I feel like I blinked and a month has gone by. The outside-of-time feeling of the holidays, at once lazy and busy, shifted to restlessness—a hunger to return to routines and rhythms. And now I look up and it’s January; winter still hasn’t unfolded in full force where I am, but at least the days are already getting longer.
In part because of the unusual rhythms of the winter holidays and the ways they change our typical patterns, I’ve been thinking again about communities of various kinds. ‘Community’ is so overused as to be meaningless, and so I find myself looking for other ways to describe interdependence and mutuality.
A few of these terms have emerged within this space over the past year. I’ve been lucky recently to read work by Inkcap friend Kendra Sullivan, who writes about ‘choreography’ in ways that bring me to wonder about the choreographies of relationship, the ways we come together and move apart. Donna Haraway writes of ‘oddkin‘—the strange and unexpected chosen kinships that emerge not only between people, but across species. Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing writes of ‘patchy assemblages,’ focusing not only on human beings but on the myriad living and nonliving beings of an ephemeral ecosystem. And artists in the Symbionts exhibition explore these questions of mutuality through art that lives, grows, dies, decays. There are so many ways of being together, of influencing one another, of helping one another grow (or competing for resources, inhibiting growth).
In online academic spheres, discussions of community have taken a particular turn in recent months following the implosion of Twitter and the quick rise of Mastodon in its stead. For many people—including me—that shift has been hard; we lament the connections and relationships we built up over a decade or more. For some, it brings relief, a chance to start fresh, explore anew, let go of something that no longer serves. For others the shift brings material risk, as Twitter fostered the connections that enabled their livelihoods.
The disruption created by a single person controlling a single platform raises the question: what does community look like within the products of capitalism? The relationships built within the space of that platform were (are) real, and yet that platform’s structure and governance might mean it is no longer able to foster the kinds of communities many of us crave. A federated, open-source platform may be more ideologically tailored to the ethos we (we, who?) seek, but the platform itself can’t dictate whether organic relationships happen. What does feminist intervention look like in the context of building and sustaining community? And what are the particular responsibilities, opportunities, risks, hopes we encounter in answering this question?
As many of us muddle through renewed questions of the tech we use, the ways we connect, and the profits we generate for others through our attention and our data, it feels like a useful moment to consider not only the usage and implications of specific technologies, but also questions of what we mean by ‘community’. Data science, ecology, and humanities all have ways of thinking through these questions. This is the starting point I’d like to consider for our discussion next week, with thanks to SueJeanne Koh for the suggestion.
I hope you’ll register to join us on Wednesday, January 11 at 3pm EST for a discussion of brief excerpts from the following texts:
I’ve shared specific excerpts from these texts in our collaborative notes document.
Thank you to everyone here who helps make this particular assemblage what it is. I look forward to thinking together next week.