Felix Marlow response to Altenried, Latinwo-Olajide, and Brekke

Response to the lecture “Beyond Representation: Visual, Economical and Technological (Re-)Conctructions of Migration” held by Moritz Altenried (Goldsmiths, University of London), Vivian Latinwo-Olajide (Middlesex University), and Klara Jaya Brekke (Durham University / Crisis-scapes research collective)

by Felix Marlow

In this paper I am going to sketch out possible paths for future research, inspired by and related to the lecture‘s central arguments1. On the basis of the three case studies presented I will be giving a rough overview on the issues tackled by the lecture. Then I will take the liberty of singling out two aspects that more or less explicitly surfaced throughout each of the contributions. I suggest that these aspects might pave the way for further research. I am going to end by giving an example on how this could be done.

Empirical Challenges
In the first case study, Moritz Altenried was elaborating on the example of the interactive online video game ‚World Of Warcaft‘. Specifically, he was focussing on people taking part in the game in order to earn money. In doing so, he linked interactive online video gaming to its economic background and to racialized virtual encounters between people in search of making a living or a fairplay leisure space. In the second case study, Vivian Latinwo-Olajide presented an online audio of a speech delivered by the British Prime minister, conceptionally situating this empirical piece in the frameworks of migration discourse and the internet as ‚deep media‘. In the third case study, Klara Jaya Brekke was talking about images in their inner ambiguity and outer dependence on contextualization, elaborating on the example of those pictures representing migration.

The Materialities of Representation
As insinuated by the lecture‘s title, all three case studies try to contextualize representation. This is the first aspect I would like to put to the fore. The empirical data presented is pointing towards a wide range of more or less material possible contextualizations. To name just a few, we could focus on discoursive contextualization (as in Klara Jaya Brekke‘s example of pictures contradictingly embedded in articles) and the specificities of media of display (as in Vivian Latinwo-Olajide‘s narrative logic of the audio document, which relates migration to the cuttings in the welfare system), but also on the material base sustaining virtual worlds (for example, when Moritz Altenried reclaims the notion of ‚scarcity‘ to make sense of the internet). In order to shift our analysis beyond representation, we might have to take into account the materialities at play. But let me step back in order to single out the second aspect, which is the one I found lurking behind the more overtly tackled issues.

The Longings of Practice
Striking to me in the lecture‘s subtext was the tension between economistic concepts of living and more hedonistic perspectives. The latter consisted of such diverse topics as the playful realms of World Of Warcraft touched by Moritz Altenried‘s case study, the statement implicit in Vivian Latinwo-Olajide‘s talk that neither migration should be a category of granting social rights nor should be hard work, the pleasures of beauty lingering in Klara Jaya Brekke‘s call for aestheticizing representational strategies. I think we should not too easily do away with these vectors of longing, even if we bear in mind our cruel world with its ‚playbour‘, activation for war, de-politicization and existential precarities beyond the academic realm. As practitioners in the field of theory, we thus might have to conceive of materialities as inherently both emotional and economic.

An Ethnographic Approach
This might not only require to re-address topics differently, but also call for an ethnographic grasping of lived experiences. What becomes intelligible through interacting with video game playbourers in China (as mentioned by Moritz Altenried), UKIP voters in Great Britain (as mentioned by Vivian Latinwo-Olajide) and migrant workers staged by Alessandro Penso (as mentioned by Klara Jaya Brekke)? Entering into a productive discussion about the translocal connections brought forward by seemingly dispersed and minute practices might help to bricolage an understanding of living in a world of materialities and longings. Fostering these dialogues in co-laboration with people immersed in empirical situations both beyond and inside academic discourse, our research work might also prove valuable for activist purposes.

Show 1 footnote

  1. The lecture was held on September 25th, during Humboldt University‘s 2014 Summer School ‚Expanding the Margins‘. In my reflections on this, I will also draw from the subsequent discussion with the Summer School‘s other participants.