Communication, Knowledge and Information in the Human Ecosystem: p2p Ethnography

[this article originates from our participation to XYLab, in Castrignano de'Greci, Puglia, Italy]


Indigenous populations in Universal Exhibits

Indigenous populations in Universal Exhibits

In Universal Exhibitions from the end of the ’800s and beginning of the ’900s, indigenous people were often exposed – under glass houses, in cages or using a variety of media and artefacts – for the entertainment of other people, as if they were objects.

For example Paris’ Exposition Universelle of 1889 featured an entire Negro Village, which was among the Exposition’s main attractions.

These were storytelling exhibits, telling the stories of far-away, “Other”, alien people, by trying to narrate them through images, objects and entire re-created environments, and turning them into an entertainment experience for amused visitors and consumers.

They were often also stories about possibilities: futures and things which we, the colonialists, had imagined for them, the aliens, the Others. In fact the objective was, many times, to highlight the “civilising” influence of colonialist rule, and the supposed ways in which colonialist influence would have been able to bring about new economies and roles for these people (for example: Apache chief Geronimo selling his autograph in the Primates section of the Bronx Zoo).

natives on exhibit at the Chicago World Fair

natives on exhibit at the Chicago World Fair

Much has happened since those times, including the fundamental intuitions and practices coming from Lévi-StraussMalinowski, to Bateson, Mead, Clifford, Geertz, Bhabha and the many more with which ethnography has understood many lessons, including the ones of self-representation, the importance of performance (of all parties involved, and with all parties involved being able to choose the rules of the game, not having to adapt to a scheme decided by the ethnographer, in polyphonic ways, with a number of different voices, evenly distributed between the ethnographers and the people, from their own point of view).

In the Digital Age, the age of Communication, Information and Knowledge, the possibility to capture, express, observe, visualize and understand the patterns for behaviour, emotion, opinion, expression, movement and more, potentially for hundreds of millions of people at a time, has brought the term “ethnography” in the spotlight for both academic and popular crowds.

This is also among the results of the rise of the creative classes, among the leading driving forces for economic development of post-industrial cities. The Creative Class is constantly engaged in a wide variety of design related processes for which certain domains of ethnographic research are of fundamental interest, both at the direct (observation and understanding of user bases)  and meta (understanding of the Creative Class itself) levels.

Also of importance is the need to understand the ways in which the logics of entertainment, in the age of the prosumer can drift towards the logics of self-colonialism: the prosumer often becomes a consumer that consumes itself through acts of creative production whose results contribute to the benefit of large operators, who provide the expressive frameworks and schemes, and who are the only ones able to intercept, harvest, understand, interpret and represent the value being produced.

This, in many cases, results in a state of self-colonialization, in which prosumers act within a set of diverse boundaries (perceptive, identity, cognitive, economic, service) which are perceived as performative public spaces, but which are not, and whose benefits mainly go to the advantage of large operators.

In this frame, we can conceptualise a scenario which is more sustainable, clear, open and free by introducing a series of concepts which refer to ecosystemic logics, which are more polyphonically performative, and which are based on novel definitions of value and on a use of knowledge sharing tools and practices which is more aware and which does not re-enact colonialist logics and, instead, focuses on the possibility and value for self expression, representation and performance, and on the multiple types of economies which can be generated from this.

Human Ecosystems & Ubiquitous Knowledge Ecosystems

We want to address this scenario starting from the opportunities offered by the possibility to study micro-histories, and from the importance of understanding communication, information and knowledge flows in cities.

Micro-history, to leverage the driver of the well-being of any ecosystem: its biodiversity (cultural biodiversity, in this case).

Communication, information and knowledge flows, to be able to perform Digital Urban Acupuncture: a form of relational intervention whose aim is to identify these flows and their interruptions, to discover those localised pressure points which can be engaged to establish new dynamics, create bridges and, possibly most important of all, to enable the emergence of a Communication, Information and Knowledge Commons: a perceivable, accessible, usable environment which is inclusive and free, thus being able to promote the rise of a variety of different, resilient economies.

Through the Human Ecosystems (here, as well, on Art is Open Source) project we have described and implemented a series of open approaches, methodologies, tools and practices whose intent is to enable people, citizens, organisations, administrations and companies to freely observe, use and perform the relational ecosystems of entire territories (wether they are geographic, topic-based, networked…) from the points of view of  emotions, relations, issues, interactions, communication, information and knowledge. This is a radical approach in which the logics of consensus are replaced by the ones of ecosystemic co-existence.

These dynamics integrate the discourse about the possibility to design a Near Future Education scenario (the Near Future Education Lab is also here on the P2P Foundation Wiki , and here are some of the results of a recent global event: ), in which an Ubiquitous Knowledge / Information / Communication Ecosystem forms a Commons which can be used in peer-to-peer modalities to enable novel inclusive, free, mutualistic, sustainable scenarios, developing new economic models and opportunities. In this article we will describe the methodology through which we are defining the concept of P2P Ethnography.

P2P Ethnography, as Ethnography, can be defined as a qualitative research design aimed at exploring cultural phenomena. Different from Ethnography, its aim is not to produce field studies or case reports, but to establish continuously available, accessible, participatory, performative and collaborative processes which allow gaining understandings about the knowledge and the systems of meanings in the lives of a social group, and its interactions with other ones.

