“What remains for our pedagogy of unlearning is to build affective infrastructures that admit the work of desire as the work of an aspirational ambivalence. What remains is the potential we have to common infrastructures that absorb the blows of our aggressive need for the world to accommodate us [...].”
‒ Lauren Berlant, The Commons: Infrastructures for Troubling TimesImagine a cocktail party. People mingle, dip in and out of conversations, and wander in and out of rooms. This particular cocktail party was initiated by transmediale, had nine guests, and took place across five time zones and 20 days. Now, this party is over. The text you are reading is a transcript of the conversations that took place. The stage was set in late October when the Study Circle on affective infrastructures met for the first time in Berlin, with three of us appearing remotely from Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, and Bologna.
Starting from Lauren Berlant’s approach that habits, norms, patterns, and affective assemblages are what bind us to each other and to the world itself, the Study Circle (re)turned to these elements as part of its exploration. By using the term “Affective Infrastructure,” we tried to get at the way “affect is made infrastructural—how it is stabilized and channeled, manufactured and circulated—and how we are directed to certain attachments over others.” (TH ◩) The conversation was concerned with the problematics of care and empathy, the forms of power and privilege that they involve, and foregrounded potentials between autonomy and interdependency, non-sovereignty and agency, taxonomy, and messiness.
At the first Study Circle meeting, each of us brought an object, event, feeling, experience, or piece of media that evoked whatever “affective infrastructure” meant for us individually. We spent the day sharing these with each other and building on conversations that they sparked off. At the same time, the urge to categorize the items was strong: how do they relate to each other and the term “affective infrastructures”? Do we need to build a Lexicon of Affective Infrastructure, or a Vocabulary for Affective Infrastructures?
In mid-November we spent some hours online, assembling all the objects brought to the first meeting, mingling around them and writing together. This is when it began to feel a little like a cocktail party: meeting in real time, without the pressures of having to present, or be physically present, but being part of a lively ebb and flow of exchanges and conversations. Each person’s contribution appeared on the online notepad in real time and in a different colour. So our shared conversations began to take on a vivid sensory register beyond being just words on a page. Study Circle members would, of course, come back to the shared page on their own later, and write or edit the transcript in solitude.
The transcript of our conversation is comprised of three parts: a set of framing questions, the Affective Infrastructures tableau, altar, scene, diorama or archipelago, plus a note and reference section that also serves as a space for deeper annotation and commentary. This is perhaps the only kind of structure you will find. The conversations between members of the Study Circle meander, loop, and are sometimes one-on-one, or reference parts of the conversation elsewhere. Because it was never written as texts usually are, that is, alone, and because it was actually a conversation, it carries the imprint of how we talk, with our different accents, slips, tics, and unique phrasings. Each conversation is both fragmentary and a deep-dive, and is meant to inspire you to make your own connections and annotations.
With contributions from: Lou Cornum (LC ▦), Daphne Dragona (DD ▱), Marija Bozinovska Jones (MBJ ◐), Tung-Hui Hu (TH ◩), Maya Indira Ganesh (MG ◫), Fernanda Monteiro (FM ◵), Nadège (N ◈), Pedro Oliveira (PO ◊) and Femke Snelting (FS ◖)
Questions and answers
“What is in the air to make new genres of convergence?”
FS ◖This is actually a question from Lauren Berlant. She wonders about convergence, genres and air in “The commons: Infrastructures for troubling times”, a text that sparked this conversation. In other words, why do you think a Study Circle on affective infrastructures is relevant and timely?
LC ▦ I start with the timely. I sit down to respond to this question as tear gas canisters are being thrown at the migrant caravans approaching the US-Mexico border near Tijuana. What is in the air then? Poison. I hear about it online, of course: the same image circulates and circulates and we all feel powerless to do anything other than keep the image circulating. The photo of a woman and her children who want to cross the border to seek asylum has more freedom of movement than the woman and the children themselves do. But I want to find a way in this conversation to not remain circling around feelings of powerlessness and stunted outrage; we need affective infrastructures that help us feel differently, so that we might act unexpectedly. That we might act at all.
Looking at the border, and both its material and affective ability to proliferate helplessness, I am thinking of infrastructure as defined by Berlant as “that which binds us to the world in movement.” She uses an image of constraint and restriction to describe our placement as motion-curious, like being bound to something and bound for somewhere. It seems to me then that this conceptualization helps to see infrastructure as that which holds some things and people in place in order to let other things and people keep moving. The transcontinental railroad for instance when first built, with exploited migrant labor, were ways to move settlers and the materials of settlement and to stake claim to more land in Indigenous territories. The US-Mexico Border keeps certain people out while, I read today, about eighty percent of goods manufactured in Mexico are exported to the United States.
Affective infrastructures operate similarly: they direct us to certain attachments and their associations over others. In this context, I would think of how affective infrastructures operate on national and nationalist levels, how attachments to the nation, to citizenship, to what good life these things are supposed to promise, keep much of the world fixed in unbearable conditions, bound either to perpetual precarious movement or bound in suspension (stuck somewhere, detained).
Perhaps it seems unfair to ask of us what is on my mind tonight: what kind of study can prevent tear gas canisters from being thrown at people trapped between places of harm and violence? I could also ask what kind of conversation stops the deaths of thousands of migrants crossing inhospitable lands and waters all over the globe right now. If this conversation cannot be expected to do that precisely, what can it do that makes a world without such violences possible? Poison may be in the air as I said, and if it is not from tear gas, it is smoke or pollutants. But can it move us to make these “new genres of convergence”? A conversation is an old genre; this kind of conversation a newer one. And I appreciate that we are talking from different global locations, from our different national attachments, stuck and moving in our own but intertwined infrastructures. The new genre of convergence I am looking for, and hoping that if we talk about it more and more, can find ways to act more, and more is a convergence made possible at the end of a bordered world.
TH ◩ Reflecting on his photo-series Waiting for Tear Gas, Allan Sekula describes the horror of tear gas as an artificial compound that produces a “parody of extreme human emotion... empathy and grief.” It turns one’s tears against oneself, and weaponizes one’s capacity for affect against oneself. Nevertheless, the tears are real, just as the tears or anger or extremes brought on by algorithms online are real: its artificiality does not negate its effect. By using the term “Affective Infrastructure,” we can get at the way affect is made infrastructural—how it is stabilized and channeled, manufactured and circulated—and how, as Lou Cornum puts it, we are directed to certain attachments over others.
I am a pessimist, or at least I have become one recently. So even though I am in despair these days, I am not sure I want to feel differently yet; I am okay with dwelling within my feelings of helplessness and exhaustion. The infrastructures that I am most interested in are pessimistic ones: the bind, rather than the world.
PO ◊ Today while also following online the sheer violence with which the US manages to treat those who flee one home to seek and establish another in hostile ground as a matter of survival, I saw similar photos taken both from the borderlands of Mexico as well as from Palestine. The person who posted these two photos also added that the teargas canisters from both places were probably made by the same manufacturer—which is not far-fetched at all. I can recall that one of the biggest manufacturers and exporters of so-called “non-lethal” bombs, such as teargas and sound grenades is based in the State of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. During the Brazil and Gezi Park uprisings in 2013, someone remarked how the same brand of canisters were being used both by the Brazilian and the Turkish police. Thinking about teargas as the “parody of extreme human emotion”, as Tung-Hui Hu mentioned, I can think of the border wall, Palestine, and Brazil, and the teargas bombs dropped by the military police on the day Jair Bolsonaro won the elections. There was a cloud of both emotional and parodic tears shielding his supporters from those who were voicing their dissent.
As for convergence, this leads me to see other affective infrastructures connecting that which render certain human lives expendable: how these forms of violence perpetrated under the guise of non-lethality produce the migrant body as a mimicry of human, at the same time a test site and a nodal point for affective infrastructures of fascism and neo-liberalism. Here is a key example of structures of convergence constantly producing the borderlands as the place of perpetual death.^borderlands
FS ◖ I take the figure of thought that Berlant introduces by linking “affective” to “infrastructure” also as an invitation to study and practice different forms of persistent togetherness or ongoingness. Ways to keep in, and with, these messed up, troubled times. I feel I can not afford pessimism, but I don’t think I am an optimist either.
How does combining the terms “affective” + “infrastructure” make us rethink both “infrastructure” and “affect”?
