Playing with method: Game design as ethnographic research

The Stadtlabor for Multimodal Anthropology (HU Berlin) hosts Playing with method: Game design as ethnographic research, a series of live-streamed events on 14.1, 28.1 & 11.2.2021

+info: https://hu.berlin/playingwithmethod

Rationale of the workshop

What if in the face of very serious topics we developed conceptual, speculative and material tools, such as games, to find ways of intervening as ethnographers, social scientists or as activists in current design dynamics? 

The series of talks Playing with method wishes to open up a line of inquiry counting on practical examples (be they card, board, performative or video-games) theoretical repertoires, and speculative visions or positional arguments to address the promises and challenges of the ways in which games might be mobilized for different forms and genres of social intervention. 

In spite, or even because of their ludic dimension, we want to explore to what extent games might be capable of altering how we discuss issues, share knowledge, raise awareness, make problems public, imagine futures, and learn to care. Thus, we would like to collectively discuss critically on the contemporary cultural role of games, with the aspiration to ponder how games could redevelop our repertoires of ethnographic representation and intervention; or what vocabularies and considerations might allow us to unfold their full potential as relevant ethnographic or peri-ethnographic genres. 

What is more, we are particularly interested in how games open up a Spielraum (a degree of play) for transgressing the boundaries of academic disciplines and reinventing what research might mean.

Why this workshop now?

In the last years, members of the Stadtlabor for Multimodal Anthropology have been approaching the potentialities and challenges of games as particular platforms or devices for anthropological research / intervention for the real estate crisis in Berlin. In our work not only we have been inspired by the activist/ pedagogic impetus of the Landlord’s Game (anti-monopolistic predecessor of Monopoly), but also by different works around games by social designers, artists and other anthropologists wishing to expand the reach of forms of urban intervention.

The games we have developed are not final products but open prototypes. They are result and method of our research, and work as devices to intervene in urban development processes. As such, they are open to be transformed and re-versioned, so that their specific languages, logics, gameplay, and effects could be adapted to specific situations and concerns of various urban actors.

In collaboration with ZK/U, we have produced a series of games, most centrally featuring House of Gossip, which re-enacts the threat of displacement of tenants from their homes, plunging us into the rumors circulating in a stairway and their truth effects. 

Drawing from our own work, for this series of talks we would like to gather around inspiring examples so as to discuss and discover together how developing games might also impact how we could do social-cultural research: from describing to intervening, from representing to performing (and breaching) reality, thus experimenting with what politics and critique might mean whenever we prototype and play.

Programme

14.1.2021 5-7pm – Urban matters (FB event)

Claudia Hummel (UdK & Spielclub Oranienstraße 25 / nGbK project group)

Tomás Criado & Ignacio Farías (Urban Anthropology, HU Berlin)

Chaired by Julia Schröder (Urban Anthropology, HU Berlin)

28.1.2021 6-8pm – Educational matters (FB event)

Judith Ackermann (Fachhochschule Potsdam)

Joe Dumit (UC Davis)

Chaired by Tomás Criado (Urban Anthropology, HU Berlin)

11.2.2021 5-7pm – Organizational matters (FB event)

Judith Igelsböck (Institut für Organisation, JKU Linz) & Friedrich Kirschner (HFS ‚Ernst Busch‘, Berlin)

Alberto Vanolo (Università degli Studi di Torino)

Chaired by Ignacio Farías (Urban Anthropology, HU Berlin)

[Updated February 2021]

Acompañantes epistémicos: la invención de la colaboración etnográfica

Acaba de ver la luz el interesante proyecto de libro Investigaciones en movimiento: Etnografías colaborativas, feministas y decoloniales, editado por Aurora Álvarez Veinguer, Alberto Arribas Lozano y Gunther Dietz (Buenos Aires, CLACSO, 2020). El libro descargarse en PDF libremente.

Este libro pone en conversación un conjunto de etnografías colaborativas, decoloniales, feministas y de IAP que comparten el deseo de producir otros conocimientos y producir conocimientos de otros modos. Las experiencias aquí reunidas nos invitan a repensarnos como investigadoras/es, a redefinir el sentido de nuestros proyectos y los procedimientos metodológicos concretos a partir de los que desarrollamos nuestro trabajo, y también a transformar las relaciones que establecemos con las personas con quienes colaboramos. Es una caja de herramientas que busca ampliar el campo de lo posible y lo pensable en investigación.

Junto con Adolfo Estalella colaboramos en el volumen con un capítulo sobre la invención etnográfica. Gracias a l*s editor*s por la generosa invitación a contribuir en este libro y, muy especialmente, a Alberto Arribas por su generosa lectura y enriquecedores comentarios.

Acompañantes epistémicos: la invención de la colaboración etnográfica

Este capítulo explora la relación que existe entre colaboración e invención en la etnografía para argumentar que la colaboración etnográfica se puede conceptualizar como un efecto de la inventiva en el trabajo de campo. Sabemos que nuestros trabajos de campo son siempre más complejos de lo que el método propone y describe y que nuestras etnografías están a menudo cargadas de improvisación, creatividad e inventiva. Creemos que examinar la inventiva que muy a menudo atraviesa las relaciones de campo puede arrojar luz sobre los modos de colaboración que muchos sitios de la contemporaneidad demandan. Más importante aún, al invocar la inventiva etnográfica como un elemento central de nuestro trabajo de campo queremos hacer visible toda una serie de prácticas, técnicas y gestos relevantes que a menudo son ignorados o invisibilizados cuando planteamos que la colaboración es el producto del método. Nuestro argumento, por lo tanto, problematiza una manera habitual de pensar la colaboración como el efecto de ciertas premisas metodológicas y sugiere conceptualizar y describir la colaboración como el efecto de la inventiva etnográfica desplegada en el trabajo de campo.

