From ‘Egosystems’ to the Ecosystem of the Commons

14 April 2020

Editorial note: We invited Professor Álvarez-Blanco to write about her project for the blog back in January, before the Covid-19 pandemic upended all our lives. As we examine the inequalities and injustices laid bare by the Covid-19 pandemic, her work remains as important as ever as we search for ways to move forward and consider how we can make the world a more just place.

By Palmar Álvarez-Blanco, Professor of Spanish & Director of The Constellation of the Commons

What does it mean to do public arts & humanities work?

Palmar Álvarez-Blanco, Professor of Spanish
Palmar Álvarez-Blanco, Professor of Spanish

To me it means to work, think and imagine in unconventional ways. It means to avoid the reproduction of categories that are naturalized and authorized by hegemonic thinking. It also entails considering the mechanisms of power and hierarchization of knowledge in a given society. In doing public works, I aim to expand the concept of public knowledge, opening it up to other functions, communities and practices. It means engaging with the public sphere by building a bridge or vessel for communication, a place to connect and debate, an open classroom, a territory for dreaming, collaborating, playing, remixing, establishing relationships, and sharing knowledge, materials and visions. Once research is considered a common good, it is continually added to by other communities, joining a wave of creative energy for change.

Why are public arts & humanities important?

In Route with the Commons. Photo of a book in a store
In Route with the Commons, by Palmar Álvarez-Blanco

To me the crisis we are living in not only requires urgent action within the legal, juridical, economic, cultural and political spheres, it also requires a joint effort to abandon the territory of the “ego-systems” so that we can all enter the ecosystem of the commons. If our ethical, creative, and political health are of primary concern, it is of vital importance to create stories that can be used to do away with what is supposed to be understood as common sense under capitalism. My work with the project The Constellation of the Commons is a modest contribution towards this effort. This ecosystem of diverse forms of self-organized citizenship does not present itself as a “naive” redeemer or repairer of an unsustainable system, but rather as a proposer of concrete change and a mediator of new practices of relations that are not contractual.

How has doing this work impacted you personally and intellectually?

Creating a tool to record and showcase different forms of social relations responded to a personal need to update and revitalize progressive ideas that are conceived transversally and in a complex or interdisciplinary fashion with regard to the structural causes of current social issues. In the constellar way of thinking, the concept does not have as much value by itself as it does in relation to other concepts or universes of concepts, so that concepts will have different values depending on the system or constellation within which they are located.

Working on this project has taught me that in order to reason, feel, imagine, and think of solutions in a constellary fashion, I need to listen and to contemplate the spectrum of possible positions, opening up my vision to my own blind spots. Considering the variety of communities studied in this project, I have learned that the solution to the problems of our historical moment does not seem to be singular, especially not for a revolution that has ethical, cultural, political, legislative and moral dimensions. Working on the Constellation I have learned to think diagrammatically, establishing relations and ties in order to unveil other potential meanings.

Not long ago, my colleague and astrophysicist Joel Weisberg explained to me that in modern times, 88 new constellations have been identified. I came away from that conversation asking myself, how many new non-capitalist constellations of the Commons remain undiscovered?

Constellary Archive of the Commons Movement. A colored bubble diagram that connects grassroots organizations to at least two themes. Themes include: Expanded Educational Access, Eco Rights, Social Reproductive & Environmental Economies, Migrant Rights, Forms of Care & Self-Care, Media Literacy & Independent Information, Cohabitation & Housing Rights, New Political Process, Gender Rights, Labor, Artivism
Constellary Archive of the Commons Movement