Interdependency … is the way to a freedom which allows the I to be, not in order to be used, but in order to be creative. There is a difference between the passive be and the active being. … In our world divide and conquer must become define and empower (Audre Lorde)
WhiteSpaces roots its practice in its relational, non-binary ethos. This means that it is committed to working through the fullest recognition possible of our multiple locatedness temporally, geographically, physically intellectually and emotionally.
This commitment to location means a commitment to understanding human relationship and human interdependence as fundamental to action in the world; and as coming to be through the context of power drenched generational time and geopolitically ordered space which frames our contested and unequal location in culture and everyday relationships in the contact zone.
This commitment to the principle of relational locatedness is why WhiteSpaces names whiteness as the fundamental relation of power and inequality in the global colonial English present in which the initiative was originally conceived. This global coloniality is the set of spatial temporal relations which work together to define human in terms of hierarchical racial formation where whiteness is at the top and where whiteness is therefore the metaphorical standard used to judge humanness. This mythology of whiteness as humanness works intersectionality through a set of complex and contradictory relationships with other relations of social difference like sexuality, gender, generation, capacity and debility. This naming is important because whiteness operates as a normalising code for everyday activity and this makes it difficult to see clearly and pin down in its operations.
This commitment to relational locatedness underpins Whitespaces use of we to recognise the centrality of human interconnections and interdependencies to its practices and offerings. It is used as a call to those who are willing to recognise themselves as being part of a collective which is highly differentiated and contested in the nature of its experiences, practices and desires, but which is also connected through these experiences, practices and desires. It is a call to those who are willing to recognise themselves as powerful and vulnerable in their everyday relationships and willing to think about the ways that these powers and vulnerabilities constitute social categories of domination and the conditions for the practices of resistance.
Oil on dyed canvas
36 x 24"
This relational ethos translates into a set of principles as starting points for WhiteSpaces activities and offerings. These are the fractured foundations of its relational practice.
Relationship = Taking relationship and its safeguarding as the starting point for any practice, or analysis, prioritising intersubjectivity, interdependence and interaction.
Difference = Making a commitment to finding out about and to recognising our own power and vulnerability in the face of others. Carrying that commitment through to meeting people where they are located through their own power and vulnerability.
Situatedness = Using practice and relationship as a starting point for understanding the contested partial and fractured relationship between identity action and interaction.
Partiality = Accepting that intention, our own and that of others, is never transparently related to motivation and action means committing to paying attention to our impact on others as a way of understanding our unexpressed intentions.
Multiplicity = Paying attention to the multiple locations, practices and relations happening at the same time and within and external to the same entity whether it be a person or an organisation or a nation.
Connectedness = Tracing patterns and shifts in subjective, political and felt interdependencies.
Dynamism = Using dialogue, verbal or other embodied communications, as a way of generating ongoing and revisable knowledge which accounts for shifting positions and connections.
These principles frame some practical steps we can take in developing our public conversations and collaborations in ways that account for the challenges of working through the contact zone. These practical steps recognise that there are no safe spaces, and that working with power will always be discomforting and challenging. But that we can work from a position of love and care for one another whilst recognising and working against our power asymmetries.
The classroom functioned not like a homogenous community or a horizontal alliance but like a contact zone. Every single text we read stood in specific historical relationships to the students in the class, but the range and variety of historical relationships in play were enormous. Everybody had a stake in nearly everything we read, but the range and kind of stakes varied widely. (Mary Louise Pratt, The Arts of the Contact Zone)
Practical steps for translating relational principles into responsible and caring group practice for WhiteSpaces activity include:
Being clear about the goals and focus of conversations, events or interventions from the start so that choice to participate can be informed and the shape of participation, including the need for different roles within the event, can be framed in relation to this intention.
Generating collective knowledge about starting points in relation to the discussion or activity focus so that it is possible to be attentive to the different needs in the room and to avoid starting from assumptions about our own or others motivation for participation.
Being aware of the circumstances through which our power positioning and investments can lead us to dominate the conversation or event.
Being aware of when it might be necessary to take a step back so marginalised people can speak and lead the conversation.
Listening to and believing people's accounts of their experiences of marginalisation. Honour people's vulnerability by not disputing their lived experience.
Listening for silences and gaps in participation.
Feeling ok to leave or step back from participation if you feel unsafe or need some time out for any reason.
Providing avenues for follow-up.
Recognising that in public discussion full confidentiality cannot be guaranteed because of the public nature of the space. However, what is said in group discussion can be treated in confidence. Always ask permission to share experience which is not yours. Extending the conversation via various forms of social media can also be encouraged when framed through this commitment to asking permission and respecting when permission to share is refused.
WhiteSpaces process is continually evolving as our ways of understanding power and vulnerability shift and grow. It takes inspiration from various sources that are useful to creating generative non binary group process.