LC ▦ One thing I’ve been trying to think about is how affective and material infrastructures interact, because I tended to think, before being introduced to the Study Circle, that all infrastructures were material. So, thinking Affective Infrastructures also opens up questions of a whole proliferation of different, intertwined infrastructures. For example, different infrastructures for different senses. How would a “psychic infrastructure” operate differently or alongside “psycho-infrastructures”?
But back to affective infrastructures, and thinking again of the “home.” By using these combined terms as as a lens, it helps us think through how the work of making a home is building an affective infrastructure of belonging (and in messed up ways in the privatized model, security as opposed to, maybe safety, in a more positive model).
FS ◖ Right. And by using them as a tool for analysis it has become an infrastructure itself ...
LC ▦ Yes, I feel like in the way a new word starts popping up everywhere, the more I think infrastructure, the more nested and nested various infrastructures become!
FS ◖ Can we think a bit more about the operation of “nesting”? And how this could be something else than a Russian doll, where one thing fits neatly into another, and only once?
LC ▦ I would like to hear more about how nesting works in computing. I’m not familiar with how it works.
FS ◖ Haha, I don’t know either “how it works” in computing, but from the architecture of many file formats or code-like structures, there seems to be a preference for “cascading” structures, the idea that thought or concepts... are like waterfalls, going into one direction and always becoming increasingly more precise or specific. Look at XML for example, a document format that is all over the web, or scientific standardization efforts, or machine learning techniques.
LC ▦ Ah okay I think I see. I wonder if another helpful image or metaphor is also the rhizome. In any event the form of the infrastructure is what we seem to be talking about here, what kind of shaping different shapes do.
PO ◊ Wouldn’t the idea of nesting also imply the creation of an inside/outside? I am more keen towards the rhizomatic when thinking about “infrastructures of infrastructures” in the sense you were writing about.
FS ◖It is interesting to think about the form of affective infrastructure, yes, very much so! Even if I think these forms are often more about concepts or maybe even ideologies, than actual shapes. In that sense I felt that the proposal by Zach Blas for a “contra” or “paranodal” Internet made sense. The issue with “nesting” and “rhizomatic” is that they each, in their own way seem to foreground moments or points of connection (so they are “nodal” imaginaries), not so much the work of connecting, and what happens there. I have no idea how a paranodal Internet would actually work, of course.
LC ▦ Mmmm right, and they are both naturalized forms as in occurring in nature. And it is so important to see the construction aspect, the work of connecting as you say. The labor that the bird and mycofibers do that we can’t see or ignore, for example, in the nature examples.
FS ◖ Exactly! I guess that is what Donna Haraway means when she says “Making connections is itself a methodology”? By the way, she said this in relation to hypertext.
PO ◊ Nice! I also can see the idea of nesting as that which encloses and provides a (provisional/contingent) home. Though on a second pass, re-reading these words a few days later, I would not immediately associate “nesting” with “enclosing” inasmuch as the “nest” I am thinking of is not necessarily an enclosed space. Also, in the entry on The Commons, I talk about “encapsulation” and “grasping” when I mentioned Glissant.
FM ◵ I think this conversation is an actual example of how nesting and encapsulation works, and Pedro Oliveira was totally right on his comment about the inside/outside sensation. In a broader sense, nesting is more related to structured code (and also conditions), and encapsulation is a concept that distinguishes itself from object-oriented approaches (and from model-view-oriented programming, and other methodologies) because these presents a perspective similar to the “public/private/hybrid” concept. In this perspective, connections would be more a method than a methodology itself (in which I agree much more with Haraway).
N ◈ “Nest” evokes for me Ursula Le Guin’s The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction and how the everyday labor of holding is a less “magnificent” and “impressive” story, the invisibilized infrastructure.
“It is hard to tell a really gripping tale of how I wrested a wild-oat seed from its husk, and then another, and then another, and then another, and then another, and then I scratched my gnat bites, and Ool said something funny, and we went to the creek and got a drink and watched newts for a while, and then I found another patch of oats…. No, it does not compare, it cannot compete with how I thrust my spear deep into the titanic hairy flank while Oob, impaled on one huge sweeping tusk, writhed screaming, and blood spouted everywhere in crimson torrents, and Boob was crushed to jelly when the mammoth fell on him as I shot my unerring arrow straight through eye to brain.
That story not only has Action, it has a Hero. Heroes are powerful. Before you know it, the men and women in the wild-oat patch and their kids and the skills of the makers and the thoughts of the thoughtful and the songs of the singers are all part of it, have all been pressed into service in the tale of the Hero. But it isn’t their story. It’s his.”
N ◈ Who commits to the “mundane” gestures an infrastructure implies? I feel that most people that “carry” and “nest” are not the ones that think about it, or talk about it or write about it. So how do we bridge between these worlds without it being a condescending academic attitude of “field research” or an external “community engagement” approach?
LC ▦ The notion of work also touches upon how our discussion can maybe help rethink, or think more specifically and capaciously about “affective labor” which has become such a rote description, it has lost some of its power as a tool for understanding social reproduction, power itself, etc. What is the role of affective labor in the affective infrastructure? How is it joined or separate from other forms of labor?
FS ◖ Maybe we need to make this our next question.
What is the role of affective labor in an affective infrastructure? How is it joined or separate from other forms of labor?
MBJ ◐ Affective labor often blends with infrastructure through gamification. The feedback loop generated by constant evaluations of services through incentivized rewards becomes a way to organize interpersonal relationships. They transform into business relations with a transactional character. The gig economy for example offers star ratings, and the Uber ride is often accompanied by a driver attempting to engage in small talk with a passenger accompanied by Smooth FM playing on the car’s radio, completing the immersion into the “experience economy” of both passenger and driver.
Platform business models are developed to exploit human vulnerabilities and maximize users’ attention, which then gets sold to advertizers. Embedded design features capture oversimplified and categorized sentiments through “reactions”, while “infinite scroll” caters for addictive behaviors. Work and play leads to questions of self-care.
TH ◩ It might be interesting to expand our definition of who is doing affective labor. Taken literally, after all, click-farmers that “like” things en masse, are another part of this workforce. I’ve just come back from a conversation with researchers who are studying click farms, and maybe what’s most surprising so far about their findings is how they, though working in the Global South, are not necessarily “exploited,” but exist in a much more complicated relationship with their clients.
FS ◖More complicated does not necessarily mean less exploited, I guess, so I am curious how that works?
TH ◩ Their research is still in progress, but I’m thinking about Purnima Mankekar’s work on call centers in India, which shows a relationship of desire between the workers and the roles they are supposed to play. Rather than a relationship of “impersonation,” she calls it “personation”. Click farming may well be different—it may well be dehumanizing. But I’m interested in what happens if we have more complicated models for how affective labor is distributed, rather than saying the “extraction” of affect from bodies (which is the model I had initially). Affect is sticky, I think: to provide care for someone else is also, perhaps, to care a little oneself.
How do we navigate the objects that we brought to first meeting of the Study Circle? How could we filter, parse, or sieve them?
FS ◖ I was wondering what it would mean to alphabetize this list, even if—or maybe because—I would very much like to resist that move. The Alphabet™ is such a tainted infrastructure already!
LC ▦ As is a method like the Dewey Decimal System, right?! All these ways we’ve inherited for organizing knowledge and language feel very fraught. We’ve learned them from compulsion, but are they actually intuitive or generative? Maybe a more intuitive, conceptually-driven navigation system could think in terms of what the larger nesting concepts are, and which are the particular?
FS ◖ In a way, nesting is another efficient infrastructure of computation, it is always assuming the linear, genealogical relation between one thing and another.
PO ◊ I’m thinking (also reading above) on the idea of tagging as a way of organizing—I think tags lend themselves to be multiple and fleeting, and allow for more intuitive connections among things.
MG ◫ I like tags. I miss seeing those swirling spherical tag clouds from blogs circa 2009. Tags set up their own internal referencing.
PO ◊ Precisely, and I don’t think they necessarily demand indexing.
FS ◖ I actually think the “items” in the tableau/diorama we are making, are tags in and of themselves, could that work? We have already started referring to them to each other in that way. The issue with tags (which I like as well) is how to make them multidimensional instead of flat one-liners; to make sure they can create some interesting tensions. But maybe I am actually more interested in imagining what contemporary forms of hypertext would be.
