Technologies of friendship: Accessibility politics in the ‘how to’ mode

Thanks to the joyful invitation by Joanna Latimer & Daniel López–possibly two of the best editors in the planet, capable of hosting the nicest people and make all of us enjoy wonderful and lively debates–, I am honoured to take part in their absolutely flabbergasting Sociological Review monograph ‘Intimate Entanglements‘ with an impressive line-up. Do not miss this one!

The monograph focuses on rethinking the relation between “the abstract and general connection between entanglement and knowledge-making by grounding it within specific socio­material relations”, proposing us to pay special attention to intimacy not as a category of the local and experiential as opposed to the scientific or universal. Instead, as the editors suggest, “by foregrounding what is often made invisible in extant accounts of how knowledge is done, the authors explore how a focus on affect restructures possibilities for more situated knowledge, that involves non-anthropocentric modes of relatedness in a wide range of substantive domains and communities of practice”.

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My own humble contribution to this collective effort is a particular ode, entangling intimately with the practices and spaces of ‘mutual access’ we pried open when searching to inhabit En torno a la silla.

Technologies of friendship: Accessibility politics in the ‘how to’ mode

Abstract

This text is an ethnographic account of a singular, Barcelona-based activist endeavour called En torno a la silla (ETS): a do-it-yourself and open design and making collective engaging in a very peculiar form of accessibility politics beyond a ‘disability rights’ framework. In it, I entangle intimately with ETS’s relational interventions, in the form of making and documentation processes. What animates me is a political engagement with the practice of ‘re-description’, paying attention to the singularity of what relational vocabularies and practices bring to the fore. In describing the context of its appearance, as well as several of the collective’s endeavours, I address ETS’s relational register. Rather than being a clear-cut activist group with the aim of materialising the ‘inclusion’ of ‘disabled people’ through ‘technical aids’, ETS engaged in producing what they called ‘technologies of friendship’: frail and careful material explorations opening up interstitial relational spaces of ‘mutual access’ between bodily diverse people. Through circulating tutorials, poetic accounts, digitally and in workshops and presentations, ETS’s technologies of friendship became also ways of addressing how relations can be materialised and reflexively described, making available in its wake ways to re-enact them. Thus it produced an inspiring ‘how to’ accessibility politics: a material-political concern with the speculative opening up and materialisation of conditions for the very happening of relations, relating at the hinges of unrelatability.

Published in the Sociological Review, 67 (2) 408–427 | PDF

Acknowledgements

This article has benefited from a series of kind spaces functioning as ‘technologies of friendship’ in themselves. I would here like to warmly thank: Isaac Marrero Guillamón and the 2016 Goldsmiths’ Anthropology ‘Research >< Practice’ seminar series; Gonzalo Correa and the 2016 MA in Social Psychology students at the Universidad de la República in Montevideo; Marisol de la Cadena and the attendees at a 2017 UC Davis ‘STS Food for Thought’ event; Joanna Latimer, Daniel López, and the commentators at the 2018 ‘Intimate Entanglements’ workshop in York; and a 2018 seminar of the CareNet group in Barcelona, all of whom greatly helped me finetune the article’s main ideas. I dedicate this account to my friends from En torno a la silla, in the hope that this could serve to bring ourselves closer to yet-to-be-found intimate others.

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)

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* 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

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Cultural Anthropology – Openings collection on ‘Speed’

culanth32-1-cover

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

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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)

Abstract

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.

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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

Abstract

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)

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Colleex: A Collaboratory for Ethnographic Experimentation | Allegra Lab

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN 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

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.

Experimentation

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.

Collaboration

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.

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