The last issue of the wonderful journal project entanglements: experiments in multimodal ethnography came with the sad news that they’re closing down shop. It’s perhaps telling that our call for institutionalising more-than-textual ethnography appears in that very last issue. Perhaps it symbolically means that there’s loads of work to be done for multimodality to thrive.
This is also a text that came to be published as I discovered I would be moving to greener career pastures, after many wonderful years developing the vision we here present, and that I hope I can continue to work on as associate researcher of the Stadtlabor for Multimodal Anthropology.
Many thanks to Ignacio Farías, Julia Schröder and our many collaborators in different projects for their inspiration to think together more-than-textual anthropological worlds!
The end is the beginning is the end is the beginning!
In this collective text, we introduce the vision and work of the Stadtlabor for Multimodal Anthropology at the Humboldt-University of Berlin and propose to explore the values of multimodal ethnographic projects, broadly construed. Thinking from our very explorations in multimodal production, foregrounding a concern on values is critical to share a conundrum that has been haunting us in recent times. Indeed, while engaging in various multimodal projects, we have been confronted with a predicament that we assume many multimodally-invested colleagues must have faced at some point: the problem of how to evaluate and even institutionalize multimodal anthropological projects. This question has started to become pressing when discussing our projects in different academic contexts. In what follows, we aim to expound and discuss the particular challenges of evaluating multimodal productions and thus of institutionalizing values for the multimodal.
Recommended citation: Criado, T., Farías, I. and Schröder, J. (2022). ‘Multimodal Values: The Challenge of Institutionalizing and Evaluating More-than-textual Ethnography’, entanglements, 5(1/2): 94-107 | PDF
[Klicken Sie hier für eine deutsche Version dieses Textes]
In diesem Text wollen wir zum einen das Stadtlabor für Multimodale Anthropologie am Institut für Europäische Ethnologie der Humboldt Universität zu Berlin vorstellen und über unsere Projekte der letzten Jahre reflektieren. Zum anderen soll der Wert von mehr-als-textuellen ethnographischen Projekten diskutiert und das Spiel als multimodal-anthropologisches Format beleuchtet werden. Während in den Anthropologien, wie in anderen sozial- und kulturwissenschaftlichen Disziplinen auch, das Schreiben und der Text ausschlaggebende Wissenspraktiken- bzw. -instrumente sind, nutzt die multimodale Anthropologie bewusst eine Vielzahl von Modalitäten, um diverse sinnliche Formen der Wissensproduktion gezielt in die Forschung miteinzubeziehen. In der mehr-als-textuellen Ethnographie wird das Textuelle zu einer von vielen möglichen Formen der ethnographischen Praxis und bildet nicht dessen bestimmende Methode. Eine mehr-als-textuelle Anthropologie schafft somit neue Zugänge für die anthropologische Praxis – gleichzeitig bringt sie neue Einschränkungen und Schwierigkeiten mit sich. Im Mittelpunkt dieses Textes steht daher eine Herausforderung bzw. ein Dilemma, mit der bzw. dem wir uns bei unserer Beschäftigung mit multimodalen Ansätzen immer wieder konfrontiert sehen und welche viele unserer Kolleg*innen ebenfalls beschäftigten: Wie können mehr-als-textuelle anthropologische Projekte bewertet und institutionalisiert werden? Diese Frage hat sich bei unseren eigenen multimodalen Erkundungen immer wieder als dringlich erwiesen. Denn trotz der vielseitigen Inspirationen, die unsere jüngsten multimodalen Projekte bereitstellten, sorgen diese ebenso für Irritationen, denn auch hier blieb das Gefühl, trotz mehr-als-textlicher Werkzeuge, nicht alles erfassen, beschreiben oder festmachen zu können. Im Folgenden möchten wir die Frage nach dem ethnographischen Wert sowie die besonderen Herausforderungen bei der Auswertung multi-modaler Produktionen erläutern und diskutieren.
