After the fieldwork, which as I stated in the last post produced silence, comes the noise.  The noise of sorting out well over a year of ethnographic data in a viable Anthropological thesis that both makes a contribution to the disciple, and speaks with as much sincerity as possible of behalf of the people who made the ethnography possible, the informants. Further this piece of work should be fun to write and for me that I believe in.  And this brings me to the point of this post, noise.

What I mean by noise is that indecipherable abundance that can be large amounts of data.  Take any moment of life and what do you have.  Sights, sounds, smells, meanings, emotions, relations, power, history.  So much.. so we all start with a point to our gaze, we direct our attention to the useful moment, we walk down the street missing to get to where we are going, not to notice the floor, which sometimes holds lost money (isn’t it nice when you find some).  And this what this post is about, cutting through the noise.  In her book ‘Meeting the Universe Halfway’ Karan Barad uses the double split experiment in physics to illustrate her point.  Describing the ways in which an electron can appear to act as a both a wave and an particle at the same time Barad draws attention to the ways in which our understanding of objects is always a cut.  That is, our gaze only draws upon certain aspects of the properties and actions of any moment, so that what we understand is a phenomena.  So in the double split experiment the results of the experiment differ when different apparatus are used to understand the relations of materials and their actions. As such the apparatus effects the phenomena produced and as such our understandings of what goes on.

In relation to the large amounts of data I gathered during my ethnography I have a double cut in operation.  Firstly the things I noticed and recorded reflect my intentions in recording my experiences, so I look for certain properties to explain certain phenomena.  Secondly those recordings have to be cut again into a readable narrative into the thesis.  Without wanting to go back to the debate that raged through the subject during the crisis of representation I would like to draw attention to the ways in which out of noise comes order.  It is not object, electron that is sought; rather we seek to describe phenomena.  That is we aim to gain an understanding of what is happening in peoples worlds that help them make sense of their being.  As such it is the questions that jump out at us that get attention.  We make cuts in the noise to answer questions.  There is nothing to radical about this but if we acknowledge this cutting as mechanism then the worry over representation over real fades but the question of the politics of the question and more so the nature of the cutting emerges.

Over the summer months whilst getting some distance from my fieldwork I wrote a few conference papers to get the writing hand going.  The last conference I was in was today and was called ‘Spatial Cultures’.  The conference, convened and opened by Sam Griffiths set out a number of questions during the opening address.  The first was; What does spatial culture mean?  The second was; What methods do we use to analyse what we are looking at spatially and thirdly what role does mobility have in this?

After submitting a paper and presenting I argued that when analysing something spatially what we are doing is grounding relations over phenomena between through and over materials.  So this could be fear over space, could be tweets over space, buildings over space.  Space is taken as Euclidean sense where distance between materials matters.  The key for me is why anyone would spatialise a relation?  This helps us get at question 1.  If we ask the intention behind the creation of data then we start to understand the choices made in viewing, cutting the possible attributes of things to look at.  We can ask as to the choice of scale, frames of analysis, what type of phenomena are being measured.  This leads us to question 2 about methods.  In my paper I looked at how an architectural analysis of the spatial relations amongst the materials of the suburbs were incompatible with how my informants in the suburb saw them.  The two groups pressesnced very different attributes of the materials of the suburb.  Both groups aimed to further their understanding of them, both groups aimed to make place better and both groups.  However the regimes of value, the ways in which materials are understood are hugely different.  For some the materials afford a further of new forms of socio-economic value whilst for the other material spaces afford new ways to develop sociality.  In this sense the properties of the materials they sensed, and related to were different.  In a phenomenological sense, their experiences were different.  They saw different things.

My sense in this post is that I am coming to terms with seeing different things, that is, I am starting to see the world as polyontological.  The next question becomes what is the politics of this and how does it precipitate down onto people and their quality of live.   In this sense the analysis I make, we make, as academics becomes not one of pressencing but of selective erasures.  We rid ourselves of perceived irrelevances.  The task now has become super political.  As an anthropologist I feel ethnography can help illuminate erasures, absences and silences in data.  The task however is understanding the cuts you make yourself and the implications of that.  Bring on the noise!

