporánea‘.

Departament d’Antropologia Social, Universitat de Barcelona (Aula 207, 2º piso de la Facultat de Geografia i Història) – Organizado por el Grup de treball sobre Antropologia, Imatge i Cultura Visual (IVAC) de l’ICA y el Grup de Recerca en Antropologia i Pràctiques Artístiques (GRAPA)

#xcol-book launch event_2 Berlin, 3.7.2018 12-14h [EN]

Ethnographic Experimentation: An Inventory of Fieldwork Devices

Humboldt University of Berlin’s Department of European Ethnology Institutskolloquium ‘Conjunctures & Creations: Anthropological Transformations/Transforming Anthropology’. Moderated by Prof. Dr. Ignacio Farías.

#xcol-book launch event_3 Granada, 4.9.2018 17-18:30h [ES]

Conversation with Prof. Aurora Álvarez Veinguer (Social Anthropology, Granada) at the 4th AIBR International Conference of Anthropology, Granada (Spain)


* In the next months, Berghahn is offering a 50% discount code (EST533 & AIBR18) for all individual online orders placed directly on their website

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.


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.


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.

A ‘how-to’ anthropology? – Antropologie Umělcům, Brno

Next November 28th I will be in Brno to take part in the Antropologie Umělcům, a series of course of lectures, discussions and screenings organized by Kristína Jamrichová on current approaches and various forms of collaboration between Social Sciences and Contemporary Art not only within the so-called Visual Studies but including also other fields and topics such as experiment, engagement, applicability or design. The courses will take place from 16th to 30th November 2017 in Aula FAVU VUT in Brno, Czech Republic.

Here you can access the information of mine’s:

A ‘how-to’ anthropology? The ‘ethnographic recursions’ of tutorial and documentation-driven projects

In the last years, I have engaged as ethnographer in extensive tutorial and open documentation projects of different activist ‘free culture’ and ‘DIY’ urban groups in Spain (mainly, the activist design collective of Barcelona “En torno a la silla” and other associated endeavours). In my ethnographic work with them I have had to partake of art-related and design-inspired multimodal playful experimentations addressing styles, genres, and formats of documenting design processes and events. Thus, what might have only been a descriptive stance of a particular design culture became an inventive process, full of ‘re-descriptive’ moments, holding in suspension the very aims and goals, as well as the modes of authorship, the devices and the narrative styles brought to bear to ethnographic endeavours as practices ‘documenting’ the life of others. Such joint modes of relating–that is, of producing encounters or forms of togetherness as well as accounts–had a lasting impact on my very ethnographic practice, generating many moments of ‘unlearning.’ Here I wish to address the ‘ethnographic recursions’ they made me enter. Indeed, my involvement in such projects premised on the idea of the ‘how-to’ as a grounding trope has somehow urged me, in collaboration with other colleagues (namely, the ones we are gathering around the EASA’s Colleex network), to reinvent our fieldwork devices drawing inspiration from the how-to ontology of our epistemic partners. In showing somewhat playful attempts at translating that ‘how-to’ ontology into academic debates for the discipline I would like to delineate here the productivity of addressing forms of methodological rather than conceptual recursion as a way into other modes of learning and doing anthropology.

Efectos documentales – Taller en el Máster en Arquitectura Alicante

Mañana tendré el inmenso placer de poder estar en Alicante (algo que me apetecía especialmente desde hace mucho tiempo), gracias a la intermediación de Ester Gisbert y Miguel Mesa del Castillo, en el Máster en Arquitectura de la Universitat d’Alacant (Sala 01, Politécnica IV).

