Four years after Colleex started it is time for the original team of convenors to step down, and for a new team to guide Colleex in its explorations.
The network was launched in 2016. Our Intention was for it to become a space to share and learn about the experimental condition of anthropological practice. The last four years have certainly been exciting for us in the convening team (Eeva Berglund, Adolfo Estalella, Anna Lisa Ramella and Tomás S. Criado) and for the many colleagues who have participated in our workshops, labs and meetings. We have learnt much during this time, more even than we expected to share and learn from Colleex.
We share a review of this for years in a different post and in this one we share some information on the suggested handover and flag us some of our own hopes and ideas for the time ahead.
We have proposed Francisco Martínez, Hermione Spriggs, Francesca de Luca and Kiven Strohm to form a new convening team. They have all been active in Colleex activities and are looking forward to working as a team (See bios below). We hope you – network members and followers – agree to their taking over as convenors, but please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any reservations.
How did we get here? We invited expressions of interest in November 2020, to which we received a few responses (Many thanks to those who contacted us!). We were initially surprised that not more people put themselves forward, and can only assume that here too, the pandemic has reduced people’s enthusiasm to take on volunteer roles with possibly long-term commitments.
As a result, and also because Colleex is a network that exists thanks to the energies of those who are active, and not a membership organization with a constitution, selecting the new team has progressed informally and without a ballot. And so, we were delighted when two, then three, and later, four active Colleex presented themselves as a team. We are also delighted to hand over the convenorship and look forward to knowing about their plans.
That said, the idea to do distributed nodal activities (subscribers to the list will have received an email including this, still tentative yet tantalizing, information in January 2021) is still part of the plan. We encourage everyone to consider contributing to those as well.
NEW CONVENING TEAM’S BIOS
Hermione Spriggs works at the intersection of art and anthropology to investigate beyond-human forms of knowledge creation. She is currently conducting fieldwork with rural pest control in North Yorkshire (UK) for her PhD research based between the UCL Department of Anthropology and the Slade School of Fine Art. Hermione is curator and editor for the exhibition and publication project “Five Heads: Art, Anthropology and Mongol Futurism” (UCL Anthropology/ Sternberg Press). She is a member of UCL Multimedia Anthropology LAB, the Social Morphologies Research Unit, and the Arts Catalyst Advisory group.
Kiven Strohm is Assistant Professor in Department of Sociology and Anthropology, National University of Singapore working at the convergence of art/ecology/science and experimental ethnography. His research and writing centre on the emergence of assemblages and their affordances within contemporary colonial situations. His work has appeared on Collaborative Anthropologies, HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory, and American Anthropologist. He is presently completing a book project entitled, Experiments in Living: Art and Politics in a Settler Colony.
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, and currently he works as Associate Professor at Tallinn University. Francisco has published several books – including Peripheral Methodologies (Routledge, 2021); Politics of Recuperation in Post-Crisis Portugal (Bloomsbury, 2020), Repair, Brokenness, Breakthrough (Berghahn, 2019), and Remains of the Soviet Past in Estonia (UCL Press, 2018). He has also curated different exhibitions – including ‘Objects of Attention’ (Estonian Museum of Applied Art & Design, 2019), and ‘Adapting to Decline’ (Estonian Mining Museum, 2021).
Francesca De Luca is an anthropologist researching biotechnologies, biohacking and genealogies of medical experimentations with a focus on gender, race and spatiality. With EBANO Collective she carries out ethnographic-based artistic research and interventions and is coordinator in Portugal of the European project “Pass the Mic! Decolonizing education through arts” (Creative Europe 2020). She is a fellow researcher in the project “EXCEL. The Pursuit of Excellence. Biotechnologies, Enhancement and Body Capital in Portugal” (ICS – University of Lisbon).
Four years ago we founded the Collaboratory for Ethnographic Experimentation or as we prefer to call it: Colleex (pronounced /kɒli:ɡz/, homophone and perhaps also synonym to ‘colleagues’). From its inception in 2016, we aimed “to open a space for debate and intervention around experimental forms of ethnographic fieldwork”, as expressed in the original Colleex manifesto.
Now, the first team of convenors composed by Anna Lisa Ramella, Tomás Sánchez Criado, Eeva Berglund and Adolfo Estalella, is stepping aside and handing over to a new team that will coordinate the network. We have welcomed them and we would like to briefly account for our exciting journey over these years and summarize some of what we have learned.
