Mecila

#15

Transformação urbana em disputa: o Plano Diretor Estratégico do Município de São Paulo

Global Convivial Forum 

Nesta conversa com a professora e pesquisadora Bianca Tavolari (Mecila/ Cebrap/ Insper) discutimos o que é o plano diretor, quais as disputas em torno de sua revisão e como o instrumento ajuda a desenhar os rumos da cidade.

Qual o papel do plano diretor?

O plano diretor é uma espécie de Constituição da cidade. Ele não só propõe como a cidade deve se organizar, mas também uma imagem de seu desenvolvimento futuro.

O plano define como a cidade vai crescer, o tamanho das edificações, como pensar os espaços públicos e seus usos, a rede de transporte público, onde estimular moradia.

Também regulamenta usos específicos. Onde teremos usos comerciais ou residenciais do espaço urbano; quais áreas específicas dentro da cidade merecem proteção ambiental e onde não é permitido construir, ou apenas construir pouco; como integrar a malha de transporte a oportunidades de emprego; onde estarão os equipamentos culturais.

plano diretor-post-BT

Como esse instrumento pode intervir nas desigualdades urbanas?

Um dos elementos do Plano Diretor Estratégico [PDE] de São Paulo de 2014 aborda justamente isso. Uma das propostas aprovadas é a ideia de eixos de estruturação urbana. Tomam-se todos os elementos consolidados e planejados de transporte público – as linhas de ônibus, de trem, de metrô, as estações – e desenham-se áreas em torno dessa estrutura.

O objetivo é adensar essas áreas, colocar o máximo possível de pessoas para morar perto dessa estrutura de transporte público. Assim aproximamos a moradia ao transporte, e consequentemente ao emprego. É uma maneira de enfrentar um dos principais problemas de cidades como São Paulo: o movimento pendular de pessoas que moram em bairros periféricos e vão trabalhar em zonas centrais, passando longo períodos no transporte público, perdendo momentos de vida. É uma forma de enfrentar uma desigualdade territorial que se expressa também em tempo de vida, na diferença entre ficar ou não três horas no trânsito para chegar ao trabalho.

Mas não é qualquer moradia que o plano prevê nessas áreas. Se construímos apartamentos de 120 metros quadrados com três vagas de garagem, não atraímos a pessoa que mora na periferia. Ela não vai poder comprar esse imóvel. Então o plano também propõe uma série de elementos construtivos para que se garanta uma mistura de unidades habitacionais nos eixos.

O contrário também é verdade, se pensarmos nos polos de criação de empregos nas periferias. Em vez de só trazer pessoas para perto do transporte público consolidado, é igualmente importante induzir, por meio de incentivos urbanísticos, a oferta de emprego em regiões residenciais já estabelecidas. Assim também evitamos deslocamentos longos e aproximamos as pessoas de oportunidades. Essa é uma ideia que também está no Plano Diretor de 2014.

A revisão do Plano Diretor envolve muitas disputas. Você pode contextualizá-las?

Costumo dizer que a política urbana é treta. É briga o tempo inteiro em torno do plano diretor e especialmente do zoneamento, que define os usos do espaço urbano em cada lugar. São instrumentos de disputa intensa que envolvem atores repetidos, pessoas que interagem também em outros contextos. São atores muito qualificados lutando por essas regras há tempos, e as disputas se expressam abertamente nesse campo de batalha.

Só em 2014 foram mais de cem audiências públicas temáticas regionais com devolutivas. O processo incluiu não apenas ouvir as pessoas, mas também contar o que foi incorporado ou não ao planejamento. E, mesmo assim, o plano daquele ano só foi aprovado depois que os movimentos de moradia organizados acamparam em frente à Câmara Municipal para garantir que ele fosse votado sem a inclusão de nenhum “submarino”, que são as emendas que emergem de última hora e mudam acordos já previstos no Plano.

Do ponto de vista da sociedade civil, tivemos no último Plano Diretor de São Paulo uma discussão muito intensa sobre mobilidade, com a participação de movimentos organizados de ciclistas, que reivindicavam a expansão das ciclofaixas. Há os movimentos de moradia, que são muito organizados e têm um conhecimento técnico preciso e rico sobre essas questões. Vários movimentos de cultura, pensando cinemas de rua, usos de espaços públicos. Há os movimentos e associações de bairro, como os que estão presentes em Zonas Exclusivamente Residenciais (ZER) e que não querem mudar as regras do entorno para incluir outros usos. Há o mercado imobiliário também, muito atuante. Mas muito depende de como é o desenho das audiências. É importante que todas as pessoas sejam ouvidas, inclusive aquelas não organizadas em movimentos.

Além disso, é difícil participar de um processo de revisão de plano diretor. É uma discussão muito técnica. Uma das propostas dos atores da sociedade civil é que a gestão democrática das cidades envolva não só o direito à participação e à palavra, mas também a tradução desses estudos técnicos, de responsabilidade do poder público. São decisões que impactam a vida de todo mundo e não podem ser blindadas por uma linguagem técnica excludente. Esta não é apenas uma demanda da sociedade civil, mas também dos órgãos do sistema de justiça, como o Ministério Público e a Defensoria Pública, que recomendam e exigem condições de participação com acesso pleno à informação.

A prefeitura de São Paulo propôs a prorrogação da revisão do Plano Diretor de São Paulo para 2022, após pressão de atores do sistema de justiça e da sociedade civil. Quais os principais conflitos à vista?

A revisão estava prevista. Isso é muito comum em planos diretores. Como é uma política que projeta para o futuro, ela tem que ser recalibrada em função de como a cidade se transformou no meio tempo. Mas agora tem o agravante de que é uma revisão proposta ainda em meio à pandemia. E a sociedade civil organizada tem trazido duas questões muito importantes.

A primeira questão é a impossibilidade de participação em uma política tão importante quanto essa se tudo ocorrer online. Há entraves à participação de pessoas menos organizadas, que não têm bom acesso à internet. Imagina uma audiência enorme com um monte de gente com as mais diferentes conexões, ou mesmo sem acesso à internet.

A segunda questão é que não é possível estimar com precisão alguns dos efeitos da pandemia na cidade. Vou dar um exemplo. A gente viu que parte dos serviços conseguiram funcionar em home-office, que foi adotado por boa parte das empresas que podem se valer do trabalho remoto. Isso impacta diretamente lugares com muitos prédios de escritório, como, por exemplo, as regiões das avenidas Faria Lima, Berrini e Paulista.

Será que essa tendência vai se confirmar, ainda que seja para uma camada muito privilegiada? Se as empresas decidem não mais ter escritórios grandes e optam por um regime híbrido de trabalho, porque entendem que funciona bem e custa menos, ficamos com um problema enorme de espaço construído. O que fazer com todo esse espaço? Precisamos pensar uma mudança de uso. Seria possível adequá-los para moradia? Isso envolve planejamento.

Ou seja, não faz sentido revisar um plano diretor pensando o futuro sem saber o impacto desse tipo de transformação. E não é por falta de dados ou habilidade, mas porque não temos como saber se essa tendência vai se confirmar ou não.

Eu escrevi um texto tratando de ilegalidades no processo de revisão do Plano Diretor, uma das quais está diretamente relacionada à sub-representação da sociedade civil no Conselho Municipal de Política Urbana (CMPU).

Então tem conflito em todos os lugares. Do ponto de vista do conselho que vai ser ouvido para falar de política urbana; do processo de aprovação; de incluir e ouvir mais pessoas; e do ponto de vista do conteúdo material dessa revisão.

Recentemente, a prefeitura propôs o adiamento após defender expressamente que o plano deveria ser revisto ainda este ano. Foi um recuo evidente. Ele pode ser explicado principalmente em razão de uma decisão judicial, em uma ação popular ajuizada por Guilherme Boulos, a Bancada Feminista do PSOL e os movimentos de moradia que questionou a contratação de uma fundação que faria estudos para a revisão, pelo valor de R$3,5 milhões, sem licitação. Este recuo gerou um xadrez importante entre sociedade civil, sistema de justiça, prefeitura e Câmara municipal. É neste impasse que estamos agora.

Além dos problemas novos trazidos pela pandemia, há também disputas antigas sobre a cidade que retornam à arena. Quais você destacaria?

Há uma disputa clássica que envolve setores empresariais, mercado imobiliário e suas associações em relação à chamada outorga onerosa do direito de construir. Parece complicado, mas a outorga é uma concessão, uma autorização. Onerosa porque ela não é gratuita, você paga.

O que isso quer dizer? Quando compramos um terreno, não podemos fazer com ele o que bem quisermos. É contraintuitivo, mas você não pode construir do jeito que quiser. Aqui em São Paulo foi estabelecido um coeficiente de aproveitamento, o chamado CA 1, segundo o qual você pode construir até uma vez o tamanho do terreno. Se o seu terreno é de mil metros quadrados, então você pode construir uma edificação de mil metros quadrados. Se você quer construir mais, você não está proibido, mas precisa pagar. Esse custo é a outorga onerosa do direito de construir.

Por que isso existe? Porque esse potencial construtivo é público, ele não vem com a sua propriedade. Imagina se todo mundo pudesse construir da maneira que quisesse, como planejaríamos a cidade? Além disso, esse espaço de construção, ainda que seja muito grande, é finito. Por isso faz sentido que o poder público precifique isso como um bem comum. E a um preço razoavelmente alto.

Esse dinheiro, que o construtor ou proprietário paga, vai para o Fundo de Desenvolvimento Urbano (FUNDURB), e com ele custeamos uma série de políticas específicas para mobilidade, habitação de interesse social etc. Ele está separado do caixa da prefeitura e tem algumas rubricas carimbadas. É um mecanismo de financiamento de políticas urbanas importantes para a cidade de São Paulo.

Uma das disputas antigas é sobre o preço da outorga. O mercado imobiliário vai dizer que tem que ser mais barato, porque o valor alto desestimula o adensamento. «Você quer que eu adense nos eixos? Eu quero construir, mas se você me cobra muito caro, eu não vou fazer”, raciocinam.

Outra coisa é como gastar os recursos que vêm do FUNDURB. O Plano Diretor de 2014 estabelecia uma cota de 30 porcento para transporte público e mobilidade ativa. Ciclovias, calçadas. Andar a pé, aliás, é o principal meio de locomoção de São Paulo. Mas uma lei em 2019 alterou esse critério, incluindo também obras de infraestrutura viária. Aí está a disputa: reforçar um modelo que sempre privilegiou os carros, ou colocar o transporte público no modelo e investir o recurso nisso?

Uma outra discussão é sobre miolos de bairro. Existe a ideia de que o adensamento e o crescimento são maiores quanto mais próximo das ruas, das grandes avenidas. Com isso, o miolo do bairro fica mais baixinho. Essa é outra demanda histórica do setor imobiliário, crescer em miolos de bairros.

Há ainda a discussão sobre as Zonas Especiais de Interesse Social (ZEIS), aquelas que devem ser destinadas para habitação de interesse social. Parte do mercado imobiliário quer tirar as ZEIS de onde elas estão, porque algumas são muito bem localizadas e impedem a expansão ou a construção de empreendimentos específicos.

O debate sobre o Plano Diretor parece uma oportunidade concreta de participação dos cidadãos no planejamento da cidade. Mas talvez muitas pessoas desconheçam o dispositivo.

A gente está muito capturado pela discussão federal. Com muitas boas razões, porque estamos diante de uma crise sem precedentes da nossa democracia, com um presidente que afronta a Constituição, todo dia um novo escândalo, um novo absurdo. Mas esquecemos a discussão municipal.

Vale a pena prestar atenção especialmente nas cidades que estão revisando os seus planos diretores, porque isso impacta concretamente o dia a dia.

As desigualdades territoriais passam pela formulação dessas legislações. Então, se queremos enfrentar essas questões e mudar a forma como as nossas cidades estão sendo pensadas, precisamos nos inteirar sobre esses processos.

Uma coisa que vemos nas audiências, seja do Plano Diretor ou de zoneamento, é que as pessoas querem falar sobre o seu bairro, a coleta do lixo, a iluminação. Às vezes essas demandas nem vão ser tratadas no plano diretor especificamente, mas você vê que é o lugar onde as pessoas vocalizam isso, pois não conseguem encontrar outros espaços. Então o plano diretor é também um espaço onde as pessoas podem ser ouvidas.

Fonte das imagens: gestaourbana.prefeitura.sp.gov.br/

Leia e ouça mais sobre convivialidade e desigualdade em cidades latino-americanas:

Mecila Working Paper Series No. 11: Ramiro Segura, “Convivialidad en ciudades latinoamericanas”.

Diálogos Mecila, ep. 10: “Cidades desiguais: modos de ver”.

#14

The Politics of Respiration: The Catholic Charismatic Movement in Brazil

Global Convivial Forum 

Ajay Gandhi in Conversation with Maria José de Abreu

Ajay Gandhi, a 2021-2022 Senior Fellow at Mecila and an anthropologist and faculty member at Leiden University, conducted this dialogue with Maria José de Abreu, assistant professor of anthropology at Columbia University. Building on her recent book, The Charismatic Gymnasium (Duke University Press, 2021), we discussed the crafting of bodies by religious actors and the politics of respiration in Brazil and elsewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maria José de Abreu: The ecumenical Charismatic movement – a new Pentecost – first appeared among university scholars in Arkansas and Pennsylvania in prayer groups. While it gained visibility and official recognition in the 1990s, it came to Brazil in 1969, brought by two American Jesuits, Father Eduardo Dougherty, and Father Haroldo Rahm.