Mi intervención y los talleres en que estaremos trabajando, girarán en torno a los “efectos documentales“. En los últimos años–y sobre todo a partir tanto de mi participación como etnógrafo/documentador en el colectivo En torno a la silla, como de la experiencia pedagógica en una facultad de arquitectura–me ha venido interesando enormemente la importancia de una indagación sobre las “interfaces documentales”. A pesar de que en particular me he centrado en los ámbitos de diseño abierto y el activismo de la diversidad funcional, cada vez más me está interesando particularmente experimentar y reflexionar sobre cómo los diferentes tipos de trazos–en diferentes lenguajes, géneros o estilos, producidos para el recuerdo o la puntualización de la experiencia de momentos de gran intensidad colaborativa, o donde se está más preocupado por hacer más que por el pensar sobre lo que se hace–producen efectos particulares sobre quién, cómo y qué se diseña. Y, por ello, quisiera que prestáramos particular atención a diferentes dispositivos, plataformas, sistemas de registro, o métodos para la generación de encuentros donde producir acercamientos y situaciones para compartir las experiencias; esto es, interfaces donde la documentación–entendida más bien como una experimentación con diferentes medios, formatos, sensibilidades y momentos que al modo enciclopédico o positivista–se nos aparece como un recurso esencial para el descubrimiento y articulación de la experiencia compartida en la relación entre quienes construyen y los diferentes materiales con los que lo hacen; esto es, para el trazado de ciertas transformaciones o efectos, pero también para  permitir, recursivamente, generar otras relaciones en y a través de los procesos de diseño.

Soy consciente de que muy probablemente la principal impugnación o crítica de inicio a lo que voy a plantear aquí es que “no documentar así” también tiene sus efectos sobre el diseño, y me encantaría discutirlos; aunque me parece que la documentación, con todas sus dificultades y efectos complejos (porque aquí hablaré de la documentación que se enfoca en el proceso, no en ese proceso de documentarse para diseñar o en la producción de una divulgación a posteriori para hacer circular o vender un diseño), que a veces bloquean o paralizan un proceso de diseño, nos acerca a una reflexion mucho más mundana sobre las prácticas y la política del diseñar. Pero siendo una de sus principales virtude que abre registros de lo político que van más allá del “hacer visible” y que, al menos en los casos que he venido estudiando, plantean redistribuciones de la experticia, circulaciones de saberes, aperturas de relaciones e incorporaciones constantes de elementos o reacciones en los propios procesos y materializaciones (algo que no puedo llamar de otra forma que “auto-experimentación”).

1st Colleex Workshop – Ethnographic Experimentation: Fieldwork Devices and Companions

Ethnographic Experimentation: Fieldwork Devices and Companions

13th–15th July 2017, Jardim Botânico Tropical, Lisbon

First Workshop of the #Colleex 
Collaboratory for Ethnographic Experimentation, an EASA network

Programme and book of abstracts

1st_Colleex_Programme (PDF)

1st_Colleex_Abstracts (PDF)

Call for Papers

“Fieldwork is not what it used to be” (Faubion and Marcus, 2009). The investigation of previously ignored social domains and the incorporation of new sensibilities beyond its typically verbal or visual conventions, have expanded ethnography: Anthropologists now engage in novel forms of relationship and intervention, and enter into heterodox exchanges with other disciplines like arts and design. The invocation of experimentation in fieldwork is part of this widened exploration of new ethnographic modalities that reshape the norm and form of fieldwork.

Recent invocations of experimentation in ethnographic projects are not merely a metaphorical gesture. Descriptive accounts of experimentation bring to life ethnographic imaginations that transform field informants into epistemic partners (Holmes and Marcus, 2005), remediate the form of ethnography in the company of others (Rabinow, 2011), or trade in the traditional comparative project of anthropology for a collaborative one (Riles, 2015). The experimental can thus be a distinctive articulation of the empirical work of anthropologists in the field.

The epistemic figure of experimentation is not new in anthropology (or other social sciences). On the contrary, the experimental nature of many ethnographic projects of the contemporary connects with and draws from the creative exploration of writing genres inaugurated in the 1980s but, while the experimental drive was then located in the space of representation, we are now witnessing a shift where fieldwork is a locus of experimentation.

To invoke ethnographic experimentation is not necessarily to signal a methodological rupture with conventional forms of ethnography. Rather, it is a distinctive form of narrating contemporary forms of fieldwork where ethnography is less a set of practicalities and procedures than a mode of anthropological problematization (Rabinow, 2011). Relying on the most genuine descriptive aspiration of anthropology, the invocation of ethnographic experimentation thus signals the exploration of conceptual languages for describing distinctive forms of engagement in the field.