P2P Ethnography represents a participatory, performative approach, in which research and understanding require gaining awareness of one’s position within the relational ecosystem (from cultural, emotional, aesthetic, perceptive, cognitive points of view) of the observed social group, and to establish or modify relations and interconnections both within the group, outside of it, and in-between, in fluid, dynamic, possibilistic ways.

P2P Ethnography requires the definition of the concept of Ubiquitous Commons: the availability and accessibility of shared, usable Knowledge, Information and Data Commons which are ubiquitous both in their spatial dissemination and in their capacity to co-exist throughout cultures, divides, media. A protocol for a new definition of Public Space in the Age of Communication, Information and Knowledge.

The Methodology

This, below, is a visual overview of the proposed methodology (click on the image for a larger version):

P2P Ethnography and Ubiquitous Commons

P2P Ethnography and Ubiquitous Commons

As described above, the methodology is laid out as a series of subsequent stages.

The first one, described as “points of view“, is dedicated to the creation of a series of toolkits, methodologies, approaches and protocols using which multiple public points of view can be expressed, performed, captured, transmitted and, in general, observed and used and put together, interconnected.

The second one, described as “toolkits” regards, as the name suggests, the creation of a series of toolkits (and the methodologies for creating such toolkits) to collect multiple points of view, as emerged from the previous stage, represent them (with special care for the possibilities and opportunities of self-representation), understand them and interconnect them, creating new relations in the ecosystem.

The third stage, named “interpretation” describes the methods for acting onto/into the ecosystem through practice, visualisation and performance.

The fourth stage, titled “new politics“, describes a new political scenario, which acts using the ecosystemic logics of co-existence, in which to act politically describes the act of positioning oneself within the ecosystem and in the creation of a series of relations and connections.

The last stage describes the use of the concept of Ubiquitous Commons in this scheme.

Points of View: polyphonic expression, methodological stupor and interconnections

The first stage is dedicated to the expression of the multiple points of view which compose the Human Ecosystem: its cultural biodiversity.

This can be done in multiple ways, which can be combined together: they can be collected from social networks, harvested through interactive systems or opportunities for performance and self-expression and representation, or they can even be the object of education processes through which people understand how to create their own forms of expression and representation in ways which are suitable for inclusion in the Human Ecosystem.

This can be imagined as the Internet: you can use an interactive system, a social network or some social media service to express yourself. But you can also understand how the Internet works to create your own way of expression and representation which uses it, as long as it is possible to transmit it over its protocols.

The prototype protocol which we have imagined is fairly simple in its base version, and it can be expanded as needed.

It is composed of four main parts:

  • perceived organizational models
  • communication / information / knowledge
  • missed opportunities
  • knowledge sharing

For example, we have created a small software using Processing which can visualize these elements using a very basic data structure (implemented through a CSV file) which captures all of these relations. (shown in the image below;  full source code and example data available here for download ).

an example human ecosystem visualization tool

an example human ecosystem visualization tool

Perceived Organizational Models

Who interacts with who? Who is responsible for what? Who is related with who?

perceived organizational model

perceived organizational model

The first objective is to try to understand, from a certain point of view, what is the organizational model of the social group. Points of view can be of individuals, groups, organizations, administrations. Of course, they can vary a lot, and it becomes interesting to overlay them and compare them, to identify discrepancies and differences in perception.

Communication / Information / Knowledge

communication information knowledge model

communication information knowledge model

Who do I communicate with? Who delivers me information and knowledge? To who do I deliver information and knowledge? Where does the information and knowledge that is delivered to me come from? Where is it headed? Am I the man-in-the-middle for information and knowledge of some sort? What are the knowledge references which I use? Are they human? Websites? Texts? Oral? What knowledge do I produce? Are these types of flows unidirectional, bidirectional, a-directional?

These are very interesting models which can be harvested from the actual facts (for example observing social networks) and from the perception of individuals and organizations.

When layered and compared, they can show the origins of information bits and types, their localization within social groups, the sources of knowledge and their re/production. And, in general, they can show how aware the members of the ecosystem are about their roles and scope.

On top of that, they can be compared to the perceived organizational models to understand the strategies and tactics according to which information and knowledge flow in the ecosystem, and where/when/how they are redundant, replicated, interrupted, broken, misled etcetera.

Missed Opportunities

Missed Opportunities Model

Missed Opportunities Model

What interaction/information/knowledge would I like to have? What would I need? Who has this information or knowledge? How/when/where would I like to have it? Through a person, a service, an app, a website, a book, a sign?

This type of model is extremely useful in establishing bridges using information and knowledge which are present in the ecosystem, and to create new ones, by creating opportunities for interaction, communication, information and knowledge which are not currently found in the ecosystem.

It also allows to gain better understandings about the awareness of the possibilities and opportunities which can be generated through the presence and transmission of communication, information and knowledge in a certain ecosystem, and its impacts on the types of economies and dynamics which can be created, for example through a museum, an art exhibit, a cinema, a library, a research center, a laboratory, a musical workshop, or by bringing back traditions and cultures under the form of new jobs, restaurants, education processes, and more.

Knowledge Sharing

knowledge sharing model

knowledge sharing model

What knowledge do I produce? Do I plan to share it, transmit it or make it available/accessible/usable in some way? Using which tools, technologies, media? Dedicated to whom? Interoperable with what? Within which knowledge ecosystems?

This can be among the most surprising models to try to understand. Mostly because the desire and attitude towards producing knowledge is not often matched by the awareness about the efforts which are needed to make that same knowledge available, accessible, usable and interoperable with other sources. This is often one of the largest problems with innovation processes.