House of Gossip is an open-source downloadable game (developed by the Stadtlabor for Multimodal Anthropology of the HU Berlin) that stages and creates the grounds for reflection on conflicts regarding housing and the different viewpoints in a volatile real estate market.
Berlin, late 2010s, all across the city real estate is changing hands fast, the market is hot and many are investing, houses are revaluing. As it tends to happen, this situation has at least two different sides:
– “What about this building? Might you have found a good opportunity here?” – “It indeed looks nice, but have we explored if it’s in good condition?”
– “The architect sent me this report, look, all clear.” – “It certainly looks promising.” – “It’s time to act fast.” – “Ok, yes, let’s go for this house!”
– “Hi, how was your day?” – “Nothing special, yours?” – “I heard rumours, two neighbours speaking in the corridor: the building is finally going to be bought!” – “Yes, there was a letter in the mail, look”. – “But… What will happen to us? Will we have to move if they raise the rent?” – “We have to do something…” – “But we know nearly no one in the house.”
“When an apartment building is to be sold, every single alarm bell sets off for the residents. In view of the horrendous purchase prices, there is a danger of being displaced by higher rents or even conversion into condominiums.”
House of Gossip is an open-source downloadable game that stages and creates the grounds for reflection on conflicts regarding housing and the different viewpoints in a volatile real estate market. In the game, you will have the opportunity to play either as a resident of the house or as a covert buyer, acting as one of the house’s residents.
In a process where no one can be certain about anything, gossip abounds: In the game you will have to gather information form alliances and find your way to save (as residents) or buy (as the buyer) the house! Think twice about who and when you want to share your information with!
During the course of the game you will repeatedly encounter your neighbours in the stairway to exchange gossip. Your main goal is not just to understand to whom you’re talking to, but also to perform in front of others and form alliances for one of the two competing purposes of the game: Buying or saving the house.
Those who manage to gather the necessary gossips will in the end win the game. Will the house community manage to resist or could the buyer succeed in acquiring the new property?
Last July (22-23.07.2021) the Stadtlabor for Multimodal Anthropology of the HU Berlin hosted a workshop where we invited a wide variety of colleagues working in Germany, Austria and Switzerland (D-A-CH) to share and discuss their approaches to more-than-textual ethnographic practice.
The event–called “Anthropology beyond text? Experiments, devices and platforms of multimodal ethnographic practice”–took place on Zoom, and in the spirit of thinking more in depth how to value and evaluate multimodal projects, we recorded the conversation to think whether we could find a way of creating a good-enough summary that might allow us to continue thinking and discussing about it.
After different attempts, and thanks to the good work of Nelson Ari Wilhelm, we’re sharing it with the aim of fostering the expansion of such a conversation.
In the Winter Semester’s 21-22 Stadtlabor Online Seminar Series “The values of multimodal projects“, we aim to invite ground-breaking anthropological projects where multimodality features not just as an add-on of particular inquiries, but as a central mode of research and intervention.
At a time where the conversation around ‘multimodality’ is gaining momentum, we aim to discuss ‘the values’ of multimodal projects. By this, we mean two main things: The aim of our series would not just be to find the conditions to praise (‘valorise’), but also to appraise (‘evaluate’) multimodal projects. In a nutshell, we want this event series to be an attempt at creating the conceptual grounds for evaluating and institutionalising multimodal endeavours. Hence, to foster multimodal productions.
In particular, we wish to discuss the anthropological value of (i) dramaturgical / performance interventions, and anthropological approaches to (ii) exhibiting and curating. In opening up this space, we seek to highlight projects that we take as valuable contributions: not only to make them more visible but also so that these projects could help us in articulating their multimodal values, as well as inspiring others in their own work.
Not only we want to be able to learn from concrete multimodal approaches – the peculiarity of the media employed, the reasons for their choices – but we wish to create the grounds for a detailed conversation between projects of the same kind, touching upon criteria of anthropological worth.
