Peripheral politics

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Peripheral politics

A workshop with Helen V. Pritchard and Femke Snelting

"As such, urban politics will largely be a peripheral politics, not only a politics at the periphery, but a politics whose practices must be divested of many of the assumptions that it derived from the primacy of 'the city'.”[1]

During this on-line session, we worked with eight conversations on infrastructural shifts that TITiPI had organised with companions in the months before. To attending to the stories that were told and the surprising details that came up through the rhythm of three refrains, was an attempt to listen for the experiences of living with infrastructure but also for other worlds of radical care and different temporalities not defined by Big Tech infrastructure nor by academic methods, worlds that are already here, that are already being practiced.

In this workshop, we tried not to fall for the suggestion of a coding or analysis that might make sense of transcripts from the outside, we listened together to generate a poetic-theory of infrastructure. We generated an understanding that was feeling into the surges of life, or what AbdouMaliq Simone calls "the rhythms of endurance with infrastructure".[2]

We borrowed the idea of 'refrain' from Kara Keeling who suggests that we need to be attentive to another world that is possible because it is already here.[3] Sensing the different organizations of things, different systems of signification and value, so much so that it might give way to the another world. Sung in the refrains with other temporalities and coordinates, yet already here.[4]

Perhaps this world gives way in the peripheries, AbdouMaliq Simone reminds us of the importance of what he calls a 'peripheral politics', of a-centric practices and rhythms: "[s]urges of rhythm emerges from attempts to reach beyond the confines of limited places and routines, and yet retains a microscopic view of the constantly surprising details about the places that could be left behind".[5]

The workshop 'Peripheral Politics' was a way to organise and categorise research material not based on the extraction of meaning but on the collective listening and responding-too through a set of interconnected prompts. The transcriptions opened up onto urgencies, repetitions of stories, giving ways to other worlds, partially told.

Peripheral listening

  • Hold a series of open conversations with companions and associates on a subject matter that is felt as urgent, but which is not yet fully seen or comprehended.
  • Transcribe the conversations or ask a companion to do so.
  • Invite everyone that participated in the conversation for a two hour workshop.
  • To keep a shared rhythm whilst reading, propose a set of three 'refrains' as things to hold while reading, listening and responding to the material. These 'refrains' can be quotes, phrases or aphorisms that intuitively resonate with the transcriptions.
  • Publish each conversation on an on-line notepad such as etherpad, or print them out on paper in case you are all in the same room.
  • Split up in small groups (two or three people) and chose one conversation. In case of an on-line workshop, also open a channel by which you can hear each other. Many on-line video-services have a breakout-room feature but this adds a layer of efficient management that might be blocking the exercise.
  • Choose together one of the refrains to hold on to.
  • One person reads the conversation out loud while the others use the chat function to simultaneously associate, rhyme and respond alongside the conversation. For IRL, use pen and paper.
  • Experiment with selecting parts of the interviews through a collective process that resisted more extractivist ways of coding, sorting and labeling.
  • Create a series of poetic openings and peripheral attention in the margins of the transcripts by listening to to the material in this indirect way.
  • After 20-30 mins, take a short break and change roles at least once.
  • If you've got time, regroup and refrain another conversation using the same method.
  • Come back together and discuss.

A typographical layout of the refrains in three columns

Refrain to hold on to: beginnings that happen in the middle of things

a little song, a nocturnal creation myth or ‘sketch’ in the middle [...]; it is not a genesis story of the logos and light, but a song of germination in darkness [...] I begin with it because doing so calls attention to the improvisational elements of any beginning, which always happens in the middle of other things.

Kara Keeling, Queer Times, Black Futures

Refrain to hold on to: making the most of the hinge

Here, the surge as rhythm emerges from attempts to reach beyond the confines of limited places and routines, and yet retains a microscopic view of the constantly surprising details about the places that could be left behind. This is a rhythm of endurance, of surging forward and withdrawing. It is not a rhythm of endless becoming nor of staying put; it is making the most of the “hinge,” of knowing how to move and think through various angles while being fully aware of the constraints, the durability of those things that are “bad for us” (Stoler 2016).

AbdouMaliq Simone, Improvised Lives

Refrain to hold on to: start with the small things, while keeping in mind the big ones

Any "archipelagic" thought is a trembling thinking, it is about not-presuming, but also about opening and sharing. We do not need to define a Federations of States first, or to install administrative and institutional orders. It already begins its work of entanglement everywhere, without being concerned with establishing preconditions. As far as our relations in the Archipelago are concerned, let us start with the small things, while keeping in mind the big ones.' (Toute pensée archipélique est pensée du tremblement, de la non-présomption, mais aussi de l'ouverture et du partage. Elle n'exige pas qu'on définisse d'abord des Fédérations d'États, des ordres administratifs et institutionnels, elle commence partout son travail d'emmêlement, sans se mêler de poser des préalables. S'agissant de nos rapports dans l'Archipel, commençons par les petites choses, tout en ayant en l'esprit les grandes.)

