Author Archives: Fernando Domiguez Rubio

About Fernando Domiguez Rubio

Sociology, NYU/CRESC, Open University

Discarded ontologies

Blanca Callén Lancaster University,

Email: bcallenm@gmail.com

Behind the images and narratives of progress, effectiveness and innovation of electronics that make us believe in dematerialized technology without consequences (Gabrys, 2011:57), there is something dirty and ‘forgettable’ (Hird, forthcoming). That is electronic waste (e-waste).

Over the past November and December, I followed a group of informal waste pickers in Barcelona to study how they re-materialize and re-purpose discarded computers. What I found is that e-waste is not merely about dirtiness and forgettable materials. It is also about innovative everyday practices that compete to establish and negotiate different ontologies of value and functionality as waste moves across different legal regimes.

A common European Directive, the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE), currently regulates the Spanish system of e-waste management.  As a legal tool, the WEEE defines a new scenario where agents are more interconnected with their (contaminating) activities and responsibilities. Institutionally, the circuit of e-waste management lies on the so-called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). This means that, at least theoretically, producers are responsible for the collection, treatment, evaluation, and, if applicable, elimination of waste related to their products. However, as Queiruga et al. (2012) argue, this is not what actually happens. In practice, fines and responsibilities are divorced, and the ‘polluter pays’ principle’s core is corrupted.

Although citizens pay (through an invisible tax that doesn’t appear on bills) for sustaining the treatment of the WEEE, only producers (through the EPR) and recycling companies have the right to deal with waste and to make a profit from it. Producers pay municipalities for the collection and temporal storage of waste and then companies make a profit through the dismantling and recycling of waste, which is sold and returned to the production industry.

This European-wide legal framework is supplemented by different municipal laws. In Barcelona, where I conducted my ethnography, the Municipal Ordinance regulates the use of urban public spaces establishing that “the selection and extraction of waste placed in the public thoroughfare” is a minor infraction that is fined with up to 450,76€. This means that recovering things from the street in order to reuse them is penalized.

 A (g)local detour in the e-waste flow

Different agents defy these legal dispositions, like the illegal migrants, most of them sub-Saharian, who have been living off waste collecting for almost one year in a squatted industrial complex of warehouses. Most of them get up early in the morning and scour the city with a ‘shopping’ trolley looking for scrap and all kind of materials and objects, which then they bring to the warehouse, where everything is separated and classified.

Dealers buy scrapped computers and electric and electronic components from these waste-pickers and check if they work. If they don’t, they are dismantled into different pieces, such as metal cages, motherboards, or materials, like copper from wires, and are then sold by weight to scrap-yards; functional pieces, such as hard-disks or memory RAMs, are recovered and sold to companies or personal contacts which use them for assembling “new” old computers. Other computers just need to be repaired and have their OS reinstalled. Working electric and electronic appliances are sent by trucks and vans to Africa. Both content and container, appliances and trucks, are then sold in African second-hand markets.

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Tilan lives in a nearby squatted warehouse and he is the guy who repairs some of these computers. He tests them, tries to repair them, or dismantles and reuses the functional components in order to assemble new computers. Then he installs pirated OSs  such as Windows 7 or XP. He has learned how to do it thanks to ‘the Czechs’. “They know a lot about it”, he says. The Czechs were his housemates and he has learned by quietly observing how they repaired. He blames some of the waste-pickers, most of them from Romania, who treat computers as if they are just a piece of metal, handling them like scrap. In Tilan’s view they aren’t scrap: dumped computers are valuable and need to be carefully treated in order to reuse some of their components. If they are dropped, the components may be ruined.

Struggling computing ontologies

The growing number of people scavenging bins and pushing their supermarket trolleys full of scrap, attests to the unsustainable patterns of technology’s consumption cycle and problematises utopian narratives of innovation. Importantly, they also hint at the re-materializion of electronics that takes place through their collecting, dismantling, repairing and re-assembling, which keeps these computers in operation and in circulation.

