Exploratory Practice I: at Occupy Goldsmiths Library

The focus of these participatory research practices was to explore translations in order to gain a better understanding of miscommunication. In the first stage, during the occupation of Goldsmiths Library in 2010, the focus was on a concrete situation with specific questions attached to it. 

At the end of 2010, a widespread challenge to government cuts, particularly in the education budget, led to large marches in central London and the occupation of universities throughout the UK in protest. At Goldsmiths, students occupied the library and I participated in some of the meetings, small tasks and general assemblies that coordinated the protests. I researched the idea of consensus, which served as basis for the occupation of the library. Over a day and a half, I distributed envelopes and engaged in conversation about the meaning and translation of words recurrently used by those present at the occupation site. 

Example of the envelope and questionnaires on the words: Face-to-face, Engage, Social Imaginaries, State, Argument, Opposition, Gathering, Consensus. Questions: 1 – Translate this word into as many languages/dialects/ways you know. 2 – What does this word mean? 3 – Use other words or expressions in English to convey the same meaning.

Consensus was one of the most repeated words during the general assemblies at the library. 

The observed differences in meaning might be small, but constitute fundamental fluctuations: is a matter discussed to the point of reaching an agreement, or is the majority agreeing on a matter? And is this agreement reached through argumentation or through a vote? These variations imply different understandings of what is agreed upon in the consensus of a general assembly and ultimately, a distinct understanding of what is being achieved in reaching a consensus regarding occupation. 

This exploratory practice had two important outcomes: firstly, it led me to further research miscommunication by departing from the idea of direct translations, to design a set of open questions regarding the use of language. Secondly, taking part in the meetings that set up the occupation of Goldsmiths library led to further research into Occupy London (see Miscommunicating Publics) which allowed for deepening the figure of the idiot as a figure of miscommunication within my thesis.