Affective agencies for the anthropocene: from feeling to practicing discomfort in spaces of commoning

My doctoral research involves ethnographic work with two spaces of urban ‘commoning’ in London and Paris – what I call ‘concrete environments’. These are qualitative different but both are experimenting with ways of sharing spaces between groups that don’t usually do so, including people in precarious situations, sex-workers, small NGOs working on social and ecological issues, independent media and political activists. Although discomfort is known to be experience in the context of collective processes, intense learning or unlearning, encounters with difference, injustice or indeed the effects of climate change, such diverse perspectives are seldom drawn together. This paper seeks to develop a theorisation of discomfort that brings together humanist and more-than-human/posthuman perspectives, embedded in ethnographic experience of commoning practices. I do this by bringing ethnographic experiences in conversation with Ahmed’s work on queer discomfort, critical social justice pedagogies, decolonial scholarship and more-than-human geographies. I explore how affective experiences can contribute to challenging dominant/oppressive onto-epistemologies. Careful attention to discomfort might be an interesting conceptual lens to explore discomfort not just as an affective experience but as a practice that involves ‘staying with’, a postponing of the tendency to swiftly reach towards a hopeful future in order to recover human and ecological ethical relations that have been obscured, dismissed or ridiculed, or indeed may not be possible.


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