FM ◵ I’m afraid tags are still subject to the same relational categorization we’re trying to get rid of, due to the fact that they are based on an external meta-data logic. Even if we say they could be differently organized by anyone, they are still limited by technological knowledge. Even when a non-technical person could have tools for sorting them, these tools are subject to the bias of developers and platforms. It’s subtle and it’s not just “A-B-C”, but tags are ruled by a very linear logic based on promoting content. I’m still favorable to tags, though, because they are simple. But they do not readily communicate with people not “native” to the internet.
FS ◖Yes, I agree. I think my point is to invent other types of metadata logic. Meaning, that it is not a problem to have metadata in and of itself, but it becomes a problem when limited to linear, binary, or is maybe even efficiency driven (read: Capitalist) logics.
What modalities make sense to organize these items?
FS ◖ Maya Indira Ganesh proposed an altar, as some kind of domestic platform where day-to-day presences can be encountered.
MG ◫ I said “altar” as a non-organized religion practicing person (!!) and I acknowledge it has all kinds of resonances and connotations for people for whom religion has been a dominant frame of reference (positive and negative). So altar, yes, as a platform.
PO ◊ What about a “tableau”?
LC ▦ Yeah, I like tableau, I was also thinking “diorama.” Because those were very pleasurable kinds of collections to make.
MG ◫ I was probably thinking about something like a diorama, too, from my own collection-making, and frankly the Hindu altar my grandfather made was very diorama-ish. I like both tableau and diorama.
FS ◖ And “scene”? Just to prevent the one-dimensionality of “tableau.” Also, because it calls up other operations, such as “scenography”, “lighting,” “performance,” and “performativity” of course.
PO ◊ “Stages,” then? More than “scene,” because a scene recalls something more static, I think. A diorama is also interesting in that sense.
LC ▦ The turn to an almost theatrical mode signals a possibility for awe, also a feeling I have with dioramas (and miniatures always, for some reason), which is a different feeling than is usually expected in reading non-fiction. It would be cool to try to produce for future other readers a more unusual way of interacting with learning (which the Study Circle itself does)!
MG ◫ I would love to see how this grows as and in text (I’m thinking of Physarum polycephalum ‒ slime mold)...
FM ◵ Or Hedera helix (Common Ivy) :-)? I would prefer this organic sense of order, more like a confluence of ideas, they are way more synaptic. I like altars as well (first time hearing of dioramas and tableaus, actually), as they are already multidimensional when they integrate personal faiths and expectations, personal limitations (represented by the iconographic representation of an archetype that comprises the core of “changing something un-wishful”) and the different cultures and myths that evolves from a person and their environment.
Tableau, altar, scene, diorama, or archipelago
#MeToo spreadsheets as an infrastructure
MG ◫ Talking about the labor in affective infrastructures and the most recent instance of #MeToo in India (the one in which men in mainstream media and publishing were being named as abusers). There were some discussions about how women lawyers, victims, survivors, “Twitter heroes” etc. were running around in the background, in Direct Messages (DMs), in WhatsApp groups, writing articles and tweets, helping other women file complaints, manage the press, and manage the online hate—all kinds of affective labor to support victims. Whereas the men being named (and their supporters) seemed to be not doing as much. (Do we know, though, if they were or were not doing anything to manage #MeToo?) I wanted to say—this is the work of activism! It has always been unpaid, thankless, invisible-ized work, so what happens when activism starts to be recognized as work, things that we do as online organizing is recognized as work? It isn’t as simple as “Hey, here are these tweets about this dude.” The “due process” that the law does not deliver in addressing violence is—transposed, maybe?—yeah, transposed, into the process of doing affective work. So #MeToo is not just about making public disclosures about violence, but about all the follow-up that has to happen after. Court cases. Press. Looking for other jobs. Relationships ending. New relationships starting. I think it takes a lot for people to manage their attention in having to work at their office jobs, and also be online on social media, to be constantly online and eliciting, tending to, managing, online conversations. It’s a big deal to do this publicly, too. In a way, this is not unlike how people have always done volunteer work “on the side” of their jobs, especially women.
TH ◩ This is fascinating because so much of the scholarly discussions of how we should think about invisible labor is to make it visible, to recognize it as work. What you seem to suggest is, that the act of making visible may well simply entrench activism into the framework of capital: that there’s an implicit demand that this work should be paid for. Have we gone too far in that direction of labeling everything as “work”? Perhaps activism/emotional labor should be—to riff on its “thanklessness”—similarly “useless” in terms of capital?
MG ◫ I think it becomes a different kind of issue depending on who the activist is. I think there may be people who have been walking in the same place for years, and nothing changes. Maybe they don’t need re-tweets, or social media kudos, but they need the material conditions of their lives that have not been rewarded for activism over years to now be rewarded, or to change in some way. This is the problem with social media capital as a reward for activist work. So which is why I find it really hard to get on board with the enthusiasm for online activism beyond a point. Does that sound curmudgeonly?
TH ◩ I’m just thinking that the #MeToo spreadsheets are a strangely datafied form of collating experience. Do you have any thoughts about the format? When I scroll and browse them, I am struck by their endlessness (particularly in comparison to long-form narratives from #MeToo) and wonder if that can provide a feeling of solidarity, or if something else happens.
MG ◫ Yeah, there is a sense of account-ing and account-ability evoked by the #MeToo spreadsheet. Some of them, like the Indian Academics List that came out in 2017, was, I think, literally just three columns—who, what happened, and what they did, when—with no other annotations or legends, no discussion or preamble. It was flat, a bit like a wordless scream. It ended up leading to a massive disruption and upheaval between feminists when some people (regrettably, a set of older feminist academics) started asking for context, and details, or questioned the form. Others—makers, and supporters of the makers, of the Google spreadsheet—responded that context was irrelevant. All that mattered, was that these men did what they did. So the spreadsheet was supposed to speak for itself, and be a starting point for some kind of process, but it was uncertain what that process was supposed to be.
TH ◩ How strange that the list / the spreadsheet / the dataset has become the cultural object that testifies in today’s moment.
MG ◫ I think the comparison with the long-form narrative is interesting because there are other kinds of forms of writing now. Even an article today will reference a tweet or Twitter thread so maybe Twitter threads have become their own form of writing, and which is not a spreadsheet. But I am also wondering if it really *is* a strange cultural object? I think the GIF and the meme have become as popular and huge. The endless scroll, or looping, seem to be the hallmark of both.
FS ◖ The unapologeticness of the spreadsheet works even better for me in conversation with the continuous re-configurings of “we” that #MeToo sparked off. In Spanish speaking contexts, the tag became #cuentalo (tell your story), directing attention to the generative and relational character of such accounts rather than to the individuals relating the experience. In Argentina, #niunamenos (not one [femininized form] less) summons a collective, and a rally against feminicide; #nosotrasparamos (we [feminized form] stop) calls for a feminist strike and introduces ambiguity of the address by inventing a re-gendering of “we”; #acuerparnos (we remember) an allying with transgenders against deadly violence; #estamosparanosotras (we are here for us) invites a reflection about who is here and why.
> see also: Language as an infrastructure
> see also: Codes/Code switching
> see also: Stabilizing bodies through affects
Passivity and lethargy
DD ▱ When thinking about these notions, there is a need to understand the relation they have to each other and to other words, like, for instance, idleness or boredom. What does it mean to be passive, inactive, or lethargic? Does it imply the potential for action or resistance?
TH ◩ For me, it’s important not to always convert passivity into action: contra other scholars (for example of “radical passivity”) who say that passivity is really a form of disguised agency if recognized with the proper eyes, passivity is more interesting to me as unactualized potential. It’s latent (lanthanein, the same root as lethargy).
DD ▱ It is also interesting to think how our understanding of these notions and their connections to resistance change from time to time. And how new questions arise. We can think of the very known story of Bartleby, the Scrivener who refused to work by repeatedly using the phrase “I would prefer not to.” Many thinkers, especially political philosophers, have commented on the story.
TH ◩ For me, Bartleby is the opposite of lethargy, because he is actively refusing to move, to do his job, etc. He is like a manspreader on the subway: he knows how to take up space. A properly lethargic subject (is that possible to say?) has to go along with the program.