Experimentation remains an elusive term however, sometimes loosely used, perhaps metaphorically or allegorically. At the workshop we would like to focus on specific, thoughtfully designed interventions through which ethnography in the field unfolds in experimental ways. We are interested in particular forms of relationship, material artefacts, digital infrastructures, fieldnotes genres, spatial venues, methods of meeting… Following John Law and Evelyn Ruppert (2013) we call them “fieldwork devices”: arrangements that assemble the world in specific social and material patterns for the production of knowledge. We thus invite scholars to share descriptive accounts that offer insights of how fieldwork devices turn ethnography into a venue for experimentation.

Faubion, J. D., & Marcus, G. E. (Eds.). (2009). Fieldwork Is Not What It Used to Be: Learning Anthropology’s Method in a Time of Transition. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Holmes, D. R., & Marcus, G. E. (2005). Cultures of Expertise and the Management of Globalization: Toward the Re-Functioning of Ethnography. In A. Ong & S. J. Collier (Eds.), Global Assemblages: Technology, Politics, and Ethics as Anthropological Problems (pp. 235—252). Oxford: Blackwell.
Law, J., & Ruppert, E. (2013). The Social Life of Methods: Devices. Journal of Cultural Economy, 6(3), 229—240.
Rabinow, P. (2011). The Accompaniment: Assembling the Contemporary. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.
Riles, A. (2015). From Comparison to Collaboration: Experiments with a New Scholarly and Political Form. Law and Contemporary Problems, 78(1-2), 147—183.

Organised by

#Colleex – Collaboratory for Ethnographic Experimentation, an EASA network
Instituto de Ciências Sociais (ICS), Universidade de Lisboa
EBANO Collective – Ethnography-Based Art Nomad Organisation, Lisbon

Supported by

European Association of Social Anthropologists (EASA)
Jardim Botânico Tropical, Museu Nacional de História Natural e da Ciência (MUNHAC), Universidade de Lisboa
Professorship for Participatory Technology Design, MCTS, TU Munich

Organising committee

Eeva Berglund, independent scholar
Francesca De Luca, ICS, ULisboa
Adolfo Estalella, Spanish National Scientific Council
Anna Lisa Ramella, Locating Media, University of Siegen
Chiara Pussetti, ICS, ULisboa
Tomás Sánchez Criado, MCTS, TU Munich


Live tweets of ‘Ethnographic Experimentation: Fieldwork Devices and Companions’, First Workshop of the #Colleex Collaboratory for Ethnographic Experimentation, an @EASAinfo network | 13th–15th July 2017, Jardim Botânico Tropical, Lisbon


Vidas Fuera de Cátalogo (Life Outside of the Catalogue) – BIdeOtik 2017

Presentation of the unfinished audiovisual project Vidas Fuera de Cátalogo (Life Outside of the Catalogue) by Arianna Mencaroni (CIC. Digital–UNOVA, Lisboa & En torno a la silla) and Tomás Sanchez Criado (TU Munich & En torno a la silla)

Tuesday July 11th 19:00 at Azkuna Zentroa, Bilbao (Spain), as part of the Festival BIdeOtik 2017

The presentation of the unfinished audiovisual project will tell the story of our several years’ exploration in En torno a la silla (Barcelona) with digital forms of documentation (namely, blog and audiovisual platforms).

En torno a la silla is a Spanish non-profit association operating from Barcelona. In En torno a la silla we co-create and fabricate collaboratively between people with diverse knowledges and modes of functioning with the aim of transforming and intervening urban environments, seeking to improve the conditions of accessibility, inclusiveness, and care in the urban world.

En torno a la silla is a collective that works at crossroads of open design and functional diversity. All our material explorations in recent years have sought to go beyond a world built for standard bodies, opening up design processes to the consideration and incorporation of the different experiences and needs of diverse bodies.

However, even though the material ‘tinkering’ with our environments through activities like building objects or generating co-creation events has constituted the essential focus of the collective, an important part of our activities has had to do with ‘tinkering’ with the use of different registration tools for the reflection, representation, and communication of our small objects and findings: tutorials and construction manuals, video-documentation of processes or interviews, poetic or political reflection texts, etc.

