Strategies of oppression

In 1989 Marc Lépine murdered 14 engineering students on a Canadian university campus because they were women (as he said while killing as well as in a letter found later).
Subsequently, any analyses and discourse that linked this horrific crime to misogyny and systematic violence against women was mainly shunned, ridiculed and silenced in the Canadian mass media.

The exact same pattern is happening again, in the wake of violent attacks by misogynists known as ‘incels’. This essay Murderous Fallout written in 1991 eerily echoes the same rhetorical strategies we see today, as if we have had no real progress in the last 27 years. I found the essay because of a memory triggered by the current atmosphere: I was doing my Bachelor’s at the University of Alberta at the time (in the late 80s), and to my horror, at a U of A engineering event, male students started shouting ‘Shoot the bitch!’ targeting a female engineering student who was making official complaints about sexist practices.

Studying Industrial Design in those years, in that programme, meant being the only woman in many of the classes (or one of two or three). It was absolutely completely normal in those days for my fellow students to make sexist remarks during our project presentations or even sexually explicit comments. For me it was absolutely normal to have to hear these comments because I am female. It was absolutely normal for the male professors to allow this atmosphere – because that kind of atmosphere was normal. In fact, while it made me uncomfortable, I was so used to that kind of discomfort that I thought it was a given – this is just the world so deal with it. It was absolutely normal that adult males felt they had the right to lay their hands on young women’s bodies, whether mine, my friends’, my nieces’… the family friend, the grandfather next door, the slimey brother-in-law, the brother’s best friend, the cousin, the neighbour – and family members would not call it out because it would have caused disruption and confrontation. Creepy uncles are just part of life.

It wouldn’t have occurred to me until years later, with perspective, maturity and more self-confidence, to realize how this behaviour is not normal and needs to be called out and stopped. I wish the other males around would have had that kind of maturity.

Pretending this oppression doesn’t happen is an oppression and a silencing of its own. Trying to claim that racism against BIPOC doesn’t exist and violence against women doesn’t exist – that there is no patriarchy and no white male privilege – is continued oppression and obvious attempts to maintain current hierarchies. Moreover, pretending that all this talk is just banter in social media with no real consequences is utopian – it has real ramifications in politics and elections, in mobilizing violent mobs, in making workplaces undesireable and uncomfortable for people who don’t happen to be white men, in incentivizing young men to kill.

See Toronto van attack: Your social-media speculation has real-world impact

See journalist Arshy Mann’s Twitter thread and column

Arshy Mann Twitter thread

See Absolute Unit’s fierce Twitter thread

See David Futrelle’s article ‘Incels hail Toronto van driver who killed 10 as a new Elliot Rodger, talk of future acid attacks and mass rapes’

See studies done by anthropology students

See this Master’s thesis

See ‘4chan: The Skeleton Key to the Rise of Trump

See ‘How the alt-right’s sexism lures men into white supremacy

See Laurie Penny’s column

See the thousands of threats directed at Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu, Laurie Penny (including the ones investigated by the FBI/police that mean they have to leave their homes) – and then tell me that calling out racism and sexism is virtue signalling and turning our society into a victim society. Whatever the f*ck that even means.

Researching emerging practices of making/production

In our department’s 2017 doctoral Summer School, run by Prof Idil Gaziulusoy, the theme was ‘Concepts and Contexts for Design for Sustainability’. I gave a talk on ‘Researching emerging practices of making/production’. Due to popular demand (a request from one colleague), I’m posting some of the advice here. (The whole slideshow is on Slideshare.)

To clarify, much of this advice is based on frustrations with reading and reviewing article drafts and submissions written by junior researchers that keep repeating the same weaknesses. There is way too much conceptual speculation out there and too little empirics. Everyone is writing about what should-be could-be and not about what is actually happening in DIY making and grassroots activism. DIY making and repair has the potential to dematerialize consumption/production, so everyone writes about this potential instead of actually trying to determine how or if we are experiencing dematerialization or transmaterialization. I have had excellent conversations about this with the stellar Irene Maldini, who wants to investigate the claim that citizen involvement in production and person-product attachment can actually have an impact on consumption – doing the follow-up studies needed to try to observe what people do when they leave the FabLab or clothing workshop.

