Kitchen PoliticsJulia Wieger
Eight members of the Spaces of Commoning research group sit around a large office table. They are organizing a summer school called “Commoning the City” and it is one of their last meetings before the event. They are still undecided on how to organize the provision of food:
A: So, I spoke to the organic food store and they said they could deliver a meal each day including salad for quite a reasonable price.
B: I still like the idea that summer school participants prepare food together. It’s a way of getting to know one another and it could become part of our knowledge production.
C: On paper this sounds great, but if you think about it, there would always be a group spending the whole morning organizing and preparing food. When you think of our dense program, we just don’t have enough time …
D: Have you ever organized collective cooking as part of an event? It eats up all the time and attention and pretty much dominates the entire setting. Do we really want this? We have so many interesting guests coming!
C: And cooking is one thing, but afterward, washing the dishes?
E: Still, I think it would be great if everyone is involved in the reproductive parts of the summer school—it’s part of the issue at stake. If each person attends one shift during the week it could really work. It’s half of a day you would miss.
F: I think C is right, I didn’t think about dishwashing. That’s a hassle. It really puts me off.
A: I can ask if the organic food store can take care of the dishes as well.
I wrote the above dialogue based on my recollections of the numerous meetings of the Spaces of Commoning research group. In June 2014 we organized a summer school and discussed, sometimes at great length, how we would provide food for our fifty guests during those nine days of workshops, discussions, tours, and talks. It’s no surprise that the actual exchanges (in contrast to our many other discussions) were not recorded—usually these issues do not take center stage. We, too, couldn’t help distinguishing between the work of discussing issues and developing ideas on commoning and the city, and the work of meeting the participants’ everyday needs. We understood that practices of commoning and reproductive labor—such as the provision of food—are closely related, but we struggled in tying the immediate and practical questions of the group’s physical needs with our academic and artistic formats of workshops, tours, and talks. Doubtless, unrecorded discussions like this one point to the difficulties we face when trying to overcome an existing order, one that ascribes less value to reproductive tasks than those one can list in a résumé. While we were experimenting with different spatial settings and situations—to introduce ideas of commoning in our working modes during the summer school—the cooking was done outside our venue and by somebody else. So what are the relations between the spaces of commoning and reproductive labor? How do such relations manifest themselves in designs or built spaces? How can one oppose established, spatial orders of productive/reproductive labor? What kinds of spaces are able to support such struggles? And what other power relations are involved in the organization of reproductive commons?
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