We are two, and many

Title: We are two, and many. Collectivity and Care in the University

Authors: Emma Cheatle and Catalina Mejía Moreno

Presented at: 16th Annual International Conference of the Architectural Humanities Research Association [AHRA] in Dundee.

Year: 2019

Abstract: We are two, and many. Alone, two, and a collective (Lacan, 2006 [1949]; Irigaray, 2001). In 2018 we, and others, intersected with a collaborative, Feminist Art and Architecture Collaborative (FAAC), to write the manifesto, ‘To Manifest’ (Harvard Design Magazine, No.46, “No Sweat”, Dec. 2018). The writing took place at Columbia University, in a small topfloor room; eighteen laptops, eighteen pairs of hands, eighteen minds, growing a google document live, online. ‘To Manifest’ calls for care within the university, that great model of the collective. Columbia, a private elite university, remains a contested site. Easy to criticise, and yet UK universities also offer increasingly contestable conditions. While broader societal systems of care – including the maintenance of city and rural infrastructures – are being broken by structures of power, they are also eroded in the university. In our everyday teaching and working spaces we are divided; reduced back to the individual, we produce more and increasingly impactful outputs; teach in increasingly crowded, decaying spaces;
watch hopeless as some break under the strain. Despite the collective endeavour of the university, we/I care for and are/am cared about less (Tronto, 2013; Trogal, 2017).

Our alternative is to redevelop collective dialogues of care – using slowness, society, close watching, observation and attention. Ethnographer Trinh T Minh-ha calls this process ‘speaking nearby’ (Chen, 1992). Akin to the psychoanalytic setting where analyst and analysand take, give and receive care in a complex triangulation, this paper is a transcript of a series of speaking nearbys. Through a collective textual and spatial voiced production, we speak of the systems and breakdowns of care, but also of the possibility of the maintenance and ethics of relationships, bodies, and welfare; and of data, citation and dissemination in
the spaces of the university (Ahmed, 2013).