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Ministry of Information

Mary Taylor

Mary Taylor makes things happen and watches people in New York City and Budapest. Founding member of the Open University and of Think Tank X, artist and situation-maker, she teaches anthropology at Hunter College and Cooper Union in New York.

Praxis, or, How I Loved Cooking in an Occupied Kitchen that day


Yesterday, in East New York, we helped to Occupy a foreclosed home.

In this same neighborhood lies Liberty Kitchen- one kitchen that used to feed the people living on "Liberty square", or just plain old "Zuchotti". It lovingly lends itself to that changing group that shows up to cook the dinners that are even now served at Zucchotti.

I loved that next to me-washing, chopping, cheffing, sorting, and, of course, being- were Christians who normally do the same thing to serve for the hundreds of people they serve right there at their soup kitchen, Liberty Café, daily.

I loved that a crowd of strangers came together to do this, and by the end of they day we were not so strange to each other.

I loved to see the food donations in so many proportions from a can of soup to crates of local cabbage that flooded in, and from which our chef (who spoke Spanish when necessary but whose English reflected more of a Slavic grammar) took the task of deciding of what the meal would consist/menu would be.

I loved the staff meal, where people did also toast to the revolution (in Spanish).

But no, this was no consensus driven kitchen. There was no time for the speed of the GA. This kitchen reflected "normal" gender patterns and hierarchies-those found in many of the restaurants I've worked in.

I found it particularly interesting that for some strange reason the people tasked with orienting us went out of their way to explain to us that the decisions made about the meal would be made by consensus. As people who were mostly experienced at working in kitchens, this advertisement served to illustrate a lack that we might not have noticed.

But these were those who had shown up for the job! Out in East New York, far away from the fun and publicity of Zucchotti park. With open hearts and great intention.

How to make a healthy meal and healthily make a meal awhile using up a donation of 50 cans of Progresso beef soup that I was tasked with opening?

Calculating the vegan options, the chef joked that soon they will want kosher and halal (in one breath).

How then, to look at the consensusmaking we claim with a more honest eye? What would it mean to Occupy the Kitchen in this way? How to Occupy when under the pressure of the rythms of this city, of capital, of profession? How to cultivate conspiracy?

More to come. In the meantime, read this: The Cultivation of Conspiracy by Ivan Illich

Of Bee Space and Species Being; the architecture of extraction


Of Bee Space and Species Being; the architecture of extraction

In 1851, the Reverend Lorenzo Lorraine Langstroth designed a new kind of Bee hive. His design was inspired by his discovery of what he called "bee space". This term represents the measure of space (1 cm -3/8 inch) which, if left in the hive for bees to operate in, facilitates more efficient extraction of honey. Bee space effectively assures that bees will not engage in many of the complicated architectural practices of building a hive. It will neither build a comb in the space nor cement it shut. It will simply deposit honey into the frames easy to remove, provided by the beekeeper.

In "On Architects, Bees and Species Being", David Harvey quotes Marx: "what distinguishes the worst architect from the best of bees is this, that the architect raises its structure in imagination before he erects it in reality".

Marx, Harvey writes, was not simply referring to the sophisticated architecture produced by bees. Rather, he was disputing the idea that "worker bees"-those without visions for positive transformation of the world, are necessary to the function of society in general.

As Harvey points out, it is easy to think of bees with more respect that Marx seems to here, on the basis of our knowledge of their incredible abilities and behaviors (upon which we rely to survive!). But Harvey asks what we might learn from thinking about the bees about our own exclusive species capacities. He asks if human imagination, made so much of by Marx in Capital, can, when imprisoned by institutional, legal, and political structures even begin to imagine a socialist alternative.

Let's return to the bees, who have been having a difficult time of late. "Colony collapse disorder", characterized by the disappearance of entire colonies of bees from their hives, has become an important event in our lifetimes. Honeybees, caught in a relationship of extraction, have suffered disorders deriving from the promethian human quest for higher rates of extraction, including monocropping and the use of pesticides. Among these disorders are those which include the loss of the incredible spatial abilities that allow bees to do their work of pollination.

It is bee space that prevents bees from building hives the way their species being would have it, while allowing humans to extract honey more efficiently. The transformation of the bees' environment into vast swaths of land with one single crop has resulted in what amount to deserts for forager bees seeking flowers as well as a kind of bee prostitution in which bees from all over the country are brought together to fertilize such swaths, at the cost of the spread of disease. All this to the end of the highest rate of extraction of bee labor and bee product.

If our species being includes the ability to envision a better world and to transform its material in that image, then what might be the bee space or spatial arrangements, designed for extraction of our labor and product, that blunt our imagination and suck out our energies and our abilities to do just that?

1851, the year the Langstroth hive was invented, marks the transition from the rise of the miraculous industrial revolution in England to its emergence around the world. It is also the moment when Baron Haussman was busy transforming Paris into a city of extraction...(more later).

