COMMUNITY | Thinking, Caring, Uncommon

Posted on 03/03/2013


Ideas and practices of community are not only integral to my current project involvement with Long Time, No See? but also to my work more generally. I have an interest in the practice of community in terms of what that means for participation and the development of communities of change or communities of care. Here, it’s important to understand care as something that is integral to our being and potentially transformative. If I have understood this concept usefully, via Tony Fry’s work on design futures, this is essential for futuring and ‘making time’.

In the Long Time, No See? Project, which involves an interdisciplinary team of artists, writers, designers, planners and scientists, I am working on the participation design in a way that not only enables that community of change/care but maps its intensities and affinities, topography and topology through everyday acts of walking, looking, listening, talking and thinking. Often, what I find lacking in community engagement and participation is the story and the anecdote. What if these gatherings were more about sharing stories than they were about sharing ideas or solving problems? How can the notion of storytelling bring participation and change alive? Though, I stress that this process is not derive in that improvised way. This links to my recent overview of the agency of mapping (James Corner) and which highlights four emergent strategies for cartographic practice in planning and design – drift, strata, game-board and rhizome. As noted in that earlier post: “From techniques such as these, Corner proposes the possibility of “inaugurating new worlds out of old”, highlighting mapping as a means for emancipation and enablement.”

The usual deconstructions stand in a line:

  • Maurice Blanchot, The Unavowed Community
  • Jean Luc Nancy, The Inoperative Community
  • Chantal Mouffe, ‘agonistic pluralism’
  • Jacques Ranciere, ‘sporadic democracy’
  • Jacques Derrida, ‘community of the question’
  • Felix Guattari, The Three Ecologies
  • Giorgio Agamben, The Coming Community
  • Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities
  • Georges Bataille, The Negative Community
  • Iris Marion Young, ‘the unoppressive city’
  • … and then some …

I might go as far here as to insert something of Bataille’s informe into this picture and the idea of shapeless and shifting social (in)form(e)-ations. In the assertion of consensus and commonality, as hallmarks of community, there has been a deconstructive impetus to interrogate other or othering dynamics, or consider the implications of strangeness or the stranger, or to address the implications of ‘community without community’. So there is in my thinking a segue to Alphonso Lingis’ The Community of Those Who Have Nothing in Common, a text I have lingered in and with some time ago. I have a friend – a beginning-to-talk-think-listen-together – in Luke J who speaks of liveliness and living (after Eugene Gendlin and others): this is inspiring and offers an alternative to the threat of ‘death trap’ (he is better at explaining this than me so please see He introduced this thinking about liveliness into the testing of the Long Time, No See? participation process. The participation design for Long Time, No See?, as a multiplatform artwork, endeavours to accentuate ‘care’ through a fairly simple array of exchanges, experiences and connections that elicit and enliven caring as foundational for futuring. Additionally, the project seeks to see what can come of talking and walking together. Can that map out a field for conversation and negotiation?

Lingis asserts, in his discussion of the rational and irrational community, that death is what we hold in common and binds us in community:

In the midst of the work of the rational community, there forms the community of those who have nothing in common, of those who have nothingness, death, their mortality, in common. But is the death that isolates each on a common death? And can it be identified as nothingness? (p.13)

I see some potential to assert Climate Change  (environmental crisis) as what we have in common: an emergency that potentially yields a kind of oblivion and obliteration. Lingis writes “I came to think that a society that would forsake the dying to die alone, whether in hospitals or in the gutters, undermines itself radically” (p. x). Just as there are many kinds of death in many kinds of places, there are many kinds of Climate Change (environmental crisis) playing out in many kinds of places. As a kind of common uncommonality, humanity shares this: There is an invitation here to start playing with ideas of the common and commoning. In this anthropocene (and Bruno Latour has provided commentary on this too), Climate Change is the global dying and death we have made for ourselves. Yet, we remain unable to deal with this, to address this, because, in part, we have not been able to mobilise, connect or map communities of change/care. It seems like a death trap or death wish of sorts.

Postscript: This has now prompted me to reach for other Lingis books stacked and standing along the shelves. The one I was particularly looking for is titled The Imperative, a working and writing of Kant, perception and phenomenology. With some sections of The Community of Those Who Have Nothing in Common still resonant, I turned to the chapter titled ‘The Death of Strangers’. There’s a sentence here – which describes the death of a friend after a car accident – that I am appropriating as an allegory for this connection to ecological crisis, emergency and the body in pain: “Dying takes time; it extends strange time without possibilities, without a future. Our friend has fallen into a time outside the time of initiatives, of others, of history, and of understanding. Whether struggling or not, the dying one is not advancing with his own forces into the distance where the last moments awaits; he finds himself constrained to go on without going any where.” For the living, the sense of loss and grieving has already begun its ravaging grip, as the life slowly ebbs into deathliness. Like in The Community of Those Who Have Nothing in Common, he evokes the image of the caressing hand and compassion as ecstatic. Lingis describes the ‘time of dying’ as a particular kind of relationship to all time and as a kind of endurance for both the dying and the living. In that time, there is disconnection from the possibilities and the future.