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: email@example.com
El Seminario Internacional Arquitectura y Etnografía es un espacio de intersección y encuentro para quienes estudiamos el espacio y el sentido. Entre la arquitectura, la antropología, la geografía, el urbanismo y la sociología nos sentamos junto al fuego para pensar nuevas formas de abordar los fenómenos territoriales. ¿Cuáles son las relaciones entre etnografía y arquitectura? ¿cuáles los alcances y desafíos de las nuevas tecnologías y métodos de investigación espacial? ¿de qué formas distintas disciplinas pueden encontrarse ante un mismo objeto de estudio? ¿cuál es el rol de los sentidos en la epistemología de lo socio-espacial? En ese terreno acampamos.
Si en su primera versión el seminario se centró en el dibujo como herramienta que posibilita estos cruces disciplinarios y metodológicos, el segundo encuentro amplia su mirada hacia otros mecanismos y sensibilidades, incluidos sonidos, imágenes y biografías situadas, con invitados internacionales diversos, y de trayectorias innovadoras y rigurosas.
Facultad de Arquitectura, Diseño y Construcción, UDLA José Abásolo, jabasolo [arroba] udla.cl Ricardo Greene, rgreene [arroba] udla.cl firstname.lastname@example.org
Núcleo Lenguaje y Creación UDLA AriztíaLab Revista Bifurcaciones
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.
There I will present on Friday 17, 2021 at 1:30pm-3:00pm CET at paper I am working on with Israel Rodríguez Giralt, called “The Pharmakon of Collaboration: Activating Research with the Independent Living Forum” (Chaired by Anna-Lena Wiechern).
In this paper, we think with a concrete set of research practices afforded by a long and intense exploration of independent-living activism in Spain. At that time of the main indignados mobilisations in 2011, we started a collective research project on the topic. In an explicit gesture towards forms of ‘emancipatory research’ (Oliver, 1992), the project was conceived from the onset including different activist members in its advisory board, as co-researchers. We aimed to prevent researchers from ‘speaking for the other’ (Ruby, 1992) and to create instances of friction and shared reflection.
In the course of these years we attempted to practice a wide variety of modes of research ‘speaking nearby’ (Minh-ha, 1992) if not explicitly ‘with’ them: hence engaging in a wide variety of collaborative forms of research with actors that were always treated as ‘epistemic partners’. Building on this, the paper analyses the impact this exploration had on us as researchers: or, to be more specific, on our ways of engaging with independent living activism, and to consider how this might inspire our ‘experimentally collaborative’ or ‘activated’ ways to engage in other activist settings (Estalella & Criado, 2018). For instance, we will describe how we were activated to share common spaces of discussion and debate or even presentation (in scholarly and activist workshops but also in academic events), plunging in ‘joint problem-making’: that is, collaboratively engaging in exploratory material and textual undertakings, such as in the collective En torno a la silla, attempting environmental interventions and remakings of wheelchair users and their surroundings.
Far from telling a ‘happy’ or ‘utopian’ tale, we wish to remain attentive to the affordances as much the problems this collaborative research activation brought and opened up. For this, we will draw from Stengers’s conceptual work around the pharmakon–an ambivalent entity that for the Greeks oscillated between a drug and a poison, depending on doses, components, modes of preparation and administration. Following her concern to remain attentive to the practicalities of different research devices and tell technical stories “about the kinds of traps that each had to escape, constraints the importance of which had to be recognized” (Stengers, 2015: 132), we would like to close reflecting about the impact these collaborative undertakings had on us and on the people we were working with; and how this experience might contribute to (re)assess collaborative and engaged research from its frictions.
By drawing on STS, Crip Technoscience (Hamraie/Fritsch 2019) and approaches from participatory design research and practice, this event discusses body-technology relations from inter-, transdisciplinary and cross-cultural perspectives. We argue in favor of extending the concept of materiality beyond the borders of the physical object to include practices and relations and consequently, want to question common concepts of norm, normality, and normativity. Because these notions are not only entangled with artefacts but also with their design and the practices they involve, which include bodies embedded in historical, cultural, infrastructural and institutional contexts. Thus, they can be considered situated (Haraway 1988). As a result, questions and demands for inclusion and social participation, too, become virulent (Star 2017, 1999; Winner 1980) and have been problematized as politics of assistive artefacts (Mills 2012). In sum, we propose to re/frame technology and body (differences) as interacting entities within societies.
