Thank you for including me here today. I anticipate learning a lot in our many discussions, and I thank my fellow panelists and moderator especially. If you find it useful you can notice that my talk is online where you may follow along on your laptop or phone: the internet address is on this title slide.

That talksite on the web is my workshop for thinking with objects moved around in visual play, a venue for speculative feminisms. Whenever possible I like to take imaginations themselves as my companions, along with other co-creators of worlds. Such imaginations can be sensed and worked on, but not predicted easily, and that is a good thing. Their worlds layer and enfold and map out and crochet together. And all this happens with attention and caring, and among systems humans participate in and do not control.

Attention to knowledge making practices makes it clearer that ways of sharing are makings too. As I prepare to come here to talk, share, gather with you, I seek out some clues for your and my contexts that will shape how we will take what each other says, but there is never enough information or maybe time to know that really. I’m doing a lot of guessing to be somewhat attuned to these, but also have to be willing to just not know, to feel a bit vulnerable. Audiences of all kinds today are in the middle of actively diverging: in practices as well as being unpredictable in their circulations and ranges. These now are actually complex systems. And emergent ones too because audience is always something yet to be performed: What can be taken for granted? What would best be explained? What do we assume are the most urgent issues and things to care about and with? These happen as they unfold. Who and what facilitates such movement among worlds? (Anzaldúa 2002)

Nepantla and nepantlaras: terms from US Chicana activist artist Gloria Anzaludúa. The realities are shifting, that is nepantla. Those who help in the shifts Andaldúa calls nepantleras. (Anzaldúa 1987, 2002:1) These helpers and companion imaginations, are our collective animalities, our complex personhood, our distributed being, the objects we take as cognitive companions, our significant otherness honored in on-going attentions and new learnings and materialities. All that which co-creates, in a kind of being WITH we find today when we dive into paradox. (Gordon, 2000; Haraway Cosmopolitical 2013; Dolphijn & van der Tuin 2012)


Nepantleras nurture attentions in multisensory forms. All this being WITH involves complex systems I care about. Attempts at systems justice. Attending in real time to what is happening when it happens is a methodology of companioning with things, all of us bits together in emergent processes. Imagine touching and making the crocheted worlds on this slide: here you can see and later can find on the web a set of crowdsourcing worldly sensitizations to global warming and its effects on coral reefs. These are crocheted worlds curated and otherwise shared by Margaret and Christine Wertheim. A science writer and a performance artist respectively, these twin sisters are founders of the Institute for Figuring in Los Angeles and on the web. (2003) Only recently was it realized that physical models were possible to make, in crochet, for the hyperbolic mathematics involved in the forms that coral reefs take. Over 5000 people have crafted these crocheted reef worlds, while over the planet more than three million have inhabited exhibitions of these, feeling out and sensing newly our agencies, our “us” as bits in complex systems.


Fifteen years ago and more, another Chicana, feminist theorist Chela Sandoval, had experiences in the sectarian struggles among US feminisms, women of color politics, and international anti-imperialisms that inspired her to synthesize what she called a methodology of the oppressed. (Sandoval 2000, 2002:24) In many iterations she worked on two paradoxically intertwined ways of understanding and inhabiting change and political practice. She called them respectively oppositional consciousness and differential consciousness. These forms of cognition and being are not finished by any means: they are collective imaginations that are also about collective imaginations. They are sharings that are also always being made again, ways of being WITH. I connect them myself with a statement made by the late feminist technoscience ethnographer Susan Leigh Star, who included us in her passions when she insisted: "We honestly believe that there are no positions that are epistemologically superior to any others. But I do at the same time argue with and try to overthrow those I don't agree with! Relativism in this sense does not imply neutrality--rather, it implies forswearing claims to absolute epistemological authority. This is quite different from abandoning moral commitments.” (Star 1995:22)

I think of oppositional consciousness as that form of being-thinking-action that takes up urgent and usually momentary and local issues in an either/or of context-specific interventions among powers. It shifts back and forth between priorities, and foregrounds our attempts to persuade others that THIS particular issue comes first NOW. This is how I understand Star’s critical practice of argument and action as commitment. MANY experiences of such oppositional action and caring together make up differential consciousness then. Some of these can be gleaned from many collectives in solidarity or a history or life practice of activisms over a particular timeframe: these become paradigmatic sets of possible strategies and tactics as they have had responses, both intended and unintended. Not predictable, not absolutes, but many companion imaginations, ways of encountering, engaging, altering power. 


