Our Woven Networks

natacha
May 21

Après 2 mois passés à Prendre Soin sur ps et à poursuivre plusieurs réflexions sur la virologie et les féminismes, il est vraiment temps de clôturer cette période et voici une proposition qui nous ramènera peut-être à nouveau vers THX, elle a été démarrée dans la section de virologie mais passant de l’idée de contamination à celle transmission elle pose la question de nos réseaux de soin.

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Here we are, our social space has been preempted by a war rationale, and solidarity spaces are acted out by politicians speaking about sacrifice to the benefit of a non-determined community.

I refuse, like many others, to consider care and solidarity as sacrifices: they are mutual relations at the basis of society, they enrich all participants. While it seems there is quite a consensus on the necessity to acknowledge the importance of “essential workers” there is little publicly visible reflection on the nature of care as a complex and political notion (Tronto 2018[1]). Advocating for a reevaluation of professions that are fundamental to society is important and does not preclude acknowledging and understanding a position that aims to clarify what we call our relation to the world, on the basis of caring practices, placing those at the heart of human organization, as they effectively always have been. petites singularités contributed by maintaining a space on our forum where we could invite collective and care initiatives in times of pandemics and eventually gather our thinking around their qualities, models and modalities, and support their organization providing adequate online tools.

Organization is a strategy of alliances, it does not only engage humans as the construction of our systems happens across different species and all elements. Nonetheless while most ontologies of the non-human do not seize the human politics that dominate them, specific elements, like the virus – historically because of it pervasiveness and the difficulty to seize and control it – tends to be a point where different discourses are tied. Some are hygienist (some would say eugenicist), others focus on the qualities of the virus itself, its capacity to mutate, to propagate or the very uniqueness of its form of life as it attaches to an organism in order to live rather then having a life of its own. Elisabeth Povinelli explains the virus exists as a modality of the non-living to create alliances with the living (Povinelli 2016[2]). She uses the virus as a figure in her Geontologies where she coins geontopower, as the capacity to define what is alive. Across her studies, she presents a relation to the world that engages many different physical states in different alliances, despite and across actual settler colonial domination and associated geontopower.

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What form or geometry can those different alliances take? Many arguments have been held about their route within groups and the possible spheres of interference. Povinelli, in her “anthropology of the otherwise” presents them as embagged spaces, she reminds us that “all embagged spaces are the result of not merely two strings hanging from the end of an open, if concealed mouth, but many strings tying and retying the body and its contents.” [3]

The question then becomes, are our organizations woven? And if so, where are the existing alliances and transformative spaces? I situate the “we” with exising groups endowed with tools for critical political thought, with shared lifestyles, with independent digital tools, who are in many respects privileged among occidental society. We have as well, although less violently than others, been entrapped in a “global pandemia”, in which liminal spaces do we situate our collective apprenticeship during the collective trauma we are traversing? What forms of organization are happening that countered the crisis and rather than claiming resilience, offer perennial propositions and open paths for research? Maybe the virus itself can help us identify some paths. We will try to follow it along its alliances with human organizations woven throuh systems of power and resistance organizations, using several viral and human vectors and observing their existence in time: Trust and Solidarity, Trans-Border Experiences, Transmission or Contamination, Mutation, Knowledge Sharing Infrastructure.

Trust and Solidarity

In the Spring of 2020, brutal information was fed to us via this on line map presenting an absolute number of deaths, country by country ; astonished, each one of us in our own gaze considered this information distilled to us in an unreal fashion. But, as we were forcibly brought into a paranoiac personal responsibility for the life of others, while our community organizations were officially dismissed by the crisis, a call was humming around the network: to not give up and to build further on our existing collective organizations an alliances. Despite or maybe in reaction to this situation, relations did recompose along our physical and on-line communities, many important initiatives started and hopefully will last. In my gaze it felt that despite the almost omnipresent governmental presence, human networks took a measure of their importance and along the course of confinement we saw the buildup of the lines of many solidarity networks, not only because we benevolently provided necessary goods for each-other, but also because we shared opinions, information, and a lot of imaginations along the modalities of our existing independent infrastructures, trusting each other, across borders. These, like everything that happened, did not emerge now out of nowhere, those networks and their infrastructure existed before, they were intertwined and tied within the organization of liberal societies, in different forms and flux within our groups and through individuals.

