Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Power and the Academy

I attended Power & the Academy conference in Manchester. There Anna and I gave papers, both of which presented the Altermodern as a new direction where to go with theory in academic contexts.

One interesting thing was that whilst the audience had not heard of the term Altermodern they were very keen on its ideas and on the kind of ideas we presented through the Tate's leaflet (the exhibition description of the Altermodern and its pieces). The Tate's narrative on the Altermodern is a great source for looking into how to extend the original theory of the Altermodern into specific interpretations of it (one for each of the pieces on the exhibition leaflet), and we mostly read out some of their descriptions to the different audiences. The outcome was unexpected, the audiences were very keen on it. In one of the sessions the discussion on the Altermodern took over the actual discussion that was going on in a Q&A session we were at.

What struck me from the experience was that people were ready to examine the new prepositions, willing to listen to it, with the emphasis that is given to those moments that people know they have heard a distinctive preposition, as opposed to when they hear 'waffles' of 'here and there and no-where'. There is a sense of journey on the very description of the Altermodern that appears to make sense to people we speak.

Altermodern way of doing: 'Universities as 're-usable objects''

Anna is nearly ready with her paper, I wish mine was too. My paper is about 'universities as 're-usable objects' as a way of addressing some of the confrences concerns. I hope to use 'Altermodern' as a way to conceptualise my discourse on 'universities as 're-usable' objects', although it is rather a difficult task in a textual form as I would like to use the syntagmatic possitions of re-usable objects (as in context of e-learning, visually and hyperlinked) as ways of thinking of how academies may look like if we challenged their contemporary outlook.

My preposition is simple, though. Academic contexts are problematic in the way in which the knowledge society and neo-liberal crisis have constructed (and enclosed) these context as privileged arenas. If we were to think of possibilities, of different academies, other than the neo-liberal and knowledge society driven ones (an exmaple of this are the way degrees are 'marketed' and employability applied to our teaching spaces) we would have several problem in theorising this 'new academy'. Some of these are about modularisation, transparency, accountability, ethics and so on.

One way to think about possible academic futures is to take the example of 're-usable objects' as found in e-learning, and to try to think of the 'academy' as a 're-usable object'. Treating academic contexts as 're-usable objects' using postmodern approaches would lead us to a critique that in using 're-usable objects' we are buying into the knowledge society use of 're-usable objects', and perhaps a reification of Universities as 'boutiques of knowledge'.

However, if we could think of 're-usable objects' in a more altermodern way, perhaps, in the way in which, in the Tate exhibition, one of the authors took conventional museum pieces and challenged their journey through art and meaning by su-perimposing light, movement, sound and the challenged position of the viewer, maybe then we could think of a University (as with the conventional museum piece) as if we projected unto it the shape of our 're-usable objects', its hyperlinks and reusability and made our students walk through a new journey in our academic practice. I argued, in my presentation, that directions for this new university may emerge through the 'cracks' that appear, as it indicated by the example of e-learning contexts, where people also go to learn (facebook, second life, and other sites) through the new classrooms re-defined by their use in social sites. I am merely using the example of e-learning, and its re-usable learning metaphors to indicate that there are already places of learning like the ones we say may be 'in our future'.

I think using the Altermodern examples to theorise about our academic future may, one example being that of re-usable objects (There are many more things besides the little re-usable object, Anna proposes re-narrativisation of biographies in educational studies, for example) may help us in address the question of what kind of learning contexts do we want our students to be in our immediate futures.

What is your anthropological journey?

David facebooked me with a related theme after my discussion with him on Altermodernity, globalisation and the current crisis.

David had talked to another anthropologist and this person had said that he felt 'postmodernity was exhasuted, and that the modern phase (the post-post modern phase) the contours of which were unclear.' (...) 'We need to stand on some foundational questions like: What is your anthropological problem?', his interlocutor had said at the end of the discussion.

My reply to David was that the feeling that postmodernity was exhausted echoed with the concerns of Altermodernity, and that indeed, the contours of our globalised lives are unclear. That makes them quite Altemodern in itself. I told David his interlocuto should jump, to jump to the Altermodern because otherwise, at the edge of postmodernity, his friend will be tempted to tip-toe into the muddy watters of liquid modernity, one of the incarceration moments of late modernity trying to find a way back in.

Jump to Altermodernity, I said. I felt a bit foolish at that moment because the water (jump into the waters of) analogy has been used before. maybe I should clarify that it is more like 'jump'. I like jumping because if I could have it, I would like to try an anthropology of Altermodernity that is a bit of a 'parkour' (freerunning) of ideas.