Colleex was born with the goal to explore forms of ethnographic experimentation in multiple instances of anthropological practice. We were interested in experimental forms of representation and different modalities of fieldwork experimentation. From the onset the network has aimed at sharing, describing, valuing, conceptualising and discussing the many forms of experimentations that are happening in our discipline nowadays.
Somehow, this keen interest in experimentation as a social form turned to the network itself. From a matter of academic interest, experimentation turned into a matter of care that was cultivated by the network: Making us pay attention and affecting how we meet to discuss and explore. The experimentation has thus become over these years in the ethos of Collex itself, opening a space to experiment with forms of academic organization.
We would like to highlight three fertile lines of reflection and intervention (or, what we have called elsewhere intraventions) that are the result of this first period of Colleex, these are: a focus on shared problems beyond disciplinary boundaries, an exploration of ways to meet and do events that breached academic limits, and finally, an experimentation with the methodologies to learn together.
Firstly, with the shared focus on problems beyond disciplinary boundaries, Colleex wanted to operate as a platform for those concerned with ethnographic experimentation in anthropology (cutting across fields like visual, sensory, art, design or digital anthropology, as well as the anthropology of science and technology) and beyond anthropology proper.
In fact, the network was conceived as a convivial space of encounters with other disciplines as well as with a wide variety of practitioners “from other domains like artists, cultural producers, designers and practitioners of any discipline interested in the creative experimentation with ethnographic practice” (Colleex manifesto). Creating the conditions for these interstitial encounters we invited our fellow anthropologists to learn from other practitioners, as well as validate and foster non-disciplinary collaborative approaches to ethnographic experimentation.
Secondly, concerned with ways to meet, articulated around event-based and fluid forms of membership using off-the-shelf means of networking (a Google Group email list for anyone to join rather than a regular EASA members’ listserv), we always gravitated around exploring and expounding the limits of modes of academic encounter. Our encounters have indeed been experimental spaces on their own, fostering an off-bounds exploration including non-academic professionals.
The two Colleex workshops have been fertile testing grounds for this. In both of them, the powerful vibes of the host venues took centre stage. They were much more than mere backdrops for conversations of what ethnographic experimentation might mean, becoming instead agent-like in how they shaped the emergence of particular approaches and reflections:
In Lisbon’s 2017 workshop “Ethnographic Experimentation: Fieldwork Devices and Companions”, Chiara Pussetti, Francesca de Luca and Vitor Barros invited us to explore the colonial hauntings of the Jardim Botânico Tropical in a series of wonderfully hot days living together with peacocks, reminiscing from the agricultural archives – made out of paper, plants and sands – and miniature buildings from the former Portuguese empire.
In Cieszyn’s 2019 workshop “The use•ful•less•ness of the experiment: Anthropology and the assembly of the unexpected”, Tomasz Rakowski, Eva Rossal and the team of Świetlica Krytyki Politycznej “Na Granicy” w Cieszynie, took us into an amazing journey at the hard edges of the Polish/Czech border, making us explore how situating oneself at the periphery, and testing the borders between the useless and the useful should be a central concern for any ethnographic experimenter.
Thirdly, and following the powerful impact of these site-specific meetings, a conversation sparked amongst us on how to call these experiments in meeting and how to grant them relevance. In our EASA 2018’s The Lab is not blah, we briefly started thinking about this, and we argued that: “we strongly believe that formats to share and think together should be considered as part and parcel of a discussion on ethnographic experimentation. In our work we have been exploring these venues using the rather loose term open formats” (Colleex Open Formats). This is the third line of exploration opened by the network.
One of the most important outcomes of these last years for us as conveners has been learning to understand and explore the meanings and the modalities of the many ‘open formats’ displayed and showcased in the events we co-organised. For this, we have tried to bring them for discussion as pedagogical spaces for the apprenticeship of ethnographic experimentation. In that attempt, we have tried to argue for the need to document these ‘experiments in meeting’ so that they may travel, be learnt and reproduced elsewhere: something that led us to explore with Ofri Lapid the possibilities of the DIY genre of the Zine, which in times of the pandemic allowed alternative modes of being present with one another, the zines being mailed to Colleex all over the world.