26.1.22 (3-5:30pm CET) – How to exhibit anthropologically?
1. Francisco Martínez: How to Make Ethnographic Research with Exhibitions
Francisco Martínez is an anthropologist dealing with contemporary issues of material culture through ethnographic experiments. In 2018, he was awarded with the Early Career Prize of the European Association of Social Anthropologists. Currently, he works as Associate Professor at Tallinn University and convenes the Collaboratory for Ethnographic Experimentation (EASA Network). Francisco has published two monographs – Ethnographic Experiments with Artists, Designers and Boundary Objects(UCL Press, 2021) and Remains of the Soviet Past in Estonia (UCL Press, 2018). He has also edited several books, including Peripheral Methodologies (Routledge, 2021); Politics of Recuperation in Post-Crisis Portugal (Bloomsbury, 2020), and Repair, Brokenness, Breakthrough (Berghahn, 2019), He has also curated different exhibitions – including ‘Objects of Attention’ (Estonian Museum of Applied Art & Design, 2019), and ‘Life in Decline’ (Estonian Mining Museum, 2021).
2. Manuela Bojadžijev: Archive of Refuge
Manuela Bojadžijev, professor at the Institute for European Ethnology (HU Berlin) together with the publicist Carolin Emcke and in cooperation with the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), have created the Archive of Refuge as a digital place of remembrance where stories of flight and expulsion to Germany in the 20th and 21st centuries are preserved and reflected upon. The people who tell their stories in the archive tell of flight and expulsion, of torture, exploitation and deprivation of rights, but also of hope and happiness; they tell of home and exile, of belonging and new beginnings – and ultimately also show surprising, far-reaching perspectives on German history. The archive asks: What does it actually mean to seek refuge?
9.2.22 (2:30-5pm CET) – How to stage issues anthropologically?
1. Cristiana Giordano & Greg Pierotti: Affect Theater: Collaborations between Anthropology and Performance
Cristiana Giordano is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Davis. She received her Ph.D. from UC Berkeley. Her book, Migrants in Translation. Caring and the Logics of Difference in Contemporary Italy (2014), won the Victor Turner Book Prize for ethnographic writing (2016), and the Boyer Prize in Psychoanalytic Anthropology (2017). Her current research investigates new ways of rendering ethnographic material into artistic forms. She has been collaborating with playwright and director Greg Pierotti on a new methodology, Affect Theater, at the intersection of the social sciences and performance. They have created Unstories and and Unstories II (roaming), two 50-minute performances around the current “refugee crisis” in Europe.
Greg Pierotti is a theater artist and assistant professor of theater studies at University of Arizona. His plays, including Unstories, b more, The Laramie Project, and The People’s Temple, have been seen in venues around the world and translated into over a dozen languages. He is a recipient of the Humanitas Prize, the Will Glickman Award, the San Francisco Critics Award, and has been nominated for an Emmy, a New York Drama Desk Award, and the Alpert Award for outstanding individual contribution to the theater. He and Cristiana Giordano investigate the intersection of ethnographic and theatrical research and production methods.
2. AnthropoScenes: Linking participatory methods with theatre to imagine sustainable futures
The Project AnthropoScenes is run by a group of people from interdisciplinary human-environment research and the Theatre of the Anthropocene. Competences reach from hard science to pop-up theatre. We aim to involve diverse publics in debates about water futures and bring two questions: Can multimodality help to balance divergent logics of science and theatre? What are tips and tricks to move beyond the usual suspects? Jörg Niewöhner (anthropology), Pauline Münch (science communication) and Frank Raddatz (theatre) will represent the team.
Questions we want to raise
1. What were the reasons to choose this peculiar approach, media or art form? What relation do these forms bear to specific ethnographic fieldwork studies or particular anthropological modes of inquiry? What were your aims in exploring this multimodal form?