What role does this opening up of the design processes play when we think about documentation processes? Through the presentation of some our ‘tinkering with documentation’–including the conception and prototyping of diverse non-linear web-video projects–, we wish to delve into the central importance of representational processes, and discuss in what way our different successes and errors in tinkering with them might have contributed to a wider learning process, as well as different transformations of the collective.


About BIdeOtik 2017: From January to December 2017 Azkuna Zentroa hosts BIdeOtik 2017, a video festival / series that highlights different ways of recording and representing all that surrounds us using other audio-visual narratives. The object of this series is to showcase video-creation works and projects generated in a local, national and international context by people from the fields of art, creation and culture who use audio-visual language in a more personal, intimate and familiar way.

Check the festival’s leaflet here


Two crises in and with STS: From ‘translation’ to ‘re-specification’?

Slightly amended version of my presentation at the opening plenary, in dialogue with Tiago Moreira and Ana Viseu, of the first joint meeting of RedesCTS and the Portuguese STS network in Lisbon at the Instituto de Ciências Sociais (ICS), 7-9 June 2017 ‘Lost in translation: People, Technologies, Practices and Concepts Across Boundaries’.

For this session we were explicitly asked to reflect a bit on how our work has been “affected by, or has dealt with, different kinds of boundaries, epistemic, geographical, disciplinary, linguistic, and so on.”

This was to be the first step of a wider debate amongst the presenters and the public. But I believe the need for this debate goes beyond this event, and even this network’s meeting. Any comments more than welcome.

In my intervention in this debate, I would like to profit this occasion to mumble or, rather, to think aloud of the process of moving from the uber-activist and hyper-collective intellectual milieu of Spain–under austerity in the last years–to the context of an ‘entrepreneurial’ public university in Munich, and into a new STS centre of Germany to be more specific.

I will try to articulate my own experience, not as an autobiographical reflection but as a mode of eliciting how moving around has made me undergo two crises in and with how STS is practiced and what its goals might be. I’ll use what these crises opened up to try out an analytic of how to go beyond ‘translation’ as a mode of, maybe paradoxically, making us experience the feeling of being ‘lost in translation.’ And will try to put forward how ‘re-specification’ rather than ‘translation’ might be conveying a more interesting stance into forms of interventive and experimental engagement with the political issues of STS’s form and content.

  1. A crisis with STS ‘as is’

My first crisis was with STS ‘as is’… Yet I think this was a particularly collective one: the collective crisis that lead to the creation of something like this network. Without any intention to speak for anyone, my interpretation is that a space like RedesCTS–an open, allegedly hierarchically flat, and voluntarily interdisciplinary network–was needed for many reasons. Allow me to briefly mention them…

First, because most of us were alone, like lost children, without any kind of institutional backing or context to share our interest in a rather minoritarian field in our surroundings; having to work within or under the framework of highly institutionalised disciplines. Hence, a network, as a form of relatedness, allowed building bridges between traditions, locales, and diverging modes of doing things which had many reasons to be in a potential dialogue: ANT, feminist technoscience studies, science and society, history of science and technology, innovation studies, etc.

Second, a network was quintessential to break even with the ‘Game of Throne-ish’ situation of post-Francoist academia or with the vast precariousness of means most of us have been plunging in since we started our ‘career’ as social scientists, a situation that has only got worse and worse, as you are all well aware. For this, a network with no membership, and allowing hybrid and impure connections, helped many people relate, and even articulate better their multiple belongings and commitments.

Third, this statute might have been part of a wider and even deeper stance that a more vernacular take on STS was needed, since this widely Anglo-Dutch discipline, hence dominated by many times foreign or strange political, historical and academic-institutional concerns was not really helping many of us to relate to our topics of interest, our surroundings, and even our incipient tradition of collective vernacular thought.

Very relevant in the form and composition of a mutable and changing network allowing diverse people ‘to keep on doing stuff’,[1] as well as in the types of debates there taking place, might have been the vicinity in its early stages with the ‘15M’ (the multifarious indignados events), and the gigantic experimentation that has been taking place in forms of collective action.[2] But also, the relevance and importance of ‘trans-feminist’, ‘functional diversity’, and ‘artivist’ ethical and political stances. As much as it had affected other spaces, this became an important vector in allowing for other forms of the possible, the say-able, and the thinkable… to name but a few of the attributes Jacques Rancière uses to define ‘politics.’

