The Method of Telegrammatic Correspondence: A Digital Mode of Inquiry during ‘Lockdown’

Logo. CC BY 2020 Cor on Collaboration

Ever since the COVID-19 outbreak unfolded into a major health and social crisis in Spain Adolfo Estalella and I have been taking part in a peculiar Telegram-based messaging group. ‘Cor on Collaboration’, as the space was named, turned into our main source of news, links, experiences, appreciations, reflections and collective debates. It was originally set up by some of our ethnographic acquaintances in the last years, a loose group of architects, designers and cultural workers with the goal of developing a version of a podcast radio show based in Madrid, devoted to exploring manifold forms of urban collaboration. From 20 people by mid-March to the actual 84, the group soon became a frantic and lively space where all participants have been sharing personal experiences, commenting media articles, discussing specialized papers and pre-prints or analysing collectively anything relevant to understand the unfolding of the COVID crisis. From its onset the convening team encouraged us to send audio messages to compile and edit them, together with other material, as podcasts that could reach out to a wider public beyond the group. Here we reflect on the methodological inspiration we could draw from this peculiar use of a regular off-the-shelf collaborative digital platform for our work as social scientists. Shocked and perplexed by the present situation, we (as the rest of our companions) have found in ‘Cor on collaboration’ a resource to navigate uncertain times: Not just a place for solidarity, debate and contact, but a place driven by the shared effort to problematize the present situation. Contributing to the rising debate on how to undertake ethnographic work in times of lockdown we would like to intimate the affordances of this particular ‘telegrammatic’ correspondence that has allowed us (and our counterparts in this conversation) to inquire into the uncertainty of these strange times.

We have written a small piece, published as part of the Sociological Review’s Solidarity and Care series reflecting on the experience:

[EN] The Method of Telegrammatic Correspondence: A Digital Mode of Inquiry during ‘Lockdown’

[ES] El método de la correspondencia telegramática: Un modo de indagación digital para tiempos de confinamiento

Constitutional graffiti: Emergent landscapes of Corona protest in German cities

(French version below)

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

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

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

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

Publication and rationale

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

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

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

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

Some background references

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

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

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

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

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

rbb24.de (2 May 2020). 1. Mai in Berlin – Tausende Menschen ziehen dicht an dicht durch Kreuzberg. rbb24.de

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

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

Spiele als Stadtforschung / Games as urban research

Our Stadtlabor for multimodal anthropology‘s explorations around urban games feature at the exhibition „Open Form neu Denken“ organized by Z/KU at the Werkstatt of Haus der Statistik.

When? October 25–27 2019
Where? Werkstatt Haus der Statistik – Karl-Marx-Allee 1, 10178 Berlin

Come by and play with us!

Events

Friday, 25.10.2019: Opening

Saturday, 26.10.2019: Conference
A conference in the exhibition will be focusing on the concept of open form and how it travels between design, architecture, politics and anthropology. Ignacio Farías and Tomás Criado will give a short input on games as a form of urban research.

Sunday, 27.10.2019: Playing
The Stadtlabor team that worked on the games will be hosting the exhibition and playing and explaining the games to the visitors

Picture by Francisco Montoya, 2019 [CC]

More information (German & English)

DE | Spiele als Stadtforschung

Als Stadtlabor entwickeln wir konzeptuelle, spekulative und materielle Werkzeuge, wie etwa Spiele, um auf die aktuellen Krisen des modernen Urbanismus zu reagieren. Trotz oder gerade aufgrund ihrer spielerischen Dimension befähigen uns Spiele, die Art und Weise zu verändern wie wir Themen in Frage stellen, Wissen teilen, Bewusstsein schaffen, kritische Öffentlichkeiten generieren, Zukünfte imaginieren und Fürsorge erlernen.

Die von uns entwickelten Spiele sind keine finalen Produkte, sondern offene Prototypen. Sie sind Ergebnis und Methode unserer Forschung und Werkzeug, um Stadtentwicklungsprozesse gemeinsam zu gestalten. Als solche sind sie offen für Veränderung und Versionierung, damit ihre spezifischen Sprachen, Logiken, Spielweisen und Effekte an spezifische Situationen und unterschiedliche städtische Akteure angepasst werden können.

Unsere Explorationen rund um Spiele begannen im Kontext eines einjährigen ethnographischen MA-Studierendenprojekts The Only Game in Town?, das die aktuelle Krise des Berliner Wohnraums und Immobilienmarkts analysierte. Inspiriert von der Geschichte des Spiels Monopoly – registriert im Jahr 1904 von Elizabeth Magie als The Landlord’s Game und konzipiert als pädagogisches und politisches Instrument, um über die Gefahren von Landmonopolen aufzuklären – haben wir uns vorgenommen, Spielprototypen zu entwickeln, um unsere Forschungsergebnisse zu teilen.