Understanding these kinds of perceptions, and the ways in which people and organizations do (or do not) dedicate thoughts and resources to sharing their knowledge can bring into the ecosystems powerful effects: opportunities for the creation of jobs, services, collaborations, interactions, networks and more.

Also, it often happens that people and organizations are not aware about the knowledge which they produce, and of its potential value.

For example, this is among the things we experienced while participating to XY Lab. While the importance of storytelling was very clear (the need to tell the story of what happened in the laboratory), the notion of the fundamental importance of how to share the knowledge that was generated from the lab was not clear at all, at direct (what knowledge was produced in the various projects which took place in the lab?) and meta (what knowledge was generated in creating the lab?) levels.

Toolkits: polyphonic understanding, micro histories, third infoscapes

The first stage is mostly dedicated to describing a methodology to enable capturing the expressions coming from multiple points of view, and to map this methodology onto a protocol, so that the harvesting process can be performed through social networks, interviews, surveys, but also and most important through self-expressive and self-representational processes, in which individuals and organizations establish their own form for expression and representation (and the rules-of-the-game that go with it) and they use them to produce their own representation, in ways that are interoperable with the rest of the observed ecosystem.

This stage, the second, aims at creating readability in the ecosystem.

While stories and histories can be very readable, micro-histories are not. Micro histories are polyphonic and even dissonant. They include conflict (and, in fact, it is one of their fundamental characteristics) and do not focus on the dynamics of consensus (even multiple simultaneous consensus) but, rather, on the ones of co-existence and diasporas.

From the simultaneous co-existence of strategies and tactics (from De Certeau’s framework) derives the possibility that each time, space, context, scenario or situation can (and does) have multiple meanings, according to which set of eyes you look through, different perceived softwares and hardwares: everyone potentially and continuously re-programs everything else.

This is the Third Space, described in anthropologic terms by Homi K. Bhabha, and in sociological terms by Edward Soja. Sociocultural approaches are concerned with the “… constitutive role of culture in mind, i.e., on how mind develops by incorporating the community’s shared artifacts accumulated over generations”. Bhabha applies socioculturalism directly to the postcolonial condition, where there are, “… unequal and uneven forces of cultural representation”. It is a transgressive space for self-expression and self-representation. Third Space Theory suggests that policies of remediation based in models of the Other are likely to be inadequate: an inclusive space/time/context is needed.

Based on the idea of the Third Space, (and its many impacts, such as the Third Landscape, the Third Generation City, the Third Paradise…) we form the idea of the Third Infoscape: the inclusive, possibilistic space of communication, information and knowledge, not based of the concept of Otherness, but on the idea of a multitude of co-existing self-expressions and self-representations. A radically biodiverse information landscape, which finds its value in its biodiversity.

As in the third space, strategies and tactics co-exist in the Third Infoscape, meaning the more structured, administrative, statistical data (the ones coming from administrations, organizations and bureaucracies, for example), and the more emergent ones relative to people’s expressions, emotions, and points of view. They can co-exist thanks to recipes, assemblages of ingredients and procedures through which individuals (be them persons or organizations) can describe their point of view onto the world. Recipes are the base onto which the different economies of the Third Infoscape are founded: reputation, attention and networked economies which are mutualistic, meaning that recipes are in a constant peer-to-peer evaluation process through which other subjects of the ecosystem describe their perceived importance for the well-being of the ecosystem itself.

These evaluation processes can assume multiple forms, such as visualisations, interactive systems, knowledge sharing processes and performative acts, through which recipes can be experienced, remixed and recombined to form new knowledge that takes part to the ecosystem.

Third Infoscape

Third Infoscape

The Human Ecosystems project, for example, can be positioned at this stage: a toolkit composed from software, methodologies and interoperable protocols at cultural, technological and educational levels, which are intended to create a Third-Infoscape-aware environment.

Interpretation: performance, interconnection

Digital Urban Acupuncture is the main methodology for this stage.

As its architectural, analog counterpart, it is a performative practice aiming at gaining better understandings about the communication, information and knowledge flows in the observed ecosystem, and their interruptions and blocks, in order to re-create them or to establish new ones.

Digital Urban Acupuncture is Urban Acupuncture in the age of ubiquitous media.

Digital Urban Acupuncture

Digital Urban Acupuncture

Multiple (potentially all) subjects of the ecosystem can gain understandings about the relational networks which are present in it – from the point of view of topics, approaches, emotions, opinions, interconnections, cultures… –, and they can position themselves in it, find interesting pressure points, establishing relations, bridges, conversations, within the ecosystem and/or interconnecting nodes of the ecosystem to other ones, bringing them to all effects inside it, nourishing interaction, communication, information and knowledge flows, to create opportunities, possibilities and energy: an ubiquitous, performative, inclusive and possibilistic landscape, composed by fragments of interconnected shared knowledge and information.

Digital Urban Acupuncture can be performed in a variety of ways, including education processes, practices, performances, meetings, physical and digital gatherings, participatory decision making processes, shared policy-making activities, actions, and by creating cooperatives, consortiums, citizen groups and more.

New Politics: the roles revolution

This scenario describes a new form of politics, which is participatory, ecosystemic and interconnective.

