Système D

It’s been a breakneck sort of week, pivoting from one hashtagged context to the next, without any real time for decompression. Life continues as a series of bubbles, loosely coupled.

Informal Economy Symposium. A Barcelona caught between the tightening plates of austerity and an impersonal, technocratic EU; an architectural Rubik’s Cube stuffed with inebriated twentysomethings; cosmopolitan capital of a pre-figurative nation.

A barnstormer of an opening keynote by economic anthropologist Keith Hart, remediating his work on ‘the informalization of the world economy’ for a wide-eyed, modish audience of designers, edgeworkers and collapsitarians.

SVA lecturer and innovation strategist Richard Tyson was also extremely good value, upending the dominant mythos of globalization, which he recast in terms of de- and re-localization. Pirate stock markets, terrorism, asymmetric power, and all that jazz; classic ‘Outlaw Planet’.

Scott Smith did his thing, with a set of slides on ‘Big Informality’ (cf. ‘Big Science’) somehow managing to conjure images of a black market Large Hadron Collider, paid for in BTC, and held together with recycled girders, Shanzai know-how, and the animal spirits of capitalism and ritual sacrifice.

Went for dinner and drinks with a bunch of strangers, as the (unexpected) outcome of an umbrella-sharing optimisation strategy. Staccato conversations, good food, and an ease and presumed intimacy that took me entirely by surprise.

On the Saturday, Near Future Laboratory’s Fabien Girardin gave me a kick-ass tour of Barcelona – crisis aside, a city doing a pretty convincing impression of the urban landscape envisaged in Dan Hill’s ‘Street as Platform’ back in 2008.

This, in turn, was a strange mirroring of Emile Hooge‘s half-day introduction to Lyon, back in February; and architect Bobby Zylstra‘s equivalent for Chicago, in August. Certainly, there’s a hell of a lot to be said for being shown around a city by net-native, ethnographically-minded residents; especially those with a disciplinary base in innovation studies, architecture, and/or urbanism.

*takes photo of innocuous, but culturally-revealing street furniture*

Newly returned from Catalonia, and wrestling with a course module on firms and markets, the en-Nobelment of economist Alvin E. Roth led me to his 2007 paper on ‘repugnance’ as a constraint on markets. Representative quote:

‘When my colleagues and I have helped design markets and allocation procedures, we have often found that distaste for certain kinds of transactions can be a real constraint on markets and how they are designed, every bit as real as the constraints imposed by technology or by the requirements of incentives and efficiency. In this essay, I’ll first consider a wide range of examples, including slavery and indentured servitude, lending money for interest, price-gouging after disasters, selling pollution permits and life insurance, and dwarf tossing.’

An energy drink company helped an Austrian man skydive from space. Some American businessmen dumped a bunch of iron filings into the Pacific, for money, angering the United Nations. The European Union won a Nobel Peace Prize. My university advertised a position to ‘develop and maintain a flying [honeybee] robot’.

I met my secondary PhD supervisor, Prof. Andy Stirling, for the first time. He’s thoughtful, friendly, and has an analytical approach with meshes closely with my interests. Convenient, that.

Newsnight’s Paul Mason interviewed Spanish arch-sociologist Manuel Castells about the crisis, and what happens next. There’s a podcast. It’s really good.

On Tuesday, I met a friend from my time at Goldsmiths to lend a hand with his pitch for a science communication residency in Bristol. We talked about superhydrophobic logic gates.

The fine folks at Demos Helsinki calculated my material footprint, ahead of a pan-European internet workshop on sustainable lifestyles, as part of the European Union’s SPREAD 2050 project. I’m slightly more environmentally-friendly than the average Finn, but, as you can see, there’s still a long way to go.

(‘Système D‘)

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