By constantly re-imagining e-waste, these waste-pickers and menders create new forms of value and informal innovation. The innovative character of these practices lies in the fact that they defy e-waste destiny and its ontology: in their hands, a waste-computer is not a singular object defined by its disposal and treatment after manufacture and consumption, instead it is a precarious and temporal knot of heterogeneous assemblages in transition. The key point here is the (possibility of) transition. A computer in the bin, like the boats Gregson et al. (2010) describe, is not valued “for what it is, but for what it ‘might become’” (Ib. 2010:853). Informal waste pickers do not work with certainty and ‘actuality’, but with pure ‘virtuality’ and possibilities of ‘becoming’ which transform brokenness, failures or legal restrictions into productive occasions. When an old computer is considered waste and then dismantled and reassembled, it is being transformed from a static metal ‘black box’ into an open modular object. In this sense, waste-pickers can be easily compared with the Parisian maintenance workers of the transport system followed by Denis and Pontille (2011): both “go through what one would see as the ʻnaturalʼ boundaries of things, and explore and test the relations of components” (Ib., 2011:7).

These waste-pickers operate in a register in which success, functionality and value are not defined by the closure and stability of computers as ‘black boxes’ through manufacturing (Lepawsky and Billah, 2011:135), but by their ability to move across different ontology registers after they have become waste. This movement, however, is not easy. It depends on different technical knowledges, personal networks, and savings, and implies several risks, like defying European and municipal laws or crossing a desert to deliver them in Africa. Success and failure, it follows, cannot be mapped onto different kinds of objects (e.g. functioning vs non-functioning objects). As a matter of fact, the same object, a computer, can be inscribed in (and by) different logics: the logic of the material and the logic of function, which imply two different value systems defined, alternatively, by weight or bytes. This ontological and temporal issue is the reason for Tilan’s complaints about Romanian pickers and also reflects a current tension. The urgency of earning one’s living means that success doesn’t always mean to repair and re-assemble a computer, but can also mean to destroy and take it apart in components and metals that can be quickly turned into ‘fresh’ money. A first inspection of the outward aspect of the object and a quick test to check whether it starts up are ways to calculate the potential profitability of the object. Depending on the result, the waste-pickers will decide whether to take it apart or to sell it as an entire object for being re-assembled and repaired.

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The story about Tilan and the others talks about ‘outsiders’ and illegality, and how they intersect, at different points, with the formal circuit: challenging it, when they collect stuff from the bins; dealing with it by symbiotic complicity when they sell the remains after dismantling to recycling and scrap traders; or complementing and polishing it, when they selectively collect stuff from streets and dismantle, classify and sell components and pieces to be later recycled, while earning money throughout the process. Legal and illegal, formal and informal cross over and leak into each other. In this sense, this story shows how we cannot rely on linear and formal accounts to understand the regime of e-waste. This waste regime (Gille, 2010) requires a combination of different scales, circulations and exchanges of boundaries and edges, and a complex meshwork of overlaps, intersections, leaks and detours. It follows that, if we are to understand a particular waste regime it is not enough to pay attention to institutional and formal practices, we also need to pay close attention to those informal, unknown, intentionally hidden or ‘forgotten’ agents and practices that discretely traverse the streets.
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Why do you like your beer in a glass?

So why do we prefer to have our beer in glasses rather than in plastic cups? After all, plastic cups are much more practical: they don’t break, they are easily disposable, and they can’t be used to attack people. Beer glasses, however, do tend to break, they cannot be easily disposed of, and are often used to attack people (in the UK, for example, more than 5,000 are attacked with glasses every year , costing the health service more than £2bn).

So why then, do we keep using glass to drink beer?

The answer to this mystery can be found in Mark Miodownik‘s upcoming book, Stuff Matters. The book is not out yet, but you can read a great excerpt published in The Guardian a few days ago here.