In these intense years, launching the network and having had the immense luck of co-organising and taking part in these events and endeavours has proven to be one of the most fruitful things we’ve ever done as anthropologists. We have learnt a lot from the co-organisers of the events in Lisbon and Cieszyn and from all participants in them. And we are also happy to have made new colleagues and friends along the way. Through those events and meetings, a new experimental contour of academia as a joyful space began to take shape for us.
But Colleex was originally conceived as a temporary network, and our convenorship was time-limited: We wanted to pursue the network only as long as there was something to explore together with others; rather than slowly sinking into oblivion, the network has stayed alive because the conversation has stayed alive: as long as Colleex members derive fun from meeting others, although winding it up was always a possibility, we wanted to give it the best chance to continue.
And so, true to the network’s experimental spirit, our meetings did indeed bring amazing results. And we are also very lucky to have found along the way an astonishing team to take up the torch. The incoming Colleex convening team – with cross-disciplinary expertise in anthropology and art and practices ranging from making to curating – promises a great future for all things Colleex. We are very much looking forward to enjoying what this new period will bring, happy to be taking the back seat.
Where: Conference of the German Anthropological Association (GAA/DGSKA), Bremen (online) When: 27-30 September, 2021 Who: Anna Lisa Ramella, Jonathan Larcher, Roger Norum
A lab that takes as a point of departure the ways in which experiences of silence are increasingly being created, built, and provisioned for – and subsequently commodified, fetishized, consumed. With sound and silence walks, a recording exercise and a collective listening practice we’ll reflect on the paradoxes and issues raised by the practice of sound recording of silences. Rather than simply considering sounds as disturbances of silence, we consider how we can grasp them in order to tune the silences and sounds of the medium and the environment.
Colleex nodal event #2: Changing Formats for Ethnography
Where: Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture (Helsinki, Finland) When: Autumn-Winter 2021-2022 Who: Eeva Berglund and Tomás Criado, possibly Francisco Martinez
A workshop/winter-school/thematic seminar for doctoral-level students interested in ethnographic methodologies at the hinges of anthropology and design: Changing Formats for Ethnography will take place at Helsinki’s Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture.
We’ll explore open formats related to participants’ projects over several days, with some preparation thrown in, so they can gain credits if they want. Due to ongoing restrictions on gatherings, it’s as yet unclear when or exactly where this event can take place, but we thought we’d flag it up now anyway, in the hope that it won’t be much later than winter 2022.
Convened by Adolfo Estalella & Francisco Martinez | Discussant: AbdouMaliq Simone
This panel aims at discussing how anthropology and the city may engage in a relation of inventive companionship in shared practices of urban speculation about peripheral forms of urbanism and modes of anthropological inquiry.
Convened by Marie Aline Klinger, Lena Heiss, Lilian Krischer, Leonie Schipke and Tan Weigand
In this lab we will explore new ways of thinking anthropological research through games. Participants will have an online game session of “House of Gossip” and discuss the game experience and the potential of games and game design as a multimodal research method in the field of anthropology.
We will also host our annual network meeting in which we will discuss ideas for the next interim workshop 2021.
Picture: Lasnamäe (2013) by Anne Vatén (used with permission)
How do academic conferences shape anthropological research? And how do anthropological events change the participants in turn?
From 4 to 6 July 2019, over fifty scholars and artists met in Cieszyn (Poland) to explore novel forms of knowledge production, cultivating cross-disciplinary accents and gaining an experimental sensibility in fieldwork, in an event organised by the #ColleexEASA network and the local friends of the Institute of Political Critique (Świetlica Krytyki Politycznej “Na Granicy” w Cieszynie).
I arrived to Cieszyn a day before the event to attune myself to the surroundings. Well aware of the gastronomic and architectural pleasures of central Europe, my first impression, after a walk, was to notice the prominence of the Olza river and its bridges, which have served for many years as the geopolitical border between Czech Republic and Poland.
Walking continued during the workshop, yet through the outlands and suburbs of the anthropology, practicing boundary work while re-equipping our modes of performing ethnographic methods (Estalella and Sánchez Criado 2018). We discussed not just the actually existing ways of doing ethnography, but also epistemological deviations that create ways of knowing and learning differently, and by extension, ways of inhabiting academia differently.