The event aims to think critically through a theoretical framework in the context of dis/abilities that recognizes assistive technologies as political as well as situated interconnections. On this basis, we endorse to reflect on infrastructures of design for questions of inclusion and participation – cross-cultural, inter- and transdisciplinary. Reflecting on open source practices in medical and assistive technologies (e.g. 3D printing) will allow us to question the effects of heterogeneous interests, economic implications and everyday affordances of socio-material assemblages produced within the frameworks of participatory design research.
Tom Bieling (Hamburg), Melike Şahinol (Istanbul), Anna-Lena Wiechern (Lüneburg), Robert Stock (Berlin)
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.
In contrast with more conventional approaches to the uses of theatre for the public engagement with science and technology (e.g. pedagogical approaches to science communication), contemporary forms of participatory, community, interactive or digital theatre have also served as relevant arenas for projects searching to activate publics through agonistic and complex encounters with contemporary technoscientific issues. This was the case of Enacting Innovation, a participatory performance by Judith Igelsböck & Friedrich Kirschner together with Sarah Buser, Tomás Montes Massa, Mónica Rikić, Leoni Voegelin, and Laura Zoelzer, featured in the Ars Electronica Festival, Linz (Austria, September 2020). The performance was, in itself, the crystallisation of a dialogue between social scientists and theatre professionals working in the vicinity of STS in which, rather than breaking down complexity and mobilising consensus around picky issues, its immersive, evocative and open-ended game mechanics and audiovisuals seek to ‘stage complexity’ and, with it, the paradoxes of otherwise repetitive innovation scripts.
Since the very inception of the social sciences, theatre has always been a relevant area of inspiration: an analytic concern perhaps taking centre-stage in the ground-breaking work of Erving Goffman’s (1956) understanding of social interaction or Kenneth Burke’s (1969) grammar of motives. Indeed, this dramaturgical metaphor has been of great inspiration for STS works exploring peculiar scenographies, such as the ‘theatres of proof’ of scientific work (Shapin & Schaffer, 1985), or technological ‘demonstrations’ (Rosental, 2014) where technoscience is publicly staged; but also, it has been one allowing to capture the importance of a wide variety of more or less invisible mediators articulating the everyday stages of the social (Pinch, 2010).
Also, theatre has been deployed as a medium for science communication. Beyond usages for the public understanding of science, dramaturgical and scenographic techniques have also become a relevant arena for STS experiments in public engagement: Famed recent examples of this might be the attempts of Frédérique Aït-Touati & Bruno Latour (2018) in narrating the drama of the Anthropocene in plays or staged lectures, as well as drawing from theatrical elements to articulate participatory devices with delegates in the Théâtre des Négociations at Paris’s 2015 COP21. But one can also see a similar vibe in the very interesting and exploratory scenographies or, in their terms, ‘incubations’ devised by the Centre for Shared Incompetence (Guggenheim, Kräftner & Kröll, 2018) to elicit puzzling conversations in a wide variety of technoscientific arenas.
I had the opportunity to encounter another interesting example of this kind in the first week of September 2020. Then, the otherwise bucolic forest campus of the Johannes Kepler Universität (JKU) in Linz was punctuated not just by the usual brutalist architecture of its buildings, but by a chorus of odd mechanical whizzes and whirling sounds, interactive smoke clouds or strangely welcoming synthetic voices. For several days the otherwise idle ducks of its central pond welcomed an unusual audience of mask-wearing interactive artists, IT amateurs and developers, curious neighbours and culture aficionados as the university hosted the internationally acclaimed Ars Electronica festival. The festival, together with the Ars Electronica Center, have made Linz a relevant European and worldwide hotspot of explorations at the science-art nexus.
Although in this COVID edition the festival was rather put to the test of avoiding turning into a ‘pandemic’ hotspot, reducing numbers and transitioning from the usual industrial, hangar-like ambience of its previous incarnations–full of indoors installations across the city–into a mostly outdoors programme, appositely named In Kepler’s Gardens. The festival also had a small indoor programme, one of its main attractions being the projects curated by the LIT (Linz Institute of Technology): mostly consisting of science communication endeavours showcasing the university’s research through public understanding of science and deliberative approaches, with some ventures into more speculative, evocative, and puzzling participatory experiments.
Amongst them, I happened to accompany as a side-observer the process of implementing and staging one of them: Enacting Innovation, a participatory performance by Judith Igelsböck & Friedrich Kirschner together with Sarah Buser, Tomás Montes Massa, Mónica Rikić, Leoni Voegelin, and Laura Zoelzer. This was an interesting collaboration between researchers in the department of Organization at the JKU working on the study of ‘innovation scripts’, and dramaturgs and scenographers of the renowned University of Performing Arts ‘Ernst Busch’ in Berlin, with a vested interest in participatory simulations and theatrical interventions using a wide variety of digital elements, ranging from graphic representation to augmented reality.