DD ▱ But then, understanding the difference between specific cases and notions, the question would be how conscious or aware is the lethargic subject of their state of being? And maybe to imagine who is in the position of this subject? And why it is important to pay attention to this state nowadays?
MBJ ◐ Or information overload to a point of feeling overwhelmed thus leading to disengagement. And then we need to re-learn how to breathe.
TH ◩ There’s definitely a boredom that comes out of feeling overwhelmed with information, but it might be interesting to also think about boredoms that result from not having enough to do. In The Whistling Cobblestone (1972), a film by Gyula Gazdag about a work camp for teenage boys in Communist Hungary, the joke is that, due to bad planning, there’s no work for the boys to do. Two of them rebel by going to work for a neighboring farmer: a strange and hilarious form of “resistance.” What are the analogues to this situation today within the world of the digital?
DD ▱ And who has the right to be idle, passive, or bored today—connecting this to resistance, but also to forms of privilege.
> see also: Instructions for breathing
> see also: What it means to fall apart + be unavailable
Accent recognition systems
PO ◊ The Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge (BAMF) in Germany uses telephones as devices for their accent recognition systems. They want to find a way to ensure that an asylum seeker is actually a migrant, “deserving” of asylum in Germany. Because they assume that if someone might be faking an accent, this person does not deserve to be treated as an asylum seeker with the same respect. Since Arabic is spoken across so many countries, but differently (also within these countries themselves), accent verification is perceived to be able to “stabilize” a language and as such “legitimize” an asylum claim. So the asylum applicant is asked to speak into this telephone as part of the accent recognition system. The applicant might be asked to speak freely on a topic, or, in most cases, there is a picture which must be described to the device.
Think of the affective relations made possible by the handset and the numerical keys, the almost-obsolete technology of the landline, but also the nostalgic feeling of long-distance relations, of longing for those who are away, and the bodily stillness that the landlines usually demands (particularly for corded phones)—that is how one is made more or less immobile whenever these devices are being used. The idea of the telephone also reconnects the asylum applicant to the journey, to those who had to be left behind, or those whose journeys are leading them elsewhere, but most importantly to a body that “returns home” briefly. This is because the picture that is often given to the asylum speaker to describe over the phone is usually one of family meals or gatherings. The BAMF (allegedly) made sure the pictures are “culturally appropriate” to those being recorded. There is no accent probing without evoking a sense of home. Home is that which might sound—and feel—truthful. The telephone, the picture, the dialing, they are all fundamental components of a theatrical act which seeks to stabilize a (cultural, but also affective) identity: that of the migrant longing to return “home.”
> see also: Kit Bandido
> see also: Stabilizing bodies through affects
> see also: Academic (and other kinds of expert) languages
PO ◊ When the state cannot provide the means to stabilize one’s identity—via accents, voices, fingerprints, documents, and so on—it is often the parallel powers overlooked (or ignored) by the state which perform this task. In the case of the so-called “Kit Bandido,” it becomes the task of corrupt policemen to define the criminal body. The Kit consists of a pistol (often unlicensed or sometimes even a toy gun) and a pack of drugs, usually cocaine; these items are often kept undercover in the locker rooms of police stations and come into being from the moment an assassination needs to be justified by the police. The practice is of course illegal, but “accepted” insofar as the police sees the law as preventing them from properly undertaking their job. The gun and the pack of drugs exist as isolated items, under the possession of different actors in different circumstances; it is only by its association with a deceased black body that the criminal is created, and its murder by the state justified. However, the Kit Bandido is far from the “blank canvas,” because the bodies it can be attached to co-constitute the individual items into the proper “kit.” The same pack of drugs and the same gun, circulating in other hands (middle-class white men, politicians, policemen), do not immediately designate a criminal body with the same strength and “sleekness.” The Kit Bandido exists on the borders of written law, insofar as the “Autos de Resistência” (resistance to law enforcement) creates the conditions upon which policemen are temporarily authorized to shoot to kill. Whenever necessary, then, the Kit Bandido legitimizes these acts of resistance by creating the criminal body where there were none.
> see also: Accent recognition systems
> see also: Stabilizing bodies through affects
Stabilizing bodies through affects
PO ◊ This artifact (the device that tests one’s accent; the Kit Bandido that composes a crime scene) simply cannot function without being coupled with *specific* bodies. They can only be granted their functionality, by the course of law or unwritten codes, the moment a body attests to and confirms the motivations and reasons why these devices were created for in the first place. In other words, these devices only come into being in the process of creating a (suspicious?) body, which in turn creates and validates them back. For that, it might be useful if we focus on the material manifestations of these infrastructural arrangements.
FS ◖ How do the Kit Bandido and the accent recognition systems relate to affective infrastructures?
PO ◊ Both these ideas materialize the affective character of infrastructures: they become their lived manifestation because they co-constitute the very bodies they were designed to point out in the first place. The telephone normalizes the speaker who finds themself away from home, it sediments the migrant body as that whose accent is ready to be tested, judged, measured, and assessed as indicative of identity. There cannot be other identity than that of the asylum seeker at that time, place, and space. The Kit Bandido authorizes the creation (and subsequent elimination) of the criminal body, thus sedimenting the structural racism that conditions the black body to be immediately criminalized. The politics of death (necropolitics? Is it useful to bring Mbembe into the room as well?) in this case cannot create any other identity than that of the young, male, black body, who exists in opposition to the threatened policemen who are temporarily permitted, by law, to kill.
I’m trying to unravel that more in the sense of thinking them as these “canvases” (and in that I also think of Maya Indira Ganesh bringing the example of the #MeToo spreadsheets). On the one hand the telephone is meant to create this “body at home” where “home” is *not* the host country; and the kit is the canvas upon which young, male, black (dead) bodies have to be attached to in order for them to work. But I am still working on these connections.
> see also: #MeToo spreadsheets as an infrastructure
> see also: The Commons
> see also: Kit Bandido
> see also: Accent recognition systems
The role of desire. The role of awe and wonder in infrastructure
DD ▱ It is interesting to think of the role of awe, fascination, and wonder in relation to infrastructures. This is something that got my attention when reading Lisa Parks discussing “infrastructural affects” as she specifies experiences, sensations, structures of feeling generated through peoples’ material encounters with media infrastructures. Or, interestingly, it can be noted in the writing of Brian Larkin who talks of “the deeply affectual relation people have to infrastructures—the senses of awe and fascination they stimulate.” And then in Berlant’s paper that inspired our discussion on affective infrastructures, where she is underlining the work of desire. Can we reengineer our fascination with infrastructures to desire the ones we need the most? Is desire something that can also be communicated and learned or unlearned? While it possibly can not be forced, it is a territory that perhaps needs to be explored for all the changes that we are discussing.^aweandwonder
Foraging + cruising
LC ▦ I became very interested in Anna Tsing’s “The Mushroom at the End of the World” even as I remain slightly mistrustful of naturalist metaphors (every nature metaphor is a metaphor for a human perception of nature). There is a radical incommensurability and interpenetration of the human and non-human. Irreducible and in relation. But perhaps this can also describe any interaction across difference, within as well as across life forms. The encounter of foraging became associated for me with the sexual encounter. Parallel to performative speech, foraging and cruising are a performative looking.
FS ◖ You described this interestingly ambiguous exchange between someone in the park asking “Are you good?”, and you not knowing whether he was also looking for mushrooms, or for public sex, or just wanted to make a connection.
LC ▦ Yes. At the same time, I have to acknowledge an ambivalence toward cruising, as it manifests as a fantasy of the commons Berlant describes. There is so much that structures the very ground of both cruising and foraging encounters that cannot be taken for granted. Who cruises across a border? Mushrooms disrupt such hard and fast lines and indeed feed on disruption. I am in the park looking for mushrooms and I come across men hooking up between the trees.
Samuel Delany writes one of the most encompassing studies of how public space, privatization, and sex practices interact, in his case in the seedy theaters of Time Square where porn played on the big screen and men of many different walks got off together. It is in theorizing these spaces in “Times Square Red Times Square Blue” that Delany lays out the difference between network and contact: network = institutional; contact = coming together (cross-racial, cross class)—not exclusive but overlapping. I want to expand the practice of cruising without sanitizing it of its necessary filth. The queerness of public sex is contained in the erotics of it all, but also as these erotics allow different ways of being in public, of conceptualizing what the public is and what it is for.
