RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2019

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9 Convivial knowledges: commoning and interdependence
Convenor(s) Sabina Andron (University College London, UK)
Daniel Webster (Queen's University Belfast, UK)
Chair(s) Sabina Andron (University College London, UK)
Timetable Wednesday 28 August 2019, Session 1 (09:00 - 10:40)
Room Sir Alexander Fleming Building, Room 120
Session abstract The civic responsibility of the academic is to produce socially relevant knowledge that is attuned to basic principles of social justice; respect for human decency and diversity; the affirmation of the positivity of difference; and academic freedom, antiracism, openness and conviviality (Braidotti 2013). However, geographical, sociological, urban and architectural education and research still often emerge from the outside, from the distant, objectifying gaze of the Western “expert”, who learns through individualised, rational knowledge.

We are interested in forms of learning that do not adhere to the normative structures and communications of such academic disciplines, but enrol and embrace a host of creative, resistant, mundane and “unknowable” things, which are customarily refused by institutional channels. Approaches that are less preoccupied with knowing or understanding, but that instead engage, feel, or intervene to create, complicate, open out, and envision. We are seeking to (re)define the status and value of geographical, sociological and urban
research through an affirmative engagement with the present, and through ethical and adequate representations of our situated historical location.

This session therefore calls for papers that work through interdependence, inhabit the in-between, and build on common interest and hope as generative forces in the production of spaces, knowledges, and ways of being together. Approaches that refuse to be for or against, that work through the process of becoming ethical, and create spaces of multitude through socially just pedagogies (Haraway 2008, Braidotti 2013).

The focus of this session is as much ethical as it is processual, to address our construction of self as scholars, and the construction of our fields of enquiry. We therefore welcome papers that engage with the following themes and more, from an affirmative ethos of conviviality and multiplicity:

- Interdependence, in-betweenness, milieu (Serres 1982)
- Being together, with(in), insile (as opposed to exile)
- Interest, openness, joy and interaction
- Commoning and the commons: knowledge commons (in education, research and critical practice) and spatial commons (communally produced and shared urban, geographical, architectural spaces)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: ac2019@rgs.org
Building Convivial Knowledge: Co-design and Self-construction as Forms of Commoning
Amir Djalali (University of Bologna, Italy)
Danila Longo (University of Bologna, Italy)
Paolo Robazza (University of Strathclyde, UK)
The field of architecture and its pedagogy have faced a crisis in the last years, due to internal and external forces, which have reduced architecture’s capacity to actively and positively affect the city. On the internal side, architectural pedagogy seems stuck between the false alternatives of disciplinary autonomy, the cynical adherence to the forces of the market, or the abandonment of architecture’s tools of spatial production towards the use methods borrowed from the social sciences. From the outside, the introduction of digital design and prototyping
removed the distance between the designer and the builder, shattering the architectural division of labour upon which the discipline was based since the Renaissance.

What are the opportunities for the construction of a new pedagogy of architecture which is open to these transformations and challenges? Starting from an ongoing experimentation taking place in a socially contested square of the university district in Bologna as part as the H2020 project ROCK, this contribution examines the way in which co-design and self-construction were employed to transform a parking lot into a communal urban space to be taken care by students and inhabitants.

Co-design and self-construction emerge as situated and convivial forms of knowledge. They employ the materials and knowledges available in a specific moment and place, and they are open to modifications according to environmental and institutional changes. This methodology is able to construct not only space but also relations, building affective bonds between designer-builders, the objects to be realized and the final users, producing relations of hospitality and mutual care. This methodology does not shy away from the production of forms. Nevertheless, form is not given in the beginning, but it comes as a unique emergent property of a series of constraints and resources.

However, situatedness and site-specificity might hamper the possibility to make co-design and self-construction experiences replicable. How can we envision of a community of practice beyond the specificity of each context, as well as the pretence of the universality of architectural knowledge?
Architecture and the Platform Economy: Avoiding an apocalypse
Dermott McMeel (University of Auckland, New Zealand)
Chris Speed (The University of Edinburgh, UK)
Platform economies like Uber and AirBnB have emerged quickly to dominate and radically reconfiguring social, geographic and organisational structures of existing economic systems; putting markets into a state of contingency and flux.

What is a platform economy for the production of architecture and knowledge generation within existing communities of practice, as conceived by Wenger (1999)? What are the implications of new infrastructures and power geometries (Massey, 2013; Thrift, 2005). Using these theoretical frameworks, the authors revisit their earlier positions on learning in techno-social landscapes (McMeel & Speed, 2013). The arrival of platform economies to a sector seems to precede an apocalypse. We suggest the existing professional imaginaries within professions that shape the built
environment (Kathryn Davies, 2017), which themselves and entangled with—and emerge from—traditional pedagogies are no longer relevant. There is an urgent need to explore alternatives to allow the rethinking of how architects, academics and others acquire and create knowledge, and are involved in the production of space under the influence of these new economic structures.