The main attempt of the team–as they repeated endlessly in each of the very few stagings of the project throughout the days of the festival as well as in more recent instantiations (Igelsböck & Kirschner, 2021)–was to create a performative play drawing on and expanding Judith Igelsböck’s research on the innovation scripts displayed by Upper Austrian companies, organisations and cultural agents. Her research as an STS scholar had highlighted the insistent repetitiveness in the concepts, spaces, modalities and approaches to innovation. The play wanted to expound on the paradox of the protocolised and formalised attempts at managing creativity and innovation, also displaying an interesting reflexive approach to the very procedures of making the participatory performance.
From its onset, the performance was affected at its core by the festival’s hygiene concept, mandating hydroalcoholic gel cleaning, physical distance, reduced numbers and visits by appointment using a rather strict one-way-only walking route in the interior spaces of the Learning Centre of the university, where all LIT projects were to be shown. As a result, the team had conceived the performance using four distinct stages, each of which needed to be accessed with a steep ladder. All stages were equipped with screens, where different games were to be played by individual participants. Players were drawn to imagine that they were working in a rather abstract corporation dealing with a mostly ‘empty’ signifier: the thing being produced or processed always absent from any consideration and dealt with a panoply of chart flows or metrics, and elusive organisational jargon.
Hence, they were being recruited to take part in different areas (each of them having one station or stage), namely: an organisational management department, having to literally ‘inject’ innovative approaches in the corporation, connecting teams and projects (with a dry graphic interface of cards that needed to be connected to others so that different effects could start happening within the organisation); a human resources department, supervising and recruiting the right teams for the right projects (with a graphic interface showing a pool of standardised individuals running across the screen who displayed specific quantitative characteristics when touched); and a team of visionaries, exploring different innovative scenarios for the company (with a graphic adventure type of interface, in which the player could discover different territories for the company’s projects with the appropriate team).
Despite the overall silo effect of the stages–each of them having completely different graphic interfaces and game mechanics–, things were interconnected in at least two senses: (a) implicitly and rather inadvertently by the players, via the complex looping effects the actions in one game could have on another; and (b) explicitly and involving the players, via a cumbersome synchronous camera-based mode of interaction, using a whiteboard with handwritten post-its to request others to take action on their different needs (e.g. requiring a team to continue exploring) so they could continue playing. Besides this, the performance was punctuated by a series of evocative tablet-based interactive audiovisuals. After a given time playing, with or without having achieved the expected results in managing the company’s innovation from the helm of different departments, and before moving to another station, players were drawn into taking one of the tablets and moving around at the bottom of the stages with them.
These evocative pieces mostly took the visitors/participants outside of the field of corporate innovation, creating links and showing reflections from the team members on the project itself. Rather than creating artistic means of expression to represent or potentially criticise corporate culture (that is, using interactive theatre to stage innovation scripts), these audiovisuals–ranging from poetic walks by a character on an empty space to gamified introductions of the project or its team members–displayed laterally the team’s reflections on a series of underlying paradoxes they were mired in whilst creating the performance: the fact that they were putting to use very similar methods, tools and practices to the ones being depicted; the predicaments of the artistic quest for salience and newness undertaken with analogously repetitive and isomorphic manners; or the (post)colonial hauntings of a thoroughly international team, pondering who the main audience of the play might be. In doing so, the very project revolved recursively onto itself through displaying in evocative augmented reality pieces the most challenging results of their collaboration.
Interestingly, beyond more conventional approaches to the dramatisation of science and technology, contemporary forms of participatory, community, interactive or digital theatre have also served as relevant arenas for projects searching to activate publics through agonistic and complex encounters with contemporary technoscientific issues (Halfon et al., 2020). Rather than mobilising their consensus or their passive understanding of the wonders and goods of technoscientific developments–creating simple scenographies whereby to appreciate science and technology–, what these rather complex and open-ended projects seek to stage–through immersive and participation-intensive devices–is a wide variety of technoscience dramas. In a very similar vein, in Enacting innovation, although the STS analytic of ‘innovation scripts’ allowed to empirically ground the motives and main references and evocative ideas underlying the game mechanics and its audiovisuals, the project was not conceived as a form of science communication attempting to break down or explain scientific research. The use of artistic means of expression was also not simply a form of outreach of otherwise closed-down research results. What I think this interactive play mostly did was staging the complexity and, with it, the paradoxes of otherwise repetitive innovation scripts, in at least two ways.