Using irony and play the very network even started to become a space for the recursive experimentation of STS, its ideas, and concepts affecting not only content but also its form. And throughout the years, the network has produced its own vernacular lingo: the very network being considered as a ‘prototype’ of other forms of academia,[3] or an interventionist and experimental space to ‘care for formats’[4] and ‘spatial modes of encounter’ with others.[5] A particularly distributed and uneven mode of searching to articulate the different ecologies of practices we have been inhabiting as researchers, activists, or regular lay people, together with others beyond academia.

I think spaces of the like should not necessarily be thought of as effects of situations of economic or financial crisis. I believe another kind crisis is much more important to account for why people feel the need to open up spaces of the like, according to the potentialities they might have: maybe the wider crisis of legitimacy of academia as an autonomous and disengaged endeavour–we could use here the much abused ‘ivory tower’ epithet–and, in particular, of scientific societies as infrastructures of collective thought and mutual support might be a more apt rendering.

If I had to define what the network has meant for me: This has been a space making available to think on our research situation in terms of both its form and content. That is, addressing the singularity of a particular thematic distribution of topics, as well as the commitment many people had in close dialogue with or even because of their belonging to activist spaces, but also forging relevant local concepts, formats as relevant modes of addressing not-only-conceptual or not-only-linguistic modes of expression, as well as a experimenting with the ‘how-to’ aspects of fostering dialogues with non-academic spaces.

But however ‘nice’ or ‘cool’ these dear spaces have always been; however much they allowed us to talk and do things in more vernacular terms, these never were spaces devoid of troubles, hierarchies or privileges. Besides, the rampant precariousness has not disappeared, and the network has only allowed people to keep connected even when they were losing their jobs or working under horrible conditions.

So, despite many attempts at translating the loss, these translations into the form of a network haven’t stopped the erosion of living under such conditions. I won’t deny the importance of attempts at articulating and finding ways to express it have made people feel less lonely in very complex times, but…

  1. A crisis with the institutionalised politics of  STS 

Anyway, many of us kept on searching. Some left, and some stayed either because they cared more for the non-career aspects of their lives, or because they couldn’t or wouldn’t or shouldn’t.[6] With no intention whatsoever of becoming a model or an example of anything, but just as a way to have an entry point into a wider argument, let me talk about my very personal case…

After a while, and thinking both that there was no exit and that I needed a change (for many reasons I cannot convey in public), I started searching for jobs abroad. After more than two years of search, I was lucky enough to be offered a well-paid job in an emergent institution, with very nice and clever colleagues, and with funding conditions granting me the opportunity to travel and share my work. Of course, I could here delve into many of the classic tropes of the 1960s migrating Spaniard to Germany, condensed in films and popular myths. And, for the most of the first year, I drowned in some versions of them, feeling really lucky but also really lonely because of what I traded to become an academic migrant (this is something many of you know better than I do).

But everything seemed different: From growing accustomed to thinking together with friends, I had to re-learn how to address a situation I had also been searching for: being treated as a more individualised researcher with his own career. I was also many times feeling a bit isolated, since despite my hopes, goals and aspirations the ecology I had learnt to live and breath in was no longer accompanying me in my everyday life. This was of course very puzzling: From feeling the abundance of possibilities and freedom I had experienced, funding and job scarcity notwithstanding, to being sometimes dominated by a strange feeling of lack of possibilities and options in a place of comfort and financial abundance.

The funniest thing is I sought to allegedly bring to the job the more experimental democratic and collaborative takes on STS issues I had learnt to articulate in the space of this network. And in a way, the job I had to deliver, working in a chair for participatory technology design, teaching both to architects and future STSers, was to bring about some of the methods and formats I had learnt in my own work together with design activists. Of course, as a de-rooted academic migrant I could say my first mistake was forgetting about what I would need to change to address the local context, its issues and problems, something I knew nothing about. To make things worse I knew no German…

However paradoxical this might seem I was, again, ‘lost in translation’ since I had to face the many difficulties or sheer impossibilities of translating the modes of thinking and doing I had learnt in the previous years to a context I couldn’t relate to very easily. In fact, this stupid idea of believing I could do it has made me feel a great sense of loss in many a dark night.