For almost a year now this blog has been inactive.  It became increasingly sedate as I emerged myself in the field of my PhD research.  It is considered almost an anthropological right of passage that one leaves the academy and gets shell shocked in the field, totally re-imagines their research in light of the ethnographic data in front of them and comes home to write up why they threw out the bathwater of the pre-fieldwork literature.  However as I moved beyond the upgrade and into field research my colleagues in the corridors of the anthropology department noticed that I was still very much in the corridors of the department “When do you leave for fieldwork” I would be asked.  Only my fieldwork was in London, not a remote archipelago conducive to culture shocks that shift ontological assumptions.  Was I to leave to the suburbs and to avoid the corridors of conversations that would saturate my thoughts with isms and ologys?   Was I to go and live in my own J.G. Ballard novel?

The notion of distance from academic life, its language, its ways of thinking and its routines is one that is considered vital to truly live through the lifeworlds of your informants.  For me, with most of my informants having full time jobs.  I needed a place to write up notes and myself feeling a little under prepared to be a ‘proper’ anthropologist I felt that I needed to keep a foot in the door of academia.  After all I my background was in geography, my first year of the PhD was layered with thoughts from Architecture through the influence of my mother project.  For a few months I kept the blog up, I wrote thinking that practice was needed.

My notes would be written up and I would ask people around in the department ‘who is writing on [insert topic of the day]’ and bank the knowledge in my back pocket for the writing up phase.  As time went on I felt as if the sort of works I was reading in anthropology, particular regarding walking in the landscape of the everyday was at a mismatch of what I was hearing on the ground.  Without intending to I would ask my informants about the topics I would come across in the literature.  The research methods I choose were also reflected in the literature.  After a few months I felt that I wasn’t making the relationships I wanted to make. I didn’t feel I had the trust of many of my informants.  I didn’t feel they didn’t trust me, rather I felt that they were helping me out, being polite, spending time with me to help me out but not really understanding what I was doing.  I brought up the disjunctures I felt with some of my informants at the end of informal interviews.  At some point a few of discussed the research over a few drinks when a non-informant asked me what I did for work in the area.  Another informant said ‘we are being studied…watch out he’s got a notebook’.  Working with some informants I took there advice and stopped writing stuff down that evening I just drank, chatted and made friends.

Over the next few months this happened, I turned off.  Over time the more I turned off the more people were interested in what I was interested in.  They asked what really got me so interested in this that I would hang out in a place and spend a good 3 years of my life on it.  This provoked more conversations, ‘you should come with me on Saturday…’ ‘you should talk to…..’ and so on.  After 6 months I had lived the cliché, I had dropped the original driver of research methodology and listened to my informants who had defined what I was doing through my basic passions.  Further they got involved, they got involved on their terms and when and how they wanted to.  This gives me a messy bunch of fieldnotes that don’t make sense with the literature I know.  But then that’s the point right?  A silence in the literature is good.  Don’t always take notes, listen, say nothing until someone else speaks.  This is the power of silence, I now have notes I believe in, something I really think I can say, I’m not sure what that is yet but it will reflect the lives of my informants, it will speak with them not bounce of them, I hope.

I have just happened across this article which seemed to work around some of the thoughts I have been having of late around the politics of representation. I have been thinking about how internet maps, such as Google maps, allow you to scroll in or out of the image. At each level of zoom the amount of information remains the same even though the geographical area it covers changes. So when zoomed out only certain areas of the map are labeled, such as the continents, countries, cities or districts. When zoomed in we have street names and even shops. But who decides which places are marked as the most important information to show and how does this effect the way we understand place? Here the algorithms behind the map zoom function seem to take on a more than functional role. They seem rather to be a moment of selection, moment of deciding to show what is important. In this sense it is highly political and this article shows how that politics has ruptured between Google and the Rio government. This rupture shows just how and in what ways Google is powerful beyond the obvious.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-13193503

As someone who has an undergraduate BSc and a MA in geography you might think I would be doing my PhD in the same subject.  However I now find myself sitting in the Anthropology department and funded by a project based from UCL Architecture department.  Whilst switching between disciplines is increasingly common I felt that at this years RGS-IBG conference I had an itching for fleshy bodies.  Through my work I have an interest in how people, local people relate to land and territory through economies of love and care in a late liberal society in which narratives of localism and the devolution of power run strong.  As such I attempt at least to keep central the notion of bodies, blood and personhoods.  I ask routinely how personhoods and citizens are shaped through the various scales of governance and structures of cultural legal and cultural governmental practice.