In other words, Irene and I agree strongly on this: there are surely positive impacts when people do DIY making and repair activities, but don’t try to make the claim that this is going to impact material consumption volumes if you’re not willing to do the work to provide evidence for this. So what then are the impacts? Are you prepared to observe and articulate what they are? What do you have access to and what are you actually observing? Is it about social learning? Something related to ’empowerment’? ‘Agency’? What does empowerment and agency actually mean in your research site? How can it be observed, identified, tracked?

And then, in order to demonstrate the should-be could-be, many articles use the same examples over and over again as illustration, proof of concept, evidence. RepRap. Open Source Ecology. LilyPad Arduino. Again and again and again the same examples – and again and again the same claims that this one example represents something giant and revolutionary instead of something indicative, marginal. Again and again avoiding the conceptual and analytical work in articulating what this example, in its context, tells us about grassroots innovation and sustainability. And worse: writing descriptions of these case studies based on second-hand texts written by others on websites instead of doing case study work (interviews or investigating primary sources and archives).

In research we are supposed to be doing research, not writing manifestos. (Or: do the research first and then write the manifesto so you know what you’re up against and you have some experience under your belt.)

Another common weakness is citing the could-be should-be in popular mainstream books as if it were evidence instead of what it is – discourse (e.g. Chris Anderson’s Makers). Or citing the summarizing discourse in books like Charles Leadbeater’s We-Think or David Gauntlett’s Making is Connecting instead of examining the actual studies those summarizing narratives are based on and citing that. Books like We-Think and Making is Connecting are aimed at wider, more mainstream audiences than academia, and they are therefore written in a different way: there is research cited and described, and then the chapter ends with rhetorical summarizing and proselytizing. I call this proselytizing the Blah Blah Blah. Junior researchers love to cite this blah blah blah, and it drives me mad.

Moreover, the proselytizing in the mainstream lit is often written in what one of my colleagues calls gush: oh, DIY making is so lovely! And everyone and everything is so beautiful! And they are so happy! And all this will obviously change the world and make it a better place because there are no politics and no negativity! Activism is all just so lovely lovely!

In Finnish, lovely lovely = ihana ihana! (The same gush colleague, Eeva Berglund, and I published a book on urban activism in Helsinki in 2015, and in discussions with the publisher and the graphic designer, we were all in agreement that we avoid any kind of ihana ihana book cover.) But junior researchers seem to love the ihana ihana texts, and they liberally sprinkle their articles with ihana ihana citations. This also drives me mad.

Hence the list.

Please please don’t:

Cite ‘should be’ as ‘is’.

Cite (only) the blah blah blah. What studies is the blah blah blah based on?

Misrepresent studies and overgeneralize findings on SCP (Sustainable Consumption and Production). Check the product category, demography, study aim….

Romanticize. Don’t use the same ‘gush’ ‘ihana ihana’ tone as mainstream books.

Catalogue and inflate. Don’t choose only a few niche examples as ‘cases’ (usually overused anyway) and expect them to represent something significant. Be explicit about your case choice and what it represents/doesn’t represent.

Please don’t:

Avoid getting your hands into your data. Analysis is not (only) about a rigorous set of codes defined beforehand. Coding is just a way to get to know what is in your data and find it easily. Write descriptive overviews. Make diagrams (Clarke 2005) and mindmaps. Get hints on ways to analyse from Qualitative Data handbooks.

Avoid making memos or notes about data collecting or analysis.

Hide your data or analysis process in papers. Spell it out.

Do:

Formulate your research question according to what you are actually studying and able to study. What can you access?

Choose your terminology ‘xx’ according to the field you are aligning with. Be clear and honest with yourself: when I am studying xx, what does that mean in terms of data collecting, and how do I observe it in my data?

