The Underground 2014

Report on Underground Workshop

Jing Wang

Overall, the workshop was a productive space for sharing different ideas among people work with diverse materials, topics, and concepts. After watching two videos related to the topic of underground, we divided into two groups and brainstormed about what we thought underground entailed, meant, referred to, etc. People reflected on the conceptualization of underground – the linguistic, phenomenological and affective dimensions of “underground” as a space and a concept. We all posted paper notes on the white board, drawing thin lines between the conventional and unconventional approaches to “underground.” Then two groups reconvened and collectively discussed the paper posters on the board. Cross-questioning and brainstorming section was particularly interesting when people debated a lot about potentially unconventional approach to a concept like underground.

Personally, I am very intrigued by the idea of point or dot that emerged from the workshop. Although there were doubts about whether a dot-perspective is too isolated or is fundamentally opposed to “lines” as defined by Tim Ingold, I think the concept offers many possibilities for critical analysis and methodological design. From an architectural perspective (thanks to Yutian’s original contribution), a dot is a point in space with no finite mass or space. In order to define a dot in space, there are multiple ways to do it rather than a line with a certain direction. Such as two examples below:

Conceptually, a concept of underground can then be considered as a point connected to other forms of knowledge in all directions rather than just a line moving along certain paths or trajectories. Methodologically, an actor or object related to underground can also be treated as a dot influenced by different vectors from all directions and still be connected to other actors or objects. Paraphrase Valerie’s ideas on dot, she proposed to treat dot as a point for imagination, for projection, or for engaging with an idea, a space, an affect, etc. that we may never be able to get first-hand experience.

Post-workshop productivity: some questions left to be addressed. 

Svetlana Borodina

Before, throughout and after the workshop it is questions rather than answers that have been crowding in my head. In the absence of clearly identified strategy, I, as other participants, faced the challenge to problematize conventional practices of academic work. When routine becomes broken – and in this workshop it did, due to undefined purposes, a too broad formulation of the topic of discussion and rather diverse participants’ backgrounds and degrees of familiarity with the topic – one gets a great chance of accessing and assessing the mechanics of it, of the habits and assumptions that help this routine running as operative.

What kind of skills does one need to master in order to engage in these “open” spaces? How can one become “productive” and what “productive” means at all? What kinds of knowledge receive a warm welcome and which ones, concomitantly, are rendered illegible? It is often heard that loose frameworks and diminished regulation stimulate creativity and encourage a more “vital” engagement, yet personally, having gone through quite uncomfortable anxiety before and at the beginning of the workshop, I am urged to bring to the table the questions of how can we account for the immobilizing effect of the absence of regulation and what the method suggested by such differently organized spaces is.

Underground is a rather wide conceptual field. Many seemingly unrelated phenomena fall under the umbrella of this term: mining and Dostoevsky’s philosophical and ethical elaborations, suppressed libido and organismic vitality in the deeper strata of the soil, racial and economic segregation in South Africa and romanticist aspirations of escapism all are made to meet and speak to each other because they all somehow have “underground” as a facet of their phenomenality. To confront them with each other and to allow each to pose questions to one another surely goes along the lines of the call for more “experimental” and “open” way of doing research. However, in the midst of celebrating the generativity of such unexpected encounters, I am tempted to slow down a little and pose a question of what constitutes the rigor of such an inquiry. What are the limits of portability of the concepts and contexts in which underground finds its incarnations?

I am immensely grateful for participating in the workshop, because it made me think and, consequently, act in regard to the way of doing research in which I find myself at home, it also posed so many productive questions the ongoing thinking about which drives me to the areas I was hardly aware of previously. The questions of methods, strategic and tactical organization of communication and learning spaces, and regulation of the development of my own inquiry. For me, a big part of doing anthropology is about asking questions. To ask an interesting and rather “opening” question is a craft one has to develop and this workshop, having led me through so dynamic and rich emotions and experiences, did contribute to the development of this skill.

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