i. Staging the complexity of innovation scripts: In presenting faithfully how innovation managers talk and operate, the play created a fictional scenography eliciting conversations on innovation culture and its challenges in the very terms of the field under study, that is, as a complex system. As many attendees remarked in some of the conversations after the performance ended, the play managed to accurately simulate the liveliness and the emergent issues present in most of these environments. Rather than dumbing down the domain under study, the performance staged complexity in an immersive first-person perspective (see Dumit, 2017 for a similar approach to game design in STS). This allowed for many ‘idiotic’ puzzlements (Horst & Michael, 2011): In the play this was made felt to participants through different graphic interfaces, rules and targets that were impossible to fulfil, having looping effects of all kinds, always leaving the player with a sense of awe at the sheer ungraspability of systems larger than life. For instance, requiring a team to explore innovation of once kind meant requesting the right people from another player, who at the same time had to grapple with the possibilities opened up by yet another player creating the organisational structures for that task.
ii. Staging the complexity of a project on innovation scripts: Rather than the project just being the crystallisation of an interdisciplinary process–something that might be read thinking of the project as having two types of practitioners, STS scholars and dramaturgs, joining forces without going out of their comfort zones–the project opened up a hybrid register. This was reflected and built into–or shall I say inscribed, scripted?–the very play: In describing their aims and debates, or how the puzzlement that the very process of staging innovation scripts backfired into paying attention to the scripted nature of artistic creativity. Doing so, the project pointed to an in between third space, suggesting the use of theatrical means and STS analytic devices to undertake research on how to stage complexity and its potential effects: That is, where staging complexity could be turned into a way not just of representing but of undertaking research on the problems of the day, as a relevant arena of further explorations on different contemporary predicaments.
I reckon that as a stance, programme or strategy ‘staging complexity’ is, by no means, devoid of problems or challenges. After all, attending several of the cycles of play, and taking part in two full cycles myself, I could clearly see how many players–myself included–ended up feeling like the run-down characters of the Lemmings video game. Perhaps some of this had to do with the participatory constraints of the digital technical features of the project (heavily impacted by the physical distancing and the Corona ‘hygiene concept’ of the event), and the zoomed out lock-in feeling they sometimes create. But I think the team made a great effort in working out these constraints to convey many layers of meaning, also searching to impact on the participants so they could appreciate the sheer unfathomable nature of the loops involved.
Witnessing the passionate reactions of innovation managers, cultural practitioners, electronic artists or regular Linz bystanders (perhaps with an educated gaze after 40 years of a renown world festival for the digital arts taking place in their own backyard), I was reminded of a scene of the TV series Halt and catch fire, featuring the ups and downs of the 1980s innovators that produced the digital world as we know it today. In that scene, the character playing the Steve Jobs type of tech guru at some point tries to convince hardware engineers and programmers to think beyond a too technical mindset, observing the changing social dynamics that informatics might afford, by saying “computers are not the thing, they are the thing leading us to the thing.” In a similar way, beyond or even because of its cumbersome technicalities Enacting innovation beautifully managed not simply to convey research results through a dramaturgical form of digital outreach, but to open up a space to enjoy the complexity of innovation as it was staged: hence making it graspable, or at least enabling, by means of gamified loops and virtual reality interfaces, a multiplicity of puzzled conversations on the culture of innovation and the predicaments of its repetitive repertoires.
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Contribuciones de / Contributions by Ibiye Camp, Brendan Cormier, Noortje Marres, Hamish McIntosh, Simone C. Niquille / Technoflesh, Marina Otero Verzier, Tomás Sánchez Criado, Brenton Alexander Smith, Lara Lesmes + Fredrik Hellberg (Space Popular), Liam Young.
[ES] Viviremos todos juntos, eso es inevitable. Pero la llegada de los vehículos autónomos al entorno urbano plantea otra cuestión urgente: ¿cómo se integrarán estos coches sin conductor en la vida cotidiana? Las industrias tecnológicas y del automóvil que desarrollan estos vehículos también están diseñando el futuro de nuestras ciudades. Sus visiones muestran calles que incorporan tecnologías autónomas y donde los humanos deambulan, despreocupados, por un espacio público donde máquinas automatizadas circulan a alta velocidad. Estas visiones se proyectan en un tiempo lejano, y al hacerlo, ignoran las cuestiones que la llegada de estos vehículos plantean en el futuro inmediato.
