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SIEF2015 12th Congress: Zagreb, Croatia.
21-25 June 2015

(P002)

Micro-utopias: exploring connections in anthropology, relationality and creativity

Location A126
Date and Start Time 22 June, 2015 at 10:30

Convenors

Ruy Blanes (University of Bergen) email
Alex Flynn (Durham University) email
Jonas Tinius (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin) email
Maïté Maskens (Université Libre de Bruxelles) email
Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

In this panel we propose to discuss anthropological approaches - ethnographic or theoretical - to human interactions and processes of imagination and creativity, understood as "micro-utopias" following the work of Nicolas Bourriaud and others.

Long Abstract

In this panel we propose to discuss anthropological approaches - ethnographic or theoretical - to human interactions and processes of imagination and creativity. Inspired by the proposals set forth by Bourriaud (1998) concerning art as a product of a relational aesthetics that is a 'microtopia', a product of communitarian association (or antagonism - see Bishop 2004) working to change the present, we challenge our colleagues to use an understanding of social movement and organization as an art form whereby processes of interaction are understood as generative, transformational, poïetic micro-utopias. We thus propose to move beyond the concrete sphere of artistic production, seeing micro-utopias as part of our morphogenetic élan vital (Bergson 1907), the creativity and improvisation of our unscripted everyday lives (Hallam and Ingold 2008) that is however and necessarily framed as political act produced within historical context (Geuss 2009). Our goal is thus to engage with micro-utopias as 'concrete utopias' (McGuire 2011): examples - from artistic collaborations to architectural configurations, political localisms, economic partnerships, religious community makings, etc. - of relationalities and temporal redefinitions.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

The afterlife of micro-utopias: monastic experiments and pedagogical models in South India

Author: Vlad Naumescu (Central European University)  email

Short Abstract

Monastic experiments are often born from a vision meant to live on in a pedagogical model beyond the visionary's life. While the ideal may inspire or inhibit pursuit, newcomers come to inhabit a space shaped by an extended relational ethics, contingent and undetermined.

Long Abstract

This paper responds to the invitation to engage with micro-utopias through an exploration of the afterlife of a monastic experiment in Kerala, South India. Well-known and forever attractive for all kinds of spiritual seekers and idealistic projects, India has generously accommodated and eventually domestified them. Among the visionary figures and hopeless romanticists, Francis Acharya, a Belgian Cistercian monk arrived in the wake of Indian independence to build a community that pioneered Christian inculturation and Gandhian economics. His vision, to establish a contemplative ashram that integrates Eastern and Western spirituality, became a lifetime project that impacted many lives and left behind an impressive heritage. Such projects live on through pedagogical models that articulate the original vision into a set of practices, norms and values. They are meant to extend the vision and relationship with the founder over time, into a space that comes to be inhabited by new people with different aspirations and sensibilities. This space of ethical practice enables individual creativity and expanded agency making one act and be acted upon in a process that shapes new subjectivities and redefines the utopian project.

(Re)locating the shahid minar: mimesis, imagination and mico-utopia in a transnational space

Author: José Mapril (New University of Lisbon and Center for Research in Anthropology (CRIA)-New University of Lisbon)  email

Short Abstract

Based on an ethnographic research, the objective of this paper is to reveal how the Shahid minar can be generative and transformational.

Long Abstract

Based on an ethnographic research, the objective of this paper is to reveal how the shahid minar, the sculpture that celebrates the memory of the martyrs of the Language movement, built in the University in Dhaka, is relocated in several European countries. The main argument of this paper is that the (re)location of these replicas is part and parcel of generative processes leading to a transnational consciousness among Bangladeshis in Europe and, simultaneously, to the construction of a global diasporic sphere.

The energeia of spiritual possession: human-spirit relationality, creativity and micro-utopias

Author: Ruy Blanes (University of Bergen)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper, invoking the Aristotelian notion of energeia as the encapsulation of potentiality into actuality, I will perform an ethnographic exploration of spiritual possession as a form of creativity and poiesis that is a product of a micro-utopia.

Long Abstract

In this paper, invoking the Aristotelian notion of energeia as the encapsulation of potentiality into actuality, I will perform an ethnographic exploration of spiritual possession as a form of creativity and poiesis that is a product of a micro-utopia. I will use the example of two prophetic and charismatic churches in Angola, the Tokoist Church and the Church of the Union of the Holy Spirit (ICUES), which incorporate diverse traditions and modalities of spiritual incorporation. I will suggest that the longue-durée relationalities that emerge between humans and spirits in these churches become micro-utopias that devise and configure alternative understandings of social life. To do so, I will critically address the concept of micro-utopia in itself.

Lighting the fire: the temporal structure of micro-utopias in a primitivist social movement

Author: Tord Austdal (University of Bergen)  email

Short Abstract

This paper proposes to discuss how micro-utopias emerge through sociomaterial engagements and the use of technology within a primitivist social movement in the Appalachian Mountains of the United States.