The CCR evolves, like Liberation Theology, out of the Second Vatican Council, a reform within Catholicism. Liberation Theology will develop the tendencies of modern Catholicism toward rationalization introduced in Brazil in the late nineteenth century. Except that this modernized rational Catholicism also went for the vernacular, finding ways to articulate teachings and tendencies channelled through European thinkers’ influence and mediated via local realities and struggles. This tendency was exacerbated by the fact that around the same time as the second Vatican Council, Brazil and other places within Latin America were US-backed dictatorships. Thus, Liberation Theology’s fame as a left-wing Catholic movement emerges in this conjuncture of modern progressive Catholicism, grassroots movements, and political opposition.

At the same time, you have another group or clusters with ideological affinities who wonder, since when is religion “an option for the poor”? Since when is religion about politics? Clearly Charismatics –an economic and intellectual elite – resented the idea of a “theology for the poor”.

Charismatics in Brazil needed a theological principle that would allow them to accommodate a language of radical inclusion and that principle in the Greek pneuma: as the Greek term for breath, air, or Spirit, Charismatics claimed, is radically democratic. But here we come to the crucial point that I think is pertinent for what is happening today with the pandemic – namely, the capacity to hide the particular behind the universal. To co-opt and explore a vital structure that as substance seems to know no borders, but only to demarcate even more what separates them from others.

Thus, for example, in those early days when Charismatics came to Brazil, they did not go to a central metropolis, such as São Paulo, but to a peripheral, secondary city, Campinas. There, they disparaged Liberation Theology as exclusionary, temporal, political viz universalism. But what they were actually doing was to self-enhance the idea of marginality and the peripheral. This idea allowed them to authenticate that they were living an experience like the first Christians.

In the 1990s, this political geography changed. The dictatorship is over, and a Cold Holy War (guerra santa) between mainstream Catholics and Protestants is happening. What Charismatics do is jump into this rift and concoct a new religious-political agenda. This does not mean leaving the periphery behind, but rather taking the periphery to the centre. The periphery becomes even more important – they embrace corporate media. At the same time, the centre symbolized by the state and its “third-way” politics is hollowing out, becoming more like a donut, an infinite circle with a big hole in the middle. This is perfect for Catholic Charismatics.

Charismatics combine pneuma and mass media. They also employ a political model that goes back to an orthodoxy voiced by Carl Schmitt as the complexio oppositorum: the ability to speak to two opposite audiences at once. To the right as well as to the left, to neoliberalism and to neo-conservativism. But they also do something else: they recover an idea of charisma, which was very important to pre-modern audiences. This is anti-institutional, except that this time around neoliberalism is defined by the institution’s ability to be against itself.

AG: Your work is a diagnosis of power mechanics in contemporary Brazil. Pneuma becomes a way that conservative, reactionary forms use flexibility and freedom to co-opt the fundamental substrate of existence: breath. I wanted to ask if we might reflect on the wider politics of respiration. For example, Frantz Fanon, in A Dying Colonialism (1959), speaks of the conditions of colonial occupation in French Algeria in the 1950s. There, the “daily pulsation” of people is “disfigured”. Breath is not liberatory but “an observed, an occupied breathing. It is a combat breathing”. For Fanon, respiration, under such unjust conditions, is an artifice, a “clandestine form of existence” where natives, under the occupier’s gaze, learn to “dissemble, to resort to trickery”. Breath, Fanon suggests, is never self-evident or obvious when shaped by power. It is something constricted and contrived, the opposite of natural.

I am interested in that sense of laboured breathing, of unnatural respiration in current circumstances. Health care professionals, for example, know that socioeconomic deprivation catalyses physiological contraction. In our age of anxiety, where futures are abruptly terminated, many are short of breath, too worried, or physically exhausted to take in the full nourishment of oxygen. Yet our elites and politicians also practice what we could call “salvation as inhalation”.

For example, India experienced a catastrophic shortage of medical oxygen in early 2021, leading to thousands of deaths. As people gasped for air, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sent a tweet, instructing people to “Sit in a comfortable meditative posture… Gently close the eyes and raise the face slightly. Breathe normally”. This top-down command came in the idiom of wise yogic advice. But may we see it as akin to what you describe in Brazil: the appropriation of life’s structure?

MJA: Once again, we are talking about how the universal is recruited in order to better hide the particular. It is precisely because breath and air seem to be such equalizers, the fluid that par excellence transcends all socio-economic barriers, that it becomes a potent medium to manipulate. One would indeed think of air as the ultimate expression of what is natural and spontaneous. Yet, the very idea of being natural and spontaneous is itself the result of power, a constricting power. Michel Foucault would say that power is not only constricting, but precisely because it is constricting, it can be enabling. Foucault was preoccupied with the creative aspects of power. But we need to ask: Creative for whom?

Now, Charismatics have this very interesting capacity to flip between domains. I have heard them conflating the natural and the supernatural when it comes to pneuma more than once. This idea of a supernatural is interesting because it can mean both the superlative for natural – a natural more natural it could not be – and supernatural in the sense of spiritual and divine. That when it comes to breathing practices, a supernatural can also be a supernatural felt incredible to me. More so because this flip between supernatural and supernatural entails the use of mass media technologies. For example, the use of songs through CDs and videos also involves recording breath. It helps people relate to religion as a training (askesis), where all attempts at separating breathing bodies and recorded breathing collapses.

You mention a context in India via Modi, where people are instructed to breathe calmly in a moment of great anxiety. Charismatics did that, too. And by the way, in the late 1990s, it was common to see women on Paulista Avenue, the financial artery of São Paulo City, with a stethoscope to check your pulse and do auscultation of your heart. Neoliberalism was this moment when finance became increasingly attached to supple, healthy bodies whose efficiency was somehow connected with the mechanisms of fluidity and circulation. Breathing of all physiological activities seemed to speak the language of economics. Breath is that which is at once abstract and concrete, regulated according to a balance between inputs (inhalation/importation) and outputs (exhalation/exportation), circulation, flow and so forth.

A history of the air of Brazil has yet to be written, but one could detect this important transformation from when air was perceived as a substance well until the latter part of the nineteenth century and when air became conceived as a dimension. From substance to dimension, in other words. In the first we have a thick air, an air that is populated by spirits, odours, messages, and diseases. In the latter, you have air as measurable. The statue of Jesus at the Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro marks the moment when air becomes conceived as a dimension. It is Catholicism’s skyscraper put there by the Redentoristas who had migrated to Brazil in the late nineteenth century to reform Catholicism: to turn air from substance to dimension. This tendency changes with Catholic Charismatics. It is no longer about placing a subject within a dimension, but a subject poised for change, a subject that has incorporated a level of flexibility to adapt. No longer just prediction, but adaptability, a feature that reflects a shift from longer to shorter temporalities. In that sense, it is not surprising that so many gyms and spas mushroomed in the 1990s, in Brazil and around the world. We see an economic elite appropriating, as you say, “life’s structure” such as air, attached to a whole discourse of salvation. The discourse of breath is so effective because it echoes with “letting go” whereas in effect it is a way of capture. It is a way of saying that there is nothing you can do except staying alive and feeling that you stay alive. So do nothing. Just breathe!

AG: Reading your book, I thought of Total Recall, Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 science fiction film. In it, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character discovers a conspiracy on a human-colonized Mars in the near future. The red planet is now overseen by a powerful corporation. The company’s control rests on mining and controlling the planet’s artificial oxygen supply. On Mars, a racialized category of infrahuman – freaks and deviants termed “mutants” – aids an insurgency against this concentrated power. The film, in exaggerated form, stages the politics of possession and segregation in our own world.

Total Recall asks who is allowed to breathe and control the basic mechanism of life. Oxygen becomes saleable, a means of leverage and authority – the corporate leader deprives the semi-human “mutants” of breath to exert coercion. In the end – it is a Hollywood film, after all! – the Schwarzenegger character ends the artificial lack of oxygen on Mars. In this way, he democratizes the means of living.

I am interested in this film in relation to your book through the prism of climate change and the pandemic. The coronavirus suggests that what we take for granted – oxygen, breath – is a contingent fact. In the context of infectious illness, medical oxygen becomes a scarce commodity that can be hoarded, privatized, and denied to others.

It would seem rather that the pandemic is continuous with – rather than disruptive of – pre-existing asymmetries in our compartmentalized world. Respirators and filtration devices, after all, are largely not available to the poor in the Global South. And we can think of the disproportionate suffocation that afflicts the disadvantaged: asthma, tuberculosis, and other respiratory diseases stifle the capacity to breathe. In a planetary atmosphere where carbon dioxide increases, those inequities – except for the super-rich like Jeff Bezos, zooming off to on Mars – will only continue.

My question for you is about the management of breath. In your book, you suggest that Brazilian Charismatics have developed a logistics, an infrastructure, for moulding subjects around breath. In this managerial mentality, they are perhaps not that different from state planners or executive administrators. In this sense, religious subjectivity, political sovereignty, and neoliberal appropriation are indebted to a technique of control and intentionality. I am interested in the limits of human designs, two centuries after the Enlightenment imparted the myth of mastering our destiny. Are we at a point, on a planetary scale, where agents like viruses delimit our breath and where the earth’s atmosphere is no longer benign? Where we hit the limits of control, of calisthenics, of trying to shape breath like bodies at a gym?

MJA: I agree with you that the pandemic is not an interruption of the asymmetric privileges, but the exposure of what was always already there. The irony of air as a substance is that it tries to suggest that there is no compartmentalizing. That is precisely the illusion that a movement like the CCR has been trying to communicate for the last four decades or so. In your question, you mention a “religious subjectivity, political sovereignty, and neoliberal appropriation [that] are indebted to a technique of control and intentionality”. But one thing that I think has come up with the turn to “air” and “breathing” among Charismatics, if we can put it like that with Covid-19 still literally in the air and on air, is precisely the suspension of intentionality for something like indeterminacy. And the irony is that we kind of like it because of how we tend to equate intentionality with the logics of modern subject or sovereign – the idea that puts humans at the centre as capable of intentionally designing human destiny, whereas indeterminacy sounds like a more poetic form of going about things. It suggests letting go of control, a praise of the uncertain that only makes sense because of narratives of progress and the violences inherent to telos. But the thing is, it is precisely certain movements on the (extreme) right who are now criticizing intentionality and adopting, even structuring, indeterminacy. This is tremendous because our project of the criticism of secular modernity is not finished. However, we also need to be attentive to these right-wing logics of appropriating left-wing discourses.

On the other hand, because of my new work on Portugal, your question also brings to mind canonical discourses that appeared in the aftermath of the Great Lisbon Earthquake in 1755. What lessons could one draw from the fact that nature could not be fully domesticated and that it could, after all, strike back? As you seem to suggest about the coronavirus, that earthquake led to great philosophical reflections on the nature of evil, speculative theodicy, and the role of humans in controlling their destiny. This very reflection on limits was at the point that “the myth of mastering our destiny” was at its peak. This gives me hope that perhaps we are never just in one camp alone but are always invited to reflect on the realities that could thwart them. Indeed, we need contrarians in order to deny them. On the other hand, there is no doubt that we are exhausting nature’s resources, and without going too much into the idea that nature has agency, it will strike back in ever fiercer ways. Perhaps we are living a moment where friend and foe are really intimate partners, and we need to reflect on where that leads us as thinkers and as breathers.

AG: Breath entails an interval, a pause. I am curious about the potential politics of this interval or pause. In the space between, at the moment of interruption, can other paths be taken? We live in a time when the dominant metaphors are “flow, stream, torrent” – the oversaturation and compulsion of digital and real life. Is it possible to find an alternative rhythm of life, a space of reflection, in the interval or pause within breath?

MJA: This again brings us back to how we are so invested in equating freedom with flow and movement. But now we have two tendencies: the logic of walled states and a new valorisation of the rural and of nature. What does this mean? That we will go back to idealised romanticism? I would not be surprised. The problem is that these spaces of escape are not cut out/off from the digital. One thus needs to ask, am I going to nature to escape the digital or to make up for the fact that I use so much digital? It is difficult to say. I think the idea of interval is curious because the interval in breathing is precisely what allows continuity. But I think you mean the pause for breath, as in the pause for reflection. Walter Benjamin describes his “pausing for breath… Tirelessly the process of thinking makes new beginnings, returning in a roundabout way to its original object. This continual pausing for breath is the mode most proper to the process of contemplation”. We shall have to see. I really don’t know. Neither do I wish to conduct a futurology of where breathing will take us. I think the reflection might start with the fact that we are posing the problem like this. That we are aware that we do not take breathing, but breathing takes us. Perhaps that is the beginning of reflection.

Ajay Gandhi: Your recent book examines a Catholic evangelical movement in Brazil, the Catholic Charismatic Renewal (CCR), which was newly influential in the 1990s, as the country was increasingly entangled in global capitalism. You argue that this heralds a form of religious self-consciousness, prizing bodily elasticity and the management of opposites (the complexio oppositorum). As part of this, Catholic evangelicals recuperate a Greek vocabulary: that of pneuma or breath. These aerobics of faith intersect with electronic media; an episteme aligns with an infrastructure. It shapes the body in an individual and political sense. What is important is the way the spirit is connected to the material. Circulation happens in unbounded space alongside the creation of tangible substances.

