Everyday Ingenuities

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Modernism’s celebration of great ingenuity got us into a lot of trouble. Promising solutions to the problem of living together – the only problem we truly share – Modernism’s enduring legacies have brought major destruction of various lifeworlds. If the modern boulevard brought us the possibility not only of popular revolt but its violent suppression, so too did the green revolution not only ‘feed the world’ but also starve indigenous communities. Capitalist structures and techniques promised the fulfilment of desire while creating the possibilities of large-scale exploitation; and if liberal law promised sovereignty and autonomy, it also created the possibility of violent expropriation of land and labour. While these Modernist promises are, perhaps, on their last legs, the legacies of these great ingenuities are becoming more pressing each day.

In what we can call, with Tsing, these ‘ruins’ (2015), novel forms of ‘getting by’ (Tsing 2015; 378) are emerging. Some of these draw on historical precursors like the plot (Wynter 1956); others are invented anew or stitched together our of various fabrics. Taking that cue into our own research, the question is not how great ingenuity and innovation will solve the major social problems of our time, but rather, how people employ multiple ingenuities in the everyday to make their worlds liveable or inhabitable for themselves and others. Negotiating care, improvising livelihoods, enduring crises, mending broken infrastructures and finding workarounds is how most cope with the destruction and organized abandonment (Gilmore, 2008) of capitalism. Decisively political but often overlooked, these everyday ingenuities can take the form of repair (Bhan, 2019), reproductive labour (Bhattacharyia, 2017), improvisation (Simone, 2018), or weathering (Neimanis and Walker 2014). Often necessary for survival and born of necessity and suffering, these practices can be dull, exhausting and dangerous but sometimes also joyful and creative (Mattern, 2018). Everyday ingenuities are what makes endurance and survivance (Povinelli 2021) possible.

At the same time, these ingenuities represent a challenge to social thought. If the 1990s saw a wealth of anthropological and sociological studies into everyday tactics of resistance, such studies also suffered from a romanticizing tendency at odds not only with enduring legacies of colonialism and empire (see e.g. Povinelli 2021), but also with novel (gendered, racialised) forms of precarization in today’s withdrawing welfare states (Lorey, 2015). Tracing these everyday ingenuities, then, is both an empirical challenge and requires a conceptual vocabulary to tease out the joys and pains, the politics and the pragmatics, that characterize these everyday improvisations.

In this workshop, our aim is to learn from each other about everyday ingenuities in our research. Steering clear of romanticizing notions centering the ‘creativity’ of the oppressed, this workshop aims to extend consideration and care to those practices of making do within broken, decaying, or abandoned social worlds. We understand caring here not as a moral stance, neither as a wholly benign or neutral practice (see Puig de la Bellacasa 2017) but as a practical, occasionally messy, but always situated matter of engaging with possibilities for living otherwise. Here, against capitalism’s profitmaking disentanglements, this approach may allow for a view on the ‘entanglements that might be mobilized in common cause’ (Tsing 2015, 135). Emphasizing emerging ways of living with and caring for others – including nonhumans – we seek to enhance our grasp on and ways of speaking about how people mend necessities, craft alternatives, and seek sometimes fleeting solutions.
Period5 Apr 2023
Event typeWorkshop
LocationRotterdam, NetherlandsShow on map