In the life of those who study politics and art today, the most recurrent theme (or rather, theoretical paradigm) is sharing. This long movement, that has weakened borders and eroded the compartmentalisation of disciplinary knowledge beyond the old and resistant inter-, multi-, trans- and post- disciplinarity, is now radicalising itself in a different mode of creation and production, calling itself co-working, start ups, co-management, makers space – a new banner of innovative cultural production processes. The main idea is not just to reduce costs, but more importantly, to create the possibility of connections between professionals with different skills, and the mixture of commercial projects, businesses, independents and creatives. The efficacy of this combining of knowledge and methodologies, the way it creates a community of interaction, is becoming, more and more, an essential condition for production and innovation. This movement seems to have been the effect of two recent and potent elements: the creative economy field, and the technology sector. At long last, a new world that signals the urgency of new strategies and processes for creation and production.

Interestingly, Jean Lyotard foresaw and announced as long ago as 1979, in his book The Postmodern Condition, that an important transformation was under way in our concepts of the value of artistic creation and knowledge production. Lyotard affirmed that the concept of  ‘new’ had lost its effectiveness as a criterion of evaluation. On the contrary, post-modern creation would occur in the intersectionality between disciplines of intellectual discourse, between artistic and scientific languages, and would define its value and originality thence. In other words, almost 40 years ago, Lyotard diagnosed the innovative value of exchange between speeches or different languages, and consequently, and of syntax as a factor producing excellence.

Discussion of syntax, articulation, sharing etc. inevitably leads to talking about difference. The word itself is almost a black box of obscurity – difficult for us to define, but at the same time urgent in this period of growing and ruthless xenophobia and intolerance. In this context, it is crucial that we think and re-examine how to act and how to perceive the infinite implications of this concept and its ever nearer approach. I do not feel equal, at this moment, to the task of proposing models or even new ways to deal with this old problem, the meeting, or rather the clash, with the Other.

From that position of weakness, I intend to describe here my own experience, as an intellectual, white, middle-class person, who has pursued, throughout her entire professional career, an obsession with the other. Speaking, therefore, in the first person, I feel that the role of the intellectual and the artist, as much as the activist, has a long way to travel on the path of the confrontation and/or the perception of difference – today, more familiarly ‘otherness’.

In truth, ‘otherness’ acquired its ontological relevance at a late stage in modern philosophy. It was poststructuralism, which took ‘the other’ as a constituent part of ‘the same’, that established its centrality. This rise in the importance of ‘otherness’ seems to me to be evidently connected to the youth revolution of the 60’s, with its marketable ‘sex, drugs and rock & roll’. It was the already historic age of the behavioural revolution, the shock of man’s arrival on the moon, the fight for Black civil rights, the contraceptive pill, Mary Quant and her miniskirt, or the indefatigable topic of the wider effects of sexual liberation.

In turn, a closer observation might perceive how the libertarian ethos of that moment seems to respond more immediately to another discovery of the era, yet more shocking, disintegrating even, which can throw a light on all the others. I am talking of the startling ‘discovery of the Other’, a decisive factor in the forms of struggle and cultural resistance which defined the decade of the 1960’s.

We must emphasize that, since the end of the 50’s, Europe had witnessed an unprecedented succession of wars of colonial independence, which forever altered not just the economic, but above all the cultural profile of the so-called First World. To summarise the enormous historical unrest during the 1950’s and 60’s, we have: in 1956, the independence of Tunisia and Morocco; in 1957, Ghanaian independence; in 1958 the independence of French Guinea; in 1959, Portuguese Guinea. In 1959 came the independence of the sub-Saharan French colonies. In 1961-62, the Algerian Revolution. The turn of the decade saw the growth of nationalism in Black Africa and a sequence of insurrections: 1960, civil war in Congo. In 1961 alone, we saw the assassination of Lumumba, the Congo Crisis, the Angolan uprising, the end of the war in Algeria, the re-taking by India of the Portuguese territories Diu and Goa, the independence of Sierra Leone and declaration of the Republic of South Africa. In 1962, the independence of Trinidad & Tobago and of Algeria. In 1963 the independence of Kenya and the self-government of Zanzibar; in 1964 the symbolic imprisonment of Nelson Mandela and the Mozambican War of Independence; in 1965 independence was declared in Rhodesia; in 1967 the Biafran War in Nigeria; and finally, in 1968, that spark of youthful rebellion, the Vietnam war, which lasted seven long years.