I have also had to face my naiveté or sheer audacity in having forgotten that institutional spaces of alleged financial or funding abundance are not devoid of other problems of scarcity: a chronic lack of time created by the many commitments and compromises that ‘spending money reasonably’ entail; but also, the lack of a generic care for free processes of collective thought that an individualist focus on career and unit-centric demarcations might create; not to speak of the problems deriving from how well-greased hierarchies might operate in places of monetary power…

In any case, my biggest (yet very small for others), or maybe to say it better ‘attainable’ struggle to date has been how to relate to this situation. And, maybe, I could say that one of the things I have been trying to do is searching to translate the politics of the ‘activist design collectives’ I had been working with in the past into a pedagogic agenda for the architects and social scientists I have been teaching to…

Interestingly, the agenda we have been developing in the team, led by Ignacio Farías, has been very much aligned to that. In a way, I’d say we have become interested in addressing how to turn the STS programme of ‘technical democracy,’ or the technoscientific democratisations some of us had been doing research and engaged work on, into something like a ‘teaching technicians to behave otherwise’ programme. What a challenge…

But, indeed, a very interesting one working from the belly of the Bavarian beast–if you allow me the pun to talk about the leading German ‘polytechnic’ university at the core of one of the golden cradles of global corporate capitalism. In a way I’d say we have been searching to translate these STS-minded issues into a way of affecting the future technicians, professionals or experts. This could be nothing more than a small pedagogic stance of one of the older aims of the field: to intervene technocracy. Hence, in the last two years we have been experimenting with different trials, or should I say somewhat ‘learning failures’? Failures in devising a sound teaching programme that have also entailed a whole new learning process for us.

Allow me to indicate a few examples: I talk about failures in capturing the students’ attention or in making them care about some of these things beyond ready-made humanitarian gestures. Students seemed many times uninterested, since we were not helping them be more employable in the job market they search to work in. Also, our teaching methods, based on lecturing, reading and commenting, have proven deeply inappropriate. There have also been failures in establishing productive co-teaching relations with other architects, since our task might not be very legible to them. Hence, as an outcome, our attempts have many times been facing an overall tendency to ‘problem solving’ or suffering from the perpetual reenactment of ‘technical-social divides’.

But little by little we’ve transformed our expectations, in a search for collaborations elsewhere. In fact, our trials have helped us relate with other architects from other places who seem to use a kind of common language, and who are helping us to address how we could be putting modes of design ‘in crisis’ (I am particularly thinking here of Ester Gisbert and her inspiring ‘experiments with craft‘).

Indeed, that is the exploration we are searching to unfold in our last course, titled: ‘Design in crisis: Coming to our senses.’[7] In it, we are trying to make them aware of the multi-sensory aspects of design practice, searching to teach them through sensory experiments and practices, techniques, tools and devices that I have come across in my ethnographic work on inclusive urbanism. Hence, the aim is to make them collectively prototype a multi-sensory architectural toolkit (a toolkit for a blind architect!): a set of devices, methods, and skills necessary to re-equip their very architectural practice at the same time that we make them ‘come to their senses.’

So far, the results in their embodied transformation make me really hopeful that we might have found a potential prototype: or, to say it otherwise, a ‘line of tension’ to start addressing the issue, at least with our students coming from different European countries. We are also trying to document this experience in order to be able to share it and discuss it with some other colleagues from different countries to address that very issue: how to teach STS to designers or architects when you cannot properly ‘teach them’ the lingo nor the readings?

