This panel proposes a thought-experiment: what if such projects of social transformation as revolutions were to be conceived and analyzed by analogy to diagrams? What might we understand about the dynamics of such social transformations if we attend to their diagrammatic qualities?
This panel explores the anthropological dividends of a subjunctive thought-experiment: what if projects of social transformation were to be conceived and analysed by analogy to diagrams? What might we understand about the dynamics of social transformation if we attend to its diagrammatic qualities? And what effects might this have for anthropological methodology at large? The premise for the experiment is that projects of social transformation involve what might be termed 'relational reductions'. In order to imagine and subsequently implement alternatives to existing social orders, these orders must be conceived abstractly in terms of the altered relationships they seek to precipitate. Focusing on revolutions as examples of projects of social transformation par excellence, the idea of relational reduction is well illustrated by the Jacobin call for 'liberty, equality, fraternity' - the programme of revolution presented abstractly as a recasting of the shapes of social relationships, in a notional diagram of sorts. This panel invites papers that dig deep into the ethnography of socially transformative political projects, such as revolutions, to probe their diagrammatic qualities: how relational configurations are figured, refigured and enacted in different social settings, to bring about diverse political and social effects. In order to explore the methodological dividends of such a morphological approach, panellists are invited to present their ethnography in diagrammatic ways, experimenting with the analytical as well as socio-political possibilities of graphic representations of different kinds. Explicit reflections about the methodological implications of the use of diagrams in anthropological research are also welcome.
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.
(Meta)modelling the future: diagrammatics for creating common worlds
This paper examines the diagrammatic qualities of experiments with alternative social models through an ethnography of the construction of a social centre in a disused building. Using collectively produced visual materials, it examines how diagrammatic fields function in the creation of futures.
In 2014 a group of activists obtained a rent-free lease on an abandoned and derelict building in South East London. Following the roaming explorations of the New Cross Commoners, the aim was to experiment with political and economic models of commoning in order to create a self-organised neighbourhood resource. The process unfolded as a physically, emotionally and intellectually intense questioning of the possibility of imagining and creating a common world independent to the hegemonic structures of state and capital.
As part of this process, a large number of visual materials were collectively produced—diagrams, drawings, maps and scribblings. This paper will use some of these materials in order to ask how these diagrams function in the imagining and construction of common worlds, and how those common worlds emerge through diagrammatic operations. These visual materials will be taken as one component of broader diagrammatic processes which seek possible cartographies of the future.
Drawing on the diagrammatic practices of Félix Guattari, a thinker who was very influential on several members of the collective and the subject of a number of workshops, the visual materials will be thought about not as representations, but rather as sites of creation and production. The 'relational reductions' these materials enacted are the counterpoint of an expansive and exploratory gesture that sought to open up new horizons of possibilities through what Guattari termed 'metamodelling'. The diagram thus becomes part of a machine for decoding contemporary political impasses, with a corresponding exploration of the possibilities for self-organised recoding, or 'singularisation'.
Diagrammatic coffee readings: mapping Syrian revolutionary futures
How can diagrams of coffee readings help us understand how Syrians perceive their revolution's outcomes? This paper explores « openings of coffee » that bring together ruptures and disruptions presenting revolution's future transformations and figuring its reinvention.
In the midst of revolutionary changes - some intended (ruptures) and others not (disruptions) - what kind of futures are Syrians imagining? The Syrian uprising and its violent repression had for consequence the massive displacement of its population to neighbouring countries and Europe. In exile, revolutionary transformations were reimagined as social rather than political and as to happen in a future, elsewhere. In order to locate where one will realize the looked for and promised revolutionary changes (on an intimate rather than collective scale and in the social rather than political domain) Syrian women sometimes « open coffee » to see the road to follow. Indeed, the sessions of coffee readings often speak of migration, return to Syria, and predict the revolution's outcomes. In this paper I explore the diagrammatic qualities of the drawings left by coffee bean on the small coffee cups after one has drunk its beverage. One can easily make diagrams from these patterns that illustrate Syrian revolution's uncertain outcomes in its aftermath. Through the translation of these drawings into diagrams I argue that one better senses the disruptive consequences of revolution, as well as the potential ruptures that can still be enacted in the future. Indeed, through the diagrams one discovers that fleeing to Europe, going back to Syria and staying put in Turkey can all be grasped not only as (un)intended consequences of revolution but also as revolutionary actions.
Lines, circles and blocks
The paper explores three kinds of political action in the UK - the line, the circle and the block (or the picket line, anti-capitalist encirclement of the powerful and the Occupy movement) - to discuss how different groups make diagrammatic interventions to manifest protest and revolution.