Can you describe how you see this, first, in terms of near history, a rupture with how religion in Brazil conceived of the national and individual? Second, in the longer span of Christianity, is this a revitalization or recuperation of ideas going back to Greece and Byzantium – or is it a new way of crafting a religious and political self?

Charismatic Gymnasium copy 2 (1)

#13

Horizontality in the 2010s

Global Convivial Forum 

Horizontality is establishing itself in countless activities that have often prospered silently over the last fifty years in many domains where the participants are unburdened with submitting to hierarchies, vertical chains of command, or with taking on positions of authority.

Yves Cohen (EHESS/ Mecila Senior Fellow 2020-21)

A large and sustained wave of movements without leaders arose in the 2010s. Tunisia inaugurated the wave, followed closely by Egypt. These two countries started the “Arab Spring” whose blossoming would be aggressively suppressed. And yet the wave would continue in Turkey, Spain, Ukraine, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso: a raggedy incomplete list where the old democracies are conspicuously absent – until the Yellow Vests. This French social movement appeared in 2018 and would be followed by a series of leaderless movements in 2019 in Algeria, Ecuador, Bolivia, Lebanon, Iraq, Chile, Egypt, and Haiti. Not all the mass movements of the decade openly declare themselves leaderless such as those in Hong Kong and Sudan. But even though this dimension has hardly been studied by social scientists, this desire to move ahead with no boss should be taken seriously. This is an important part of the renewal of protest movements compared to the previous century, and of contemporary social sciences. It has a major impact on the central theme of the social bond – its composition, dynamic, and history across centuries if not millennia. As suggested by Ivan Illich’s call for conviviality, there’s nothing natural, automatic, or self-evident about this bond, including subordination or hierarchy despite what recent centuries, especially the twentieth, would suggest in a number of locations around the world. Subordination and hierarchy are not always already written in the great book of the social. They are part of an historical elaboration across the globe that is irregular in the times and places they occur.

The movements of the 2010s seize on very delimited spaces to become the locus of their meetings and their force. One hears the term “democracy of the squares” to convey this use of public spaces (that recalls the medieval use of commons). The Yellow Vests invented the use of traffic roundabouts as a place of action, deliberation, and conviviality. In Belarus, people refusing the electoral fraud of Alexander Lukashenko chose to gather in courtyards of apartment buildings. Hitting on the idea of using all of these micro-territories as democratic spaces where people of diverse social origins, genders, races, religions, ages, and professions can meet directly as themselves without representatives on an equal footing in the heat of action has been a first step in solving the deep crisis of representative democracy. It is a criticism through direct action of the preceding century and of its profound reticence toward all forms of open-air free democracy. The solution being sketched out at this beginning of what promises to be a long process is not a substitution of horizontal democracy of public squares and roundabouts to replace the reigning structures in parliamentary regimes around the world. This search for a new democratic legitimacy is not seeking to destroy representative democracy. It aims to radically and democratically question the established powers in all their forms.

Besides public squares and similar venues, horizontality is establishing itself in countless activities that have often prospered silently over the last fifty years in many domains where the participants are unburdened with submitting to hierarchies, vertical chains of command, or with taking on positions of authority. Historically, it is a refusal in deeds of the imperative in force throughout the twentieth century according to which a popular movement, whether social or political, must be organized and hierarchical, preferably under the authority of a political party – in other words, according to the Bolshevik model of an avant-garde where every single collective activity, including the family, had to be conducted under the authority of a chief who would with few exceptions be masculine. The social bond was endowed with a hierarchical dimension naturalized in a thousand ways.

The social sciences have an interesting worksite to develop around identifying as exhaustively as possible the activities in all domains that have been undertaken recently with no chief, no leader, in an egalitarian, cooperative, collaborative, or autonomous manner. First, squares, roundabouts, and high-rise courtyards are places of conviviality: participants become acquainted by working together; this could be around preparing a meal, taking measures to be ready for winter, treating the wounds suffered during confrontations, organizing the group’s self-defence, or by deliberating. Action and deliberation are not the only components of the activity in these public spaces; the communal life is another which, along with action and deliberation, make these places belong along a spectrum of conviviality that amounts to a communal living together that may be familial, relate to a certain community with its proximities and its conflicts of variable intensity, cross boundaries, or envelope some other more or less temporary groupings. One cannot help but think of the quilombo of fugitive slaves in Brazil, a territory recomposed since the sixteenth century with a free lifestyle and yet open to others.

Secondly, the embers burn red hot under the ashes. Under the surface of the “public” and somewhat out of sight, a deep work on the social fabric is taking place that recognizes at every point a need or even a desire for horizontality. These activities are quite varied: communal gardens in large metropolitan cities, presses, cultural or humanitarian activities, medical and legal offices, cooperatives of production or distribution – countless are the objects for the collectives and collectivities that have emerged, taken shape, and endured in this way for several years now. Many movements and organizations in France have been organized according to such principles of horizontality such as, for example, the movement to support the undocumented migrants and the Réseau Education Sans Frontières (Education Network Without Borders), and this is true in many countries around the world.

Following the example of squatters and the ZAD (a French acronym for “zones to be defended”) which have embraced horizontality, these other collectives are also seeking to offer a vision of the future via a dynamic of struggle and specific claims. In France, for example, they are linking with other transformations of institutions, such as the “collegial associations” that have neither president nor board. A law from 1901 regulates associations by a regime of declaration and not authorization. Over time the habit developed of creating an association “bureau” with a president, vice president, and secretary. This vertically organized structure became the norm and has only been questioned very recently. Association members who came to the prefecture to declare their association but without a president or bureau were told they had to follow the law.

And yet the letter of the law includes no such obligation and requires only persons “responsible for the administration”. In addition to the growing number of collegial associations, there has been since 2014 and the experiment in Saillans in the Drôme department a flourishing multiplication of ecological municipalities which are non-hierarchical, egalitarian, and more or less directly inspired by the “libertarian municipalism” of Murray Bookchin (Legros 2020). In France, the family unit no longer has a single “chief” as head of the household following a legal reform of 1970, an effect of the renewal of the women’s movement, and “parental authority” is now “shared”. In France and elsewhere, a growing number of organizations have adopted the formula of the Movimento Passe Livre (Free Fare Movement, MPL) in Brazil that erupted in June 2013 with the most powerful demonstrations the country has ever known. The movement, founded in 2005, invented a “charter” that proclaimed it to be “horizontal, autonomous, independent and nonpartisan but not antipartisan”. Following the demonstrations, all fare increases were blocked, leaving a deep imprint on the political history of the country – until the vultures of the far-right latched onto this popular agitation to turn it toward other goals.

The anti-hierarchical enthusiasm also extends to companies. In order to save itself and preserve the essential elements, capitalism since 1968 has sought to evade the insistent challenges to the authority of chiefs at all levels. For example, in one of the co-optation manoeuvres that are inseparable from all instances of power, it initiated the “project management”, “crushing hierarchies”, and even declared “freedom”. Internationally, one may note that the Internet was created on principles of horizontality that are endlessly opposed by nation-states and multinational companies.

With or without direct connection, from person to person and step to step, these more or less enduring and widespread activities resonate with free communities over large territories such as the Chiapas or the Rojava which have taken on global visibility even without occupying an entire country. The study of this ensemble – horizontal movements, collective egalitarian activities of all kinds, occupations, and free territories of various sizes – would require a global approach whose methods would have to be established carefully.

This article takes up most closely two cases: first, the horizontal practice of the Yellow Vests based on eyewitness observations within an assembly in the Paris region, and secondly, the initial steps of a cooperative school created recently in São Paulo in the aftermath of the June 2013 demonstrations and the occupation of high schools in the state of São Paulo that followed.

One of the challenges of this work is to avoid considering horizontality as an absolute that would arrive in opposition to hierarchy, but to observe instead in a pragmatic fashion what actually happens and attempt to identify the forms, the meandering evolutions, and the meanings, and in this way take part in a reflection that would be both that of the actors and the researchers in mutual reinforcement.

Translated by C. Jon Delogu

Cover image: Patrice Calatayu, Demonstrations of the Mouvement des gilets jaunes on Place Pey Berland, Bordeaux, 2 Feb 2019.

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Yves Cohen (2021): “Horizontality in the 2010s: Social Movements, Collective Activities, Social Fabric, and Conviviality”, Mecila Working Paper Series, No. 40, São Paulo: The Maria Sibylla Merian Centre Conviviality-Inequality in Latin America, http://dx.doi.org/10.46877/cohen.2021.40.

#12

Literature supply in a transnational research network: The information infrastructure of Mecila

Global Convivial Forum 

Christoph Müller (Principal Investigator at Mecila)

Screenshot of the 1st virtual meeting in December 2020.

Screenshot of the Discovery System IberoSearch.

In a transnational research network such as Mecila, in which researchers from and in different countries and continents cooperate and conduct research within a common thematic framework, the provision of publications and information resources is of particular importance. All Principal and Associated Investigators, as well as all Fellows and research associates should have access to the necessary research literature and the relevant information sources, as independently as possible of time and place.

To ensure this, an information infrastructure has been established in Mecila, coordinated by the Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz (IAI, Ibero-American Institute Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation) together with the Biblioteca Daniel Cosió Villegas of the Colegio de México, the library of the Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros of the Universidade de São Paulo and the Biblioteca Professor Guillermo Obiols of the Facultad de Humanidades y Ciencias de la Educación and the Instituto de Investigaciones en Humanidades y Ciencias Sociales of the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (IdIHCS) of the Universidad Nacional de La Plata in Argentina.

Since December 2020, regular virtual meetings have been held between colleagues from the partner libraries to coordinate joint work and exchange information.

post blog 2

The IAI, which consists of a research centre, a cultural centre, and the largest European library specialised in Latin America, the Caribbean, Spain, and Portugal, provides all Mecila researchers access to all its holdings. If Mecila’s scholars have specific literature needs that go beyond the library’s holdings, the IAI acquires corresponding media with its own funds, if possible in electronic form.

With their IAI library card, all Mecila investigators can directly access all licensed or freely available electronic offers of the IAI via the Online Catalog of the IAI library or the discovery system IberoSearch, independently of time and place.

The copyright-free publications digitised by the IAI are generally available via the IAI’s Digital Collections.

Publications that are not yet copyright-free in a licensable electronic version should also be accessible to Mecila’s investigators. To this end, the partner libraries are pursuing a two-pronged solution strategy.

On the one hand, Mecila’s partner institutions will exchange publications in physical form whenever possible. For research at Mecila’s headquarters in São Paulo, the Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros will provide its library reading room where Mecila scholars can work with these materials. This will also be possible in Berlin, La Plata, and Mexico City.

On the other hand, the IAI has set up an electronic reading room for Mecila, which makes it possible, within the regulations of German copyright law, to also make publications under copyright accessible electronically to a limited extent. Publications of high relevance for the entire project are scanned with project funds to make them available as image files in the electronic reading room, which is only accessible to active Mecila investigators.

By all these analogue and digital means, Mecila scientists have the possibility to access literature and relevant information sources held in the collections of the partner libraries at all locations of the project, to advance their research.

For more information, please contact: [email protected]

Cover image: The library of the Instituto de Estudos Brasileiros in São Paulo, Brasil (IEB).

#11

Gauchos in Hollywood: Exoticization and Globalization of Criollismo in the 1920s

Global Convivial Forum 

In what ways were a set of contents popularized by criollista literature in Argentina at the turn of the century detached from their literary origins and projected as global export materials by a series of films produced in Hollywood, the centre of world entertainment production, in the 1920s?

Nicolás Suárez (Mecila Junior Fellow 2021)

Throughout the 1920s, Hollywood produced at least fourteen Argentine-themed films, most of which included gaucho characters and were located in the Pampas. Based on these films and the images of the nation that they bring into play, it is possible to explore various strategies through which a repertoire of themes, characters, plots and landscapes promoted by criollista literature were projected globally and then reappropriated by the local culture. This was the subject of my presentation held in the Scientific Colloquium of Mecila’s Research Area Medialities of Conviviality in July 2021, which focused on interdisciplinary research on the production and circulation of knowledge, representations, and imaginaries in contexts of conviviality; that is, relations and exchanges marked by inequalities and difference.

In this framework, understanding criollismo as the group of practices and discourses that create a common feeling of belonging around the figure of the gaucho, the main questions of my research can be formulated as follows: In what ways were a set of contents popularized by criollista literature in Argentina at the turn of the century detached from their literary origins and projected as global export materials by a series of films produced in Hollywood, the centre of world entertainment production, in the 1920s? And how were these productions retransmitted back to the Argentine audience, impacting content production at a local level? Drawing on these crossings between national literature and world cinema, my work is intended as a contribution to the study of the constitutive processes of local cultural identities, and their problematization in global terms.