I have taken pains to record this exhaustive succession of wars and rebellions of independence (even if incomplete), because I believe in truth it is these events, more than the behavioural revolutions of the decade, that are the clearest signal of  the convulsive arrival and the aftermath of what would later become known as ‘the sixties’.

Persisting in evoking the feeling and experience of this period, I quote Sartre, in his preface to Les Damnées de la Terre (The Wretched of the Earth), the classic work by Frantz Fanon on struggle and the master/slave dialectic. Sartre wrote:

 

Not long ago, the earth had two billion inhabitants: 500 million men, and 1.5 billion natives. The former had the Word, the others simply had the use of it (…)

 

The 1960’s, then, were the moment when these ‘natives’ became human beings.  Yes: it was an authentic revolution, with political repercussions as much in the foreign policies of the coloniser nations as in the internal politics of these various nation societies. That is, the wars of independence of that moment defined significant changes that impacted on external subjects – or the ‘natives’ living in the former colonies – just as much as on the internal subjects, the ‘others’ within the coloniser countries – the Black population, the women, the minorities. This was the struggle to which the rebellious youth of 1960/68 attached themselves with passion and imagination.

 

The arts and other cultural sectors responded with force and amazement to the new voices that emerged on the scene. Against this backdrop the intellectuals and artists found their place in a kind of passionate and imaginative militancy, opening up spaces for the manifestation of historical othernesses which now rose up as the new political subjects. The decisive fight for black civil rights had perhaps the most impact, followed by the feminist movement which erupted at this time laying claim to libertarian rights of a very different type to the demands of the suffragettes of the 1920’s. Simultaneously, and curiously, Youth (or young people) established itself as a political subject independent of class, ethnicity and religion, in a manner surprising to historical and political analyses that were still based on the notion of social classes.

This seems to me to be the moment in which consciousness of the other exploded (or imploded) in cultural production, bringing so many consequences in the wake of its forceful impact.

In Brazil, in the context of João Goulart’s populist-revolutionary policy, the relationship with the ‘other’ took the form of strong support for trade unions and Peasant Leagues, as well as direct awareness-raising education work with the inhabitants of favelas or low-income areas.

After the military coup which ousted João Goulart, under the leadership of the strong military dictatorship, this ‘other’ was configured as the generalised figure of ‘the poor’, since the political movements of Brazil’s minorities were not afforded such space to flourish as in democratic countries. In that moment, between ourselves, intellectuals could speak authoritatively about and for the people, or the ‘other’, with conviction of their representative legitimacy, and with feelings of satisfaction and pride.

I said at the beginning that I would allow myself, as an emergency measure, to speak in the first person about this long political and cultural journey of encounters with ‘otherness’, to the extent that my professional life is deeply entangled with the difficulty of perceiving, and dealing with, difference; with listening to the other; with the cultural encounter; and above all, with the quest for a place to talk and to exchange: which I attempt, nervous, and increasingly aware of its complexity.

 

So, with the necessary refocusing of the protagonism of the minorities during the 1960’s and 70’s in Brazil, came a growing awareness of the thing we now call ‘otherness’ and it consolidated itself politically over the following decades.

And, from the 1980’s onwards, the place of words and actions by artists and intellectuals changed its locus and function, in relation to the increasing openness of Brazilian politics.

This was the moment of activism in solidarity with the minorities of the 80’s, initiated mainly by the ONGs or third sector, which, with a degree of success fulfilled the role of negotiator between the State and the new social movements that consolidated in the shadow of the banner of post-modern multicultural utopias.