> see also: Tags as an infrastructure for cruising
Mindfulness + yoga = “self care”
MBJ ◐ Meditation as a solitary practice is an epistemic inquiry; it allows just being and feeling, to observe thoughts and to access what exceeds the constraints of language. Eastern philosophies and practical science such as Buddhism and Ayurveda were originally practiced for working with the self in order to serve the community. Today they exemplify an illusion of having agency over the “bodymind.” Appropriated to serve a neoliberal value system, self-care is packaged as wellness services and lifestyle: yoga, mindfulness, gong baths, motivational talks, positive affirmations, personal growth … attempts to fulfill a sense of self-worth and belonging in a hyper-individualized society.
Talks at Google invited Mingyur Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist master, and Eckhart Tolle, a spiritual teacher, to “pay attention to inner technology.” With the slogan “Don’t be evil” as their former “code of conduct”, Google advises their users and developers to be virtuous. Corporations organize yoga and meditation classes for their employees as a gesture of care and aid towards relaxation and de-stressing—and as ways to promote productivity thus increase corporate profits. What is the meaning of “care” in these infrastructures?
MG ◫ I’ve been an Iyengar (Yoga) practitioner for 14 years this month. I am
sort of heartbroken at how the (Fascist) Hindu Right in India has appropriated yoga as “Hindu”; and a bit like Google or the corporation, they have made health and the opportunity to exercise a personal responsibility, rather than a right to be delivered on by the state, or infrastructure to be maintained by the state. And it is being used as a cultural weapon. They *love* how popular it is in the “West” and use this as evidence of the growth of Hindu culture. They have pushed Yoga-as-Hindu-culture-and-health in Muslim majority regions like Kashmir (heavily militarized; a place of internal displacement and colonialism) to push Hindu culture. Yoga and bans on eating beef have been two of the Right’s fascinating / horrific campaigns. Also: do an image search for “Yoga.”
MBJ ◐ I am curious what the image search will output in India. In the global North and bigger cities worldwide, it has been reduced to a competitive sport.
FS ◖ It would be interesting to see the differences!
MG ◫ No, not really local in the sense of different countries but about people. Everything is personalized now. And the search term is populated in a certain way. Like I get lots of white American women doing almost militaristic power yoga. Like sometimes I want to look up a particular posture and have to make sure I go to a specific site and not just search, because a lot of it is also blended into broader routines that combine all kinds of other fitness things.
MBJ ◐ Like Rocket. Or Bikram yoga practiced in a heated space.
google.com image search results for Yoga: London, UK
google.com image search results for Yoga, from a (VPN) simulated geolocation: Chennai, India
MBJ ◐ Looking at these surprisingly similar image search results, you realize how they are reconfirmed through the hegemonic value systems of for example Instagram’s so-called “influencers.” Competing for followers, they succeed to transcend geographical locations through visual representation. Their mediated images blur self-empowerment and sexualization and continuously redefine the trending of the exotic.
FS ◖ It also reminds me of Agile Yoga, a practice that Anne Laforet proposed in the context of the Techno-Galactic Software Observatory. She was looking at the way productivist coding practice inspire themselves on Yoga vocabulary, and developed “Agile Yoga” (a hint at the Agile coding manifesto). It does the job on all levels :-)
> see also: The Quantified Self
Instructions for breathing
MG ◫ Being calm is a stressful project
In ‒-> Out < ‒‒ In. Why is this complicated, why do we need instructions?
> see also: Passivity and lethargy
Machines mimicking biological systems
MG ◫ Small bugs are the frontline on the war against terror! This is ridiculous, but scary when you learn about how some creatures’ intelligence is being mined for the creation of lethal autonomous weapons. Like termites. Or in the book “Kill Decision” by Daniel Suarez in which the very vicious weaver ants, or Oecophylla longinoda, become the model for pheromone-based swarm intelligence in fully automated drones. That is fiction published in 2012 and reading it now is chilling because this is what we are sure is possible. Funny, also, the connection with drones and insects, because drone operators refer to humans killed in drone attacks as “bugsplat”. And in the past few years, the US Navy has developed swarms of small robotic speedboats.
In Insect Media (2010), Jussi Parikka has a quote from Galloway and Thacker: “Again and again, poetic, philosophical, and biological studies ask the same question: how does this ‘intelligent,’ global organization emerge from a myriad of local, ‘dumb’ interactions?”
FS ◖ So hopeful, this idea that it is maybe actually all dumb and simple.
MG ◫ But the thing is, the dumb simplicity has been exploited, and the dumb simplicity is actually total genius non-human intelligence. Ants are almost blind and are completely stupid, but the really vicious red ants can bring down and strip a cow to its skeleton. They build intricate anthills. It’s all in the organization, which is determined by their genetic code (aha!) to respond to things like pheromones.
FS ◖ Which is in a way a not-so-dumb affective infrastructure?
MG ◫ Not really affective, more like lethal :-/ (at least in how it has been exploited). But then there are these intimate care bots, mostly made by and for the Japanese market (where, like in many other parts of Asia, animals and trees and robots are considered to have their own spirit. Like in 2006 when the Sony Aibo Robot Dog was discontinued, people had mass Shinto funeral rites). Many of these are soft and cuddly and sweet, and are shown to have actual therapeutic capabilities for people who are old and alone, autistic, suffering from dementia. The Paro bot has been around since 2003. It responds to your voice and body and posture, it makes sounds, and remembers which actions are positively rewarded. They are going to put Paro bots on spaceships to Mars to keep astronauts company. I think it is so fascinating how we are changing our ideas of companionship and intimacy. (Yay!)
I’ve recently become quite obsessed with how non-humans (real and imaginary, like Paro bots, and real-life dogs, and imaginary creatures like djinns and gods) offer intimacy, or a way of creating relational order. But it is really really difficult to talk about these things without falling into traps that are mostly created by science.
FS ◖ Yes, so let’s try. Can we think more about as you say, “ideas of companionship and intimacy” might be changing?
MG ◫ OK. Let me juxtapose some things that form a thread for me: priests having intimate online conversations with bots (I refer to the Ashley Madison case in the RobotLove item); old people with dementia being reassured by furry baby harp-seal like robots; accent recognition systems; deepfakes where your face or voice or entire body can be fully mapped and mimicked by software (or Barack Obama); and people alienated from each other because some of us feel the burden of affective labor more than others.
FS ◖But it seems in these examples the ideas of companionship are not so much changing, it is more the way they are practiced and experienced? I mean, the furries are still imagined to comfort the elderly, there is the old fear of being mimickable, the alienation by labor?
MG ◫ Here is the interesting thing. The priest assumed the Ashley Madison chat bot was a woman and not a bot. The old person with dementia may not know exactly that they’re being comforted by a robot baby harp seal. But the astronauts going to Mars certainly do—but they’re in an extreme and stressful situation. As you said before I think, we seem to be put off when the machine is too close to human in embodiment and we know it. We are judgmental of humanoid sex robots and the people who use them (another thing that is very popular among Chinese and Japanese men who are tired of their wives and relationships). So this is why I think the evolution of companionship with and through non-humans or affect through non-humans is interesting. I think there is a block when it comes to the human/humanoid, that’s why I said I think it is fraught to talk about humanoid robots.
FS ◖ I am intrigued by the obliqueness in many of the stories and images of companionship that have come up in and around this conversation on affective infrastructures. The dog in the car makes a “they” even if their shared vocabulary is limited. A naked woman touched by a giant man while she is being sort of consensually intoxicated. A priest that maybe wants to assume a woman on the other end, but who is not interested enough to confirm whether she actually is there or was not. A possibility for non-essentialist, partial relationships, emphasizing away from the idea that there would need to be equality, sameness, reciprocity, mirror for it to “work.” Other geometries of relation?
MG ◫ I really like this: “emphasizing away from the idea that there would need to be equality, sameness, reciprocity, mirror.” I find that in close and intimate relationships now I like to appreciate and acknowledge how difficult it is to manage power, and to find a way to give and receive care and love in conditions of dependency that happen for all kinds of reasons. It is humbling to rethink love in this way. This is why the deep reassurance you can get from petting your dog, or a sexy chatbot, is poignant for me.