Whilst the RGS-IBG is far too big for me to give a review of the conference as a whole or even write about all the presenters I saw I can say that around half way through the second day I had listened to sessions on ‘Critical Approaches to Localism, neighbourhood working and governance’ ‘Contesting Post-Democratic Cities Amid the ‘tyranny of participation’.  The sessions overall aroused some interesting reflections yet I was left yearning more for flesh, people, humans, Ethnography in the geography.  Through the graphs, charts and theoretical discussions of various post-political philosophers I felt a strong presence of the absent bodies of those who are affected by, work within and live such ideas, bodies I yearned for.   In the latter session Chloe Buire ended the session with an impassioned and energetic description of everyday tactics used by the residents of various cities in Southern African cities, such as dancing, playing, re-using older buildings, gardening disused land and such.  I asked her if her work was a call for geographers to be more Ethnographic, she returned an empathetic and enthusiastic YES!  Such issues would be brought up later in my session.

I had been sufficiently awoken to be further satisfied by Kirsten Simonsen’s ‘Quest for a new humanism’ where, through the work and philosophy of Maurice Merleau-Ponty she called for a focus on emotions and experience in research using excerpts from the experience of a young Asian man boarding trains shortly after the London 7/7 bombings and his feelings of being in the wrong place.

Image

This embodied experience is something I am interested in my work, but I depart from the realm of phychogeography in that I am interested in how embodiment and experience are communicated to others.  In my work I look at how local enthusiasts give over knowledge of their relation of the built environment in walking tours.  So it was appropriate that Dr Hilary Geohagen and colleagues had arranged a session that was essentially a walking tour. The walking tour consisted of an enthusiast of Edinburgh’s modernist architecture who had been invited from the local Heritage Association to talk to us geographers about the history of the buildings in the University area. The guide was confidant vastly experienced and knowledgeable and Luke Bennett suggested around half of the people on the tour was much studying the process of guiding enthusiasm and giving of historical architectural knowledge as were interested in the knowledge itself.  Many people noted his skill at tailoring the tour to deal with dramatic rain and the undercurrents of personal opinion on the ways in which the university and planners dealt with these buildings.

In a session I both convened and shared, questions as to how engagements with everyday materiality is coming conducive to a form of social tactic in dealing with an understanding one’s relationship to the world work was explored in four papers which were as interesting as they were different from each other.  Mia Hunt’s paper explored the ways in which shopkeepers in everyday London high streets curated and composed the items within the shop.  Taking as an example small London montages design for tourist pockets her work shows how the everyday curatorial practice of shopkeepers can be understood as a tactic in dealing with the everyday and identity. Dave Yates’s paper neatly used the metaphor of his complex sense of self, which understood differently depending on perspectives needs of the viewer and viewed can be seen to align the complex identities places.  Issues of relevant scale, practice and rhythm of self and place were brought together in Yates’s work in looking at a series of London markets. Alessandro Froldi’s paper was an excellent example of using both archive and ethnography in understanding the ways in which radical politics segwayed with the everyday practice of living in urban environments of dereliction construction sites and renewal.  The session was neatly rounded up by Kaisa Schmidt-Thome whose explanation of a development of a softGIS toolbox neatly leading to a wide-ranging and engaging discussion around the issues of scale, nothing moments of flow and moments of stillness, dealing with flux and change an everyday occurrence and using GIS tools in increasingly ethnographic and qualitative ways.

The session abstract can be seen here. http://conference.rgs.org/conference/sessions/View.aspx?heading=Y&session=26c258da-485e-4166-9a7f-a9a65d3447f4

On the 26th of June I participated in the Creativity of Property workshop at UCL which I helped convene.  Together with two other PhD students at UCL I have been thinking through some of the ideas that were explored in this workshop.

