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by Ronald Kolb

Situated Knowledges and Interdependence in the Exhibitionary-Educational Complex

The world neither speaks itself
nor disappears in favor of a master decoder.[1]

Donna Haraway’s influential concept of “situated knowledges” came to life in her article “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective” in 1988,[2] at a pivotal historical moment on the cusp of the end of the “Cold War,” with a conservative (traditionalist) backlash in US politics and society under Ronald Reagan.[3] I want to use her proposal of “situated knowledges” to approximate where we are today, because what Haraway identifies as problematic back then (specifically directed to the scientific discourse at that time), is, in large part, still with us and continues to haunt the cultural fabric and "common sense" to this day. Her text, written with wit and humor against the masculinized scientific objectivity of her time and towards a feminist objectivity,[4] promotes recognition of one's positionality and privilege therein.

However, this text does not want to stay in this specific historical context but aims to propose the use of "situated knowledges" as a resilient methodology that, first, resonates in our more than ever intertwined current global context and for future situations, and that, second, can be transported into the curatorial, artistic, and pedagogical field within the exhibitionary complex.

Haraway broadly addresses—as I understand it—the paradigm shift from modernity to postmodernity and has prescribed a specific reductionist narrative of postmodernity (the playfulness of signs as the sole carrier of meaning, dissolving factuality to relativism) to become a somewhat dominant formation within the discourse of truth—where “truth” is only rhetorical practice—, which comes to the full and darkest vision as a revival of a constructivist idea of the construction of truth[5]—post-truth apologists and “fake news” devotees—ending in a constant struggle for the hegemony over representation and signification.

Haraway’s simple but pervasive idea points out that all “knowledge” and therefore forms of “truth” are shaped from a positional perspective: the formation of knowledge is positional, and objectivity is situated in a specific context and environment, historically, societally, culturally, personally, bodily, and embodied.[6] Our positionality inherently determines what is possible to know about an object of research.[7] The concept of situated knowledges therefore "allows us to become answerable for what we learn how to see.”[8] With this epistemological logic, scientific objectivity needs to be locatable, therefore responsible, and only then can it be held accountable.

In juxtaposition, supposedly neutral and universal objectivity, or a supposedly naturalized “common sense,” is likewise positional[9] but has developed a sophisticated apparatus to disguise its positionality as universality. Important to remind us, this historically universalized scientific objectivity is rooted in patriarchal structures and reproduced through the mechanisms of funding, representation, and distribution, and has been thoroughly explored historically by Michel Foucault through the concept of “discursive formations.”[10]

To be as clear as possible, Haraway does not want to abolish objectivity as a scientific and (cultural?) instrument; instead, she wants to reshape the instruments of objectivity into situated knowledges and thereby preserve (feminist) objectivity and rules of science as a common ground for encounters and discussions. Even if one accepts the positional aspects of objectivity, this should not lead one to dissolve objectivity as a concept or to dismiss science and "truth" as merely biased, leaving "truth" as a legitimate machinery of opinion. In what can be seen as an unfortunate prediction into the future, Haraway already identifies one of the major fissures in most contemporary societies:

So much for those of us who would still like to talk about reality with more confidence than we allow to the Christian Right when they discuss the Second Coming and their being raptured out of the final destruction of the world.[11]

As I find, Haraway proposes a new mode of operation for the discourse of truth—a discourse that was clearly established under bourgeois, capitalist, and patriarchal hegemony, and to a large extent still exists as such. This new mode of operation clearly borrows from Michel Foucault's "discursive formation," although Haraway opposes it, in part because of its indifference to various "subjugated" or excluded subjects (and positions) in relation to the sovereign. Her proposal changes the relation of the operation of the discourse of truth, from universal rationality to positional rationality, to a web of positional knowledge. The rejection of Marxist theory as a totalizing theory is even more evident, which—originally—also does not differentiate intersectionally between the conditions of life and therefore cannot reveal a more adequate account of the world,[12] but she emphasizes staying with Marxian materialist thinking, which insists that the material basis produces the social conditions.

