Uncommon Knowledge: A Transversal Dictionary

Herkes İçin Mimarlık, #occupygezi architecture

What is our commons and how should it be renewed, sustained, enlarged, drawn down, and/or extended to others?”


The creation of instituting society, as instituted society, is each time a common world (kosmos koinos), the positing of individuals, of their types, relations and activities; but also the positing of things, their types, relations and signification—all of which are caught up each time in receptacles and frames of reference instituted as common, which make them exist together.”

Cornelius Castoriadis

This paper presents articulation of my argument and opinion that I presented in the panel entitled “Common knowledge: Discursive action and political activism” organized by derive journal at the Eurozine Journal Meetings conference 2013. As, myself, involved in an integrated relational practice in the field of urban, pedagogy and contemporary art; I am more eager to argue that a collective experience of a trans-local production of knowledge and instant alliances leads to creation of possibilities of common space for uncommon knowledge. Why this is important? In both theoretical and practical levels this could be the most vital way of where everyday life knowledge can intervene institutional bodies, alternative pedagogies can flow in different platforms and creative forms of solidarity in extra-territorial spaces that can exists.

What I do mean by Transversal dictionary? It is about a need to build a common dictionary about labor, pedagogy, commons, archive, institution and urban that are connected to our struggle and resistance against conflict in our everyday practices. Spatial practices in conflicted urban spaces instigated society to invent a new collective dictionary not only for the constrained environment of the recent socio-political and economic crisis, but also to rebuild a collective consciousness that can refer to our communal co-existence. I will try to articulate with examples of collective works through my practice and engagements of research and initiations.

How can self-organized, self-regulating networks and collective structures such as the occupy movements in urban space inspire economic models, especially where the generation and re-distribution of wealth are concerned? And how can these spaces, under exceptional conditions, serve as “common knowledge” based on the practice of “commoning”? Nowadays, we discuss precarious working conditions and their effects on cognitive labor. Currently, our understanding of the nature of precarious labor is mostly based on a time/work frame that leads to labor exploitation and lack of employment security, but these conditions do not necessarily correspond to our relative experience in different work types. Rather, precarious labor and the conflict of production exist in a totally different way within autonomous structures and networks. We can witness some examples of this in different geographies, where autonomous structures and collectives whose labor is based on relational collaboration and self-organization are actively being pursued and developed. There are practical cases of self-organized labor structures managing well on their own, not only to sustain production but also to maintain fluid networks of creative collectivism and collaboration even though they are might based in a specific local territorial condition. Social Kitchen&Hanare (Kyoto), Souzy Tros (Athens), The Silent University, Decolonizing Architecture (West Bank), Architecture For All (Istanbul), Videoccupy (Istanbul) are founded by architects, artists and activists base on collectives as a reaction to the current economic crisis, spatial colonization, which cannot be separated from the political.

In 2012, I did research artist run spaces and activist collectives in Japan based on my research focus question of what kind of practice they produce that creates forms of urban justice and alternative livelihood. Kyoto based collective Social Kitchen&hanare runs a heterogeneous economy based on exchange of labor and a café for basic infrastructure expenses.(1) Eviction was one of the main reason of the formation of this collective when they found a cheap space to run a café that combines collaboration with farmers, researchers, artists and designer that all shift their labor and knowledge in organizing action for urban justice as well as events, reading groups and discussions at Social Kitchen space. Social Kitchen&Hanare collective are a financially self-sufficient practice that deals with pressing social issues of everyday life. Under austerity and pressing surveillance and migration policies in the urban space of Athens, a similar space founded by the initiation of artist Maria Papadimitrou with the help of artists, architects, designers, NGO workers and immigrants, titled Souzy Tros, established as a food/sewing/art/design space based on the free exchange of labor. Maria Papadimitrou’s practice signifies the future imagination of a “coming community”.(2) A community that seems to be impossible to form but appears in a collective imaginary through everyday life practices. The old question about the role of art in the society becomes more important in this example against the recent global economical crisis, authoritarian neoliberal governments and weakening social ethics. What does the practices of Souzy Tros or Social Kitchen mean for us:  It reminds us, there are future imaginations on communities, there are practices of collectivity to be invented, there are alternative methodologies for institutional structure and pedagogy that artistic production can introduce various labor production that are beyond time-space and also dissemination of surplus.