The paper explores the diagrammatic aspects of three kinds of political action and protest in the UK from the 80s to the present, identified as the line, the circle and the block. The three examples are: the picket line formed for the Wapping Print Dispute of 1986, which like the miner's strike that preceded this dispute, failed to oppose financial rationalisations and modernisation; the Human Chain formed in 1998 in Birmingham to protest debt in non-western nations during a G8 summit, which is related to strategies of encircling power that an number of anti-capitalist protests employed; the Occupy movement and occupations of universities and swarming protests in 2011 that opposed austerity and an increase to education fees, through massing blocks of people in public places and buildings. To discuss these social formations, a number of perspectives will be employed, including theories of diagrams as social machines that capture or present forces as well art theories and practices that attend to spatial composition and discourses concerned with the production of space. The paper will draw on first-hand experience and observation as well as attending to communications and documents produced by the events named above to explore how different groups approached space and made what might be called diagrammatic interventions in order to manifest and promote resistance, protest and revolution. The paper ends with questions concerning future social diagrammatic arrangements in the period of AI and digital tools that introduce new forms of communication but also surveillance and control through diagrammatic means.
Metallurgy of the subject
Reflecting on the art project Metallurgy of the Subject, the paper will address how diagramming can operate as an exploratory method of thinking revolutionary politics, specifically how abstraction and allegorical figuration can help us to imagine subject positions beyond the sovereign individual.
The paper will discuss Metallurgy of the Subject, an ongoing diagrammatic art project that has taken a number of forms, including images for publication, wall drawings, lecture-performances, and an animation. The impetus for Metallurgy comes out of philosophical reconceptions of community e.g. The Inoperative Community by Jean-Luc Nancy and The Coming Community by Giorgio Agamben and the desire to delineate a new post-capitalist emblem of freedom and social equality, after the experiences of 'actually existing communism'.
Metallurgy employs a diagrammatical-allegorical method of representing political subject positions, picturing the movement from individualist to collectivist modes of political subjectivity, drawing on an alchemical imaginary of transition and becoming. It is an attempt to imagine collective and communistic modes of being which do not by necessity result in the establishment of homogeneous essential identities under the tutelage of a sovereign power.
The paper will address how the diagrammatic can operate as an exploratory method of thinking revolutionary politics through drawing, specifically how abstraction and 'synthetic intuition' (Panofsky) enable us to conceive of alternative social orders. In the case of Metallurgy this method is exemplified as a logical and affective 'thinking through' of the neoliberal 'sovereign individual's' passage toward collectivity and community, one that avoids absorption as an essential 'common being' (Nancy).
Moving diagrams: the choreography of lives and houses in Cuba, and how to see it
How do diagrams move? And what can they move by doing so? Based on filmic as well as textual ethnography of people's relationships with their homes in late revolutionary Cuba, this paper addresses the motility of diagrams by comparing it with the motions of social transformation.
How do diagrams move? And what can they move by doing so? This paper addresses the inherent motility of diagrams by comparing it ethnographically with the motions of social transformation. It does this with reference to the experience of 'late' revolutionary politics in Cuba, homing in on the struggles of Cuban people to keep their homes functioning despite sever lack of resources. We explore the diagrammatic qualities of people's relationships with their homes, understood as confrontations with change at different social, economic and political registers. And then we set these ethnographic instantiations of the diagrammatic in tension with our own attempts analytically to chart it. The upshot, we suggest, is a choreographic approach to social analysis, that sets its object up as a set of differentials between paces and directions of movement. To chart this, we argue, text based methods can be complemented by filmic research and creativity, deliberately aimed at setting in motion the diagrammatic qualities of life (ethnography) as well as research (analysis).
Qaddhafi as diagrammatic exception: a graphic analysis of the end of the Jamahiriya
By examining the role of diagrams in Qaddhafi's revolutionary thought we discover his state of exception: a leader who actions his diagrams without being subjected to them. In so doing, we realise that the non-diagrammatic nature of the anti-Qaddhafi revolution was a reaction against this dynamic.
In 2011 Libya was shaken by a popular uprising. With the help of the international community - eager to protect its interests in the region - the revolution succeeded; and Libyans managed to dethrone Muammar Qaddhafi, who had been in power for forty years after leading his own revolutionary coup in 1969. Bearing this in mind, I propose that to understand the anti-Qaddhafi revolution, one has first to grasp Qaddhafi's revolution and what went wrong with it. To this aim, I explore Qaddhafi's idea of "Jamahiriya", a political system he implemented during his years in power. The Jamahiriya had a distinct diagrammatic quality: the system involved a complex constellation of popular assemblies, as elucidated, through diagrams, by Qaddhafi himself in his Green Book. In the paper we will examine these graphic traces of Qaddhafi's political imagination, but will also see how Qaddhafi imagined himself outside of these diagrams, as an exception: a figure who would make sure that the diagrammatic rules of the Jamahiriya were implemented without being subjected to them. In particular we will analyse various aspects of Qaddhafi's erratic - non-diagrammatic - behaviour, as well as his iconic residence in Tripoli, the "Magnificent Gate". As we will see, the Gate was built using diagrammatic principles that were the opposite of those of the Jamahiriya: a visual reminder of Qaddhafi's state of exception. Through this analysis we will see how in 2011 Libyans rebelled against this state of affairs, and instantiated a revolution whose principles were far from diagrammatic.
