Anarchotourism in Barcelona

Sant_Felip_Neri_-_Barcelona, by MarcelloScotti

The Plaça de Sant Felip Neri is quiet, despite the constant flow of tour groups. I perched on the edge of the fountain and watched the pigeons, people sipping their coffee at the cafe, the wind in the spindly trees actually audible over the crashing thunder of Barcelona. I had wandered through a few slender lanes, almost missed it once, but backtracked and found myself at the plaça. And sat.

The plaça was bombed by Franco in 1938 during the Spanish Civil War, killing 42 people, mostly children, including orphaned refugees. The shrapnel scars attest to the intensity of the blast. Like Berlin, Barcelona bears its architectural wounds for anyone who cares to notice. I’m constantly crafting a patchwork understanding of history after a thoroughly mediocre American-jingoist public school education.

I half-heartedly took a few snaps of the pockmarked facade, but knew they wouldn’t look like anything in the chiaroscuro sunshine. I didn’t take many photographs at all in Barcelona. I was constantly wading through people shrieking with drunken glee while I was looking for the leaden weight of history. I was unexpectedly consumed by the Civil War and Catalonia’s history of anarchism, and vicious acts of government oppression as remembered in place names and bullet holes. Between sessions, keynotes and dinners for the EAA in Barcelona, I walked between 15-20 km a day, trying to make my own map of the place.

In 2001, a group of artists founded Tactical Tourism, “organizing interventions in public spaces drawing on the practices and language of tourism” to rescue secret histories of Barcelona. Their most famous intervention was the Route of Anarchism, a route “conceived as a guided tour to a hidden Barcelona, silenced and out of tourist view, the ‘red and black city’ of the anarchist movement, a Barcelona that is also known as ‘the Rose of Fire’.” This quote is from Pau Obrador and Sean Carter’s short article, Art, politics, memory: Tactical Tourism and the route of anarchism in Barcelona, which discusses the tactics of the group.

I spent a lot of time in the neighborhood El Raval, at the site of an infamous women’s jail, stopped by La Rosa De Foc, an anarchist bookshop, wandered by lots of mosques and read up on George Orwell and the Myths of the International Brigades. I could feel the voyeuristic spectre of difficult heritage hovering just outside of my eyeline. So I did what any good tourist would do and bought a poster:

Ricard Obiols 1936  Barcelona CNT-AIT

Ultimately, I failed as an anarchotourist. I focussed on the oppression, destruction and brutality and did not engage (as much) with the joyful noise of the situationist-led play that characterizes anarchism, “Tourism here is not seen as a passive spectator activity but rather as an active, playful form of engagement with the city.” Instead of visiting squats, I went to the Museu d’Història de Catalunya, which covers the continual Catalonian resistance but also has a fancy rooftop cafe overlooking the harbor. I couldn’t afford the drinks, sadly. So I continued to wander through Barcelona, soaking up as much as I could.

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Human, Posthuman, Transhuman Digital Archaeologies…in the flesh!

EAA 2018 is upon us and we have an absolutely incredible line-up of papers for our session, Human, Posthuman, Transhuman Digital Archaeologies. We’ve decided to pre-circulate the papers amongst ourselves (and a few more publicly) and provide 5 minutes of presentation followed by 10 minutes of discussion. This was a bit of a compromise to stay on time, but still leave as much time as possible to discuss the ideas, as we are expecting to publish the session in the EJA. So, here’s the sesh:

Friday 7 September, 14:00 – 18:30, UB220

14:00 Introduction (Marta Diaz-Guardamino Uribe, Cardiff University; Colleen Morgan, University of York; Catherine Frieman, Australian National University)

14:15 Digital Paths to Reveal How Archaeologists Imagine/Construct the Past (Ruth Tringham, University of California, Berkeley)

14:30 Do Archaeologists Dream of Electric Sheep? (Annie Danis, University of California, Berkeley)

14:45 Discussion

15:00 Punk Archaeology, Slow Archaeology, and the Archaeology of Care (William Caraher, University of North Dakota)

15:15 The Enchantment of the Archaeological Record (Sara Perry, University of York)

15:30 “The Slow Regard of Silent Things…” Working Through Digital/Experimental Archaeologies/Deep Mapping (Benjamin Gearey, Orla-Peach Power University College Cork)

15:45 Discussion Slot

16:30 Avatars, Monsters, Cyborgs & Machines: A Posthuman Digital Archaeology (Colleen Morgan, University of York)