Be creative (in a way that is researchable). What designerly ways will deliver data and knowledge? Design interventions / experiments? Workshops?

Be clear and explicit about what ‘sustainability’ is. Choose a definition and principles. Use better, more exact phrases (transition to a more sustainable society, less negative environmental impact, more equity in access to resources…).

Be clear to yourself about what you are studying. The ‘sustainability’ of a system, or participants’ beliefs about the sustainability of the system? Principles for a Circular Economy or how this group encountered/defined barriers and opportunities for transition to a circular economy? Keep this distinct.

And… good luck.

So, What About Politics? Part 1

In November I attended an excellent seminar in Brussels called #SWAP: So, what about politics? at iMAL, a ‘center for digital cultures and technology’ (which also hosts a FabLab). I must thank iMAL Director Yves Bernard, moderator Bram Crevits and the iMAL team for such an inspiring and educational event and for the careful selection of speakers and topics. I posted updates about the event as it proceeded on Facebook, and I will repost some of my notes, those short descriptions and links here, along with photos. iMAL livestreamed the talks and you can find all the videos here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLjQCOGgYPYdhmhj6pzH6Dj7h49DIeaDcb

iMAL, Brussels. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

iMAL, Brussels. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

Symposium Day 1: Friday 3 November 2017, 10:00 – 18:30.

Lectures and Debates.
Programme: http://www.imal.org/en/more/swap-day-1

Opening the symposium: iMAL director Yves Bernard. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

Opening the symposium: iMAL director Yves Bernard. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

Keynote 1:
Michel Bauwens, P2P Foundation
How can the commons change society, the economy and democracy?
Institutional Design for Public-Commons Cooperation

Keynote by Michel Bauwens, P2P Foundation. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

Keynote by Michel Bauwens, P2P Foundation. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

-“The Place of the Commons in Human Evolution”: how we have moved from tribes that were commons-focused to states and markets.
-the natural commons includes e.g. agricultural commons or fishing;
-marked by a division between people who work and people who own;
-the commons have usually been social commons, cooperatives, mutuals, etc.;
-the third phase is the digital commons: with networks we start re-learning what the commons is, especially in the West.
-these are global communities, who recreate a new kind of commons.

slide: The Place of the Commons in Human Evolution

Michel’s slide: The Place of the Commons in Human Evolution.

 

-recently I did a project in Ghent, to re-imagine the city of Ghent as a commons.
-what I learned there: first, there is an exponential rise in urban commons;
-second, the structure is much like the digital commons;
-at the core, there is the constitution of the commoning of the community, a structure which is open;
-thereby a new urban commons – with the same attitude as the digital commons, everybody can contribute and everyone who contributes has a voice;
-one thing they do well in Ghent is temporary usage of empty spaces: whether empty factories or land, lots of projects have emerged on this land;
-they don’t tell anyone what to do, they create conditions where everyone can use the land;
-in order to survive, people try to do generative economic activities;
-they don’t want to rely on subsidies, they try to think about self-sufficiency over time;
-in Ghent, there is a group that is experimenting with mushrooms, taking toxic sludge out of the ground;
-three things to note, a for-benefit structure, an open community and generative economic activities (not extractive);
-we did a mapping of 500 projects.

-how do these global productive communities function? in a capitalist society, while maintaining the commons?
-note the booklet Values in the Commons Economy
-in the market economy, the change in accounting is a marker – double-entry bookkeeping marked the birth of capitalism.
-what marks the birth of the cooperative? commoning?
-e.g. FB does not recognize externalities;
-it is a new form of capital that is commons oriented in an extractive way.
-but biocapacity: we don’t take into account positive environmental constraints.
-if you want to survive, we need to integrate these externalities.
-this needs a different value regime;
-creating a membrane around their activities and then try to do it differently;
reciprocity-based licensing: knowledge should be free and shared, but commercialization can be conditional upon reciprocity.