Edouard Glissant, Traité du tout monde

Print out refrains:

Transcript marginalia from the workshop

Refrain: "start with the small things, while keeping in mind the big ones"

  • F: among the group is in your world
  • F: everywhere ceasing the moment
  • F: many chats i am in
  • F: multiplicity access points
  • F: distributing power
  • F: (i am losing your voice...)
  • F: a secret account
  • F: not a time of purity
  • Y: you are assigned a character
  • Y: make the best of what was around
  • Y: repurpose tools
  • Y: continue gathering despite restrictions
  • Y: staying connected to the community
  • Y: think about who else may benefit from resources
  • Y: recurrence, word of mouth gives rise to solidarity
  • F: starting a month after
  • F: confused joining, solidarity based on that
  • F: a union with new people starting on chat
  • F: it starts with someone needing a hammer
  • F: it starts with someone needing a test
  • F: it started with people having trouble paying rent
  • F: it started with things that did not stop
  • F: it started on tuesday
  • F: a chat and doubt
  • F: releasing documents
  • F: organizing that starts with a stat
  • F: chat
  • F: it starts with breaking up
  • F: intensity of seeing the fascists (not) go
  • F: tech and having time

Refrain: "making the most of the hinge"

  • H: waves of the lunch break
  • H: closely connected
  • H: what technology does in a particular situation
  • H: not the generic one
  • H: ongoing work
  • H: being between many projects that are close too
  • H: processing ways
  • H: vernacular play
  • H: collective moments of togetherness
  • H: collective infra.. the act of doing
  • U: hinge: capacity/ongoingness/different frames
  • U: they get funds for doing ceretin kind of work
  • U: on the one hand
  • U: on the other hand
  • U: not really a coincidence
  • U: exchanging ways tactics for refusal
  • U: at the same time have been really amazed
  • U: they are just right at surface
  • U: even though we don t see them
  • U: are we funding these interactions
  • U: feeding back into funding
  • U: ////
  • H: --live experience of the hinge--
  • H: --reshaping one hinge into another---
  • H: not a conincidence
  • H: contradictions come with it
  • H: if you decided to be the displacement between different places. people, you maintain this there is always contradictions you are holding onto something
  • H: working as a hinge
  • H: bringing it up
  • H: rather than being an underground hinge
  • U: different infrastructures were the hinges
  • H: carries weight to make the movement possible
  • H: out of proportion movement possible
  • H: //////
  • H: our relationships
  • H: shock level
  • H: shock crisis
  • H: looking out for each other
  • H: confidence of fascism
  • H: ---
  • H: spending money and how it creates oppositional to your wellbeing
  • H: the school, the funding,
  • H: how close to supporting this movement
  • H: chicken sandwiches
  • H: chickfill a funding inserruction
  • H: where is my money being spent going
  • H: to the radical institutions that work against me
  • H: this moment has made everyone stop and consider where the money
  • H: --- through the chicken s/w story---
  • H: the hinge becomes visible
  • H: by making it into a story you are making the most out the uncovering the hinge
  • U: a lot of work lately, this mic
  • U: there is no real prescription
  • U: training in on sylvia winter
  • U: (AI)
  • U: these walls are problematic now with COVID
  • U: we also need
  • U: making people comfortable
  • U: have to do something either way
  • U: maybe classroom is the garden
  • U: sylvia wynter is the hinge
  • U: making the most of something
  • U: even though crushed in this hinge
  • U: we are gonna have to do something
  • H: Sylvia Wynter as the hinge

Refrain: "making the most of the hinge"

  • H: it seems important the awareness of the constraints
  • H: as that isn't always there
  • H: organsiing through fb there is a degree of accepting the problematic parts because the trade is neccessary
  • H: it comes with a frame that might twist against you
  • M: hinge that can empower to think beyond the frame/constraints?
  • H: being aware that whilst looking through the different angles
  • M: in this case fb is the frame, oraganizing is the hinge
  • M: taking care of eache other during the demonstrations
  • M: doing the right thing partially
  • M: close to each other
  • M: different ways of doing food distributions anyway
  • M: big lineups outside
  • M: everymorning a good morning
  • M: daily hope og trying to keep hope alive
  • M: started basic stuff
  • M: impressed by the tenacity
  • M: people were not allowed to gather
  • M: and they did it anyway in didferent ways
  • M: managed to do it in a way that was respectful
  • M: deliver food
  • M: families who couldn't make it or who had quite a lot
  • M: emojis are undervalues [laughs]
  • M: they have not given up on their families
  • M: outside the scope of the state because it was needed
  • H: not hiding for what is the basic keeping in touch
  • H: sending hearts as a daily refusal of the state
  • H: included laughter

Refrain: "beginnings that happen in the middle of things"

  • F: always with these things
  • C: angled points
  • F: already important
  • C: complicit kinship
  • F: waiting not waiting not to be repatriatiated
  • C: implicit level of technology
  • F: accelerated means able to organise
  • C: own lived experience with technology (as a shifting, trembling thing)
  • F: being exposed to
  • F: since it arrived it shifted it is different
  • C: shifted by the pandemic
  • C: crisis as a moment to atomise that does not lead to resistance
  • F: when it is like that there is no resistance
  • F: when it happened here
  • C: similar things happening in other parts of the world
  • F: when it happened in other places in the world
  • F: when it happened on the street
  1. AbdouMaliq Simone, Improvised Lives (Polity Press, 2019)
  2. Simone, Improvised Lives.
  3. Kara Keeling, Queer Times, Black Futures (New York: New York University Press, 2019).
  4. "The generative proposition another world is possible, the insistence that such a world already is here now and it listens, with others, for the poetry, the refrains, the rhythms, and the noise such a world is making." (Keeling, Queer Times, Black Futures)
  5. Simone, Improvised Lives