CFP: ‘Fashion and Materiality’ Special Issue of the journal Critical Studies in Fashion and Beauty

Whilst the fashion system persists over time, the relative fashionability of an item of clothing is, by definition, ephemeral; the knowledges and transient meanings that are seen to constitute fashion would seem to be at odds with a focus upon materiality of items of clothing.

Even if items wear down and change, their material persists for longer than they are fashionable. However, this special issue will engage with understandings of materiality not only in terms of persistences and endurances, but also in terms of transformations and material processes. The emphasis then will be upon how fashion is materialised, and conversely, how clothing is immaterialised. Paradoxically, even if the immaterial sense of ‘being in fashion’ can be detached from a specific garment, often it is the very materiality of clothing that was necessary to the creation and connotations of fashionability in the first place. The processes through which they come about are no longer present in consumption; their presence in/as fashion is their materiality.

Centring on the core question of how fashion is made material and how clothing is rendered immaterial, papers are invited in, but not restricted to, the following areas: The way in which items of clothing are visualised or images are materialised. The temporalities of fashion and of clothing. The consequences of materiality in terms of sustainability. How relationships to the materiality of clothing has changed over time (including in a ‘fast fashion’ era). Sensory effects and the tactility etc. of clothing.

The length of papers is negotiable; images are welcomed. Please send proposals for papers in the form of an abstract of between 500 and 1000 words, to Tom Fisher (tom.fisher@ntu.ac.uk) and Sophie Woodward (sophie.woodward@manchester.ac.uk) by June 14th 2013. Full drafts should be ready by 2nd September 2013.

CFP: Good Things & Bad Things

The good/ bad things in question include guns, things in questionable taste, immaterial things, sportified things,criminal things… among others.

The programme will bring together a range of approaches to the ‘rights and wrongs’ of designs, designers and designing, hearing perspectives from Design (Jana Scholze, Victoria and Albert Museum), Sociology (Tim Dant, University of Lancaster), Social Anthropology (Mike Anusas, U of Strathclyde), Art (Gene-George Earlé), Design History (Ralph Mills, MMU), among others.

We intend to start discussion about these as crossing points between ideas of virtue, propriety, moral conduct and the agency of material and immaterial objects.  This will connect both with debates from object orientated philosophy, and about designs as manifestations of social and cultural practices.

‘Good Things’ is Hosted by Nottingham Contemporary, to coincide with the exhibition ‘The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things’curated by Mark Leckey and is a collaboration between the Design Research Society OPENSiG (objects, practices, experiences, networks), Nottingham Trent University, the Design against Crime Research Centre at Central St. Martins and Nottingham Contemporary.

Symposium: ‘Good Things and Bad Things’ will be held in Nottingham on 10th/ 11th June 2013

Register at onlinestore.ntu.ac.uk/browse/extra_info.asp?modid=1&prodid=0&deptid=6&compid=1&prodvarid=57&searchresults=1 

e-waste

The computer that you have in front of you right now will die sooner or later. And when it does you will get rid of it, perhaps, if you are well-behaved citizen, in one of the designated recycling drop-offs points your city council has created for technological equipment. That, however, won’t mark the end of your computer’s life. It will only mark the end of the first phase of its life as a valuable cultural and technological object.

After you dumpt it, you computer will start a second, and more complex, life as e-waste, most likely somewhere in India, China or Africa. You can see some pictures of what will likely be your computer limbo here and here, or here. And, if you are interested, you should also check this timeline to map out the evolving set of relationships, conflicts and strategies developing between the market, consumers, institutions configuring the particular political ecology of e-waste.

 

Kids love stuff

It probably has happened to you. One day, you find by chance in a random box one of those treasured possessions of your childhood: a broken die-cast car, a puppet, a book…Magical stuff that once was so powerful that it could suspend any distinction between dreams and reality.

What is fascinating about these objects is not only how they can enfold the memories of an entire world, or how they have managed to leave an indelible dent in ourselves, but also how much they can tell about us, and about the hopes, desires and dreams of those who bought them for us. For toys are also the stuff of which many expectations, norms and rules are made.

