Last year we started experimenting with online crowd-sourcing methodologies (what I’m calling a ‘publics creating methodology’).
We asked for submissions of earliest political memories because we were interested in thinking about the biographical and historical dimensions of encountering public life in childhood.
This year, we are shifting our attention from time to space and place. We are curious about the geographies of encountering public life and the political in everyday life.
Where do encounters with public life take place?
This curiosity stems both from our own fieldwork experiences of encountering political talk, and hearing about experiences of talking politics in families, as well as from feminist literature reflecting on moments of politicisation.
For some children in our study, such encounters and engagement happened in between and through play; for parents, kitchen tables and meal times were often invoked.
Sara Ahmed writes that her feminist story begins with a table. Kitchen tables have also been documented as the sites where friendships are born and alliances built. Kitchens, on the other hand, are both spaces of regulation and socialisation, as well as places where intergenerational transmission of feminist traditions might occur.
Other intimate spaces inside and outside the home, that are fascinating in terms of political encounters are bathrooms and bathroom stalls. Their walls are often written on or pasted over with political slogans and expressions (a nice blog post about this here).
One child in our study used writing on the wall to experiment with transgressing boundaries.
Less private: pubs, bars and cafés. The coffee house is, of course, central to Habermas’s theory of the public sphere. It is also central to everyday lived experiences particularly in rural communities.
For example, the long-standing tradition of the kafeneio in Greece itself, as well as in its diasporas, is a known place where social, political and technical changes and ephemera, might be encountered assimilated, debated, or resisted.
More recently, the kafeneio has been re-invented as a political and social response to ‘crisis’, collective cafés cropping up in numerous areas around Athens and other urban centres (Kioupkiolis, 2016).
In India, tea shops often found on the side of the road, are places where men (typically) gather in the early morning to read the local newspaper and discuss politics before dispersing for work. Both tea shops and traditional kafeneia, especially in rural and suburban areas, are deeply gendered spaces, and men are still some of the key patrons.
At the same time, re-reading Homi Bhabha’s essay ‘Signs Taken For Wonders’ recently, I was struck by its sub-title: ‘questions of ambivalence and authority under a tree outside Delhi, May 1817’.
The essay itself interrogates and unpicks the boundaries of the colonial through the trope of ‘the English book’. It attempts to identify the spaces of ‘repetition and difference’ in the colonial presence and its experience.
I was struck by the image of the ‘tree outside Delhi’ as an everyday site of encountering public life, of boundary crossing and jostling. It disrupted my own experiences and ideas of the space and places of political encounters being somehow enclosed either in the home or a commercial space, sheltered perhaps from the elements of long, cold northern hemisphere winters.
So, this year we are launching a further online crowd sourcing activity, intended to help flesh out space and place experiences of encountering politics in everyday life.
These could be past encounters, recent encounters or most memorable encounters.
We leave the definition of politics open, it is whatever politics means to you.
We are asking for short submissions accompanied by a photo. We call these ‘photo-stories’ and you can read about our photo-story methodology here.
The photo does not have to correspond to the story, it can be illustrative or abstract, and you can submit a story without a photo.
Our crowd sourcing activity will run from today onwards. We will then re-blog one photo-story a day until all submissions have been blogged.
You can also choose to opt out the blogging part of the activity.
We will use the Guardian Community Standards and Participation Guidelines to moderate submissions and any comments to blogged photo-stories.