[This dis­cus­sion is the con­clu­sion of a series of talks: Designing Energy Transformation: From the Modern Infrastructure Ideal to Liberatory Technologies; Design Justice for the Green New Deal; and Amniotechnics (not transcribed)]

Kai Bosworth: Okay. So, ques­tions from the audi­ence? Or oth­er­wise I have one. [very long pause] Silence.

Okay. So, I think that one thing that I was think­ing about while both of your pre­sen­ta­tions were hap­pen­ing is the degree to which a ques­tion of not only design or tech­nol­o­gy but the lim­its of what we can design or hold pow­er over is at stake in pre­cise­ly think­ing about how to make a bet­ter future. And I’m won­der­ing if you agree or disagree with me, and if so does that throw a wrench in think­ing about a sort of broad-scale trans­for­ma­tion of the planet? 

Sophie Lewis: I under­stand you to be…partly— Just to check on the sort of ques­tion, you’re kind of talk­ing about the pre­scrip­tive ele­ment in what I would—in—yeah. I was say­ing. Sasha’s pre­sen­ta­tion was all about the demo­c­ra­t­ic process, and mine was very much about what I…what I want. It’s an inter­est­ing ten­sion to have highlighted. 

Yes. Well, that’s a real­ly great ques­tion. I sup­pose I’d like to hear what you think your­self, Kai and also— [indi­cates Costanza-Chock] But I sup­pose my…my defense,” if that’s required, is that I tru­ly think that the sorts of nor­ma­tive claims and req­ui­si­tions and demands and…you know, to some peo­ple slight­ly inde­fen­si­ble sort of utopi­an asser­tions in my book are very gen­uine­ly a process of inter­pre­ta­tion and read­ing the strug­gles that have gone before. I don’t real­ly think any of the ideas are orig­i­nal.” They have emerged from kind of full-spectrum doulas, mid­wifery strug­gles, black fem­i­nist poly­ma­ter­nal­ist prac­tices… Yeah, it’s going to be com­pli­cat­ed to pros­e­cute the ide­al of fam­i­ly abo­li­tion giv­en that lots of people…not just Tucker Carlson, but—who’s not a fan of mine. But many peo­ple are extremely…you know. We are ene­mies on this issue. Family comes first is an idea that…it has vast pop­u­lar­i­ty across the polit­i­cal spec­trum. I would argue it is anti-ecological idea. Family comes first is not an eco­log­i­cal way of think­ing. But… Yeah, we’re gonna have a prob­lem I sup­pose. I think there is a role for a cer­tain kind of uni­ver­sal­ist dis­course. I say that kind of polem­i­cal­ly. If you want com­mu­nism, you know, you have to say what you want. And that’s going to abut, and pro­duce antag­o­nisms. And that’s not a very great answer. Yeah. 

Sasha Constanza-Chock: I mean, I haven’t read your book, yet. But I’m cer­tain­ly going to now. I feel like…you know, com­ing from queer and trans com­mu­ni­ties, a lot of the dis­course is right around the fam­i­lies that we have to cre­ate. So we talk about cho­sen fam­i­ly, we talk about pos­si­bly refig­ur­ing, rethink­ing, and maybe even destroy­ing or abol­ish­ing the hetero- and cis­nor­ma­tive tra­di­tion­al idea of the fam­i­ly in favor of oth­er fig­u­ra­tions, includ­ing you know frankly the fig­u­ra­tions of fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty that exist­ed through most of human his­to­ry and large­ly were vio­lent­ly dis­placed, destroyed, erased through process­es of set­tler colo­nial­ism and the arrival of cap­i­tal­ism and the need to pro­duce urban spaces in cer­tain types of ways, pro­duce units of work­ers, pro­duce demand for you know, family-level or indi­vid­u­al­ized goods, con­sump­tion. So I think there’s a lot in there that I agree with. You know I’m cer­tain­ly… I’m not that into top-down any­thing. So, abo­li­tion of the fam­i­ly as some­thing that’s com­ing as a state project would­n’t be some­thing that I’d sup­port but I cer­tain­ly think that we do need to think about eco­log­i­cal sur­viv­abil­i­ty, some­thing that’s going to require sig­nif­i­cant restruc­tur­ing of and return to some of these oth­er forms of cho­sen fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty to replace…or community-esque family. 

And I think that for design­ers— And it’s inter­est­ing because I don’t come from urban plan­ning and archi­tec­ture, or land­scape. You know, I come more from HCI—human com­put­er interaction—and from the design of soft­ware? And in the Design Justice Network we’ve cre­at­ed sort of some shared strate­gies and prin­ci­ples, but also there are ten­sions between… We’re lump­ing a lot togeth­er when we say design,” and part of one of our tasks right now is for sub­groups with­in the Design Justice Network to kind of think about what does design jus­tice mean for X, where X” is a dif­fer­ent design­er­ly prac­tice. But yeah, I mean I think all of the sub­fields of design will have to think about what it means to recre­ate a future that isn’t built around that nuclear unit with the trans­porta­tion, liv­ing, and con­sump­tion pat­terns that we’re sup­posed to be social­ized into. So I’m into that. 

