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


Functional Diversity as a Politics of Design? – DISEÑA, 11 (Special issue on Design & Politics)

The Chilean journal DISEÑA has just published its latest bilingual issue (Spanish & English), a detailed reflection on the relations between Politics & Design (DISEÑA #11), carefully edited by Martín Tironi.

I collaborate with a reflection (pp. 148-159) on the ‘politics’ of design–in a Rancièrian sense–undertaken by ‘functional diversity’ activism after the 15-M uprisings, and my participation in the En torno a la silla collective.

¿La diversidad funcional como una política del diseño?

Este artículo es una indagación sobre el activismo de la “diversidad funcional” tras la ocupación de las plazas del 15-M español, y, más concretamente, acerca de cómo a partir de ella la diversidad funcional se convierte en un repertorio que politiza el diseño (particularmente el mercado de ayudas técnicas y entornos accesibles desarrollados de acuerdo con el modelo social de la discapacidad). Para apuntalar una lectura de la política del diseño —en el sentido de la filosofía política de Jacques Rancière— que ahí aparece, tomaré como caso un pequeño proyecto colaborativo desarrollado por el colectivo de diseño abierto radicado en Barcelona En torno a la silla.

15-M _ Diversidad funcional _ En torno a la silla _ política del diseño _ Rancière

Functional diversity as a politics of design?

This article is an inquiry into the activism around ‘functional diversity’ after the public square occupations of the Spanish 15-M movement; and, more specifically, how, in them, ‘functional diversity’ developed into a repertoire for the politicisation of design (notably, the market of technical aids and accessible environments created according to the social model of disability). To underpin the particular reading of the politics of design —in the sense developed by political philosopher Jacques Rancière— that appears there, I will describe a small collaborative project put together by the Barcelona-based open design collective En torno a la silla.

15M _ En torno a la silla _ Functional diversity _ Politics of design _ Rancière


Cultural Anthropology – Openings collection on ‘Speed’


The recent Cultural Anthropology, 32(1) contains an Openings collection on “Speed” edited by Vincent Duclos, Tomás Sánchez Criado, and Vinh-Kim Nguyen.

As the presentation of the issue states: ‘In their introductory essay, the editors discuss how they hope to open anthropological practice to speed by offering a “a timely probe into machinic, productive, pressurizing, and largely intangible energetics that operate within, across, and beyond specific social configurations and forms of life.”’

Another end of the world is possible, Université Paris Ouest Nanterre. Photo courtesy of Audrey Bochaton.

Table of Contents

Caring through Design?: En torno a la silla and the ‘Joint Problem-Making’ of Technical Aids


Charlotte Bates, Rob Imrie, and Kim Kullman have edited the challenging compilation Care and Design: Bodies, Buildings, Cities (out November 2016 with Wiley-Blackwell).
In their words, the book: “connects the study of design with care, and explores how concepts of care may have relevance for the ways in which urban environments are designed. It explores how practices and spaces of care are sustained specifically in urban settings, thereby throwing light on an important arena of care that current work has rarely discussed in detail.”
Israel Rodríguez-Giralt and I contribute with the Chapter 11 “Caring through Design?: En torno a la silla and the ‘Joint Problem-Making’ of Technical Aids (pp. 198-218).

The idea for a wheelchair armrest/briefcase CC BY NC SA En torno a la silla (2012)


In this paper, we engage with the practices of En torno a la silla (ETS), which involve fostering small DIY interventions and collective material explorations, in order to demonstrate how these present a particularly interesting mode of caring through design. They do so, firstly, by responding to the pressing needs and widespread instability that our wheelchair friends face in present-day Spain, and, secondly, through the intermingling of open design and the Independent-Living movement’s practices and method, which, taken together, enable a politicisation and problematisation of the usual roles of people and objects in the design process. In the more conventional creation of commoditized care technologies, such as technical aids, the role of the designer as expert is clearly disconnected from that of the lay or end user. Rather, technical aids are objects embodying the expertise of the designer to address the needs of the user. As we will argue, ETS unfolds a ‘more radical’ approach to the design of these gadgets through what we will term ‘joint problem-making,’ whereby caring is understood as a way of sharing problems between users and designers, bringing together different skills to collaboratively explore potential solutions.