Long Abstract

A number of contemporary social and political movements envision imminent societal collapse and pending chaos. From Armageddon to atomic holocaust, or dwindling natural resources, eschatology is no longer a vocation reserved for religious clergy but has for a long time existed as a phantastic and imaginary space through the popular arts, capable of engendering scientific and environmental debates and shaping political and social realities. This paper makes an argument for how apocalyptic imaginaries in social movements can generate new ways of relating to the world and to the future. I point to also how such imaginings operate as more than political narratives of urgency but shape ways of acting in the world.

In the southern Appalachian Mountains, groups of people gather with regularity to produce a now-here utopian space where like minds meet and share the knowledge and technical skills needed to live and thrive in union with nature, and to rewild themselves in preparation for the social and economic collapse of industrial society. In creative and intense engagement with the materials and textures of Nature they attempt with the aid of "ancestral knowledge" and "primitive technology" to kindle a new feral future for humanity. In this paper I will dwell upon the opening ceremony of a skill-share gathering to illuminate how temporal structures emerge in their ongoing material engagements and how "time immemorial" materializes in the present as a real and palpable "utopian" aspect of action.

Messianic utopias, human relationships, and the obliteration of meaning

Author: Alex Flynn (Durham University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper argues that cultural politics with activist connotations is increasingly premised in everyday microtopias, moving away from the utopian, the messianic, and the obliteration of meaning. In doing so social movements are rejecting solid architecture in favour of human relationships.

Long Abstract

In Relational Aesthetics (2002), Nicolas Bourriaud argues that social utopias and revolutionary hopes have given way to everyday microtopias stating that 'it is quite clear that the age of the New Man, future oriented manifestos, and calls for a better world all ready to be walked into and lived in is well and truly over'. For Bourriaud, microtopias, as a means of resistance, must be experienced on a subjective, everyday basis, and premised within fragmentary experiments. He argues that 'any stance that is "directly" critical of society is futile, if based on the illusion of a marginality that is nowadays impossible, not to say regressive.' The fragmentary essence of such a project is not just desirable but also pragmatic. When Felix Gonzalez-Torres makes clear that 'two clocks side by side are more of a threat to power than the image of two guys giving each other a blow job, because it cannot be used as a rallying point in the struggle to obliterate meaning', he highlights the danger of a position of critique that is imbricated within a utopian and messianic position. In this paper, I will explore the concept of microtopia as part of the creativity and improvisation of unscripted everyday lives by focusing on the contested transformative subjectivities of members of the Landless Workers' Movement (MST). The MST's cultural politics is shifting from the messianic and utopian to experimentation grounded in the fragmentary and in this manner such movements are rejecting solid architecture in favour of human relationships.

Music notation as source of creativity, interaction and antagonism in the improvised performances of the ICP orchestra

Author: Floris Schuiling (University of Cambridge)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I approach music notations as actors (Latour 2005) in the performances of the ICP Orchestra. This Dutch improvising collective has developed an eclectic repertoire of pieces affording different improvisatory possibilities, informing a distinctive and diverse creative practice.

Long Abstract

This paper presents some results from an ethnographic and musicological study of the Amsterdam-based improvising collective the Instant Composers Pool Orchestra. This group, founded in 1967 by Willem Breuker, Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink and still performing, has developed a highly original and distinctive approach to musical performance. Dissatisfied with notions of 'freedom' in improvisation, yet critical of the traditional hierarchies in composer-performer relations, Mengelberg wrote an extensive and diverse repertoire, employing various notational and compositional techniques to explore the different improvisatory possibilities that they afford. In each performance, the musicians create an improvised collage of a selection of these pieces, juxtaposing and combining them and improvising transitions between them, thus blurring the distinction between improvisation and composition in both name and practice.

I describe these pieces as actors (Latour 2005) in their musical practice, active participants in performance that mediate the creative knowledge and practical skills of the musicians. As ICP saxophonist Tobias Delius put it, the pieces 'create more anarchy than improvisation sometimes… The compositions play their own part.' As such, the musical practice differs both from the centralised control exemplified in traditional composition, and from the communitarian egalitarianism of free improvisation. These pieces thus 'produce a specific sociability' (Bourriaud 1998), one that emphasises antagonism and disagreement as much as creative collaboration. I illustrate this approach to improvised performance with a selection of musical examples recorded during my fieldwork with the group.

Poïetic art: political theatre as micro-utopia

Author: Jonas Tinius (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)  email

Short Abstract

This paper describes how a political theatre project with refugees from Germany's postindustrial Ruhrvalley struggled to create rehearsals as a form of relational micro-utopia in which refugees could reflect and (re-)make their political subjectivities in art.

Long Abstract

According to Michael Lambek ('The Sakalava Poiesis of History', 1998), Plato crudely opposes mimesis ("identification with the content of what one is performing or imitating", "an immersion in the concrete") with rational, reflective thought. Mimesis here opposes reason, which "distantiates, enabling abstraction and freedom from time conditioning in order to reflect upon it". Aristotle offers an alternative to this dualism: contemplating (theōria), practical deliberation or doing (praxis), and productive creation or making (poiēsis) are seen as complementary practices.