16:45 Close to the Bone: Digital Disruption and Practice Based Learning in the ANU Skullbook Project (Catherine Frieman, Katrina Grant, Terhi Nurmikko-Fuller, Sofia, Samper Carro, Australian National University)

17:00 Voices in the Making: Queer, Feminist Disruptions of (Digital) Archaeology (Katherine Cook, McMaster University)

17:15 Discussion Slot

17:30 Pushing the Boundaries of Epigraphic Knowledge: Digital Technologies for Recording, Analysing and Disseminating Roman Inscriptions (David Espinosa-Espinosa, Miguel Carrero-Pazos, University of Santiago de Compostela)

17:45 The Illusion of Immateriality: Towards a Posthuman View on Material Absence and Digital Presence in Roman Archaeology (Eva Mol, Brown University)

18:00 Ecologies of the Digital Synathrope: Selkie Wives and Buffalo Stones (Louisa Minkin, University of the Arts London)

The session will be video recorded and if anyone decides to tweet, we ask you to use: #S363

Here’s a jpg of the conference programme:

Shooting Stock Photos for Archaeology & Heritage

This photo of Alexis has been used in millions of marketing things. Poor Alexis.

Occasionally one of my photos will surprise me. I’ve been uploading miscellaneous high-resolution photos online for over a decade, all licensed CC-BY, lots of archaeology and travel, and some even tagged with metadata. So they’ve been used all over the place to illustrate blog posts, travel websites, various and sundry. I’m a fairly rubbish photographer–well, the skill comes and goes as I go in and out of practice. I’d probably be even better if I could be bothered to photoshop my photos. I give them a couple of tweaks then release them online.

Screenshot of one of my photos used for the COST ARKWORK, with my blessing, obviously.

One of my admin roles in the lectureship is media creation for marketing the department. So a lot of my photos are used for various things, a prospectus, postcards, social media decoration. On weekends away with my family I inevitably drag them to a Local Heritage Attraction(tm), snap some photos and sometimes they’re reused as a nice background to a recruitment campaign, or textures in powerpoints. They’re mixed in with lots of photos of my kid…keeping a work/life media balance is a ship that’s long sailed.

I still use a funky old version of Lightroom.

I don’t find enough time to take photos, though it’s part of my role as a lecturer. It’s difficult to participate in events and have to photograph them at the same time. I had a fairly hilarious exchange with a condescending parent at the last graduation who asked if I was “just the photographer.” I was mostly annoyed at the diminishing of the role of photographer. I tell my students over and over, that old internet chestnut: “pix or it didn’t happen.” Anyway, the happy side effect of doing event photography and taking 100000 photos of my child is that I’m getting a little bit better at photographing people. Still not amazing though.

Finds hut.

I still take most photographs with my phone, which does a fair job for Instagram, but I dusted off the 50mm and took the Big Camera into town today to try to take a photograph for the Cultural Heritage Management MA. I wasn’t able to get the specific one I wanted as the light was bad, but I took a few others that may get used for one thing or another.

Holy Trinity is easily my fav church in York, even before I knew it was associated with Lister.
At the Holy Trinity.

It’s not a bad thing to ramble around York, taking photos and calling it “work.” It is, obviously, but it’s also work–it’s getting harder to see new and interesting angles in York. I just breeze by, headphones in, watching everyone else take photographs of the lovely city.

Bury Me, My Love: Games, Digital Empathy & Migration

Bury me, my Love tells the story of Nour as she flees Syria through the medium of simulated text messages. As her husband Majd, you try to help her make decisions–go to Izmir, go to Beirut, try to make the border into Bulgaria, which smuggler to trust. Your responses help guide her actions, but you do not wholly control Nour as she will occasionally overrule you.

The game feels intensely personal, two lovers chatting on Whatsapp, and was inspired by a story published in le Monde that featured over 250 screencaps of messages that Dana, a young Syrian who fled in 2015, sent to her family. The story also plays out in a modified “real time” and you wait to see the consequences of your direction.

There are some scary moments, as above, or when Nour turns off her cellphone to save battery while dodging brutal patrols on the Turkey/Bulgarian border. This is powerful testimony for the utility of smartphones as a guide and lifeline for vulnerable people. Further, the format of the cellphone to deliver this game is perfect–there is an immediacy and urgency in your interactions with Nour as you make incredibly difficult decisions. The writers were able to convey Nour’s humor, vulnerability, loneliness, defiance and despair through texts.