Shabih-khani - to represent and present the real
How can we envisage a diagram which relies on its viewer for conveying a set of meanings? Looking at the rituals of shabih-khani this presentation draws on alternative understandings of reality as a departure point to problematise certain assumptions about the idea of reality and its depiction.
How can we envisage a diagram which relies on its viewer for conveying a set of meanings?
By looking at the ethnography of the Shiite rituals of shabih-khani (or Ta'ziyeh), in which specific histori-mythical events from early Islamic history are re-enacted in the presence of a believing audience, this presentation explores the role of participant-observer as the creator, rather than a receiver, of a specific set of meanings and effects.
Concentrating on the process of re-enactment and that which it tries to capture during these rituals, this paper explores the possibility of a diagrammatic representation as a process in which "making present" rather than "re-presentation" functions as a means to elicit/reveal specific conceptions of reality and its manifestation. To this end it draws on alternative understandings of reality that is operative in such practices as shabih-khani and how it is accessed and related to as a departure point to problematise certain assumptions about the idea of an external, pre-existing reality and its depiction.
The revolutionary practice of art theory: pedagogical diagrams for art and social change since the 1960's
In this paper I discuss the pedagogy of diagrams within contemporary art as a consequence of the transformation of the field since the 1960's and the recent Educational Turn in the arts. I ask what parallels might be drawn between these changes and the Ontological Turn within anthropology.
Since their transformation in the 1960's, contemporary art and arts education in the UK have been characterised by an increased dependency on 'Theory', a shorthand term used to contain an eclectic body of thought, drawn from a range of academic, non-art disciplines (notably anthropology, continental philosophy, critical theory, cultural studies, cybernetics, economics, feminism, linguistics, Marxism and psychoanalysis). Such alignments were not new, as modernism, particularly in its revolutionary and avant-garde modalities, attests to. What was new was contemporary arts' systemic deconstruction of its own traditional media and formats, a critical engagement with the implicit ideologies informing its practices and institutional dynamics, and an increased attention to collective, socially-engaged, performative, conceptual and dematerialised modes of practice. It is this shift, I propose, that lays the foundations for an attention to the diagrammatic in the practice of contemporary art and arts education. The 1960's also marked the beginning of a pedagogical mode of artistic practice, typified by Joseph Beuys' Information Action performance at the Tate in 1972. This shift towards teaching as a mode of artistic practice has culminated recently in the so-called Educational Turn within the arts, where teaching, alternative pedagogy and the creation of spaces for alternative arts education have been framed as works of contemporary art in themselves. In this paper I will consider how attention to the diagrammatic within contemporary arts practice and pedagogy relates to these earlier and recent phase shifts, and how these changes might be understood in relation to the Ontological Turn within anthropology.
Traps as diagrams and diagrams as traps?
This project aims to further Alfred Gell's assertion that traps be considered as functional artworks and vice versa, and builds on this foundation for an even bolder approach to diagramming the relationship between art and anthropology.
Animal traps are explored as a particular kind of technology which enable analytical play between species perspectives and disciplines which might at first appear to be ontologically distinct from one another, but are in fact recursively shaped and shape one another. Here, particular emphasis is placed on the "craftiness" of traps as adaptable structures with a playful (if combative) propensity, by way of parallel examples of artistic forms and engagements that are "tricky" in relation to existing norms of consumption and production - or even in regards to the label of Art itself.
Gell's initial comparison is used as a means by which traps and artworks might bare more integrally upon one another to suggest not only certain structural similarities (as Gell suggested), but further co-generative potential for new frames of anthropological engagement and more-than-human artistic production. The trap emerges as a "diagram of practice" that enables visual art to locate itself in a recursive relationship with a given environment. Just as Gell suggested, the trap takes art beyond existing art-historical frameworks and aesthetic conventions. As a method for anthropology, trapping suggests an experimental approach to fieldwork that adopts unconventional media from a given context to playfully draw from its more-than-human object of study. It is for both art and anthropology alike to conjure up the question - like a well set trap - What is it like to "be" and draw into being that which one is not?
This panel is closed to new paper proposals.