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The Langenort, a ship rented for use by Women on Waves, with the mobile clinic aboard, in the Netherlands just before embarking to Poland, 2003 (photo: Willem Velthoven © Women on Waves Foundation).

Friday Salon: Activism on the Map: The Zone Books Series on Non-Governmental Politics

19 Apr 2013

To be involved in politics without aspiring to govern, governed by the best leaders, or abolish the institutions of government: such are the constraints that delineate the field of nongovernmental politics.

What nongovernmental activists seek to accomplish ranges considerably: providing humanitarian aid, protecting the environment, monitoring human-rights and civil-liberties violations, adding new entitlements to the list of fundamental rights and liberties, defending the interests of corporations’ stakeholders – workers, consumers, suppliers – and expanding public access to knowledge are only the most frequent among their pursuits. Yet, regardless of the nature of their activism, what all involvements in nongovernmental politics have in common is a determination to challenge the effects of a particular set of governmental practices. Whether the governing agency they confront is a state, an international organisation, a public institution or a private corporation, the specific issue that concerns nongovernmental activists is less who governs – who is in charge and for whose benefit – than how government is exercised.

Eyal Weizman chairs this Friday Salon with Zone authors to discuss activism and nongovernmental politics. Invited speakers are Michel Feher (philosopher and the founding editor of Zone books), Laura Kurgan (architect and Professor at Columbia University), Meg McLagan (documentary filmmaker) and Gaëlle Krikorian (scholar and activist).

Starting in 2007 with Nongovernmental Politics - a collection of critical essays and interviews with prominent activists edited by Michel Feher, with Gaëlle Krikorian, and Yates McKee - Zone books has sought to explore the domain of nongovernmental activism, examining the multiple and often conflicting motives and strategies of its practitioners, the privileged sites where they intervene, as well as the aesthetic and performative techniques they develop in order to stage their claims.

Following the introductory volume of this ongoing series, Gaëlle Krikorian and Amy Kapczynski have assembled the first anthology of the “access to knowledge” or “A2K” movement: published in 2010, Access to Knowledge in the Age of Intellectual Property charts the diverse forms of resistance – software programmers who take to the streets to attack software patents, AIDS activists who fight for generic medicines in poor countries, subsistence farmers who defend their right to food security and seeds, college students who seek to protect the digital commons – fuelled by the extension of intellectual property law in the last two decades.

The subject of Sensible Politics, the volume edited by Meg McLagan and Yates McKee in 2012, is, at its subtitle states, “the visual culture of nongovernmental activism”. Drawing on the work of art historians, anthropologists, political theorists, artists, filmmakers, and architects, this third anthology situates aesthetic forms within broader activist contexts and networks of circulation, thereby offering critical insight into the practices of mediation through which the political becomes “sensible”.

Finally, in Close Up at a Distance: Mapping, Technology, and Politics, Laura Kurgan addresses the recent development of mapping technologies such as the Global Positioning System (GPS) and the geographic information system (GIS) software, both as governmental techniques of surveillance and information gathering, and as an area and opportunity for nongovernmental critique and counter-tactics. Kurgan investigates this emerging realm of contestation through a series of case studies – from Kuwait (1991) to Kosovo (1999), New York (2001), and Indonesia (2010) – involving mass graves, incarceration patterns, disappearing forests, and currency flows.

In collaboration with Forensic Architecture, Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths, University of London.

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