Kyoto Recycling Law


My landlord received a summons from the department of sanitation not long ago. As most of us have experienced and are also grateful for the beautiful objects we have found on the street know, there are all kinds of restrictions on where we can put our trash and when, what constitutes garbage and what constitutes recyclables, and how we should sort them. In my landlord's case, I believe he was summonsed for (someone living in our three floor walk-up building) having put perfectly useable furniture on the sidewalk in front of the house without notifying the city to pick it up.

Before I lived in this 3-floor walk up, I used to live together with friends: first, in a ground-floor loft, and later, in a house. In both places, it was our habit to sort the bottles that can be traded for a nickel apiece out of the trash. Instead of putting them in the bags sorted according to the mandates of New York City's recycling program, we put these precious cans and bottles out in front of the house, so that those industrious neighbors of ours who circulate the city collecting recyclables in precisely defined and valuable territories could take them away instantaneously, instead of having to dig through bags of trash and less "valuable" recycling.

In my current building, I don't dare to do that. I am afraid my landlord will be summonsed for the "ugly" trash that such bottles and cans would be perceived as. New events far away have gotten me thinking, however, about the importance of finding an "acceptable" way to make these valuable items easily accessible to these nocturnal neighbors of mine.

On October 28th, , 2010, the city of Kyoto in Japan passed an ordinance that makes it illegal (but not yet punishable) for anyone to take items out of the bags that citizens must buy from the city in supermarkets and convenient stores to put their recyclables in.

A quick scan of the news surrounding this ordinance is that two justifications are made for this law. The first is that placing the items in the city-designated bags raises the consciousness of city dwellers about the importance of recycling. Allowing others to take these items from one's trash, rather than placing these items in the city-designated bags, it is claimed, negatively impacts city dwellers' consciousness about the importance of recycling. The second justification is that the sights and sounds of (poor or homeless) people rummaging through the rubbish constitute a disturbance of an order which cannot be tolerated.

Ok, so we can see that there are two further issues here that are important to break down. The first is the question of social consciousness. It may be presumed that the value of a pro recycling consciousness-one which presumably leads to a naturalized tendency to "recycle"- follows from the fact that it benefits society. It is good for our planet, which has limited resources, one can argue. One can argue further that recycling has other additional social advantages as well. Consciousness of recycling is said to be a consciousness that things have a use value beyond that which many users may have for an item. If such things can be reused, they should be. If not, then they should be recycled.

So, as a social good, then, the reduce-reuse-recycle circuit can, and should, easily accommodate the idea that others may reuse or recycle those things that we will not reuse or recycle ourselves. In the 2000's we find ourselves living by the logic that recycling (now somewhat abstracted from the other two r's: reduction and reuse) is the province of THE CITY. Now that we have convinced our local governments of the value of recycling, we are to trust that THE CITY will do what's best.

It was, you'll recall, city dwellers who managed to get recycling programs established. To some degree city dwellers have also influenced what items will be accepted in each case (although the market is also very important in this). City dwellers are who make THE CITY, after all. So if we make THE CITY, then why shouldn't we also determine two whom our recyclables go to? Why not even design the participation of our industrious recycling neighbors into the game? If for you, the object is beyond use, then WHY NOT let another person, your neighbor in fact, reuse and recycle these items? Why not encourage it?

Just what stake might the THE CITY of Kyoto have in this process? Well, let's see. It turns out that recycling is big business! Millions of people make livings from the informal and formal recycling economies all over the world. By making recycling the exclusive property of THE CITY, Kyoto ensures that the resources derived from this wealth will go to THE CITY. It establishes your waste that may be recycled as the private property of THE CITY of Kyoto.

But, well, I remind you gain, cities are made up of their dwellers. And homeless people and those other nocturnal recyclers tend to come from the most vulnerable strata of urbanites at a moment of history when public resources once available to city dwellers have become increasingly privatized, and in which many members of the "middle class" have found themselves jobless, if not homeless. Making recycling the property of THE CITY means dispossessing a group of real, live city dwellers, our neighbors!, members of our community.

This brings us to the second issue, that of the interest of The CITY in circumscribing the behavior of city dwellers. Around the world, from New York to Budapest, "quality of life" ordinances have been introduced to remove homeless from public spaces. As Roselyn Deutsche points out, ordinances like these serve to define the public in such a way that homeless people appear not to be part of it. They are framed through such ordinances as an eyesore, a danger, a threat to the "quality of life" of the real public. Their use of public space, is said to be an imposition on a community (the public) to which they apparently do not belong.

Police also use disorderly conduct charges to remove homeless. One part of this issue is thus the construction of a sentiment that discludes homeless and other recyclers from our communities. The relationship of recycling practices to consciousness raising is thus not limited to the issue of whether we will recycle alone. It is also connected to our understanding of entitlements to public property-whether park benches or refuse. What we see here is the cultivation of our sentiments about who is entitled to reap the benefits of our recyclable waste.

As many scholars have pointed out, processes of gentrification, connected to the way that interurban competition works at the turn of the millennium (the so-called neoliberal moment), are directly tied with the production of homelessness. In the hands of development interests, low income, rent controlled, and public housing have all been decreased in relation to the relative value of real estate connected to such projects. Therefore, while this kind of gentrification produces homelessness, the values often attached to the gentrification process stress a quality of life that focuses on comfort, beauty, and consumption, defining those "ugly" results of the process as outside the public.

