1.2. Off the Grid

Fall 2019

Themes in this issue

Critical trans studies
Political ecology

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This issue has been printed using a monochrome risograph technique, the ink used for this issue is dark green.
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Laura Pannekoek & Zoë Dankert

editors-in-chief 2018-19

For centuries the grid has dictated how human beings move through space; read images, texts and maps; and exchange goods and energy. Entire cities are modelled on the rectangular division of space, and, although predominantly associated with modernity and Western civilizations, there are examples of premodern, non-Western gridded cities that could be regarded as blueprints for contemporary urban environments.

Off the Grid, An Introduction

Gretchen Bakke

In this introduction to 1.2, Bakke reflects on this edition's essays noting how they "demonstrate...that infrastructure and civilization can be negatively coordinated. Infrastructure can (and perhaps must) become less in order for civilization to become more." Bakke muses that "off the grid" represents the "next necessary step for a better world", gathering the essays under the banner of an infrastructural turn that reconfigures the terms by which we think and characterize civilizational progress.

Gretchen Bakke holds a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in cultural anthropology. Her work focuses on the chaos and creativity that emerges during social, cultural, and technological transitions. She is author of The Grid: The Fraying Wires Between Americans and Our Energy Future (2016) and co-editor of Anthropology of the Arts: A Reader (2016) and Toward an Artful Anthropology (2017).

Caught in the Lattice

Lena Reitschuster

This paper connects recent philosophical discourse on ontological entanglement and materialist epistemologies, following the unfolding of the ecological crisis with the modern episteme, through the historical example of the Linnaean classification system. It suggests a comprehensive theory of grids as a relay between the concrete and the abstract, coining the term conceptual grid. For this purpose, Bernhard Siegert’s media-theoretical understanding of the grid is modified. As conceptual grids shape perception, they become widely invisible. This unnoticed pre-structuring of relations to the world is problematized in the contemporary humanities discourse on the ecological crisis. To counter the separating functions of the conceptual grid, notions such as holobiont, endosymbiosis and sympoeisis are drawn from recent observations in evolutionary biology, arguing for an entangled becoming-with.

Lena Reitschuster studied South Asian Studies and Religious Studies at Heidelberg University, Philosophy and Curatorial Practice at HfG Karlsruhe, and Media Studies at The New School in New York. Her research is located at the intersection of philosophy and biology with a focus on the conceptualization of broadscale system change in the face of ecological crisis.

Grid Locked

Mina Hunt

This essay explores how migrant transgender experience is structured through medico-legal and temporal grids. Following other trans scholars, such as Dean Spade, this paper uses autoethnography to break down the barrier between theory and its object, foregrounding my own subjective stakes within grids of transgender control. Specifically, this essay analyzes the consequences of being in-between or off the grid, and ultimately asks to what degree this is currently possible for trans people seeking medical and legal services as migrants. Ultimately, despite my own privilege as a white transgender woman, at the time of writing this I have not been able to escape the controlling aspects of the grid(s) described here. This lack of agency has reinforced, and reiterated, a progressive linear temporal unfolding through the medico-legal system as I fail to become fully legible to the BIOPOLITICS of the grid.

Mina Hunt is a research masters student in the Gender Studies Department at Utrecht University. Hunt is currently researching issues of transgender migration and mobility.

"Why are we so afraid of the grid?" An Interview with Het Nieuwe Instituut

Marina Otero Verzier, Katía Truijen and Marten Kuijpers

What is the role of public institutions, museums and archives vis-à-vis the various financial and authoritative grids that support them? The Research Department at Het Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam works at the intersections of architecture, design and digital culture to develop the ideas, concepts and formats that in turn shape the institute’s agenda. We spoke to Marina Otero Verzier (the institute’s Director of Research), Katía Truijen (media theorist and senior researcher for Architecture of Appropriation) and Marten Kuijpers (architect by training and senior researcher for the Automated Landscapes project) about Het Nieuwe Instituut’s uneasy relationship with, and attitudes towards, various gridded structures. Is it possible — or even desirable — to resist, reshape or break away entirely from these grids?