Rodolfo Valentino in The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse (Rex Ingram, 1921)

Within the corpus of Argentine-themed films produced in Hollywood during the 1920s, two central cases stand out. On the one hand, there is the famous scene from The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (Rex Ingram, 1921) in which Rodolfo Valentino dances tango dressed as a gaucho and thus initiates an exchange that lasted until the end of the twenties. Based on the anti-war best-seller that the Spaniard Blasco Ibáñez had written in 1916, the film was a worldwide success and established Valentino as an international star. In this sense, the gaucho emblem performs the function of exoticizing Argentine identity as an exportable commodity, and of presenting a type of Latin masculinity that, for the first time, made the female public visible as a differentiated mass phenomenon. Some productions that followed a similar formula are proof of the success of this operation, such as A Sainted Devil (Joseph Henabery, 1924), in which Valentino once again played a gaucho character, or Argentine Love (Allan Dwan, 1924) and The Temptress (Fred Niblo, 1926), both based on stories by Blasco Ibáñez that take place in the Pampas.

On the other hand, Douglas Fairbanks As The Gaucho (Frank Richard Jones, 1927) diverged from these productions, since it involved a type of virile masculinity associated with adventure films. As in Valentino’s case, the appearance of a star like Fairbanks embodying a gaucho character soon prompted new films on the subject, namely The Charge of the Gauchos (Albert Kelley, 1928), an adaptation of Bartolomé Mitre’s Historia de Belgrano (1857), and the animated short film The Gallopin’ Gaucho (Ub Iwerks, 1928), a parody of Fairbanks’ film that showed Mickey Mouse in a gaucho costume. These films are the most prominent examples of a larger corpus of Argentine-themed films produced in Hollywood in the 1920s, including titles such as The Happy Warrior (Stuart Blackton, 1925), Flame of the Argentina (Edward Dillon, 1926), Wind of the Pampas (Arthur Varney, 1927), and Soul of a Gaucho (Henry Otto, 1930).

Thus, from Valentino to Mickey, the stories with Hollywood gauchos cover the generic arc that ranges from the tragedy of the anti-war plight to the caricatured farce. However, at the end of the decade, two situations put an end to this process. From a technical point of view, the arrival of sound film raised linguistic barriers that prevented Hollywood celebrities from playing Latin characters with the same fluency that silent cinema ensured, which negatively affected the global circulation of this kind of films. From a historical perspective, the crash of 1929 and the Argentine military coup of 1930 undermined the optimistic views on the national past and made it increasingly difficult to project onto Argentina the nostalgic images of the Old West as a mythologized time; likewise, for the Argentine imaginary, it was no longer so simple to project a possible or desirable future onto American history.

From that moment on, Hollywood’s forays into themes related to criollista literature would no longer have the success and assiduity achieved in the 1920s. But the traces of this moment of globalization of criollismo would persist in Argentine literature and cinema for a long time, in the form of a presumably spurious gaucho culture that differed from one that intended to be more genuine.



Cover image: Poster from the 1927 movie The Gaucho.

A Sainted Devil

Poster for the 1924 film A Sainted devil

Argentine Love is a lost 1924 Bebe Daniels silent film romance drama directed by Allan Dwan and based on a story by Vicente Blasco Ibanez. This is a contemporary lobby card for the film.

#10

History and Fiction Living Together in Roberto Bolaño’s Narratives

Global Convivial Forum 

Bolaño’s works associate real epistemic violence and lack of justice with brutal, implausible fictional situations.

Jorge I. Estrada (Mecila Junior 2021)

Bringing an unsettling side of conviviality to the fore is perhaps one of the most enticing features in Roberto Bolaño’s narratives. His fiction delves into historical catastrophes and social conflicts to depict individuals entangled in a chaotic world. These characters move through exceptional situations in which living together is far from having positive connotations, far from any idea of sharing the produce of progress, and far from the harmony that a humanist would ground on understanding and reason.

Quite to the contrary, these situations are macabre and reveal a dystopic way of living together. They subvert any enlightened or humanist expectations. While portraying scenes of a possible world that we might even recognise because it is closely knit together with referential hints and a realist tenor, they can only evoke estrangement and discomfort.

Bolaño’s prose turns the everyday into something gruesome. He makes us witness a nightmare without taking a metaleptic leap into the realms of dreams, the unreal or fantastic. He does not even allow the uncanny to take over reality with plot twists or sudden insights into a character’s personality and motivations. This is the fundamental ambiguity of Bolaño’s worlds: an impending apocalypse that – paradoxically – already took place and which we are only just beginning to notice.

We, the readers, become accountable for linking history, fiction, shared imaginaries, and ideologies, all of which intertwine through diverse narrative strategies. In Nocturno de Chile (2000), for instance, history is presented using a combination of historical references, metaphors, and an allegorical intention. The past comes alive, and the story reveals the surface of the exceptional circumstances of the events through unsettling interactions. The past is an unconcealed evil that confronts us at every instant with violence and destruction.

This is particularly striking in a scene that begins with an unexpected visit. Two government agents from Pinochet’s dictatorship, Hate and Fear, approach the protagonist, a literary critic and Catholic priest named Sebastián Urrutia Lacroix. In this setting, we find an immediate sense of foreboding, but there is also a crucial detail that lies beyond the names and obscure professions of these characters, a detail in the landscape, revealed just before a ‘friendly’ interrogation: the “enormes araucarias que se alzaban catedralicias” (102–103).

The metaphor “huge araucaria trees rising cathedral-like” establishes the background against which experiences unfold. The narrator’s description of the surroundings combines an essentialist claim regarding the New World’s land and its past evangelisation and colonisation. The autochthonous araucarias represent an original nature that is appropriated and becomes an expression of Christianity as if they were the rib vault of a Gothic cathedral rising towards the sky. By pitting a tree native to Chile against religion, the narrator implicitly constructs an analogy between the colonial past and the dictatorial present. Ever-renewing destruction is thus the backdrop of this story and also the setting for the agents’ request. They ask (or command) the protagonist to teach Pinochet and his staff a course on Marxism. Despite suspecting a trap for insurgents, he cannot refuse and proceeds to prepare ten lessons for the collision of two ideological standpoints – if not two worlds, like in colonial times – a collision that leads to one-sided, systematic violence and the demise of peoples.  

The text describes the course as if taught in any formal or institutional setting, with both outstanding and somnolent students. The only difference is that pronouncing any name or word can have life-or-death consequences. But nothing out of the ordinary arises until later, when a friend asks the protagonist about his experience and whether he found anything “exceptional” in Pinochet’s character. The protagonist only mentions the dictator’s preoccupation with surrounding himself with books and becoming a well-read and published intellectual.

A humanist interest in gathering sources of knowledge as well as recognizing and understanding different ideologies becomes an instrument to achieve atrocious ends. Even if we cannot speak of conviviality in this context of domination, the novel attempts to imagine those reasonable men and women who participated in rituals of destruction. They negotiated their everyday lives in the asymmetrical position that Fear and Hate created.

The violent rituals and exceptions, or rather the arbitrariness that seems to ground norms and establish order, are also identifiable outside an institutional setting. For example, in 2666 (2004), we meet a group of literary critics who find each other in international conferences and tacitly form a research group. Eventually, this intimacy goes beyond purely intellectual interests and becomes a love triangle.

The characters find themselves discussing their love affairs during a taxi ride at one point in the story. Their encounter with the Pakistani driver is blatantly stereotypical. The critics carry on their conversation without noticing that the topic vexes the driver, who quietly continues performing his duties after uttering a word in an unidentified language. After a pause, the driver admits that the labyrinth that is London has managed to disorient him. The Spanish critic declares to his peers that the driver has unknowingly cited Borges, while the British critic replies that Dickens and Stevenson had already made that comparison. Annoyed by their paternalist tone towards him, the driver explains that the comparison is obvious and exclaims that though he might not know his way around London, he knows what decency is. He insults their openness to discuss and engage in free love. Their fragile masculinity hurt, one of the critics grabs the driver out of the vehicle, and together they beat him, thus strengthening their sense of community.

The artificiality of this passage is deeply provocative. While it is not impossible, for some it might seem out of character and implausible for researchers in the humanities with a university education to revel in violence. Why would we assume it to be impossible, even for a moment? We must bear in mind the biopolitical hierarchy that acts as the backdrop for the scene. Even so, this kind of epistemic violence pales in comparison to the brutal incident and to the fact that it only made the local news as if it were nothing unusual. Perhaps this is the moralist in Bolaño. The author manages to make expectations reveal how the same inequalities and power relations can play out or be actualised differently. His works convey how some biopolitical assumptions perpetuate and encourage these situations, and they associate epistemic violence and lack of justice with a most brutal result, even if barely plausible.

Bolaño challenges any interpretative framework by inviting the reader to engage with the fabric of a plot, with the flaws and strengths channelling our expectations and allowing us to follow the story. He pleas for revisiting any event, for being wary of any stable representation, and for disarticulating any rigid connection between an event and its meaning. Monsieur Pain (1984), set in Paris before World War II, provides an intricate example of this disarticulation. The novel consists of a first-person narration surrounding a mesmerist who attempts to save the life of Peruvian poet César Vallejo by curing his mysterious case of the hiccups. The preliminary note tells us that the story is based on true events, so we can infer from the beginning that the mesmerist treats Vallejo to no avail because there is no magic cure for this real illness. Despite the hints at Poe’s mesmeric short stories, nothing that happens in the plot is fantastic, certainly not the death of an impoverished migrant and poet.

The poet’s death resulted from social circumstances and was caused by a lack of access to proper health care. And yet, Bolaño refuses to accept the necessity of the past and the tragic destiny of a poet who lives in the margins of Parisian society but will become a central figure in the foreign Latin American canon. For this reason, he deploys counterfactual claims and flirts with fantastic literature to challenge the past as a psychotic reaction to the inequalities that made Vallejo a case of living death, a chimerical body tied to the ontic and material world just by a hiccup. Vallejo’s dispossession challenges historical necessity and an inescapable societal given, questioning the symbolic underpinnings that are fatally embodied.

These incidents exemplify the various ways in which Bolaño grapples with diverse discourses and explanatory frameworks. This examination of a symbolic order is only possible through fiction, that is, by drawing attention to its artificiality and by giving piecemeal bits of referential, counterfactual, ideological, or even allegorical elements. The interfictional structuring that relies on genres such as the fantastic and a wild intertextuality invites us as readers to unhinge norms and dissect experience. We must sever the presupposed cohesion of facts, conceptual frameworks, actions, and meaning. Interfictionality opens a chasm in history, and these overlapping stories threaten to become enacted in every interaction and every asymmetrical negotiation with each other. This accretion of meanings, which a highly codified structure of artistic representation achieves, erodes the clarity of autonomous reason and proposes a relational approach to events: a virulent contamination between history, facts, and fiction.

Image: Cia. das Letras

Cover of Roberto Bolaño’s «Nocturno de Chile», Editorial Anagrama/2015. 

References

Roberto Bolaño (2000): Nocturno de Chile, Barcelona: Anagrama.

#9

Southern Theories in Circulation:
Towards a Convivial Canon

Global Convivial Forum 

Discussing the challenges of epistemological changes in LASA 2021

Between 26 and 29 May 2021, the Congress of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) was held virtually, convening a significant part of the Latin American studies international academic community under the slogan “Global Crisis: Inequalities and the Centrality of Life”.

Mecila participated in a panel titled “Southern Theories in Circulation: Towards a Convivial Canon”. On 26 May at midnight in Berlin and sunset in Bogota, five members of Mecila met virtually to discuss different perspectives and proposals for disciplinary transformations and the construction of alternative canons and epistemologies in academic spaces between and within the South and the North.

The organisers and chairs Mariana Teixeira (Mecila/FU Berlin) and Clara Ruvituso proposed to address these challenges from the notion of a convivial canon. The notion aims to underline “the entangled inequalities that constituted the academic spaces in which we are involved, as well as to discuss the inclusion of differences in a way that mitigates rather than enhance existing asymmetries”.

Sérgio Costa’s (Mecila/FU Berlin) proposal “Convivial Sociologies: Exploring Transdisciplinary Futures” focused on the challenges of transforming sociology within the framework of theoretical and methodological advances in research on conviviality, overcoming methodological nationalism, anthropocentrism, and even logocentrism.

Addressing the challenges of epistemic transformations, Astrid Ulloa (Mecila/Universidad Nacional de Colombia) presented epistemological perspectives of indigenous women in Colombia, who produce their own conceptualizations and methodologies with strong territorial and political impacts and in asymmetrical and violent contexts.

Based on an analysis of the pioneering thought of Brazilian anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro, Clara Ruvituso proposed a historical analysis of the forms of circulation of southern theories in the Global North and the difficulties and limits of the its reception.

Barbara Göbel (Mecila/IAI), invited as discussant, examined the institutional and political challenges facing these proposals for epistemological change. In what ways do the disciplines established on historical institutionalizations react to the changes? What types of circulation and infrastructures can facilitate this opening and transformation?

The conclusion of the panel pointed out that Mecila’s own experimental and interdisciplinary space allows us to test the conceptual, political, and institutional challenges of these proposals.

Image credit (cover): LASA 2021 Program Book, Image of María de los Ángeles Balaguera. 

Clara Ruvituso (Mecila/IAI)

 

#8

La constitución de la multicultura en el espacio urbano: El juguete rabioso de Roberto Arlt

Global Convivial Forum 

Los tortuosos pactos de convivialidad en la Buenos Aires de principios del siglo XX, que atañen tanto la psicología individual como las representaciones sociales, son asediados en el working paper “Los tortuosos pactos de convivialidad en ‘El juguete rabioso’ de Roberto Arlt” (Mecila Working Paper Series No. 38) a partir del significado de los recorridos por el espacio urbano en transformación y de la centralidad de la literatura como instrumento de consumo y de producción.