Bury me, my Love relies in part on immersion through telepresence. Telepresence, where you are when you’re talking on the phone–not with the person you are speaking to, but not quite alone in the room either–is a longterm research interest of mine. Delegation and the extended self play important roles in interpreting the past and building an understanding of past people. The game takes the familiar distant-closeness of communicating with friends and loved ones through digital devices and social media and uses this dynamic to deliver a powerful message about the lives of asylum seekers in Europe’s hostile landscape. Through the simple mechanism of text messaging, Bury me, my Love is an impactful, truthy account of people’s lives, one that may improve empathy and provide some education in human rights.

But.

but.

Do I want these things to be delivered digitally? Is the gamification of the horrendous treatment that desperate people receive at international borders really how we teach ourselves that state-sanctioned brutality is a bad thing? I want there to be important games, impactful games and Bury Me, my Love certainly is such an example. This game is harrowing, but I can walk away. After working with Syrian refugees, it makes me a little queasy to play them, to play their struggle. But perhaps any kind of intervention, especially a very sympathetic, impacting, intelligent game is better than nothing.

This game really begs the question: how serious should serious games be?

Recommended, regardless. More reviews:

Kotaku

Engadget

The Archaeology of Peepo

“…and the nursery rhymes are different!”

I was commiserating with another translocated mother; she’s British and raising a son in Hawaii with an American husband, while I’m exactly the opposite. (Yes, I’m fairly sure that York is the opposite of Hawaii, alas.) We had been speaking about the subtle but substantial differences in nomenclature for British and American babies–everything from nappies vs. diapers to how the wheels on the bus go round and round, either all day long or all through town. London Bridge is rebuilt with different materials (silver and gold??) in the UK, whereas in the USA you take the key and lock her up…my fair lady. Needless to say, this all feeds into my shonky, blinkered ethnography of the UK, with this particular instance falling into the chapter on raising children.

Many of Tamsin’s books are from her grandparents who amassed a wealth of literature through teaching and having four children of their own. These are well-loved, disintegrating, and taped-together but remain compelling and most are still in print today. My favorites are the decidedly psychedelic Meg and Mog books (late 1970s):

From Meg’s Veg, sorry for the tipsy photos, I was battling a toddler

Though The Tiger Who Came to Tea (1968) is a close second–its ambiguous (anti-fascist?) narrative of a very large furry tiger who eats all the food and all the drink in a house occupied by a little girl and her mummy while daddy’s away is oddly chilling, and requires a greater literary scholar than I to unpick.

OH GOD WATCH OUT FOR THE TIGER AAAAAAHHHH

Janet & Allan Ahlberg’s Peepo (1981) is another classic British children’s book that I was not familiar with. Without getting too much into the literary devices in the book, it is told from the perspective of a little baby boy who peeps through a hole cut into the next page at various scenes of family life.

While it is not stated, the book is set during WWII, yet portrays a happy domesticity during a devastating war. This would have probably been obvious to any British readers, with the barrage balloon/anti-aircraft blimp in the background of an image of a park, a bombed-out building in the distance, gas mask on the bed, and the father is shown in uniform toward the end of the book.

This is obviously a idealized, heteronormative vision of the British past, one that probably feels true and right and comfortable. Dan tells me that a lot of children’s books are set during this time; my sample and experience are still relatively limited. What caught my attention is the architecture–we live in a similar Victorian terraced house that backs onto a small, paved yard with a tiny garden.

I started noticing the period-specific features of the house, ones that are mostly gone from ours, like the big stove in the kitchen and the outhouse tacked onto the end of the shed. The traces of these remain in our house, and some of our neighbor’s houses still have the back shed.

I realized that you could figure out the interior of the house and the location of the various rooms from a generalized knowledge of the architecture of these houses. This is how ingrained and ubiquitous these terraced houses are in the UK. In fact, after reading the book at least 1,000 times, I reckoned it was close to this set up:

This layout is from a house a block away from ours, stolen from a real estate website.

In this modern version the back shed has been converted into a kitchen and the former kitchen is now a dining room.

The interior scenes in Peepo are remarkably consistent, with objects (artefacts) appearing and reappearing as the everyday things interwoven into life. I wondered if the house was based on one from the Ahlbergs’ past, or if terrace houses were so generalizable that elaborate planning of the various scenes was not required. Of course the kitchen is there, with the stove just so, and the clothes horse in the corner.

I also love the book as potential inspiration for archaeological illustrations and reconstructions. It’s not messy, just full, rich with materiality and every object has a used and purposeful feeling to it. Small piles of toys are a playtime interrupted, but not quite cleared away. According to an interview in The Guardian, the illustrator Janet Ahlberg used The Army and Navy Stores Catalogue, 1939-1940 for reference and “would get waylaid in it and sit for ages looking at bread-bins and kettles.”