2. What have been the knowledges you’ve needed to become acquainted with to use these media/forms? What does anthropological research and knowledge production become when shaped in this particular form or using these devices? Also, how could we critically reflect, as anthropologists, on the affordances, promises, challenges and predicaments of the particular devices of your multimodal ethnographic engagement? In a nutshell, what are the promises and challenges of this form for anthropological inquiries?
3. What effects have your multimodal form of choice had on the people you were working with: your interlocutors, your peers? How could we learn to appreciate and value these effects: that is, what contours of anthropological practice are being delineated in what your multimodal explorations made emerge?
4. Have you been able to document your project, in what form? What have been the main challenges or difficulties in doing so? Who have you addressed in doing so: that is, who are your audiences, publics?
A more informal conversation on these issues, with questions and comments from the hosts and the audience, will ensue.
How can our modes of ethnographic inquiry respond to the challenges of the day? Amidst rampant planetary and health crisis revealing our worlds’ constitutive vulnerability, it has become more urgent than ever to open up speculative spaces to make emerge the possible. We think that this invocation needs to go hand in hand with a speculation of the many possible forms of ethnographic practice. A challenge that, in our opinion, needs to acknowledge and animate the intrinsic inventive condition of ethnography.
This is our point of departure: Ethnography is an act of invention. By that we mean that anthropologists invent the relations allowing them to inquire with others. Sadly, these forms of inventiveness that is part and parcel of ethnographic inquiries are rarely accounted for and shared. xcol, an ethnographic inventory invites ethnographers to join this inventorying endeavour.
The inventiveness that permeates the modes of anthropological inquiry takes expression in very different socio-material techniques: ranging from digital infrastructures used in fieldwork to novel modes of documenting through drawing or very diverse forms of relationality. We call these field devices for they devise the socio-spatial and material conditions of fieldwork.
Any anthropologist has faced in their fieldwork the challenging circumstance of forging out of nothing relations with complete strangers in an unknown situation. Ethnographers draw on the forms of relationality they already know and the guides and norms of the ethnographic method they have learnt. But this knowledge is never enough. As any experienced ethnographer very well knows from their own field experience, there is no script for social life and no sufficient method to guide the construction of relations in the field. Hence, anthropological inquiries always demand inventing the modes of relationality allowing anthropologists to investigate with others (whoever they are).
The starting point of the inventory assumes that besides, or rather beyond, the conventional conceptualization of ethnography as a ‘method’ we may conceive it as an act of invention. The language of creativity, improvisation and invention is seldom, if ever, present in the anthropological accounts of ethnography. Our proposal goes against this state of affairs, positing a different conception that signals out the always creative and improvisational nature of ethnography.
The xcol ethnographic inventory is a curated open-source digital archive seeking to document and display this endless invention integral to any ethnographic inquiry. In our first Call for Inventions (CfI) we are particularly aiming to inventory accounts of ‘field devices’: to insist, the inventive social and material arrangements undertaken, created, made or repurposed in the course of doing fieldwork with others.
What we have in mind are texts of at least 2000 words accounting for these field devices in at least two senses: (1) fleshing out the context as well as the social and material arrangements of particular ‘field devices’ as they are put into practice in empirical situations; and (2) hinting at the particular modes of ethnographic inquiry they enable or make emerge.
We particularly welcome texts experimenting with genres in between recipes or instruction manuals and ethnographic descriptive accounts.
In the spirit of what we call ‘care review’ xcol, an ethnographic inventory commits to publishing all proposals we would receive, whenever they might be ready to be shared: hence taking care to bring them to fruition and working together with interested xcolars in their writing in subsequent months.
If you wanted to submit or discuss an individual contribution, but also, if you thought about organising with us a workshop on inventions (an inventathon) around some of these topics, please do not hesitate to contact us here: firstname.lastname@example.org
Together with Ignacio Farías we are convening the workshop Towards a multimodal urban anthropology for the upcoming biannual conference of the German Association of Social and Cultural Anthropology(DGSKA-Tagung 2021, “Worlds, Zones, Atmospheres. Seismographies of the Anthropocene”) that will take place (online) September 27-30, 2021 at the University of Bremen.
