Swarm
A Platform of Care

Distributed Cognition Cooperative has developed »Swarm« – a (plat)form of mutual care and support to help marginalised artists, researchers, and other practitioners develop their CV, portfolio, or write a funding application. It works as a peer-review repository organised by principles of mutual aid, meaning you can ask for feedback and provide yours in exchange, support someone and get support if your application is unsuccessful, and find materials that can guide you through the application process. The project was created as part of the 16th Web Residency by Solitude »Solidarity is a verb«. Due to the still rather rare intersectional criteria within funding guidelines and their own experience with endless funding applications, DCC developed (plat)form as a termite mound, infrastructure that will create conditions for a swarm cognition to emerge.

Distributed Cognition Cooperative in Conversation — Dez 14, 2021

Akademie Schloss Solitude - Swarm<br>A Platform of Care

Distributed Cognition Cooperative. 2021. Swarm platform logo featuring the photogrammetry of a termite mound.

Digital Solitude: What is your understanding of solidarity and how does it translate into your practice?  

Distributed Cognition Cooperative: We understand solidarity as relations that are formed in a collective, self-aware of its shared goals, privileges, struggles, and differences between those. In that, solidarity can be understood as a very particular mode of care. Those relations are visualized well by Ashraful Alam and Donna Houston in their article »Rethinking Care as Alternate Infrastructure.«

Akademie Schloss Solitude - Swarm<br>A Platform of Care

Alam, Ashraful, и Donna Houston. 2020. »Rethinking Care as Alternate Infrastructure.« Cities 100 (May): 102662. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cities.2020.102662. Image description: The scheme has two sides. On the left side, there are several irregular oval shapes, each has + and - signs on its sides. »+« is captioned »haves« and »-« is captioned »Have-nots«. The left side of the scheme is captioned »(i) Diverse collectives, forming care as an alternate infrastructure«. On the right side of the scheme, there is a bigger circle, connected to the smaller one. The bigger circle has a »+«, the smaller has a »-«. The connection is captioned: »Conventional infrastructure of care«. The right side of the scheme is captioned: »(ii) Care, channeled from haves to have-nots through prefigured infrastructures«.

They analyze and compare two drastically different ways of organizing care. On the right part of the diagram they criticize understanding of care prevalent in NGOs: a unidirectional flow from »haves« to »have-nots,« conditioned by »conventional care infrastructures.« The unidirectional nature of that flow means that the needs of communities, which are supposed to be »cared for,« are usually dismissed. The »care collectives,« represented on the left, reveal how communities can organize their own spaces with more diverse flows of care. Relations of those care collectives are exactly how we understand solidarity, following such initiatives as SOAS Detainee Support, an abolitionist group whose principle is »we work in solidarity, not charity.«  

As one can see from the diagrams, care is majorly conditioned by infrastructure and can be even considered infrastructure itself. It is infrastructure that has a decisive role whether care will be one of solidarity or paternalistic mode of control. With that in mind, we have developed the term »plat(form) of care« to describe our work. We couldn’t agree more with Anca Rujoiu that those relations of solidarity are a process, a verb. What we envision in our practice is how to create conditions for this process to emerge – what are the infrastructures of care we can construct. 

Akademie Schloss Solitude - Swarm<br>A Platform of Care

Distributed Cognition Cooperative. 2021. Still image from the video-essay introducing the Swarm, 01’30

Building care infrastructures implies we have to simultaneously think of those networks of solidarity already in place, those that are possible but dont exist yet, and those that are impossible in the worlds we inhabit. Those limitations have influenced the choice of the medium we work with – we have been building online infrastructures since pre-Covid, when life used to be much more offline, as digital networks allowed us the levels of safety inaccessible in the material realm. »Platform« in »plat(form) of care« reflects on the online nature of infrastructures we create and maintain, implications their cyber architecture carries. 

Digital Solitude: How exactly will your platform Swarm work? And how did your proposal develop during the Web Residency?

DCC: Swarm is a (plat)form of care built to help marginalized artists, researchers, and other practitioners develop their CV, portfolio, or write a funding application. It works as a peer-review repository organized by principles of mutual aid, meaning you can ask for feedback and provide yours in exchange, support someone, and get support if your application is unsuccessful, and find materials that can guide you through the application process.  