Publicado como Estalella, A. & Sánchez Criado, T. (2020). Acompañantes epistémicos: la invención de la colaboración etnográfica. In A. Álvarez Veinguer, A. Arribas Lozano & G. Dietz (Eds.), Investigaciones en movimiento: etnografías colaborativas, feministas y decoloniales (pp.145-179). Buenos Aires: CLACSO | PDF

xcol – an ethnographic inventory > Lanzamiento de la nueva plataforma en el LAAV del MUSAC

El próximo 18 de noviembre a las 6pm (CET) Adolfo Estalella y yo presentaremos la nueva versión de #xcol en el Laboratorio de Antropología Audiovisual Experimental del MUSAC. La financiación de nuestro proyecto en la convocatoria Open LAAV_ nos ha permitido convertir el sitio web en un inventario etnográfico, esto es, una plataforma digital para cuidar de la inventiva del trabajo de campo.

Aquí adjunto el texto de presentación del seminario donde desvelaremos la nueva versión de la web:

“La etnografía es un acto de invención. Los antropólogos (y las antropólogas también) inventan siempre la manera de investigar con otras. La creatividad e inventiva que es integral a la actividad empírica de la antropología (y de manera amplia de la etnográfica), ha sido raramente reconocida por esta disciplina. Inventiva y creatividad parecen estar prescritas, muy al contrario de lo que ocurre en el mundo del arte, donde la creatividad es una de sus señas de identidad. Este encuentro online introduce un proyecto dedicado a documentar e inventariar la invención etnográfica: “xcol. An Ethnographic Inventory“. Una plataforma digital, abierta a la participación de cualquier interesada, que tiene como objetivo animar la inventiva que demanda la investigación etnográfica de nuestros mundos contemporáneos. El encuentro introducirá brevemente el argumento teórico sobre la inventiva etnográfica y presentará el inventario xcol

Actividad gratuita previa inscripción en este enlace

¿Qué queréis decir exactamente con un inventario?

Pues, literalmente, hemos transformado #xcol en un modesto archivo digital colaborativo para inventariar la inventiva etnográfica. Durante la presentación mostraremos las diferentes secciones de la página: no sólo un inventario de inventos etnográficos, sino también ‘xpositions‘ (ensayos temáticos), colecciones de inventos, un glosario y un directorio de ‘xcolars‘ entre otras cosas.

Estamos dando las últimas pinceladas, pero tendrá una pinta parecida a esto:

¿Es una cosa sólo para antropólogxs?

Quienes lo hemos instigado somos antropólogxs, pero no, el inventario no es sólo para antropólogxs: Apelamos a etnógrafxs de todas las ramas a documentar e inventariar sus inventos etnográficos. De hecho, las formas de inventiva en los márgenes (inter-/trans-/a-) disciplinares han sido siempre cruciales para la etnografía.

Es más, la inspiración del diseño, la arquitectura y el arte son nuclear a la plataforma: queremos inventariar ‘inventos’ (en un sentido literal) etnográficos como ‘dispositivos de campo’, ‘formatos abiertos’ de encuentro, ‘prototipos’ o ‘intravenciones’ de una práctica a otra.

El argumento que da sentido a la plataforma es que el trabajo de campo siempre ha sido y será inventivo, pero los relatos metodológicos o disciplinares sobre qué es la etnografía tienden a aplanar o dejar fuera esas formas de invención: de ahí la razón de documentar colaborativamente esos gestos, para ¿quizá aprender de esa otra etnografía ya existente?

Una plataforma abierta de uso libre

Los contenidos serán de uso libre CC BY SA y la plataforma es de código libre y permitirá forks a quien quiera. La hemos desarrollado junto con Montera34, inspirados por la inventiva documental y archivística de Inteligencias Colectivas

Aprender a afectarse: la accesibilidad como reto pedagógico e institucional del diseño urbano

El próximo 25 de noviembre de 6 a 7:30 pm 30 de noviembre de 4 a 5:30pm [pospuesto por enfermedad] (CET) estaré impartiendo una sesión en el curso online de ANTIARQ (plataforma que busca crear espacios de complementariedad universitaria orientados a la producción de conocimiento interdisciplinar entre la Antropología y la Arquitectura) titulado EL URBANISMO COMO DISCURSO. ENFOQUES ALTERNATIVOS PARA RESIGNIFICAR LA PRAXIS

Del 16 al 26 de noviembre 2020

El curso consta de seis sesiones en donde analizaremos varias categorías empleadas de manera recurrente por los discursos promotores de las trasformaciones urbanísticas en la actualidad -tales como participación ciudadana, innovación tecnológica, sostenibilidad, accesibilidad universal, escala humana, etc.-, con la intención de analizarlas desde enfoques alternativos para evidenciar sus contradicciones, pero también como oportunidad para repensar los fundamentos de la práctica urbanística.  Además, el contenido del curso rema a contra corriente de la proliferación de fórmulas urbanísticas que han surgido a raíz de la pandemia generada por la COVID-19, y que se difunden especulativamente como “mano de santo” para resolver problemáticas ligadas a la afectación entre el entorno urbano y las formas de sociabilidad que alberga, obviando e rol instrumental del urbanismo para el fortalecimiento de las políticas neoliberales, que son en última instancia, las que han dado innumerables pruebas de atentar sin reparos contra la reproducción de la vida –urbana-.

En la primera sesión se analiza la retórica proyectual del espacio público, ofertado como símbolo ligado a la democratización de la ciudad para ocultar la privatización de la gestión urbana y las políticas de control social.   En la segunda sesión, se analiza el sentido de la participación ciudadana en el urbanismo neoliberal, evidenciando lo que opera tras su fachada de fácil consenso y sus efectos en la vida de los ciudadanos.  En la tercera sesión, se presenta una mirada crítica de las ciudades inteligentes, poniendo de relieve la crucial implicación de las empresas de tecnología en las operaciones privatizadoras del espacio urbano, mostrando cómo los algoritmos suelen normalizar sus efectos de exclusión social para rehusar las contradicciones o conflictos, justificándolos como errores del sistema.  En la cuarta sesión, se profundiza en el tema de la sostenibilidad y su conversión en un discurso vacío, al ser uno de los eslóganes necesarios para dar valor al producto ciudad como mercancía en el mercado global y nos invita a preguntarnos si urbanismo sostenible no es un oxímoron.  La quinta sesión está enfocada en los retos pedagógicos e institucionales del diseño urbano en materia de accesibilidad universal, lo que supone no solo la democratización técnica de los procesos de diseño urbano, sino también la desestigmatización cultural de unos cuerpos considerados impropios.  Finalmente, la sexta sesión pon en el centro del debate, la noción de ´escala humana´ empleada como coartada para el montaje de ciudades humanizadas, en donde ciertos usuarios o usuarias serán excluidos sistemáticamente del usufructo de las zonas reformadas por actuaciones urbanísticas.