More-than-human approaches in urban anthropology have convincingly contributed to rethinking the plurality of modes of knowledge, the assemblages and the kinds of actors that constitute our cities. But what do these conceptual interventions do to our ethnographic modes of inquiry? This workshop starts from the assumption that beyond a change in conceptual repertoires, decentering the all-too-human object of urban anthropology might require a multimodal transformation of our ethnographic practices, in at least two ways: Firstly, since the ‘observation’ of more-than-human entanglements requires more than taking part in social situations, what are the conditions in which we could appreciate and learn to be affected, attuned and concerned with a wide variety of phenomena and processes, ranging from atmospheric and ecological to multi-species and/or socio-technical? How would our practices of note-taking and field-working be affected? In contexts where fieldwork becomes an active co-production of situations, we invite contributions reflecting on multimodal transformations of fieldnotes, practices of rapport / friendship / interlocution and correspondence. Secondly, to the extent that these often-experimental collaborations involve more-than-textual devices for ethnographic description and conceptualization, we would like to explore the anthropological potentials of current displacements of the media and modalities of ethnographic accounts. In a context where collaborations with art and design are becoming a common practice, we particularly welcome contributions that reflect on the intervention these devices entail for the project of urban anthropology.
Participants & abstracts
Graphic Ethnography and Experiments in Urban Anthropology (Andrew Gilbert, University of Toronto Mississauga; Larisa Kurtovic, Univ. of Ottawa)
In this presentation, we draw upon our graphic ethnography project to explore the affordances of sequential art for urban anthropology. Our research investigates an unprecedented victory by industrial workers in the northern Bosnian city of Tuzla, who occupied and preserved their privatized and bankrupted factory and were able to restart production. We propose that the graphic medium offers unique ethnographic potential for capturing and communicating the openly experimental and collaborative nature of the workers struggle, offering important insights for an urban anthropology “understood as operating within an open system, as an open system, and as the study and production of open systems” (Fortun 2003). In particular, we explore graphic ethnography’s capacity to materialize and render tangible a broad urban sensorium, to evoke how the social multiplicities of cities can be turned into a political resource, and to harness the imagination and participation of readers in ways that keeps ethnography as inventive and open-ended as the urban worlds that it evokes.
Learning from outside: grasping and representing multiplicities. The case of pedestrianized Times Square (Santiago Orrego, HU Berlin)
This talk is divided into two parts. The first one presents the highlights of a multi-situated and multimodal ethnography of Times Square in New York City and its processes of pedestrianization from 2009 to 2017. But more than just telling the story of how that location was assembled, the idea was to try to translate the particularities of a multiple spatiality, as well as the resources and situations involved in its production, somehow, into epistemological devices and multimodal artifacts that could enrich the way we make ethnography of public spaces. The intention of experimenting with multimodal methods was to design strategies, as well as artifacts, for better capturing and representing the convulse and the effervescent world outside. The second part of the talk will focus on some of those epistemological devices and multimodal artifacts by discussing how they were constructed, the rationality behind them, their uses, and scopes. The way for enacting all those matters will be presenting the methodological strategy carried out along this whole ethnographic work, and that can be described as a process of “learning from” a specific location, pedestrianized Times Square.
Archival entanglements: Multimodal research, teaching, learning in urban anthropology (Aylin Tschoepe, University of Basel)
As a site of selective public or private memory, a collection of evidence in material and immaterial form shaped by various power dynamics, and a metaphor for holding data, the archive is central to the mediated production and understanding of archival bodies as agents and mnemonic devices. Archives offer a lens to grapple with questions of temporality, materiality, technological possibilities, and accessibility to different ways of knowing. I understand bodies and spaces as archives, not least through cultural practices of memorizing and forgetting, categorization, valuation and visibility. I am drawn to the archive in its complexity of objecthood and agency and focus on four main aspects: first, the archive as artefact holds particular knowledges and memories in the context of power and valuation, and can consist of various media and formats from material to digital. Second, the archive can be inscribed onto human and non-human actors. Third, as storages of data, archives may be part of a network with archival instruments that inscribe experiences and practices such as those of a cultural, social, performative, sensory, or aesthetic kind. Fourth, the archive is an actor itself, and it can contain further archival bodies that are also “quasi-objects” (Latour 2005). As actors, archives are also witnesses, equipped with transformative powers toward shaping the future of larger temporal and spatial networks in which archives operate and are entangled.