When the new recycling law was passed, Social Kitchen social and cultural center in Kyoto began to design a campaign to overturn this new law. Their efforts have been put off for the time being because of their work dedicated to the earthquake/tsunami and nuclear power plant related issues. But whether the law is overturned or not, there are a few things that might be done. Social Kitchen has considered making a space at the center where people can give in their recycling for the use of homeless or other recyclers.

I want to suggest, however, that a far more effective strategy would be to involve community members in making special bins into which recyclable objects could be placed for the use of homeless. If, as is argued by proponents of the law, consciousness of recycling is being cultivated through use of the bags, then, so, a different consciousness of recycling could be cultivated in this way. If community members, neighbors, with homes and without, participate in the project, whether designing them, making them, or simply placing recycling in them outside their homes, they will be cultivating a sentiment of community. If they were to partake in a project making recyclables available in a sightly and convenient way to their recycling neighbors, Kyoto dwellers will signal their recycling activities as a social activity that benefits other members of the community at a time when many people are suffering from the results of a worldwide recession, and are particularly vulnerable. Other members of the community, less attracted to the creative process, could be involved with establishing the legality of these bins.

A challenge for the folks at Social Kitchen is to find a language to appeal to your Kyoto neighbors. Is there a word or phrase in Japanese which means "service to the community" in terms of which this could be framed?

Ministry of Information] vol.18



The Privatization of Public Space? Resisting Enclosure


Neoliberalism continues to transform public space in geographically uneven and variegated ways, with far reaching and profound consequences.  On the first day, the conference will provide context for various means of privatization and elaborate on language and visions for discussing this issue.  On the second day, workshops will bring together students, activists, artists, and organizations engaged in imagining and practicing new and creative means of resistance to the new round of enclosures taking place on a global scale.

Day 1 Conference: Wednesday, April 21, 2010 Elebash Recital Hall, CUNY Graduate Center 365 Fifth Avenue, New York City

9:00 a.m. Introduction and Welcome - Setha Low President William P. Kelly and Provost Chase F. Robinson of CUNY Graduate Center

9:30 - 11:00 a.m.
Privatization of Public Space: Historical and Contemporary New York City Sharon Zukin, Gregory Smithsimon, Andrew Newman


11:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Reconsidering Privatization: Neoliberal Strategies, Securitization and Privacy Kevin Ward, Setha Low, Kurt Iveson

1:00 - 2:00 p.m. Lunch

2:00 - 3:30 p.m.
Beyond Public and Private: Privatization and the Global Fiscal Crisis Neil Smith, Katherine Verdery, Bill McKinney


4-5:30 Visions of the Future: Race, Class and Gender Mindy Fullilove, David Harvey, Cindi Katz

5:30-6:00 p.m.

Wrap up and further discussion

6:00-7:00 p.m. Reception

Day 2 Workshops: Thursday, April 22, 2010 Rooms 5414 and 5409 (5th Floor) CUNY Graduate Center 365 Fifth Avenue, New York City

To RSVP for Day 2, find us on Facebook (search "resisting enclosure") or RSVP by sending an email to! RSVP is not required for entrance but helps us make sure we accommodate everyone! (Please include any special needs information.)

9:00 a.m.  Registration

9:30 a.m. Opening discussion, with David Harvey

10:00 a.m. - 12:00 noon
Workshop 1:  Anti-Gentrification and Community Self-Determination, with CAAAV's Chinatown Tenants Union and Picture the Homeless Workshop 2:  Artistic Interruptions in Everyday Life, with Dara Greenwald, Manu Sachdeva, Jeff Stark and Jordan Seiler

12:00 - 1:00 p.m. Lunch (on site)

1:15 p.m. - 3:15 p.m.
Workshop 3:  Neoliberalism, Securitization and Enclosures in South Asia, with Ahilan Kadirgamar, Biju Mathew, Preeti Sampat and Saadia Toor Workshop 4:The University and the Commons, with Silvia Federici, Malav Kanuga, Mary Taylor and the Coalition to Preserve Community

3:30 p.m. - 5:00 p.m.
"Asking We Walk": Collective Theorizations/Mapping Emancipations?

5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Free and Open.  Food and refreshments will be provided.

Public Space Research Group at the Center for Human Environments, Center for Place, Culture, and Politics, Ph.D. Programs in Earth and Environmental Sciences and Sociology, Doctoral Students' Council, SpaceTime Research Collective (STRC) and the South Asia Solidarity Initiative (SASI)

Organized by:
Setha Low, The Graduate Center, CUNY; Kevin Ward, University of Manchester; Lalit Batra, Doctoral Student in Earth and Environmental Sciences; Fiona Jeffries, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Center for Place, Culture and Politics; Erin Siodmak, Doctoral Student in Sociology; Laurel Mei Turbin, Doctoral Student in Earth and Environmental Sciences

Mary Taylor