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


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

In this context, next February 5th 2019 I will have the honour to present the following talk:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check the festival’s leaflet here

 

STS/CSIS, UC Davis – Food For Thought event ‘Technologies of friendship: In search for a diverse common world’

Next Wednesday, April 19th – 12:00 – 2:00 pm I will have the great pleasure and honour to show my work at a STS/CSIS Food For Thought event at UC Davis (many thanks to Marisol de la Cadena for her invitation!).

Venue: STS/CSIS Conference Room (SSH Building #1246) | For those of you around, please register here

Technologies of friendship: In search for a diverse common world

The intense co-existence afforded in Spanish indignados protests by public space occupations had the unexpected effect of forging unprecedented relations and forms of affective politicisation. This had a huge impact in the activism around ‘functional diversity:’ transforming a self-representational fight by independent-living activists to substitute ‘dis/ability’ and ‘residential care’ framings into a wider exploration on how to enjoy and do things together with previously strange others. Drawing on my ethnographic engagement in the activist design collective En torno a la silla (ETS) emerging in that context, I will explore the register of friendship to narrate the intimate entanglements developed thereon: reclaiming the means to increase the conditions of access between bodily diverse people they delved into processes of collaborative prototyping and spatial intervention to remediate disabling body-environment nexuses impeding them to develop stronger bonds; and crafted meetings and documentation interfaces to articulate or share the experiences there made available, making newer alliances possible. From the very beginning their aim was not just the ‘inclusion’ of ‘disabled people’ through newer ‘technical aids’, but the sheer experimentation with spaces of encounter, bringing to the fore what ETS referred to as ‘technologies of friendship.’ Far from referring to ready-made commodities enabling a distinctive and static ontology of relations, this term designates frail and careful cosmopolitical explorations of the appropriate forms of relatedness, a recursive material opening up of friendship between bodily diverse strangers who might otherwise never meet were it not for their troublesome search for inhabiting and forging a diverse common world.

Image credits

Sinergia” CC BY-NC-SA by negrescolor

Goldsmiths Anthropology research >< practice seminar series – 'Technologies of friendship'

research >< practice seminar series

Next 9 Nov 2016 from 4-6pm, I will be sharing bits and pieces of my recent ethnographic work and reflections at the Goldsmiths Anthropology  research >< practice seminar series at RHB 256, Richard Hoggart Building

This seminar series explores the currency of practice research within and without anthropology. It will unpack some of the ways in which the relationship between these two “modes of engagement” has been understood and articulated, from militancy to co-design, from enskillment to collaborative art projects. Drawing from their first-hand experience in the field, the speakers will consider the epistemological challenges and opportunities of practice-led and practice-based research (as well as research-led practice).

Moderator and Organiser: Dr Isaac Marrero-Guillamon

‘Technologies of friendship’: Independent-living activism, open design and the refiguration of the social and the ethnographic

What stories–and more specifically ethnographic stories–would open design allow us to tell? Whereas open design is commonly associated with a multifarious transformation of knowledge-production and economic practices in and around design, in this presentation I will focus on their effect on the practice of ethnography and on the materialisation of forms of relatedness. To do this, I will draw from my engagement since 2012 as ethnographer/documentator in the Barcelona-based activist design collective En torno a la silla (ETS), whose primary principle–resonating with other aspects of the independent-living movement it is part of–is to grant value to experience as a form of knowledge to be used in processes of collaborative alteration of our material surroundings, engaging in the auto-fabrication of open design objects. Operating in a harsh context of austerity measures, fighting for accessibility for ETS has always implied reclaiming the necessary material means to increase the conditions of access between bodily diverse people. Hence, the interest is not to create ‘inclusive objects’–that seek to ‘integrate’ or, rather, open up the gates of an already existing community to those who had been formerly expelled from it–but to produce what they have usually referred to as ‘technologies of friendship’ (tecnologías de la amistad): this term does not bring to the fore a distinctive and static ontology of relations, but thanks to the reflexivity afforded by the investment in documentation, it signals a recursive interstitial form of probing into alternative material forms of relatedness to the ones offered by the state and the market.

ICS, ULisboa – Visiting Researcher seminar: ‘Give Us an Institute and We Will Raise an Accessible Barcelona’

Give Us an Institute and We Will Raise an Accessible Barcelona

Next week I will be giving a Visiting Researcher seminar at the ICS-ULisboa

Organized by Dr. Ana DelicadoResearch group ‘Environment, Territory and Society’

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Give Us an Institute and We Will Raise an Accessible Barcelona

12 October 2016 14.30h – 16.30h

Sala 2, ICS-ULisboa

This presentation reports on ethnographic and archival work undertaken in 2014 and 2016 at a very small and peripheral institute, part of Barcelona’s City Hall, the Institut Municipal de Persones amb Discapacitat (IMPD): enforcing and supervising the city-wide planning and implementation of accessible urban and transport infrastructures. Allegedly, the IMPD has been crucial for Barcelona’s huge transformation into one of the most accessible cities in the world. Officially founded in 1990–merging disability-specific management units (patronats) that emerged after the disability rights struggles in the late 1970s–this institute’s main objective has been that of offering a way for disabled people to take part in the city’s planning. Indeed, the IMPD’s council is jointly managed by civil servants–mostly social workers–and disabled people’s representatives elected every 4 years. But how could such a small entity have a lasting impact on a huge and extremely complex municipal structure? And how, in doing so, could it grant the ‘material expression’ of accessibility rights for its most vulnerable citizens?

In this presentation I will seek to explain this paying particular attention to the ‘documentary interfaces’ put together to articulate interesting relationships between the technicians and the accessibility advocates. To be more specific, not only will I seek to report on (a) on the role of topic-specific ‘commissions of participation’, where experiential and embodied knowledge from the disabled is documented and brought together to sensitize the architects and engineers in charge of implementing wider municipal projects; but also on other ‘smaller interventions’, such as: (b) its regular publications, sensitization campaigns and outreach leaflets; and (c) the work of its technicians, constantly supervising and writing reports on the designs, materials, and implementation of different urban accessibility projects. Building from this, I seek to foreground the IMPD as a ‘sensitizing device’, affecting in different modes the wider implementation of an ‘accessibility culture’ within the City Hall’s urban professionals’ planning and interventions. A fragile and fallible diplomatic task of affecting peripherally the multifarious sociomaterial articulation of accessibility arrangements, where many compromises have to be made with the goal of making Barcelona a city ‘for all’.

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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