Urban accessibility issues: Technoscientific democratizations at the documentation interface


Picture CC BY Maria José Agüero

Carrers per a tothom demonstration, Barcelona, 14 March 2015 CC BY M.J. Agüero

As part of a special feature in the journal CITY edited by Ignacio Farías and Anders Blok on “Technical democracy as a challenge for urban studies”, Marcos Cereceda and I are publishing this article on accessibility struggles in Barcelona and their documentation interfaces.

CITY, 2016 VOL. 20, NO. 4, pp. 619-636, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13604813.2016.1194004


After many struggles from disability rights and independent-living advocates, urban accessibility has gradually become a concern for many urban planners across post-industrial countries. In this paper, based on ethnographic fieldwork studies in Barcelona working with urban accessibility professionals and activists, we argue for the importance of the ‘documentation interfaces’ created in their struggles: that is, the relational processes to collaboratively build multi-media accounts in a diversity of formats seeking to enforce different translations of bodily needs into specific urban accessibility arrangements. In discussion with the asymmetries that the ongoing expertization of accessibility might be opening up, we would like to foreground these apparently irrelevant practices as an interesting site to reflect on how urban accessibility struggles might allow us to rethink the project of technical democracy and its applications to urban issues. Two cases are analyzed: (1) the creation of Streets for All, a platform to contest and to sensitize technicians and citizens alike of the problems of ‘shared streets’ for the blind and partially sighted led by the Catalan Association for the Blind; and (2) the organization of the Tinkerthon, a DIY and open-source hardware workshop boosted by En torno a la silla to facilitate the creation of a network of tinkerers seeking to self-manage accessibility infrastructures. These cases not only bring to the fore different takes on the democratization of the relations between technical professionals and disability rights advocates, but also offer different approaches to the politics of universals in the design of urban accessibility arrangements.

Journal’s website (free PDF access)


Colleex: A Collaboratory for Ethnographic Experimentation | Allegra Lab


Fieldwork, the cornerstone to the ethnographer’s magic, seems to be under siege in recent times. The invocation that it ‘is not what it used to be’ runs parallel to intense debates on the place of ethnography in the production of anthropological knowledge (see for instance the recent take and forth on Ingold’s critique on ethnography herehere, and here). Challenges to fieldwork (and ethnography) come from all the corners of the discipline: anthropologist injecting a sensory approach to ethnography, drawing inspiration of design practices to devise new venues for the production of anthropological knowledge or endeavouring into partnerships with other disciplines and substituting the traditional trope of comparison for that of collaboration.

Amid this broad debate on the norm and form of fieldwork, we intend to open a debate on the place of experimentation in anthropology.

The invocation of experimentation in anthropology is not completely new, as we would like to recall, ‘the reflexive turn’ of the 1980s inaugurated a period of creative exploration of writing genres that George E. Marcus and Michael M. J. Fischer described in experimental terms: ‘What is happening seems to us to be a pregnant moment in which every individual project of ethnographic research and writing is potentially an experiment’. While this turn focussed on the space of representation (particularly the written form), we suggest now the opportunity to emplace the experimental drive of ethnography into fieldwork. A call that echoes and draws inspiration of a number of projects carried out in recent times by a series of anthropologist (we find especially inspiring the work of Paul Rabinow, George E. Marcus and Douglas Holmes, Kim Fortun, Michael Fortun, Alberto Corsín Jiménez and Annelise Riles, among many others).

A very important caveat, we do not intend to place experimentation and (participant) observation in opposition, only highlight their specificities. Indeed we think that both epistemic practices usually establish complex relationships in our fieldwork, at times they are entangled, juxtaposed or alternated.

Despite these relationships, we contend that experimentation involves a different epistemic practice to participant observation and it constitutes an alternative trope to describe our forms of engagement in the field.

Colleex thus intents to open a space for debate and intervention around experimental forms of ethnographic fieldwork. It seeks to work as a collaboratory whose main agenda is to foster theoretical debates and practical explorations on this topic. Below you can read the statement for the network proposal; if you are interested just send as an email (tomas.criado@tum.de and jestalellaf@uoc.edu) or sign the proposal here. The network builds on and intends to continue the work we have been doing in the previous two years in a series of meetings and writings, you can have a glimpsed of it here.