Gloria Chicote (Mecila/Conicet-UNLP)

Sylvia Saítta en su contundente recorrido de vida por la obra de Roberto Arlt, ubica al joven escritor en las mismas calles de Flores que transita Silvio Astier, el protagonista de El juguete rabioso (1926). El barrio de Flores se descubre como ese suburbio pueblerino y señorial de la ciudad de Buenos Aires, donde se emplazan las quintas, las mansiones de una elite social y cultural, pero que a pocas cuadras convive con el barro, los inmigrantes recién llegados, la pobreza y el malevaje.

Saítta relata la infancia de Arlt que transcurre como la de cualquier chico pobre de un barrio burgués de Buenos Aires, en cuyas calles se confunden argentinos e inmigrantes que circulan en espacios diferenciados pero que se entrecruzan en la escuela, el cine, el teatro y el circo. La presencia del barrio invade El juguete rabioso pero no tiene la carga de nostalgia propia de la literatura costumbrista, sino que es el lugar de la marca indeleble, imborrable, del que se pretende huir infructuosamente.

En el capítulo 1, se hace referencia con trazos nítidos a las formas de convivialidad en el barrio a través de la pandilla de niños / adolescentes de extracción ligeramente diferente pero complementaria porque representan las clases populares de criollos, inmigrantes, obreros, empleados, comerciantes, o desclasados que deambulan por la calle, el café, el “sórdido” almacén, y se aventuran a los suburbios, al acecho de aprender, de adquirir conocimientos múltiples y heterogéneos que los capaciten para la supervivencia, tal como los que les ofrece el mismo Silvio cuando construye el cañón:

 

 

 

 

 

 

En relación con la convivialidad que posibilita la pertenencia a esa multicultura del barrio, Julio Cortázar destaca la posibilidad de una perspectiva original que esta ubicación significó para Arlt, pero también señala el rechazo del escritor a su medio social y a la sociedad en su conjunto. Aunque a veces sus personajes sienten una envidia pseudonostálgica por los estamentos sociales superiores, tal como se traduce en la fascinación que Astier experimenta ante la familia de Enrique Irzubeta quienes, a pesar de ser pobres, proceden de una clase social más elevada de la cual heredan sus conductas:

todos holgaban con vagancia dulce con ocios que se paseaban de las novelas de Dumas al reconfortante sueño de las siestas y al amable chismorreo del atardecer (Arlt [1926] 1981: 15–16).

Pero el verdadero desafío de la convivialidad en El juguete rabioso se produce cuando el personaje fracasa en su fantasía de ladrón y debe ingresar en el mundo del trabajo, para lo cual abandona el barrio y se traslada al centro de la ciudad. Beatriz Sarlo, en su emblemático libro Una Modernidad Periférica: Buenos Aires, 1920 y 1930 (1988), definió ese tiempo y ese lugar como testigo de cambios espectaculares.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buenos Aires ha crecido de manera espectacular en las dos primeras décadas del siglo XX. La ciudad nueva hace posible, literariamente verosímil y culturalmente aceptable al flâneur que arroja la mirada anónima del que no será reconocido por quienes son observados, la mirada que no supone comunicación con el otro. […] El circuito del paseante anónimo sólo es posible en la gran ciudad que, más que un concepto demográfico ó urbanístico, es una categoría ideológica y un mundo de valores. Arlt produce su personaje y su perspectiva en las Aguafuertes, constituyéndose él mismo en un flâneur modelo. […] Tiene la atención flotante del flâneur que pasea por el centro y los barrios, metiéndose en la pobreza nueva de la gran ciudad y en las formas más evidentes de la marginalidad y el delito (…). En su itinerario de los barrios al centro, el paseante atraviesa una ciudad cuyo trazado ya ha sido definido, pero que conserva todavía muchas parcelas sin construir, baldíos y calles sin vereda de enfrente (Sarlo 1988: 16).

A pesar de que Sarlo alude en esta cita a una descripción de la ciudad que Arlt ofrece en una de las Aguafuertes porteñas, las mismas expresiones podrían referirse al joven flâneur que recorre las calles y las páginas de El juguete rabioso.

Image credit (cover): Horacio Coppola, Vista de la calle Florida desde la esquina con Bartolomé Mitre, mirando hacia Cangallo, 1936.

Referencias

Arlt, Roberto ([1926] 1981): Obra completa [2 vols.], Buenos Aires: Carlos Lohlé.

Cortázar, Julio ([1926] 1981): “Prólogo”, en: Arlt, Roberto, Obra completa [2 vols.], Buenos Aires: Carlos Lohlé, iii–xi.

Saítta, Sylvia (2000): El escritor en el bosque de ladrillos. Una biografía de Roberto Arlt, Buenos Aires: Editorial Sudamericana.

Sarlo, Beatriz (1988): Una modernidad periférica: Buenos Aires 1920 y 1930, Buenos Aires: Nueva Visión.

Horacio_Coppola_-_Buenos_Aires_1936_-_Corrientes_y_Maipú
Horacio Coppola, Vista hacia el oeste de la Avenida Corrientes desde su intersección con Maipú, Buenos Aires, en 1936. 
Anônimo, Calle Caracas, Flores, Buenos Aires, 1906.

Admirados lo examinaron los muchachos de la vecindad, y ello les evidenció mi superioridad intelectual, que desde entonces prevaleció en las expediciones organizadas para ir a robar fruta o descubrir tesoros enterrados en los despoblados que estaban más allá del arroyo Maldonado en la Parroquia de San José de Flores (Arlt [1926] 1981: 15).

Más allá de las transformaciones estéticas o de la modernización económica, Buenos Aires conformó su modernidad como estilo cultural, destacándose como un espacio físico distinguido y como mito cultural. La ciudad se altera en el paisaje urbano y ecológico, pero también y, conjuntamente, en las experiencias de vida de sus habitantes. Ciudad y modernidad se presuponen una a otra porque la ciudad es el escenario de los cambios a partir del cual la modernidad se introduce brutalmente; es la ciudad la que los disemina y generaliza:

Calle_caracas_flores_1906

#7

Global Convivial Forum 

¿‘Distancia de rescate’ en tiempos de distanciamiento social? Sobre la novela de Samantha Schweblin (2014)

Samantha Schweblin combina acontecimientos inusuales con las realidades del desastre ambiental. De esta manera su texto se convierte en una lectura oscilante entre lo fantástico y lo real.

Susanne Klengel (Mecila/FU Berlin)

I – Hilando una narración apocalíptica

En tiempos de distanciamiento social, la aclamada novela Distancia de rescate (2014) de Samantha Schweblin,[1] escritora argentina residente en Berlín, suscita un nuevo y actualizado interés por su enigmático título. Hemos aprendido lo que significa el distanciamiento social, la distancia por seguridad, pero ¿cuál es el significado de la ‘distancia de rescate’? Estos tres conceptos remiten a relaciones entre personas en situaciones de posible amenaza (contra la vida), pero la idea de ‘distancia’ es interpretada de manera diferenciada: en los dos primeros casos, la muy escasa distancia resulta riesgosa porque aumenta la posibilidad de una contaminación patógena; en la obra de Samantha Schweblin, no obstante, la cuestión clave es la propia naturaleza de la distancia al ofrecer protección ante un peligro inminente.

En la novela se despliega, con un trasfondo siniestro y realista, el escenario de una progresiva catástrofe ambiental causada por el uso excesivo de fertilizantes o pesticidas en los campos de soja argentinos. Este desastre se convierte en el silencioso desencadenante de un complicado drama familiar que se desarrolla en un pequeño centro vacacional en la zona rural. Se entrelazan o entrecruzan las vidas de dos madres con una hija y un hijo pequeña/o. Ciertos acontecimientos extraños, como una presunta trasmigración de almas entre la niña y el niño, trastornarán las relaciones entre ambas familias.

La narración se presenta como una búsqueda: David, hijo de Carla, sostiene un diálogo casi obstinado con Amanda, madre de Nina, quien se encuentra agonizando por envenenamiento en un hospital. David insiste en que Amanda le explique su extraña sensación de alienación interior. El diálogo –quizás tan sólo un sueño febril de Amanda, al que el público lector es transportado desde el comienzo de la novela– se nota forzado por la inexorable finitud del tiempo de vida de la moribunda. 

Llama la atención de que la ‘distancia de rescate’ se describa repetidamente como el ‘hilo’ que une a la madre con su hijo o hija. Este hilo se afloja o se estira, “varía con las circunstancias” (p. 37) y, a veces, “está tan corto que apenas puedo moverme”, dice Amanda (p. 57). Su extensión es el termómetro emocional de la relación familiar, al menos desde la perspectiva de la madre angustiada. Asimismo, la naturaleza incondicional de este lazo (hilo semejante al ‘cordón umbilical’) es el problema: ¿qué pasa si el hilo se rompe por alguna razón? ¿Habrá que anudarlo a cualquier precio? ¿Será esto posible?

De hecho, la ruptura se torna inminente tras el contacto con el tóxico. Pero no se corta el hilo vital de inmediato, lo que llevaría a la muerte de las y los protagonistas y con eso, a un precipitado final de la novela. Al contrario, el lento avance de la rotura es lo que pone en marcha la narración: por vías laberínticas se persiguen los cabos sueltos de varios hilos vitales para reajustarlos (y para sanar el accidente), mientras que se entrelazan los hilos narrativos para tejer la novela.

El niño David, primera víctima emblemática del desastre ambiental, es también el gran entretejedor en esta historia siniestra. Obsesivo y desesperado busca las conexiones perdidas y olvidadas, puesto que su alma se ha perdido tras el accidente con el tóxico y su milagrosa y violenta curación. De esta forma, se mencionan otros hilos de sisal al final de la novela con los que David trata de enlazar fotos antiguas y otros objetos. Paulatinamente y a lo largo de su diálogo con Amanda, se hace evidente que el hilo que la une con su hija Nina se suspenderá en breve. Surge la sospecha de que en el fondo de la narración ocurre un cambio de almas e identidades que será nefasto, puesto que la transmutación ha sido definitiva.

Samantha Schweblin combina aquellos acontecimientos inusuales con las realidades del desastre ambiental en las plantaciones de soja. De esta manera su texto se convierte en una lectura oscilante entre lo fantástico y lo real. El tóxico se filtra poco a poco en los destinos de sus protagonistas, amenazándolas/los con cortarles sus hilos vitales. Ni siquiera el hilo materno más estrecho entre Amanda y Nina puede ofrecer protección contra el desastre. Mientras tanto, la propia narración se opone al veneno mortal y sigue hilando su tejido textual. Sugiere incluso una alternativa fantástica para prolongar el cuento: las almas siguen vivas en otros cuerpos o incluso flotando en el espacio. Después de su muerte física, el alma de Amanda, ubicada en un espacio inseguro, parece ser la última instancia narrativa al final de la novela. Así, el hilo vital no se rompe, a pesar de la constante amenaza de las Moiras y del ambiente tóxico, sino que sigue tejiéndose de otra manera en una narración fantástica.

Pero esta opción de lo fantástico también es aterradora porque la otredad se vincula con un grupo de niñas y niños deformes, víctimas de influencias ambientales, escondidas/os de los ojos de las y los residentes ‘normales’, y marginalizadas/os ante los ojos del público lector. Se vincula incluso con Nina, que ya “no está bien” (p. 120), y con David, quien será finalmente sometido como un ser monstruoso (p.123-124). La narración fantástica es perturbadora porque está intrínsecamente relacionada con la intoxicación inicial, es decir, con la ruptura primordial que amenaza y disuelve la distancia de rescate natural entre madre e hija o hijo. La distopía se inscribe en los cuerpos de forma despiadada.

II – ¿Perspectivas para la convivialidad en tiempos tóxicos?

Lo inquietante de la novela de Schweblin es la figura de la identidad amenazada, cuya restauración se busca desesperadamente, jugando con dobles fantasmagóricos y con motivos como la transmutación. Para reflexionar más sobre la identidad amenazada quiero recordar un diálogo famoso entre Gilles Deleuze y Michel Foucault en el que también aparece, de cierta manera, la cuestión de la ‘distancia de rescate’ y el hilo vital. En su reseña de Différence et répétition (Deleuze 1968), Foucault describe la radicalidad del pensamiento deleuziano con la impactante reinterpretación de una imagen mítica: el ‘hilo de Ariadna’ está roto y Ariadna, amante y garante de la seguridad del retorno –o, más bien, representante del raciocinio del pensamiento occidental– se ha colgado del hilo. Teseo, mientras tanto, sigue acercándose, despreocupado y curioso, al monstruo del laberinto de Cnosos y al caos. Foucault utiliza esta imagen radical y cruel para describir el tremendo ‘teatro’ del ‘pensamiento de la diferencia’ que se está desplegando en la obra de Deleuze y al que rinde homenaje en su reseña.[2] En el caso de la novela, el caos de lo diferente es, según parece, una visión aterradora. La alteridad se presenta como un factor profundamente perturbador, puesto que las extrañas transmutaciones fueron provocadas por el tóxico en los cuerpos. ¿Podemos concluir que se trata entonces, después de todo, de una novela realista sobre crímenes ambientales? ¿Y, en este caso, el lugar que ocupan la otredad y la diferencia es ante todo amenazante?

