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Contamination

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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Compiled by Önder Özengi
9 Essays
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...
We are all lichens. — Scott Gilbert, “We Are All Lichens Now” 1 Think we must. We must think. —Stengers and Despret, Women Who Make a Fuss 2 What happens when human exceptionalism and bounded individualism, those old saws of Western philosophy and political economics, become unthinkable in the best sciences, whether natural or social? Seriously unthinkable: not available to think with. Biological sciences have been especially potent in fermenting notions about all...
1. Facing History: Modernity as Prefix 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. 1 That’s why, during the 1990s,...
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. When I worked with others to stage Godot in New Orleans in 2007, we took many liberties to make it work at that place, for that moment in time. We...
Political-Cultural Queerings 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. 1 This transnational movement, in existence since the early 2000s, thematizes precarious working and living conditions as the...
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. 1 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...
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...
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). Categories of...
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