Without shying away from concepts and instruments supposedly drawn from the toolbox of master theory, she takes up the "gaze" in particular as a cultural and scientific instrument to be transformed into a partial vision in order to show how a universalized objectivity not only reduces the view of the world, but also in what ways power is distributed and reproduced through formations of seeing:

This is the gaze that mythically inscribes all the marked bodies, that makes the unmarked category claim the power to see and not be seen, to represent while escaping representation. This gaze signifies the unmarked positions of Man and White, one of the many nasty tones of the word "objectivity'' to feminist ears in scientific and technological, late-industrial, militarized, racist, and male-dominant societies, that is, here, in the belly of the monster, in the United States in the late 1980s. I would like a doctrine of embodied objectivity that accommodates paradoxical and critical feminist science projects: Feminist objectivity means quite simply situated knowledges.[13]

This visual metaphor of the “universal” gaze from “nowhere and everywhere” that marks the observed–cultivated in monotheistic religions and with a long tradition in Western culture–not only exposes the power relation in scientific terms—in post-Marxist terms, one could speak of the ideological apparatus and the function of concealing the real power dynamic, which makes exploitative relations possible—but it also exposes—when applied to the cultural sphere—the dominant discursive formation of art history, exhibition history, and the formulas of representation of a dominant culture (usually within formerly bourgeois, national, and capitalist frameworks).

The strength of Haraway's proposal is that it does not stop at analysis and the revelation or exposure of generality as a "god trick," but seeks to create and sharpen (scientific) tools that make us aware of our responsible and locatable positions from which we speak. Partiality and situatedness, in this sense, are forms of responsibility to self and others, towards a more precise accountability, and ultimately lead to a different distribution of power by taking into account their own positionality.

Three Ways to Knowledge
Although Haraway places universal objectivity (the “god trick”) and “postmodernity’s relativism” at the same end of a certain kind of knowledge production based on a binary system, I would like to position these two paths to knowledge in a triad in which universal knowledge and relativism form opposite ends, with situated knowledges in the middle as the third path.

A) The way of knowledge as the “god trick”
Universalist theories (and I would say that even today most theories in philosophy, culture, and science are universal in nature) negate any positioning—they are "unmarked" and therefore not locatable—, making a claim for a totalizing objectivity, speaking from nowhere, while covering everything. This neutrality is in denial of “subjectivity,” and voice, and does not allow for agency, as this would also disrupt the hegemonic logic of those in power.

In Haraway’s sparkling words:

Knowledge from the point of view of the unmarked is truly fantastic, distorted, and irrational. The only position from which objectivity could not possibly be practiced and honored is the standpoint of the master, the Man, the One God, whose Eye produces, appropriates, and orders all difference. No one ever accused the God of monotheism of objectivity, only of indifference. The god trick is self-identical, and we have mistaken that for creativity and knowledge, omniscience even.[14]

Her approach toward a feminist way of thinking about objectivity aims to shift objectivity away from a universalist approach (“the god trick”—the “conquering gaze from nowhere"[15] or a universalism in the guise of a very specific position—a "Western," male, white, heteronormative, Darwinian(?), world conqueror type, etc.), to a situated objectivity that is based on being aware of and allowing situatedness: that is, a situatedness that is locatable in space and time, that speaks from a position within a particular historically, culturally, and personally anchored context, and therefore an objectivity that can be responsible (which responds, but is also held responsible).

Transported into the exhibitionary field, the resemblance of art canonical exposures in line with art history (fabricated historically from the dominant Western, bourgeois standpoint) comes to mind easily. Here is not the time to look in depth into the exclusionary effects a universalized history of art had and still has for the representation and distribution of artistic practices outside of it. I just want to reference Alfred Barr’s diagram from 1936, created for the exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art, at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), from March 2 to April 19, 1936.[16] He mapped out art movements, dating them chronologically, placing certain artist practices/movements in time, for the most part leaving out non-Western art positions—four unnamed non-Western positions find their way into the diagram distinguished in red: “Japanese Prints,” “Near-Eastern Art,” “Negro-Sculpture,” and “Machine Esthetic”—, creating the canon of “modern art history” devoid of artistic or creative practices from regions other than Europe (and also limited to only France, the UK, Russia, Germany, and Switzerland).