Most of these groups and networks are involved in urban pedagogy based in tools of empowerment and self-learning, teaching, acting, research, reclaiming alternative urban space, social media, urban farming and the requalification of city centers against aggressive real estate development plans. Additionally, they also undertake daily activities collaborating with temporary workers, the homelessness, and disenfranchised communities to create support structures for these groups. Besides their autonomous structures, they also try to create models of criticality connected to new forms of social relations and commoning.(3) Examples of this can be seen in the organization of discussant groups, collective actions, urban movements, and general meetings. From this perspective, their work can be seen as a research method for a practice of commoning – the being in common. I think the meaning of “commons” is not what we own or share or produce as property, ownership, economical means or accumulation, but more along the lines of what David Harvey points out as “social relations” that are closely connected to everyday life.(4)

According to political economist Massimo De Angelis’s “Commons are a means of establishing a new political discourse that builds on and helps to articulate the many existing, often minor struggles, and recognizes their power to overcome capitalist society.”(5) He defines three notions in order to explain that the commons are not simply the resources that we share but a way of commoning: the way in which resources are pooled and made available to a group of individuals who then build or rediscover a sense of community, and the resulting social process of “being common”. Furthermore, food sociologist and activist Raj Patel focuses on how we define commons. He says: “Commons is about how we manage resources together.”(6) His argument is not only about managing and sustaining food growing and sharing but also about how food-related movements should be in solidarity with other movements. “Commons”, as understood here, is not a simple concept about collective sharing or ownership. It holds a sensitive position within a defined community and public, especially, in contested territories or cities undergoing or under threat of neoliberal destruction of their built environment. Negotiation and the conflict of values are keys in such commoning practices. Claiming the commons based solely on the idea of the collective use of property would therefore not constitute an example of commoning. As Stavros Stavrides argues, more than the act or fact of sharing, it is the existence of a ground for negotiation that is most important. Conceptualizing commons on the basis of the public, however, does not focus on similarities or commonalities but on the very differences between people that can possibly meet on a purposefully instituted common ground. We have to establish a ground of negotiation rather than a ground of affirmation of what is shared.(7)

For Decolonizing Architecture Al-Masha refers to “common” instead of “commons”: „The notion of Al-Mashà could help re-imagine the notion of the common today. Could this form of common use be expanded by redefining the meaning of cultivation, moving it from agriculture to other forms of human activity?“, „How to liberate the common from the control of authoritarian regimes, neo-colonialism and consumer societies? How to reactive common uses beyond the interests of public state control?“ (8) Based in “occupied territories”, West Bank at Palestine; this architecture practice related initiation focuses on the reality of Palestinian refugees of creating spaces of common and consider the notion of “camp” as a potential space beyond neoliberal citizenship and dichotomy of public- private space. Through their activities Decolonizing Architecture, “common” differs both from public and private space. As we see in most cities and urban spaces, public and private spaces are under the control of government’s initiation.(9) Decolonizing Architecture by using militant research methodologies of urban and architecture is seeking potential spaces for common in the refugee camps and former military buildings together with different background researchers, refugees, activists and civil representatives. Proceeded with the inhabitants of Fawar camp, including the design a small public space is created through the initiation by young Palestinian refugees, families. A space of exchanging of everyday life experiences and local engagements can be the most important way of resistance against colonization. Another platform of alternative knowledge production and exchange is artist run practice The Silent University. The Silent University is an autonomous knowledge exchange platform by and for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants. The Silent University aims to challenge the idea of silence as a passive state, and explore its powerful potential through performance, writing, and group reflection. These explorations attempt to make apparent the systemic failure and the loss of skills and knowledge experienced through the process of silencing people who are seeking asylum.(10) The Silent University, which was initiated by artist Ahmet Öğüt with a lot of researchers (including myself) that he got involved to this platform has mainly two intertwined structures that deals firstly with the notion of subjectivity which is defined under “state of exception”: refugee/asylum seekers. Secondly, it processes a new format of alternative pedagogy in which the knowledge production appears as a co-existence not only for the refugees themselves but for the public, too. The whole structure as a mobile academy is a transversal machine where “citizenship” is experienced beyond clear borders. As a trans-local borderless knowledge production, The Silent University rhizomaticly reaches out to issues about citizenship, education, institutionalism, borders, war, being a refugee, documents/documenting, urban segregation, commons and others. This practice produces an “uncommon knowledge” about the shared experiences of humans and their representation. Thus it applies alternative research methods that involve artistic research and deconstruct common methodologies. In this context, The Silent University produces digital spaces such as academia.edu/silentuniversity, facebook, twitter, printed works and physical engagements of ambiguous researchers, academics which offers alternating ways of a performative archive and transversal research methodologies. If I spoke from an academic point of view (as a so-called social scientist), I would claim that there has occurred a methodological crisis in research in recent years that resulted from a conservative, closed-circle orthodoxy in academia. Aside from the issue of conducting quantitative and qualitative research methodologies separately or the problems of grounding theory in empirical practice, the discussion of embedded situational research methods has been much neglected in academia. Additionally, the multiplicity of new forms for contemporary knowledge production urges us to adapt our methods. Furthermore, from a Deleuzian perspective, in our complex societies ‘data’ is a rhizomatic assemblage that needs to be searched, evaluated, analyzed and represented with complex tools or, indeed, with new research tools invented accordingly.(11) This means visuality as both a concept and a product is not only a representation of knowledge but also the machine that drives it. Therefore in contemporary art production such as in the case of The Silent University, the practice becomes a “method” itself, which is a challenging notion not only in the contemporary art field but also in methodology discussions in fields such as education, social sciences or urban conflict. I would therefore not prefer to call The Silent University a “project” but an instituting practice, a becoming archive and a method itself. It could be a similar example as Videoccupy collective, which I co-founded together with video activists on 2nd of June when we were in Gezi Park. The initiation aimed to record the visual memory and to archive the resistance process between 27th of May and 31st of July 2013; they have collected recordings done with devices such as iPads, phones and video cameras and created an archive comprising of the whole collected material. For us, using video and creating videograms as an emancipative device in not only in this resistance but also in our everyday lives: We do not show or represent, we produce the potentialities of the action of “I see”. (12)