“The theoretical recognition of the split-space of enunciation may open the way to conceptualising an international culture, based not on the exoticism of multiculturalism or the diversity of cultures, but on the inscription and articulation of culture’s hybridity. It is the inbetween space that carries the burden of the meaning of culture, and by exploring this Third Space, we may elude the politics of polarity and emerge as the others of our selves.”
Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture

In this form of politics the first step is to position ourselves in the Human Ecosystems, and to understand the diverse cultures which are part of it, according to the logics of interconnection, co-existence and inclusiveness, in which cultural biodiversity is a value which forms the resilience of the ecosystem.

This is a revolution of the roles of politics.

It is not, anymore, a politics based on delegation and on representation, but one which is based on participation, self-representation and mutuality.

In this scenario, the roles of governments, administrations, organizations and enterprises radically change, becoming the enzymes, the facilitators, the enablers and, sometimes, even the certificators of these ecosystemic logics.

Quoting from Bhabha once again:

Terms of cultural engagement, whether antagonistic or affiliative, are produced performatively. The representation of difference must not be hastily read as the reflection of pre-given ethnic or cultural traits set in the fixed tablet of tradition. The social articulation of difference, from the minority perspective, is a complex, on-going negotiation that seeks to authorize cultural hybridities that emerge in moments of historical transformation.

It is in this sense that the boundary becomes the place from which something begins its presencing in a movement not dissimilar to the ambulant, ambivalent articulation of the beyond that I have drawn out: ‘Always and ever differently the bridge escorts the lingering and hastening ways of men to and fro, so that they may get to other banks….The bridge gathers as a passage that crosses.’

This model of liminality engages culture productively in that it enables a way of rethinking “the realm of the beyond”.

And yet Bhabha’s model also introduces a number of potentially serious problems in its translation to the complicated process of collective social transformation. That is, Bhabha’s formulation of an exilic, liminal space between (rather than supportive of) national constituencies is problematic in that it fails to engage the material conditions of the colonized Third World. Does Bhabha’s liminal space itself become a privileged, textual, discursive space accessible only to academic intellectuals?

From our point of view, these sets of problems and issues can only be confronted by renovating the roles of governments and administrations – by introducing the cultures and understandings of ecosystems and of their models for well-being, based on diversity and hybridity – and making tools and methodologies such as Human Ecosystems (and the many more which we hope will come) strategic instruments to promote techniques such as Digital Urban Acupuncture: a performative, participatory P2P Ethnography, beyond colonialism and self-colonialism, such as in the post-industrial age.

Ubiquitous Commons: a new Public Space

In the end, we need to stress a key requisite for all this scenario to happen.

In the age of digital networks, the concepts of Private and Public Spaces  have radically changed.

On one side, the ubiquitous presence of interconnected devices (from smartphones, to sensors, security cameras and drones, to the ubiquitous Internet of Things) has transformed the possibility to capture data and information about people’s lives, expressions, relations, opinions, collaborations, and more.

This has gone as far as to enter a sub-conscious level: we don’t know (and we don’t have the possibility to know) what information we’re sharing, how it will be used, who will have access to it and more.

Spaces which make all possible efforts to mimic Public Spaces and Private Spaces (those spaces for which we have gained a good understanding, and in which we are sufficiently confident and sure about the privateness/publicness of our data and information) are, in reality, Privatized Spaces which we can access not for free, but by paying with our personal data, our images, texts, videos, messages, comments.

Our legitimate expectation for privacy/publicness is broken, in obscure, opaque, illegible way.

On the other side, the wide movement for Open Data has opened up the perception of the importance (for freedoms, economies, citizen rights…) about the transparency, availability, accessibility and usability of data and information coming from Public Administrations (and, hopefully, also from companies and enterprises).

What Open Data movements still have not managed to do is to work on the dimensions which are ecosystemic and based on desire.

In this time, data and information (wether it is collected on social networks, sensors, biometrics, cameras, drones…) has become a matter of identity and self-representation, not only about statistics and commerce: it expresses the cultural differences in our human ecosystems, not only the levels of pollution or the most suitable market segment for selling a certain pair of shoes.

It is a commons: and as a commons it should be collectively preserved, accessed, used, desired, interpreted, performed.

This is, sadly, not the situation we have now: data and information of these kinds are in the hands of political and economic subjects who harvest, use and expose it according to logics which are limited, opaque and illegible. Facebook has our data. The NSA has our data. Coca-Cola can buy it. We, the citizens, are the only ones who don’t have it, and who cannot use it to create a better human ecosystem, by performing it.

This is the reason why, from our point of view, all of the scenario can be enabled only by creating a new type of Commons, which we’re calling Ubiquitous Commons: a communication, information and knowledge commons in the age of ubiquitous communication.

The Third Infoscape: Michel De Certeau, Gilles Clément, Marco Casagrande and the re-creation of our cities

What do Michel De Certeau, Gilles Clément and Marco Casagrande have to do with the idea of Smart Cities?

What is the Third Infoscape?

How can we grasp the potential revolutionary character of our daily lives, educate our gaze to capture unforeseen opportunities and experience our cities as living beings, to which we all participate and onto which we can all contribute to transformation and change?

The ideas of Microhistory, of Third Space, of Third Landscape, of Third Generation City and of Urban Acupuncture will help us to try to give answers to these questions.

Let’s start from History.


When we study History, we tend to imagine studying “large history”. The history of the great people and great events/trends which transformed the course of time, wars, societal transformations. Changes which happened on a large scale, treaties, alliances and agreements which shaped the lives of entire populations.

This is, of course, not the only way in which we can research and study history. The term “History” itself is an umbrella term enclosing a rich variety of different approaches.