In 2019, Hank Willis Thomas expanded Barr's famous diagram in a project titled Colonialism and Abstract Art,[17] adding a more complex understanding of how art movements were influenced, by redrawing Barr’s map and adding the traces of “European exploration and colonization of the Congo and ending with the decade of its independence a century later.”[18] Suddenly, references and inspirations for Western modern art movements became visible and traceable with “humbling” effects for the dominant narrative of Western art history. For other situational histories, let alone attempts to count art practices by women, one would perhaps need a few more of these revisions of a modernist survey. Nonetheless, these diagrams (expanded or not) tend to rely—in my mind—on a teleological account of art history, that won’t be able to show the embeddedness of artistic practice in its specific, situated context (geopolitical, cultural) but rather creates—much like a white cube—neat trajectories of art practices detached in time.

B) The way of knowledge of relativism
Haraway also arguments against an objectivity of postmodernity’s “relativism” that renders all forms of truth equal (equally biased), and thus undermines the discourse of truth and scientific objectivity.[19] And where does this might lead? I am inclined to say, among other things, to the “entitlement to my own opinion,” and ultimately to the dissolution of a broader, commonly shared “truth” attached to rules of objectivity.[20] The effects can be observed widely within US “culture wars”: the “entitled to my opinion” phrase together with the defense of “freedom of speech” allows every opinion to enter the discourse of truth on an equal footing (or so it seems).[21] Still, this blueprint has found its adherents in various places around the world, usually as an instrument for traditionalist forces, to gain political power with a diffused and diffusing logic. I would argue that these opinionated “truths” enabled by the concept of postmodernity’s relativism gave birth to—or at least played in to—“fake news” and conspiracy theories, and especially with social media’s function of spiraling all utterances in a broadly accessible public sphere, due to the inherent logic of engagement by clicks and the logic of the attention economy.[22]

These effects can be observed in culture and politics today—Haraway argued within the discourse of science from 1988, we should recall—but still the effects of obscuring power relations by making everything equal is schematic:

Relativism is a way of being nowhere while claiming to be everywhere equally. The "equality'' of positioning is a denial of responsibility and critical inquiry. Relativism is the perfect mirror twin of totalization in the ideologies of objectivity; both deny the stakes in location, embodiment, and partial perspective; both make it impossible to see well. Relativism and totalization are both "god tricks" promising vision from everywhere and nowhere equally and fully, common myths in rhetoric’s surrounding Science.[23]

When all opinions are equated, no objectivity is possible. Postmodernity’s relativism goes very well together with the neoliberal agenda (specifically the one formed in the US).[24] Political particularization[25] coupled with individualization and its economic promises through meritocracy not only obscure power but keep the dominant power structures undisturbed.[26] Postmodern-induced projects of “diversification” are also possible in this sense without dismantling or even changing the fabric of the respective (economic, political) power structure. It ends up “adding” singular diverse voices to the canon. To stay with Barr’s aforementioned revised diagram from 2019 by Hank Willis Thomas: while the art canon is added to and expanded (or diversified), art history, its exhibition institutions, and its underlying relationship to the commodity and capitalist logic of surplus remain unaffected.

The emphasis on relational aspects in artistic, curatorial, and art practices carries the same danger of obscuring power relations when relationality serves a universalizing procedure that makes all positions appear equal. Metaphors of horizontality regularly rely on equal power positions. While equality of rights must be guaranteed from the legal side (not only on paper, but also in society and in the public sphere), in the discourse of truth in science (as in the discourse of truth in culture) we should not be afraid to agree on "truths"—which are called objective or more relevant than others for the sake of a feminist objectivity. Even a web or network of shared knowledge has its nodes, not to mention the often-invisible power structures that are able to steer economic benefits always in one direction.

C) The way of situated knowledges
Haraway does not want to end with a critique of science and the discourse of truth as biased,[27] but rather to strengthen “objectivity” by re-composing objectivity with the concept of “situated knowledges” as a (scientific, political, social) tool. Therefore, it is necessary to get rid of simplifications (“god trick” and “relativism”) and to reveal “a more adequate, richer, better account of a world, in order to live in it well and in critical, reflexive relation to our own as well as others' practices of domination and the unequal parts of privilege and oppression that make up all positions."[28] This extraordinary quote by Haraway interconnects the social fabric with political objectivity based on a scientific-disciplinary discourse of truth, critical methods of thinking, and a power-sensitive awareness of one’s own position in an unequal field of (counter-)hegemonic movements.

