What is it to Notice Together?

Nicole Land thinking with Angélique Sanders, Kassandra Rodriguez Almonte, and Angela Chow,

I’ve been thinking about our beginning conversation about developmentalism and deeply entrenched discourses in the field – children as bounded individuals, promoting independence at all costs, thinking learning as a linear, discrete, step-based process. As a response, we are wondering how noticing while walking slow might be a strategy toward disrupting this; how noticing causes us to pay attention differently, to be differently implicated in a place. 

This reminds me of Anna Tsing’s (2015) work. Tsing is an anthropologist who works with matsutake mushrooms and ‘matsutake worlds’. She works with what she calls ‘arts of noticing’, beginning her work in a critique of capitalism, scaling up (universalizing, making knowledge applicable on vast scales), and individualism, and how these ways of being in the world allow for us to be objective and to get to know the world through particular ‘logic’ (scientific observation, analysis) only. Tsing (2015) writes that

“Thinking through self-containment and thus the self-interest of individuals (at whatever scale) made it possible to ignore contamination, that is, transformation through encounter. Self-contained individuals are not transformed by encounter. Maximizing their interests, they use encounters—but remain unchanged in them. Noticing is unnecessary to track these unchanging individuals. A “standard” individual can stand in for all as a unit of analysis. It becomes possible to organize knowledge through logic alone” (p. 32). 

With arts of noticing, Tsing (2015) writes “the new alliance I propose is based on commitments to observation and fieldwork—and what I call noticing. Human-disturbed landscapes are ideal spaces for humanist and naturalist noticing. We need to know the histories humans have made in these places and the histories of nonhuman participants” (p. 126). This makes me think how our noticing and slowing down might also notice the histories of the place we walk – how can we ask questions with the children about the colonial histories that made the quad as it is? What was here before? How did this place come to be and how does that shape how we move now – the pathways, the buildings, the sculptures, the grass care maintenance practices? 

Tsing (2015) then offers a few propositions for noticing:

Latent commons are not exclusive human enclaves. Opening the commons to other beings shifts everything. Once we include pests and diseases, we can’t hope for harmony; the lion will not lie down with the lamb. And organisms don’t just eat each other; they also make divergent ecologies. Latent commons are those mutualist and nonantagonistic entanglements found within the play of this confusion. 

Latent commons are not good for everyone. Every instance of collaboration makes room for some and leaves out others. Whole species lose out in some collaborations. The best we can do is to aim for “good-enough” worlds, where “good-enough” is always imperfect and under revision. Latent comments don’t institutionalize well. Attempts to turn the commons into policy are commendably brave, but they do not capture the effervescence of the latent commons. The latent commons moves in law’s interstices; it is catalyzed by infraction, infection, inattention—and poaching. 

Latent commons cannot redeem us. Some radical thinkers hope that progress will lead us to a redemptive and utopian commons. In contrast, the latent commons is here and now, amidst the trouble. And humans are never fully in control” (p. 191)

This makes me think about a question Angélique offered, about how we ask questions and notice in ways that disrupt human exceptionalism with the children. I wonder if these propositions might be a place to begin – how do we move and notice together in ways that know that the quad is not just a human place? How do we move and think together outside while knowing that the quad is not good for everyone; not all lives are valued equally and there are politics happening in the space? How do we ask questions and move in ways that know that our moving and thinking is not redemptive or solution oriented, but wants instead to think about entanglements and responding well and living well?

Tsing, A. L. (2015). The mushroom at the end of the world: On the possibility of life in capitalist ruins. Oxford, UK: Princeton University Press.

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