> see also: RobotLove
The Quantified Self
MBJ ◐ The Quantified Self describes a self-tracking culture which engages in monitoring, analyzing, and sharing personal habits and functions. It assumes the motto “Self knowledge through numbers” implying that accuracy equates relevance. The movement is prominent among the start-up communities as a trusted way of increasing performance and achieving personal goals. While self-tracking concentrates on individual acts, it is performed socially because people share their data with others. [^self-tracking] Personal data related to wellness and health tirelessly circulate in an infrastructural maze of institutions, corporations, governments, and social networks. The public nature of this performance of personal statistics achieves a kind of monetary value. The enthusiasm for the Quantified Self reflects a desire of overcoming humanity, which is also strongly echoed by transhumanism. As a consequence of this pledge for human enhancement, sales of wearable devices and gadgets peak.
> see also: Mindfulness + yoga = "self care"
> see also: Diversity as measured by representation by emojis
Being unique online
> see also: Diversity as measured by representation by emojis
What it means to fall apart + be unavailable
TH ◩ Based on a very cursory survey of this year’s Venice architecture biennial, there is still an old-fashioned assumption that architecture should not fall apart. All except one brilliant pavilion about swamps (Lithuania’s “Swamp School”), which points out that so much of the violence inflicted in the name of colonialism has been “draining the swamp”, creating the infrastructure, sometimes literally the land, to support the new city. As I’ve written elsewhere, infrastructure is often a technology of stabilizing the future: of making things last over time (a levee that survives a “99 year flood”), etc. It’s nice to have counter-examples, as in the spongy ground they constructed, which literally gave way as I walked on it.
PO ◊ I would love to hear more about the stabilizing character of infrastructures you speak of. For me that goes in a completely opposite direction of what I think of affective infrastructures precisely because these for me imply contingency.
TH ◩ Yeah, I love the inherent paradoxes contained within the phrase “Affective Infrastructure”. Because most of the textbook definitions of infrastructure have to do with “public good,” or scale, or something else. Bridges, pipes, cables, airports, etc. And affect seems to exist on such a different time scale.
PO ◊ Exactly. This is why I think that to think of affective infrastructures is to think of another order of infrastructural work completely. Maybe I am too biased (yes, I am), but this entire conversation keeps reminding me of Glissant’s thinking because the way I visualize these infrastructures seem to me way more archipelagic than nodal. There is so much that is dependent on contingent (and often momentaneous or fleeting) forms of affective relationships that stabilizing it would be, to paraphrase Glissant, to render them immobile (or even, say, lethargic?).
TH ◩ What modes of encounter or relationality does Glissant’s idea of the archipelagic suggest?
PO ◊ My reading of his thinking as archipelagic relates mostly to how he’s coming back and forth with ideas of identity as essentially fragments provisionally put together in a set of fleeting relations. He alludes to the rhizomatic as well, but not so much as he does to his own locus of enunciation from the Caribbean—the multitude of islands, seemingly isolated from one another, yet part of this relational whole that might be attained when observed in a moving (not fixed) totality. This is what I see as affective infrastructures, this reaching out for a totality-in-movement that still retains its fragmented nature—hence the archipelagic.
> see also: Passivity and lethargy
Excusing your physical self + digital co-presence
FS ◖ The feminist server ... tries hard not to apologize when she is sometimes not available!
FM ◵ Well said! Here are some feminist internet-service infrastructures (which aren’t necessarily all female/gender non-conforming, but still technically protagonized by women, bound to feminist principles of the internet, and actively constructing the femservers network. It would be an even longer list if we considered including feminist infrastructures beyond feminist servers.)
> see also: Reframing the client-provider model
> see also: Delirious, imaginative, effective and always-available infrastructures
Reframing the client-provider model
(Maya Indira Ganesh transcribing for Nadège as she talks.) I am thinking of the experience of Kéfir as an Internet infrastructure provider that reframes the client-provider and “techie” model. Our work is two, three times more precarious in the sense that, even if we overcome the initial barrier of people expecting a “free, non-cost services” (data business model), the imaginary of digital infrastructure as constantly efficient and reliable is still dominant.
Thinking back to the last Internet Freedom Festival in Valencia, there was an exercise in which people were asked to choose what they would value in choosing an internet service provider. There were providers who offered the more traditional model based on a data business model, reliability, automation; and the other was a “human” one that was private by design, and in which you had access to your data. And the IFF is a gathering of activists who are already political about the internet and information flows. And they all chose the reliable, efficient, automated infrastructure.
The thing is, we want cooperativism, horizontalism, but to actually do that and change in that direction is very, very hard. There is a lot of activist work, mental work, there is work your body has to do. You see many people who are political about information or digital rights, but their bodies work at the same pace as the capitalist framework that their funding comes from.
Kéfir is in the middle space where we are trying to rethink infrastructure. I mean, we want to work less, obviously we want some automation to an extent, obviously we want to scale, but the price we have to pay for it—as providers of infrastructure—feels really high. If you scale up, you don’t relate to people. We don’t have online sign-ups, we don’t have an answering service. We will lose the connection with people if we do these things. This is a tension for us: the small gestures of connection, and how hard and heavy the work is to maintain that, to resist scaling.
One of the main breaking points for alternative infrastructures is that every single thing costs, every gigabyte costs something, and you have to deal with your clients and partners often violating the agreement of how much space to take. They may do it without malice, for example, uploading every photograph two times and not realizing it. It happens. As a critical, feminist service provider, how do you respond to this? Our approach is to just taking time to call people and talk to them and say “Hey, you’re doing this, can you review your material please and not take up space.” We don’t send emails to them. We want to take the time to connect to each other. It’s a different kind of work to relate to people who use your infrastructure.
> see also: Interdependent Independent Affective Infrastructures
Delirious, imaginative, effective and always-available infrastructures
MG ◫ In a slightly fevered way, here are the infrastructures (delirious, delicious [there is one letter difference between delirious and delicious] imaginative, effective, and always-available) I wish we had:
1. pretty little paper notepads with a pencil/pen next to them in all the places in your home that you stop at often, like the window looking on to the courtyard, so you can write down thoughts that you are bound to quickly forget.
2. Like a conch, but a number on your phone to call (for free) that plays the sound of any sea of your choosing.
> see also: Excusing your physical self + digital co-presence
Language as an infrastructure
DD ▱ “In spite of substantial and at some levels decisive continuities in grammar and vocabulary, no generation speaks quite the same language as its predecessors. The difference can be defined in terms of additions, deletions, and modifications, but these do not exhaust it. What really changes is something quite general, over a wide range, and the description that often fits the change best is the literary term ‘style.’ It is a general change, rather than a set of deliberate choices, yet choices can be deduced from it, as well as effects. Similar kinds of change can be observed in manners, dress, building, and other similar forms of social life.”
> see also: Academic (and other kinds of expert)languages
> see also: Tags as an infrastructure for cruising
> see also: #MeToo spreadsheets as an infrastructure
Academic (and other kinds of expert) languages
LC ▦ English as the de-facto academic language, the language of knowledge that circulates widely is one of the most ingrained affective infrastructures in my life and work it seems. That I cannot know things if I am thinking outside of English.
PO ◊ I am constantly reminded of that the more I try to think of my work (and explain it to others) in my native tongue. It is impossible to. There is a different set of grammar rules and vocabularies that are not immediately available to me because the order of my thoughts is already shaped by English. That for me is at the same time fascinating and disappointing, because it seems I am losing some aspects of what brings me “home”—and what makes this “home” to me. This I cannot disassociate with the story I was telling elsewhere of the telephone device—the assumption that we think, live, speak, and that our speech codes perform in a static manner—particularly when code switching becomes a matter of survival.
FM ◵ (I lost all my contributions on this etherpad so far and I also can’t chat.) Anyway, I love how phonetic languages (and also some of the pictorial/ideogrammatic) can work in a non-structured way to communicate ideas and feelings, by rearranging pieces of information that evolve certain concepts into a narrative. I can’t see vernacular language as playing any part in affective infrastructures, because etymology and rhetoric themselves carry a lot of structured, enclosed ways to comprise ideas and feelings. This revolves on the encapsulation issue—in that I like that Pedro Oliveira brings the concept of nesting as something structured, still open and modular. Although this applies to the very structure of language itself, which could (and should!), be extended, re-adapted and resignified through the most diverse expressions of culture and group behavior. It is still bound to a logical structure (semantics, syntaxes, contexts) so it can actually carry meaning. Logic is still subjective, and this means the very same sentence can carry different biases and interpretations for every person and for their own cultural subjectivities. The structure is always imposing this statement of an idea by one, even if the communications evolve into more comprehensive mechanics and methodologies for covering collective conversations, instead of classical dialogue, two-way communication structures.
