Taking Care of Unconditional Solidarity | kulturpunkt

English Interview


Taking Care of Unconditional Solidarity

The Pirate Care team talks about alternative ways of collective organizing around issues related to care, the potentials of political pedagogy and the making of Pirate Care syllabus.

by: Hana Sirovica

Sea Watch. FOTO: Chris Grodotzki

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Valeria Graziano, Marcell Mars and Tomislav Medak are researchers at the Centre for Postdigital Cultures, Coventry University. Together, they formed a project called Pirate Care which investigates overlapping forms of "piracy" and "care", questioning the possibilities of resisting the "care crisis" using pirate tactics. 

In the Croatian context, the Pirate Care is taking place in Rijeka, where the project includes a range of offline and online activities. So far, Tomislav, Valeria and Marcell have organized several meet-ups of Pirate Care reading group and a series of public talks and lectures. Currently, they are coordinating a making of the syllabus of Pirate Care, which is going to be published soon. We took the opportunity to talk to the research team about the process of collective creation of the syllabus, potentials of pirate tactics of solidarity and the importance of political pedagogy as a tool for organizing collectively.

An additional update: the Pirate Care Syllabus has been published and can be reached here,

KP: Firstly, I would like to know more about the practices you call "pirate care". Can you explain what these practices are and how come you have decided to dedicate a project to them?

The practices of pirate care are collective practices of care that are increasingly emerging in response to the crisis of welfare, austerity, criminalisation of migration and solidarity, as well as in response to the constant capitalist destabilisation of social and environmental conditions needed to reproduce life and devaluation of labour that goes into maintaining those conditions and whose burden falls disproportionately on the disadvantaged, women and migrants.

These are less about organising protests and insurrectionary moments vis-a-vis inequalities and rising fascist sentiments. These practices are experimenting with forms of self-organising, alternative approaches to social reproduction and ways of commoning resources, knowledges and technologies to provide pragmatic spaces of sociality. By self-organising around care and communities’ needs, such practices provide concrete opportunities for experiencing relative freedom, to find relief from the kinds of cynical capital relations characterised by exclusions of private property and competition that shape our everyday. We wanted to name and map these practices that we defined as "pirate care" because we felt they are a significant form of politics in the present times, although they are a continuation of long-standing practices of solidarity and mutual aid. But also to offer them protection by means of visibility. These initiatives are frequently acting in expressed non-compliance with laws, regulations and executive orders that criminalise the duty of care and impose exclusions along the lines of class, gender, race or territory. They are not shying risk of persecution in providing unconditional solidarity to those who are exploited, discriminated and condemned to the status of surplus population. So we wish to open a space of debate for considering in which ways institutions, including cultural institutions, can support, rather than stifle, such collective care provisions. On the other hand, we wanted to bring together practitioners that for us share a pirate care approach, that is, mixing ethical concerns for the wellbeing of all - and especially of the most oppressed groups - with experimentation with tools and techniques for collective organising. 

KP: As a part of your project, you are working on a Pirate Care syllabus. The process of writing the syllabus includes collaboration with co-authors who come from different disciplines and fields. Could you tell us more about your collaborators, and what motivated you to embrace an interdisciplinary approach? 

We noticed that too many cultural and academic spaces bring together some of these practices according to disciplinarian lines, arranging discussions around a "single issue. For instance, activists would be invited to speak of the criminalisation of solidarity at conferences around immigration politics; while the lack of affordable, quality childcare would typically be discussed at feminist gatherings, and so on. Instead, we wanted to provide a space for some of these conversations to take place not around a "single issue" logic, but following a more transversal approach to the issues we are facing within our social reproduction, an outlook that spans both the present and the intergenerational concern of keeping a diversity of bodies and beings well and alive on this planet.