“Experiments are singular events producing the unexpected: Throwing us questions we didn’t have, changing our notions of values, and creating the conditions of their own appreciation … From practical experiments that test what we already know to experiments carried out for the sake of them, experiments often challenge notions of value–this goes also for the value of the experiment itself. A situation that is not unusual in the experiments of artists and anthropologists: Working with their counterparts in the field and engaging in multiple collaborations, they interfere in coded hierarchies of value and subvert obvious notions of need in shared experimental exercises”.
Some of the participants came for crafting a taste for experimentation, or perhaps just to get a sip of it. All fine, those are also welcome. Some others, including myself, came to Cieszyn though willing to stay longer on the boundaries of what we know in the field, or even to lose ourselves there, not always finding the way back to our corresponding centres. I remember that after my talk, Tomás Sánchez Criado encouraged me to be even more excessive, more radical, intensifying the practice of surprise, searching for ways to go beyond the limit.
The exercise of re-training ourselves unequivocally involves unlearning, walking through the fertile ambiguity of the experiment, being open to the consequences of the unknown in the way we do research. Tomás talk was precisely about learning to relate, pedagogically and research-wise, proposing a sensorially engaged understanding of the relations taking place in the controlled space to experiment, whereby we draw together people to do things otherwise.
The repetition of an experiment leads always to its transformation, as a questioned answer to the coming, concluded Thomas Binder in his lecture; the same with an academic format, and with a walk.
During her talk, Eeva Berglund tried to bring Tim Ingold to the urban space, inviting us to walk with her towards a multisensorial sustainability science, building a capacity to be affected – a living inquiry. As she insisted, how to “solve problems” and issues of usefulness might go together with having fun, and the use of unusual methodologies should be noted for coping with contemporary risks, the background of economic hardship among researchers, and the crisis of crisis.
Also Ewa Klekot invited us to walk, to visit the river and to stay on the border while flying a kite. Her workshop consisted of making kites with our hands, flying them on the bridge, and exhibiting the nicest ones in the conference venue. Another experiment geared towards beyond human thought and perception was also organised by Hermione Spriggs. In her “Agility training”, she designed a series of preparatory exercises for engaging with hard-to-access perspectives beyond human worlds, combining animal empathy with muscular agility.
Julier made use of his body as sensing record, embodying the fieldnotes of his research performatively. In his talk, Julier re-enacted what use-value does an hour have for the different agents involved in the creation of a “smart city”, trying to transmit that embodied knowledge by playing roles through t-shirts of different colours. This was, perhaps, the most magical moment of the whole workshop, seeing how one us explores the limits of research through performative iterations and embodied imagination.
The summer when I found my academic subculture
A common mistake among Funding institutions and conservative anthropologists is to take academic formats and methods without time, as if they don’t mature, evolve, age, mutate. This is not the case of #Colleex, fundamentally open to new ways of extending our discussions and of developing our competences and sensibility to contemporary times, and also self-reflexive about the way academic conferences generate conditions that facilitate the production and dissemination of knowledge.
Local organisers, Tomasz Rakowski, Eva Rossal, and Joanna Wowrzeczka made of the Institute of Political Critique a place for multidisciplinary accommodations. They gathered people to share their questions and think through the relationship between the possible and the actual together, our tools and concepts, our notions of evidence, the future we imagine and of our own worth as academics.
Experimental knowledge production is characterised by temporal and spatial concentration. In Cieszyn, Martin Büdel and Zoe Aiano invited us to embrace the aesthetics of experimenting, illustrating different circumstances encountered in the field while filming. Also Maica Gugolati and Ofri Lapid foregrounded the importance of creating an atmosphere of sensing and sharing, demonstrating them all that the experimental is not necessarily difficult or intellectual, in some cases, it can be quite enjoyable.
The two #Colleex workshops organised so far have had as key aim to refigure the relationship between anthropologists and informants. However, if paying attention to the themes discussed, one can find differences between them, or perhaps a sense of evolution. The first #Colleex workshop, organised in Lisbon (13th–15th July 2017), was more focused on how documentation and multi-modal formats intervene in our research and the embodiment of knowledge. There were discussions about twitter as an ethnographic device, about colonial legacies and venues for experimentation, and also fundamental questions of what is a fieldnote, who is an anthropologist, and what is anthropological knowledge.