The book is from a baby’s perspective, watching his family move around him and the details he picks up that might go unnoticed by adults. It also evokes the “daily round,” of waking, daily activity, then bath and bedtime. Out in the back yard he sees:

A bonfire smoking
Pigeons in the sky
His mother cleaning windows
A dog going by

Here’s a video of Allan Ahlberg reading Peepo:

Voice, Collaboration, Archaeological Publication…and Google Docs

I love publishing collaboratively. It shows the collective nature of knowledge construction in archaeology and it’s one of the ways that I can use my (relatively limited) power to push new ideas out in the world and to give other scholars a boost. I haven’t actually published “up” (with senior scholars) as much as is normally expected, though I have been included in a couple of publications for which I’m very grateful. Rather I’ve published articles with staff members, undergraduates, Master’s students (not my own), PhD students (also not my own), commercial archaeologists, fellow grad students in grad school, etc etc etc. (And, perhaps inadvisedly, my husband. I should burn a sage-filled manuscript for Sally Binford.) When I’ve solicited contributions for edited issues or conferences I try to contact a broad range of people to add their perspectives to the conversation.

I’m not necessarily trying to get kudos (I find this short piece on performing virtue and “rigid radicalism” extremely compelling), but it’s important to foreground participation and representation when “manels” and all-male journal editor boards and such are still happening. Like any good white liberal radical woman, I’ve got a good balance of (self-identified) male and female co-authors and, through the virtue of the projects that I’ve worked on, a few POC and “indigenous” scholars as well. (indigenous in quotations because I’m unsure they’d label themselves as such) These collaborations have never been out of tokenism but have been the result of compelling ideas formed out of collaborative work. Anyway, I’m being so reflexive that my palms are sweating. You can probably tell by the amount of parentheticals that it’s an uncomfortable subject to try to pick apart.

This is all to foreground something that has been nagging at me as I’m working on the edits for a chapter in an edited volume. It was collaboratively written by four people in very different career stages. There’s an undergraduate, a Master’s student, me (then a postdoc) and a Professor (sadly we never walked into a bar together as 2/4 are non-drinking Muslims). There are relatively large chunks that were contributed from the Master’s student and undergraduate, filler + theory from me, and some really gutsy, introspective stuff from the Prof. Interestingly, if you ranked us in academic power, then it would pretty much go as you expect. However if you ranked us in relative power in the socio-economic context in which we work, it might go something more like (in descending order of power): undergraduate, Professor, Master’s student and me (doh). With fairly wide gaps between a couple of these positions. I’m first author though. These kinds of interpersonal relationships and power differentials are so telling and important, and yet not visible to our eventual readership.

So we’ve put this Google doc together. The cool thing about the juggernaut of corporate evil and yet convenience that is the google academic ecosystem is that it is very easy to work collaboratively AND it is easy to unpick the relative authorship of a document by going through the version history (forget github, most academics begrudge you asking them to write in something other than Word). If journals published the version history alongside the final article you could see the 1) intellectual trajectory of the article 2) the impact of the peer reviewers and editors 3) the individual contributions of the authors to the writing. And cursing, probably. A whole new world of academic transparency.

I’ve been thinking about this as I’ve been going through the editorial comments on the chapter. Some of these comments have dealt with shifting spelling conventions (US vs UK), fine, but others have dealt with the use of the active voice, “we,” which I’d like to resist but it’s the style of the rest of the volume and the (non-white, non-western, though they’d probably not describe themselves in the negative–writing about identity politics while keeping identity anonymous is near impossible, argh) editors don’t necessarily subscribe to my particular brand of stroppy (white, western) feminism as performed through writing (strong; like a man). Other comments have more explicitly asked us to write with a consistent voice. As lead author, I guess that is my voice. Without the “we” or me. So I go through and subtly change or obliterate all that does not sound like me. So much for heteroglossia.

Rosemary Joyce co-authored a brilliant book, Languages of Archaeology that brilliantly delves into the creation of archaeological writing in a much more rigorous and poetic fashion than my mangy and fraught blog post. Joyce has pointed to the possibilities of hypertext on several occasions, and Jeremy Huggett encourages a further investigation of the form. It’s compelling to imagine ways to reveal the craft and co-authorship of individual research articles, but I think I’m kidding myself if I thought anyone would actually go through and unpick them–people hardly read academic articles such as they are. Though perhaps the influence of collaborative writing through transparent(ish) version systems would be more upon the writers than the readers. Authorship and the gradual transformation of the text is very visible and gives us a chance to rethink academic power and responsibility. Maybe.