Mi sesión: “Aprender a afectarse: la accesibilidad como reto pedagógico e institucional del Diseño Urbano”

Desde su eclosión en los ciclos de protestas civiles de los años 1970 en adelante, los activistas por los derechos de las ‘personas con discapacidad’ – actualmente ‘diversas funcionales’ – llevan luchando para que nuestras ciudades sean hospitalarias con la diversidad corporal. Esto no sólo ha supuesto articular procesos de desestigmatización cultural, buscando sostener la autonomía de unos cuerpos hasta ese momento considerados impropios. También, ha promovido el debate de la democratización técnica de los procesos de diseño urbano e infraestructural. En consecuencia, varias ciudades del Norte Global han desarrollado acciones para sensibilizar a arquitectos, ingenieros y funcionarios públicos, para que tales entornos pudieran existir, creando condiciones favorables para un diseño inclusivo de las infraestructuras urbanas. En no pocas ocasiones, este proceso de sensibilización requiere una profunda transformación pedagógica de las personas implicadas en el diseño y en el rediseño urbanístico. Este reto institucional y pedagógico que se analiza en esta sesión, implica un ‘aprender a afectarse’ por la diversidad corporal y visibilizar lo que ello supone desde la implementación de políticas de ‘supresión de barreras’ y estándares arquitectónicos, hasta problematizaciones en torno a enfoques ‘culturales’ y ‘multisensoriales’.  Se expondrán ejemplos recabados desde un trabajo antropológico acerca de la transformación accesible de la ciudad de Barcelona, mostrando su constructo institucional en un intento de sensibilización de los técnicos municipales.  Pero, también, se compartirá el impacto de este trabajo antropológico aplicado desde la docencia, como pedagogía experimental orientada a impartir otras metodologías de diseño desde la formación de arquitectos en la Universidad Politécnica de Múnich.

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Este es un argumento en corto de un proyecto de libro en que ando trabajando, titulado “An uncommon city: Bodily diversity and the activation of possible urbanisms” (Una ciudad poco común: La diversidad corporal y la activación de urbanismos posibles).

Lo aprendido en En torno a la silla, así como siguiendo a técnicos del Instituto Municipal de Personas con Discapacidad y formando arquitectos en Múnich me lleva a sugerir que esto supone una democratización técnica de los procesos de diseño urbano, así como la desestigmatización cultural de cuerpos considerados impropios.

Una democratización del diseño que antes que proveer soluciones para otros implica “aprender a afectarse” por los derechos, necesidades y aspiraciones de cuerpos diversos, experimentando con otras formas de hacer ciudades más hospitalarias.

Lo que contaré, por tanto, son tres modos de activar urbanismos posibles: prototipos, infraestructura pública y cursos de proyectos. En todos ellos late esa aspiración por fabricar, sensibilizar o convocar una ciudad poco común (la de los cuerpos impropios y los encuentros extraordinarios con la posibilidad de una otra manera de hacer ciudad)

Mi sueño sería que esto sirviera para poder trabajar en paralelo en una copia en castellano del libro en inglés, para poder abrirlo a discusión densa y profunda, pero las fuerzas son las que son y por eso me hace especial ilusión poder contar el argumento en forma seminario.

Referencias bibliográficas

Blok, A., & Farías, I. (Eds.). (2016). Urban Cosmopolitics: Agencements,
Assemblies, Atmospheres. London: Routledge.
Callon, M., & Rabeharisoa, V. (2008). The growing engagement of emergent
concerned groups in political and economic life: lessons from the French association of neuromuscular disease patients. Science, Technology & Human Values, 33(2), 230–261.
Callon, M., Lascoumes, P., & Barthe, Y. (2011). Acting in an Uncertain World: An Essay on Technical Democracy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Hamraie, A. (2017). Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability.Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota University Press.
Latour, B. (2004a). Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Latour, B. (2004b). How to talk about the body? The normative dimension of Science Studies. Body & Society, 10(2–3), 205–229.
Marres, N., & Lezaun, J. (2011). Materials and devices of the public: an introduction. Economy and Society, 40(4), 489–509.
Puig de la Bellacasa, M. (2017). Matters of care: Speculative Ethics for a More Than Human World. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press.
Stengers, I. (2019). Civiliser la modernité ? Whitehead et les ruminations du sens commun. Paris: Les presses du réel.
Vilà, A. (Ed.). (1994). Crónica de una lucha por la igualdad: apuntes para la historia del movimiento asociativo de las personas con discapacidad física y sensorial en Catalunya. Barcelona: Fundació Institut Guttmann.

Lecturas para la sesión

2021. Anthropology as a careful design practice?Zeitschrift für Ethnologie, 145 (2020): 47–70
2019. Technologies of Friendship: Accessibility politics in the ‘how to’ modeSociological Review, 67(2): 408–427 (‘Intimate Entanglements’ monograph, edited by Joanna Latimer & Daniel López).
2016. Urban accessibility issues: Technoscientific democratizations at the documentation interfaceCITY, 20(4)pp. 619-636 (article co-written with Marcos Cereceda for the special issue on ‘Technical democracy as a challenge for urban studies‘, edited by I. Farías & A. Blok)

Vídeo de la presentación

Aquí

Caring for intervention: Anthropology in multimodal design experiments > EE Forschungskolloquium Würzburg

Prof. Dr. Michaela Fenske and Isabella Kölz M.A. have invited me to join their interesting Forschungskolloquium WS 20/21 of the Lehrstuhl für Europäische Ethnologie/Volkskunde, Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, titled: “Lebenswelten gestalten. Neue Forschungszugänge einer Anthropologie des Designs

On November 19 at 6pm, I’ll be joining them to talk about a series of experiments in multimodal anthropology from my own ethnographic engagements in a wide variety of exploratory and speculative design milieus where care, openness and playfulness are vindicated as part of their attempts at articulating alternative modes of togetherness: what kind of anthropological practice can we learn from them, how do they teach us other ways of caring for intervention?