Audience 1: Thank you for the pan­el. This is kind of a…I guess a ques­tion for Sophie. I haven’t read your book but I look for­ward to doing that right away. I’m fas­ci­nat­ed by your ideas, I just have a ques­tion about the move to tech­nol­o­gize the idea of water. And the way that Sasha was just his­tori­ciz­ing the idea of fam­i­ly and say­ing that we have a his­to­ry that we can refer to in which fam­i­ly was abol­ished or you know, it did­n’t exist in the way that it exists now for many of us. So in the same way, we have kind of a ref­er­ence to water not being rede­fined or some­thing. So I think you get what I’m say­ing. I mean, is it a— So, think­ing about water as tech­nol­o­gized or cyborg-ized, is that a move away essen­tial­iz­ing a rela­tion­ship to water? Or I guess I’m just ask­ing about tech­nol­o­giza­tion of water and cyborg…why that has to fit into your vision. 

Bosworth: Let’s gath­er the oth­er ques­tion and then we’ll respond.

Audience 2: Thank all three of you. I kind of was think­ing about the con­cept of design­ing for dis­com­fort at the begin­ning, and some of the ten­sions in all of your pre­sen­ta­tions between what makes you come alive as an indi­vid­ual and like, makes us feel bright, and makes our com­mu­ni­ties in the per­fect wind farm con­fig­u­ra­tion feel per­fect; ver­sus what when we’re in the big space of what our world in a big­ger pic­ture needs to func­tion and com­bat cli­mate change at the speed that we need to com­bat it. Those things seem inten­tioned in a lot of ways. So just think­ing through that I won­der what your thoughts are. 

Lewis: You go first.

Bosworth: I should go first. Okay. Yeah, so I guess I’m a geo­g­ra­ph­er and so we’re sup­posed to know things about scale? And one of the things that’s real­ly dif­fi­cult about scale is pre­cise­ly this ques­tion of how do dif­fer­ent col­lec­tives inter­face with each oth­er and inter­face as part of one anoth­er. One of the things that I think has been inter­est­ing about some of the con­ver­sa­tions I’ve been hav­ing around design­ing ener­gy trans­for­ma­tion as well as think­ing about both of my col­leagues up here, their com­ments today, is how that is also strange­ly a kind of…we get into these recur­sive forms of design, right, where we have to also design inter­faces that scale up from our kind of face-to-face meet­ings to the inter­na­tion­al and plan­e­tary scale. 

So that’s cer­tain­ly a dif­fi­cult propo­si­tion. And yet, you think that there’s a lot of exam­ples from both his­tor­i­cal­ly and from the present of dif­fer­ent kinds of inter­na­tion­al­ist move­ments that were both capa­ble of hold­ing at the same time their sort of pro­vi­sion­al cho­sen com­mu­ni­ty around them in a sort of local­ized or a sort of place-based way, at the same time as they were able to bring those con­cerns to a broad­er scale and scales through and beyond the sup­posed nation-state sort of orientation. 

And so, I would hope that that would be one thing that—I mean I think is absolute­ly nec­es­sary in any con­ver­sa­tion around a Green New Deal or around eco­log­i­cal futures, is that there isn’t one sort of des­ignable scale that is supe­ri­or in some kind of way, but it’s real­ly the ongo­ing inter­faces between and among var­i­ous dif­fer­ent kinds of scales that are kind of you know, best-shotting pro­duc­ing a just envi­ront­ment future. 