So far so good. But who and how do we share it with in the very place where we work? Is there anyone at the end of the line? Oh dear, again ‘lost in translation’? Let’s hope for the best…

  1. From ‘translating the loss’ to ‘on-going re-specification’?

The previous two tales share something. They show two situations of a crisis with regards to what STS could be, and an attempt at changing its forms and contents, where we can witness the sheer complexities of seeking to generate overall conditions of change or transformations through these meagre trials and proposals: the joyful and horizontal politics of a prototypical network into transformations at the level of institutions, in the first case; or the contained, narrow, and humble teaching experiments searching to make ‘more sensitive’ architecture students who never felt they needed us–and nobody knows if they are ever going to use what we made them do, in the second one.

Translations that, no wonder, work somehow imperfectly and in strange ways. Yet, we have to resist the temptation of falling into despair, and believing that all we ever do is reaching dead ends. Could it be that the problem lies in how we address these issues as ones of ‘translation’? In a way, this was an old ANT tenet dwelling on the common Latin etymology of translation and treason, which has been captured beautifully in the Italian adagio traduttore, traditore, showing the difficulties and the many cases of untranslatability.

But I’d like to conclude in a less bleak tone, by briefly exploring another trope I think could help us address better what is at stake in these situations, or even find a way to discuss what STS might be allowing us to do when we want to intervene the form, format, and content of our ecology of practices and that of our counterparts in moments of feeling ‘lost in translation’.

In both cases what I think is a stake is not how to ‘scale up’ or merely ‘transpose’ methods, manifestos or ideas from one place to another but how to learn the local art of ‘re-specifying.’ What if that was our task, permanently, whenever we move from one place, discipline or context to another? That is, to re-specify our goals and aims, which means that we have to recalibrate, unlearn and relearn from the context in which we operate, as well as enter in situations that might change us forever, so that we could try to enact an opening.

In all fairness none of the two stories I told could be deemed as ‘failures.’ Indeed, they show that situations have a degree of play, however difficult it might be to find the appropriate tension in which they might become meaningful. Hence, to re-specify might be to open pores, networks, modes of being together and caring for each other’s arguments. Something like third spaces–that is, spaces that are neither fully academic nor fully non-academic, neither fully anthropological nor fully architectural, to use my examples.

What if we were to be always opening up spaces in-between? What if the only way in which our experiences from one place to another could work was to endlessly open up such third spaces of re-specification without wanting to take control of the situation? In a way that was the Zapatista issue: ‘changing the world without taking control.’[8] However, and precisely in that same Zapatista sense, I don’t mean any of this as an apostle of anything, since we would always need to re-specify even what the preachers say.

I feel that third spaces are always about the concrete and the singular, about what happens, what gathers us in a common experiential tissue. So they cannot be premised on what happened elsewhere. These third spaces should be put together grounding on what in the book In defence of school Masschelein and Simons call ‘free time’[9]–which, by the way, is the Greek etymology for the English term school, skholē. And that is what those third spaces, those pores or networks are all about: lending us time, giving time to each other to ‘re-specify’… Otherwise there’s no learning, because, in a way learning cannot but be to become another, to share our conditions of ‘study’ with others.[10]

These third spaces I am referring to might only work when they are characterised by their intimacy and a certain trust: the intimacy to fail and to err, together, in our re-specifications. And because of that they take an awful time to develop, and a lot of care, since they are constantly on the verge of being shut down. But the experimentation they afford might indeed open up potentialities, modes of doing and mutually sustaining each other in bleak times like this…

Could we now, here, open up one of these spaces? Hence, where do we start?


[1] As expressed by Daniel López in the video produced for the #3esCTS:

[2] See

[3] See

[4] See

[5] See

[6] See

[7] See

[8] Cf. Holloway, J. (2005). Change the world without taking control (New edition). London: Pluto Press.

[9] Masschelein, J; Simons, M. (2013). In Defence of The School: A Public Issue. Leuven: E-ducation, Culture & Society Publishers (I wish to thank Ester Gisbert for her strong recommendation of this book!).

[10] Cf. Harney, S., & Moten, F. (2013). The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study. Wivenhoe: Minor Compositions.

