detour 308_via Counterimaginary 1
K LAB, 2020
* drafted shortly after completing our workshop; see detour 306
A. Our Approach
We developed a proposal for an action research and mapping project with the overall aim of deconstructing the “conventional” narrative that “We are all in the same boat” when it comes to climate change and agencies adapting to climate change. Based on the example of floods, we wanted to illustrate that there are different levels of risks and exposure to floods, as well as different agencies and capacities to adapt to floods between countries and individuals in the Global North and the Global South.
We therefore agreed on following general steps:
1. Storytelling: framing the topic, defining problems, questions, goals and benchmarks (race, sex, gender, class, religion, etc.)
2. Collecting data: starting with comparing 2–3 case studies about communities affected by floods in the Global North/South
3. Creating outputs: 2–3 maps comparing the level of exposure/risk with the (perceived) agency to adapt, visualization with specific semiotic signs
4. Participatory public debates with the community: the maps are presented to the authorities at different levels, discussions are held, a representative from each level (communal, municipal, national, etc.) is present and participates
5. Building solidarity networks
B. Reflection on the Focus and Main Aspects of Our Proposal for a Collective Mapping Strategy
Our group was made up of researchers with a wide variety of profiles (architects, town planners, historians, sociologists, etc.) but all with experience in the field, both at the city/municipal level and the international level. Therefore, we are aware of the problems that arise when uncertainty and differing understandings prevent or slow down the implementation of a project, especially in the field of climate change action. We are also familiar with the complexity of stakeholder processes and sure to include this delicate perspective in the design of our process.
This has led us to reflect on how a mapping process takes place and to develop a strategy for building a map and making an expedition. We looked at the field and imagined a process that would start with the knowledge produced "from the bottom," highlighting inequalities in exposure to the consequences of climate change but also inequalities of means to confront it, in order to challenge the actors capable of implementing adaptation policies.
Taking action to respond to climate change adaptation seemed to us a textbook case for imagining such a project because this change affects everyone and the responses are driven by diverging interests.
We really got caught up in the game of K LAB: that is, imagining a project that would make it possible to:
1. Collect the alternative narratives about exposure to climate change and means to deal with it in a vulnerable neighborhood, varying and enlarging progressively the sites of collection (making sure that no one has been forgotten and that intersectionalityis taken into account).
2. Organize public and more private debates in the neighborhood around these exposures and means and their localizations in order to map the vulnerabilities and the agencies (actual and potential) to address it, as well as to enlarge the community of cartographers.
3. Replicate this process at different levels (local to municipal level, to metropolitan level, to state level, to international organizations level), each time involving new cartographers in the team, settling permanently within institutions, producing narratives and debates.
4. Translate these narratives into political arguments all along the process (here cartography plays its full legitimizing role as an "objective" and "scientific" tool of proof). A counter-topographical approach was important to us, from the bottom to the top (level of the population and level of political decision-makers). We live in a systemic world (see Cindi Katz or Philippe Rekacewicz), where each phenomenon (be it economic, social, cultural) is produced by the combination of other phenomena on other spatio-temporal scales, without their implications and relationships of dependence being immediately visible. By showing the different actors and their different levels of economic and political interdependence, from the local to the global level including all the intermediate levels, it is possible to remove the discourse from its particular compartmentalized perspective, to open the viewpoint on divergent interests, and to obtain the considerations and subtle narratives at all levels of political decision-making. This bottom-up approach can work by putting forward the logic of subsidiarity (action must be decided by the closest competent entity), which allows for the empowerment of each social sphere according to its competences.
5. After consultation, the information is transmitted to the next higher decision-making level. The population, which a priori is considered to be the applicant for a service since it is at the origin of the needs, thus finds itself in the position of initiating the approach in relation to those to whom it has delegated its representation for the management of the city by entrusting it with the decisions on the allocation of resources (original principle of democracy). This agentivity contradicts the capitalist logic that conceives social relations only in terms of production/consumption. Taking into account all the opinions, narratives, and demands, while confronting them and implementing them in an aggregation process, makes it possible to give priority to the real raison d'être of any political project and decision. Where the capitalist accounting logic will see in the construction of a school or in free public transport only a financial cost, users will initiate a long-term logic that is far more reliable because it provides social stability, preserves the environment, etc. Local knowledge (of daily realities, mentalities, etc.) is the best indicator of the feasibility of the project. Making a map together makes it possible to record this expert knowledge and to uncover a wealth of information, relationships, and so on. This social mobilization approach returns sovereignty to "civil society" (we wondered about this term), at best by defusing the antagonism of diverging interests, at worst by seeking a process between the different actors of the city.
The first answer to the question “Are we all in the same boat?” could be: No, we are not all in the same boat. Actually, the Global North is sitting in the boat alone; there is no space left over for the Global South.
Based on Cindy Katz’s text about counter-topographies, we also wanted to show that there actually are strong similarities between certain kinds of individuals and groups within cities and villages in the Global South and the Global North in the sense that, all over the world, people with less power—as a result of class, race, sex, gender, religion, etc.—are relatively more exposed to climate change risks (like floods) and have less agency to adapt to them.
Therefore, the answer to our questions could also be: Yes, people with no or less power (the poor, the uneducated, etc.) actually are all in a same boat in a way.
Ultimately, by illustrating those differences and similarities, our project aimed at contributing to the development of new contour lines and strengthening networks of solidarity between nations, cities, and individuals around the globe who are suffering from climate change more than others.
So, you could say, our mapping design is a discursive design, or a design for debate in order to build new boats.
E. Remarks on the K LAB Methods & Tools
This method of letting groups decide entirely on their own approach is particularly interesting. Applying a ready-made recipe would be of no interest.
It is necessary to accept working under conditions of uncertainty (those we are confronted with in the reality of our jobs), to bring out ideas, problem-solving techniques, and proposals for new solutions.
ANNEX: Neurath’s Boat Analogy
“Imagine sailors, who, far out at sea, transform the shape of their clumsy vessel from a more circular to a more fishlike one. They make use of some drifting timber, besides the timber of the old structure, to modify the skeleton and the hull of their vessel. But they cannot put the ship in dock in order to start from scratch. During their work they stay on the old structure and deal with heavy gales and thundering waves. In transforming their ship they take care that dangerous leakages do not occur. A new ship grows out of the old one, step by step—and while they are still building, the sailors may already be thinking of a new structure, and they will not always agree with one another. The whole business will go on in a way that we cannot even anticipate today. That is our fate.”
Otto Neurath, Foundation of the Social Sciences, 1944.
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