Namely these ideas relate to how creative practices are involved in shaping the ways in which we as humans relate to each other through land, territory, space, legal discourses and so on… we focused on property in the workshop as a particular mode of ownership which brings about a certain way of relating to each other.  To explain myself further I’ll run through how the day went.

We started with Charlotte Johnson from Newcastle University whose talk (The Urge to Tidy: Fashioning post –neoliberal property out of shared attics and basements in residential buildings in Belgrade) investigated what happens when a particular mode of relation to space, namely the socialist communal ideal of shared space seen here is shared attics space is managed in a post-socialist society.  She mentioned that a mode of relations was “literally built into the fabric of the building”.  I found this idea fascinating and wondered how it this idea might look when applied to the everyday English suburb.  Tom McDonald and Meixuan Chen both talked about the changes in Chinese society with the former looking at hosting and how karaoke bars as a hired space reflect yet simultaneously change the hosting relation between host, guest and help (service) through the use of commercialised hosting space.  A vegetable patch featured in Chen’s work where genealogical lines, community notions of ‘the greater good’ and state notions of communal land were mixed together in the debates around how and if to sell land and who should, might and could benefit from such an exchange.

 

A fundamental philosophical question was posed by Luke Bennett who asked if the Lockien notion of ownership, relating to the application of labour to natural state leads to the acquisition of property, then what happens when property is in excess in relation to the amounts of labour able to be applied to it?  What do to with the excessive present space…?  Put the toilet roll in the freezer was amongst the answers.  Rafael Schacter’s paper moved us to looking at the practice of participating and asked questions of daubing on walls through his account of graffiti in Madrid merging notions of owning, aesthetics, action over substance and style over substance.

 

Nick Gadsby, through his study of the players of second life asked what digital items acquired through the game meant in relation to Mauss’s theories of the gift and in relation to the notion of abandoning relations.  He skilfully applied this idea to a exchange of slushy machine (a gift in ‘real life’ not in the game) between two participants and how this worked to release a relation of debt of favour and kindness yet simultaneously created a relation of kindness and appreciation to the ways in which players can abandon items and players in the game.  Amy Hinterberger, Natalie Porter and Mike Upton all talked about the relation of the body, drugs, IP rights, who owns genomes, the right to drugs and much more.  This stimulated some productive conversations between them and in the group as a whole. The day ended nicely with a consideration of how one human may own another through a form of relation through a focus on the slavery and kinship relation in Amazonia by Marc Brightman.  My mind spun to the ways in which such relations might work in everyday late liberal societies.  To help make sense of the many ideas and conversations we allowed plenty of room for discussion and Dr Eric Hirsch and Dr James Leech kindly opened up the discussions for us and added some much appreciated experience, expertise and intellectual reflections on the papers.

Overall the day was a success if it aimed to open up ideas of creativity as a mode of forming relations of owning.  Debates ranged as to the definition of property, the difference to owning.  People discussed how useful these debates were and the PhD students iron some of the creases in thought around such ideas.  Thanks you to all who came, presented and discussed.

Self proclaimed phyco-geographer and new Professor of contemporary thought at Brunel University Will Self used his inaugural lecture as Professor of contemporary thought at Brunel university to proclaim that ‘walking is political’.  Drawing upon the relationship that walking engenders to the city Self notes that, with a shift away from walking over the last 200 years that we have seen a ‘fundamental alteration in the nature of human connectivity’ towards our environments equating a walk to a ‘physical possession of the built environment and that ‘that to walk the city and its environs is, in a very powerful sense, to use it’ and the flâneur as a ‘democratising force who seeks equality of access, freedom of movement and the dissolution of corporate and state control’ and in so doing relegates suburbs to locations that ‘no longer convey any sense of place’.

http://www.mattstuart.com/

However here I’d like to follow Creswell 2010 and assert that all forms of mobility are political and that whilst I agree with Self that walking allows one to see and experience the city in ways that other forms of movement do not a true ‘democratisation’ of the city would see an aim of access, impact, engagement through all forms mobilties and in so doing would have to fundamentally address questions such as the levels of investment in various forms of movement and the spatial structures of settlements and who these investments and changes benefit.

“Importantly, these forms of mobility (walking, Driving, etc) and these aspects of mobilities (movement, representation and practice) are political – they are implicated in the production of power and relations of domination.”