Gastvorträge

19.11.20 „Caring for intervention: Anthropology in multimodal design experiments” Tomás Sánchez Criado, Berlin | Zoom:  https://uni-wuerzburg.zoom.us/j/97756213954?pwd=SmtDd2JkK2JNUVNsVWZIQ1d2WGliUT09

03.12.20 „Aussortieren. Design Anthropologie des Alltags” Heike Derwanz, Oldenburg | Zoom: https://uni-wuerzburg.zoom.us/j/92100176369?pwd=aDBodS9OZnE1MW00V3JaTUl0azRXdz09


10.12.20 „Design – von der Idee zur Umsetzung. Beispiele aus der Praxis der Ausstellungsgestaltung“   Claudia Frey, Würzburg |                     Zoom: https://uni-wuerzburg.zoom.us/j/99973001306?pwd=ZGZTM2lURUx5VmFmNlJRZWVwT2J6QT09


17.12.20 „Dinge am Lebensende“ – eine designanthropologische Studie“ Francis Müller & Bitten Stetter, Zürich | Zoom: https://uni-wuerzburg.zoom.us/j/95172005633?pwd=dkdWNHdOUzhkRzR5emw5bEZxcCsyUT09


28.01.21 Gespräch auf der Grauen Couch Lioba Keller-Drescher & Gudrun König, Münster/Dortmund | Venue: Gebäude PH1, Hubland Süd, Hörsaal 1, Lehrstuhl für Europäische Ethnologie/Volkskunde, Am Hubland, 97074 Würzburg

Ethnographic invention: Caring for the Modes of Inquiry of Anthropology > Talk at NUS Sociology Webinar Series

Thanks to an invitation by Kiven Strohm, Adolfo Estalella and I will have the pleasure to give a talk at the National University of Singapore‘s Sociology Webinar Series on ethnographic invention (poster and abstract below).

The event will take place on Zoom next October 15, 2020 at 3pm (Singapore time) / 9am (CET).

To register for the webinar (free, all welcome), please follow this link or visit NUS Sociology’s Facebook page

Ethnographic invention: Caring for the Modes of Inquiry of Anthropology

Adolfo Estalella (Complutense University of Madrid) & Tomás Criado (Humboldt-University of Berlin).

Abstract

What if rather than conceptualizing it as a ‘method’ ethnography was to be appreciated as an act of anthropological invention? Already decades ago Roy Wagner proposed that more than discovering the cultures they were studying anthropologists ‘invent’ them. In his usage, the anthropological invention happens at a conceptual level: in the process of analysis, when anthropologists are relating their ethnographic experience in textual form. Our fieldwork experiences might allow us to probe into another version of invention: one that happens in the empirical encounter, when anthropologists are engaged in relating with others and devising the conditions for their inquiry to be possible. Ethnography, we would like to advance, is a twofold act of invention that happens when constructing relations: in the field and out of the field.

Any anthropologist undertaking fieldwork must have surely faced the challenging circumstance of having to forge relations with complete strangers. Resorting to forms of sociality already known as well as guides and norms of learnt methods is never enough, since social life tends to overflow its own scripts and anthropologist have always to resort to their own creativity and invention in the field. Rarely though is the figure of invention acknowledged as integral to the ethnographic practice, and fieldwork is never conceptualized in those terms. And yet, alongside the traditional techniques (interview, field diary, observation, etc.) ethnography is always full of grand and minor gestures that make it possible to inquire with others. We thus propose to consider ethnography not as a method but as an act of invention of the very possibility of anthropological inquiries in the field.

This has an important corollary, affecting how we might approach its teaching and learning. Rather than manuals or handbooks of methods––where the invention integral to the field practices of anthropologists tends to be systematically obviated–perhaps ethnography requires a different mode of compiling its inventive condition. This is something that we belief the present moment demands from anthropologists, a situation requiring from us a different care of knowledge: one that looks after the inventiveness of our modes of inquiry because they open the possibility for future inquiries.

Democratising Urban Infrastructures: The technical democracy of accessibility urbanism > Power to Co-Produce Webinar

I was kindly invited to take part in the webinar POWER TO CO-PRODUCE: Careful power distribution in collaborative city-making, hosted on September 14th 2020 by Burcu Ateş, Predrag Milić, Laura Sobral and Sabine Knierbein at the Interdisciplinary Centre for Urban Culture and Public Space (SKUOR), Technische Universität Wien. As part of a session on ‘co-production practices’, I shared 15′ of my research on Democratising Urban Infrastructures: The technical democracy of accessibility urbanism (see full text below).

Call | Programme

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The technical democracy of accessibility urbanism

I. Technical democracy and city-making

In this intervention I summarise my particular urban anthropological interest in accessibility urbanism as a peculiar form of a technical democratisation of city-making. ‘Technical democracy’ is a term used in STS to discuss different approaches participatory forms of technoscience, where an expansion of expertise to knowledges beyond hegemonic technical ones has been approached and experimented upon. It has many versions, but nearly all of them are concerned with the need to reverse the effects of technocracy and expertocracy. This has been done in a wide variety of ways: from searching to make science and technology amenable for public discussion and deliberation to expanding the who and the how of technoscientific practice (for an overview, see Callon, Lascoumes & Barthe, 2011).