Colleex: A Collaboratory for Ethnographic Experimentation

Colleex is a network that aims to open a space for debate and intervention around experimental forms of ethnographic fieldwork. Amid profound debates in recent years on the nature and conventions of ethnography, Colleex seeks to explore novel forms of knowledge production for anthropology. The network is organized as a collaboratory whose main agenda is to foster theoretical debates and practical explorations on what we call ethnographic experimentation.


Fieldwork has traditionally been understood as the cornerstone epistemic situation for the production of anthropological knowledge in ethnography. Both an empirical practice and disciplinary narrative, we know that nowadays fieldwork is not what it used to be —or maybe it has never been what the canon narrates. The solitary confined research practice of ethnography has given way to collaborative projects, far-away locations have been replaced by close-to-home field sites, and traditional visual predominance has been expanded into a multi-sensory concern.

Anthropological imagination has traditionally understood the epistemic practice of fieldwork in observational terms. The core trope of participant observation has worked both as description and prescription for the kind of social relationships and epistemic practices through which anthropologists produce knowledge in the field.

The entrance of anthropology in novel empirical sites and the construction of new objects of study in the last decades seem to require from us to urgently revise and devise other forms of practising fieldwork.


Invoking the figure of the experiment acts as a provocation to investigate alternative epistemic practices in ethnography. Colleex intends to explore the infrastructures, spaces, forms of relationships, methods and techniques required to inject an experimental sensibility in fieldwork. Nevertheless, there is no intention to oppose experimentation to observation. On the contrary, Colleex seeks to discern the multiple forms of relationship between these two epistemic forms —and their correlate modes of relationality— that in different circumstances and situations may be complementary, adjacent or substitutive.

Not alien to the anthropological endeavour, experimentation was invoked decades ago as an opportunity to renovate the discipline through novel forms of ethnographic writing and representation. Colleex network would like to further develop that experimental impulse present in many anthropological sensibilities, shifting its locus from the process of writing to the practice of fieldwork. The intention is to work on a question: What would ethnographic fieldwork look like if it was shaped around the epistemic practice of experimentation?

Hence, fieldwork experimentation is not being invoked just for its own sake but because there is a prospect that it could help foster new forms of anthropological theorization.


The network seeks to connect with anthropologists and other practitioners of ethnography interested in discussing their fieldwork practice. It could be of interest for specialists in the fields of visual anthropology, sensory anthropology, digital ethnography, design anthropology, creative intersections of art and anthropology, or anthropology and STS. The network also seeks to include specialists from other domains like art, cultural producers, designers and practitioners of any discipline interested in the creative experimentation with ethnographic practice. The inventive unfolding of ethnography taking place in those areas could greatly contribute to strengthen the reach of anthropological fieldwork practices.

Colleex is established as a collaboratory, a project that aims at promoting forms of collaboration among all those interested in the topic under discussion.

In contrast with permanent networks, from its very inception Colleex would like to work with a temporary horizon of 5 years, after which we expect to deliver a contribution of the work done by the network in appropriate formats, be it in conventional academic and/or more experimental formats faithful to the collaboratory sensibility we are invoking. Four convenors will develop their task for periods of two years. The network will only continue after the first period of five years if a designed program for its continuity is agreed by its members.


+ìnfo on the Colleex Network: EASA website & the network’s blog

CLEENIK: A Clinic for Ethnographic Experimentation Syndromes | Allegra Lab


Have you been affected by Ethnographic Experimentation Breakdown (EEB) or Excess of Engagement Stress (EES)? Are you suffering from breach-of-the-canon infection (BOTS)? Do you know how to detect the symptoms of Collaborative Fieldwork Disorder (CoFD) or Transdisciplinary/Interdisciplinary Associative Disorder (TRIAD)? If you have been experiencing some of these symptoms perhaps the CLEENIK integral treatment could be what you need. CLEENIK is a specialized anthropological clinic treating anthropologists suffering from the multiple syndromes consequence of ethnographic experiments in fieldwork.