Doing urban anthropology with a dog. Reflections upon ethnography and knowledge production in context of a more-than-human research entanglement (Elisabeth Luggauer, University Graz/University Würzburg)
This paper reflects upon multimodal ethnographic modes of being in a field of urban contact zones (Haraway 2008) or urban assemblages (Farias 2011) between humans and street dogs in Podgorica (Montenegro) as a multispecies research entanglement of a human and the dog Ferdinand. It points out how through the grounding ethnographic technique of jointly claiming urban space as a „humandog collective“ (Hodgetts 2018) 1. the presence of the mixed-breed dog reveals urban discourses and politics about street dogs and owned dogs as well as about cleanliness and dirt, 2. Ferdinand’s spatial practices make contact zones/assemblages between humans and street dogs recognizable for the human researcher and therefore open up concrete research settings for deeper investigation, and 3. our presence as a multispecies research team has also turned this project into a contact zone between different knowledges and discourses on human-nonhuman order policies in urban spaces embedded in different cultural and political contexts.
Discussant: Indrawan Prabaharyaka (HU Berlin)
Questions for our joint exploration
The question we would like to approach collectively in our workshop is how do particular multimedia/multimodal devices enable or hinder particular descriptions, conceptual understandings or ways of remaking what the urban is or could be. This not only means what features of the urban they enable or make more difficult to do research upon, but also whether our understandings of the urban remain the same after inquiring multimodally. Put differently, what kind of an urban anthropology emerges out of these multimodal engagements? That is, what would a multimodal urban anthropology be?
With these questions in mind, when creating the sequence of presentations for the session we have paid special attention to the particular ‘devices’ (be they field devices, representational devices, or both) there are stake, with the intention to discuss the multimedia layers that have paved the way for a question around the multimodal in anthropology. Hence, there is a transition from the visual/graphic to the digital, then to more material aspects like the archive and the multi-sensory as well as the collaborative (perhaps a genealogy in which the problem of multimodality presented itself in recent anthropological scholarly work?). But whereas the first two (Gilbert & Kurtovic + Orrego) emphasise visual means of representation (comic/graphic novel and exhibition artefacts), the last two (Tschoepe + Luggauer) discuss multimodal strategies of research in the field (through archives, and in the company of dogs). Perhaps this might enable a discussion on when and where multimodality happens, and how this affects the research process.
As part of the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of the Zeitschrift für Ethnologie (Journal of the DGSKA – German Association for Social and Cultural Anthropology) Kristina Mashimi, Thomas Stodulka, Hansjörg Dilger, Anita vonPoser, Dominik Mattes and Birgitt Röttger-Rössler curated a plenary in the DGSKA 2019 in Konstanz titled ‘Envisioning Anthropological Futures‘ in which I had the honour to join a conversation with inspiring colleagues Janina Kehr, Sandra Calkins, and Michaela Haug.