This concern is particularly important in a context of planetary urbanisation with its concomitant development of urban infrastructures. A concern with technical democracy becomes crucial when these urban infrastructures are not only heavily managed by all kinds of experts, but are redefining in uncertain ways the scopes and practices of urban modes of togetherness. Following also in this an STS concern, rather than as large technical systems, infrastructures should be appreciated as sites for the controverted relational re-articulation of social and material worlds: that is, particular forms of bringing together and apart agents, material entities, knowledges… Or, to say it better, relational configurations that foreground some of these agents, material entities, knowledges neglecting or, even, excluding others (Farías & Blok, 2016).

Precisely because of this, urban infrastructures are also the sites where new forms of the demos are emerging: Indeed, multitude of concerned groups and affected publics mobilise and undertake research around these highly technical issues; sometimes they train themselves to become quasi-experts in order to challenge expert control, when not searching to manage those urban infrastructures themselves. Contemporary urban infrastructures are one of the most crucial sites where an experimentation and a reinvention of particular forms of technical democratisation are taking place: not just because of how urban infrastructural design might need to be democratized, but also because of how we might be engaging in and designing infrastructures of urban democratization (Harvey, Jensen & Morita, 2016).

In what follows I will show you a few instances from my work on the technical democracy of accessibility urbanism. Since 2012, I have been doing research on urban accessibility issues in Spain and Germany, with a comparative European gaze: in particular, I have been studying and engaging in a variety of emergent publics mobilised around accessible design and urbanism. As a pioneering field in the democratisation of urban infrastructures, urban accessibility teaches us that in order to democratize infrastructures, we might need to engage in the experimentation with and implementation of different infrastructures for urban democratisation. As I will show:
(a) To manage complex socio-technical issues like this one requires the creation of infrastructures for inclusive policy-making, engaging publics and concerned groups in different forms of participatory governance;
(b) The democratization of modes of designing and doing urban infrastructures also implies setting up infrastructures for epistemic collaboration with emergent publics;
(c) But as I will suggest, in closing, for any of this to make any sense, we also need to intervene expert education: experimenting with pedagogic infrastructures for the ‘sensitization of experts.’

II. Participatory Governance

Since the 1970s, and through different forms of contestation, disability rights advocates have been searching to create public concern on the discrimination they suffer, making their bodily experiences of exclusion palpable to articulate more inclusive urban infrastructures (Hamraie, 2017; Williamson, 2019).

Allow me to give you an example. In what was known at the time in Barcelona as the cripples’ revolt diverse small associations of people with disabilities united to hold public demonstrations demanding ‘a city without barriers.’ These protests paved the way for the creation of a newly democratic municipal institution governing these matters in a participatory fashion since the early 1980s (the Institut Municipal de Personas amb Discapacitat, or Municipal Institute of People with Disabilities, IMPD, in its last denomination): in whose ‘hybrid’ board politicians and technical staff are joind by elected representatives of people with disabilities (IMPD, 2019).

The IMPD was quintessential in re-designing Barcelona’s urban infrastructures in preparation for the 1992 Olympics: this hybrid institution engaged in a comparative search for urban accessibility and inclusive design policies around the world; it was also a fundamental site for the legal training of disabled representatives to address highly complex technicalities, as well as the experiential training of professionals. This combination of comparative policy analysis, together with experiential and technical forms of knowledge exchange was important to develop new urban standards, building and technical codes that became a model in the country; a lasting urban infrastructure developed thanks to the participatory engagement of disability rights advocates.

But what this case shows is that a public engagement in the field of urban accessibility cannot just be an issue of merely allowing people to take part in, or to give very vulnerable people the means to appropriate technical knowledge or to transform technologies through consumption and user-led innovation. In a context in which regulation tends to happen in the extrastatecraft form of market-based building standards, ISO or DIN (Easterling, 2014), public institutional infrastructures are crucial to bring together concerned publics and experts to regulate, and assemble together inclusive forms of policy-making. Not only to be able to deal with the legal technicalities that policy-making on these issues requires, but also to ensure their implementation and sustainability for neglected actors. This is far from being an easy task. And it has usually entailed shaking the grounds of the classic means by which experts produce knowledge about these bodies.

III. Documentation interfaces

In the last decades, emergent publics and concerned groups with accessibility urbanism have been crucially developing particular infrastructures to mobilise and articulate their experiential knowledges, many times mobilising spatial registers going beyond expert-based Euclidean notions (Hall & Imrie, 1999; Imrie, 1999). I have been addressing them as ‘documentation interfaces’ (Criado & Cereceda, 2016): that is, not only as situations to frame, elicit and discuss diverse bodily experiences and the environmental and material affordances to host them; but also as situations that produce a trace in different kinds of media, forms of record whereby their experiential knowledge is mobilized to have an impact in design situations, such as in: (1) video-camera records to show what it means to move using a wheelchair; (2) urban explorations with blind people to discuss in situ whether different pavement textures, light settings or colours can be distinguished; (3) not to mention the increasing use of digital platforms for the audio-visual documentation of inaccessibility experiences by all kinds of disability experts, such as collaborative mapping apps.

These documentation interfaces are also interesting empirical sites to understand how particular alliances between concerned groups and experts or technicians are attempted, sometimes way beyond state-run institutional frameworks. One of the most interesting domains for this techno-political experimentation are the many do-it-yourself initiatives, makerspaces and hacklabs emerging throughout the world, and seeking to ‘democratize’ the access to technical knowledge and the users’ engagement in prototyping. I have collaborated in such endeavours as part of my long ethnographic engagement between 2012 and 2016 with the Barcelona-based open design collective En torno a la silla: part of a wider DIY network in the country including engaged professionals and technicians as crucial allies for people with disabilities.