-this is designed for commons-market cooperation.
-it is a move away from capital/state/nation, but not that everything we have now will disappear; these modes of exchanges have always existed in different combinations.
-how do we design a new combination? commons-partner-state regenerative.

-in Ghent, the city is incubating commons projects, the city and the region are supporting commons projects, supporting generative initiatives.
-but it is fragmented, e.g. you have permaculture east and permaculture west but they do not talk to each other locally;
-there is a renewable energy coop;
-they don’t have a joint language and identity.

-but note that every time a civilization has been in overshoot, there has been a return to commoning.
-from open source, free software, mutualization of knowledge;
-then the sharing economy, mutualization of infrastructure;
-then relocalization of production, cosmo-local production to a ‘biocapacity economy’.
-how do we de-fragment these processes, support them?
-a commons accord – an agreement between the city and the commons-oriented communities.
-a circle of finance – if you can determine a community can diminish ecological impact – things spent on negative externalities that the market economy does not recognize – use this to fund transition activities.
-how to manage the eco-social transition
-representative democracy, participative democracy, contributive democracy – we should know how these work together.
-participative logic is seen as top-down;
-contributive democracy can be elite – the city is forced to recognize those actions it claims it wants to do;
-the citizens are doing renewable energy and urban agriculture: if the city recognizes this is what it wants to do, it should recognize contributive logic.
-this is not working in Ghent yet.
-we want to create a narrative that permits alignment in the transition.
-about identity: I am a commoner, I contribute to the common good – this is not acknowledged or named.
-in working class history, farmers shift identity to being a worker.
-rather: we are contributing to the common good, I am a productive citizen, I build value.

-in the P2P Foundation, 12 people are working full-time.
-we have 5 (autonomous) streams and we use Loomio to come to legitimate decisions – projects have 1-3 coordinators who are responsible;
-we look after each other: when income comes in, we know who is in need, there is a difference between precarious workers and salary.
-all our knowledge is put in wikis and blogs.
-in society there is a shift to precarious, but there are also people who want to be autonomous, so it is not forced precarity.

-in the anarcho-capitalism model, using e.g. blockchain, they are not about the commons: they use it so that everyone can be a mini-capitalist;
-it is extractive – Bitcoin – to make money; it is not generative.
-blockchain is trustless machines, trustless algorithms – because no one trusts anyone;
-it is also very hungry for energy;
-we could use blockchain for e.g. shared supply chains.
-we already have mutual coordination in the software industry
-I want to have that in the production industry;
-create a biocapacity framework and within that framework, decide on what we can do.

http://commonstransition.org/commons-transition-plan-city-ghent/

*

Saya Sauliere, Medialab-Prado/ParticipaLab, Madrid, Spain
Understanding participation in Decide Madrid, an e-participation platform

Saya Sauliere on Decide Madrid. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

Saya Sauliere on Decide Madrid. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

-DecideMadrid software: open source, now in 16 countries, 60 cities, replicable, free, transparent;
-CONSUL platform.
-for example, City Hall asked the citizens of Madrid if they were willing to reform a key square, what kind of reform they wanted to have, then citizens chose among many projects, and then they decided between two projects.
-also Participatory Budgeting and Citizen Proposals
-participants are citizens as well as NGOs and neighbourhood associations

https://decide.madrid.es

*

Sanna Gothbi, DigidemLab, Göteborg, Sweden
Bringing together hackers and activists for social change

Sanna Gothbi on DigidemLab. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

Sanna Gothbi on DigidemLab. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

-a non-profit ‘lab’ – an open space for experiments;
-started this year, February, inspired by Medialab-Prado.
-Sweden does not have a large hacker or civic tech community, and there is a growing wave of racism and right-wing nationalism.
-three principles for the Lab: building participation from below; dialogue is not enough – we have to do more; tools for democratic participation need to be developed and controlled by the citizens.
-using the G1000 as a citizen summit as an alternative to the G20.
-working with MedialabPrado on the Democat platform.
-fostering a local civic tech community.