Quiero proponer una hipótesis: recordando aquí el doble significado de la palabra en griego ‘pharmakon’, tan significativa en el pensamiento desconstructivista de Jacques Derrida ¿cómo se vería la narración si las y los protagonistas hubieran tocado un ingrediente mágico, un agua milagrosa o algo similar, en vez del tóxico? ¿Qué pasaría si las transformaciones posteriores no se vieran como deformaciones y patologías mortales, sino como milagros? ¿Qué tal si un otro mundo surgiera ante nuestros ojos con criaturas de cuento de hadas y seres fantásticos, pero sin niñas y niños con deformaciones monstruosas? Para nuestra sorpresa, la narración también funcionaría, pero determinando certeramente que se trata de una narración fantástica.

En el texto de Schweblin, sin embargo, la subyacente narrativa fantástica parece estar subordinada al régimen realista del crimen ambiental: las transmutaciones inquietantes confirman el relato de la búsqueda de identidad que termina frustrada. De esta manera se debe entender la ‘distancia de rescate’ ante los peligros de la catástrofe ambiental como un concepto destinado a sanar la ruptura y a recuperar de cierto modo la identidad de una vida intacta. La cuestión sobre en qué medida podrían desarrollarse también otras formas de ‘distanciamiento’ o de ‘diferencia’ en la novela, permanece abierta. Al final se impone la impresión de que, debido a su realismo ecológico, el libro de Samantha Schweblin está en sintonía más bien con los anhelos e instintos de preservar que con las formas de pensamiento que destacan la diferencia y la transmutación. Esto resulta, me parece, en una ambivalencia desafiante para la reflexión sobre la convivialidad no solo en tiempos tóxicos sino también en tiempos virales.

Image credit: Librería Facultad Libre

 

[1] Samantha Schweblin (2015): Distancia de rescate, Barcelona: Penguin Random House (2ª ed.).

[2] Michel Foucault (1969): “Ariadne s’est pendue“, en: Le Nouvel Observateur, 229.

   

#6

The Quilombo as Practice and Strategy

Global Convivial Forum 

Fugitivity, or the action of escaping, does not refer to the movement made to avoid a problem; it is a form of exodus, exile, a movement toward the disruption of the Othering mechanism that objectifies Black corporealities and forms of living.

 

Juliana M. Streva

Brazil, the last country to formally abolish slavery in the West in 1888, is today one of the most unequal countries in the world. It has the fifth-highest rate of femicide and the deadliest police force for Black young people and is considered the place where the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people are most at risk. Colonial violence, structural violence, institutional violence – an ongoing regime of total violence.

The violent possibilities and impossibilities of Black life have become even more exhaustive in recent years due to the dramatic combination of the rise of far-right neoliberal conservatism and the global COVID-19 pandemic. In striving for being-in-the-world, Black and peripheral women have been, in the words of activist Silvia Baptista:

Reconstituting a quilombo as a rede [a web of support] […] while striving to preserve ourselves, concerning not only the pandemic but primarily hunger; and to reinvent another form of economy based on our communitarian, feminist, and popular traditions (Baptista and IPACS 2020).

The quilombo has been one of the most controversial concepts within Brazilian studies due to its multi-dimensional entanglement with geography, history, anthropology, sociology, law, and politics (Arruti 2015). Nevertheless, it involves much more than the official image of the “runaway slave” (Nascimento 1980). Fugitivity, or the action of escaping, does not refer to the movement made to avoid a problem; it is a form of exodus, exile, a movement toward the disruption of the Othering mechanism that objectifies Black corporealities and forms of living (Nascimento 2018).

Without ignoring its complexity, in my working paper “Aquilombar Democracy: Fugitive Routes from the End of the World” (Mecila Working Paper Series, No. 37) focuses on the poetics and politics of the quilombo as an ongoing process of articulating and disputing modes of re-existence and convivial coexistence.

The dialogue woven into the paper involves both scholarly works and published books found in libraries and living archives. Such a confluence was enabled by: (1) listening to 35 women engaged in grassroots movements from Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, and Manaus in 2018; (2) the poetic-politics of Maria Beatriz Nascimento’s work, including the film Ôrí (1988) produced in collaboration with the filmmaker Rachel Gerber; and (3) the digital conversations carried out in 2020 with members of Mandata Quilombo, including Erica Malunguinho and Onir Araújo, a lawyer from the Frente Quilombola and activist of the Movimento Negro Unificado.

By transgressing linear paths, the working paper is composed of two moments (epistemology-methodological remarks and final considerations), two imageries of the quilombo (the soil and the ocean), and three fragments of living archives (Maria Beatriz Nascimento, Marielle Franco, and Erica Malunguinho). By experimenting ontoepistemological folds and geopolitical breaks, this research intends to contribute to confabulating dialogues and articulations within anti-racist, feminist, and decolonial theories and practices from what Lélia Gonzalez called Améfrica Ladina (Gonzalez 1988).

Image credit (cover): Johann Moritz Rugendas, Casa de negros, 1835 (detalhe). 

Juliana M. Streva, a former Junior Fellow at Mecila (2020-2021), is a postdoctoral researcher at FU Berlin. 

References

Arruti, José Maurício (2015): “Quilombos e cidades: breve ensaio sobre processos e dicotomias”, in: Birman, Patrícia; Márcia Pereira Leite; Carly Machado and Sandra de Sá Carneiro (eds.), Dispositivos urbanos e trama dos viventes: ordens e resistências, Rio de Janeiro: FGV, 217–238.

Baptista, Silvia and IPACS (2020): “O aquilombamento como resposta histórica às violações vividas na zona oeste do Rio de Janeiro”, in: Medium, September 07, 2020, at: https://medium.com/@pacsinstituto/o-aquilombamento-como-resposta-histórica-às-violações-vividas-na-zona-oeste-do-rio-de-janeiro-241a228260b0 (Last access 05.05.2021).

Birman, Patrícia; Leite, Márcia Pereira; Machado, Carly and Carneiro, Sandra de Sá (eds.) (2015): Dispositivos urbanos e trama dos viventes: ordens e resistências, Rio de Janeiro: FGV.

Gonzalez, Lélia (1988): “A categoria político-cultural de Amerfricanidade”, in: Tempo Brasileiro, 92/93, 69–82.

Nascimento, Abdias (1980): O quilombismo, Petrópolis: Vozes.

Nascimento, Beatriz (2018): “‘Quilombos’: mudança social ou conservantismo? [1975]”, in: União dos Coletivos Pan-Africanistas (ed.), Beatriz Nascimento: quilombola e intelectual. Possibilidade nos dias da destruição, São Paulo: Editora Filhos da África, 66–79.

União dos Coletivos Pan-Africanistas (ed.) (2018): Beatriz Nascimento: quilombola e intelectual. Possibilidade nos dias da destruição, São Paulo: Editora Filhos da África.

Juliana M. Streva, levante (sobre António Lebre, 2, 1939)

Juliana M. Streva, visível (sobre Poder, Carlos Vergara, 1976)

#5

Latin America within the rainbow-collection edition Suhrkamp: Dependency and Liberation (1968-1980)

Global Convivial Forum 

How was it possible for Latin American peripheral authors to appear in major European collections, given the structural asymmetries and inequalities in the international circulation of knowledge?

Between 1963 and 1980, Günther Busch edited the first 1000 books of the edition, one of the most influential collections of literature, essays, and theory by the publishing house Suhrkamp, directed by Siegfrid Unseld in Frankfurt am Main from 1959. The collection was the centre of the renewal of critical theory in the Federal Republic of Germany that George Steiner famously called “the Suhrkamp culture”.

Graphic artist Willy Fleckhaus’s concept for the cover of the edition was in itself a revolution in the history of design in Germany. The presentation was simple: the cover shows only the book’s title and author, and the publisher’s imprint. Each volume in the ongoing series shows one of the spectral colours. Starting with violet, this results in a continuous rainbow on the bookshelf.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Among a large majority of European authors, such as the world-famous Adorno, Barthes, Benjamin, Bloch, Brecht, Habermas, Foucault, and Marcuse, as well as the neo-Marxist theorists of the United States Paul Baran, Paul Sweezy, and the Englishman Maurice Dobb, the collection included 28 authors that focused on the two key issues of Latin American thought of the 1960s and 1970s: Dependency and Liberation. 

The publication of Latin American authors becomes especially relevant if one takes into account that the intellectual production of the global South, with some exceptions, had not previously been recognised in the North as a theoretical contribution, but was instead linked to revolutionary praxis or Latin America as an object of study.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although from 1969 different West German publishing houses participated in translations of Latin American social theory, the publication in the edition Suhrkamp, which had an extraordinary symbolic capital not comparable with other publishers, guaranteed circulation among a vast intellectual audience, inside and outside academia.  

My research deals with the following question: How was it possible for Latin American peripheral authors to reach the editors of these major collections within the framework of structural asymmetries and inequalities in the international circulation of knowledge?

Photo_1_Clara
Example of an edition by an Latin American author in the edition Suhrkamp (1969).
Image Credit: Clara Ruvituso
Clara Ruvituso Postdoctoral Investigator at Mecila   

This unusual circulation developed within the framework of the long-term political and cultural transformations marked by the student movements of 1968. Also, as a result of the international impact of the Cuban Revolution from 1959, and later the experience of Chilean popular unity (1970–1973) and the triumph of Sandinismo in Nicaragua in 1979, Latin America underwent a period of unprecedented centrality in transregional political and cultural perception and recognition in Europe.

The picture shows the interconnected succession of Latin American books formed by putting them together, building their own corpus for research.
Image Credit: Clara Ruvituso
The picture shows the interconnected succession of Latin American books formed by putting them together, building their own canon for research. Image Credit: Clara Ruvituso

#4

Politics of Conviviality

Global Convival Forum

The main concern of the Research Area Politics of Conviviality lies in how markers of difference are negotiated in contexts of power asymmetries and subsequently impact patterns of inequality within convivial configurations. It inquires how various agents either enhance or challenge existing inequalities through their everyday and institutional practices.

In line with Mecila’s theoretical approach, the Research Area Politics of Conviviality considers that an entanglement between conviviality and inequality always pervades social interactions. This means that there are no “purely convivial” nor “purely unequal” social relations: each social setting features a specific combination, or constellation, of the two. However, acknowledging that conviviality and inequality are always entangled is not the ultimate aim of our endeavours, but rather the starting point. The constellation of conviviality and inequality is different – and many times radically so – in each social context. In this sense, to illustrate how the entanglement between conviviality and inequality can assume the most varied forms, we can look at the contrasts one will find in observing the social relations involved in two scenarios.

On the one hand, the precarious and often illegal labour performed by informal workers in the peripheries of many Latin American and Caribbean cities (which comprise complex relations with local communities, suppliers, customers, law enforcement, often also paramilitary forces, etc.). On the other, the relationships of intimacy and affection among family members who share a domestic life and engage in many different forms of care activities (childrearing, care for the elderly and persons with special needs, household work such as cleaning and cooking, etc.). Neither can  be said to be based entirely on inequality or conviviality alone, for there are instances of conviviality in the first case (relations of solidarity among fellow workers, for example), and inequality can also be found in the second (for instance, the gender-based inequality in the distribution of care work and emotional labour). Hence, beyond acknowledging that the conviviality-inequality entanglement is present in both scenarios, it is of great importance to understand how this entanglement works in each case, how it came to be this way, and what possibilities they conceal of a less asymmetric or oppressive form of entanglement.

It is not necessary to draw on a stark contrasts to find distinct and unique forms of entanglement between conviviality and inequality. Even within the realm of precarious labour, to give but one example, the correlation between these two factors varies greatly depending on the geographical region of Latin America and the Caribbean, whether one looks at rural or urban areas, at export-oriented economic sectors or domestic labour, at gender-specific practices and customs, at the different ethnic origins of the subjects, or their religious affiliation, etc. And besides varying according to more or less spatialized contexts, this correlation also changes over time, as transformations in each social sphere – e.g. law, culture, economy, politics – impact the others with unpredictable, complex, and at times even contradictory consequences.

Therefore, we strive to understand specific constellations of social relations through the lens of conviviality-inequality in the present, the past, and a possible future. The singular ways in which conviviality and inequality intermingle in particular configurations (synchronic dimension) and regimes (diachronic dimension) is precisely what is of interest to us. We investigate these specific constellations by exploring their inner dynamics and their connections to the broad web of political, economic, social, legal, and environmental interrelations in which they are embedded.

The main concern of the Research Area Politics of Conviviality lies in how markers of difference are negotiated in contexts of power asymmetries and subsequently impact patterns of inequality within convivial configurations. It inquires how various agents – including social movements and activists, governmental agencies, the academic community, migrants, indigenous peoples, informal networks or groups, the digital public sphere, and many others – either enhance or challenge existing inequalities through their everyday and institutional practices. [1]

One should not understand the reference to the negotiation of differences as a sign of a non-conflictual conception of social relations. Rather, we assume that negotiation is always taking place within asymmetrical power relations and often in hostile or contentious forms. Indeed, there are convivial constellations where negotiation of differences is fragile if possible at all due to asymmetries of power that are so acute that they render any non-violent exchange between agents ineffective at best – and perniciously ideological at worst. In these instances, the conviviality-inequality framework shows its usefulness because it allows for the critical examination of such configurations as limit cases.