Further cycling, catching a train and so on have their own emancipatory political potentials of moving our bodies in a phenomological and performative sense, becoming one with machine and zooming past traffic jams is in itself its own experience of interacting with the city as is the train ride along corridors of graffiti or moterway drive.  Everyday ‘tactics’ of walking, routes rhythms and speeds are used by both social systems and individuals simultaneously as outlined by Michael De Certeau in The Practice of Everyday Life and Self pays attention to the politics of rhythm.

In a direct way he equates a body’s connection to territory in a philosophy of rhythm where consideration comes in a tangible stillness (or slowness) that allows a material connection to the land and in doing so the train, car and bus are rhythm stealers that distort this connection.  The questions this raises then is why is that the walk gives us a connection to the city that the train does not?  Is the train, its blurring of the buildings it passes, the collection of people it gathers in ephemeral moments of collective individually not a form of movement that can be considered as part of the city and are the collective entanglements of body and car (see Edensor) or bicycle (see Spinney 2010) as engaging of bodies place and movement?

Henri Lefebvre’s Rhythmanalysis offers explorations into notions of timespace and the politics of body object interactions in respect of all types of rhythm.   The equation of slowness with control moves us from a politics of rhythm to a philosophy of rhythm in Self’s piece where thought, experience and conection to territory comes only with the wander on foot.  Whilst reading David Bissell’s 2011 paper Thinking habits for uncertain subjects: movement, stillness, susceptibility  I was brought to think that such an equation is predicated on notions of rationality and self determination embedded in western rationalism that perhaps is ill equipped to deal with the speedy bodily experiences we have today.

Walking itself has taken various forms of politics in relation to conection to territory.  Historically the parish boundaries of London where marked out in bi-annual processions or ambulation’s as described by Micheal Housemans’s 1998 article Painful Places: ritual encounters with one’s homelands  where the boundaries of the parishes which persit today were walked by a crowd of adults and children, led by a community representative (usually a clergyman).  The crowd would halt at vital landmarks for readings rememberances of the boundriy lines for the “taking of pains”. This is where the body experience the landscape in direct sense so… “if the boundary be a stream, one of the boys is tossed into it; …. ….if a hedge, a sapling is cut out of it and used in afflicting the body…”.

This act, dating to at least the 6th century faded away around the time of the enclosure act of 1800 although it is often remembered  today.  Boundaries were protected in future disputes through the string formative bonds of childhood memory and bodily pain.  Many of the boundaries in London today are marked by these walks as Alan Warwick notes of Norwood and the boundary between Croydon and Lambeth

“Tracing that broken dotted line along church road and down Fox Hill, it is almost as through one can follow the reluctant footprints of Revd. Richard Finch, walking close as he dared to the disputed property” (Warwick 1972:14)

Walking also creates paths and which have turned into ‘rights’ and laws.  Olwig (2008) notes the act of walking causes lines of ‘desire’ (see Tiessen 2011) causing material traces in the land and such paths in land have been the basis for common law.

So walking is political historically as territory maps onto bodies and bodies onto territory and such material moves shift the realm of value which sediment in law, culture and social norms.  Practices of movement are productive in fixing place and types of place.  Today we walk for protest, to think, to experience places we shouldn’t go as kids, as adults  yes walking  IS political but  so are all forms of movement are.  What Self’s article asks me is how to we beat the bounds today?  How to we engage with the polotics of our bodies and the relationship to territory.  In an age of almost unquestioned private land ownership, land that is often revered in very public ways how is control achieved and maintained.  What is the role of the body, of memory and how does this communicate to the burocratic halls of councils, planners and to wider scales of city forms?

Today perhaps it is the historical tour that ties us to place through shared memory and learning of place value.  Where the material trace is harder to leave as asphalt refuses to fade or boundaries refuse to move being locked behind bureaucratic filing cabinets new forms of body politics emerge.  Walking is, was and always will be political but we are constantly trying to find new ways to reclaim the politics are we not?

Spinney, J. (2010) “Resisting rhythms: re-reading urban times and spaces through everyday practices of cycling” in Edensor T (Ed) Geographies of Rhythm (Ashgate, Aldershot)

I’m very much involved in this one day workshop at UCL please come along it will a great day of discussions!

