Response-Ability and Sticking with Paper Borders

Nicole Land thinking with Maria Wysocki, Selena Ha, Andrea Thomas, and Alicja Frankowski

Today we continued to think together with the children about making borders obvious in the yard by attaching a large sheet of white paper to the fence bordering the yard – fences that we rarely notice. I thought that it was quite challenging how we forced ourselves and the children to stick with the paper after an initial flurry of destruction and over the fence that took place when the children first meet the paper at the fence. There’s something to keeping the paper visible, having to work hard to think at what this material can do with the fence after our initial first reactions with it – and, in noticing how we and the children are and are not interested, do and do not notice, the paper when it is no longer novel or easily disposable. The paper, in a way, creates an interesting problem with the fence: both the fence and the paper become less-noticed, more easily ignored, while at the same time they pose a problem through their existence – we have to do something with the paper and the fence. They’re part of how we move and form relations in the place in this moment; they’re both still here, even if we ignore them. 

This makes me think about borders and noticing responsibility. Borders, I think, come to matter in particular ways because of the materials, rules, relations, and context of a place. Borders are not just one thing, a universal. This, for me, links to our conversations on border-making, where we’ve been talking about how we make borders constantly and negotiate what it is to activate a certain border in a certain way in a certain time in relation to certain human and more-than human others and inheritance. 

Donna Haraway, a feminist science studies philosopher, thinks with response-ability. Haraway (2012) is writing about multispecies relations between her dog, synthetic hormones, food production systems, and her own body and health. She builds response-ability as the idea that because we are embedded in particular relationships, we cultivate within those relationships a certain debt to the others (human and critters and materials and discourses) that make that relation possible, and we answer to that debt through actively caring for how we are implicated in that complex relation in which not all lives are valued equally. She calls this response-ability – that we aren’t just responsible for our relations, but that we must do something that responds well to how we are tangled in relations and with the others we are tangled with. Response-ability, for Haraway, is difficult; it is uncertain, it is made in relations, it is inventive, it is precarious. Haraway (2012) writes: 

“there is no innocence in these kin stories, and the accountabilities are extensive and permanently unfinished. Indeed, responsibility in and for the worldings in play in these stories requires the cultivation of viral response-abilities, carrying meanings and materials across kinds in order to infect processes and practices that might yet ignite epidemics of multispecies recuperation and maybe even flourishing on terra in ordinary times and places. Call that utopia; call that inhabiting the despised places; call that touch; call that the rapidly mutating virus of hope, or the less rapidly changing commitment to staying with the trouble” (p. 311). 

Response-ability then, with the borders and fences and papers and relations that matter to our inquiry this morning, means sticking with the problem of the paper and the fence. Staying with the trouble, as Haraway would say, rather than invisibilizing the paper or ‘solving’ the problem of the paper. I think this raises interesting questions: how are we response-able to the borders we create? How are the children response-able to the fence border they are part of? How does throwing over shovels or paper or sand enact response-ability with the border and place – does it, or does it enact other relations of consumption and invisibility? How does saying ‘if you throw that paper over the fence we can’t reach it to touch it’ enliven a relation of response-ability with the fence, of caring with the fence and paper and place – or does it not, does this response try to resolve or to solve? How does saying ‘this paper is mine’ do response-ability with the paper – or does it not, does it reassert individualized ideas of property and ownership? How does moving away from the paper, ignoring the paper, not noticing the fence enact response-able relations to the fence and borders – or does it not?

Can relations of property and ownership with border-making, a practice we keep noticing in our inquiries, enact response-ability with the paper and the fence? What might response-able relations to the borders in this place, the wet and rolled and ripped paper here, and this green chain link fence ask of us? This picture makes me think about this – how are we response-able to the complex stories entangled in this fence and this paper and these borders in this place?

The paper is wet a muddy, there’s the fence, there’s the no smoking sign, there’s dry paper on the other side of the fence, the leaves and wood chips. There’s so much happening, so many others, in our relations with this fence border in this moment. I think this connects to the article by Pauliina Rautio (2013) that Alicja has offered, about thinking with how materials shape our movements with borders; that it isn’t just the human at the centre of border-making and moving with borders, but that children and others are constantly involved in this ongoing negotiation of border-making and moving that involves different adults and ideas and materials and multispecies others differently at different times. 

For Haraway, response-ability is a question of particularities – of noticing how we are implicated in this place, in this time, and finding a response that is caring and toward living well in this moment. Here’s perhaps my favourite quote *ever*, from Haraway:

“The details link actual beings to actual response-abilities. Each time a story helps me remember what I thought I knew, or introduces me to new knowledge, a muscle critical for caring about flourishing gets some aerobic exercise” (p. 312) 

This makes me think: how does bringing paper into our border-making with the fence help us remember what we thought we knew, as Haraway would say, about our relations with borders and moving? 

Haraway, D. (2012). Awash in urine: DES and Premarin® in multispecies response-ability. Women’s Studies Quarterly40(1/2), 301-316.

Rautio, P. (2013). Children who carry stones in their pockets: On autotelic material practices in everyday life. Children’s Geographies11(4), 394-408.


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