*

Emmanuele Braga, Macao, Italy
Macao and its Commoncoin: the question of value

Emmanuele Braga on Macao. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

Emmanuele Braga on Macao. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

-Macao is an organization of 100 people from the cultural sector, also a space, a squat: people working for their own projects as well as the organization;
-self-managed;
-members use crypto currency between them.
-as an organization we provide monthly the power for commoncoin to buy in the system – e.g. a collective order from farmers as an association in euros, then in the organization the goods are bought with commoncoin.
-euros come from events, donations, co-production of work.
-the organization does not pay a wage, 20% of the general income goes to the members as basic income.
-started in Nov 2016.

http://www.macaomilano.org/IMG/pdf/commoncoin-2.pdf

*

Lieza Dessein, Smart, Brussels, Belgium
Technology geared towards solidarity

Lieza Dessein on Smart. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

Lieza Dessein on Smart. Photo: Cindy Kohtala.

-an independent cooperative that works as an intermediary supporting creative industry and other autonomous entrepreneurs;
-founded in 1998 in Belgium as a social enterprise – with the aim to take over paperwork linked to creative entrepreneurship: we take on the role of the employer for the time of the freelancer’s mission.
-mutualized services: payroll, VAT declarations, salary guarantee, debt collection, microfinancing, personal and legal advice…
-also investing in workspaces;
-grew organically and rapidly scaled up.
-90 000 members in Belgium, changing to a coop structure in Belgium as the structure is a coop in other countries: a long, important transition;
-this is in constant progress, in constant dialogue on what tools to use, how to use them, on transparency, ethics.

*

End of Part 1.

Trashlab (repair café)

Hooray! Trashlab is back! This time in Vallila.

What is Trashlab? Trashlab is…

DSCF5366_sm DSCF5381_sm

… helping others to fix their broken things …

DSCF5375_sm

…getting your hands dirty…

DSCF5379_sm

…breaking broken things to fix them…

DSCF5397_sm

…needing tape, needing glue…

DSCF5389_sm

…needing more light…

DSCF5394_sm

…needing fuel…

DSCF5376_sm

…giving up with some things…

DSCF5393_sm

…succeeding with others.

Trashlab began in 2012 as an initiative by people from Pixelache and several departments in Aalto University in Helsinki: an art-design-recycling-trash collaborative, peer-learning experiment, combined with a more philosophical, critical, towards-the-academic look at waste and material culture (i.e. the Talking Trashlab lecture series hosted in Media Factory).
In 2013 Trashlab became a regular monthly repair event in different locations around the city, and in 2014, it found a home every month in Helsinki city centre’s municipal library makerspace Kaupunkiverstas (then in Lasipalatsi). In 2015 the group began to alternate the repair events with the original artistic and critical explorations – again in different locations but often in Sankariliiga makerspace in Hermanni. I especially enjoyed the casting workshop using reclaimed aluminium.

Today was the first event in 2016, and the first repair event for a few months. Two bikes, a child’s toy, a golf putt device-thing, a chair seat needing new fabric, a computer adaptor, a jacket zip, a dish, clothes with holes. I didn’t bring anything to fix, but I like to go just to socialize.

And I like taking pictures of people’s hands making and doing. They’re so beautiful.

Call for participation: papers and presentations for Urban Studies Days 2016

Calling all urban studies researchers, urban activists, grassroots organizers, researcher-activists, activist-organizers!

We invite you to contribute to a workshop we will be holding as part of the Urban Studies Days 2016 in Helsinki 28-29.4.2016.

Contributions from people involved in grassroots initiatives are particularly welcome. To join the conversation, please send a few lines (no more than 350 words ideally) to us about what you are or have been doing and how your experiences relate to the problems of producing knowledge as part of DIY (do-it-yourself) work. We do not expect presentations to be polished academic papers – though they can be – the important thing is to share ideas and experiences. The deadline is 1.3.2016 (but this may be extended as the process has been a little delayed).