As Sandoval continued to wonder about differential perception as nepantla, the shifting of realities in the enfoldings of power amid agencies not simply collective or individual, determined or instrumental, she thought about ways to read power, to feel it out, to know it as one encountered its manifestations and participated in them. She thickened her workings with linguistic worm-holes opening out to differential knowledge worlds. She talked about such terms as “radical semiotics” (that one a gateway to post-structuralist enfoldings with decolonization), as “la facultad” (a term from and for that theorist and poet of borderlands, Gloria Anzaldúa, indicating those sensory triggers that cut through realities), and a practice of “signifyin’” (an edgy, gaming practice of outdoing others in verbal pushback, theorized by African-American intellectual entrepreneur Henry Louis Gates Jr.). (Anzaldúa 1987:38-9, Gates 1988)

In the US, a country that all too often aspires to a rigid monolingualism that it can never really instantiate, Sandoval’s use of each term is simultaneously • a violation of that standardization that some actually believe is more equal, and also • a companion in gatherings that are not simple or easy, that do not exactly cohere or consort well, that cannot ever be proper representations of … what? Only and especially worm-holes to worlds, these differential details really do matter urgently. These terms, worlds, companions must also somehow “learn,” that is to say emergently sensitize and attune among new cognitive and political circumstances, in and as their very moments of unknowing, when ethical and moral sortings are properly in flux, in that state Anzaldúa and others call nepantla. (Sandoval 2002; Anzaldúa 1987; Law 2013; Keating 2013; Latour 2004, 2013)


When a set of feminist educators wanted to come up with an alternative to privatizing MOOC platforms they companioned with the web, partner and workshop, making FemTechNet, a Distributed Open Collaborative Course or DOCC. They inhabited their DOCC with what Alex Juhasz and Anne Balsamo, media designers and technologists, called caringly “boundary objects that learn.” All of these feminist specialists in emergent learning processes wanted to enable companionships in which such an object “participates in the creation of meanings: of identity, or usefulness, of function, of possibilities.” Juhasz and Balsamo reminded us that Susan Leigh Star (and her various collaborators) came up with the concept of a boundary object “to assert that objects (material, digital, discursive, conceptual) participate in the co-production of reality. At base, the notion asserts that objects perform important communication ‘work’ among people: they are defined enough to enable people to form common understandings, but weakly determined so that participants can modify them to express emergent thinking.”  (Juhasz & Balsamo 2012) Boundary objects that learn are always up for redesign, up for speculative feminisms.

A curiosity about what, in a last essay, Star called “growing boundary objects” becomes part of creating just enough trust to share and to recognize each other, necessary for understanding our travels among knowledge worlds, feminist workarounds in the midst of global (academic) restructuring. (Star 2010:602) Boundary objects are workaround things, concepts, processes, even routines that permit coordination, sometimes collaboration, without consensus (non-conscious and conscious). This is a new kind of “attachment politics” in which we work for contextually sensitive forms of trust and affiliation among proper practices of dissensus. (ASCA forthcoming 2015)

Star talks about “understanding local tailoring as a form of work that is invisible to the whole group and how a shared representation may be quite vague and at the same time quite useful.” (Star 2010:607) To participate in what Star called good and just standards for those who have suffered their absence (Clarke 2010: 591), we struggle to recognize comrades, even as we prescribe methods and ethics that may well in their turn be revealed as partial and accompanied by unanticipated consequences that must be responded to in their turn.

Speculation is a valuable and pivotal practice here, allowing differential feminisms to explore just how it is that we both think about and with nepantleras.