Through a workshop methodology our research is exploring alternative modalities of pedagogy, collaborating and interacting that seek to connect stakeholders and academics with concepts of platform economies, such as blockchain; envisioning new cultural imaginaries for the architecture sector. Is it possible to avoid the apocalypse that follows the arrival of platform economy to a sector? What is the new geography of the production of space, where do old practices find themselves within it, and are existing frameworks for learning and generating knowledge valid?
Collective Design as a Social Theory of Learning
Eve Olney (Urban React)
This paper outlines how a radical pedagogy of Collective Design is cultivating new concepts of commoning practices. This practice-based research emerged from an ongoing collaborative project, named ArtˑArchitectureˑActivism; a curatorial model that employs art, architecture, practice-research and exhibition as an interface for activism, a critique of state institutions, as well as targeting arts funding to initiate long-term social projects challenging precarious social living conditions. Collective Design is currently being developed within two housing and community building
projects:

The first is urban activist group, Urban React’s housing project in the Athenian suburb of Kaisariani. Urban React is a collective of activists who share a common interest in alternative modes of teaching and practicing architecture as an inclusive collective social practice: working with the inhabitants of an old refugee housing block in the Athenian district of Kaisariani to renovate their building. The concept of Collective Design, as a radical socio-cultural theory of learning and practice, is also being developed in a Cork-based project, named The Living Commons. The project
proposes to move the current prolific wave of activism against the Irish housing crisis beyond rhetoric, by creating a radical alternative within a not-for-profit self-sustaining commoning living model. Both projects demonstrate how Collective Design develops new concepts of commoning practices according to the specific situations and needs of different groups and geopolitical contexts. The central objective of the Collective Design process is in simultaneously building social and material structures that can sustain a community that is based on human and not economic value systems. Individuals can learn to recognise their own political agency through this process. Educational theorist, Etienne Wenger’s, concept of “community practice as a social theory of learning” (McDermott, M. Snyder, Wenger, 2002, pp. 4-5) is aligned with the idea of developing Collective Design as an emergent socio-cultural theory of learning and practice. This methodological approach opens a new field of discourse relating to participation in social projects as well as offering a new role for architecture as being merely one of many social processes.
Photography as a Social Imaginary: The Normal Commons
Vendela Grundell (Stockholm University, Sweden)
This topical and inventive paper brings new knowledge about how photographs position the user to shape notions of normality in the 21st century network society: a process that hinges on the social imaginary situating the user as a position in relation to the commons. This position lets users claim access to resources held within a user group yet increasingly controlled by institutions, both sharing norms that organise spaces and practices. Resources required in photography depend on digital technologies developed through both proprietary patents and experimental collaborations. A social imaginary mediated by digital photography inhabits the commons as a cultural and epistemological resource linking art, technology and mediation – especially when activists use commodified goods and spaces to resist a limiting normativity.

The paper complicates normality by connecting images that technically and aesthetically show the user as a position amidst a networked commons: interactive public art produced with digital devices like phone apps, inclusive interfaces like disability simulation software, queer photography hacks on Wikimedia, and art initiatives that embrace and disturb Google Maps. To demonstrate the interdependence between images and positions, and acknowledge that the researcher too is a user, the academic commons expands as the presentation includes personal photographic interventions responding to the scholarly results. These diverse materials and engaging approaches entail a creative provocation to conditions that stay hidden in everyday routine. By mobilizing insights that art-making offers into unfolding societal changes, the paper addresses the in-between shared
spaces that shape our being and becoming as users – normal or not.
Commoning and Radical Difference: Conviviality, Commonsalinity and Conditionalities of Belonging
Renate Dohmen (The Open University, UK)
The proposed paper offers a discussion of conviviality in relation to the Anthropocene understood as the intensification of the viral phenomenon initiated by modern Cartesian and colonial time and its paradoxical conditions which, premised on the epistemological separation from nature integral to the Eurocentric worldview, is characterized by a new entanglement between humans and nature. Old dualisms that separate nature from culture or the mind from the body thus no longer reflect current conditions yet its modes of knowledge production that standardize, mathematize and homogenize grind on, dis-relating ‘man’ from locales, creating a world in the image of ‘Anthropos without qualities’. Reflecting this logic of saming, the Anthropocene denies the role of dominant countries, elites and societies, that is the fundamental schism between ‘those-who-are-not-“us” (the Native) and the “we”-who-is-not-them’ (The European, Western, white “we”) presenting humankind as a global subject devoid of nationality, race, and gender, created in the image of a kind of overman and a condition of ‘cosmic loss’. Yet knowledge always involves a relation to the world, a savoir faire (productive knowledge), a savoir-vivre (ways of living), in other words the convivial is a touchstone for the challenges of the Anthropocene.

With these larger questions in mind, the proposed discussion seeks to difference notions of the convivial beyond European conceptions by juxtaposing convivial practices of the Cashinahua people of the Amazon, that are integral to their aesthetics of living, with notions of the convivial that undergirds relational aesthetics, a contemporary approach to art practice (in)famously framed by the French curator Nicolas Bourriaud in 1998 which takes human relations and their social context as point of departure. The signature work of the artist Ririrkit Tiravnaija, often referred to as the poster boy of relational aesthetics, revolves around cooking in the gallery and inviting strangers to share a meal, a commonsalinity that is celebrated as conviviality in the gallery. As the figure of the art nomad and Cashinahua women converge over the transformative act of cooking, questions of affectivity and of a communal aesthetics of relating of situated bodies as a daily practice are explored in relation to the challenges posed by the Anthropocene. The proposed positive differencing of the convivial will be paired with reflections on method, and conceptual re-framings that draw on the aesthetics of Deleuze and Guattari, Rosa Braidotti’s zoe-centric ethics and Boaventura de Sousa-Santos notion of the post-abyssal.