What we wished for Rijeka was therefore to bring together practitioners active across a number of issues that seem particularly pressing and deeply interconnected to us: feminist approaches to reproductive healthcare; autonomous mental health support and its connection to physical and social conditions of living; trans health and well-being; struggles against the hormonal contamination of the environment and other forms of pollution; initiatives against intellectual property for a free access to knowledge, technology and culture; housing struggles; collectively organised childcare; free access to mobility and public transport; solidarity and organizing with migrant populations; community safety (as opposed to securitization) and anti-racist organising against police brutality and other forms of colonial violence. Many more areas of concern are not represented here, but this is a start.

In Rijeka, during the November 2019., we organised a five-day writing retreat that saw fourteen participants coming together to collectively develop an open pirate care syllabus. The participants are all engaged in pirate care practices in different ways, as scholars, artists and activists, with knowledges and experiences that reflected a diversity of concerns. The group of contributors who were able to join the retreat in Rijeka were: Laura Benitez Valero, Emina Bužinkić, Rasmus Fleischer, Maddalena Fragnito, Mary Maggic, Iva Marčetić, two members of the Power Makes Us Sick collective, Zoe Romano, Ivory Tuesday, and Ana Vilenica. We are grateful to each and every one of them for the incredible generosity they brought to the process, and also for their time, as it proved quite tricky to find people able or willing to commit to a collective process of non-authorial co-production for a full week.

KP: You published an article Learning from #Syllabus in which you wrote about the emergence of various online #syllabi. What are #syllabi and how does your Pirate Care Syllabus relate to that phenomena?

To connect various practices of pirate care and to bring their concerns, analysis and organising experience to closer attention of the public, we have decided to explore and present them through political pedagogy. For that, we have decided to develop with practitioners of pirate care a syllabus. The recent phenomenon of #syllabi started to appear around 2014. when educators and commentators begun using the hashtag as a mean to gather teaching resources to respond to a number of violent events: the #FergusonSyllabus in response to the unjust killing of Michael Brown by racist police forces; The New Inquiry Syllabus on Gaming and Feminism in response to the vile attacks of some parts of the gamer community to Zoë Quinn, Brianna Wu and Anita Sarkeesian (the so-called #gamergate). Shortly after, the Trump 101 syllabus and a critical revision of that syllabus were compiled to help make sense of the political implication of his election to presidency, while the #StandingRockSyllabus provided a powerful tool for communicating the stakes of the largest gathering of Native Americans of the last 100 years, protecting the land from the ecological devastation brought by the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Many more #syllabi have been circulating since, created in response to various political crises around the world. This phenomenon has been an important source of inspiration for our work because it helped us bring into focus the idea that many of the big societal issues we are confronting the need to be addressed through a pedagogical process. Despite the trend of commercialisation of university and the push to reduce education to training for employment, we think that there is a shared social need to build opportunities for shared political analysis and reflection, to learn and discuss current societal conditions.
The Pirate Care Syllabus is, however, not a crowdsourced document emerging from a social movement and an immediate situation of confrontation, but more modestly a collectively created syllabus that brings together the resources we find most useful for teaching and learning around specific issues. We wished to make the process of writing together also an occasion for various practitioners of pirate care to reflect on commonalities and differences in their approaches. One possibility that writing a collective syllabus has opened for our working group so far is a chance to go beyond the assembling of a reading list of materials, to spend some times imagining sessions and pedagogical approaches that might support specific topics. This initial syllabus is therefore to be seen as a partial, situated and idiosyncratic document. It’s a and not the pirate care syllabus. By making it into a sharable and remixable document, we hope to activate others to activate and modify it, add to it and hopefully generate further occasions for collaboration across practices and with the larger public - we feel there is so much for us still to learn!
KP: How is the Pirate Care Syllabus going to operate? Do you wish to make it susceptible to further online modifications and changes? When (and where) are you planning to publish the document?