“The contributions in this special section discuss the challenges, tensions, and prospects of doing anthropology today: How do we position ourselves as anthropologists in a time that is marked by the rise of populist and fascist movements, climate crisis, and related environmental disasters? How do we respond to highly unequal processes of social inclusion and exclusion? How can we not only describe but also contribute to an imagination of the horizons of possibility amidst capitalist ruins (Tsing 2015)? Or in other words: What is the role of anthropology in not only representing but maybe also envisioning and shaping alternative futures? Although anthropology has been entangled with geopolitical issues ever since its inception, our current “troubled times” (Stoller 2017) have brought the political back to center stage within the discipline (Postero and Elinoff 2019). They have also provoked many anthropologists to rethink the conventional descriptive or critical practices of our field and to reflect on new ways of engaged and activist anthropology (Low and Merry 2010; Huschke 2015) – or in other words, on the role of anthropology in carving out and shaping spaces that offer alternatives to dominant socio-economic arrangements, characterized by growing inequalities” (p.15)
– Kristina Mashimi, Thomas Stodulka, Hansjörg Dilger, and Anita von Poser (2020) Introduction: Envisioning Anthropological Futures (and Provincializing their Origins)
In my contribution, I speculate on the possible futures for anthropological practice that might open up when, rather than studying or collaborating in corporate or professional design activities, we undertake anthropology as a careful design practice: to envision a future – for anthropology and beyond – there is perhaps no other way than to pry open the un- certain, but also deeply asymmetric and expertocratic conditions of the present. For this, we may need to place at the very core of our anthropological endeavours a critical desire to design conditions for opening up to a plurality of knowledge platforms, so as to heighten our joint arts of learning how to know and live with one another. A careful practice to undo the conditions of those whose actions have the potential to be harmful. Drawing from this, and if anthropology wants to contribute to more careful modes of togetherness, so that diverging and plural worlds can thrive, perhaps we need to envision ways of engaging with design, not just through superbly written stories with a critical or conceptual twist, but also learning to affect it ‘from within’ its own practices.
My appreciation goes to the editors for their kind invitation, and for pushing me to clarify my arguments. Many thanks to Ignacio Farías and Ester Gisbert for the mutual inspiration in envisioning pedagogic avenues for anthropology to be relevant in architectural worlds. Also, thanks to Francisco Martínez, Daniela Rosner and Janina Kehr, who commented on versions of the manuscript at various stages.
Anthropology as a Careful Design Practice?
How can we envision the future of anthropology in the present times of crisis, when the social as we knew it, and the conventional descriptive and critical practices of our discipline may no longer be adequate? Here I tentatively draw on work at the crossroads of design, where the future can be reclaimed as a disciplinary concern for anthropology. Design has recently become a significant source of methodological and political inspiration for our discipline to take part in the materialisation of alternative forms of world-making. Yet, as design is not a unitary field, I will particularly dwell on how I have re-learnt and experimented with what being an anthropologist might mean in encounters with urban accessibility design activism. In these careful explorations I have found not only an inspiring field of inquiry within knowledge politics, but also a relevant domain for interventions seeking to create technical democracy. Describing a particular case of how I became ‘activated’ by this design activism – drawing inspiration from their practices for teaching future architects – I speculate on the possible futures for anthropological practice that might open up when, rather than studying or collaborating in corporate or professional design activities, we undertake anthropology as a careful design practice.
What if in the face of very serious topics we developed conceptual, speculative and material tools, such as games, to find ways of intervening as ethnographers, social scientists or as activists in current design dynamics?
The series of talks Playing with method wishes to open up a line of inquiry counting on practical examples (be they card, board, performative or video-games) theoretical repertoires, and speculative visions or positional arguments to address the promises and challenges of the ways in which games might be mobilized for different forms and genres of social intervention.
In spite, or even because of their ludic dimension, we want to explore to what extent games might be capable of altering how we discuss issues, share knowledge, raise awareness, make problems public, imagine futures, and learn to care. Thus, we would like to collectively discuss critically on the contemporary cultural role of games, with the aspiration to ponder how games could redevelop our repertoires of ethnographic representation and intervention; or what vocabularies and considerations might allow us to unfold their full potential as relevant ethnographic or peri-ethnographic genres.
What is more, we are particularly interested in how games open up a Spielraum (a degree of play) for transgressing the boundaries of academic disciplines and reinventing what research might mean.
Why this workshop now?