The emphasis here lies in referring to the social fabric (that is inextricably intertwined with politics and economy) and, for me more specifically, to governmental thinking of the self, of others, and of communities: thoughts on the governmental dimensions of individuals and their relations to its communities, and their states can be experienced from the position of a French philosopher in the 1980s, in the many writings by Michel Foucault.[29] Systems of knowledge and power, individuals embedded in disciplinary power, sovereign power, and communal power can be taken from Foucault’s writings and needs to be adjusted to the situatedness of our research.

We must accept the complexity of positionality—and with it the privilege of “centered” and “peripheral”—or dominant and subjugated—positions and the partiality of all knowledge. Situated knowledge needs to take into account the historical context in particular locations. It can only be reached in connections, in webs, in networks, in practices of solidarity and sharing. And it must be a critical vision, power-sensitive, brought forward in the best feminist practices. The practices of situated knowledges are ultimately political:

I am arguing for politics and epistemologies of location, positioning, and situating, where partiality and not universality is the condition of being heard to make rational knowledge claims. […] I am arguing for the view from a body, always a complex, contradictory, structuring, and structured body, versus the view from above, from nowhere, from simplicity.[30]

Situated knowledges in this dimension provides a contextualized description of the world and categorization of objects.

Frameworks and Methods of Situated Knowledges: Privileged Positions
Haraway’s critique on poststructuralists (and Foucault)—although critically analyzing power and domination—points to the remaining lack of awareness of their own position. But she also hints at the problematics of essentialized and “innocent” positions of the subjugated “structured by gender, race, nation, and class” that can be turned into a privileged subject position, too, in “[t]he search for such a ‘full’ and total position […] for the fetishized perfect subject of oppositional history, sometimes appearing in feminist theory as the essentialized Third World Woman.”[31]

I would argue that Haraway critically relates here to Sandra Harding’s “standpoint theory” laid out in the 1986 book The Science Question in Feminism, and Kimberlé Crenshaw’s term “intersectionality” coined in 1989, which introduced (at the same time Haraway’s text was published) another analytical framework mapping out the interconnected nature of social categorizations showing modes of discrimination and privilege. In the logic of situated knowledges, a contextualized description of reality is needed—this goes hand in hand with standpoint theory and intersectionality, I would argue—, but relying on categorizations of generalizations—even while trying to overcome inequalities, politically and culturally—swayed into (self-)marginalization—and ultimately might stand in the way of practices of solidarity.

A commitment to mobile positioning and to passionate detachment is dependent on the impossibility of entertaining innocent "identity'' politics and epistemologies as strategies for seeing from the standpoints of the subjugated in order to see well. One cannot ''be" either a cell or molecule-or a woman, colonized person, laborer, and so on-if one intends to see and see from these positions critically. "Being'' is much more problematic and contingent. Also, one cannot relocate in any possible vantage point without being accountable for that movement. Vision is always a question of the power to see-and perhaps of the violence implicit in our visualizing practices.[32]

Changing position is not possible without being held accountable for it. The new position comes with a new vision and instruments of power. These transitions require critical, careful, and trustworthy practices; “infinite mobility and interchangeability” are the opposite of that.[3] Expressions of whataboutisms in our daily life lend testimony to this naïve, uncontextualized, and superficial comparability trick. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s famous essay from 1988, “Can the Subaltern Speak?,” resembles Haraway’s notion of privilege, though it might tend to fix the positions of the subjugated subjects too much. More interesting to me is Spivak’s interweaving of the problem of representation and her subsequent analyses of the neglect of representation of non-European subjects as “fully human subjects.”[34] In particular, her notions of “learning and unlearning” in historically privileged perspectives point to the delicate lack of knowledge about "others" in one's own knowledge system and the daunting and hurtful endeavor of arriving at other, less “privileged” positions.[35]

Collaboration over Competition in Situated Knowledges
It cannot be overemphasized enough that a discourse of truth driven by situated knowledges—our critical epistemes—is possible only in conjunction with other situated contexts and experiences. Otherwise, situated knowledge remains singular.