It is probably this fascination with toys, and their dual role as one of the most intimate and at the same time most social objects, populating our lives what has led the Italian photographer Gabriele Galimberti to spend 18 months photographing kids around the world with their most treasured possessions.

The result is truly fascinating. You can check it here:

 

Material Lessons from a Plastic Beach

Kim De Wolff, PhD Candidate, Dept. of Communication, UC San Diego

 Kamilo [Kah-MEE-loh] Beach, Hawaii: meeting place of land and sea, lava and marine life, and floating plastic from all around the Pacific. Here sea turtles swim in surge channels decorated with snarls of nylon fishing gear and the shattered remains of consumer goods; the overwhelming plastic content making ‘sand’ worthy of scare quotes. Though covered in discarded human products, this is not litter in the conventional sense. Kamilo is a remote beach near South Point on the Big Island, accessible only by miles of four-wheel drive road as ragged and devoid of people as the shore. Plastic is brought here by the intricacies of wind and water currents, not dropped or dumped by humans directly. The giant circulating current system of the North Pacific ‘Gyre’ draws flotsam toward the center of its spiraling path, which runs right into the windward side of the island. The very same tides that once delivered rare logs for canoe building, now offer up a far more regular supply of synthetic materials.

Though I am here on a research trip, my visit feels more like a pilgrimage. Kamilo’s spectacular accumulations have almost mythical status among plastic pollution scientists and activists. I have been following plastic waste around the North Pacific in their company for the past year, sailing the open ocean on a research expedition, sorting microscopic plastic bits from animal ones at a Los Angeles laboratory, cleaning beaches and interviewing oceanographers, marine biologists and educators from Seattle to San Diego. And now I stand on the shore in the early morning light, captivated by disturbingly beautiful confetti at my feet. What stories can this strange archive tell? What can these anonymous bits teach us about plastic materials, and their capacities to travel and to transform landscapes?

1. Not all collections are curated by humans.

The contents of the shoreline are selected as much by the caprices of currents as by human design. Kamilo is a ‘collector’ beach, one of many stretches of shoreline around the world where large quantities of flotsam wash up: here coconuts, palm fronds and seeds called ‘sea beans’ and an exceptional amount of synthetics. Where many discussions of the giving, trading or taking of artifacts work from the assumption that humans alone are the ones doing the collecting, Kamilo exemplifies the capacities of nonhumans to collect and display, in this case plastic things on and as the sand. The resulting collection is made to matter as it gets caught up with the interests of specific people, entangled in relationships of ongoing care. These relationships are formed in part by objects themselves, which in Latour’s formulation of ‘matters of concern’ are awarded the agential capacity to ‘gather’ diverse actors.[1] Just as the ocean draws objects to the shore, the plastic ‘gathers’ scientists, volunteer cleanup teams, and on this day, two veteran beachcombers (Ron and Noni) and one communication and science study scholar.

Surveying my surroundings becomes a practical lesson in what is made of plastic and what floats. With help of the beach collection, I learn by looking that toothbrushes, rolls of tape, bicycle pedals and umbrella handles qualify in both categories. The single-serving water bottles symbolic of the broader problems of plastic pollution, however, are conspicuously absent; made from a type of plastic resin that does not float in seawater, they sink without their caps (which do float, and are here in great numbers). As we walk miles of coastline, two people with small bags made from old t-shirts, the very presence of millions of bits and pieces stand as argument against the possibility of cleanup. Instead, eyes scouring the ground, pausing to dig with hands through deep piles, we look for treasures. My bag grows heavier with representative samples, and objects that I learn with both material and human guidance are rare – a weathered lion, a red letter ‘E’ fridge magnet, and even a glass bottle base labeled ‘U.S.S.R.’ I work and think in collaboration with plastic and the sea, becoming part of what is gathered.