The Creativity of Property: An Interdisciplinary Workshop on the Reinvention of Ownership
One-day workshop on the 26th of June at University College London

Aleksi Knuutila, UCL Anthropology (a.knuutila.11@ucl.ac.uk)
David Jeevendrampillai, UCL Anthropology (david.jeevendrampillai.10@ucl.ac.uk)
Gabrielle Ackroyd, UCL Anthropology (gabrielle.ackroyd.10@ucl.ac.uk)

The workshop invites contributions on the topic of property and ownership in moments of change, i.e. the way concepts, institutions and structures of ownership are being negotiated and reinvented, how notions of ownership are being symbolically challenged and promoted, and how the constraints of property elicit creative responses. It will explore what it is, in our times, to possess or author something; on what grounds a place belongs to people or people to a place; what it takes to claim something or to make it common for everyone; and how people are creatively making something of their own out of the institutions of property. It explores the reasons and consequences behind the constitution of property, showing how it fabricates certain categories of persons, groups and objects, and assigns originality or origination.

The past two decades have seen the dominant liberal mode of ownership expand to new areas. Yet this development has been paralleled with a diversification, as institutions of property have been creatively remade or appropriated for different purposes. For example, notions of authorship are challenged in digital commons and “remix cultures”, just as indigenous groups are calling on international cultural property law to protect their stakes in their collective ways of life. New consumption infrastructures such as Boris Bikes mean use no longer depends on ownership, while many protests in 2011 depended on claiming public spaces for purposes of demonstration and deliberation.

The attempts to reinvent or challenge systems of property might be best understood with a theoretical lense that places the agency, creativity and fluidity of social action at its heart. This might make current the calls for anthropological theory that see property as a on-going, dynamic process of assertion and contestation, and not as the result of reified social relations (Strang and Busse 2011). Such an approach would be more sensitive to wider conditions of social practices and their interaction with the material and spatial environment. It could show how personhood or group identity may not independent and clearly bounded, but constituted with the things possessed or acts of appropriation. It can demonstrate the reality of numerous ways of owning or making things common, and the reasons of power, culture and institutions that may keep them from being dominant.

The day will consist of two panels, which will be oriented towards the following themes:

I) Space and place

- How ideas of territory, belonging, and identity are contested and challenged
- The appropriation and reclaiming of public spaces
- How people make spaces their own through creativity, movement and innovation
- Who controls cities in moments of change, and what skills and discourses are deployed in doing so
- How the movement and rhythms in places are directed, controlled and unevenly distributed

II) The self and materials

- Acts of appropriating objects as personal property
- The interrelation between personhood, peoplehood and possessions
- Responses to the constraints of property systems
- Material qualities of assets and their consequences for systems of property
- Creativity, originality, and how it is recognized and channeled by systems of property
- How and why new objects come to be considered as property
- Struggles between several different ways of owning or making things common

Practicalities of the workshop

The workshop will take place on the 26th of June in the Anthropology department of University College London. Participants that wish to present in the sessions will be asked to pre-circulate short extracts of their work of between 1000 and 5000 words. We welcome PhD level work, which could be drafts of articles or chapters of theses. People from all relevant disciplines in the social sciences are welcome to attend. Participants are asked to give 20 minute presentations of their work. The workshop will emphasise active involvement in an interactive and informal setting, with a focus on improving academic work and identifying emerging issues for research. Each workshop will have an invited academic as a discussant, who will discuss the contributions together with the audience. We have confirmed James Leach as one of our discussants. The day will end with a roundtable discussion that will bring together and conclude on the themes that were brought out during the day. light lunch is provided for the participants. Places are limited for the event to facilitate discussions.

Submission of abstracts

Please send an e-mail to Aleksi Knuutila.(a.knuutila.11@ucl.ac.uk)  with the following information:

- Title of paper
- An abstract of 300-500 words
- Contact details
- University affiliation and city from which you will be traveling

The call for papers will close on 15th of May. Individuals who have been accepted based on their abstracts will be asked to circulate short extracts of their work in early June.

This workshop is funded by the UCL Anthropology Reading Group and Research Fund.

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