Regional Politics: On Region, Nation, and Regionalization

Thom Aalmoes

This paper takes up the conceptualization of region introduced by Imre Szeman in his 2018 article “On the Politics of Region” to consider longstanding tensions between different regions in the Netherlands. While Szeman’s conception opens up new ways of looking at regions, this paper argues that it introduces too stringent oppositions between nation and region, positing the former as artificial and the latter as natural. Considering the case of the Netherland’s ‘Green Heart’ region through Szeman’s region concept, and analyzing how regions are constituted, or what Pierre Bélanger calls regionalization, this paper moves away from an opposition between nation and region.

Thom Aalmoes is a graduate student at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis. His research interests focus on the formation and institutional formalization of regional and urban identities.

The Grid as Structuring Paradox: A Case of Tiny Living

Pepita Hesselberth

This short position paper addresses the gap between idealistic, entrepreneurial, and culturally critical concerns over the emergence of new environmental communities that strive for more sustainable and self-sufficient modes of living, taking the tiny house community in the Netherlands as a case in point. Reflecting on the micro and macro processes of deterritorialization and reterritorialization at play in the concrete case of tiny living, the grid is seen to wield a stricter interpretation of a more general problematic with regards to contemporary urban/human life, where the notion of the grid, I argue, functions as a structuring paradox that at once allows and disallows for the negotiation of possibilities and limits in our thinking about community, sustainability, and alternative modes of living today.

Pepita Hesselberth is Assistant Professor Film and Digital Media at the Centre for Arts and Society, Leiden University. She is the author of Cinematic Chronotopes (2014), and co-editor of, amongst others, Legibility in the Age of Signs and Machines (2018) and Compact Cinematics (2016). She has published widely on Disconnectivity in the Digital, a project for which she received a fellowship from the Danish Council for Independent Research and was appointed as a research fellow at the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies at the University of Copenhagen (2015-2018).

A Grid, Memes and David Hockney

Stepan Lipatov and Sissel Møller

This visual essay explores the patterns of accretive interpretation often afforded to "memes". Citing the Loss meme, a meme format that has been replicated and re-interpreted countless times through different configurations of its basic visual elements, this collaborative effort works to mirror this replication and re-interpretation based around an episode of the artist David Hockney being stuck in an elevator at the Van Gogh museum. Artists were given a keyword around which to structure their reproduction of this event and explore the images as "a series created with a non-visual grid in a simple act of reproduction."

Sissel Vejby Møller (1994) and Stepan Lipatov (1989) are both graduating students at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. As graphic designers they experiment with the language between text and image.

Blurred Lines: Challenging Urban Grids On and Off the Page in City Illustration

Tânia A. Cardoso

This paper draws parallels between the acts of walking and drawing in the city as appropriations of the urban grid. Following Michel de Certeau's theorisation of urban practices, it reflects on both my own drawing in situ practice and [the] picture book The Soft Atlas of Amsterdam by Jan Rothuizen. Both reflect lived experiences and (urban, spatial) stories, determined by and reshaping the city's constructions of spatiality and an urban imaginary. By distorting the pictorial grid, the illustrations speak back to mapped city space, emphasizing that a line between two spatial elements is not blank but rather full of social and cultural significance. These illustrations, by revealing space through metaphorical practices, disrupt the authoritarian logic of city planners and traditional mapping, creating blurred lines in the urban grid and in its corresponding pictorial grid. This way, their heterogeneous, embodied depictions echo the city's impact on both artists’ imaginations.

Tânia A. Cardoso (Lisbon, 1985) is an urbanist and illustrator based in Rotterdam who has had exhibitions in Portugal, the United Kingdom, Brazil and the Netherlands. Her work has been rewarded the Worldwide Picture Book Illustration Competition 2015 and the Gorsedh Kernow Creativity Award 2017. Currently, she is a PhD candidate at the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis researching the relationship between illustration and the city.

The From of Affinity: Line and Landscape in Four Shadows

Aaron Dowdy

This essay considers the ways in which lines are integral to how the concept of affinity is formalized in Larry Gottheim’s structuralist film Four Shadows (1978). The film presents a number of landscapes, references to nineteenth century Romanticism, and a rigid formal structure shaped as a grid. This essay explores how these facets interrelate and asks whether the structural grid functions to enclose the visual landscapes, or whether the role of the grid is emphasized so that these various parts, along with the film's sonic and formal operations, instead work to open it up. Against a purely Romantic reading, this essay offers an analysis of how the film employs lines to account for this balance between confinement and opening, which, this paper argues, is the definition of affinity.

