Shuffling times

Benedikte Zitouni is Lecturer of sociology at Saint-Louis University – Brussels. She’s interested in collective intelligences and has written empirical tales, based on archival work, conveying the peo-ple’s ingenuity and the societal changes at work. Such tales involve urban ecological experiences or community’s and prisoners’ struggles but also civil servants’ and technicians’ successes as well as the tactics involved in peace camps or neighborhood occupations. In several other papers, she tack-les the connexions between knowledge-making, narratives and empowerment and has written about “situated knowledges”, “otherworldliness” and matters such as remembering and memory-making. Currently she’s working on urban agriculture and its connexions to forgotten causes and stakes.

Shuffling times is an ill-considered practice inside academia (and perhaps elsewhere too). Manipulating the past for present purposes, reading the future from days gone by, is considered lax at best and devious at worst. Agreed: shuffling times is risky business. Too often, the so-called “learning from the past” becomes synonymous of accepting both present and future. What has been shall be. What is now, was actually meant to be. Determinism and fatalism are risks that should not be handled carelessly. Yet, shuffling times is what we need to do.

Taking the cue from Bruno Latour’s notion that we are brewers and assemblers of temporalities, and from Audrey Lorde’s notion that we cannot take down the master’s house with the master’s tools, I will revisit a tale on territorial change which I know well (for having written a PhD on it). Today that tale calls for experimentation. What of territorial change and aggregation? How to write a particular past, of collective urban ingenuity, into the present? How to avoid Modernity’s timeline (a master’s tool if any) which has dispirited and obliterated so many stories?

The experimentation is not done for its own sake. Shuffling times holds a promise. Emancipation might lie in our capacity of learning again how to make our own times, i.e. how to assemble the events and elements of know-how that are required for today. Mixing past, present and future might resuscitate many more stories than those we have at hand presently. It might thereby broaden the very parameters of change. For many stories are still missing. Past territorial ingenuity has been crushed by strict past-present-future sequences. Today, other sequences must be brewed.