Singularization and individualization without reference to other positions or the exchange of perspectives will not lead to a more accurate understanding of the world:

Situated knowledges are about communities, not about isolated individuals. The only way to find a larger vision is to be somewhere in particular. The science question in feminism is about objectivity as positioned rationality. Its images are not the products of escape and transcendence of limits (the view from above) but the joining of partial views and halting voices into a collective subject position that promises a vision of the means of ongoing finite embodiment, of living within limits and contradictions—of views from somewhere.[36]

I only want to briefly reflect on Lynn Margulis here, as she was another node in Haraway’s web of kin and adds another layer to the feminist approach of science and culture at large, that I want to propose. Margulis was an evolutionary biologist, known for the “Gaia hypothesis” created together with James Lovelock. Recently, her position prominently entered the exhibitionary complex in Critical Zones. Observatories for Earthly Politics,[37] a research-based, long-term exhibition project that spanned over two years from May 2020 until January 9, 2022 at ZKM, Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany. The exhibition highlighted the connectedness or, to use the terms of evolutionary biology, “symbiosis”/symbiotic relationships between organisms as the main driving force in evolution. In her scientific studies, she argued against the neo-Darwinist idea that competition creates evolutionary changes.

She prominently opposed the competition-oriented views of evolution—which, needless to say, are still in place in scientific discourse and proved with others her theory to be true in scientific terms,[38] A competition-oriented view are even more alive in economic structures of financialized capitalism and the traditional capitalist industry of production alike, whereas Margulis points out the collaborative relationships between species in evolution. Adapting this biological scientific truth freely to culture and societies, it would suit us well to concentrate on cooperation (better): collaboration and interdependencies over competition, separation, and antagonism.

"Natural selection eliminates and maybe maintains, but it doesn't create."[39]

Feminist Interdependence
Making situatedness and interdependence tools for research and practice is easier said than done. The complexity of the world we live in cannot be researched from a reductive point of view from one position, but only in careful and trustworthy exchanges in solidarity can we learn how to see from another’s point of view.

Partiality can form a network of solidarity and is able to merge individual perspectives (not only as opinion, but in the exchange with other peers) to establish a feminist objectivity, which Haraway calls "feminist empiricism."[40]

Situated knowledge enabled through partiality—a “multiplicity of local knowledges”[41] in trans-local networks (“earthwide projects”[42]), not neglecting “multiple desires,”[43] staying with “irreducible difference”[44] and in modesty—careful and trustworthy practices: This operational framework, I feel, is more relevant than ever.

[…] but we do need an earthwide network of connections, including the ability partially to translate knowledges among very different- and power-differentiated- communities. We need the power of modern critical theories of how meanings and bodies get made, not in order to deny meanings and bodies, but in order to build meanings and bodies that have a chance for life. Natural, social, and human sciences.[45]

I will only include small traces here as a fragmentary reference to ruangrupa’s lumbung practice for documenta fifteen.[46] Lumbung practice functions as a shared resource for a multiplicity of artists and participants of documenta fifteen. In this sense, it manifests in a trans-local network with multiple desires. Seen from the outside, it might instead appear to be opaque or impenetrable. Ill-intended viewpoints might follow relativism’s effect of decontextualized comparisons of positions, wordings, and objects, and are clearly triggered from a universalized knowledge position despite a critical mode.

If utterances of documenta fifteen’s artistic directors ruangrupa, speaking of themes on “soil”—trying to metaphorically picture trees, plants, and communities trans-locally, in order to create a metaphor for another form of global entanglements, rooted in locality, in line with contemporary ecological and sustainable issues[47]—are being forcefully pigeonholed in the discourse surrounding Nazi terms like “blood and soil” (“Blut und Boden”),[48] then context-sensitive practices clearly did not take place, but rather a misconstrued relativistic formula of reducing similarities in vision and semantics for personal political agendas. The (intentional?) neglect of the specific situatedness of ruangrupa follows a well-known formula of diminishing knowledges from non-Western trajectories.