Still other pieces are catalysts for stories. Picking the shreds of a black bag from the sand, Noni tells of a Hawaii ‘knot your bag’ campaign based on the assumption that tying up loose bags before disposal would keep them grounded. The tattered clump is a now bag-less ‘knot,’ one of many to be found washed up along the shore. While acting as mediator between the local community and myself, this plastic piece also thwarts local efforts to control it. As with the other materials on the beach, the knot serves as challenge to studies of objects both lost (as in waste mobilities) and found (as in art history), to attend to the capacities of discards that travel not only unintentionally, but along paths that are sometimes more than human.

2. Objects fall apart.

Beneath the oil containers and brush handles, cheap toys and fishing gear, the sand is sprinkled, mixed and in places obscured by layers of plastic fragments. Made brittle by sunlight but not actually consumed by organisms, plastic breaks into fragments that get ever smaller without biodegrading. The scattered crumbs of artifacts mingle with pre-production plastic pellets (little round beads-without-holes, there are at least 15 visible in the image) that are waste before they become consumer goods. While there is a tendency to privilege objects as carriers of meaning, as the very embodiment of history (sets of objects neatly containing the story of whole cities and worlds), Kamilo beach is a place where their material substance cannot be ignored. The ‘sands’ of Kamilo beach support efforts to put the material in material culture (such as Shove et al.’s 2007 suggestion for a ‘social science of substances’).

While I am constantly drawn to beached items with writing or other clues to origins and intended form, the vast majority of the colourful bits that demand attention on the beach are recognizable only as plastic. To help make sense of these meaningful fragments, I again enlist matters of concern, where Latour takes care to distinguish between objects and things. As matters of concern, objects do not simply ‘exist’ as bounded stable entities (a plastic bottle); instead, they ‘persist’ as things given in experience and by associations (with bottle-on-beach-as-waste). “Things,” Latour quips, “cannot be thrown at you like objects” (2004: 237). While objects tend to fall apart (especially when thrown), plastic continues to matter on the beach. Materials, like those constituting Kamilo’s sand, persist in forms and relationships that might not be seen as traditional objects of material culture studies, but they are meaningful cultural traces that matter. And with them come new kinds of questions: How to understand culture as shards that cannot be reassembled to approximate recognizable forms? How to imagine responsibility for traces that cannot be traced?

3. Movement Matters.

Despite my concern for the confetti-bits, I cannot resist the allure of rare fragments of writing molded into the plastic waste. Chinese, Japanese, Korean and occasionally Russian characters provide proof of travel for their respective pieces, but also validate the disparate trajectories that constituting the collection as a whole. Here plastic waste matters when and because it moves; because it crosses open seas to accumulate seemingly without or in spite of human desires. If plastic piled up where it was produced or stayed where it was dropped, it would not be the same kind of thing. On the beach plastic displays its remarkable ability to long outlive single uses. But on Kamilo (and I would argue elsewhere), to gather and endure is to transform and be transformed. For things to persist as matters of concern, is to be tied to trajectories that “define what they have been and what they might become” (Latour 2008: 17).

If Kamilo Beach is a landscape altered by plastic, plastic itself is transformed, changing material form as it travels. It is washed up in storms outpacing cleanup efforts, only to be drawn back out to sea with the next tide to make another lap of the North Pacific Gyre. It breaks down in the sun and waves, leaches and accumulates synthetic toxins (things like BPA, DDT and PCBs sticking to its oily surface), and provides mobile homes for marine life. The bicycle pedal I pull from the tide line not only floated here from afar, but attracted lacy communities of bryozoa, tiny filter-feeders that now live and die with plastic. While I drop the pedal back in the sand (my own carrying capacities at their limits), other materials intercepted by humans embark on new sets of circulations, further transformed as scientific samples through the lab, as garbage for the landfill, as the curiosities in my now full my bag. Out-maneuvering human expectations for objects of solid waste, the material agency of plastic is tied to its movements.