Costanza-Chock I’m gonna get in on this one because you know, at MIT the stu­dents are con­stant­ly taught from the day they arrive that they need to scale, they need to build some­thing for a bil­lion peo­ple, or it’s mean­ing­less to do. And I think that that’s…personally I think that’s the oppo­site of what we need. I don’t think that design jus­tice prin­ci­ples sup­port that. I think that that very prin­ci­ple, that’s about the pro­duc­tion of mono­cul­tures, and by mono­cul­tures we could talk about that in terms of organ­isms, and we would talk about that in agri­cul­ture, but we could also talk about it in terms of human cul­tures. We could talk about it in terms of lan­guages and lan­guage death that’s hap­pen­ing now. We could talk about it in terms of even infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy sys­tems, where we’ve start­ed with the promise of the decen­tral­ized Web and the lib­er­a­to­ry poten­tial of you know— I remem­ber it was actu­al­ly just last week twen­ty years ago today that Indymedia was born in the tear gas clouds in Seattle out of the fem­i­nist, indige­nous, and labor, and green coali­tion that came togeth­er to say no to the one world vision of the World Trade Organization and we used the nascent net and open pub­lish­ing and free soft­ware to try and doc­u­ment and cir­cu­late strug­gles. And now fast for­ward twen­ty years, and that’s been replaced by a cor­po­rate mono­cul­ture of a hand­ful of infor­ma­tion com­pa­nies that are…you know frankly even just in the ener­gy that they… We need to talk about ener­gy jus­tice and infor­ma­tion pro­cess­ing pow­er. There are increas­ing­ly reports com­ing out around the amount of ener­gy that’s con­sumed by this hand­ful of firms in the con­struc­tion of the Internet infra­struc­ture, but also in terms of the new move towards arti­fi­cial intel­li­gence and the amount of ener­gy that it takes to pro­duce new AI mod­els which them­selves are monoculture-producing data sur­veil­lance and pro­tec­tion sys­tems that are about elim­i­nat­ing any­one who is an out­lier or does­n’t fall with­in the range that a data mod­el has been trained on. And I’ve writ­ten about this elsewhere. 

So I’m not into big scale. I into like, rede­cen­tral­iza­tion and small, local com­mu­ni­ty con­trol, and the Detroit Community Technology Project that’s build­ing community-owned wire­less, mesh net­works, with dig­i­tal stew­ards who come from the com­mu­ni­ties and are installing that infra­struc­ture them­selves and learn­ing how to do that. Yeah. 

Bosworth: Sophie, last word.

Lewis: Sometimes at the end of dis­cus­sions I have about this sort of…formerly real­ly quite famil­iar on the left but now almost unthink­able, kind of makes your brain explode kind of phrase, fam­i­ly abo­li­tion, is that you know, peo­ple say some­thing along the lines of, Oh. Well you know, hav­ing his­tori­cized it like this, I guess my take­away is I would love to abol­ish the fam­i­ly except it does­n’t real­ly exist,” the sort of para­dox is that families have in prac­tice already sort of abol­ished in a sense…families against The Family is a way… Although I don’t want to go too far in that direc­tion and try and claim that we’ve already sort of got there, we’ve already got to the… But you glimpse in real­i­ty com­rade­ly modes of social repro­duc­tion because that’s how peo­ple who were not meant to sur­vive, in Audre Lorde’s phrase, have actu­al­ly stayed around. And the knowl­edge and the skill of how to sort of not just sur­vive but thrive under con­di­tions of kind of exclu­sion from the prop­er­ty form of the fam­i­ly, and that white image of the nuclear pri­vate house­hold is how sort of like, fam­i­ly against fam­i­ly has evolved. So, you know in a sense some peo­ple would make the polem­i­cal claim that like, the phrase black fam­i­ly” is an oxy­moron, you don’t— You know, the peo­ple being put in cages for instance at the bor­der of the United States are not being treat­ed as The Family, even though they’re…fam­i­lies and they’re being bio­genet­i­cal­ly test­ed to see if they are bio­log­i­cal­ly linked to one another. 

Anyway. But your ques­tion about water is some­thing I want­ed to briefly come back on about… So I per­haps would dis­pute the term…not crit­i­cal­ly, but tech­nol­o­gize” is not per­haps what I would describe… The pro­pos­al of a cyborg con­cept of water is, to go back to the Cyborg Manifesto, not about a sort of received notion of tech­nol­o­gy. It’s more about under­stand­ing the both­ness and the non-purity of this medi­um. So, my broad­er project has a lot to do with ques­tion­ing the idea that roman­ti­ciza­tions of things is good, is lov­ing. You know, can we have a kind of lib­er­a­to­ry eco­log­i­cal prac­tice that sets up cer­tain things as kind of just good, like water. Which I was try­ing to say— I mean, so care” as well is one of these words. People say care, you know, we need care, we need…you know, just care. 

And you know, to under­stand some­thing real­ly deeply and respect­ful­ly, you have to under­stand the mor­bid­i­ty, the vio­lence, the bru­tal­i­ty even, inside it, and that includes the pla­cen­tal sort of worksite—the way that a fetus and and a ges­ta­tor inter­act is not very…pretty, and you can’t sim­ply describe it as gen­eros­i­ty. There’s a lot of kind of no, and antag­o­nism in this kind of rela­tion of bod­i­ly care. Perhaps we could even dis­pense with it and have lit­tle biobags filled with slur­ry that we pass off to one anoth­er in a low-tech DIY way that like, resem­bles Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time sce­nario, with Mattapoisett’s sort of cen­tral­ized brood­er, which is sort of tac­tile and…