Acknowledging the limits of multiculturalism and, above all, of a possible radical democracy (in the sense of Ernesto Laclau) – yet the intellectuals of the 80’s had some positive effect as cultural translators, aiming to rebalance some vital points, and in brief, to short-circuit some difficulties in the field of politics.

This lengthy telling seems to me to be important in order to register, even in the limited context of my own professional experience, the successes and failures of the path towards the ‘other’ and the various forms that have been tested since the 1960’s, of relationships and collaboration between different languages and subjects.

That said, I close this scene and return to the beginning of this speech, as abruptly as the radical changes that were announced at the turn of the 21st Century.

The 20th Century ended in great style, bringing with it two new features which discarded any indication of a stable solution to, let’s call it, the discovery of the ‘other’ of the 60’s.

I refer in particular to the emergence of voices from the peripheries, through a proactive cultural activism, self-sufficient, which shows a clear political force and cultural autonomy, and to the decisive impact of digital technologies and the rhizome-like and uncontrollable nature of social media.

 

What is to be done about these two variables that, in some way, for the artist and the intellectual, posits a second discovery of the ‘other’, no less disconcerting than the one I referred to as the engine of the youthful rebellion of the 60’s? The big difference is that this new ‘other’ has risen up with relative autonomy, and comes from metropolitan boundaries much nearer and more familiar than the ‘natives’ of the wars of colonial independence.

On the other hand, the second great innovation, the culture of the Web, gives power free of editorial control to an extensive public encompassing diverse social classes, including racial and sexual minorities: it allows and stimulates the creation of networks of mobilisation, empowerment and visibility, as well as enabling unedited access to information, to different cultures, horizons and ideologies.

In the same vein, the digital universe and its networks point to new forms of connections between differences, knowledge and modes of production, stimulating interaction in numerous formats, such as chatrooms, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or blogs, among others.

In this context emerge concepts and practices known as Compartmentalised Knowledge, Collective Intelligence (Pierre Levy), Symbiotic Intelligence (Norman Lee Johnson), or the Wisdom of Crowds (James Surowiecki).

Collective Intelligence is consolidated, according to Levy, not by the possession of knowledge (which is relatively static) but by the social process of acquiring knowledge – which is dynamic and participatory, testing and reaffirming social ties. This would constitute a new form of sustainable thinking, and a sort of democracy in real time, with the possibility of free interaction between peers (we must make due allowance, clearly, for Levy’s attractive optimism). In conclusion, he claims, in great style, that the capacity to recognise the ‘other’ is the principal expression of intelligence.

I return abruptly, once again, to the trajectory of my ‘DNA of the 1960s’ – by now much mutated.

 

In the light of the impact, the explosive potential, of the interactions and the new models of creation and production in cyberspace, and equally of the power and unceasing expansion of political and artistic strategies coming from the peripheries, over these last two decades – I created a laboratory at University with artists, leaders, activists and cultural producers from the peripheries.

I interested myself particularly in the question of the possibilities of cultural translation and the compartmentalised production of knowledge within academia, where my own field of work is situated.

In 2009, we created a laboratory of social technologies, called the Universidade das Quebradas, under the Advanced Programme of Contemporary Culture in partnership with the Innovation Agency, both at UFRJ. This laboratory’s mission was to connect teachers, researchers and students of the University with intellectuals, artists, activists and cultural producers with a relatively established body of work, and to experiment with forms of production of compartmentalised knowledge. Initially, we did a pilot project with ten invited artists and teachers from various institutions. This pilot gave us an idea of the difficulty of the project, in terms of the de-hierarchising of knowledge, which in truth, created more problems than we suspected at the start of the project. This was my first big naivety.

