The article recuperates the concept of auto-construction as a heuristic for anthropological theory and method. Drawing on the concept’s original usage in urban studies, it suggests that auto-construction offers a handle for grasping not only how grassroots projects mobilize resources, materials, and relations in ways that are inventive and transformative of urban ecologies but that it also helps outline how theory itself is auto-constructed: the operations of problematization through which situations are navigated and designed into methods of inquiry and exploration. I read auto-construction, in other words, as both an empirical and theoretical descriptor, a sort of auto-heuristics for thinking of the city as method. The argument is illustrated by an ethnographic account of work with guerrilla architectural and countercultural collectives in Madrid, focusing in particular on the transformation of a vacant open-air site in the heart of the city into a self-organized community project, exploring how activists variously problematized the city as method.
To my delight, the folks at Cultural Anthropology have used one of the images of El Campo de Cebada in the text as the issue’s cover.
We have recently published an article on the role of ‘exhaustion’ (fatigue and weariness but also ‘vacuum’) as an engine of political hope and assembly in the Spanish Occupy / 15M movement.
Specifically the essay describes the complex negotiations around stranger sociability, public space, and democratic knowledge that shaped the meetings of popular assemblies in the wake of the popular protests. The work of assembling was ‘exhausting’, by which participants would mean two things. In one sense, meetings would often turn into tiresome affairs, trying the patience and resilience of participants. In another sense, attendants would describe assemblies as spaces of political ‘exhaustion’, where politics as usual was emptied out and replaced by new democratic possibilities. We offer here an account of exhaustion as an ethnographic category. We are particularly interested in the role accorded to exhaustion as a vacuum enabling the appearance of novel social and political roles. We develop our argument by drawing a provocative analogy with the early history of scientific experimentation, where the nature of an ‘assembly’ of trusted peers and its location in genteel space became constitutive of a new type of experimental knowledge. What social and epistemic figures are popular assemblies bodying forth today?
You can access the article here [paywall]: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-9655.12597/full
Or here [Researchgate]: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315108371_Political_exhaustion_and_the_experiment_of_street_Boyle_meets_Hobbes_in_Occupy_Madrid
What happens to the ethnographic method when it goes open source? We are delighted to announce that an article describing our long term collaboration with ‘free culture’ architectural collectives, artists and activists in Madrid – Zuloark, Basurama, lagaleriademagdalena, Ciudad Escuela – has just been published by Ethnos.
We leave you with the article’s abstract below, as well as links to the paywall and pre-print versions.
The article describes a long-term collaboration with a variety of free culture activists in Madrid: digital artists, software developers and guerrilla architectural collectives. Coming of age as Spain walked into the abyss of the economic crisis, we describe how we re-functioned our ethnographic project into a ‘prototype’. We borrow the notion of prototype from free culture activism: a socio-technical design characterised by the openness of its underlying technical and structural sources, including for example access to its code, its technical and design specifications, and documentary and archival registries. These ethnographic prototypes functioned as boundary objects and zones of infrastructural enablement that allowed us to argue with our collaborators about the city at the same time as we argued through the city. Providing a symmetrical counterpoint to the actions of free culture hackers elsewhere in the city, our anthropological prototypes were both a cultural signature of the radical praxis taking place in Madrid today and its expressive infrastructure.