On the technological and technopolitical side, developing tools and workflows for the syllabus is an extension of our work on the Memory of the World shadow library. As amateur librarians we want to provide universal public access to a meticulously maintained catalogue of digital texts, making available those texts that are behind paywalls or are not digitised yet. (It is worth noting that shadow libraries themselves are a pirate care practice: in contravention of the copyright regulation, they are assisting readers across a highly unequal world of education and research.)
With the tools and workflows for the syllabus, we want to offer social movements a technological framework and pedagogical process that helps them transform their shared analysis of present confrontations and reflections on past mobilisations into a learning material that can be used to help others learn from their knowledge. The technological framework that we are developing should allow other similar movements to avail themselves of these syllabi freely in their own learning processes. But also to adapt them to their own situation and the groups they work with. We want that the syllabi can be easily preserved, that they include digitised documents relevant to the actions of these social movements, and that they come integrated with well-maintained and catalogued collections of reading materials. That means that we don’t want that they go defunct once the dependencies for that Wordpress installation get broken, that the links to resources lead to file-not-found pages or that adapting them requires a painstaking copy&paste process.
To address these concerns, we have made certain technological choices. A syllabus in our framework is built from plaintext documents that are written in a very simple and human-readable Markdown markup language, rendered into a static HTML website that doesn’t require a resource-intensive and easily breakable database system, and which keeps its files on a git version control system that allows collaborative writing and easy forking to create new versions out of the existing syllabi. This makes it easy for a housing struggles initiative in Berlin to fork a syllabus which we have initially developed with a housing struggles initiative in London and adapt it to their own context and needs. Such a syllabus can be then equally hosted on an internet server and used/shared offline from a USB stick, while still preserving the internal links between the documents and the links to the texts in the accompanying searchable resource collection.
The Pirate Care Syllabus is the first syllabus that we’ll bring to completion. It has provided us with both an opportunity to work with the practitioners to document a range of pirate care practices and with a process to develop the technological framework. We are planning that we release it online on March 8th, coinciding with the International Women's Day and also the opening of the … of bread, wine, cars, security and peace exhibition, with which the curatorial collective What, How and for Whom are inaugurating their directorate at the Kunsthalle Wien. During the exhibition in Vienna, the syllabus will be further expanded, and in that expanded form it will be presented and activated in the Dopolavoro programme of the European Capital of Culture year in Rijeka. Firstly, as a larger exhibition focusing exclusively on pirate care practices that we’re opening on June 17th at the Kortil Gallery, and later as a peer learning camp that we’re planning for mid-September.

KP: As a part of Dopolavoro programme, you also started IRL reading group. Could you tell me a bit about the reading process, and how important is it for you to organize offline discussions and gatherings as part of communicating ethics, strategies and modes of pirate care?
The reading group has two goals. First, it is a way for us to collectively explore with people from Rijeka the practices of pirate care in the local context. One only needs to think of the Balkan migration route and the violent pushbacks in Rijeka’s hinterland, of the dismantling of the public healthcare system, or of campaigns of conservative groups against reproductive rights of women to be clear what the stakes are. Second, it is a way to shift the political debate around welfare and social reproduction as not being an adage and an afterthought to the economic activity and democratic process of society but rather their primary purpose.
Reproducing, maintaining and repairing systems of human welfare and environmental stability are central to creating just and sustainable future for our societies. However, these activities are framed as secondary and the labour that goes into them is undervalued, stigmatised and made invisible. The necessary labour of social reproduction, such as cleaning, making food, waste disposal, elderly care, child care, is highly structured by division class, gender, race and territory, yet it is often left out from political debates in mainstream media. For this reason, we kicked-off the reading group with the canonical text of politics of care by Joan Tronto Who cares? How to Reshape a Democratic Politics.
Finally, reading collectively is also a concrete way to build a space for learning, debating and reflecting, for taking time off from being productive or connected online. It has been a very intimate and generative process of discussion so far, very sociable too, and we hope to continue meeting once a month for the duration of the project. No prior reading or knowledge is necessary (except some English) and newcomers are welcome to join us at any time.
Objavio/la hana [at] kulturpunkt.hr 08.03.2020