Among them is the really interesting possibility to study Microhistory,

“the intensive historical investigation of a well defined smaller unit of research (most often a single event, the community of a village, a family or a person)”

This might seem somewhat less relevant than history, as it could resemble an effort to focus on things which are of smaller importance, almost case studies that would, then, need to be framed into a wider context to be significant.

But if we think about it, this might well not be the case.

History is, of course, the result of the progression of large-scale transformations to the structures of human societies, their relationships, their disputes and agreements.

But these large changes do not happen in a vacuum. They happen within human societies, which are made of human beings, and by their relationships, cultures, imaginations, desires and expectations.

So it is possible and valuable to view the study of History also as the possibility to “ask large questions in small places or contexts”, as hypothesised by Charles Joyner [1].

To try to explore the conditions in which these large scale events and transformations actually took place, through people and the mutation of their daily lives, of their cultures and desires.

And that’s precisely what happened when historians started to understand that certain “political events and social realities” could not be explained adequately by existing macro-historical models, as highlighted, for example, by Giovanni Levi [2].

In essence, historical histories did not account for the experiences of all members of the event, society, or culture being studied.  As a result, microhistorians have made a point of viewing people not as a group, but rather as “individuals who must not be lost either within the historical processes or in anonymous crowds”. [3]

Microhistorians have attempted to formulate a history of everyday life. [4]

Everyday Life

In his “The Practice of Everyday Life” [5] Michel De Certeau transformed the study of “everyday life”, shifting it away from the study of popular cultures and from the research about the social and political struggles which happen with the daily forms of resistance to the regimes of power, in an attempt to outline the way individuals unconsciously navigate everything, from city streets to literary texts.

This approach leads to an interesting distinction among the strategies and the tactics.

The idea of strategies is linked to the one of institutions and to the structures of power, describing and producing the prescriptions (the codes) according to which the elements of reality should be interpreted. They are the official rules of society: the laws and regulations, the official usages of objects and spaces of the city. They are enacted by encoding, by putting objects and places on maps with precise legends (or codes), or by establishing boundaries and borders.

On the other side are the tactics, referring to people and the ways in which they continuously surf the strategies in unexpected ways, they navigate them according to their cultures, desires, urgencies and imaginations. People constantly perform the environment producing their own interpretations of reality, using objects and moving through cities in ways that are tactical and never fully determined by the plans of organizing bodies.

People fundamentally and continuously break the codes established by the strategies, enacting their tactics and, thus, re-programming the environment, and adding new codes onto it, established by acts of “making” and of “performing”, by unpredictably changing their trajectories while moving through urban space, by changing the way in which they use a certain object, and by mutating the way in which a certain space is used.

In the chapter “Walking in the City” De Certeau writes:

The ordinary practitioners of the city live “down below”, below the thresholds at which visibility begins. They walk – an elementary form of this experience of the city; They are walkers, Wandersmänner, whose bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban “text” they write without being able to read it. These practitioners make use of spaces that cannot be seen; their knowledge of them is as blind as that of lovers in each other’s arms. The paths that correspond in this interweaving, unrecognized poems in which each body is an element signed by many others, elude legibility. It is as though the practices organizing a bustling city were characterized by their blindness. The networks of these moving, intersecting writings compose a manifold story that has neither author nor spectator, shaped out of fragments of trajectories and alterations of spaces: in relation to representations, it remains daily and indefinitely other.

And, later:

Their story begins on ground level, with footsteps. They are myriad, but do not compose a series. They cannot be counted because each unit has a qualitative character: a style of tactile apprehension and kinesthetic appropriation. Their swarming mass is an innumerable collection of singularities. Their interwined paths give their shape to spaces. They weave places together. In that respect, pedestrian movements form one of those “real systems whose existence in fact makes up the city”. They are not localized; it is rather that they spatialize. They are no more inserted whithin a container than those Chinese characters speakers sketch out on their hands with their fingertips.

According to these idea, strategies and tactics each produce distinguishable parts of the city. The first is top-down and is relatively static, relating to the institutionalised, bureaucratic, legal and administrative codes which describe the spaces of the city. The second is bottom-up, emergent, dissonant, in real-time, describing the desire and visions of the city-practitioners (the performers), written on the cities through their bodies and their actions within the city.

The first represents a top-down form of information and knowledge. The second is bottom up.

The first is mainly static, and highly readable through the apparatus of signage, visual encoding and images produced by administrations.

The second one is dynamic, everchanging, multiple, polyphonic, and is below the threshold of readability as it is drawn through the bodies of city-dwellers, and is ephemeral, lasting only a few instants.

According to De Certeau, this form unpredictable creativity describes a space, in which revolutionary potentials exist, in which individuals individualize culture, and turn elements of the popular in their own, reappropriating them.

This new space can be materialized, under the form of what geographer and urban planner Edward Soja calls the Third Space.[6]

According to Soja in the Third Space:

everything comes together… subjectivity and objectivity, the abstract and the concrete, the real and the imagined, the knowable and the unimaginable, the repetitive and the differential, structure and agency, mind and body, consciousness and the unconscious, the disciplined and the transdisciplinary, everyday life and unending history.

Third Space is a radically inclusive concept, in which the strategies exist together with the tactics which, thus, gain visibility and perceivability, enabling the contestation and re-negotiation of boundaries and cultural identities.

This is a process which is very similar to Homi K. Bhabha‘s theory of cultural hybridization, in which “all forms of culture are continually in a process of hybridity,” that “displaces the histories that constitute it, and sets up new structures of authority, new political initiatives… The process of cultural hybridity gives rise to something different, something new and unrecognizable, a new area of negotiation of meaning and representation.”