The initial methodology that we used in this pilot was the concept of the ecology of knowledge, developed, although in a different way, by Félix Guattari and Boaventura de Sousa Santos. By the ecology of knowledge these authors understand a significant break in the systematic equilibrium between the diverse forms of vernacular and academic knowledge, (scientific and technical); and the long history of the silencing of certain informal kinds of knowledge by other, more dominant knowledge forms.  To rebalance this, we work on the basis of knowledge exchange, with a view to a compartmentalised production of knowledge. Our goal was founded on another, no less exciting concept, that of recognition, as developed by Axel Honneth. Honneth identifies recognition as a democratic struggle, by means of which individuals/groups gain self-confidence (in the sphere of Love), self-respect (in the sphere of Rights) and self-esteem (in the sphere of Solidarity).  In turn, it is recognition through democratic conflict (or, negotiation) that expands integration and the recognition of diversity throughout society, definitively changing the pattern of socialization itself.  It was, more or less, in this quest for recognition that cultural movements such as hip hop engaged, seeking visibility and clear political articulation in their activism and their protests.

              So, we offer undergraduate lectures in the humanities curriculum dealing with what we call the territory of the quebradas, seminars led by the quebradeiros (the students of the University) on the aesthetics of the periphery, the history of the communities they belong to, and the paradigms of knowledge used in the cultures of the favelas and suburbs and the meeting spaces; a space where personal projects can be shared and collaborative pieces of work undertaken.

This exchange has established a very particular pedagogical dynamic, that aims to open up horizons to new methods of knowledge production that are less specialized, and more the products of innovative cultural structures.

The proposal we set ourselves is so challenging and complex that it discomfits me to report any results here. The result that we can speak of at this point is the richness of the process. There is not room enough here to write the detailed history of these eight years of experience in the Universidade de Quebradas.  The difficulties and barriers that have risen up are far more interesting than what we might count as its successes.

The meeting of knowledges of different gravities and levels of legitimacy brings fear and perplexity at the outset. Differences grow greater in contrast – it is fatal not to recognise this problem. Acadaemic repertoires behave badly in the presence of vernacular or popular wisdom. Either the academic actors facilitate their understanding, underestimating the listening ability of the actors from the periphery, or they over-value the output of the marginalized, thinking it stronger because it comes from “real experience”, notwithstanding a possible deficiency of information or empirical knowledge of the processes used to produce science in the broadest sense.  On the other hand, the actors from the peripheries shy away, in a surprising and unexpected way, from connecting with this new territory.

 

Traps are hard to avoid. Cultural translation fails in both cases: a commitment to exercise strong listening feels like a reasonable outcome.

Following evaluation of the pilot project, we came to grips with some important issues. Firstly, we designed a call for applications on the academic model, in which candidates have to submit their body of work or portfolio in printed material, cd’s or videos. This item is rigorously evaluated, in order that those included in the project may cast themselves as strong partners in exchange processes – in addition to initiating a rite of passage of entry into the Ivory Tower.  We take neither title nor schooling into consideration, only the candidates’ potential as interlocutors – which is harder than it looks. There were so many borderline reviews of that so-called potential, that, by the beginning of the second year, the selection team was made up of equal proportions of teachers and ex-quebradeiros. Choices made by peers were observed to be so effective that, from the 4th year of entry, the selection was made entirely by ex-participants of UQ. It is immediately clear that our expectation of the selectees exhibited subtly ineffective criteria, which made the romanticisation of popular knowledge and performances almost inevitable.

Another original difficulty was the time taken to achieve self-esteem, or recognition, in the early days of the “course”. The quebradeiros experienced evident difficulties in situating themselves in the new academic space reserved for them, precisely to provoke a sense of dislocation and set in train the symbolic consequences of that displacement. We realized that it was taking until the start of the second month of activities for “adaptation” to take place. We put the problem up for discussion, and created an preliminary event similar to the religious “baptism” and diametrically different from the academic freshers’ week, which tests the psychological resistance of new students with behaviour that is often aggressive. In our case we instituted the Chegança (Arrival), a ritual unknown to me, but important in some traditional cultures. Together we built our own version of Chegança, which became a reception for the novitiates by the old participants, followed by an exchange of views, fears and lessons learned, and a hearty and beautiful light meal together. This strategy was 100% effective, and the initial activities of the project ran faster and more fluidly.