Aaron Dowdy is a graduate student at Columbia University. His research focuses on twentieth century aesthetics, philosophy, and the cinematic image.


Jeff Diamanti

This afterword reflects on the political ecology of infrastructure in Amsterdam. Building on recent work by anti-colonial and feminist materialist scholars concerned with the historical conditions of anthropogenic climate change, my proposition is that cultural analysis as a discipline is in a unique position to critically examine the interimplication of capitalism, carbonization, and colonialism in and through infrastructure.

Jeff Diamanti teaches Literary and Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam. Before that he was the “Media and Environment” Postdoctoral Fellow at McGill University. His book project, Terminal Landscapes, tracks the convergence of economy and ecology across the energy systems of postindustrial capitalism.

Other Printed Matter

Call for Papers: 5.0: SWAMPED! Muddied Environments and the Ecology of Being Bogged Down

January 17, 2023

Call for Papers: 5.0: SWAMPED! Muddied Environments and the Ecology of Being Bogged Down

For the upcoming issue of Soapbox, a graduate peer-reviewed journal for cultural analysis, we invite young researchers and established scholars alike to submit academic essays or creative works that critically engage with the theme of swamped. We are inviting extended proposals (500-1000 words) that follow consistent and complete formatting and referencing style to be submitted to submissions@soapboxjournal.net by February 21st, 2023.

While it may first be thought of as a space of stagnation, the swamp is also a transition zone. A space in which water and land merge, swamps have long represented an area in which the earth resists being controlled, and have functioned as areas of resistance in many Indigenous epistemes and folklores. Swamps, then, are areas that resist human control, and epitomise agency of the natural world, doing so too on a conceptual level (Wilson 1). At the same time, it has been co-opted semantically, as the term “swamped” has become associated with systems, both of society and signification, that are overwhelmed - whether in terms of a job market being swamped, or in the politically loaded draining of “the swamp” as a network of corruption. Where the former strand of signification uses the swamp to highlight agency, the latter points out a lack of it. As a result, swamps have become spaces of contestation and transition both as physical environments, and as linguistic ones. How do these strands of meaning diverge, and where do they come together?

Swamps as they exist in cultural imagination(s).

Swamps speak to the imagination. They feature prominently in folklore and provide fertile soil for myriad mythical creatures: from the nine-headed hydra in ancient Greek mythology, to the South-African grootslang, to the numerous global configurations of the will-o’-wisp. These narratives largely hinge on the swamp’s liminal positioning that makes it hard to traverse, inhabit, or otherwise tame. To this day, when swamps are featured in pop-culture, they are often mythologized to house the monstrous or, at the very least, the off-beat (e.g. Shrek, or the Man-Thing in Marvel comics, or the entire cast of characters in Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!). 

In addition to housing imagined creatures, the swamp is also a famously rich archeological site where we can find many well-preserved traces of past human life. Most notable are the so-called bog bodies, eerily intact corpses that date back as far as the holocene. These findings add to the swamp’s mythical appeal, but are also hypothesised to, in some cases, originate from it. A particularly large amount of bog bodies dating back to the iron age were found in Northern Europe, and the bulk of these corpses bear traces of ritualistic human sacrifice. This has led historians to believe that, at the time, the swamp was seen as a transition space, not just between land and water, but also as a gateway between different worlds (Randsborg). 

So, the swamp is charged with a rich cultural history and subject to wide-ranging meaning-making practices. We invite you to delve further into this and open it up. What stories do we tell about swamps? Which narratives are remembered? And, what does that ultimately say about us? 

The swamp as it appears in political rhetoric.