As physical flux are constrained in our houses exacerbating existing hierarchies inequities, social constraints, as well as giving the occasion to some of us to confirm the richness of our differences and affirm the benefit of collective life choices, ground new network organization, exacerbate our need to share practices of care. Enclosed in our living spaces we joined our different flux in a possible tentative to recombine information, apparently experts think this can be accounted for, and the famous imperial study models that drove many political decisions counted that confinement augmented the contacts between people living in a same family by 25% increasing by as much the chances of contamination (they did not say what happened if people sharing the house were not from the same family), I do not know what kind of relational scheme they choose to reach this conclusion, but I am certain I do not feel any correspondence with it. And as virology entered in private spaces, many were hardly isolated, and others had to discuss with their cohabitants, co-parents etc… a practical agreement about their intimate lives, but collective spaces where large group of people were organised in a shared habitat were a de facto challenge to the notion of confinement. This situation also does not comes as a hasard, (as everything that occured during those times), it is the product of a long reflexion about indidvidual and collective practices that have helped to develop resilient collective spaces as a response to the forced individualisation of capitalism.

Trans-Border Experiences

The context of sudden unity brought by the virus as governments called out for solidarity to bind the curve despite their commitment to necropolitics in the capitalist economy, is being transcended by reclaiming the streets and collective mobilization. The intensity of what we see happening supporting the Black Lives Matter movement is grounded into a history of mobilizations and organizations that we acknowledge, in solidarity, while keeping in mind that advanced capitalism is invested in the practice of necropolitics as an organizational strategy.

As Mbembe claims “The universal right to breathe”[4] in a hunch of what will become a slogan called by million of voices: “I can’t breathe”, he warns us of the possible brutality that might happen as a follow up of actual crisis. Brutalism, explains Mbembe, is “as a contemporary process” whereby “power is henceforth constituted, expressed, reconfigured, acts and reproduces itself as a geomorphic force.” How so? Through processes that include “fracturing and fissuring,”[5], “emptying vessels,” “drilling,” and “expelling organic matter,” in a word, by what I term “depletion”. The assemblage we need to bring forth is above and further of existing organizations and activist collectives, reconstructing a habitable earth is a transborder task it cannot obey the limitations of consciousness imposed by nationalist history, to think our invisible bind across lives and spaces and as Mbembe says: " Perhaps that is the question – the very last – before we draw our last dying breath."

Transmission or Contamination

“We are the Virus”, this meme circulated a lot over the past weeks, signifying: we are the ones who are a nuisance (in this case to ecology). Strangely enough to me it had a completely different connotation, in the XXth century, I remember a group of friends calling themselves “Les Virus” considering the possibilities to contaminate what they considered a society full of prejudice. Virus was a metaphor for the possibilities to transmit ideas across immunity borders of social structures. How did the metaphor of the virus transformed from penetrating into a system into transferring social responsibility to the individual who becomes responsible of the national well being? What type of agent transformed our relation to health in an individual responsibility detached from existing social organization? An agential cut (Barad 2007[6]) in this systematic individualization would be to rework our notions towards transmission of care, information and support rather than cutting contamination.

By such divisive affirmations we continue to consider ourselves outsiders from the social and ecological systems we build. Indeed just like the virus, we, occidentals, will not be eliminated, even if access to an easy lifestyle is already constrained to a shrinking number of people, it seems it continues to adopt and promote the same protectionist discourse that promotes borders instead of solidarity.
On the contrary as networks form to support our human and caring organizations, they take multiple different intertwined forms that do not account for barriers and “contamination is definitely part of the equation.” [7] explains Femke Snelting while relating a group quest for affective networks, where she examines “diffractive topologies and interconnected surfaces”.

In the current situation we have been observing transmission routes and developing barriers to protect us from contamination, what would then be the other geometries and invisibility relational organizations that have been efficient in the past 2 months. In The Mushroom at the End of the World, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing[8] asks: ‘How does a gathering become a “happening”, that is, greater than a sum of its parts? One answer is contamination. We are contaminated by our encounters; they change who we are as we make way for others. As contamination changes world-making projects, mutual worlds – and new directions – may emerge.’

Mutation

Following the mutating virus we could seek for the liminality of those mutations: where did we transform to the point that we have no choice but to accept to let our loved ones die alone because laws and regulations force us to do so? Why, while help and care provide reliable infrastructures preventing us collectively from contamination, do we keep constrained by rules and regulations that only enforce separation and abandonment? The geometry of the relation marks the necessity of differentiated strategies to maintain our humanity and to continue accessing to different agencies.