 

From the point of view of content, the first year programme was designed to increase the repertoire of skills in engagement, on both sides. The topics of the lectures covered different disciplines such as philosophy, art history, literature, theatre etc., a wide panorama, from the Greco-Roman classical period to modernism. We would offer lectures by highly qualified teachers, and conversely, the quebradeiros would organize lectures, seminars or actions to expose contemporary social and cultural issues to an academic audience, in the aforementioned Territory of the Quebradas. It was a joy. Zero conflict and an obvious increase in skillsets side by side. But with a final swing of the scales, we realized that the exchange was clearly asymmetrical. We could not effectively articulate the knowledge gained, or produce new forms of understanding – the mission of the Universidade das Quebradas. As for the quebradeiros, we realized that the goal of their participation was to dissociate their own production from the stereotypes of exclusion and deprivation, which they rejected, and to relocate the periphery in the space of the contemporary, as Marcus Faustini has expressed so well.

In the following years, we tried to “realign” our actions, changing the focal point of the programme each year, as well as experimenting with different forms of exchange and encounters, in which listening was prioritized. This realignment was grounded on suggestions and criticism from the participants, gained through weekly surveys about the programme and the building of relationships. An ironic note: the quebradeiros were circulated questions about their complaints and demands, but the questionnaire was never applied to teachers or staff members. The hierarchical relapses were continual and vicious.

The asymmetry continued, it was not resolved. I emphasize that I am not referring to the asymmetry between types of knowledge, which would be naive, but to the hierarchy of distribution of space and weight in speaking and listening.

I won’t report here all the mishaps and limitations of this experience: I intend to do this later, when I write a full report of the project.

 

For now, I can say that when we started to explore the question of exchange itself, we got a taster of the nature of exchanges and confrontations themselves. A very important factor identified in the discussions was the central role of affection, probably deriving from the “complicity of cause” that was visible between those involved in the project, as well as the spontaneous development of commitment in those whom Charles Siqueira has termed NGIs (Non-Governmental Individuals) that is, those who take responsibility for returning the social capital acquired at UQ. Another important observation is that despite these bonds of affection, it is important to predict and plan for differences, and different weights of knowledge, as well as social inequalities. The recognition of difference necessarily leads to the explicitness of surprisingly productive conflict, and, to take this further, we have identified that the ideal locus for our intervention would be within the tension between inequalities and within diversity.

Another significant success was the use of the site (www.universidadedasquebradas.pacc.ufrj.br) and of social media. Firstly, this was an opportunity to establish a direct relationship with both current and former members of the University of Quebradas, forming networks of participation and production. Interestingly, it was clear throughout our experience that the very nature of connections at a distance favours their intensification and speed. Participation in web communities is more personalized and mobilizing than if those involved took part in person. In this sense, the emphasis on activism in digital media has shown its strong potential to increase the processes of exchange, through cultural networks and maps, based on Google Maps, which amplify the visibility and recognition of the territories that participants come from. No wonder that scholars of the forms of sharing / compartmentalisation focus their research on the web, where differences seem to become more flexible and thus more amenable to dialogue in the field of equality.

One last point I would like to note, among the many that I am, unfortunately, editing out, is the different degrees of difficulty in recognizing the ‘other’, and therefore, in achieving compartmentalised production in different creative fields. I notice today, a clear trend in literature for flexible modes of authorship, in poetry and even in prose fiction; and in  the potential of partnerships between languages and territories in the visual arts (of which the Rio Occupation London project during the London Olympics was an example) and on a wider scale, the products arising from the collaborative logic of co-working and of makers.

In the meantime, it has also become clear in this experience of the Quebradas, that the area of knowledge production is still viscerally dominated by the idea of intellectual property, despite evidence that the intellectual field is very responsive to informal knowledge and the value of exchange. This is perhaps the most difficult and also the most captivating of the problems we are now facing in the University sector.

Will we get there?