Thus, it is a space for open opportunity, in which possibility exists according to, in turn, the possibility to recognize (to see) it in the “other”, in the tactics that are expressed in space. Opportunity exists if our gaze can become educated to see the tactics and to learn to negotiate their meaning.

The Third Landscape

When Gilles Clément described the Third Landscape he described it as [8]:

The Third Landscape – an undetermined fragment of the Plantary Garden -designates the sum of the space left over by man to landscape evolution – to nature alone. Included in this category are left behind (délaissé) urban or rural sites, transitional spaces, neglected land (friches), swamps, moors, peat bogs, but also roadsides, shores, railroad embankments, etc. To these unattended areas can be added space set aside , reserves in themselves: inaccessible places, mountain summits, non-cultivatable areas, deserts; institutional reserves: national parks, regional parks, nature reserves.

Compared to the territories submitted to the control and exploitation by man, the Third Landscape forms a privileged area of receptivity to biological diversity. Cities, farms and forestry holdings, sites devoted to industry, tourism, human activity, areas of control and decision permit diversity and, at times, totally exclude it. The variety of species in a field, cultivated land, or managed forest is low in comparison to that of a neighbouring « unattended » space..

The Third Landscape is the part of the natural environment that grows in-between bricks and stones, it is the grass that lives between train tracks, it is the natural space that finds its life in the cracks of the walls, or in the places of our cities to which we don’t pay much attention.

It is the natural space of our cities which has not yet been encoded. It is not found in the flowerbeds and hedges which our city administrations define through borders and limits: please keep off the grass, this is a bureaucratically instituted flowerbed.

From an ecological point of view, the larger part of the biodiversity in our cities is found in the Third Landscape [9].

From this point of view, the Third Landscape can be considered as the genetic reservoir of the planet, the space of the future…..

Gilles Clément’s “Planetary Garden” is one of the most suggestive answers to the mutation of the definition of urban space. Planetary Garden is to economic and urban globalization what urban gardens were to the cities of the 19th Century: the latter represented the closed or tightly schemed design of urban architecture and layout, while the former represents the connective, fluid, mutating texture of the globally interconnected city. The Planetary Garden is the garden of the global city.

The third landscape is a connective fabric composed of residual spaces that tend to take a liquid state, never preserving shape, resisting governance. Classical preservation or environmental conservation tools such as surveillance, protection and the creation of limits and borders cannot apply to the Third Landscape without destroying its characteristics, as Clément writes [10] “not property, but space for the future”. An idea of space that goes beyond the ideas of landscape as a place for identity, being used as an asset for local societies, and as a strategic tool for memory.

An idea of space that exemplifies the possibilities of the contemporary world: a multiplication of narratives; the holistic perception of ecosystems; the possibilities and richness offered by disseminated, interstitial, emergent, mutating, temporary, polyphonic environments; the end of dualistic approaches.

As John Barrell spoke about “the dark side of the landscape” [11] while pointing out the imposition of a point of view of a single social class, with Clément we could speak about a “light side”, for the Third Landscape is not an exclusive model but an inclusive one:

“a shared fragment of a collective consciousness”.

It is based on a planetary remix (brassage) which is at the origin of the current richness of ecosystems. [12] These dynamically mutating spaces embody the presence of multiple agencies forming the city from points of view that are architectural, political, economic, poetic, activist, industrial: new forms of nature that emerge by instantaneously creating interstitial ecosystems that flow with the story of the city, describing a realtime syncretic map that develops together with the creation of new areas for residences, industry, commerce, business, culture and entertainment, and with the death, abandonment and decay of the previous ones, as a geography of the mutation of the city. [13]

Clément talks about the necessity of training our gaze into recognizing and understanding the Third Landscape. This requires a new possibility for vision and knowledge dissemination in urban natural environments, a renewed sense of aesthetics, and a morphed sensibility for the possibilities for interaction and communication offered by our surroundings.

This is a potentially revolutionary point of view, as it alludes to the possibility to achieve the perception of these emergences, and the possibility to transform them into a form of shared knowledge.

A similar discourse could be imagined for the Third Space: what if the emergent history of tactics could become a source of shared knowledge? What if the progressive sedimentation of this knowledge, its continuous formation of everchanging and evolving ruins, layer after layer, could become accessible and readable, through sensibility and senseability, and through a novel form of aesthetics to stimulate both perception (attention) and awareness, to describe the progressive history of daily life: a stratified, accessible, perceivable, usable, continuously evolving micro-history?

The Third Generation City and Urban Acupuncture

What is a ruin?

A ruin is the progressive reunification of  objects and architectures to nature. As buildings grow older, the action of natural agents, of human beings and of the Third Landscape mutate them, bringing them into a different form: more organic, and systematically integrated into the natural environment.

In a way, nature and human beings ruin buildings, transforming them into ruins.

From a different point of view, the actions of human beings and nature bring buildings into a different state, transforming them into ruins, providing evidence of the history of humans’ and nature’s interventions on architectures, of the patterns according to which they have been used daily. From this point of view, ruins expose the history of the natural (and human, as integrated in nature) environment and of its daily life.

Ruins are, to all effect, a history and a source of knowledge and of information, enacted through the layering processes of the results of the actions of human beings and of natural agents.

From Marco Casagrande‘s definition [14]:

Third Generation City is the organic ruin of the industrial city.

