Live Feeds: Research Week 3

Petia Morozov of spurse introducing the Live Feeds research program (D. Held Photo)


It is already week three of our eleven week research program and we are delighted to report that much has happened. We have had large turnouts of participants for our public sessions. This has been exciting and very productive since our Live Feeds research program works as a type of “crowd sourcing based research” in which we all become citizen researchers, sleuths, speculators and producers. For us it has been wonderfully gratifying to be engaged in collective work beyond podiums and polemics. We would like to extend a big thanks to all of you who have come out and joined the work on concrete issues and the development of new tools, practices, concepts and communities around the question of “confronting comfort”. We really look forward to your continued collaborations to help this research evolve — it cannot happen without you.

Live Feeds week 2 workshop: Beyond Gentrification

What are the outcomes so far?

We get asked this all the time. It is a reasonable question. The honest, simple answer is that there are no big concrete outcomes to report. For us, this is something important and positive. Research is not about quick answers–it is refreshing to avoid sound bites, black and white questions, and the context free simulations that make up so much of our world– and we are striving to make sure Live Feeds does not fall into these traps. We are committed to taking on the question of comfort in a serious and experimental manner and are delighted by the actuality of this work being messy, full of tangents, happy accidents (think of penicillin), frustration, curiosity, wonderment, serious debate and occasional insight.

The philosopher Michel Foucault speaks beautifully of the importance of this seemingly useless state of perplexity and curiosity:

“Curiosity is a vice that has been stigmatized in turn by Christianity, by philosophy, and even by a certain conception of science. Curiosity is seen as futility. However, I like the word; it suggest something quite different for me. It evokes “care”; it evokes the care one takes of what exists and what might exist; a sharpened sense of reality, but one that is never immobilized before it; a readiness to find what surrounds us strange and odd; a certain determination to throw off the familiar ways of thought and to look at the same things in a different way; a passion for seizing what is happening now and what is disappearing… I dream of a new age of curiosity. We have the technical means; the desire is there; So what is our problem? Too little: channels of communication that are too narrow, almost monopolistic, inadequate. We mustn’t adopt a protectionist attitude, to stop “bad” information from invading and stifling the “good”. We must rather increase the possibility for movement backwards and forwards…” We certainly hope that Live Feeds works from this spirit of curiosity and care.

Field Work discussion at the edge of the Hunts Point Fish Market

Are we asking the right questions?

So while we have not solved any of the world’s big problems  — and we are not yet certain we will — things have happened and we will have separate postings on each of these shortly. But in brief: (1) We have developed a great team of collaborators; (2) We have evolved a method/way of working; (3) we have conducted three weeks of research (see below); and (4) most importantly we have evolved a framework of questions and problems.

More about this framework: We knew going into this that we would begin by asking the wrong questions. In “confronting comfort” what are the right questions to ask? And what are the problems worth having? We have come to realize through our collaborations that the framework of “the commons” is key to asking the question “what should comfort ask of us today?”. We have begun to gather some material on this and speculate about this here. We will be saying much more about this soon, but the conceptual logic of the commons is becoming our working framework to “confront comfort”.


Experiments with producing a commons at the Hunts Point Food Market

Mindsets and Frameworks:

For us it is clear (and from discussing this with many of you who have collaborated with us, it seems surprisingly obvious) that our  first-world forms of comfort have come at a huge global cost and are ultimately impossible to universalize without using all of the worlds resources seven times over. Our forms of comfort are an ecological disaster, a human rights issue, and undermine the very possibilities of democracy or justice.  For us, to confront comfort is to confront the need for real forms of change. To begin to recognize real forms of change is to break with deep set habits of thinking, acting and doing. We need to confront ideas of the need for economic growth, global development, and consumer solutions (just to name a few). It is a question of developing new modes of living — from mindset to practices — new forms of joy, wonderment, curiosity and action.  Is economic growth something that is actually good? Is development the framework for global progress? We need to ask these questions — but to do so we need to begin with the premise that our form of comfort “leaves its imprint not only on politics and economics, but on our minds as well”. How do we dig deeply into our mind-set? What does it require for us to change? Is it good enough to speculate about how developers might make low income housing possible? Or about how hi-tech responsive clothing will make our lives easier? Or if the BMW Guggenheim Lab will become a park or a prison in the future? We think not. We are curious about how a worldview (or paradigm) of the commons might allow us to move towards an alternative framework for comfort, well being, justice and our shared urban futures.

Some Research:

Here are some brief notes of the first few weeks of research (look for more detailed posts in the near future — our apologies for being so brief!).

Hugh Carola of the Hackensack Riverkeepers leading a team into the Saw Mill Marsh

1. We have been conducting fieldwork in the NJ Meadowlands (in wonderful collaboration with the Hackensack River Keepers and NJ Meadowland Commission). It is a site where NYC dumped massive amounts of “waste” illegally for over 30 years. What interests us here is how the site has evolved beyond a system that can be understood by our classical ideas of “waste”, “pollution”, “nature”, etc.

As part of our research program we took members of the international press on one of our fieldwork sessions at the Opening of the Lab. This involved boating down the Hackensack River to rethink waste. (We will be doing another fieldwork session on the Hackensack during the last week of August. Please join us).

2. During the first week of our research we began with the seemingly simple question: What is a thing? This led to the development of a set of very useful conceptual tools (and this great skeptical work of journalism).

3. Last week our field work took us to Hunts Point (the worlds largest food market). One of the participants, Gil Lopez, wrote a great report.

As ever we are interested in your feedback and participation, please do not hesitate to email us and join us in this work.