Image credits

Postcard of Benjamin Baker’s human cantilever bridge model

Estados alterados: Un taller catártico-terapéutico para pensar el Estado de los STS (Red esCTS)

Llamada a participación

Formato especial del encuentro de la Red esCTS en Lisboa, 7-9 junio 2017

Organizado por Nizaiá Cassián, Gonzalo Correa & Tomás Sánchez Criado


Estados alterados: Hoy en día se nos aparecen Estados por todas partes, pero en los estados más diversos. Los nacionalismos los toman para sí, los miman, los cuidan (a sus des-maneras) y los reclaman para reivindicar las fronteras de la pureza unitaria, inventando a veces nuevas formas del fascismo. Un runrún neoliberal nos los quiere recortar a toda costa, privatizándolos o externalizándolos. Mientras tanto, movimientos vecinales y ciudadanos de diferente tipo reivindican y practican otras formas de lo público y de lo común no estatal. Nuevos municipalismos, plataformas y colectivos ciudadanos movidos por la idea de un gobierno de los ciudadanos, experimentan con diferentes formatos y dispositivos de toma de decisiones:  nuevos objetos, nuevos laboratorios y ensoñaciones institucionales que producen grietas, pero que en ocasiones abren también muy diferentes formas de estabilización o coqueteos con formas alternativas de gestión, pobladas por nuevos expertos y técnicos con sus métodos alterados y alterantes. Pero también tenemos la incesante y perpetua producción de siempre nuevas formas de exclusión, con sus barreras morales (más o menos bienpensantes), sus fronteras y muros, sus desclasados y parias, y sus formas de arreglárselas al margen del estado.

Estados que son estados de ánimo: de esperanza, de desesperación, de alegría, de inquietud, de satisfacción, de experimentación en la incertidumbre, de indignación, de tristeza, de miedo, de paranoia o de control. Estados que son estados de cosas: donde se acomodan, congregan, dispersan y predisponen los cuerpos, con sus posiciones, disposiciones e indisposiciones.

Estados alterados: es una llamada a re-pensar el Estado de los STS. Esto es, no sólo a reflexionar sobre la manera en que se ha pensado la cuestión del Estado desde los STS, sino también las maneras en que nos relacionamos con sus diferentes esencializaciones y desencializaciones: el modo en que intervenimos en sus configuraciones diversas, las palabras e imágenes que ponemos en juego para hacerlos inteligibles, los métodos con que operamos y fabricamos distintos límites y topologías, en que lo dotamos de cuerpo o lo descorporeizamos, lo espoleamos o lo zancadilleamos. Y más particularmente cómo pensar o fabricar desde los STS una relación con lo estatal en estos particulares tiempos de crisis (crisis del estado de bienestar, pero también crisis del bienestar del estado; o de nuestros lenguajes, de los intersticios, complicidades y figuraciones de las que nos dotamos para dar cuenta de ello).

Quizá este sea el momento de pensar cómo alterar nuestras estados, cómo dar estabilidad a otras formas de lo im/posible, cómo repensar el Estado de los STS, librando la catarsis a las manos de una terapéutica colectiva.

Estados alterados: se propone como un taller catártico-terapéutico para alterarnos, trabajando las diferentes maneras en que los STS han alterado su mirada sobre lo estatal, así como sobre las formas en que nuevas alteraciones pudieran traer consigo una alteración relevante de esas maneras de mirar, hacer e intervenir en tiempos revueltos y convulsos. Para ello, nos convocamos a enviar distintos estados alterados, reflejados, pensados o imaginados a través de artefactos, objetos, viñetas etnográficas, materiales fotográficos o sonoros, fragmentos de noticias o discursos, definiciones académicas o disquisiciones peregrinas. Estados alterados que den cuenta de diferentes tipos de alteración, que nos obliguen a dirimir qué alteración requieren esos estados alterados.

El taller Estados alterados consistirá en (1) una breve contextualización para luego (2) presentar distintos estados alterados que sirvan de material clínico para nuestra exploración. Posteriormente (3) invitaremos a las participantes a reunirse en grupo para re-presentar, re-pensar y re-imaginar esas distintas alteraciones (en formato collage, actuación, o la alteración que se haga disponible). Finalmente (4) cada grupo ensayará una propuesta de catarsis colectiva, un modo de alterarse y relacionarse con esos estados alterados.

Envíanos tus propuestas de estados alterados a: | Fecha límite: 30 de abril de 2017