Cluttered with obstacles, free running (I am aware parkour and free running are not always synonyms, it just happens I came to both at the same time under parkour, as the art of 'deplacement' -as always the English translations of 'free running' was not perhaps the closest understanding of 'deplacement') keeps moving accesing areas that otherwise are innacessible (roofs, edges of buildings, facades...) and for me (in parkour) also evading, dissenting (not just an atlethic value of executing free jumps) and enhancing one's strenght for dealing with urban life's landscapes (including both physical urban and emotional ones - I'd be a traceuses if I could).

An example of this in anthropology would be how we deal with obstacles like providing an interpretation to the current financial crisis, the obstacles are many (including the distance between anthropology and public anthropology). Here it is where I hope David understands my meaning of where Altermodernity comes into helping make those jumps, in providing some strenght to the process of moving to 'innacessible' areas and dealing with obstacles.

What would parkour and free running be like in the altermodern context? (parkour is for me, even my great love for it, one of my postmodern endeavours)

In an Altermodern context, I wrote to David, the questions of anthropology('what is your anthropological problem? as the axiomatic place from where to stand) may be better phrased with 'what is your anthropological journey?' when defining the object and nature of anthropological endevours in an altermodern, global context. When asking about 'what is your anthropological journey?' I feel a series of questions popping into my head, one the one hand, re-loading 'journey' for 'problem', it allows for some postmodern qualities of transience and for some of the fashions of autobiography and reflexivity to be mantained, on the other hand it also allows for an enquiry that is aimign to trascend the strict academic (and modern postitivistic) boundaries of thinking of anthropology and its endevour as 'the problem'.

Looking back at my reply to David I think 're-prasisng' the question as 'journey' rather than 'problem' is not new, and perhpas we ought to consider other ways of articulating 'what does anthropology do?' , 'what are you (as anthropologist) looking at when looking at human issues?'. Here I feel, looking at the Tate exhibition we could learn from some of the authors solutions at addressing similar issues. I greatly enjoyed an exhibit that had a series of 'Head' pictures. In this exhibit the artist put a series of shots of 'heads' one next to the other, creating an elaborate visual narrative of meaning, it felt genuinely ethnographic. If we were to put a picture of each one of the theoretical 'heads' how would it look like? (I do not mean people's pictures or pictures of their heads, I am talking of theories), how would it look like for anthropological theories? for our endevours, for the kinds of questions we ask?

(There was an attempt, a fully postmodern attempt I should say, at the edge of tipping-over-Altemodernism-but-not-quite, on an earlier exhibit in London on "Martian Museum of Terrestial Art" that was attempting to do so from a perspective of art. I felt, it perhpas embraced the museum and the art too much for my linking, but it was a truly good way to re-think post-colonial and postmodern anthropology)

Where was I?....ah, yes, back to how best could we imagine the 'Academy' in the context of our globalised, uncertain contours. I would like to use the 're-usable objects' not as a 'defining' strategy, but as a way of thinking of possibilities, the 'Academy' as a re-usable object. Maybe, we could take example from the Altermodern authors in the Tate and to be less afraid to re-load concepts like parkour or 're-usable objects' in trying to identify ways in which to present both anthropology and the academic contexts in which it is often validated through.

When trying to do so, a word of caution....it is an ambitious project, trying to be altermodern artist-like about theories is always fraught with difficulties.

Diasporic Meanings

a genuine postmodern...'jump' (as in a parkour vault)

...draw some light with your body as you do

re-tell the jump by re-loading new light

and for anthropology?

I am thinking of an anthropology of diasporas (of ideas), as if anthropology was narrated from journeys into theories, back from such journeys, parting to new destinations, retold in the ethnographic sense, a sense of transnational movements, some described here , if we coud gather a story from each of these stories and that of those found on similar links, we may get a sense of that globalised contour....

Relationality is central to contemporary times and situations. In this relationality, bodies and embodiment articulate narratives of encounters with globalised culture. The body of related persons and the mobilisation of intimate relations happen in our times across different borders and lines of contact. Maybe because I have a preocupation with desire, exchange and relations of creative technologies I see of my current period in anthropology as a period that demands new wanderings of thought, places where we can ground the way human relational subjectivity is mediating the contours of our life. In our latest theories we have grounded these subjectivities in the politics of biopower, performativity, new kinship, embodiment, transnationalism, diasporas, cultural innovation. I am interested in an anthropology of relationality and the meanings this relationality acquire as it passes through our age of biotechnology, cultural globalisation and altermodernity.

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