On Hospitality and Hope: Where Scientific and Technical Infrastructures Negotiate Their Insiders and Outsiders. 4S ’17.

In this performative brunch, a radical happening, participants sat around a dressed table for a feast as a thought-experiment around the desire to accommodate that rings throughout many modern technological ventures for openness, diversity and participation. Yet, as we see at the table and in our technological endeavors, there is a limit to accommodation and hospitality; a specific form of labor in the production of hospitality, an ethics of hospitality that defines who, what and how participation can exist; and opens a potential for re-thinking interruption in intersectional terms: from intrusion to stakeholder. Inspired by the recent uprising of radical art which has taken Derrida’s ‘absolute hospitality’ into more personal practices of inclusion and care in technological spaces – from talks by cyberfeminist Laurence Rassel’s about curation ethic at Fundació Antoni Tàpies in Barcelona to Walker Tufts’ immersive Hospitality Machines installations or the Chicago’s Smart Museum’s exhibition Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art – this brunch attempts to capture this artistic and technologist zeitgeist by turning to hospitality to think of the ways in which design can be hospitable and hostile. This brunch explores questions of boundaries, policies and accommodations where the external world comes up against formalized plans and policies of infrastructure and must decide how to make that accommodation (or not). In this way, hospitality becomes the welcoming and establishment of rules that allows infrastructures’ ends to adapt to the strangers, the foreign objects, and its flaws or gaps.

Through relation to ethnographic field work, the experience of this brunch traces uncomfortable yet telling moments that define whose futures infrastructures are welcoming and whose they are turning away. For example, when initiatives for ecological research are delayed by unforeseen negotiations over native lands or oceanographic research equipment is vandalized by rebelling local fishing communities. Through the lens and vocabulary of hospitality, we see that infrastructure is necessarily both welcoming and excluding, identifying what categories are considered, what interruptions are permissible, what conditions of power and temporalities of those conditions exist, and what risks and contingencies are worth taking. In infrastructure, there is a constant negotiation and addressing of who and what will enter the realm of governance that it supports and whose progress it ushers in. Leigh Star once said “one person’s infrastructure is another person’s barrier.”

There is a labor and production of hospitality: the details of the menu and its arrangement were negotiated with many within the 4S community. I worked with and against the policies of the hotel, the conference and panel organizers. To hold this brunch, rules were both broken and followed. What resulted was a fraction of the experience that was envisioned at its onset. The intimate practices of acquiring, cooking and consuming acts as a mirror for broader societal structures: what kinds of utensils, appliances, availability of foodstuffs, etc. are part of particular forms of production and labor available and given: the way that people sit, their allergies, the design and configuration of the table and its chairs, the movement to accommodate the attendees, the interruptions by others who aren’t currently participating but are within the room. The experience of this brunch acts as a kind of extemporaneous social commentary on the possibilities and limits of accommodation and relation, of intention and emergence.

In Adieu to Emmanuel Levinas, Derrida claims, “hospitality is ethics, ethics is hospitality.” And later, Derrida states, “hospitality is culture itself and not simply one ethic among others.” The vegetarian brunch reflects an ideology but it opens questions with parallels into the manifestations of infrastructure: was this definition in reality to serve an ideological purpose, or did it concern the availability of ethically accessible resources, time or budgetary constraints or did the hotel warn that I would be shut down if I cooked so I chose foods whose smells do not leave a pungency in the air?

This brunch underscores local experience and practice, inseparable from the dynamics of policy, colonialism, autonomy, and sovereignty inside which they exist. For Derrida, absolute hospitality does not have condition or imperatives, it has only one rule: accommodate when someone needs to be accommodated without question, without knowledge of who that person is without calling it imposition or interruption. But any attempt at hospitality, even attempts at absolute hospitality, are limited and at times violent. We ask: who is attending the brunch? Who is not here? Why are they not here? What are they missing? More importantly, what are we missing by not having them? What could we have done better?

This brunch acts as an opportunity to think of the hope of participation and the violences of infrastructure and take an intersectional approach: we might think of the power dynamics at play and in particular the effects of economic and ethnic marginalization on the choices available to this brunch or the infrastructures we study. In a multicultural approach new kinds of people with their own traditions, who un-primed with the expectations of the specific scientific communities we study, are seen as valuable primarily as things to be sold and bought with scholarships and jobs. We might instead take an intersectional (nay hospitable) approach to recognize for instance that when infrastructure development in the ocean sciences pushes up against the everyday lives of tribal communities on the shores, that they are not “dealt with”, bought gifts and given jobs but instead that in this moment they too become stakeholders whose spirituality and territory are important considerations in the operating of the oceanographic infrastructure. In Of Hospitality Derrida says “Let us say yes to who or what turns up…”

Hospitality defines new relationships with those that are unexpected, that at times interrupt the flow of development. To follow words of Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, hospitality means that instead of framing anti-racist/anti-homophobic/anti-sexist/anti-colonialist efforts in the scientific community as an expedition in better preparing more to join us, we must better prepare ourselves to become a space where those who are already prepared in their own interesting and unique ways, naturally fit in.