Coda

Of all the things I encounter this day, I am particularly moved by a small clump of weathered but still-green plastic. With strangely poetic irony, I find myself picking fake grass off a plastic beach. If Astroturf is loaded with symbolism – of the failed promises of modernity, the artificial culture of consumption, a whole world plasticized – here it constitutes a mixing that is by no means superficial, human materials not representing but actively ‘becoming with’ worlds (Haraway 2007). Kamilo is the name of a shore, but my research site is circulation itself as much as it is a place. To take a walk on this beach is to step into the space between gatherings and movements, it is to confront the entangled malleability and durability of both materials and culture.

As I further plastic circulations through images and words, I should note that this is the best the beach has looked in years. Fishing nets, ropes, floats and containers are no longer piled waist high, thanks to the diligent clean-up efforts coordinated by the Hawaii Wildlife Fund. But since my April visit the confirmed arrival of debris from the March 2011 tsunami has spurred new gatherings of journalists and cameras and care that alter relationships between plastic, beach and humans once again. Confronted with the impossibility of containing plastic, I am left contemplating new ways of living more responsibly with plastic and of understanding how our things connect us with and across the sea.

Works Cited

Haraway, D. J. (2008). When species meet (Vol. 3). University Of Minnesota Press.

Latour, B. (2004). Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern. Critical Inquiry, 30(2), 225–248.

Latour, B. (2008). What is the Style of Matters of Concern?: Two Lectures on Empirical Philosophy. Amsterdam: Van Gorcum.

Law, J., & Hassard, J. (1999). Actor Network Theory and After. Wiley-Blackwell.

Shove, E., Watson, M., Hand, M., & Ingram, J. (2008). The Design of Everyday Life. Berg Publishers.

 



[1] The concept of ‘gathering’ is similar but not identical to the conception of relationality that defines Actor-Network Theory (ANT) more broadly where nonhuman entities, as much as human ones, are performed and made durable in relationships But it is important to note that Latour has since refuted the ANT framework (Law 1999).

CFP: The Politics of Materiality

Call for Papers: Annual Sociology Conference 2013
New School for Social Research
New York City
Saturday, April 6, 2013

Can national and global politics be viewed through the lens of our
material environments? Can the architecture of a city square incite
political demonstration? How, through the use of drones, are
populations transformed into targets? Do Nike shoes define
citizenship? Where might we locate power in reproductive technologies?

Sociologists often locate political power in the spaces and dynamics
between agency and structure: organizationally embedded,
interactionally negotiated, or structurally entrenched. The spaces we
inhabit and the objects with which we interact, however, also shape
our politics and in turn become the means and targets of political
struggles. Objects, spaces and technologies can be activated as tools
for empowerment or experienced as carriers of inequality. Protesters
can use the internet to gather at a rally while security forces can
mobilize these technologies for surveillance and political repression.
A wall can be erected as a frontier of expansion or an oppressive
barrier against admission.

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The Art of Being Infrequent: Erratic Cultural Consumption and the Attachments of Taste

Ana Gross, Centre for Interdisciplinary Methodologies, University of Warwick

anagross@me.com

 

A number of years ago I conducted research amongst infrequent audiences to the Opera, Ballet and Theatre in London. I was working within the cultural policy arena, looking at identifying the dispositions, gestures and mechanisms which perpetuate infrequent and erratic patterns of attendance to such artforms. By that time, we were focusing the analysis on an understanding of cultural inequalities as being produced by qualitatively distinct social tastes. However, one could also explore such inequalities by trying to understand how they are being actively produced via the implementation of collective techniques, myths and ceremonies of pleasure (Hennion 2001), attachments which can contribute to explain from a micro perspective the quantitatively unequal exposure to culture across different social groups. In this brief piece I explore and hypothesize this approach while I also challenge Antoine Hennion’s notion of (positive) ways of attaching to artistic experiences by describing how certain (negative) arts consumption patterns can also produce erratic, less productive attendance.