In this paper, I describe how a political theatre project with refugees from Germany's postindustrial Ruhrvalley struggled to create rehearsals as a form of relational micro-utopia in which refugees could reflect, abstract, and (re-)make their political subjectivities in art. The project rejected the idea that refugee actors in political theatre need to mimic and identify with their supposed identity as refugees. Instead, the project participants created rehearsals as a space for the abstraction and freedom of refugees from such identities, exploring what an ideal political theatre utopia could be. This paper discusses how we can conceptualise the artistic process of self-transformational rehearsals as concrete micro-utopias.

The event and emergent social forms: concrete utopias of political association

Author: Jan Bock (Woolf Institute )  email

Short Abstract

I explore emerging counter-hegemonic, micro-utopian civilian associations in political movements and creative initiatives after the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake. I suggest that survivors experienced everyday life both as rigidly controlled and unscripted, prompting them to generate transformational micro-utopias.

Long Abstract

On 6 April 2009, a major earthquake hit the central Italian city of L'Aquila. 309 people died, 70,000 inhabitants were evacuated, and the Italian state launched a high-profile emergency operation championed by the then Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi. The relief effort became a spectacle: sensationalist media coverage transformed funerals, tent camp life, and resettlement projects into globally circulating images of generous and efficient state management. Yet, on the ground, Aquilani interpreted the government intervention differently, criticising what they perceived as political disenfranchisement at the hand of state agencies, ruling by decree and depicting the survivors as a homogeneous, passive population of state-dependent rustics. Throughout successive stages of the relief effort and subsequent recovery periods, Aquilani creatively engaged with experiences of disenfranchisement and misrepresentation.

In this paper, I document the formation of counter-hegemonic and micro-utopian civilian associations through political movements, protests, and creative initiatives in the earthquake aftermath. My concern lies with the origins and the repercussions of political initiatives, and with how Aquilani conceptualise their impact and legacy, to argue that the aftermath of extreme events is characterised by a succession of micro-utopian worlds, in which people experiment with new forms of communitarian association to confront violent transformations of the ordinary. I suggest that the displaced survivors experienced everyday life simultaneously as rigidly controlled and unscripted, in response to which they generated transformational micro-utopias, by which I refer to specific types of emergent social and political forms as a means of regain temporary control over one's existence.

Micro-utopia in numbers: proportional relations in urban and forest commons

Author: Oana Mateescu (University of Bucharest)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores mathematics as a form of artful accomplishment that sustains and repairs the tensions between divisibility and indivisibility in the context of urban and forest commons in contemporary Romania.

Long Abstract

Just as many other social orders, commons in forests (in this case, those of Vrancea, Romania) and urban apartment buildings (Bucharest) are beset by problems of distribution, stimulating constant conversions and ratios between the one and the many, quantity and quality, part and whole. This paper explores mathematics as a form of artful accomplishment that sustains and repairs the tensions between divisibility and indivisibility in the context of urban and forest commons. It does so by inquiring into the role of a specific calculation device: the performance of proportional relations, either by the explicit application of the familiar rule of three or by implicit commensuration in the adjustment of abstract "quotas." I argue that what makes the intelligibility of order in urban and forest commons is the generative potential of numbers and the versatility of techniques of calculation (rather than simply money as medium and unit of measure). In other words, such micro-utopias of distributive justice thrive on collaborative and creative accounting. Utopia and number are bound up together in a proportional imagination that is constitutive of commons and their social and political ecology.

"We hadn't met but we had the same dream": appropriation and neighbourhood management of urban public space in the city/network

Author: Sara Sama Acedo (UNED, Grupo de Cultura Urbana)  email

Short Abstract

This paper addresses how the use and language of new technologies mediate current neighbourhood actions and claims on the use and management of urban public space, based on a case of socio-technological production of a "communitarian urban garden" in an abandoned public plot of the center of Madrid.

Long Abstract

From my ongoing ethnography about ICTs, public space and citizen participation, this paper analyses the claims and actions of a group of neighbours as regards the state and quality of "public space" involving a plot located in a small public square. After repeated complaints to the City Council about the abandoned state of this space, some "neighbours" decided to undertake its care, defining its use as "community-based", "self-managed". Later, it became a "communitarian urban garden" and "space for neighbourhood meeting". The very same day the clean-up of the plot started, one of the neighbours opened a Blog in which she began to narrate the story of this action together with the administrative process to legalise the urban garden project. In little over a year, the Blog became a collective creation of a group of "neighbours" who continued deploying a broad range of digital technologies, making the local "public space" a hyper-connected, continuously-monitored space: camera phones, social network apps, mailing lists, online file sharing, collaborative working environment, wikimaps, etc.

In these kinds of processes, ICTs are more than a set of tools that agents use in functional and sometimes remedial ways (Bolter & Grusin 2000). In addition, they constitute, signify and are significant for the interactions and processes of creativity that make it possible to understand how current neighbourhood movements imagine themselves and concretise their "right to the city" (Lefebvre 1972), occupying, managing and using urban public space (and infrastructure) (Latour 2005; Crag, Crosbie and Graham 2007; Sádaba 2012).

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.