This does not, strictly speaking, apply to those cases where the physical elimination of an agent or group of agents by another is involved. In such extreme cases, one cannot any longer speak of a social relation, for a proper social relation requires the existence and maintenance of different interacting agents. Latin American and Caribbean societies are unfortunately all too familiar with extreme cases, such as genocide. It does not mean, however, that in such circumstances the conviviality-inequality framework does not apply and would have to be replaced for a more fitting one. The radical situation in which a social relation is itself brutally terminated can only be understood as a result of a previous, and severely violent, relation, where the correlation between conviviality and inequality is dramatically imbalanced. Thus, extreme cases do not make the conviviality-inequality framework superfluous. Instead, such situations reinforce its value as a complex and internally differentiated analytical tool.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But the scope of this Research Area is not limited to this formal arena: as we see it, politics also encompasses everyday life interactions, unstably codified practices, unspoken conflicts, and informal agreements, which are also marked by inequality and conviviality in particular ways. In this sense, both the public and private spheres of social life are eminently political.

Neither is politics understood here as opposed to other social spheres as if the latter were apolitical in their nature. The economy, the production of knowledge, the media, legal procedures, the cultural dimension of symbolic interactions and traditions, the relation to natural and human-made environments, demographic shifts and displacements, gender disparities, artistic expressions, religious practices – these are all seen as politically constituted from the start; they are not externally affected by politics, they are political from within. They are all pervaded by more or less negotiated markers of difference within contexts of more or less asymmetrical power relations, giving rise to a myriad of convivial constellations where inequality plays a constitutive role. The aim of the Research Area Politics of Conviviality is then to outline and understand the contours of these entanglements and critically challenge their seemingly static, fixed nature.

[1] In line with Mecila’s critique of Anthropocentrism, it is crucial to remark here that “agents” is a category that embraces not only human beings, but also the many forms of non-human entities: technologies, animals, plants, spirits, artefacts, etc.

Image Credit: Mariana Teixeira.

Moreover, it is crucial to note that the idea of “the political” should not be conflated with the realm of institutionalised politics, macro-structures, and top-down power relations. It involves, to be sure, the analysis of conviviality-inequality within party systems, electoral polls and disputes, political preferences, contexts of legal decision-making, public policy, governance, and so on.

 


 

Further reading

  • Baldraia, Fernando (2020): “Epistemologies for Conviviality, or Zumbification”, Mecila Working Paper Series, No. 25, São Paulo: The Maria Sibylla Merian International Centre for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences Conviviality-Inequality in Latin America, http://dx.doi.org/10.46877/baldraia.2020.25.
  • Costa, Sérgio (2019): “The Neglected Nexus between Conviviality and Inequality”, Mecila Working Paper Series, No. 17, São Paulo: The Maria Sibylla Merian International Centre for Advanced Studies in the Humanities and Social Sciences Conviviality-Inequality in Latin America.
  • Edited volume: La argentina en el siglo XXI: Cómo somos, vivimos y convivimos en una sociedad desigual, edited by Juan Piovani and Agustín Salvia, Siglo Veintiuno Editores, 2018.
  • Edited volume: Desigualdades en México 2018, edited by Laura Flamand and Melina Altamirano, El Colegio de México, 2018.
  • Dossier: “Conviviality in Unequal Societies: A Proposal for Interdisciplinary Collaboration”, edited by Marcos Nobre and Sérgio Costa (with articles by Gesine Müller, Frank Adloff, Karen Graubart and Sérgio Costa), Novos Estudos vol. 38, n. 1, 2019.

#3

Medialities of Conviviality

In our understanding of the nexus between conviviality, difference, and inequality, the dimension of knowledge and the ways and means of mediation are of crucial relevance.

Cultural heritage is also gaining relevance in the context of migration. When migrating, people take material and immaterial culture with them, adapt and re-signify them in the societies they move to, while remaining connected with their places of origin. Thus, migration creates new transcultural spaces and reconfigures networks between people, objects, and knowledge. Fluid cultural phenomena such as migrations challenge traditional concepts of cultural heritage and its transition into the digital world. The migration of objects, peoples, and

«Hacia el Encuentro», Acrílico sobre Madera, Sofía Ruvituso, 2019.
 

The Research Area: Medialities of Conviviality analyses, through the lens of inequality and difference, processes of co-production, circulation, and appropriation of knowledge, imaginaries, and representations. These processes include movements of persons, ideas, values, and objects. Practices such as writing, drawing, photographing, collecting, and exhibiting offer clues to the study of how notions of conviviality – for instance, utopias or mythical pasts – become manifest in objects that are produced, negotiated, and circulated in unequal convivial configurations. Digital transformation is shaping the circulation of knowledge in new and unprecedented ways, reducing old inequalities but also producing new ones. In our understanding of the nexus between conviviality, difference, and inequality, the dimension of knowledge and the ways and means of mediation are of crucial relevance.

We refer, on the one hand, to processes of mediation in communicative situations and social practices. On the other hand, to the structures that shape conviviality and configure the contexts in which interactions take place. Different knowledge forms and representations and, in more general terms, knowledge asymmetries, frame negotiations of interclass, interethnic, intercultural, and inter-gender relations. They also influence disputes over relevant social issues such as symbolic belonging, political participation, and the distribution of resources. Similarly, the heterogeneous, often conflictive modes in which individuals and social groups represent and symbolize conviviality are grounded in diverse, often unequal ways and practices of knowing. To understand how knowledge and representations are produced and reproduced in convivial contexts, not only interactions between social actors but also between humans and non-human entities have to be taken into account. In our understanding of medialities, we are using at least three interconnected dimensions on medialities of conviviality: the analysis of representations and identities in dispute; the differences of media genres and properties (including material and immaterial); and the tension between “inclusion” and “exclusion”. These interconnected dimensions of medialities will be analyzed in different convivial configurations.

A first cluster approaches archives, cultural heritage, and politics of identity within the framework of medialities of conviviality. For example, in recent decades, anthropological and natural history-oriented collections have become the starting point for debates on cultural heritage and restitution demands by indigenous communities. Processes of re-circulation and re-appropriations opened up new arenas of negotiation that put the paradox between conviviality and inequality at the centre. They re-position indigenous actors in disputes about meanings, relations, practices, and structures. This re-positioning does not only imply a historical re-contextualization departing from cultural diversity but also the creation of new knowledge in an immaterial and material sense. Archives (museums, libraries, etc.) and collections are contact zones where difference and inequalities meanings, practices, and human-object relations are negotiated. Diversity, openness, and incompleteness are crucial elements of living together in these contact zones. Diverse forms and practices of knowledge shape the multiperspective and relational character of objects. One example of studies we are envisioning is comparing imaginaries of Latin American cultures in museums in Berlin with its representations in music, dance, food, literature, art, or political activism.

 

 

 

 

 

 

knowledge-based practices seems ideal for exploring the limits of cultural heritage concepts rooted in the logic of the nation-state. In the context of migration, cultural heritage is reinterpreted in multiple ways; it is constantly subject to change since migration creates new cultural expressions combining elements of the cultures of origin and arrival. What are the medialities of conviviality in migratory contexts? What is the role of objects and cultural practices in the politics of identity of diaspora communities? What roles does social media play in these processes?

Archives are undergoing profound transformations because of digital transformation. Digitization is a new technique of high speed and broad range trans-border mobilization of objects. How is it changing the archive as a convivial configuration? Is it reducing knowledge inequalities, or is it creating new ones? How is, for example, digital transformation modifying the role of public libraries in Latin America for conviviality in societies characterized by cultural diversity and profound inequalities? Often these libraries are caught in a tension between heritage protection and the democratization of knowledge. Also, the increasingly massive use of social media can have quite divergent effects on democratic conviviality in Latin America. While social media can give pro-democratic forces new means of holding governments accountable and pressing for broader political inclusion, they can also amplify right-wing voices, including those against liberal democracy. How does the use of social media differ between different social and ethnic groups? What effects do social media have on the aesthetics of political messages? What significance do social media have concerning negotiating inequality and conviviality?

In the second cluster, dedicated to other epistemologies and representations, we will confront questions posed by the interdependent inequalities that have contributed to shaping (Eurocentric, white, and male) academic canons, as well as dynamics of marginalisation and inclusion of voices, especially indigenous, female, and of the so-called Southern Theories and philosophies. However, self-representations have emerged from indigenous women that show gender inequalities and violence, positioning other identities (individual or collective) and ways of producing knowledge (communiqués, songs, poems or films, videos, among others).  Likewise, in the academic context, indigenous women have had to fight for recognition as academics and demand to be included in contemporary debates on political discussions and knowledge production from other ontologies. Under these two axes of political action and positioning, indigenous women have highlighted the inequalities and asymmetries of knowledge. Still, at the same time, they have generated proposals for networks and transnational actions by women as expressions of the coexistence of diversity.

«We use at least three interconnected dimensions on medialities of conviviality: the analysis of representations and identities in dispute; the differences of media genres and properties (including material and immaterial); and the tension between “inclusion” and “exclusion”».

Also, since the conquest and the colonization, knowledge about (non-human) animals and plants has been an input in knowledge production and the global commodity circuits. In these processes, indigenous contributions have been ignored, and their territories have been transformed, becoming places of risk, contamination, or danger. In the face of these dynamics, indigenous peoples have begun to position their knowledge, practices, and ways of life by making their relationships with non-humans (plants, animals, land, water, among others) visible as networks of relationships that allow for the coexistence of life. In these contexts, we propose to analyse the changes in the social sciences (ontological turn) that enable the rethinking of non-humans, and that open up the positioning of other ways of conviviality. Concerning the processes of marginalisation/inclusion of voices, we will analyse the role that Latin American theories have played, and still plays, in the transformation of the social sciences and, especially, their reception in the global North within the framework of asymmetric structures within the production and circulation of knowledge. A paradigmatic example of circulation from South to North was the productive reception of dependency theories in Europe, opening the canon of social theory toward the south. We will discuss the possibility of a convivial canon. All with a view to making visible the inequalities and asymmetries of knowledge and processes of exclusion, to position new ways of understanding conviviality.

A third cluster involves medialities of conviviality within the framework of literature and cross-genres. We want to revisit the 1920s to study conviviality in a radical decade. The highly creative cultural production of the Golden Twenties emerged in an ideologically, politically, and economically tense, violent, and disruptive context, marked by differences and inequalities. The public space was shaped by new constellations of the sexes (the myth of the “New Man” and the imagery of the “New Woman”) as well as transgressions and re-negotiations of gender roles. We are specifically interested in the aesthetics and poetics of the 1920s, the modernities of the peripheries and Latin American cultural critique on mestizaje, transculturation and heterogeneity, and their actualization and resignification in today’s times. One thematic focus of the comparison are so-called popular cultures. Examples are literary discourses on cultural processes and conviviality in popular hispanic literature, stretching from Spain to Latin America, or the construction of national identities since the late 19th century, particularly in popular genres and their cross-media configurations, including tango, samba, and ranchera. These studies are complementary to studies in the Research Area: (Hi-)stories of Conviviality on conviviality of difference in Caribbean Literature of the 19th century.

Another dimension of the comparison is the presence and role of non-European cultures. In the 1920s, this became manifest not only in the growing interest in the so-called primitivism of the poetic avant-gardes, but also in innovative and radical thinking on the role of indigenous cultures. One example of this thinking is the Peruvian writer and intellectual José Carlos Mariátegui.  Considering the circulation of his ideas, we want to analyze representations of inequality and conviviality in the so-called indigenismo and neo-indigenismo in Latin America. In the context of Mecila’s annual focus theme for the years 2021-22 Indigeneities, the cultural representations and poetic agencies of indigeneities in a comparative perspective will be of particular interest.  Comparing 1920 and 2020 allows us to reflect anew on that post-war era of radical innovations, escalating conflicts (and often violent ways of resolving them), and to establish possible analogies and comparisons with current situations and current political, social, and cultural crises. The study of contemporary identity politics and contemporary negotiations of minoritarian identities in the arts, particularly new forms of representation and media, will complement the cluster. Examples are afro-brasilidade in music/video clips, new documentary and fictional audiovisual forms, and the transformation of the literary field via saraus, slams, and circulation on the internet: the openness and processual character of blogs resemble the kiosk literature and the literatura de cordel developed in the 19th century.


 

Further reading

Global Convivial Forum 

#2

[Hi]Stories of Conviviality

The [Hi]Stories of Conviviality Research Area focuses on the question of how convivial configurations evolve and interact to bring about changes in convivial regimes, favouring a diachronic approach without limiting itself to it.

For example, many of us address legal frameworks and how they shape convivial configurations and regimes, and how they interact with informal or extra-legal arrangements. One prominent field of inquiry into these problems is labour relations: forced labour arrangements and resistance to it in colonial settings; informal and formal labour and their relationship in historical and contemporary Latin America. Another field consists of the legal settings and everyday negotiations of legitimacy and illegitimacy in family formation and their connection with social hierarchies and group formation. Finally, we inquire into everyday encounters in Latin America’s heterogeneous urban populations; we ask how men and women, descendants of Africans, Indigenous, and Europeans as well as mixed-raced, or citizens and new-comers manoeuvre through historically grown power hierarchies. In all our research projects, the tensions between norms (socio-political, legal, moral, or economic) and convivial realities and practices play an important role.