The second workshop, however, was rather focused on pedagogical designs and epistemic limits, on re-training ourselves, on failures, risks and vulnerability, on affects and shame, the weight of tradition and national myths, and also about different materialisations (and aesthetics) of knowledge. In Cieszyn, there was a (sometimes felt taxonomical) effort to define experimentation, while in Lisbon the programmatic exercise was to ground and delineate the meaning of collaboration.
The #Colleex workshop in Cieszyn was an event in which anthropologists did not present minced facts, but produced knowledge in situ, with the rest of participants, entailing along a new approach to the particular devices of undertaking fieldwork. In a self-critical way, we also reflected if these formats could be pedagogically powerful but politically toothless; also discussed about the sustainability of the experiment, and the infrastructures that alternative formats of engaging with fieldwork unequivocally require.
Both #Colleex workshops managed to constitute a counter cultural approach to method, and a sense of communitas among participants, relying on the locality, but also creating a collective spirit that goes beyond the locality. I did not feel these gatherings as the typical one-night-stand scholarly encounter of traditional conferences, but something close to falling in love, as one of those Linklater’s “Before the Sunrise” films. For me, to join the #Colleex was like to be part of an urban tribe or subculture back in my teenager period, call it steam punk, skater like, neo-romantic, mod, gothic, anarchist, also agrofolky, hacker, queer and a bit Hare Krishna too, all of this is in #Colleex.
Events such as the one experience in Cieszyn make possible a different way of inhabiting academia, attending to alternative modes of knowing, learning and acting in the field, while creating a renewed public for ethnographic experimentation. We need to peripheralise ourselves from time to time, instead of always leaning towards a core (disciplinary, epistemic, geographical). It is positive to unsubscribe ourselves to the standard and the central, even if temporarily, as a way of re-training ourselves and understanding the world with more perspectival vistas, as a way of pushing further toward the limits of what one dares to do and imagine in anthropology.
Alyssa Grossman and I organised the format “Parasitic Reading”, intended as an open-ended reading intervention. The exercise consisted of a platform for knowledge-contagion created through acts of collective, out-loud reading. This pedagogical experiment aimed to invoke archaic forms of storytelling in which people were assembled and communities were formed by gathering to listen and tell stories. It is also inspired by a learning prototype originally designed by Rosario Talevi and by the knowledge transfer form proposed at the end of Ray Bradbury’s novel “Fahrenheit 451”, in which people try to preserve written ideas by recalling books verbatim. Our proposal of parasitic reading had four specific yet complementary goals: To instigate a new kind of attentive listening practice, to see what happens when someone else reads your own work, to try and make something new out of all of the fragments, and to generate an imaginary sense of community, even if temporarily. For this workshop, a dozen of participants submitted an experimental fragment of any written text that they would like to share with the rest of the group. These textracts were a poem, a fieldnote, a song, an extract from a novel, from an academic paper, from an artistic catalogue, or from a how-to-guide or cookbook…
Here below my three favourite contributions:
I said, Maybe he does really know how to read. So he turned (the pages) over and cleared his throat. Heeeeeeeheehe, he said. Then he frowned and kept on raising his eyes, and nodding his head. After that he made a little bow and began to read. It says: Telente. Ten-telente. Ten-ten-ten-te telenten telelen ten ten ten, ten ten ten ten. Telelenten. Ten ten. Tentelen. My Europe. My Manaos. My Para. Telententen. Ten ten telelen. Ten tan tan. Tan tan ten telen. Telen. Ten ten telelen. Telen telen telen ten ten ten ten ten. Telelen ten ten ten ten ten, he read from it.
The more the bird roars, the more you feel an uncontrollable urge to cluck and yelp. But be careful! Too much calling at first light can hang a tom on his limb as he waits for the hot “hen” to sail or walk beneath his roost tree. And the longer he sits up there and fails to see a girl, the more he smells a rat. When the bird finally flies down 30 minutes later, there’s a good chance he’ll run the other way.
So fight the urge to call too early. Wait until pink illuminates the sky. Then give a bird some pillow talk to let him now you’re there. A couple of sultry tree clucks and yelps are about right.
If the turkey bellows shut the heck up! He has honored you as a hen, he likes what he heard, and he knows where you are. Let him fly down and come looking for you. But if the tom fails to gobble, cluck and yelp a little louder to focus his attention in your direction.
