Readers
Contamination
9 essays
Compiled by Önder Özengi

Contamination is a concept that is commonly used defining being in a situation where one is affected by a relation—a relation that transforms one’s existing positions into un/predictable ones. For anthropologist Anna Tsing, contamination is the answer to how gathering became happening; it works through collaboration; without it we all die.

Contamination is related to being in a transformative relation with a thing/human/non-human, being vulnerable to others, and an unavoidable need for collaboration. Precarity appears here not only as a lack of stable relation based on dependency to others, but also the condition of being that puts indeterminate collaboration and interdependent relations necessarily in the play.

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Elizabeth A. Povinelli
Routes/Worlds
Originally published in September 2011

For some time, I have been interested in developing an anthropology of the otherwise. This anthropology locates itself within forms of life that are at odds with dominant, and dominating, modes of being. One can often tell when or where one of these forms of life has emerged, because it typically produces an immunological response in the host mode of being. In other words, when a form of life emerges contrary to dominant modes of social being, the dominant mode experiences this form as inside and yet foreign to its body. For some, the dominant image of this mode of interior exteriority is the Mobius strip, for others the rhizome, and still others the parasite. But what if the dominant visual metaphor of the anthropology of the otherwise were a woven bag?

Donna Haraway
Tentacular Thinking: Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene
Originally published in September 2016

We are all lichens.
— Scott Gilbert, “We Are All Lichens Now”

Think we must. We must think.
—Stengers and Despret, Women Who Make a Fuss

María Iñigo Clavo
Modernity vs. Epistemodiversity
Originally published in May 2016

It is a hallmark of postcolonial theory to question selective, self-flattering accounts of European modernity. Postcolonial theorists from both Europe and the rest of the world have illustrated how ideals of emancipation, equality, freedom, and scientific and industrial development were only possible through their opposites: colonial exploitation, inequality, slavery, torture, and suffering in the Global South. That’s why, during the 1990s, theorists felt it was necessary to insist that coloniality was the other face of modernity, the “dark side of the renaissance,” as Walter Mignolo famously put it.

Paul Chan
The Unthinkable Community
Originally published in May 2010

In Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, two men wait by the side of a country road for a man who never comes. If done right, that is to say, if done with humor, fortitude, and a whiff of desperation, the play is as contemporary, funny, precise, courageous, and unknowable as I imagine it was back in 1952, when the play premiered in Paris.

Isabell Lorey
Becoming Common: Precarization as Political Constituting
Originally published in June 2010

The discourse on precarization that has emerged in the past decade, primarily in Europe, rests on an extremely complex understanding of social insecurity and its productivity. The various strands of this discourse have been brought together again and again in the context of the European precarious movement organized under EuroMayDay. This transnational movement, in existence since the early 2000s, thematizes precarious working and living conditions as the starting point for political struggles and seeks possibilities for political action in neoliberal conditions. What is unusual about this social movement is not only the way in which under its auspices new forms of political struggles are tested and new perspectives on precarization developed; rather—and this is striking in relation to other social movements—it is how it has queered the seemingly disparate fields of the cultural and the political again and again. In the past decade, conversations concerning both the (partly subversive) knowledge of the precarious, and a search for commons (in order to constitute the political), has conspicuously taken place more often in art institutions than in social, political, or even academic contexts.

Antke Engel
Desire for/within Economic Transformation
Originally published in June 2010

With The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It) (1996), J. K. Gibson-Graham won the hearts of many socialist, post-socialist, and queer-feminist readers. The book’s main argument is that new possibilities for economic transformation will arise once we no longer understand capitalism as a monolithic entity or as covering the whole range of existing economic practices. The argument is taken up again in the more recent book A Postcapitalist Politics: “As we begin to conceptualize contingent relationships where invariant logics once reigned, the economy loses its character as an asocial body in lawful motion and instead becomes a space of recognition and negotiation.” Gibson-Graham work systematically to establish the conditions for thinking through economy by other means, for developing other economies. In order to do so they combine a Foucauldian approach that focuses on self-technologies as a means of reproducing and/or transforming power relations and modes of governance, with “a counter-hegemonic project of constructing ‘other’ economies.”

Gean Moreno and Ernesto Oroza
Learning from Little Haiti
Originally published in May 2009

It is at work everywhere, functioning smoothly at times, at others in fits and starts: an urban process in which things designed for one particular function are used for another. A standard stock of materials suddenly confronts a logic of construction that reinterprets it completely in uses and contexts that were never imagined for it. At times, this combinatorial propensity—even promiscuity—lying dormant in various artifacts and materials is fired up to such a degree that the apparent inevitability of established typologies and uses are undermined completely.

Carol Yinghua Lu
Don’t Stop: Doing Art Potluck Style
Originally published in April 2009

 

 

Martha Rosler
Take the Money and Run? Can Political and Socio-critical Art “Survive”?
Originally published in January 2010

Just a few months before the real estate market brought down much of the world economy, taking the art market with it, I was asked to respond to the question whether “political and socio-critical art” can survive in an overheated market environment. Two years on, this may be a good moment to revisit the parameters of such work (now that the fascination with large-scale, bravura, high wow-factor work, primarily in painting and sculpture, has cooled—if only temporarily).

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