In the study of the tensions between norms and realities, we use a broad conception of norms and law, rather than reducing them to the legislation of the Crown or the State. They include customs, local legal rules, learned and vernacularized knowledge in different locations, as well as judicial and extrajudicial binding decisions. Law is not just based on explicit rules and knowledge but is dependent on implicit social rules and tacit knowledges. Norms are contested and change.

One of our main questions is how normative orders are formed locally and how they affect conviviality and inequality in different social settings. Law and other normativities mediate the practices of self-identification and identification by others that trigger categories, markers of difference, symbols, memories, and ideas. How do legal and other normative categories shape subjectivities, the boundaries of the dynamic identification of social groups and the definitions of membership?

«One of our main questions is how normative orders are formed locally and how they affect conviviality and inequality in different social settings.»

Cultural, social, and economic differences are frequently mediated by legal categories. Fiscality and fiscal categorizations are a valuable source to historically analyse social differences and inequalities, especially at the intersection of social and geographical mobility. Imperial formations created tangible legal differences between groups that had practical effects on the daily lives, social positions, and the labour force of individuals, dependent on the fiscal category to which they had been ascribed.

However, over time, fiscal and sociocultural categorizations did not entirely coincide. Attempts to manipulate one’s affiliation to a certain fiscal category, which turned such categorization into a strategic resource, have happened. Changes in social categorization were mostly successful in the context of spatial mobility, namely, migration, and they were closely linked to conviviality, since changes in categorization happened especially in places where people of different categories lived and worked together.

After the fall of the great empires and the creation of modern nation-states, existing legal differences were mostly abolished. However, this did not mean that discrimination based on perceived differences ended – as postcolonial thinking rightly reminds us. This observation points to the importance of the study of colonial or imperial difference: it helps to understand current structures of inequality, discrimination, and racism without neglecting the fact that they were maintained and re-created in the postcolonial period.

«It is mostly not until the early twenty-first century that there have been attempts within cultural theory to programmatically understand conviviality under conditions of great social and cultural difference.»

Law and other normativities have proven to be a medium for practices of self-determination and convivial negotiations, which trigger categories and markers of difference (race/ethnicity, origin, gender, class). Furthermore, the conviviality among people that embody these differences and their intersections is also present in literary texts of this and past centuries. Our research on the nineteenth-century world of the Caribbean islands portrays them as a kaleidoscope of (post-)colonial structures and dynamics. Colonial experiences come together in a dense network within the sphere of influence of a great variety of hegemonic and peripheral systems. A look at this kaleidoscope-like world can give us new insights into the early processes of cultural globalization. Phenomena of deterritorialization – migration, circulation, and interconnections among the most diverse geographical areas – can already be observed in the Caribbean islands in the nineteenth century, where, for example, pirates and slave traders sailed back and forth between empires and continents, writers fled from one exile to the next, and illiterate peddlers served as messengers between worlds.

It is mostly not until the early twenty-first century that there have been attempts within cultural theory to programmatically understand conviviality under conditions of great social and cultural difference. These attempts have come about as a response to the unsuccessful labelling of multiculturalism or as a rejection of an essentialist concept of identity. It makes sense that the current debates on this topic include vigorous contributions by Caribbean intellectuals and intellectuals of the Caribbean diaspora. In a similar way, other projects engage more broadly with conceptualizations from the south and by ordinary inhabitants of such historically complex, heterogeneous, and unequal places. In the process, one question that is still being asked is how to grasp ethnic difference without falling back into essentialisms.

Again, changes in legal normativities set the context for fundamental changes in the convivial relations and the discourses on them. In the time spanning the years 1789 to 1888, the idea of equality launched in the French Revolution and the abolition of slavery in Cuba and Brazil, the last slaveholder societies, mark this era of fundamental social, political, and economic change.

 

 

 

 

 

Beyond degrees of bondage and dependency, gender dynamics significantly shaped work relations. The inclusion of women in the industrial work force since the end of the nineteenth century went hand in hand with continuing high levels of informal female work in petty trade and domestic service, but also with the creation of a new model of female honour and reproductive tasks. The recognition of care as work highlights the gendered inequalities of reproductive work. The recognition of unpaid work, which is predominantly female and encompasses the entire life cycle, had to wait until the crisis of Fordism-Taylorism in the developed countries for a conceptual break to emerge and for it to be recognized as real work. In addition to the theoretical-methodological perspective, care work brings the everyday, work and family life — a privileged convivial context — to the fore.

All these historical processes reverberate in today’s complex urban social fabrics of Latin American cities and their hinterlands. Gender, origin, race/ethnicity, legal, and class classifications play out and intersect in formal and informal encounters. These encounters are framed by the state and its apparatus, the market and competing ideologies, kinship and family, urban infrastructures and ecologies, and the informality of everyday convivial regimes. Urban encounters, structured by historically grown hierarchies and inequalities, continuously afford situations of conflict and cooperation.

«Urban encounters, structured by historically grown hierarchies and inequalities, continuously afford situations of conflict and cooperation.»

The notion of informality has been helpful to bring together the unknown and the inexplicable, comfortably and without explanation. If informality was born to describe the economy of the poor, it is now expanding to the top of the pyramid, where governments, on the way to informalization, deregulate, privatize public functions, and hand over the management and laundering of money to tax havens, greedy for speculation; where big capital captures politics and companies subcontract, informalize, make employment more flexible and precarious. These topics remain among the important issues to be explored in Latin America today: the work of care workers, informal work, the work of undocumented migrants, payed domestic workers. Other topics are the future of work in the face of automation and robotics, the digitalization of work, the potential of green jobs, and the work of young people.

Alongside aspects of race, class, and origin, the subjects of care and informality have highlighted the importance of gender relations and discourses for the study of conviviality. Theories on gender as a relational, flexible concept, as something that is staged or performed, directly lead to our concept of conviviality. Gender, as the most fundamental and early human categorization penetrates all social relations. Recent historical research on the nineteenth century, when women were still excluded from political citizenship rights and civil codes has shown, how women used changes brought about by the liberal ideas of economy and society in their favour. In particular, the changes in the concept of honour from a corporative to a civic one and the resulting social and civil positioning of men and women were not as clear as it might seem from the normative perspectives. Historical perspectives on women´s economic activities and their role as heads of households also speak of different convivial settings than those depicted by normative sources. How men and women negotiated these roles, how the state reacted or tolerated these family arrangements, is another important topic of gender and family studies that will enrich our research area.

Colourful street art of the UNESCO World Heritage port city of Valparaiso in Chile. Image credit: Depositphoto

 


 

Further reading

Slavery, as the most extreme form of bonded labour, was at the centre of the debate in the nineteenth century. Other forms of bonded labour and resulting inequalities are still pressing problems in socio-economic and political debates today. The second wave of globalization around 1900, the inclusion of Latin American economies in the capitalist global economy, and mass migration also affected labour relations.

Global Convivial Forum 

#1

Conviviality-Inequality: A New Horizon for Interdisciplinary Work

Studies on conviviality-inequality at Mecila aim at offering an open platform for innovation in interdisciplinary cooperation in the broad field of the humanities and social sciences.

The term conviviality was introduced in the human sciences by the Viennese philosopher Ivan Illich in his 1973 book Tools for Conviviality. On that occasion, Illich chaired the Centro Intercultural de Documentación (CIDOC) in Cuernavaca, Mexico, an ecumenical and plural space where the ideals of global solidarity of the Latin American left and the libertarian values of European critical thinking converged. Illich’s book combines these influences by transforming conviviality into a research and action program for the building of more democratic, equal, and sustainable societies. Since then, and more clearly since the 2000s, studies on conviviality have spread to various disciplines and thematic fields, from anthropology and sociology to geology and computer sciences, turning conviviality into a polysemic term.

Inequality is also a multifaceted and multilevel notion. Inequalities can be material, but there are also inequalities of power, of access to environmental resources and protection against manufactured risks, of rights, of epistemic possibilities, and of social positions and conditions. Researchers understand inequality as a pervasive characteristic of social life, a background for understanding any given context of social action. Inequalities are thus both structural and (re)produced within daily interactions. Understanding social life in its many aspects and shapes requires understanding how it is constituted by inequality.

For the research team at the Maria Sibylla Merian International Centre Conviviality-Inequality in Latin America (Mecila for short), the polysemic feature of conviviality is always understood in association with the multidimensional elements of inequality, enhancing their explicative force. The hyphen in the Centre’s name (“Conviviality-Inequality”) stresses the intimate nexus between inequality and conviviality and the fact that they are reciprocally constituted. To research inequality is to research conviviality, and vice-versa.

«We want to provide an intellectual and academic environment in which different disciplines can develop their research in collaborative empirical work, theoretical synthesis, and relational methods that go beyond usual disciplinary boundaries.»

The bridging of these two notions forms the basis for the interdisciplinary collaboration taking place at Mecila. Developed in various thematic fields, studies on conviviality-inequality at the Centre aim at offering an open platform for innovation in interdisciplinary cooperation in the broad field of the humanities and social sciences. We want to provide an intellectual and academic environment in which different disciplines can develop their research in collaborative empirical work, theoretical synthesis, and relational methods that go beyond usual disciplinary boundaries. Accordingly, Mecila is an open space for academic experimentation that challenges the methodological nationalism, anthropocentrism, and Eurocentrism that are deeply embedded in our disciplines.

Based in São Paulo, Mecila is a network of outstanding Latin American and German academic institutions: the University of São Paulo and CEBRAP (Brazil); El Colegio de México (Mexico); Instituto de Investigaciones en Humanidades y Ciencias Sociales (CONICET/ Argentina); and Freie Universität Berlin, University of Cologne, and the Ibero-American Institute (Germany). The Centre offers a stimulating intellectual environment for interdisciplinary reflection, based on research developed in Latin America.

There are not many examples of institutions dedicated to studying in an integrated way and translating in theoretical terms the diverse social experiences of Latin America. The best-known case was the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC/CEPAL), created in 1948. Under the intellectual leadership of Raúl Prebisch, ECLAC focused from the 1950s to the 1970s on Latin American economic and social-developmental theory. ECLAC’s mission was to promote democracy and social justice in a mostly unfavorable context. As we know, its influence and theoretical reach went far beyond the limits of the region.

Not many institutions have exerted such a lasting and far-reaching influence on the intellectual and institutional history of a region. These were times when the theory of modernization, rephrased by researchers at ECLAC, maintained its unquestioned global hegemony, ensuring a high degree of theoretical convergence and the persistence of ECLAC’s influence.

Today, given the current mood of theoretical and institutional pluralism, it is somewhat likely that similar efforts will be more successful when undertaken not by a single institution but within an international network of researchers and institutes. Such a system should reflect the varied social experience of its members and promote analytic pluralism. It should also include new forms of cooperation capable of overcoming or at least mitigating the regional, generational, ethnic, class, and gender hierarchies that mark so deeply the conventional circuits of knowledge production and circulation. Developing new formats for transdisciplinary collaboration between academic and non-academic connoisseurs (shamans, activists, artists, community leaders, etc.) is also crucial if it comes to produce sophisticated and socially relevant knowledge.

We at Mecila believe we can make a unique contribution, even if a modest one, to the much-needed process of institutional building in Latin America. Mecila shares with ECLAC a commitment to democracy, which is integral to its research program. For achieving our academic and institutional goals, close cooperation with international institutions based in Latin America, such as the Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales (CLACSO) and the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO), is essential. Also, cooperation with the other four Merian Centres (in New Delhi, Guadalajara, Accra, and Tunis) is indispensable for shaping our transregional perspective.

For Mecila’s very open institutional purposes, conviviality-inequality refers to constellations constituted by difference, conflict, violence, and domination. In this sense, the conviviality-inequality compound names less the starting point than the (possible, expected, potential) research findings that may emerge when looking at reality from the perspectives developed at our Centre. Conviviality-inequality corresponds to a view of the world that searches for structural elements of existing patterns of coexistence. For this reason, it is also a theoretical and empirical research tool for overcoming the rigid categories of the contemporary debate on living together in plural and unequal contexts.

Neither a concept nor a theory or method, conviviality-inequality is an approach under construction, a permanent work in progress. Therefore we see a normative a priori concept of conviviality as unnecessary, even though we do not condemn those who wish to embrace one.

For our 2020-21 term, Marcos Nobre and Sérgio Costa are the Centre’s directors; Gloria Chicote and Barbara Potthast are the co-directors and follow the Centre’s activities from their home institutions. We expected a very lively and intense exchange in-situ between researchers of the Centre and fellows who would come to São Paulo for long research stays. The pandemic forced our conversation to go digital. We have learned a lot from these limitations and developed new cooperation formats, including virtual colloquia, remote research modes, and virtual public events involving Mecila’s researchers, practitioners, and the fellows who will integrate the project starting August 2020. We hope that novel and essential insights will emerge from this collaboration, helping to unravel the complex nexus conviviality-inequality.

Marcos Nobre (CEBRAP, Brazil) is Mecila’s Director for 2020-21.

Sérgio Costa (FU Berlin) is Mecila’s Director for 2020-21.


 

Further reading