In the last years, members of the Stadtlabor for Multimodal Anthropology have been approaching the potentialities and challenges of games as particular platforms or devices for anthropological research / intervention for the real estate crisis in Berlin. In our work not only we have been inspired by the activist/ pedagogic impetus of the Landlord’s Game (anti-monopolistic predecessor of Monopoly), but also by different works around games by social designers, artists and other anthropologists wishing to expand the reach of forms of urban intervention.
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.
In collaboration with ZK/U, we have produced a series of games, most centrally featuring House of Gossip, which re-enacts the threat of displacement of tenants from their homes, plunging us into the rumors circulating in a stairway and their truth effects.
Drawing from our own work, for this series of talks we would like to gather around inspiring examples so as to discuss and discover together how developing games might also impact how we could do social-cultural 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.
El próximo 18 de noviembre a las 6pm (CET) Adolfo Estalella y yo presentaremos la nueva versión de #xcol en el Laboratorio de Antropología Audiovisual Experimental del MUSAC. La financiación de nuestro proyecto en la convocatoria Open LAAV_ nos ha permitido convertir el sitio web en un inventario etnográfico, esto es, una plataforma digital para cuidar de la inventiva del trabajo de campo.
Aquí adjunto el texto de presentación del seminario donde desvelaremos la nueva versión de la web:
“La etnografía es un acto de invención. Los antropólogos (y las antropólogas también) inventan siempre la manera de investigar con otras. La creatividad e inventiva que es integral a la actividad empírica de la antropología (y de manera amplia de la etnográfica), ha sido raramente reconocida por esta disciplina. Inventiva y creatividad parecen estar prescritas, muy al contrario de lo que ocurre en el mundo del arte, donde la creatividad es una de sus señas de identidad. Este encuentro online introduce un proyecto dedicado a documentar e inventariar la invención etnográfica: “xcol. An Ethnographic Inventory“. Una plataforma digital, abierta a la participación de cualquier interesada, que tiene como objetivo animar la inventiva que demanda la investigación etnográfica de nuestros mundos contemporáneos. El encuentro introducirá brevemente el argumento teórico sobre la inventiva etnográfica y presentará el inventario xcol“
Pues, literalmente, hemos transformado #xcol en un modesto archivo digital colaborativo para inventariar la inventiva etnográfica. Durante la presentación mostraremos las diferentes secciones de la página: no sólo un inventario de inventos etnográficos, sino también ‘xpositions‘ (ensayos temáticos), colecciones de inventos, un glosario y un directorio de ‘xcolars‘ entre otras cosas.
Estamos dando las últimas pinceladas, pero tendrá una pinta parecida a esto:
¿Es una cosa sólo para antropólogxs?
Quienes lo hemos instigado somos antropólogxs, pero no, el inventario no es sólo para antropólogxs: Apelamos a etnógrafxs de todas las ramas a documentar e inventariar sus inventos etnográficos. De hecho, las formas de inventiva en los márgenes (inter-/trans-/a-) disciplinares han sido siempre cruciales para la etnografía.
Es más, la inspiración del diseño, la arquitectura y el arte son nuclear a la plataforma: queremos inventariar ‘inventos’ (en un sentido literal) etnográficos como ‘dispositivos de campo’, ‘formatos abiertos’ de encuentro, ‘prototipos’ o ‘intravenciones’ de una práctica a otra.
El argumento que da sentido a la plataforma es que el trabajo de campo siempre ha sido y será inventivo, pero los relatos metodológicos o disciplinares sobre qué es la etnografía tienden a aplanar o dejar fuera esas formas de invención: de ahí la razón de documentar colaborativamente esos gestos, para ¿quizá aprender de esa otra etnografía ya existente?
Una plataforma abierta de uso libre
Los contenidos serán de uso libre CC BY SA y la plataforma es de código libre y permitirá forks a quien quiera. La hemos desarrollado junto con Montera34, inspirados por la inventiva documental y archivística de Inteligencias Colectivas