Too much effort is put in to express an idea in an affective, assertive way when we’re inside this verbal structure of language, even if we constantly evolve the codex, it just makes things more complex and even more unaccessible from a colloquial perspective, which is still very colonizing for the sake of knowledge exchange. As much as we could share and explain concepts, it’s a very vertical and linear infrastructure of knowledge, data, and information, which couldn’t in any way cover the needs of horizontal and community infrastructures. Any efforts on constructing narratives and depicting events from a non-linear, non-personal construction of language should be considered precious towards a construction of any language as an affective infrastructure. Regarding this subject, counter-narratives as metalanguages and code poetry (regarding code as a language, in which computational code suffers from the same hazards), as also the construction of new affectional dialects such as archetype-based representations (which can be re-adapted to your own understanding of language and culture) or corporal/aesthetics-based expressions, in which both phonemes, gestures, and self-expressions account as meaningful communications, are essential to the comprehension of actual affective infrastructures (a parenthesis here to remember the studies regarding sign language alphabets and how they evolve into ways to develop affection and belonging even when symbols might be slightly—sometimes radically—different for other cultures, I can’t remember references though).
N ◈ I find this conversation a bit hard. It’s very academic, this emphasis on text and writing. It is difficult to get into it. I am not in tune with this way of working. But I am glad someone here is listening and understands that it might be hard for others to get into.
MG ◫ I know what you mean. I have spent the past 20 odd years being told by academics that I am not academic enough/too activist; and by activists that I am too academic, and not “simple” enough, or “real” enough. Both kinds of language have their own politics and practices of exclusion. And both are beset by these ideas of purity, and the proper way to do things. So all you can do, really, is to continue to keep pushing yourself into both places, to keep saying “See, this (this work, this project, or event) makes sense to you, doesn’t it? Even though it uses a form and language that you might consider alien or inappropriate, you can’t deny its rigor, its value.” I want to orient my work so I can keep saying this to both sides (sometimes there are three sides.) I do not think I will find acceptance within either space entirely.
> see also: Language as an infrastructure
> see also: Accent recognition systems + crime scene “kits”
> see also: Codes/Code switching
PO ◊ For me it becomes impossible not to bring Gloria Anzaldúa into this room. Her entire work and thinking of care and affect is predicated on code-switching as a method (for the production of knowledge but also of and for survival). Her work on the notion of nepantla I think is useful here: this malleable space of and for contradiction which emerges from encountering and dwelling in moments of instability (of the world but also of the self)—her own negotiation of not-belonging anywhere (white-Anglo spaces as a Latina, but also not belonging to a more “traditional” Latina space for being queer) makes her think of nepantla as the cracks between different realities. So for that code switching is imperative because of the many shapes language assumes to convey meaning. In her earlier work on borderlands she enumerates the many languages she speaks (Chicano Spanish, Mexican Spanish, Spanglish, English, Tejano Spanish, etc) and how each code connects her to different networks of identification and care. Particularly when we think of placed-ness and belonging I believe that code switching is a fundamental skill or asset one must develop—but I think this holds particularly true when we think of the emotional labor of crossing borders; becoming a multiple-self across expectations based on cultural/political/social assumptions versus not exactly belonging.^borderlands
> see also: language as an infrastructure
> see also: Academic (and other kinds of expert) languages
> see also: #MeToo spreadsheets as an infrastructure
MBJ ◐ Studies show that humans and other animals are genetically predisposed to react to a voice most similar to their primary caregivers. This attachment to a female voice is developed in the early stages of infancy.. Gender determined virtual voice assistants continue science fiction narratives, which have repeatedly portrayed (dis)embodied Artificial Intelligence as female (white femme fatale) androids, anthropomorphised technologies with a compliant tone that create a sense of intimacy.
Intelligent personal assistants with female voices, are projections of “pure” affect on to inanimate consumer products.
MG ◫ !Mediengruppe Bitnik have an installation, “Angels at Work,” based on the data from the Ashley Madison hack. Ashley Madison was a Canadian website for married people to have affairs. The thing is, the site had a significant gender asymmetry: there were almost no women on the site. So to correct this, Ashley Madison created 75,000 or so bots. Bots had scripts and names, locations and so on. In this work, Bitnik they give “embodiment” to some of these bots related to where the work was installed (so in the London installation they had the bots servicing users registered in London). I remember reading many articles after the hack of people who were exposed and what effect it had on them. I was especially taken by the story of a priest who was ashamed to have been exposed to his congregation and judged for his desires (not going to go into how Judeo-Christian religions set up as the self as the surveillance device and judge and jury). There was pure Schadenfreude at the hack and the exposures, especially of stories like this. I was just more taken with the reality of how people seek and find intimacy; and like it or not, people are finding this with automated scripts, which if you think about it, much of which come from ELIZA and Rogerian client centered therapy: standard, open, leading questions that make the “client” open up (and the resonances between the client seeking therapy, and the client seeking sex!).
> see also: Machines mimicking biological systems
Diversity as measured by representation by emojis
MG ◫ I read this fascinating article from someone who is involved in the process for how new emoij are introduced the other day which makes the point that if we really want to see “diversity” (as understood as some kind of mathematical formula), we will need to develop bigger and bigger keyboards. Everyone wants to be seen, it seems. Or, new features like being able to search for emoji, because you cannot “scroll past 52,000 emoji to get to the lion or baseball.” If you paid 72 dollar or 75 a year, you can join the Unicode Consortium and become part of the process, too. It’s one of my projects for 2019, just to become involved in affective infrastructures. ;-)
FS ◖ With a few companions, we once participated in the official feedback procedure of the Unicode Consortium. We were upset by the way the Unicode Consortium had implemented skin-color patches for emojis, and wrote a comment. It is a long story, but in 2014 Apple inc. launched their “glassy” emojis, shifting to more “realistic” representations of faces, objects, and situations. It was not a surprise that the sweet round faces they introduced, were all (besides one, “man with turban”) colored light pink so users started to complain and “demand diversity”. Apple outsourced that sticky problem to the Unicode Consortium, the standards body that governs the dominant infrastructure for character management in computers (Apple is part of Unicode, by the way). Without any reflection or feedback from anti-racist groups or diversity workers, Unicode quickly implemented five color patches that can be added to a subset of emojis. They work like ligatures: a + e = æ. Seen from the engineering of the standard, this was a perfectly reasonable solution. Seen from the actual use of emojis by diverse people, it showed how a glyph-management infrastructure like Unicode is not ready at all to cope with the complications of communicating across difference.
MG ◫ Is this a dimension of the Quantified Self?
FS ◖ In a perverse way, this “diversity solution” became a contribution to the Quantified Self —adding yet another way of self-labeling and self-categorization. And by using skin-color emojis, people now identify themselves as (allied with) non-white, which means they make themselves targetable as “ethnic affinity” group, a term that Facebook started to use around the same time.
> see also: The Quantified Self
> see also: Tags as an infrastructure for cruising
> see also: Being unique online
Taxonomy and keeping it messy
FS ◖ When the Study Circle met for the first time in Berlin, we spoke about examples of animals crossing taxonomic borders. I talked to Tung-Hui Hu about my father and how (as a catholic boy) he would be allowed to eat certain birds on Fridays and not other animals. Somehow in the Middle Ages, people believed that these birds grew on trees. The idea that this made them technically a kind of fruit conveniently stuck until last century at least. What is interesting to me about these taxonomic crossings is, that they are not about mess in opposition to taxonomy, but that they show that categories can also be generative infrastructures which allow shape-shifting and transformation.