From the very depths of restructuring, struggled after feminisms task themselves to focus and refocus many on-going and differential projects of decolonization, antiracist politics, and feminist transformation. To “play” with our own differential consciousnesses, to curiously work at the oppositional edge of “this is not it,” these are creativities needed now among double binds and confusions we find ourselves in. Transcontexual movement without falling apart – where we participate as and among these very knowledge worlds and ecologies, learning.

Nothing in any of this purges political movement of contradiction, of ironically essentializing tactical critiques, of incorporating by means of capitalist globalization processes, or of actualizing otherings as complex results of affiliation and other attempts at finding the “right” unit of trust. Anthropologist and cyberneticist Gregory Bateson, the teacher from whom I get the term “transcontextual tangles,” famously said, in “the pronoun we, I of course included the starfish and the redwood forest, the segmenting egg, and the Senate of the United States.” (Bateson 1979:4) This is one differential set reminding us that ways to speak of “we” and “us” are as dynamically rescaling bits in systems of complexity and change.

“Transcontextual tangles” are a feature of analysis at the edge of standardization. The phrase speaks to a kind of communication experience in which, paradoxically, too much clarity or single-mindedness can actually be unhelpful. For example, the term power itself is used by different constituencies for different purposes. There are many technical, or maybe better, local ways of using the term, some defined and not, some presumed to be held “in common,” until that commonality breaks down.


How do we keep systems justice full of context-sensitive on-the-ground practices and cares while ...insisting really, on many dynamics of "focus" – sharpened without being narrowed. This involves not just scope and scale, which matter too, but also tender sensitivities to "triggers," that is to say, involuntary responses to repeated double binds, without being managed and controlled and punished by these in turn. How do we make kindness as important a priority in sharpened focus as fixing things?

I am advocating ways of thinking with and about transdisciplinary attentions and practices. These interconnect multiple actors, among them “ourselves,” extensively inspecting knowledge approaches across time, fields, disciplines, methods, perhaps economic sectors, or ecologies. We can do this while at the same time also savoring and participating in the intensive workings (always only some) of these too, in communities of practice, and among objects that may yet tie these together. Such transdisciplinary travel is functional in its uneven coherences. (Law 2013)


Systems justice sensitive to multiple contexts, what Chela Sandoval called “differential consciousness,” calls out to various politics of attachment. (Sandoval 2000, Anzaldúa 2002, ASCA forthcoming 2015) Belief and disbelief, really perhaps memberships and belongings, triggered and assembled, stagger between, say, climate change publics, amid money behind global restructurings, and even, we realize, together with feminist juggling acts and territories, amid objects, new materialisms, and communities of justice and practice. Register such intensities and traumas: when do they become ends in themselves? All too crowded with affiliations, loyalties, essential truths? Eschatology, the study of end-times, companions a paradoxically long history in human attention. And humans are often precariously enduring on the planet, and have threatened its existence before. (I lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis myself, and we might well have ended then. This fear motivated much of Gregory Bateson’s work for example. See Childs 2012; Bateson 1979:98, 174) Yet Bateson was very vocal and concerned too about unanticipated movements the complexities of systems take on when urgencies become too predictive. Then our urgencies result in less sensitivity to the unanticipated, result in too narrow a focus, as all too human desires for control or for moral prescriptions are inadvertently escalated. Systems justice requires something much more complicated. It means, for example, we have to work with our extended being as well as find out new things about it.

To go with and beyond human intention and systems of control we need many ways to gather now to minimize damage and maximize flourishing. What do we need to gather? “Us” gathers sympoietically, that is to say, making and being WITH, all these boundary objects storing details and affects. (Haraway 2013) Our “we” and “us” register too with Bateson’s living patterns, from the starfish’s invertebrate radial symmetry to redwood cloning timelines to recursive epigenesis, mechanism and structure in a segmenting egg to those human affiliations of power and state and love that we could wish for in the Senate of the United States. Sometimes people say if it’s about everything it is about nothing. Not today. Dive into the paradox: systems justice means sharpening focus without narrowing it.