Being able to work together in those settings entails implementing and managing infrastructures of documentation, requiring particular events and digital platforms. These infrastructures, in turn, have allowed intensive learning experiences of collaborative doing and making creating the conditions whereby alternative urban accessibility arrangements can be critically explored and tried out. Yet, despite the crucial importance of DIY forms of engagement for the democratisation of design they are far from being a ‘solution for all’. As we’ve also learnt, these engagements are extremely exhausting and time-consuming for people who also need many social and technical supports to take part in them. Also, without some degree of institutionalisation they prove fragile. Hence, they do not necessarily serve the purpose of bringing into existence safe, economically sustainable, and lasting urban infrastructures for personal autonomy and independence. Nevertheless, they are very relevant as documentation interfaces: that is, as infrastructures of epistemic collaboration where not just a redistribution of technical skills is being attempted, but where an exchange of knowledges becomes possible.

IV. Expert Education

But engaging in infrastructures of more inclusive policy-making or epistemic collaboration are not the only forms in which to create conditions of technical democracy. In closing, I would like to highlight another strategy that we could learn from accessibility issues: perhaps a more important one that we tend to overlook, even though it might open up fertile avenues to play a crucial role as scholars in technical universities like this one. What if democratizing technical decision-making did not just require citizens or lay people to become experts or hackers, but that professional experts in the private and public sector would be aware of the limits of their own expertise? What if technical democracy had to do with building pedagogic infrastructures to train these experts to open themselves to other forms of sensing, knowing and valuing?

Indeed, most urban designers do not usually receive proper accessibility training. This hinders the use of existing accessibility codes and policies. Beyond that, understanding the singular experiences and conditions of diverse bodies neglected by design disciplines is something that needs to be learnt by doing. When confronting with these issues many designers have to ‘retrain’ themselves, challenging their own expertise. For this they need to develop other skills as another kind of practitioners: not only inventing or adapting multi-sensorial gadgets to make possible co-design situations, but also creating collaborative devices to learn from disability advocates what it means to be different kinds of bodies. To make this process easier would require intervening early on in formal training and curricula, as in the ground-breaking experiments of Raymond Lifchez incorporating accessible concerns in design studio teaching (Lifchez, 1986): where disability rights advocates rather than being treated as end users in projects addressed at them were engaged throughout the duration of the course as design consultants of any kind of projects students were working on.

This became a key concern when having to teach at the Department of Architecture at the TU Munich between 2015 and 2018, together with my colleague Ignacio Farías (Farías & Criado, 2018). We realized that the space of the classroom and the training of future design professionals were largely unattended but critical aspects of the project of ‘technical democracy.’ In fact, training professionals to commit to other forms of producing knowledge and making things might be crucial to make more democratic forms of science and technology possible. But this requires inverting the so-called ‘deficit model’ of participation that aims to enhance the public engagement in science and technology: that is, we need to address the potential knowledge deficits of experts.

In the nearly three years we worked there, we plunged in the development of a series of teaching experiments called Design in crisis. In them we felt the need for STS to move from the ‘expertization of laypersons’–a classic public engagement trend, such as in citizen science–to the creation of pedagogic infrastructures for the ‘re-sensitization of experts.’ One example of what this might mean could be the ManualCAD:

“a portable game for architectural design in which both blind or visually impaired architects, and architects who have the sense of sight can participate and create together.”

Taken from https://designincrisis.wixsite.com/designincrisis2017

It was developed by students in the MA in Architecture in a studio project I taught in 2017. After a several weeks’ intensive training to raise awareness of the need to re-appreciate the multi-sensory features of the built environment they had to undertake a group assignment: to collectively prototype a new architectural toolkit for a blind architect. This led them to explore and do research about multi-sensory devices, methods, and skills. Rather than a solution for an almost impossible challenge, the device they came up with was an interesting object to ask good questions or, rather, to open up design as a problem: A tool, perhaps, to re-learn what it might mean to engage in non-visual forms of architecture?

After engaging in this and many other similar teaching experiments, I have come to believe that for technical democracy to take place in city-making, it has to be always reinvented in specific terms from within the technical practices of experts, sensitizing them through different pedagogical experiments and interventions to be another kind of professionals, more open to the wide diversity of actors they could be designing with.

References

Callon, M., Lascoumes, P., & Barthe, Y. (2011). Acting in an Uncertain World: An Essay on Technical Democracy. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Criado, T. S., & Cereceda, M. (2016). Urban accessibility issues: Techno-scientific democratizations at the documentation interface. City, 20(4), 619–636.

Easterling, K. (2014). Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space. London: Verso.

Farías, I., & Blok, A. (2016). Technical democracy as a challenge to urban studies. City, 20(4), 539–548.

Farías, I., & Criado, T.S. (2018). Co-laborations, Entrapments, Intraventions: Pedagogical Approaches to Technical Democracy in Architectural Design. DISEÑA, 12, 228–255.

Hall, P., & Imrie, R. (1999). Architectural practices and disabling design in the built environment. Environment and Planning B, 26, 409–426.

Hamraie, A. (2017). Building Access: Universal Design and the Politics of Disability. Minneapolis, MN: Minnesota University Press

Harvey, P., Jensen, C. B., & Morita, A. (Eds.) (2016). Infrastructures and Social Complexity: A Companion. London: Routledge.

IMPD. (2009). Barcelona, una ciutat per a tothom : 30 anys treballant amb les persones amb discapacitat. Barcelona: Ajuntament de Barcelona, Institut Municipal de Persones amb Discapacitat (IMPD).

Imrie, R. (1999). The body, disability and Le Corbusier’s conception of the radiant environment. In R. Butler & H. Parr (Eds.), Mind and Body Spaces: Geographies of Illness, Impairment and Disability (pp. 25–44). New York: Routledge.

Lifchez, R. (Ed.). (1986). Rethinking Architecture: Design Students and Physically Disabled People. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Williamson, B. (2019). Accessible America: A History of Disability and Design. New York: New York University Press.

Care in Trouble: Ecologies of Support from Below and Beyond

In 2018-2019, my colleague Vincent Duclos and I worked on different versions of an essay that was given green light by the Medical Anthropology Quarterly last August and has now been included in the 34(2) issue. It was a hard process, but also a wonderful occasion to learn from the inspiring work of many colleagues and a joyful opportunity to experiment together with a conceptual writing repertoire.