Is this a revolution? Problems in doing research on grassroots change-making

This workshop explores how activist contributions to the collective good are framed and presented, and what political implications this has. Does the way urban change-makers frame what they are doing make a difference to how they are received? And what about those doing research: how could we best engage in these delicate yet potentially consequential processes? And are these distinctions even valid?

The session is inspired by design researcher Ezio Manzini who writes that we may be living in a period not only of transition but of epistemological and socio-technical revolution (Design, When Everybody Designs 2015). He sees the dynamics of DIY-inspired urban change-making as a fundamental element of this ongoing but uncertain process. In this spirit, the workshop considers grassroots activism as a collective effort to combine theoretical and practical knowledge and address both local and global troubles simultaneously, that is, as an attempt to design better futures.

We invite both empirical and conceptual papers that engage with the problems of producing knowledge within and about urban activism. Almost everything about it is experimental in some way – or claims to be – which makes conveying its political implications very hard to do without falling into either wishful romanticism or incurious dismissal.

We welcome papers in any fields and any domains that tackle the problems of reporting on grassroots urbanism and the new knowledge it creates, whether scholars struggling to demonstrate the value of activist knowledge or activists who fear their contribution does not add up to policy ‘evidence’.

Convenors,
Eeva Berglund, docent environmental policy and urban studies, University of Helsinki
Cindy Kohtala, PhD candidate, Aalto University, Sustainable Design. Contact cindy [dot] kohtala [at] aalto [dot] fi

Helsinki’s future, and my Cunning Plan

It appears increasingly inevitable that Helsinki will get a Guggenheim. This will indubitably cannibalize visitors from Kiasma and Ateneum.

However! In using my skills in foresight, exhibiting some Positive Thinking, I have developed a Cunning Plan: how to Turn Threats Into Opportunities. I welcome your own fine suggestions!

1. When Kiasma becomes bereft of art consumers, it could be turned into an H&M flagship store.
This in turn will divert traffic away from Forum and Aleksi, but this too is an Opportunity, as this traffic is mainly young people with no money. The empty retail footprint in Forum can house the surely-by-then-nearly-defunct Stockmann’s. The spaces along Aleksi can be turned into luxury mini-hotels for the Guggenheim visitors, who will more easily be able to Segue from their hotels to the charming little Stockmann boutique and the Louis Vuitton shop.
The current Stockmann building, in turn, can be converted into premium co-working space for the creative and high tech industries. The high rents will push micro-entrepreneurs and local creatives further into the suburbs and drafty abandoned factories, where they belong. This will provide a more stable and sustainable platform for Helsinki’s Creative Capital (i.e. Google).

2. Ateneum would make a fine home for non-local fast food chains: Starbucks on the main floor, McDonalds, Burger King, Pizza Hut (and more!) on the top level.
The current gift shop could be a special Helsinki area, where the burgers purveyed are named after the queens of Helsinki dining and lingering, which of course will have died long ago: Elite, Lehtovaara, Savoy, Sea Horse, Kolme Kruunua, Ekberg’s.
This will obviously divert all business from the existing restaurants and bars along Mikonkatu and Kaisaniemenkatu. This too is an Opportunity, as it will help rid the city centre of those pesky local resident pedestrians – not to mention the over-supply of hairdressers, who tend to under-report their taxable earnings rather than moving it offshore to the Caymans as is normal. The summer terrace activity will move to the cruise ships, where it belongs. The resulting empty space can be converted into luxury flats for the well-heeled international student body, who will be attending the private educational institutes run by foreign corporations – institutes that will reside in the buildings formerly housing the now-extinct University of Helsinki.

In this, it is important to note that we must strike our own path! We do not wish to imitate others! Especially not southern European capitals, with their charming streets full of locally owned and operating bakers, butchers, green-grocers and flower shops – city squares full of laughing, playing children – but rather set our own standards (i.e. that of globalization). In this, we see there are no alternatives.

For happier stories, please see our book Changing Helsinki? Eleven Views on a City Unfolding (Nemo, 2015). Eds. Eeva Berglund and Cindy Kohtala, in Finnish, Swedish and English.