What can be seen as a riposte to these strategies of othering, ruangrupa–somewhat related to Joseph Beuys’ project “7000 Oaks – City Forestation Instead of City Administration” for documenta 7, that took place from 1982 over five years, where seven thousand oak trees were planted in Kassel– initiated an own tree-planting project: During documenta fifteen the first Kiri or paulownia tree was planted in front of Hallenbad Ost on Friday April 1, 2022, under the project title KIRI Project / one hundred trees 100 kiri tree seedlings will be cared for by volunteers.[49] Kiri trees are considered to be one of the fastest growing plants, even though they do might not have ideal environmental conditions in Kassel. Cultivated primarily in Eastern Asia (especially Japan and Korea), these light-demanding thrive best in warmer climates. These trees – opposite to what biologists call invasive plants, since they won’t cause harm to the native bioregion–, if grown at the proposed rate, will reach the dimension of Beuys’ oaks in just ten years. Not only does this speak to a world of translocal interdependence in which we live, kiri trees are also considered a magic bullet against global warming because of their ability to absorb a large amount of CO2 emissions: They could also help to find solutions to ecological problems, and furthermore, reveal power relations in postcolonial entanglements.

Outlook: Recalibrating Critical Tools of Situated Knowledges for Exhibitionary and Educational Projects
If we are willing to transfer the proposed concepts from “cognitive science” to educational and curatorial formations, we might be able to come up with new tools that help us shape the public sphere, not by opinion, but within a discourse of truth—one that is not kept hostage by the master narratives’ hidden agenda.

We’ll find these tenacious crusts of violence that produce universal knowledge largely intact in our Western educational and exhibition institutions. If we talk about these issues, they will not disappear, because our mechanisms for producing knowledge are slow; our experience has been formed over the years in our bodies and in the institutions that have produced universalized knowledge most of the time. Artistic practice might be considerable as an exemplary field of positionality—it is the fortune of art to be committed to one's own (“eccentric”) positionality nonetheless—though art education might lean too much towards relativism’s proposal for subjectivity and towards singularizing practice as most educations in fine arts aim at finding a place in the commodity system of art, rather than in the communal artistic practices of collaboration.

Learning and teaching environments need to be prepared for (or at least open to) the condition of situatedness—between students, teachers, publics, producers, to enable a “we”: a trans-individuation, that is, an exchange between situated and embodied knowledges, between histories and contexts, between generations and epistemes.

This is a scaled-down and edited version of a section of the PhD thesis “Curating in the Global World” by Ronald Kolb.

Ronald Kolb is a researcher, lecturer, curator, designer and filmmaker, based between Stuttgart and Zurich. Co-Head of the Postgraduate Programme in Curating, ZHdK and Co-Editor-in-Chief of the journal On-Curating.org. PHD candidate in the Practice-Based Doctoral Programme in Curating, University of Reading/ZHdK. The PhD research deals with curatorial practices in global/situated contexts in light of governmentality – its entanglements in representational power and self-organized modes of participatory practices in the arts.


[1] Donna Haraway, “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective,” Feminist Studies 14, no. 3 (1988): 593.

[2] Ibid., 575–599.

[3] In Haraway’s words: “This gaze signifies the unmarked positions of Man and White, one of the many nasty tones of the word "objectivity" to feminist ears in scientific and technological, late-industrial, militarized, racist, and male-dominant societies, that is, here, in the belly of the monster, in the United States in the late 1980s.” Ibid., 581.

[4] A term she “borrows” from Louis Althusser: “Feminist objectivity resists ‘simplification in the last instance.’” Ibid., 590.

[5] Needless to say, this constructivist idea of truth in right-wing propaganda and populist mainstream media only displays a reductionist and mutilated version of this idea.

[6] Interestingly enough, the “body” as an important aspect in knowledge production only entered “proper” science rather late and through research on AI. The body as an inherent part of the learning machine with a visual viewpoint was made important, because in robotic sciences, AI couldn’t easily learn orientation without a functioning movable body. See Mark Lee, “Why AI can’t ever reach its full potential without a physical body,” The Conversation, October 5, 2020, accessed May 29, 2022, https://theconversation.com/why-ai-cant-ever-reach-its-full-potential-without-a-physical-body-146870.

[7] See Rua M. Williams and Juan E. Gilbert, “Cyborg Perspectives on Computing Research Reform,” Extended Abstracts of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems - CHI EA '19. New York (New York: ACM Press, 2019), 1–11. doi:10.1145/3290607.3310421.  

[8] Haraway, “Situated Knowledges,” 583.