I would like to start by arguing that infrequent arts attenders produce a different (and less productive) set of capabilities which actually enable them to configure and realize the value of cultural consumption, albeit inefficiently. I want to here explore how inequalities in the acquisition of cultural capital are not only produced by the (material, symbolical or social) impossibility or unwillingness to access certain types of artforms as a matter of taste, but also by the infrequent deployment of taste in a field in which better equipped and frequent attenders are possibly able to capitalize on culture in a much more effective and (what appears to be) natural and therefore un-normative way. I would like to somehow challenge the notion that the acquisition of cultural capital actually ‘happens’ in the sole act of consumption (in the encounter of well-adjusted habitus and certain fields), and claim instead that an array of mechanisms and devices (both material and immaterial) need to be operating in order for cultural consumption to actually convert into cultural capital, and for cultural experiences to be enacted as a naturally occurring phenomenon, that is, one worth of experiencing frequently.

While Pierre Bourdieu (1979) understands cultural practices in terms of social systems (or fields) and strategies of social distinction via the acquisition of cultural capital (mediated by habitus), Antoine Hennion acknowledges these structural determinants but is much more interested in their boundaries, and works towards understanding the arts consumer field of manoeuvre as opposed to seeing these consumer types as somehow passive victims of external determinants. Hennion considers arts consumers as fully aware of the structural (but productive) constraints they are subject to, and sees them as agents actively working with or against them (Looseley 2006). As a result my analysis seeks to explore and uncover taste as performance (Hennion 2007), always in the making and situated. While Bourdieu’s understanding of the process of reproduction is framed in terms of the different levels of economic, social and cultural capitals with which people act strategically on the basis of their habitus within different fields, the aim is to locate the same processes of reproduction on a different level. It is in Hennion’s pragmatics of taste, in the routines and rituals, the set of conditions likely to trigger and conjure up arts consumption as a pleasurable experience that I aim to understand the relatively reduced frequency of attendance of this particular audience group.

So I depart from the notion that there is not such a thing as a passive infrequent attender, but that infrequency is actively being produced and that ‘taste is not an attribute, it is not a property (of a thing or of a person), it is an activity.’ (Hennion, 2007, 101). The emergence of taste closely depends on its situations and material devices: time and space frames, rules, ways of doing things, recollections, etc. Far from revelling a purely natural or deterministic nature of infrequent attenders tastes, this model points to the importance of specific (individual and collective) attachments which produce infrequency as a particular mode of cultural consumption: I will categorize such forms of attachments as Experience and Normativity.

Experience refers to the recollection of past (possibly unique) attendances and the romantic disposition towards the live performance. It relates to the immediacy and intimacy apparently present in the performing arts which induce a certain state, as if live performance would allow attenders to make themselves sensitized in a different, more authentic and valuable way, whilst memories of first or past attendances seem to create a rite of passage and an ephemeral sedimentation of the pleasures of being lost, being taken away out of this world, or the sense of having a double life. The act of attendance is therefore not the end result of a passion for certain artform, but is a means for reaching certain states and means for suspending and intervening in the temporality of daily life, ‘concerts do not dispense music, they are performances, in the sense that they make something happen’ (Hennion 2001, 13). This form of attachment is what Hennion refers to as the secularization of the sublime, that is, ‘the gradual formation of a specific, highly sophisticated ability developed collectively to attain through music, in an orderly, non-self-indulgent, risky fashion, states of emotion and moments that are sublime’ (2001, 11). Immediacy however is not so easily accessible but paradoxical result of a lengthy, laborious and un-spontaneous sequence of mediations, mediations which can also limit or disrupt cultural consumption.

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The Jane Fonda-Kit House: arquitectural prototypes and the promised bodies of sustainability

Fernando Dominguez Rubio, Open University and NYU

Today’s post is the result of a collaboration between a brilliant group of Spanish architects, Elii, and myself. The text that follows accompanied the Jane-Fonda Kit House that Elii designed for an exhibition that took place at CIVA‘s room in Brussels.