But you know, an anti-work approach to sort of biol­o­gy but also informed by the i— You know, in an ultra­sound image, you don’t see the water. You see this kind of space­man. [laugh­ter] Which Donna Haraway point­ed out… Donna Haraway point­ed out that the image of the Earth, decon­tex­tu­al­ized, was born at the same time as the image of the fetus that seems to not be in a rela­tion of pro­duc­tion, pro­duced­ness, and sort of ges­tat­ing back the ges­ta­tor. And that’s part­ly because you don’t see the water. And water is not just nice. I’m try­ing to point out it drowns us, and it nour­ish­es us. And med­i­cine too is not just nice, that’s the whole notion of like, the cure, right. Like it— [inaudi­ble com­ment from Bosworth] Yeah, okay. But like the dual­i­ty of like…you know, the poi­son and the and the life-bringing sub­stance, you know. To under­stand that the sort of nature of the world around us I’m attract­ed still—I’m still a lit­tle bit loy­al to the con­cept of the cyborg because of its abil­i­ty to show us that there’s no pure. And so it makes sense to talk about water as a tech­nol­o­gy for that rea­son. Because care is messy and sometimes…brutal

Audience 3: I have a ques­tion for Sophie, is that— So, I am very— I loved your talk, I’m look­ing for­ward to read­ing your book. I’m very aligned with the things that you espouse. But I have a lit­tle prob­lem with some of what feels to me as the polemi­cism of this lan­guage, the idea of abol­ish­ing the fam­i­ly. My prob­lem with the polemi­cism, or what I per­ceive to be the polemi­cism of it, is that for bet­ter or for worse, you don’t need to sell me on the prob­lem­at­ics of the domes­tic unit of the fam­i­ly. But for bet­ter or for worse, that dis­course is a part of our real­i­ty and as such it has been appro­pri­at­ed by com­mu­ni­ties that have been on the vio­lent receiv­ing end of that term, right. The idea of fam­i­ly is so impor­tant in com­mu­ni­ties of col­or. It’s so impor­tant for the sur­vival and for the resilience of peo­ple that have faced direct­ly the vio­lence done by the patri­ar­chal sys­tems that the fam­i­ly is metonymic for. And so, how do we leave space for that appro­pri­a­tion? The fact that that… You don’t—again, don’t need to reit­er­ate the impor­tance of the cri­tiques but that dis­course is impor­tant. Is there any way in which we can retain the fam­i­ly, and not abol­ish the fam­i­ly, but do that rad­i­cal impor­tant work that you’re call­ing for?

Lewis: Yes. Um… This is the nub of the issue. So, eh… I don’t think it’s face­tious to say it kind of returns us to the the impos­si­bil­i­ty of the word fa— I mean the lived real­i­ty of fam­i­ly is in a sense only his­tor­i­cal­ly active in com­mu­ni­ties that are not, in an insti­tu­tion­al sense, The Family. I mean it’s as though the only place where there has beens some­thing wor­thy of the name, in a pos­i­tive sense, is where it does not exist in the sense of rela­tions of cap­i­tal­ist accu­mu­la­tion and sort of reproduction. 

So, you know—and I someti—yeah. I should some­times make this per­haps more clear at the begin­ning of talks. I don’t have a kind of… I know, for instance in the black church the lan­guage of broth­er, sis­ter, etc., or not—beyond the black church as well. It’s sort of foun­da­tion­al and it’s anti-familial, you know. To referred to one anoth­er as kin, it’s not some­thing I’m try­ing to argue against, per se. A lot of the time when that is hap­pen­ing, there is no metaphor active in the ide­ol­o­gy dri­ving that that has to do with bio­genet­ic kind of, or blood-based, or inside or out­group kind of puri­ty, right. It’s kind of the oppo­site. So I guess…yeah, I don’t know if that— Yeah. I think fam­i­ly abo­li­tion para­dox­i­cal­ly is kind of about uplift­ing black fam­i­lies against the state? And per­haps that’s some­thing that I should not be say­ing, sit­u­at­ed as I am, but my sense is that the inspi­ra­tion for this project come—you know, from peo­ple like Alexis Pauline Gumbs, for instance, whose con­tention is that black sin­gle moth­ers have always been queer and out­side. Sort of refugees from the insti­tu­tion of the fam­i­ly, right. But there’s a lot more to speak about. I’d love to talk to you lat­er about it. 

Bosworth: Okay. So thanks every­one. This is a fas­ci­nat­ing con­ver­sa­tion­al. I’ll just remind us how impor­tant some kind of utopi­an project is to it the Green New Deal. And if we want to pro­duce some kind of just future it’s going to require prob­a­bly upset­ting our notions of what utopi­anism is or means or how it can be designed. So, thanks for this con­ver­sa­tion, for stick­ing around. We’ll see you all after lunch at…whatever time Damian says.

Further Reference

Climate Futures II event page