[9] I argue with reference to Ming Tiampo and Dipesh Chakrabarty about the “de-universalizing,” “decentering,” and “provincializing” prospects of a specific “Western” knowledge for cultural articulations in Ronald Kolb, “The Curating of Self and Others—Biennials as Forms of Governmental Assemblages,” OnCurating 46, Contemporary Art Biennials—Our Hegemonic Machines in States of Emergency (June 2020):
“While Ming Tiampo questions the dominance of the concept of modernism in the arts as a Western phenomenon by situating and theorizing non-Western modernisms that hold histories of its own, Dipesh Chakrabarty suggest to “provincialize Europe”. Europe – not as a region, but as an epistemology of the enlightenment – separated non-Western space and thought as back warded and underdeveloped. A grand trick to make others imagine themselves with a ‘lack,’ that can only be overcome by becoming the supposedly developed modern ‘West.’ Chakrabarty effort to provincialize this dominance would give way to other forms of governing in a less dominant relationship to capital and global economy.”

[10] Yet,—as Haraway points out—Foucault also had his blind spots and remained within a field of dichotomy (sovereign vs. individual) most of the time, uninterested in intersectional aspects of gendered and/or racialized exclusion mechanisms with the discursive formation.

[11] Haraway, “Situated Knowledges,” 577.

[12] Working class: man, women, “others,” slaves? Marx never really differentiated the working class, and this shows in the early discourse in Marxist theory.

[13] Haraway, “Situated Knowledges,” 581.

[14] Haraway, “Situated Knowledges,” 587.

[15] Haraway, “Situated Knowledges,” 581.

[16] Glenn Lowry, “Abstraction in 1936: Barr’s Diagrams,” in Inventing Abstraction 1910-1925: How a Radical Idea Changed Modern Art, ed. Leah Dickerman (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2012), accessed May 29, 2022, https://www.moma.org/momaorg/shared/pdfs/docs/archives/InventingAbstraction_GLowry_359_363.pdf.

[17] Hank Willis Thomas and Sarah Meister, “Hank Willis Thomas’s Colonialism and Abstract Art,” MoMA Magazine, September 15, 2020, accessed May 29, 2022, https://www.moma.org/magazine/articles/421.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Even “social constructivists” like Bruno Latour, who actively critiqued the apparatuses of sciences and the discourse of truth, had to admit that without a common understanding of the world (so far for at least the last 200 years produced by the discursive formation dominated by science) lately has admitted his correlation for the fake news devotees. See Ava Kofman, “Bruno Latour, the Post-Truth Philosopher, Mounts a Defense of Science,” New York Times, October 25, 2018, accessed May 29, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/25/magazine/bruno-latour-post-truth-philosopher-science.html.

[20] This can be observed widely within US “culture wars” with the phrase “entitled to my opinion.”

[21] There are still clearly different programs in place in the projects from the left and the right, but the instruments for how to enter and try to “win” the hegemonic play of meaning may have their structural similarities in certain aspects.

[22] See “attention economy” in social media, “click bait,” etc.

[23] Haraway, “Situated Knowledges,” 584.

[24] I would like to argue that “neoliberalism” comes in different forms, of course, as it is an amalgamation of a primarily capitalist logic with a progressive agenda. In different cultural and geographical contexts, this led to different outcomes. For the US’s specific neoliberal progressivism, see Nancy Fraser, The Old is Dying and the New Cannot Be Born: From Progressive Neoliberalism to Trump and Beyond (Brooklyn: Verso Books, 2019).

[25] As an early critique on postmodernism (maybe for the wrong reasons?), see Jürgen Habermas and Seyla Ben-Habib, “ Modernity versus Postmodernity”, New German Critique, No. 22, Special Issue on Modernism (Winter, 1981): 3-14.

[26] For example, a critique of meritocracy by Nancy Fraser.

[27] For her critique on post-structuralism, see Haraway, “Situated Knowledges,” 578.

[28] Haraway, “Situated Knowledges,” 579. This remark is made in direct relation to “feminist empiricism.”

[29] In particular, I would like to refer to Michel Foucault’s lectures at the Collège de France between 1982 and 1983, which were published under the title “The Government of Self and Others.”

[30] Haraway, “Situated Knowledges,” 589.

[31] Ibid., 586; Chandra Mohanty, "Under Western Eyes," Boundary 2, no. 3 (1984): 333-58.

[32] Haraway, “Situated Knowledges,” 585.