 

              The Jane Fonda-kit House at Night

And 1…and 2….warming up!: Stretching & flexing sustainable futures

Conceived as an experimental “house of the future”, the Jane Fonda Kit House departs from those grand architectural visions that have attempted to offer normative or desirable models, to offer instead a rhetorical artefact that seeks to interrogate hegemonic and taken for granted models of sustainability and green architecture.

The JF-Kit house renders the image of a possible future where citizens produce part of their domestic energy requirements with their own physical activities. By bringing this model to the extreme, the house aims to explore some of the grotesque and perverse effects of this model, as well as some of its unexpected potentialities.

This exploration takes place through four different, although tightly interconnected, scales of sustainability. First, the JF-Kit house explores the urban scale by offering an infinitely replicable model for a self-sufficient and off-the-grid ‘parasitic’ structure that can be added onto existing rooftops and walls (such as CIVA’s rooftop). The JF-Kit House thus renders the image of a future in which it will be possible to augment urban density while maximizing energy consumption through the invasion of these parasites. Second, the prototype explores the architectural scale of sustainability by investigating how energy efficiency criteria can be incorporated into architectural practice itself—for example, through the design of the house as an active energy production unit. Third, the JF-Kit House investigates the economic scale of sustainability by offering a model to ‘unblackbox’ domestic energy consumption patterns through the use of different display devices and monitoring tools—like smart energy meters or saving energy devices—, community energy networks, and through the implementation of ‘energy mortgages’ that will use energy savings to pay off house mortgages. And fourth, the houses addresses the oft-neglected socio-cultural scale of sustainability by revealing how the three previous scales of sustainability will remain ineffective unless they are followed by the inscription of a new set of habits and practices into the body politik. The house brings the metaphor of the body politik to its literal extreme by showing how the achievement of sustainable futures will require the production of new bodies: bodies that can be productively mobilized within the domestic space as active agents in the process of energy production.

              The Jane Fonda-kit House, from outside

…and 3…and 4: domestic workout routines for a new bodypolitk

The JF-Kit house reveals the body as a critical passage point and a central battlefield in the articulation of sustainable futures. Bringing the centrality of the body to an extreme, the houses offers an ironical model of citizenship for future sustainable societies: the “Jane Fonda model of citizenship”, which defines the ideal citizen as an individual who can satisfy all her domestic energy needs through her own bodily exercise. Through the radicalization of this model, the JFK house aims to open a debate about the kind of bodies that are required for political participation and for the proper functioning of sustainable economic systems. Specifically, the JFK house asks: What kinds of bodies are imagined to fulfil the promises of these sustainable futures? What kind of domestic infrastructures are required to produce those bodies? What are the new domestic rituals, practices and habits that will have to be inscribed and enacted by those bodies? And more importantly: Which bodies are excluded from participating in those sustainable futures and their promises?

By revealing the home as one of the key spaces where the body politik is being continually made and remade, the JFK house invites us to go beyond those modern distinctions that have separated the public from the private, or political actions from everyday practices. The JFK house envisages a future in which the private space of the home will be transformed into a sui generis political space, that is, into a place in which it will be possible to engage with larger political projects, like sustainable societies or low-carbon economy, through seemingly mundane choices and practices. It does so by showing, for example, how ordinary domestic devices—like ‘domestic fitness furnitures’ —can be productively employed to raise awareness of the energetic and economic costs involved in mundane activities—like cooking, or watching TV, watering the plants, swaying in a rocking chair, or working at home—, and to induce, in so doing, other forms of consumption and political behaviours.

As an experimental exercise in the underexplored field of architectural teratology, the JFK house does not aim to offer the solace of utopian promises or the assured comfort of normative models. It simply aims to create a plausible monstrosity that offers a polemical prototype to extend the sphere of the body politik beyond its traditional formats and sites. The unsolved, and perhaps unsolvable, nature of the questions the house poses is the productive polemical space in which democratic politics take place, and in which a critical architectural practice can be deployed to generate—and, crucially, imagine—, habitable fictions and practical ways of being and dwelling together.

In the video below you can see the JFK-House in action!