Third Generation City is true when the city recognizes its local knowledge and allows itself to be part of nature.

And [15]:

The Third Generation City is the industrial city ruined by the people – human nature as part of nature.

Like a weed creeping into an air-conditioning machine the industrial city will be ruined by rumors and by stories. The common subconscious will surface to the street level and architecture will start constructing for the stories – for the urban narrative. This will be soft, organic and as an open source based media, the copyrights will be violated. The author will no longer be an architect or an urban planner, but somehow a bigger mind of people. In this sense the architects will be like design shamans merely interpreting what the bigger nature of the shared mind is transmitting.

This last definition is specifically interesting for all our discussion: the image of the layering of the subconscious, of the stories and narratives produced by people emerges as a novel (un)building material which is capable of preserving history and knowledge, by transforming spaces, whose authors will no longer be architects or planners, but people themselves.

The third generation city is envisaged to be an organic layer that promotes alternative modes of living as well as narratives, or “urban rumors”

The Third Generation City as a form of knowledge.

And, as in the Third Landscape, the need to educate our gaze to recognize this kind of stratification as a new kind of aesthetics, as a new form of perception for possibility and opportunity: an open space for the future.

Thus it is imaginable to acknowledge this process and, thus, to imagine the city as a whole, as a body, which includes both architecures and their emergent layering with the history and knowledge of the daily lives of human beings and nature.

This body would not be static, with continuous, emergent flows of knowledge and information taking place throughout it.

Thus enabling the visions of architect Vilen Künnapu‘s  theory of energy center architecture aiming in tuning the urban condition into a network of spiritual layers, and architect Marco Casagrande‘s theory or urban acupuncture in which the cities are treated punctually as energy organism towards an environmentally (and socially) sustainable development.

According to Urban Acupuncture, small scale interventions can be used to transform larger urban contexts. From this point of view, the sites of the interventions can be selected much in the same ways in which traditional Chinese Acupuncture selects the points in which to insert the needles: locations which are fundamental for the flows of information, communication and knowledge in the city.

City is viewed as multi-dimensional sensitive energy-organism, a living environment. Urban acupuncture aims into a touch with this nature and Sensitivity to understand the energy flows of the collective chi beneath the visual city and reacting on the hot-spots of this chi. [16]

Urban Acupuncture is connected with the perception of the city as a body, with narratives, emotions, information and knowledge as its main meridians for energy flows.

Urban acupuncture bears some similarities to the new urbanist concept of Tactical Urbanism. The idea focuses on local resources rather than capital-intensive municipal programs and promotes the idea of citizens installing and caring for interventions. These small changes, proponents claim, will boost community morale and catalyze revitalization.[17]


The info-body of the City: the Third Infoscape

As we have seen so far, the idea of Microhistory allows us to focus onto the personal stories of people, describing territories not only in terms of the large-scale events and trends which happen in (or to) them, but allowing for a multitude of points of view emerge, the histories of the daily lives of people, which can be observed to make sense of the larger phenomena.

These stories form the Tactics, described by De Certeau, which, together with the strategies, encompass the dialectic confrontation between the top-down and bottom-up encodings of cities. The first ones are static and prescriptive, establishing strict codes and boundaries. The second ones are dynamic and emergent, and describe the performative practices of city dwellers, in their reinterpretation and reappropriation of the spaces of the city. This is the Third Space, as described by Soja.

In a parallel with Clément’s Third Landscape, we have seen the ways in which the Third Space can be used as the space for emergent opportunity in the city, an inclusive, possibilistic and accessible open space in which it is possible to define new, emergent codes, at multiple levels and according to different directions. To do this, new forms of aesthetics and perceptions must be achieved, to be able to perceive the Third Space/Third Landscape, to see and interpret it as the open space for opportunity and for a possibilistic description of the future.

With the Third Generation City, we have seen how to integrate all these levels using the idea of the ruins, in which Tactics stratify on top of Strategies, transforming them. This layering represents the effects of nature and of human daily lives on the spaces described by the strategies, their histories and narratives.

This, in turn, describes the city as a body, in perpetual dynamic evolution, in which this emergent process describes the flows of expression, emotions, information and knowledge: the energies of the city.

On these flows, in ways which are similar to the ones we find in acupuncture, we can imagine to apply Urban Acupuncture, acting on the nodes of the meridians of these flows to liberate and enhance them and, thus, producing larger effects through small interventions.

All of this process we have just described relies, as we said, on the energies of the city which are represented by expression, emotion, information and knowledge, and on their possibility to flow freely, and to leave evidence of their (micro)history to be transformed into accessible forms of awareness, wisdom, insights, enlightenment and performance.

In current times, much of these energies assume digital forms.

We have learned to use mobile devices, ubiquitous technologies, social networks and other ubiquitous forms of communication to work, collaborate, make decisions, express our feelings, learn, communicate, establish relationships, and consume. [18] [19] [20]

It is, thus, possible to define, along the lines of the previous definitions, a (First, Second and) Third Infoscape. Where the First Infoscape would refer to the information and knowledge generated within nature; the Second Infoscape would refer to the information and knowledge generated in the industrial city (the second generation city, the city of infrastructures, of transactions, of sensors…); and the Third Infoscape would refer to the information and knowledge generated through microhistory, through the progressive, emergent and polyphonic sedimentation onto the city of the expressions of the daily lives of city-practitioners.