MG ◫ I tend to think that dictates about our bodies and bodily functions is a site where “science” and “rationality” struggle with, or are seen as an answer or response to, folk wisdom, or traditional practice. Like, “Don’t eat fish on a Tuesday” actually has to do with when people work, and when the fish is delivered to the market, when the fishermen bring catch in. Fish rots from Saturday to Monday. No one fishes on Sunday. Or, don’t sleep like this, or bathe at that time, or whatever—maybe there is always some perfectly rational explanation for adhering to whatever we are told? Or maybe science picked up on folk wisdom and framed and presented it in a certain way.
Samoupravljanje / Autogestion / Self-management
FS ◖ There is something about the difference between the French word “gestion” and the anglophone “management”. And maybe also about combining “auto” and “self”?
FM ◵ I’m not going much on etymology, but “autogestion” when coming from French and Spanish, this tells me an entirely different approach than that we have for “autonomy”. In Brazil, unless we are into a more deep-dive discussion among people that experienced or studied other models of autogestion from other cultures, this term doesn’t usually arise, even when it’s used broadly in Latin-America. Every now and then, due to that, intuitively I think autogestion is not related to self-management or autonomy, but to the ability to provide a decentralized organization of some sort. Management, culturally, implies a certain sense of supervision, which still applies to autonomy as a whole concept since autonomy is not an auto-acquired ability (and couldn’t be for affective infrastructures because it would also imply ableism), but it does not apply to autogestion as a decentralized way to organize commons.
PO ◊ Fernanda Monteiro, could you expand a bit more on the last part you wrote? On autonomy as not being something that we can say it’s “tacit,” but more importantly its relation to the possibility of ableism within affective infrastructures? I think you opened up a very important thread there which deserves more attention!
Also, relating to your comment on autonomy as being fundamentally different from management—I couldn’t agree more! When this topic was brought up in our first meeting, I mentioned the necessity of looking at autonomy from a perspective which includes autonomy as self-government in consonance and mutual relationship with land, and for that I was thinking specifically of self-governing indigenous communities such as the Zapatistas. Their form of “autonomy” I think touches on ideas of “management” and “government,” but more with regards to their relationship with the land and to the sense of community rather than the sense of supervision you speak of. So I think that within indigenous knowledges there might be a different form of autonomy at play which is dependent on acknowledging land as an infrastructural component of these affective relationships. It also brought to the conversation this apparent dichotomy between dependency and autonomy which when one thinks of this mode of relation with land, ceases to be dichotomy at all because it is, in a sense, self-evident (or at least I believe it is).
FM ◵ Absolutely! When talking about autonomy, from my experiences on decentralized collectivity, we often get a strong sense of lending or exchanging knowledges/resources which might enable people to get their hands and minds working on new skills, from a still teachery perspective (the one who aids and the one who learns), even when it’s built on self-care approaches. The placement of the “self”, even if it’s complementary to “care”— which regardless of the autonomous perspective—needs to be collective. This is important in order to not reproduce both gender and psychosocial stereotypes as the “caring mother” or the sensation of loneliness which produces social archetypes as “the all made person” or the "do-ocrat" that are both meritocratic approaches (regardless if they are into a capitalist or libertarian sense of anarchy) that contribute to the wrong application of a DIY culture. It usually considers learning curves as just pedagogical or social aspects, instead of conditions based on belonging, sometimes considering social, racial, and gender markers, but not individual condition markers as neuropsychological models, generational dynamics, need for assistive technologies and methodologies for handicapping.
> see also: The Commons
Tags as an infrastructure for cruising
FS ◖ Yesterday a feminist friend explained me her research on tags used in online pornography. She said: “Tags are an infrastructure for cruising!”
LC ▦ This is reminiscent of the hanky code right? Where those cruising in public or in a queer space index their desires and interests with a particular hanky color and a particular positioning (left back pocket or right back pocket). What strikes me as different and troubling about tags as an infrastructure of cruising is, how tags can be used for ease of surveillance and are part of an archive in a way the hanky code is much more contingent and ephemeral and also a way of being seen evasively. There’s a camouflage aspect to public cruising. How do we camouflage our desires and intents online?
MG ◫ In Delhi in the 1990s for lesbians it was a rose on the table, never in a vase.
> see also: Diversity as measured by representation by emojis
> see also: Foraging and Cruising
> see also: Language as an infrastructure
Interdependent Independent Affective Infrastructures
FS ◖ Some of the Free/Libre and Open Source tools and services that bind this conversation: a mailing list (Mailman) and a file-sharing service (Owncloud) hosted by transmediale, an online editor for collaborative editing (etherpad) installed and maintained by Constant, a conferencing tool provided by Framasoft (Jitsi Meet), an event-scheduling poll (Dudle) at the Technische Universität Dresden plus various shadow libraries (LibGen, Sci-Hub, Memory of the world, Monoskop) that provide access to many of the books and articles we read. Each of these tools are taken care of by independent groups, that depend on different politics and economies, but somehow they link together into an infrastructure.
> see also: Reframing the client-server model
LC ▦ Thinking the commons also makes me think what might be at the moment its kind of conceptual opposite, the home. Home is the opposite when it is figured as the private domestic sphere; it takes a lot of ideological work to preserve this image of it as such. A lot of the work of making the home private is dependent on the obscuring of affective infrastructures (care work, social reproduction). I’m thinking of home also because I woke up to text messages from my partner who is currently living very far away and she was thinking of “unhoming” as one way to conceptualize colonialism and its relation to the processes of slavery; and other violent ways whiteness has constructed a place for itself on the globe by making other places impossible to inhabit as home. The possibility for the commons has been decimated by enclosure and extraction and enforcement—by the unhoming of indigenous peoples and others with alternative communal relationships to land.
PO ◊ I really like how you pose this: “A lot of the work of making the home private is dependent on the obscuring of affective infrastructures”—I often think of the subdivision of domestic space as also being informed by how sound travels, and which sounds are associated with which structural components of hinge off the concept of the “nuclear family” in the context of the European bourgeois(i)e (I can’t write that word for the life of me), the creation of the private study for the patriarch separated from “noisy” spaces of the kitchen (in which women and subaltern others would, in fact, provide the means for the idea of “home” to be sustained). How the idea of “home” is constantly detached from the idea of care and community and oriented more towards the private, “ur-space” of property and possession.
This reminds me also a lot of Édouard Glissant when he speaks of filiation; of how rooting oneself into space (and for that we can think of colonialism and private property intertwined with the settling of said space) also perpetuates the idea of a line of filiation, entangled with time/history, which in turn legitimizes a certain kind of “purity” (racial, ethnic, or otherwise) which would go precisely against the idea of a commons in the first place.
LC ▦ I’m so happy you brought up Glissant because I have been thinking through precisely this question of the root and the possibility of reconciling the root and the rhizome, of finding placed-ness without settlement and property. What kind of desires and feelings of belonging can we maintain that are not predicated on violent structures of nationalism and border-making?
PO ◊ I think that could be interrelated with ideas on encapsulation and nesting we were discussing elsewhere; encapsulation is a strong physical and visual gesture—just think of your hand closing in order to grab, say, a cup. How to comprehend something (or belong somewhere) is often associated with this act of grasping as comprehension. This act of “enclosing” is also important for Glissant because he sees that as the act of “grasping”—both in the physical but also in the intellectual sense—that is how to comprehend something (or belong somewhere) is often associated with this act of grasping as comprehension. In that sense I found it extremely beautiful how he proposes the donner avec (which was translated by Betsy Wing as “giving-on-and-with,” a rather confusing yet self-explanatory terminology, which dwells on the fringes of the meaning-making process that French or other Latin languages may have and do). So donner avec implies the web of relations one must enter in order to belong without appropriating, to engage in this process of Relation, with a capital R, that *could* potentially address the idea of placed-ness without property. I cannot help but think of this donner avec as a potential for establishing an affective infrastructure predicated on ideas of listening, care (thinking-with and dissenting-within as Puig de la Bellacasa discusses). And other hidden codes which do not necessarily need to emerge as words, finished thoughts, or even semantics. The nod, the glance exchanged, the deep breathing people often exchange with one another that transcends the necessity of making-sense-of, but nevertheless create the conditions for a placed-ness without rooting.
Now as I type this my shuffle graces me with the Tony Allen song “Kindness”—in which they repeatedly sing “don’t take my kindness for weakness.” Quite fitting for the subject at hand ...
> see also: Samoupravljanje / Autogestion / Self-management
> see also: Stabilizing bodies through affects