Swarm creates infrastructural conditions to break a vicious circle maintained by institutional politics. This vicious circle implies that those in need of funding are less likely to get it, as intersectional affirmative action is still far from forming the core of funding decisions. Having experience in both endless funding applications and digital infrastructures, we developed a platform that creates a supportive peer-review environment.  

Akademie Schloss Solitude - Swarm<br>A Platform of Care

Distributed Cognition Cooperative. 2021. Still image from the video essay introducing the Swarm, 00’51

During the residency we took our time to research the process-oriented nature and practices of mutual aid. We were interested in how to develop our website, so its infrastructural premise creates and sustains symbiosis between its users. We started with looking into the alternatives to natural laws, which challenges the Darwinian metaphor of »survival of the fittest.« We turn from Darwin to the nineteenth-century Russian zoologist and geographer Peter Kropotkin. Kropotkin observed that mutual aid rather than competition was the crux of speciessurvival, drawing attention to the animal, insect, and fish practices of mutual aid and support as the core principles of evolution and survival. Taking our lead from Kropotkin, we have been thinking about ways to create conditions for decentralized mutual care and support.  

Akademie Schloss Solitude - Swarm<br>A Platform of Care

Distributed Cognition Cooperative. 2021. Still image from the video essay introducing the Swarm, 00’31

Digital Solitude: From your experience, what is the role of a translocal platform nowadays? What are its virtues, but also limitations? 

DCC: As a result of the residency, we came up with a swarm cognition as the aim of our platform. Neither humans nor fish, termites, bees, ants, and other animals possess swarm cognition as given. For animals, swarm cognition emerges from the connections between their bodies. These connections are facilitated and enabled by infrastructures – mounds, hills, hives. We envision this platform, Swarm, as a termite mound, infrastructure that will create conditions for a swarm cognition to Emerge. 

Such an understanding of termite mound as a platform operates the connections commodified in the platform economy. In one of the conversations with Bahar Noorizdeh and Reem Shadid, Reem, Bahar, and Anna were thinking about the differences between digital infrastructures of a »platform« and a »website.« Even though connections and networks are the core of the web, there are significant differences in the nature of those connections. Reem, Bahar, and Anna concluded that while »website« is characterized through the spatial arrangement of its content (i.e. connections between hyperlinks, headers, images, texts, etc.), »platform« operates through the spatial arrangement of live actors – users and their communities. The principles of such an arrangement are what Swarm tries to reinvent. 

Digital Solitude: How do you see the added value of your work Swarm in global reference? Can general aspects be derived from the observation and analysis of critical structures that also become relevant outside the post-Soviet region? 

DCC: Speaking of global relevance, we feel this is something that guided us toward the naturalization of mutual aid, looking into architectures built by non-human animals. Those architectures are simultaneously local, very far from the ideas implicit in the global web, and trans locally relevant, not restrained to a very specific context or territory. We think your feeling that the question of value is crucial for Swarm is very on point. The core problem for us is that institutions already heavily rely on parainstitutions to smoothen the outcomes of exploitation they perform. 

Akademie Schloss Solitude - Swarm<br>A Platform of Care

Proletaryi Slil. August 2021. Photograph of Nikolay Plusnin dressed in delivery uniform walking on crutches. - https://t.me/proly_slil/1997

This photograph of Nikolay Plusnin, a delivery worker going through his shift in St. Petersburg on crutches earlier this year, is crucial to understanding the question of value on our platform. The feelings this picture evokes is what we try to achieve with Swarm – to provide temporary help without masking it as a structural solution, revoking opportunities for institutions to extract value from it. We aim to stay with the uneasiness, frictions, and rage, that inequality sparks, while making our life bearable enough to resist. 

Digital Solitude: From your point of view, what are the most important measures in cultural policy and in institutions to bring the intersectional perspective into the previous decision-making and funding practices of institutions? 

DCC: Indigenous Anarchist Federation proposes a set of questions to define primary motives of »any organization who professes allyship, decolonization work, and/or wears their relationships with Indigenous Peoples as a badge.« We think that those questions could be productive for any organization, seeking to do political work: »Who is getting paid? How are they transparent? Whos defining the terms? Who sets the agenda? Do campaigns align with what the needs are on the ground?« 

Akademie Schloss Solitude - Swarm<br>A Platform of Care

Distributed Cognition Cooperative. 2021. Still image from the video essay introducing the Swarm, 04’20

 Thomas Dumke conducted this interview in collaboration with Anca Rujoiu. 

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