Kitchen Politics

Julia Wieger

Excerpt from Spaces of Commoning published by Sternberg Press

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.[1] 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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[1] The summer school “Commoning the City” took place from June 22–29, 2014, at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, and was organized by the Spaces of Commoning research group.
[2] Nicole Cox and Silvia Federici, Counter-Planning from the Kitchen: Wages for Housework; A Perspective on Capital and the Left (Brooklyn: New York Wages for Housework Committee, 1976).
[3] For more information on the Wages for Housework campaign, see http://caringlabor.wordpress.com/category/housework.
[4] J. K. Gibson-Graham, Esra Erdem, and Ceren Özselçuk, “Thinking with Marx Towards a Feminist Postcapitalist Politics,” in Karl Marx: Perspektiven der Gesellschaftskritik, ed. Rahel Jaeggi and Daniel Loick (Berlin: Akademieverlag, 2013), 275–85.
[5] See The Economy as an Iceberg, an illustration Katherine Gibson has used in presentations around the world since 2001 to symbolize her feminist critique of political economy that focuses upon the limiting effects of representing economies as dominantly capitalist.
[6] Silvia Federici, introduction to Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle, ed. Silvia Federici (Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2012), 5–14.
[7] Silvia Federici, “Feminism and the Politics of the Common in an Era of Primitive Accumulation,” in ibid.
[8] See, for example, Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt’s trilogy of books that emphasis on knowledge production and information: Empire (2000), Multitude (2004), and Commonwealth (2009).
[9] Federici, “Feminism and the Politics of the Common,” 144.
[10] Das Bauen ist ja nicht das Primäre ...: Erinnerungen der Architektin Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, directed by Bea Füsser-Novy, Gerd Haag, and Günther Uhlig (Cologne: Westdeutscher Rundfunk, 1980).
[11] Ibid. Unless otherwise stated, all translations are my own.
[12] Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, “Rationalisierung im Haushalt,” in Wien und der Wiener Kreis, ed. Volker Thurm and Elisabeth Nemeth (Vienna: Facultas, 2003), 283–85.
[13] Susan Henderson, “A Revolution in the Woman’s Sphere: Grete Lihotzky and the Frankfurt Kitchen,” in Architecture and Feminism, ed. Debra Coleman, Elizabeth Danze, and Carol Henderson (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Architectural Press, 1996), 221–48.
[14] Ibid., 229.
[15] Günther Uhlig, Kollektivmodell “Einküchenhaus”: Wohnreform und Architekturdebatte Zwischen Frauenbewegung und Funktionalismu,s 1900–1933 (Gießen: Anabas-Verlag, 1981).
[16] A prominent example for Uhlig’s critique of mass housing is the housing estate Märkisches Viertel in West Berlin, built between 1963–74, providing apartments for fifty thousand inhabitants.
[17] Günther Uhlig, “Kollektivmodell Einküchenhaus: Wirtschaftsgenossenschaften (auch) als kulturelle alternative zum Massenwohnungsbau,” Arch+ 45 (1979): 26–34.
[18] Marina Vishmidt, “All Shall Be Unicorns: About Commons, Aesthetics and Time,” Open! Platform for Art, Culture & the Public Domain (website), September 3, 2014, www.onlineopen.org/all-shall-be-unicorns
[19] See Schütte-Lihotzky, “Rationalisierung im Haushalt”; and Uhlig, “Kollektivmodell Einküchenhaus.”
[20] Heidrun Aigner, “Das Einküchenhaus Heimhof auf der Schmelz zum Potential queer/feministischer Zwischenräume,” in Orts-Erkundungen: Der Stadt auf der Spur, ed. Alexandra Schwell and Jens Wietschorke (Vienna: Verlag des Instituts für Europäische Ethnologie, 2012), 135–52.
[21] Ibid.
[22] The word Türkis was added to the project's original name, Rosa Lila Villa, in reflection of discussions and the political activism of the villa community that, since its founding, expanded to include trans* activism. See “Geschichte,” Die Villa website, accessed January 15, 2016, http://dievilla.at/geschichte.
[23] Marty Huber, “DO IT! 30 JAHRE ROSA LILA VILLA: UND SIE BEWEGT SICH IMMER NOCH,” in Besetzt!, ed. by Martina Nußbaumer and Werner Michael Schwarz (Vienna: Czernin Verlag, 2012), 208–10.
[24] Currently, the queer co-housing project Queerbau is realized at the outskirts of Vienna in Seestadt Aspern. See https://queerbaudotat.wordpress.com.
[25] “Popolitik,” Die Villa website, accessed January 15, 2016, http://dievilla.at/popolitik.
[26] J. K. Gibson-Graham, Esra Erdem, and Ceren Özselçuk, “Thinking with Marx Towards a Feminist Postcapitalist Politics”
[27] Florian Anrather, Dani Baumgartner, Jasmin Rilke, and Cordula Thym, interview by Julia Wieger and Mara Verlič, Rosa Lila Villa, Vienna, January 14, 2016.