Toxic Climates: Earth, people, movement, media

Michael Haldrup, Kristine Samson, Madeleine Kate McGowan


Planet Earth is toxic. Its atmosphere unbreathable. Its environments deadly intoxicated by the dehumanizing forces of xenophobia, environmental degradation and violence. As its peoples are increasingly on the move to make a worthy living, exclusion, borders and conflict are normal occurrences rather than exceptions in daily life. And, as toxic substances dissipate and spread through representations circulating through the media they cloud the sight of the human beings in front of us. In the face of the intoxicating and dehumanizing forces at play, we need remedies for sobering up rather than intoxicating ourselves further. Remedies for living with contamination and hybridity rather than altering these state. Conceiving of citizenship as a right that has to be performed, enacted and claimed and recognizing how contemporary states of crisis (in the paper referred to as ‘the triple mobility crisis’) intensifies and radicalizes disputes over spatial rights and their representation in current media ecologies this video paper explores the potentiality of merging the positions of academics and media activists. 

Drawing on Anna Tsing's call for “contamination” as a catalyst from which future “world-making projects, mutual projects and new directions – may emerge” (2015, 27), we ultimately propose a radical humanizing intervention in and beyond institutions. We take off from a conception of  practice as an activity that “interrupts all ordering activities and is interrupted by them” (Arendt 1971, 197). The video paper is created through a cooperation between academic performance researchers (Haldrup, Samson) and media activist collective Other Story (McGowan), and it seeks ways of addressing, expressing and enacting citizenships by repositioning academic lecturing  in ‘other’ settings. The settings chosen for this intervention are, respectively, the streets at Nørrebro station (a central mobility hub in Copenhagen's most multi-ethnic neighborhoods) and Sjælsmark (a deportation center for rejected asylum seekers in Denmark). Both places epitomize the issues addressed in academic discourses on mobility, spatial rights and citizenship.

In line with the work of Other Story, and partly inspired by Levinas and his ethics of the “nakedness of a face, the absolute defenseless face, without covering, clothing or mask” (1998, 21), we aim to actualize the emergence of shared sensibilities affecting our own embodied citizenships in the encounter with others. In doing this, we may view the video paper as an audio-visual gesture that brings together discursive propositions and situated spaces together. Situated in two sites relating to the themes “toxic climates” and “acts of citizenship,” the video paper seeks to address its themes through embodied thought. By doing so we, experiment with how speech acts relate to the world, but also deal with what we see as an inherent paradox in academic discourse: the paradox between, on the one hand, wanting to reach out to change the toxic climates of today, and, on the other hand, being trapped in language and specific academic ways of engaging with the world.  While the video paper does not claim to deliver a coherent solution or solve this paradox, it does nonetheless reframe the role of thinking into a situated position from where ethical relations might emerge by questioning how we approach and transform toxic climates today, and to what extent media, performance and language can change the toxic world we live in.


Citizenship Activism Media Performance

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Copyright (c) 2020 Michael Haldrup, Kristine Samson, Madeleine Kate McGowan

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