This transformation started at a moment when many places in the world felt on the turning point as demonstrations were gaining traction with so many people involved. When suddenly our solidarity networks mutated like all of us it feels they have both relocalized and focused on the immediate needs of practical local solidarity and emergency needs, and created resonances across borders as strategies repeated everywhere. Maybe it is now the moment to look for new forms that might be emerging and can help redefine our possibilities to address geontopower (Povinelli 2016[3:1]) following the mutations provoked by the virus.

The sanitary discourse presents a unified corporeal view of our society where each identified atomic individual is equally responsible for the transmission of diseases. On the contrary, experiencing the world resembles more to interrelated intra-acting phenomena that constantly reconfigure relations and individuals iteratively (Barad 2007[6:1]). The formations that provide care are equally transformative and this has been seized by apparatuses that feedback to different communities, such as autonomous networks and resistance organizations.

As Prendre Soin is grounded on different experiences engaged with petites singularités exploring modalities of collaboration across a Third TechnoScape (3TS[9]) – engaging technology across resistance initiatives. From past experience and exchanges we can maybe pull out a few possibilities:

Knowledge Sharing Infrastructure

3TS has materialized in many ways during those months of Spring 2020: while discussing issues of care and labor, talking about happiness and pain, conversations with resistance initiatives derived to the technological society, and concrete needs appeared. The imposed commitment to online encounters bore consequences, raised a number of otherwise easily overlooked issues such as the necessity to gain some practical autonomy, and a sense of privacy, in their technological practice.
In the continuation of 3TS we personally engaged in the groups who were stepping up partly because of the necessity to understand their needs and share our processes, practices, materialized by technological propositions; and also to question the intricacies of technology in most of the domains of activity.

More than ever it appeared that the intrications of practices were forming a zone of diversity embedded in our societies so does our premise of 3TS – participating in & intricate of an element of organization, a step aside and within late capitalism.
Rosi Braidotti differs from Elizabeth Povinelli in that she considers the notion of life itself as a reproductive force, although she also considers that advanced capitalism happens across life and non life, that it commodifies and furthermore integrates into the posthuman all those aspects.
‘This context produces a paradoxical and rather opportunistic form of post-anthropocentrism on the part of market forces which happily trade on life itself’(Braidotti 2013[10]). This interwoven condition is that same as our infrastructures that inhabit through our bodies and human systems mixed impure and yet this is the place where we can be active. When Braidotti presents us the Posthuman, she explains the current becoming machine as the subject that bonds with multiple others merging with a “technologically mediated planetary environment” this environment is equally embedded in settler colonialism, and home to a number of poaches of resistance, 3TS; that we participate to by building knowledge sharing infrastructure in free software. This network has no specific shape is existing in interrelated ways solidifies itself in times of crisis, and is embedded into other forms of organizations. This is where we can and choose to act from.


  1. Joan C. Tronto, Care as a political concept in Revisioning the Political: Feminist Reconstructions of Traditional Concepts in Western Political Theory (pp. 139-156), Taylor and Francis, 2018 https://doi.org/10.4324/9780429497612 ↩︎

  2. Elizabeth Povinelli, Geontologies: A Requiem to Late Liberalism, Duke University Press, 2016. ↩︎

  3. Elizabeth Povinelli, Routes/Worlds in e-flux N°27, September 2011 https://www.e-flux.com/journal/27/67991/routes-worlds/ ↩︎ ↩︎

  4. Achille Mbembe, The Universal Right to Breathe, Critical Inquiry, 04/13/2020 ↩︎

  5. Achille Mbembe, Brutalisme [Paris, 2020], pp. 9, 10, 11). ↩︎

  6. Karen Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway, Duke University Press, 2007 ↩︎ ↩︎

  7. Femke Snelting, Other Geometries, in Endings and new Becomings https://networkcultures.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/TheEternalNetwork.pdf ↩︎

  8. Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins, Princeton University Press, 2015 ↩︎

  9. Natacha Roussel & hellekin, Singular Technologies and the Third TechnoScape, in Journal of Peer Production #11 Cities, 2017 https://ps.zoethical.org/pub/singular-technologies-and-the-third-technoscape ↩︎

  10. Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman, Polity Press, Cambridge, 180 pp., 2013 ↩︎