Titled “Care in Trouble: Ecologies of Support from Below and Beyond” the article wishes to map out how care has proliferated as an analytical and technical term aimed at capturing a vast array of practices, conditions, and sentiments. As we argue in our exploratory orienting essay–rather than a deep dive ethnography–care seems to have also expanded to many other reproductive domains of life, where it has been mobilized as a conceptual lens that affords privileged access to the human condition.

This essay is premised on the conviction that, in spite of and perhaps also because of its rising popularity, the analytics of care is in trouble. Drawing inspiration from STS, “new materialist” work, and the writings in black, Indigenous, anticolonial, feminist, and crip studies, we suggest that discussions within anthropology might benefit from opening care from both “below” and “beyond” in what we are calling “ecologies of support.”

Ecologies of support are not to be mistaken for all-encompassing environments. Their protective effects more often than not are discontinuous and unevenly distributed. Thinking about ecologies of support entails placing a new focus on how different kinds of bodies are differentially supported, cared for, and capable of influencing their own conditions of support. Because spaces of care and safety can also easily morph into forms of containment and exclusion, what is needed are more accurate cartographies of the many intersections and frictions between the enveloping and the diverging, the protecting and the containing, the enduring and the engendering, as they play out in care practices.

Our proposal is for anthropology to not simply seek to represent or bear witness to these practices, but also to reinvigorate care by experimenting with modes of inquiry and intervention that operate along new axes of movement and new relational possibilities—a dynamic ecosystem if you will.

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We would be happy and eager to learn from your comments and reactions to it, if you had any.

Picture CC BY 2006 Vladimer Shioshvili

Abstract

Over the last decades, care has proliferated as a notion aimed at capturing a vast array of practices, conditions, and sentiments. In this article, we argue that the analytics of care may benefit from being troubled, as it too often reduces the reproduction of life to matters of palliation and repair, fueling a politics of nationalism and identitarianism. Picking up the threads of insight from STS, “new materialisms,” and postcolonial feminist and indigenous scholarship, we discuss care from “below” and “beyond,” thus exposing tensions between the enveloping and the diverging, the enduring and the engendering, that play out in care practices. We propose “ecologies of support” as an analytic that attends to how humans are grounded in, traversed by, and undermined by more‐than‐human and often opaque, speculative, subterranean elements. Our proposal is for anthropology to not simply map life‐sustaining ecologies, but to experimentally engage with troubling modes of inquiry and intervention.

Published as Duclos, V., & Criado, T. S. (2020). Care in Trouble: Ecologies of Support from Below and Beyond. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 34(2), 153–173 | PDF

The Method of Telegrammatic Correspondence: A Digital Mode of Inquiry during ‘Lockdown’

Logo. CC BY 2020 Cor on Collaboration

Ever since the COVID-19 outbreak unfolded into a major health and social crisis in Spain Adolfo Estalella and I have been taking part in a peculiar Telegram-based messaging group. ‘Cor on Collaboration’, as the space was named, turned into our main source of news, links, experiences, appreciations, reflections and collective debates. It was originally set up by some of our ethnographic acquaintances in the last years, a loose group of architects, designers and cultural workers with the goal of developing a version of a podcast radio show based in Madrid, devoted to exploring manifold forms of urban collaboration. From 20 people by mid-March to the actual 84, the group soon became a frantic and lively space where all participants have been sharing personal experiences, commenting media articles, discussing specialized papers and pre-prints or analysing collectively anything relevant to understand the unfolding of the COVID crisis. From its onset the convening team encouraged us to send audio messages to compile and edit them, together with other material, as podcasts that could reach out to a wider public beyond the group. Here we reflect on the methodological inspiration we could draw from this peculiar use of a regular off-the-shelf collaborative digital platform for our work as social scientists. Shocked and perplexed by the present situation, we (as the rest of our companions) have found in ‘Cor on collaboration’ a resource to navigate uncertain times: Not just a place for solidarity, debate and contact, but a place driven by the shared effort to problematize the present situation. Contributing to the rising debate on how to undertake ethnographic work in times of lockdown we would like to intimate the affordances of this particular ‘telegrammatic’ correspondence that has allowed us (and our counterparts in this conversation) to inquire into the uncertainty of these strange times.

We have written a small piece, published as part of the Sociological Review’s Solidarity and Care series reflecting on the experience:

[EN] The Method of Telegrammatic Correspondence: A Digital Mode of Inquiry during ‘Lockdown’

[ES] El método de la correspondencia telegramática: Un modo de indagación digital para tiempos de confinamiento

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[Update 26.10.2020] Now reblogged in the UniSiegen’s Interface blog: “The method of telegrammatic correspondence

Constitutional graffiti: Emergent landscapes of Corona protest in German cities

(French version below)

Munich, Germany – Only seldom do constitutional debates take the streets. However, these bureaucratically heated disputes–regularly discussed in the secluded spaces of courts–sometimes catch media attention and stir political debate. After the implementation of stark public health measures to fight against the expansion of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic in Germany, a mounting controversy has opened up in the last weeks. Federal states like Bavaria have issued public space use guidelines to prevent the virus to spread: these recommend not only a safety distance of 1,5m, but also include bans affecting many institutions and big shops, which have closed or been reduced to essential-mode only; in the streets and parks groups of only 3 people are allowed, with the sole exception of larger groups living in the same household. When appreciated in a comparative gaze, these measures are far less strict than most of the neighboring EU countries. However, different political factions in Germany consider that they affect the rights of free protest and the freedom of assembly.