Such practices of assemblages and potential instant alliances mentioned above, are important to consider that how the labor exchange strategies they operate. They are generally based both on immaterial and physical labor, there is no separation between these labor production. Here, the alienating forces of immaterial labor disappear and the surplus is handled on the basis of ethics rather than capitalist market imperatives. In this context, community economies and surplus dissemination processes that is inspired by economist-geography researcher JK. Gibson – Graham’s theory and research is meaningful. For them a political collective action requires “working collaboratively to produce alternative economic organizations and spaces in place.” (13) By providing empirical examples of community economy; “collective action” for them is: “The ‘collective’ in this context does not suggest the massing together of like subjects, nor should the term „action“ imply an efficacy that originates in intentional beings or that is distinct from thought. We are trying for a broad and distributed notion of collective action, in order to recognize and keep open possibilities of connection and development.”(14) According to that a collective action requires a ethic of community economy, which I would articulate more as an act of ethics of locality that meets our everyday knowledge, livelihood in both urban and rural spaces.(15) The relational network established here is more of an instant community that chooses to think and discuss together rather than a normative structure. Self-organization is not a simple hierarchy based on certain labor activities and their division, but conversely, it is a work/labor structure that allows one to be a farmer in the morning and a graphic designer in the afternoon. To reiterate Stavrides sharp analysis, collaboration is not about affirmation, but negotiation. It is about debating critical issues in an urban space that is itself a pressing and compelling concern. Creating collective, non-clerical, political action in the urban space is not about the organization or the event itself, but about co-existing and functioning together to achieve commoning. This is rooted on a reconsideration and realization of our practices of collaboration, alternative economies, autonomous networks, self-organization and surplus strategies, which are different from what neoliberal realities and production logics try to force us upon us. The Gezi Park resistance experience is about collaborating, moving in solidarity despite our differences, voluntary work, a non-partisan, non-clerical yet democratic platform, and friendship. Before the government dispersed the Gezi Park protestors on the 15th of June, food, beverage, and all other needs were managed by self-initiated groups. Furthermore, a vegetable and flower garden was even set up in the park. As seen here, all self or collective initiatives are based on voluntary labor exchange in general terms, but they also beyond, as exchange labor in this case is not a practice where one could be called a “volunteer.” Being a “volunteer” here both exceeds and diminishes this new form of working together, as the “voluntary” in labor represents the very source of the power of collective action. The Istanbul based collective Architecture for All (Herkes İçin Mimarlık) (16) created drawings during Gezi resistance. In Geziresistance, a temporary mosque, a movable food collective made up with simple materials and tent, an over expanding open hospital…these are examples of in situ and instant architecture in Taksim square and Gezi. Straps represent the borders of each section and places in Gezipark that marks the function of the places; the straps expand or shrink according to people needs. Performative architecture most often can be experienced during the condition of  “state of emergency”, conflict urbanism, instant architecture and radical spatial resistance practices. These relational resistance structures lead Architecture for All to create occupygeziarchitecture initiation in which they claimed: “We need new definitions for architecture in situations when architecture is removed from architects. Each unique structure that we encounter in the streets and Gezi Park has its own in-situ design and implementation process.”(17)