This was our call for the laboratory that we organized in the last EASA conference (Milano, 2016). Laboratories grant spaces to play with academic formats and, hence, we took advantage of this opportunity to organize a meeting that staged a group therapy session for all those anthropologists whose fieldwork had taken an experimental detour. Our objective was to create the grounds for a discussion around the epistemic figure of ethnographic experimentation in fieldwork.

This session and our recent work on ethnographic experimentation stems from recent reflections contending that contemporary ethnographic fieldwork ‘is not what it used to be’ (as James D. Faubion and George E. Marcus phrased it in their edited book and debates on the transformation of the norm and form of fieldwork. We may refer to recent projects that have injected an experimental drive in their fieldwork, among them those of Paul Rabinow (in his collaborative work with Gaymon Bennett and Anthony Stavrianakis), Kim and Michael Fortun and Douglas Holmes and George Marcus.

Invoking the figure of experimentation is for us a provocation to investigate epistemic practices and descriptions of fieldwork that may not be encapsulated under the heading of participant observation.

What would ethnographic fieldwork look like if shaped by practices of experimentation? The previously referred authors offer some insights (this is the topic too of a book we have been editing and contributing to for the EASA book series, more on it here). Yet, describing their fieldwork in experimental terms instead of drawing on the trope of participant observation poses anthropologists (especially those in early career stages) difficult questions: Have I been too involved in my fieldwork? Have I correctly followed the method? Have I maintained a proper distance? We designed the workspace of the lab attempting to address scholars facing this kind of questions.

The idea for the CLEENIK was to open a therapeutic space to face the worries that appear in experimental fieldwork, those situations that seem to transgress the methodological canon. It is a playful façade for a topic we take very seriously, an investigation into the appropriate venues to share and discuss these fragile and vulnerable methodological situations. The reference to a therapy group intends to underlie the need for intimacy and care, complicity and collaboration when discussing certain crucial situations of our fieldwork experiences.

The CLEENIK session lasted 90 minutes, in which each participant played alternatively the role of patient and doctor – these positions were made reversible (thanks, Alfred Gell!). The dynamic was organized in four parts around a mundane technology: a file card designed as a clinical report aimed at prompting reflection (here is a sample, feel free to use it). First, each ‘patient’ was asked to fill in a clinical report, where she or he would describe his/her ‘fieldwork symptoms’. Second, each of them passed the report to the participant nearby, who would then analyse these symptoms, identifying the disorder and providing a diagnosis (prior to the start of this we had introduced the Ethnographic Disorder Manual v1.0 who could guide them in the process of attributing syndromes or in compiling new ones. Third, the clinical report was passed again to a third participant who then offered a treatment proposal. In the final stage we shared all the contributions (where some new syndromes were identified like the terrible Lack-of-Funditis) and opened a debate with the lab participants.

The CLEENIK prolongs and adapts for anthropological audiences a methodology we had previously tested in an event organized in Spain in collaboration with ColaBoraBora, a group of cultural researchers that had been part of the fieldwork of some of us. We drew inspiration from their methodologies and brought them to our discipline. Organizing this lab we somehow wanted to bring these ‘foreign’ creative and epistemic resources into our disciplinary spaces. The lab thus evinces a topic of our interest: working with these experts, we wonder how we can use the ‘epistemic contamination’ we experienced in our collaborations to transform our anthropological practices.

We know very well that often, as anthropologists/social scientists, we appear to the eyes of those professionals we study as “too literal” and “too serious”, so bringing an ironic and playful inflection (that, by the way, we think is very appropriate for Allegra’s sensibility) we wanted to self-reflexively play with our anthropological practices and disciplinary-methodological assumptions. Needless to say that perhaps our condition of southern European early academics and our heightened sense of the precariousness of (academic) life, much contributed to the fearless use of such strange-to-the-discipline techniques, we did it to have fun – fun also being a desperate strategy of academic survival.

But acknowledging that fun is also temporary, we want to introduce a proposal to open a permanent space for those playful and experimental moments, the biggest proposal of the closing moments of the laboratory being devoted to discussing the interest to promote an EASA network Colleex: A Collaboratory for Ethnographic Experimentation.