In the last weeks there have been scattered protests all over the country, having some support across the political spectrum, against what some have called a ‘Demoverbot’ (ban of demonstrations). Some wonder: What should go first, fundamental rights or health? The debate, of course, takes different connotations, left or right. And there are different expressions related to it. Some weeks ago, a man was photographed in Karlsruhe carrying a makeshift book copy of the Constitution tied to his back. On May Day several ‘Spontis’ (spontaneous demonstrations) took the streets in the popular districts of Berlin in protest for the ban. Walking by the Isar – Munich’s river – some days ago, I found another modality: a graffiti fight painted on the pavement in a bike lane from the green spaces running parallel to the water in the Glockenbachviertel’s embankment. A collision of political views in yellow and white. In yellow someone had painted a statement whereby ‘Corona’ came to stand as the ‘Demoverbot’ in itself. In white, someone felt compelled to correct this: ‘Corona’, that person thought, is a ‘virus’, whereas ‘capitalism’ would be ‘the problem.’

[FR] Munich, Allemagne – Il est rare que les débats constitutionnels se déroulent dans la rue. Malgré tout, il arrive que ces disputes bureaucratiques de haute volée — habituellement réservées aux espaces confinés des tribunaux — attirent l’attention des médias et suscitent un débat politique. Ces dernières semaines, après la mise en œuvre de mesures de santé publique draconiennes pour lutter contre l’expansion de la pandémie de SRAS-CoV-2 en Allemagne, une controverse grandissante a émergé. Des États fédéraux comme la Bavière ont publié des directives sur l’usage de l’espace public pour empêcher le virus de se propager : celles-ci recommandent non seulement que soit respectée une distance de sécurité d’1,5 mètre, mais comprennent également des interdictions touchant de nombreuses institutions et de grands magasins, dont la plupart ont fermés ou ont été réduits à un service minimum ; dans les rues et dans les parcs, seuls les groupes de 3 personnes sont autorisés, à l’exception des collectifs pour peu nombreux qui vivent sous le même toit. Lorsqu’on les compare, ces mesures sont beaucoup moins strictes que dans la plupart des pays voisins de l’UE. Cependant, différentes factions politiques en Allemagne considèrent qu’elles affectent les droits de manifestation et la liberté de réunion. 

Au cours des dernières semaines, quelques manifestations ont été organisées dans le pays, avec un certain soutien de l’ensemble du spectre politique, contre ce que certains ont appelé un « Demoverbot » (une interdiction de manifester). On s’interroge : qu’est-ce qui devrait passer en premier, les droits fondamentaux ou la santé ? Le débat, bien sûr, prend différentes connotations, à gauche ou à droite. Et différentes expressions y sont associées. Il y a quelques semaines, un homme a été photographié à Karlsruhe avec un exemplaire de la constitution fait maison attaché dans le dos. Le 1er mai, plusieurs « Spontis » (cortèges spontanés de protestation) sont descendus dans les rues des quartiers populaires de Berlin pour contester l’interdiction. En me promenant le long de la rivière Isar-Munich, j’ai découvert il y a quelques jours une autre modalité d’expression : un combat de graffitis peints sur une piste cyclable du Glockenbachviertel, au niveau des espaces verts qui longent l’eau. Une confrontation de points de vue politiques en jaune et blanc. En blanc, quelqu’un avait peint une équation dans laquelle le « Corona » se substituait au « Demoverbot ». En jaune, quelqu’un s’est senti obligé d’en rectifier les termes : Le « Corona », selon cette personne, est un « virus », tandis que le « capitalisme » serait « le problème » (kindly translated by Jérôme Denis)

Publication and rationale

This short picture & text is a guest contribution to Scriptopolis (11 May 2020), the wonderful archive documenting material approaches to writing phenomena curated by Marie Alauzen, Jérôme Denis, David Pontille & Didier Torny.

Although the brief accompanying text provides contextual info on the picture, some relevant phenomena (like the 9pm clapping & the vast support of the measures) are obviously missing in this attempt at charting out landscapes of protest in German cities under Corona public health regulations. However, I wanted to document this to reflect how different liberal versions of ‘exposure’ might be emerging…

Interestingly, there are also newer landscapes of protest operating with an idea of ‘shared protection’: Disability rights movements like AbilityWatch have been exploring forms of demonstrating ‘at a distance’, particularly at a time when they feel even more exposed by a re-enactment of eugenic-like measures in health care using the hashtag #UNsichtbar. +info here: https://maiprotest.de/

Come what may, and beyond the more or less spectacular display of street protests, a looming question seems to linger: even if might sound like a minor issue, a too-civil concern, appreciating the constitutionality of these measures has become also a debate between jurists, given that they might have a jurisprudential value – hence, exploring their juridical and scientific grounding becomes quintessential, since they might be having a future impact.

Some background references

Jan Fährmann, Hartmut Aden, Clemens Arzt (15 Apr 2020). Versammlungs­freiheit – auch in Krisenzeiten!. Verfassungsblog: On matters constitutional.

SZ.de (18 Apr 2020). Verfassungsrichter kippen Stuttgarts Demoverbot. Sueddeutsche Zeitung.

Reuters (26 Apr 2020). Coronavirus: dozens arrested in Berlin protesting against lockdown. The Guardian.

Walther Michl (28 Apr 2020). Die Kohärenz als Begleitmusik zum infektions­schutz­rechtlichen Tanz. Verfassungsblog: On matters constitutional.

Felix Bohr, Uwe Buse, Anna Clauß, Markus Feldenkirchen, Barbara Hardinghaus, Wolfgang Höbel, Guido Kleinhubbert, Martin Knobbe, Julia Koch, Dialika Neufeld, Christopher Piltz, Max Polonyi, Andreas Wassermann and Alfred Weinzierl (1 May 2020). Germans Split Over Lifting of Lockdown. Der Spiegel.

rbb24.de (2 May 2020). 1. Mai in Berlin – Tausende Menschen ziehen dicht an dicht durch Kreuzberg. rbb24.de

Maik Baumgärtner, Felix Bohr, Roman Höfner, Timo Lehmann, Ann-Katrin Müller, Sven Röbel, Marcel Rosenbach, Jonas Schaible, Wolf Wiedmann-Schmidt und Steffen Winter (8 May 2020). Sturm der Lügen. Der Spiegel.

Thomas Anlauf (10 May 2020). Ohne Masken, ohne Abstand. Sueddeutsche Zeitung.