If he still doesn’t talk, it’s no big deal. Listen for the bird to fly down, then hit him with a spirited hen cackle. Try flapping a Primos turkey wing against your leg to sound like a hen pitching to the ground. If the tom gobbles and steps your way, you might not need to call again. But if he hangs up after 5 minutes or so, cluck, yelp and purr a little louder. As long as the turkey hangs around and gobbles keep playing the game.
Elisa Ayerza Taber
Fom Mar Paraguayo by Wilson Bueno. Translated by Erín Moure (pages 45-46).
one dusk après une autre I sit ici on this sofa diagonal to the window, and in sitting it’s presque as if everything’s crumbling into bits: cramps in the guts: setting sun weaving humid nuances: spaces from où move déjà les occupations cérémoniales of light and lune: between the crowns of sombreros or entre les durs vides of the fig tree that devastate into shadow and suspicion in the crépuscule of the beach town: figuier, couronne, sombreros: la ancestral speech of fathers and grands-pères that infinitely vanishes into memory, they entertain all speech et tricot: these Guaraní voices eternalize so simply as they go on weaving: ñandu: there is no better fabric than the web des leaves tissées all together, ñandu, together and between the arabesques that, symphoniques, interweave, in a warp and weft of green and bird et chanson, in the happy amble of a freedom: ñanduti: ñandurenimbó:
I’m inclined to consider that the world is not just complex but that many of the most disturbing aspects of it are deliberately opaque. This applies whether we enter the problem via the existential anxieties of climate politics, the sabotaging of democracy or the machinations of digitally performed cognitive capitalism. Not that everything can or should be rendered transparent. It is the case though, that never-before-seen computing power, ubiquitous surveillance infrastructures and incomprehensibly big data notwithstanding, the world and its workings strike me as increasingly resistant to being known.
All this complicates residual ideas of knowledge translating into power. It confuses or at least contextualises the very idea of intellectual effort. Those things aside, for many of us, working things out together brings many joys and other rewards.
This I rediscovered with force again, with the #Colleex Collaboratory for Experimental Ethnography. #Colleex, an EASA-network, engages with experimental modes of research in and around anthropology. Since 2016 #Colleex has been collectively imagining how to pursue enquiry at the same time as pursuing change. This gives it a somewhat design anthropological hue.
Under the title, The use·ful·less·ness of the experiment, the Second #Colleex Workshop in Cieszyn, Poland, last July energised around forty people to strengthen our capacity to imagine, to think and to feel our way around ethnography today.
The workshop also helped me not just to do but to appreciate and value slowing down. To invoke Isabelle Stengers as well as the call for proposals, the meeting encouraged lingering with questions and provoked us to ask ourselves: why are we doing this work? (Not, I believe, in order to dismiss or critique, but in order to be clearer).
On the border
The July sunshine is now but a memory. It was the publication, last week, of Repair, Brokenness, Breakthrough, edited by Francisco Martinez and Patrick Laviolette, that pushed me to finally write about the event. (I have a text in the book, and won’t review it.) In the poetic introduction to the collection, Fran, who is also involved in #Colleex (seen standing on the right in the photo above), writes: “Brokenness feels like something, but one does not know what it looks like, and even less how to verbalise that something” (2019: 28 ebook). Other authors in the book revel in the trickiness of capturing important things in words, or even trying to do anything as definite as “capturing”.
As with #Colleex, the book’s focus seems to be on how to keep things open. Indeed, how can one cope with a world where so much is deliberately made to go unnoticed and to be beyond democratic control?
The Cieszyn workshop had this ethos too. An implicit impulse ran through the workshop, an activist or perhaps Actor Network-style principle, of prizing open the old and the new black boxes all around us, that are quietly anchoring and materialising binary logics – us versus them as much as one versus zero – into the everyday.
This ethos of opening was, for me, powerfully instantiated in the location. Cieszyn is a delightful town on the Polish-Czech border. On the other side of the Olza River is now Czech Cieszyn. There we found more good beers and yet another currency. All we had to do was simply walk over a bridge, past former border checkpoints.
For one born in the 1960s, and who frequently crossed the Iron Curtain as a child, this evoked memories and feelings that are particularly poignant in this 30th-anniversary week of the literal dismantling of the Berlin Wall.
Our local hosts at the “Political Critique Dayroom in Cieszyn” have been doing projects with local youth since 2009. They have been drawing attention to the social and economic (I might say “designed”) barriers affecting life chances alongside more material ones, like walls or rivers. In a place like this keeping things open, resisting binaries, is subtle but consequential work.