[33] “All these pictures of the world should not be allegories of infinite mobility and interchangeability but of elaborate specificity and difference and the loving care people might take to learn how to see faithfully from another's point of view, even when the other is our own machine. That's not alienating distance; that's a possible allegory for feminist versions of objectivity. Understanding how these visual systems work, technically, socially, and psychically, ought to be a way of embodying feminist objectivity.” Ibid., 583.

[34] In my thesis, I devote a longer chapter to Spivak’s “representation.”

[35] “Unlearning one's privilege by considering it as one's loss constitutes a double recognition. Our privileges, whatever they may be in terms of race, class, nationality, gender, and the like, may have prevented us from gaining a certain kind of Other knowledge: not simply information that we have not yet received, but the knowledge that we are not equipped to understand by reason of our social positions.” Donna Landry and Gerald MacLean, eds., The Spivak Reader: Selected Works of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (London: Routledge, 1996), 4.

[36] Haraway, “Situated Knowledges,” 590.

[37] See “Critical Zones. Observatories for Earthly Politics.”, Exhibition at ZKM, Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, 23.05.2020–09.01.2022, accessed May 29, 2022, https://zkm.de/en/exhibition/2020/05/critical-zones.

[38] See Institut de Ciències del Mar, „When we learned that competition was not the only driver of evolution”, November 02, 2021, accessed May 29, 2022, https://www.icm.csic.es/en/news/when-we-learned-competition-was-not-only-driver-evolution.

[39] See Dick Teresi “Discover Interview: Lynn Margulis Says She's Not Controversial, She's Right”, Discover Magazine, June 17, 2011, accessed May 29, 2022, https://www.discovermagazine.com/the-sciences/discover-interview-lynn-margulis-says-shes-not-controversial-shes-right.

[40] “Another approach, ‘feminist empiricism,’ also converges with feminist uses of Marxian resources to get a theory of science which continues to insist on legitimate meanings of objectivity and which remains leery of a radical constructivism conjugated with semiology and narratology.” Haraway, “Situated Knowledges,” 583.

[41] “[…] for making meanings, and a […] commitment to faithful accounts of a ‘real’ world, one that can be partially shared and that is friendly to earthwide projects of finite freedom, adequate material abundance, modest meaning in suffering, and limited happiness. Harding calls this necessary multiple desire a need for a successor science project and a postmodern insistence on irreducible difference and radical multiplicity of local knowledges.” Haraway, “Situated Knowledges,” 579.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid., 579–580.

[46] My dissertation will thoroughly look into documenta fifteen from the angle of situated knowledges, interdependence, governmentality, and commoning prospects.

[47] “The first lumbung calling focuses on the value of Local Anchor. The metaphor of an anchor describes the value of soil in our globalized yet divided world: soil that enables roots to grow and connects trees located miles and miles apart.” See “lumbung calling: Local Anchor”, April 4, 2021, accessed May 29, 2022, https://documenta-fifteen.de/en/events/lumbung-calling-local-anchor/.

[48] A Nazi slogan that focused on racial purity (“blood” as the national body), encouraged by the Nazis to legitimate in the end a colonialist war expanding its own territory into Eastern Europe with a settlement area (“Boden,” as territory rather than soil). On that note, we could also talk about translation as active practices of culture, embedded in the discourse of truth.

[49] The kiri project will be developed in three parts. ruangrupa plans to connect Wilhelmshöher Allee to Hallenbad Ost with a walkway made out of Kiri wood. See “First Tree Planted at Hallenbad Ost: Partner Project “KIRI Project / one hundred trees” was launched”, April 13, 2022, accessed May 29, 2022, https://documenta-fifteen.de/en/news/first-tree-planted-at-hallenbad-ost-sustainability-project-kiri-project-one-hundred-trees-launched-on-april-1-2022/.

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Issue 53

Situated Knowledges – Curating and Art on the Move

by Ronald Kolb and Dorothee Richter

by Jeanne van Heeswijk and Whitney Stark

by Lee Weinberg and Alison Green

by Basia Sliwinska and Caroline Stevenson

by Debe Sham and Georgia Kennedy

by Bo Choy and Chloe Ting

Nadim Abbas, Rose Li, Edward Sanderson (with Fiona Lee Wing-shan), Lang Tu (with Anouchka van Driel)

by Noit Banai and Dani Gal

by Ronald Kolb and Dorothee Richter