En respuesta a tal descuido, este ensayo, y las reflexiones que lo acompañan, exploran los conflictos inminentes asociados a esta tecnología y como estos transformaran nuestras calles, con una hipótesis en mente: el despliegue de la tecnología sin conductor, rápida y disruptiva, no conlleva una solución urbana integrada, más bien plantea preguntas y exige imaginar como responderlas. Este libro identifica algunas, responde a otras y, sobre todo, imagina cómo humanos y maquinas podrán influir en las decisiones sobre el ecosistema urbano, colectivamente.
[EN] We are on the verge of sharing our cities with autonomous vehicles. Recent developments in driverless technologies are having an impact on our urban environment, raising questions about how self-driving vehicles could be integrated into our daily lives. Automotive and technological industries are not only developing the vehicles but also envisioning the future of our cities, a future where streets have seamlessly integrated driverless technologies and humans wander about, unconcerned by the presence of new automated machines circulating at high speeds through public space. These visions skip to a distant time and ignore the issues that these vehicles raise in the immediate future.
In response to such an oversight, this essay and the accompanying meditations explore the conflicts soon to be unleashed by this new technology and the transformation of our streets it will trigger. The current implementations of driverless technology, which are fast and disruptive, do not suggest an eventual integrated urban solution. Yet this book allows us to imagine how humans and cars might collectively influence the urban environment.
In my contribution to the volume I share a provocation on the project of urban unification of ‘smart city’ initiatives: What if rather than trying to contribute to urban unity, contemporary urban planners and designers relearnt, through different techniques and procedures (algorithmic, sensor-based, DIY or otherwise), to be affected by an uncommon city? In other words, the processes whereby cities are treated not as places of homogeneity but of divergence.
Published as Criado, T.S. (2021). Uncommoning the city | Hacer la ciudad poco común. In G. Fernández-Abascal & U. Grau (Eds.), Aprendiendo a vivir juntos: Solidaridad entre humanos, coches y bordillos / Learning to Live Together: Cars, Humans, and Kerbs in Solidarity (pp. 123-130). A Coruña: Bartlebooth | PDF EN & PDF ES
Abstract: In this presentation I would like to discuss with you a book project on what I am calling ‘an uncommon city.’ The book is an anthropological exploration of bodily diversity and its impact in the material and knowledge politics of city-making. Drawing on field and archival work of independent-living and disability rights movements, paying attention in particular to their urban accessibility struggles as well as their pedagogic interventions in the training of architects, city planners, and designers (with materials mostly from Barcelona, but also from Munich), I trace a wealth of activist initiatives caring for an epistemic, material and political activation of urban design. These initiatives have or had at their core the production of singular situations—made out of policy documents and building codes, infrastructures and standards, collaborative design processes and prototypes, and manifold sensitising devices and documentation interfaces—through which designing technologies, urban landscapes or institutions and political spaces is to be attempted from the appreciation and articulation of bodily diversity: from the demographic identification of bodily patterns to the invention of inclusive and universal design, also connecting with the contested history of urban accessibility struggles, or the perpetual emergence of many access issues in contemporary forms of city-making where bodily diversity appears as the main concern to address by different actors. In particular, the book wishes to unfold three ways – (i) activating prototypes, (ii) activating public infrastructures, and (iii) activating design studio projects – in which a concern with bodily diversity mobilises the uncommon prospects of the city, opening up other possible urbanisms.
Thanks to the invitation by Andrew Gilbert (U Toronto), Wednesday April 14, 2021 4-6pm (CET) Ignacio Farías and I will be introducing the collective work of the Stadtlabor for Multimodal Anthropology as part of a conversation of the very interesting Ethnography Lab‘s Meet the Labs series.
As they state, what motivates this exploration of what different ethnographic ‘labs’ are up to, is the following:
Ethnography Labs and centers often occupy an interstitial place in the academic ecosystem as sites for collaboration, experimentation, and practice outside of departmental programs, relations of supervision, and the university itself.
Our “Meet the Labs” series is an extension of the AAA roundtable where we hope to connect and network with sister labs through a shared passion for ethnographic practice and methods. Together we will explore the possibilities of different organizational and institutional forms for the practice of ethnography. On April 14th, you can expect to hear about the projects and practices of two distinct platforms for ethnographic research taking place at the Stadtlabor for Multimodal Urban Anthropology in Berlin, Germany and the Kaleidos Center for Interdisciplinary Ethnography in Quito, Ecuador.
We are excited about the opportunity to build cross-disciplinary relationships through Ethnography with our colleagues in Germany and Ecuador, and we welcome anyone interested in thinking through what Labs have to offer our universities and communities and those would are interested in the important work being conducted at each of these organizations.
This will be part of a collective conversation with Kaleidos (Centro de Etnografía Interdisciplinaria), an interesting lab from Quito!