Openness was cleverly materialised by Natalia Romik and her nomadic architecture. Walking around small Polish communities, she has literally introduced residents to the histories of previous, Jewish, inhabitants of those places. Together with her extensive research into Jewish heritage in architecture and urban life, her portable archive encloses and discloses at the same time.
I was delighted by a phrase Natalia use in passing: “compulsive urban management”. It stayed with me as I reflected on Guy Julier’s re-presentation of six, variously “useful” 60-minute performances in Kalasatama, Helsinki. But it’s above all the use·ful·less·ness of this supposedly sustainability-oriented, “smart city” urban experiment that is worth pondering. That Guy, better known for his critical take on things, expressed his surprise in finding a new empathy with Kalasatama through these performances, suggests another way the workshop encouraged openness.
It’s cliché perhaps that artistic work and material objects lend themselves to resisting closure. Not surprisingly then, a good portion of the programme involved either performing or reflecting on material things. Similarly, film and image featured strongly, perhaps most movingly (and amusingly) for me in Zoe Aiano’s work with the Wild Pear collective. Thanks also to Zoe for some of the photos here!
The workshop practiced the ethos of openness also in the so-called open format. We had already practiced this in Lisbon two years previously in efforts to shift away from academic conventions of meeting and learning from each other. Tomás Sanchez Criado with our Polish organisers, Eva Rossal (pictured below) and Tomasz Rakowski, guided us through a programme that sometimes required patience and trust in the situations, devices, performances, experimental installations and other mini-experiments on offer. That patience was, at least for me, amply rewarded.
There were also formats that somehow put me in mind of the cyborg. In what I think of as a Harawayesque way, all formats drew us to connect with whatever parts, from whatever angles we could, using whatever hinges we could, resulting in temporary yet potentially fruitful [sic] monsters.
Some formats involved text and words materialised in different ways (Elisa Taber, Ofri Lapid), not simply to play around, but to examine the powers of the written word. We also practiced becoming tricksters, manipulating plastic, paper, coins, polystyrene and smartphone screens, to lure other animals and anticipate the unknowable with Hermione Spriggs. As creatures with many senses, we also trained our ears with Piotr Cichocki’s DJ set and our taste buds with Christy Spackman’s hyper-designed chocolate.
Luckily for me, there was also scope for presenting more conventionally (with PowerPoint as support), so I was able to simply to relate some of my experiences of doing activist walking research.
Before the workshop, Tomás and I talked about the importance of confusion in fieldwork situations, something we both have experienced but also written about. It has a role in research and teaching, but it can be hard to persist in academia with the things that we feel and perhaps even see but can’t put into words. Contemporary academic conditions of work only aggravate this situation.
Gathering together as #Colleex, inviting social scientists as well as designers, artists and architects to share in papers and open formats, we put our creativity to work on the spot and in variously fleeting ways. As Tomás and Adolfo Estalella have also discussed in print, anthropology needs to open up to more interventive methods of engaging – discovering but also designing the world.
It is and was tempting to endorse everything we did as creative, and to be optimistic about what the open format could do and how it might become valued. But I think what I took away from the event was something different. It was a sense – a feeling – of researchers with others struggling to make sense, and succeeding in doing so with a fresh (to me at least) courage to actually be intellectual. Maybe this is in addition to being playful or creative, but do I want to emphasise the critical intellect.
To make an academic reference is surely thus warranted. Isabelle Stengers writes about experimenting:
“What is at stake here is ‘giving to the situation the power to make us think’, knowing that this power is always a virtual one, that it has to be actualised. The relevant tools, tools for thinking, are then the ones that address and actualise this power of the situation, that make it a matter of particular concern, in other words, make us think and not recognise” (p.185)
– Stengers, I. (2005). Introductory notes on an ecology of practices. Cultural Studies Review, 11(1), 183–196.
Maybe open formats have many functions. Following Stengers they can be tools for thinking. The most provocative ones for me, were those that were open not just to fresh thought, but to the world, which the best of them managed to offer to us in that small situation at the border.
I started this post with a complaint that the world seems ever harder to know. I’ll conclude by noting that though it may be confusing to develop ethnographic experimentation as a tool to redress this problem, it can be powerful.