In Zusammenarbeit mit dem ZK/U haben wir drei Spiele entwickelt: (1) House of Gossip problematisiert die drohende Verdrängung von Mieter*innen aus ihrem Wohnraum; (2) in Sue Them All setzt sich ein Kollektiv für gerechte Wohnpolitik ein; und (3) das Kiez Mind Archive schafft einen performativen Raum der Wissensproduktion. In diesem Prozess stellten wir fest, dass die Auseinandersetzung mit Spielen auch unseren Bezug zur Wissensproduktion verändert: vom Beschreiben zum Eingreifen, von Repräsentation zur Konstruktion von Wirklichkeiten, und damit auch zu einem Experimentieren mit der Bedeutung von Politik und Kritik bei der Entwicklung und Nutzung von Spielen.

EN | Games as urban research
In the Stadtlabor for multimodal anthropology, we are developing conceptual, speculative and material tools, such as games, to respond to the current crises of modern urbanism. In spite, or even because of their ludic dimension, games are capable to alter the ways in which we discuss issues, share knowledge, raise awareness, make urban problems public, imagine futures, and learn to care.

The games we have developed are not final products but open prototypes. They are result and method of our research, and work as devices to intervene in urban development processes. As such, they are open to be transformed and re-versioned, so that their specific languages, logics, gameplay, and effects could be adapted to specific situations and concerns of various urban actors.

Our exploration around games started in the context of a one-year ethnographic MA student project The Only Game in Town? analysing the contemporary crisis of housing and real estate markets in Berlin. Inspired by the history of the game Monopoly–registered in 1904 by Elizabeth Magie as The Landlord’s Game and conceived as an educational and political tool to reveal the dangers of land monopolies–, we then set to prototype games as a means to share our research results. In collaboration with ZK/U, we have produced three games: (1) House of Gossip problematizes the threat of displacement of tenants from their homes; (2) in Sue Them All a collective advocates for fair housing policy; and (3) the Kiez Mind Archive creates a performative space of knowledge production. In the process, we discovered that developing games also impacts how we could do research: from describing to intervening, from representing to performing (and breaching) reality, thus experimenting with what politics and critique might mean whenever we prototype and play.

Testing games at Open Form Exhibition,  2019 [CC]
Hackaton with Invisible Playground, 2019 [CC]
Neighborhood festival KMA, 2019 [CC]

Games: Open Documentation

House of Gossip

House of Gossip is problematising the threat of displacement of tenants from their homes. The opaque information during a house selling process leads to rumours among the tenants. Through improvised encounters and the exchange of rumours the players are trying to ally with each other and to fight for their interests.

Sue Them All

In Sue Them All, a collective advocates fair housing policy. The aim is to bring inadmissible leases. Individual and collective interests are coming together. Whether you pursue a competitive or cooperative strategy, change your tactics during the game or compromise is up to you.

Kiez Mind Archive 

You move through the district with an open task. It creates an associative game with the everyday and the unknown. Through your photographic interpretations you create an alternative visual archive of the neighbourhood.

Stadtlabor for Multimodal Anthropology

DE | Das Stadtlabor for Multimodal Anthropology ist eine Forschungsplattform, in der Anthropolog*innen, die an aktuellen Stadtthemen interessiert sind, multimediale Formate der Wissensproduktion und -intervention in Zusammenarbeit mit städtischen Akteuren erkunden und wird vom Lehrstuhl für Stadtanthropologie der Humboldt Universität zu Berlin geführt. Mitglieder, die an der Entwicklung der Spiele beteiligt waren, sind: Diana Mammana, Tan Weigand, Lilian Krischer, Lena Heiss, Leonie Schipke, Indrawan Prabaharyaka, Marie Aline Klinger, Tomás Sánchez Criado und Ignacio Farías.

EN | The Stadtlabor for Multimodal Anthropology is a research platform, where anthropologists interested in contemporary urban issues explore multimedia formats of knowledge production and intervention in collaboration with other urban actors and is run by the Chair of Urban Anthropology at Humboldt University of Berlin. The members who participated in the development of these games are: Diana Mammana, Tan Weigand, Lilian Krischer, Lena Heiss, Leonie Schipke, Indrawan Prabaharyaka, Marie Aline Klinger, Tomás Sánchez Criado and Ignacio Farías.

**

Texts adapted and expanded from the official invitation & the documentation of the exhibition