Learning in Island Ecologies: Aina Pomar, Andrea Ragno, Andrew Dobson, Anna Mikkola, Ashley Lewis, Cameron Alexander, Chris Fussner, Himanshu Halve, Jacob Meher, Jasmine Grace Wenzel, Mariah Reodica, Marie Klinger, Marjolijn Kok, Sindi-Leigh McBride, Richard Hames PDF
co-edited by Jasmine Grace Wenzel
Andrea is a student of philosophy science. His research interests include social aspects of scientific interactions (in particular, questions of trust and bias in science) as well as model interpretation in climate science.
Jasmine is a writer and editor. She has a background in Media Studies and is currently a student of an MA in Cultural History and Theory in Berlin. Her research interests include social infrastructures and questions of solidarity as well as media philosophy.
Richard used to be a composer, now he writes about extremist politics. Shortly, he will begin a PhD in the redesign of his life using the compositional possibilities of a variety of algorithms to determine actions and goals.
Ways of Working
Learning in Island Ecologies was interested in forms of quarantine and isolation, and interested in them because of their capacities to stimulate novel forms of thought. In the first few weeks of our project, as we were assembling a team, it collided with the COVID-19 pandemic. We had foreseen this: in January, as we were designing the project together, it was already clear to us that lockdowns were very likely across the world. However, we still had an image of isolation that was more clinical or more monastic than the quotidian one we were subject to.
Our research started with these clinical and monastic images of isolation in mind. In particular, peering with disinterested intent at peculiar and interesting objects so as to abstract their skeletal souls, we started with questions of scientific modelling. However, we were also interested in undercutting these ideas of the purity or distinctness of models with those of ‘archipelagic thinking’. As we progressed through this, the questions at hand took on a distinctly ethical dimension. In order to bring this more completely to the fore, we began to make the ‘social design’ aspect of the project more and more explicit. Not ‘social design’ as a process of mutual consideration between groups in a society about the forms and burdens of particular design processes, but a much more conspicuously utopian attempt to design societies, of which the project was the first.
In a sense, our LEARN was structured around the dynamics of broad mutual engagement and the shared permission to schism: Andrea took charge of the discussions of scientific modelling; Jasmine the archipelagic; Richard ‘social design’. Agreement was rarely sought between the three of us, but at the same time, disagreement was rarely coherently and consistently spelled out. This contributed to a loss of focus and a loss of intensity.
The process of isolation was supposed to hammer out ideas and construct new concepts relating to the three topics such that these new concepts could be brought back to the group as strange artifacts of a high-pressure process of concept-construction. This was, however, interrupted by strong gravitational attraction of a kind of ‘new academic common sense’ with which the participants (and we) mostly engaged each other. In a sense, this is because the social relations within the group never developed beyond the formal or polite, which they were unable to do because we were apart.
Plausibly also there was another problem, which was that there was a lack of specificity in what we were demanding of people as a whole: the capacity of people to drift inside the partially overlapping areas of concern in the project, without the recognition by us that these forms of thinking stand in very clear mutual contradiction allowed a certain degree of vagueness to predominate.
What have we learned
What I (Richard) learned is that groups of researchers who have just met are ruled more consistently by interpersonal anxieties than by the questions at hand. The forms of isolation we tried didn’t work: we were all too concerned to slide what we were discussing back into forms of personally beneficial discussion. We didn’t attain the necessary separation from the world we had intended to in part because we were all still so subject to the perverse incentives of the appalling degree of resource scarcity in our fields which compels groupthink.
What I (Andrea) learned is that the researchers split into three subgroups did not face any difficulty to reach consensus within the experiment I designed; yet, I believe, they had troubles sharing their findings with other groups. Their consensus was neither manufactured nor illegitimate in virtue of the fact that the researchers did not know each other before the project. So, they could produce a well founded agreement after some important moments of discussion. However, one could say that those periods of discussion were not enough to provide a good consensus on the topics on which researchers were questioned. Still, I think that we found out two of the many other conditions which make agreements legitimate and valuable for communities of every kind, that is: i) the lack of particular personal interests in the experiment by the members since this did not affect their discussion; ii) the tolerance for other participants’ opinions motivated by the fact that they did not know each other.
What I learned (J) is that isolation does not necessarily mean concentration or endemic intensification within a group dynamic. In our experiments it led to dispersion and individualisation to its smallest parts and, at the same time, this oscillated between the search for a common ground. Over the course of our three reading sessions until our experiments, we learned that group cohesiveness requires much more individual involvement in the topic of each participant than the time we had allowed. The experiment was a metaphoric starting point with three loose ends that allowed to explore isolation and connection within this open format during the anxious beginning of a global lockdown.
List of contributions
+ On Becoming Island (Aina Pomar, visual essay)
+ Lists from Nowhere (Andrew Dobson, essay)
+ Liquid Futures (Chris Fussner, visual essay)
+ Islands Within Islands (Himanshu Halve, essay)
+ The New Word for World Is Archipelago (Nice Buenaventura, text and water drawings)
+ On The Crudity of Futures (Richard Hames, text)