At the next EASA 2018 conference in Stockholm, #Colleex will be convening the ‘lab of labs‘
Organised by Adolfo Estalella (Universidad Complutense de Madrid); Anna Lisa Ramella (Universität Siegen); Tomás Criado (Humboldt-University of Berlin); and Eeva Berglund (Aalto University), and Mascha Gugganig (Technical University of Munich)
Date and Start Time 15 Aug, 2018 at 09:00
Summary (updated version with regards to the one on the programme)*
Let’s explore the experimental, heterodox, imaginative and improvisational world of labs and open formats that get us together. Meetings are one of the fundamental mechanisms for the circulation of academic knowledge. And yet, despite their relevance, in these exchanges we usually resort to the most conventional formats: paper presentations, round tables, etc. This lab has a twofold goal. First, we aim at discussing the relevance of meeting formats as pedagogical spaces for the apprenticeship of ethnographic experimentation. Second, we argue for the need to document these meeting formats so that they may travel, be learnt and reproduced elsewhere.
Hence, this lab is organised in two parts:
i) ‘The Lab is not blah‘, an open discussion foregrounding the value of these formats as ways to experience and share ethnographic practices, along with the need to document them in order for them to become learnable and teachable. Some already produced documentation will be presented, you may find it here.
ii) A hands-on part, where we will propose participants to get involved in documenting some of the labs in the conference (we will approach them for their collaboration in advance). The documentation will be later shared on the Colleex digital platforms.
* Unfortunately, and due to a conflicting schedule, the Postcards and Ethnography format by Mascha Gugganig (with which we were planning to experiment) will not be taking place.
Please consider submitting a paper proposal to our network’s panel at this year’s EASA18 in Stockholm.
Francisco Martínez (Aalto University), Lili Di Puppo (National Research University – Higher School of Economics, Moscow/Russia), and Martin Demant Frederiksen (University of Copenhagen)
Jamie Saris (Maynooth University)
This panel is an invitation to rethink how fringeness can be incorporated into ethnographic research as a generative condition, as well as an edgy methodology and conceptual framing for knowledge production. We draw on the assumption that peripherality is not only a space in the making or a marginal condition, but also a form of making theory and a mode of attention that is change oriented, thinking-doing (Simone 2010; Roy 2011); .
In anthropological studies, peripheries and margins are presented as imbued with a sense of ambiguity, and often as being misinterpreted by a centre or hidden in the process through which things are made to seem clear, bounded and fixed (Green 2005). A focus on peripherality gives us access to those people, practices and affects that are out of the dominant scope of vision (Khalvashi 2013), revealing complex dependencies that reach both ways – to and from centers and margins. Moreover, peripheries may be seen as grey zones in which the fantasy realm finds its physical location (Scott 2000), or as spaces of marginalia, ex-centricity and renewal (Stewart 1996). Yet the peripheral can also be seen as an invitation to stay with unknowability and make space for it; finding a language to write the invisible (Mittermaier 2017).
Thus the panel approaches peripherality not as framed in exclusively geographical terms, but rather as situated at the edge of dominant paradigms. We invite papers that explore how peripheries, and peripheral wisdom, challenge established hierarchies, showing a distinct form of reflexivity and experimentation.
Ethnographic experimentation refers to an ethnographic modality where anthropologists venture into the collaborative production of venues for knowledge creation that turn the field into a site for the construction of joint anthropological problematizations.
Collaboration is an epistemic figure resulting from the careful craft of articulating inventive shared modes of doing together with our companions in the field. The field turns into a site for the construction of joint problematizations.
Researching with social movements (environmental activism, makerspaces) brings ethnography’s nuanced, embodied and collective sense-making to the fore. I also argue that anthropological research within academia is important in its own right.
Stories are a venue for experimentation and research, they tell about, define, create, and interact with social realities. Therefore they are important to include in analysis, and in order to do so the researcher must be open-minded and confront these stories with a toolkit of methodologies.
A re-description of my two-fold engagement as ethnographer-cum-documenter in the activist design collective En torno a la silla. Highlighting the importance of note-taking as a ‘fieldwork device’ for the problematizing and relating in the field.
Using participation in a collective online experiment with Twitter as a springboard, I interrogate the tweet as a fieldnote. How do the temporalities of tweeting intersect with disciplinary understandings and imaginings of “field time”, and how might we address fraught question of audiences, transparency and visibility brought about by tweeting from the field?