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Moments from Death and Biopolitics (Sophia Goodfriend and Yanping Ni)

On March 5, we gathered for our third session which was organized by Sophia Goodfriend and Yanping Ni. Sophia shared a paper, “A Street View of Occupation: Getting Around Hebron on Google Maps,” which was based on her research in the summer of 2018. Starting with her own frustration in navigating the streets of Hebron—the largest city in the West Bank—on Google Maps, she considers the tensions of producing cartographic data. While the street views of Hebron show seamlessly stitched images, these rub against borders, checkpoints, or walls that people encounter on the ground as pedestrians, residents, and commuters. She follows Wesam—a Palestinian who walks the city to create user-generated images with a 360-degree camera attached to the selfie-stick—to discuss how the panoramic view becomes a site of contestation in this specific place. Yanping shared the first chapter of her thesis, “Disposable Bodies, Privatized Care” for the workshop. Her work looks at the political economy of care in post-socialist China by foregrounding mine workers who developed black lung disease and the caretakers who look after them. She discusses in this chapter how local mines operate besides official terms of contract, and how family values become mobilized in organizing domestic care when healthcare is dispossessed. We all read both of their works, and posed questions, comments, readings, in terms of how these may go forward. Some portion of the session is in the below:

Comments for Sophia

Anne: This writing reminded me of what Jake was doing with the sky. What is Wesam trying to do? He’s like an artist, but there was also a practical benefit to it, doing cartography. It seems important to keep that ambiguity which blurs many boundaries.

Jieun: “They have to walk around me,” Wesam said—which stuck out to me. He is a “guide” and you emphasized that “thoroughness” as something important in making sense of what Wesam is doing. Your interview at Google also included many important points about cars, “objective maps,” access of “our people,” and so on. Thinking about cars, walking the street, and people responding to Wesam’s walk, something like a point of view may be productive to further this work. In this case, it’s literally a point of view—what would happen if one were to suspend objectivity/neutrality/subjectivity, and instead, to engage something like a point of view to foreground the ambiguity anne was pointing out?

Jake: Wesam is a virtual explorer. I found interesting that the digital here is introducing new forms through which people are getting at something like the taste of the city. In relation to anonymous cars, viewers physically toggling to get the view of the street, and so on, what relationships would be in the making here? To me, it seems like a different type from objective/subjective understandings of space. Resistance is not the term with which Wesam is making sense of what he is doing. I don’t have the term for this, but perhaps something akin to cityhood or city-ness?

Emily: Wesam’s photography is interesting because it’s not only produced by his individual perspective—it also entails his ideas of what his perspective can do, and the places he can access. Regarding cars, I can see some parallel debates in ethnomusicology where people discuss the role of sound recording devices that are sent to places where people cannot physically go. On one hand, there is presumed objectivity/neutrality of recording device like a camera, but on the other hand, the person’s perception can never be fully flattened into such mediated views. Then what happens in this gap? Thinking of cultural geographers who work on map, and how the same place can become different ideas by how it is represented on the map—the ideologies of cartography—I’d be interested in thinking about what story is being told by Google Maps.

Comments for Yanping

Anne: Many families you discuss in this chapter hold onto the “traditional” family values, which seems interesting and surprising to me, partly because this is not the case in Japan where I work. Maybe one way to think about this in terms of going forward is to start with the family. Family seems very important in your work, but it only appears at the end. Before the migrant workers get sick, what is the role/attachment of family to them? How does the family factor in when the miners leave home to work, and what kind of trajectories are there for them?

Cade: Also with the emphasis on family and the “brotherly” relationship between government and contractors, I’d be curious about the potentially familial relationships between the miners and what forms of care exist between them.

Jieun: The chapter is very rich—you’re weaving a lot here, including models, histories, institutional players, and so on. What stuck out to me was “legal society” that the minders were talking about. If they are constantly disenfranchised in terms of both work and care, what do they mean when they refer to “legal society” in this place, or in post-socialist China in general? I’d like to hear more about the trajectories of the families.

Jake: Because care is so central here, I’d like to hear more about how you tracked the caring networks/trajectories. There is a lot of frustration here so I’m interested in how unraveling those types of networks might get at care, or endurance, or a form of life amidst all this.

Sophia: I’d like to hear more about your methods, given that the work for this chapter was mostly done during the pandemic. Maybe you don’t have to do this in this chapter, but I think it may be productive to think about the communications angle as one of the constraints when care (or the care networks) is so hard to access.

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