Aaannnnd that’s 850 words on meta-writing/procrastination. Back to the chapter.

Teach-Outs and the Progressive Stack

Amidst the incredible student-led gun control movement in the US and the completely sickening slaughter in East Ghouta, the USS strike amongst (some) UK university workers seems rather unimportant. The surface cause of the strike—fighting for our pensions—sounds downright quaint even within the UK context, but it is within a landscape of intensive, predatory neoliberalism that has been eroding the UK university system for the last 20+ years.

This strike action has been a rapid education for me—though I’ve been teaching in universities since 2006, my lectureship so far has basically been firefighting, with developing new courses and getting used to new responsibilities while conducting top notch research (right???) and occasionally seeing that child that I’m rather fond of. I didn’t really think I’d have to learn the specifics of my pension, the timeline of escalating student fees (beginning to understand why Tony Blair is so thoroughly despised), and the subtly different rules of protest and industrial action in the UK, but here we are. We are two days into a strike action that could potentially take out 14 days of teaching from a critical time of the student year, the end of the spring term.

I’m no stranger to protest; my mother took me to an anti-nukes rally in the early 1980s, I protested the build-up to the 9/11 (forever) wars and took action in Berkeley many, many, many times, as perhaps one might expect. One of my photos of these protests made the cover of the 2010 University in Crisis issue of the Kroeber Anthropological Society Papers.

Nancy Scheper-Hughes’ The Habit of Courage is published in that issue, and much of it still rings true for the UK actions:

The first act of civil disobedience doesn’t come easily to most people of good conscience. We are raised, with good reason, to be obedient; it requires a great deal of discernment to decide what matters enough to justify going against our more sociable inclinations to conform….

…the call to direct action was not limited to ‘safely’ tenured faculty – but included undergraduate and graduate students, and untenured faculty, drawn into sometimes uncomfortable confrontations with the administration by their sense of integrity and drawing strength from what I am calling “the habit of courage.”

This habit of courage and willingness to engage in ‘non-violent resistance’ has weakened in recent decades, replaced by a self-interested and protectionist academic ethos. A more politically cautious faculty have followed a neoliberal notion of decorous and quiet civility….

Meanwhile, there is a resurgence of anti-intellectualism, the infiltration of corporate business models to every aspect of academic and university life, the devaluation of the arts, humanities and the social sciences, increasingly seen either as a luxury or as intellectual enemies of the global economy. The Enlightenment idea of the university as a voluntary community of teachers, researchers, and students dedicated to the open and disinterested pursuit of knowledge and learning is being rapidly replaced by the idea of the university as a corporate enterprise whose primary functions are to provide a skilled workforce and to generate profitable and usable research for industry and global commerce.

Scheper-Hughes points out that, ironically, during these strike actions we actually do more teaching and admin than we would have done otherwise, through organized teach-outs, strategy meetings, and public outreach on the radio, print and television.

We’ve been organizing Teach-Outs (as opposed to Teach-ins, which would cross picket lines) at our local archaeology pub who immediately and fervently declared their solidarity. I was afraid that our first Teach-Out would find me and a handful of fellow lecturers having a lonely pint, but…we had standing room only. There is a hunger for action amongst students and staff that is refreshing but honestly unsurprising.

During the Teach-Out, we had questions and discussion guided by the progressive stack, a tactic used for group meetings during Occupy. Sara Perry and I had been talking about ways we could use it in the classroom, and I had written it up for review by our teaching committee. The progressive stack in the context of the Teach-Out was invigorating; POC spoke before white people, LGBTQ+ people before cishets, students before lecturers, women before men…to the best of my ability, at least. It relied on my own biases and foreknowledge, so it was (deeply) imperfect, but foregrounded voices that were critical to our discussion. We’re doing it again on Monday, and hopefully gathering momentum–getting more diversity on our speaking panel, etc.

It was and will continue to be, completely exhausting. Organizing on the fly, standing out in the bitter, bitter cold, and keeping up the emotional energy left me with very little to give my family afterwards. So…basically like academia, right?

But, again, as Nancy Scheper-Hughes states:

Nothing good happens without struggle, without solidarity, without a readiness and a willingness to court controversy, to take risks, and to expect and to sustain retaliation….

There’s a very real chance that this, my first UK industrial action, might be the last. If it fails, a toothless union isn’t worth much, except to be laughed down by ridiculously overpaid VCs sipping “pornstar” martinis in expensive hotel suites while our precarious associate lecturers and other university workers struggle to make ends meet. It’s critically important to support the strike and to take back our universities.