We are in a concrete phase of local movements that offer self-organized collectives attached to trans-local networks, which are able to create rhizomatic dissemination and surplus. At the other hand, “occupy” in different cities introduces a realm of commune practice of differences that gathered already existing collective resistance practices. The differences of movements from the 20.century and since Seattle and the heterogeneity of labor and communities of them are already discussed/announced in the writings of Negri/Hardt. The differences of the 20.century movements from anti-global protests that follow up with occupy movements concern unique forms of solidarity, translocal networks and types of transversal knowledge, pedagogy.

For philosopher Simon Critchley: “We can talk about Occupy. Occupy is not revolution – it is rebellion – but it is very interesting and it has made a very different set of political tactics available. Occupy is something very familiar to many of the people on the anarchist left…. I believe in a low-level, almost invisible series of actions, which at a certain point reach visibility and then really have an effect. As Gramsci would say, politics is not a war of maneuver or frontal assault on power. It is a tenacious and long-lasting war of position. This requires optimism, cunning and patience.”(18) Furthermore for Franco “Bifo” Berardi, occupy movements is a pleasure of the other body, and an empathy of the other alliances.(19) In my opinion it is somehow we do not speak about a new activism anymore; we do speak about an uncommon knowledge that we creating, a new instituting power and a collective labor. Thus, it could be linked back to the practice of Decolonizing Architecture and their intention of questioning the “commons” with Al-Masha (common), which the form of research “is collective, relational and active”. It is merely about when they describe their ideas behind their action: “to establish a different balance between withdrawal and engagement, action in the world and research, fiction and proposal.” (20)

We are at that moment right now.

Pelin Tan, researcher and writer based in Mardin and Istanbul. Tan is an associate professor at the faculty of Architecture, Mardin Artuklu University. Background with Sociology and Art History, Tan completed her post-doc research on “artistic research” at ACT program in MIT – Cambridge. She is a receiver of DAAD (Germany), IASPIS (Sweden), GeoAir (Georgia) and The Japan Foundation (Japan) research grants. Tan is a co-director of 2084 episodes films on the future history of art with Anton Vidokle. Books: Ethics of Locality: Urban Commons (dpr – Barcelona, 2015), Unconditional Hospitality and Threshold Architecture (dpr – Barcelona, 2015), ARAZİ / TERRITORY (Critical Spatial Practice Series, Strenberg Press, 2015).


Cornelius Castoriadis, The Imaginary Institution of Society, trans. K. Blamey [Cambridge: MIT Press, 1998

1 . A useful commentary on this was made by art writer and curator Pauline Yao in context of art production and collectives: “Art collectives, alternative art spaces, deterritorialized social and relational practices all fit within this schema and present possible critical models for how we understand and witness the ways in which art can exert its own energy upon a given environment or social context, rather than simply emerge as its by product.” Pauline Yao quoted from “A Game Played Without Rules Has No Losers”, e-flux Journal 7, June 2009, New York.

2. David Harvey interviewed by Pelin Tan, Ayşe Çavdar (June, 2012, Istanbul).

Harvey, D., 2012. Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution. London: Verso.

3. An Architektur, 2010. “On the Commons: A Public Interview with Massimo De Angelis and Stavros Stavrides,” e-flux Journal 17 June 2010, New York.

4. Patel, R., 2008. The Hungry of Earth, Radical Philosophy, No.151, Sept/Oct., London.

5. An Architektur, 2010. On the Commons: A Public Interview with Massimo De Angelis and Stavros Stavrides, E-flux Journal 17 June 2010, New York.

6. http://herkesicinmimarlik.org/en/

7. http://occupygeziarchitecture.tumblr.com



JK.Gibson – Graham

8. http://thesilentuniversity.org

9.Pelin Tan, commissioned review on Deleuze and Research Methodologies, eds. Rebecca Coleman and Jessica Ringrose, Edinburgh: Edinburgh Press, 2013 for Visual Studies Journal (IVSA), Taylor&Francis.

0 http://thesilentuniversity.org

1 Pelin Tan, commissioned review on Deleuze and Research Methodologies, eds. Rebecca Coleman and Jessica Ringrose, Edinburgh: Edinburgh Press, 2013 for Visual Studies Journal (IVSA), Taylor&Francis.