By making a parallel with the previous theoretical approaches it would be, then, possible to focus our attention onto the Third Infoscape, together with the First and the Second, to create a novel kind of sensibility, perception and awareness. And with this new form of sensibility it would be imaginable to form new modalities for observing and understanding our cities, and to perform new kinds of Urban Acupuncture interventions, based on the energy flows of the city, expressed through the digital domains which are now a fundamental part of our daily experience, inseparable from the physical one.

To achieve this, we would need to form a new aesthetic (referring to the concept of perception) sensibility, to see the Third Infoscape, and to recognize it as an inclusive space for opportunity, in the same sense pointed out by Clément when dealing with the Third Landscape.

These, among many others, are the topics which we are exploring with the Human Ecosystems project.

Human Ecosystems

Human Ecosystems

[1] Joyner, C. W. Shared Traditions: Southern History and Folk Culture, (Urbana: University of Illinois, 1999), p. 1

[2] Levi, Giovanni.  “On Microhistory.”  In Peter Burke, ed., New Perspectives on Historical Writing.  University Park: Pennsylvania State Press, 1991.

[3] Iggers, George.  “From Macro-to Microhistory: The History of Everyday Life.”  In Historiography of the 20th Century.  Hanover, N.H.: Wesleyan University Press, published by University Press of New England, 1997.

[4] Brewer, John (2010). “Microhistory and the Histories of Everyday Life” in CAS e-SERIES, Number 5, 2010. Accessible at

[5] de Certeau, Michel. “The Practice of Everyday Life”, trans. Steven Rendall, University of California Press, Berkeley 1984. Accessible at,%20the%20practice%20of%20everyday%20life.pdf

[6] Soja, Edward W. Thirdspace. Malden (Mass.): Blackwell, 1996. Print. p. 57.

[7] Rutherford, Jonathan. “The Third Space. Interview with Homi Bhabha.” Identity: Community, Culture, Difference. London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1998. Print. P. 211

[8] Clément, Gilles. The Third Landscape.

[9] Clément, Gilles. Manifesto del terzo paesaggio. Macerata: Quodlibet, 2005.

[10] Gilles Clément. Le jardin planétaire. Reconcilier l’homme et la nature, Albin MIchel, Paris 1999.

[11] Barrell, John. The dark side of the landscape: the rural poor in English painting, 1730-1840, Cambridge University Press, New York 1980.

[12] di Campli, Antonio. Review of the “Manifesto del terzo paesaggio”,, 2005

[13] Iaconesi, Salvatore. Leaf++.

[14] Casagrande, Marco.

[15] Casagrande, Marco. Cross-over Architecture on Epifanio.

[16] “Urban Acupuncture: Revivifying Our Cities Through Targeted Renewal,” – Kyle Miller, MSIS 9/2011

[17] Urban acupuncture’ touted for cash-strapped cities - David West, New Urban Network 7/2011

[18] Salvatore Iaconesi, Oriana Persico. The Co-Creation of the City in ECLAP 2012 Conference on Information Technologies for Performing Arts, Media Access and Entertainment, pp.62.

[19] Urbanverse,

[20] Salvatore Iaconesi, Oriana Persico. 2012. ConnectiCity: Real-Time Observation and Interaction for Cities Using Information Harvested from Social Networks, in International Journal of Art, Culture and Design Technologies (IJACDT), Vol.2, Issue 2, pp. 14–29.

Human Ecosystems at the MACRO Museum of Rome for Aperitivi Formativi

What is the Human Ecosystem of the city?

How does it transform with the wide and accessible availability of ubiquitous and nomadic technologies?

How can we capture and visualize the Human Ecosystem of a city?

How can we transform this possibility to represent the Human Ecosystem into the opportunity to perceive its complexity and to perform it, to position ourselves within it and act creating new relations, new opportunities and new, yet unexplored possibilities?

These are some of the themes we will confront with on Tuesday, November 12 2013, at the MACRO Museum of Rome (in via Nizza 138) for a session of Aperitivi Formativi which will revolve around the idea (and project) of the Human Ecosystem.

Here is the Facebook Event of the day: Human Ecosystems at Aperitivi Formativi, at the MACRO Museum

About the Human Ecosystems project:

The Human Ecosystems Project

The Human Ecosystems Project

The main idea driving the philosophy of the project is that with the advent of ubiquitous and nomadic technologies (digital) information has become part of our landscape. The world is wrapped in an everchanging, liquid, emergent membrane of information which people have learned to use to take decisions, express emotions, communicate and, in general, to transform their perception of the world.

It has become, in more than one way, a new sense, a new tactility and a new possibility for performance.

We see this as a “new part of Nature” (or, possibly, an “updated part of Nature”), expressed along the models of the Ecosystem, the whole of the subjects, energies and flows of a certain environment, as described through the relational networks interweaving their lives. A new conception of the Body of the City, to which we will try to operate grabbing inspiration from the idea of Urban Acupuncture, as expressed by Marco Casagrande, and expanded to include the reality of the ubiquitous informational and communicational landscape.

And, thus, we are bringing up a series of projects which deal with both the progressive sedimentation of the ubiquitous infoscape, describing both its ruins, and its emergence. And, with them, the coagulation and continuous evolution/transformation of stories, relationships, emotions. Or, looking to the other direction of the time arrow, to possibility and opportunity.

With these projects we are trying to bring augmented sensibility to the Third Landscape of Information, the Third Infoscape, gathering inspiration from Gilles Clèment.

The project has already started in the city of Rome and, soon, more instances will start in many other cities, establishing conversations with city administrations, organizations and citizens.