Since its first use in 1881 by Helen Hunt Jackson in her polemical text, A Century of Dishonor, the concept of the swamp as an area to be overcome has resurfaced repeatedly as a powerful metaphor in the arena of political discussion and rhetoric (most often in the context of US federal politics). Arguing against the so-called ‘Indian Appropriations Act’ of 1871, which rendered Indigenous peoples as wards of the state and, therefore, eligible for forcible relocation, Jackson argued that such panacean responses were immoral and did not address the needs and concerns, of Native peoples, nor did it strive towards the reparations that Indigenous nations deserved. Rather than debate the specifics of individual policy decisions, Jackson argued that ceasing to cheat, rob, break promises, and extending ‘the protection of the law to the Indian's rights of property’ (342) would be the most appropriate first course of action. To illustrate this, Jackson presented the following scenario:

When pioneers in a new country find a tract of poisonous and swampy wilderness to be reclaimed, they do not withhold their hands from fire and axe till they see clearly which way roads should run, where good water will spring, and what crops will best grow on the redeemed land. They first clear the swamp. So with this poisonous and baffling part of the domain of our national affairs — let us first "clear the swamp”. (341).

This metaphorical call to clear, or to drain, the swamp was then exercised by socialist and left-leaning politicians and political commentators such as Winfield R. Gaylord and Victor L. Berger who petitioned for draining the swamp of capitalism (Gaylord 8, Berger 107). In 1966, civil rights activists A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin employed the phrase in A Freedom Budget for All Americans, a policy proposal that, among other things, sought to eradicate poverty (14-15). Ronald Reagan’s use of the phrase in 1982 when authorising the Grace Commision (which investigated inefficiency within the Federal Government), dragged the phrase across the political aisle. Where it had once illustrated a progressive politics, it henceforth became tethered to conceptions of government waste, cronyism and distrust in Capitol Hill, a claim bolstered by the fact of Washington, D.C.,’s construction on supposed marshlands between the Potomac and the Anacostia rivers. From Reagan’s usage  onwards, calls to drain the swamp were almost exclusively directed towards Washington, D.C., as a locus of political venality. The phrase’s most recent, and perhaps most memorable, usage was by former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly uttered the phrase at rallies, during interviews, and in countless tweets. 

The invocation and the power of this phrase can be seen across various areas of cultural and political discourse and analysis; its intent and meaning wavering from progressive to reactionary throughout its history. So begs the question, what does it mean to drain a swamp? Metaphorically speaking, what is the impact of identifying spaces as swamps to be drained? Who does the draining, or the promise of draining, serve? In reality, what are the implications of identifying and draining a swamp? Who does the draining itself? Think of the thousands of people displaced by Benito Mussolini’s draining of the Pontine Marshes, and the many more thousands of workers who were subject to backbreaking manual labour and exposure to malaria and disease (Snowden 155-6). What bubbles to the surface when we delve into the history, use, and the real-world implications of this charged phrase?

The affective experience of being swamped.

But to be swamped is also to feel swamped; to be overwhelmed with work, a sensory overload, stress and clutter. Infrastructures can be swamped; systems too; and spaces can swamp you with stimuli. How does one endure a state of swampedness, feel one’s way through it, resist it or find rest in it? Can objects or texts be swamped? To disconnect, go offline, turn to self-help books, and take time off work – all these are responses to feeling swamped. But then: who can afford to respond like this, and who is unable to withdraw? Or can information overload – to stay with the swamp – be creatively productive or critical? This is the muddy matrix that feeling swamped opens in theory; a space of excessive encounter between ecologies and affects, where swamps become metaphors, and metaphors swamp. 

Thought on the feeling of being swamped and its social-political relationalities are everywhere: from Jonathan Crary’s 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep to Byung-Chul Han’s The Burnout Society to Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism. So too the desire to escape overwhelm has recently been re-conceptualized in edited volumes like Politics of Withdrawal. But “swamp” as a metaphor has not yet passed the floodgates. We invite you to think with this swamp, feel through its conceptual implication. 

We encourage submissions relating to the themes above, as well as, but not limited to, the following: 

  • Critical engagements with/investigations into environments that could be described as marshlands, wetlands, fens, bogs, moors, etc. 
  • Practices of re-wilding and re-swamping.
  • Cultural ethnographies of muddied environments.
  • Environmental humanities and ecocritical approaches to swamps.
  • Investigations into swamps as liminal, transitional, or mutable sites.
  • Swamps as sites of decay (e.g. die-off and algal bloom) and repair (e.g. as fertile sites of regeneration).
  • Socio-cultural explorations of what it means to feel swamped, its implications, and who this affect can belong to.
  • Socio-economic approaches investigating issues such as: 
  • Who is relegated to the swamp?
  • Who has access to the swamp?
  • What are the social impacts of swamped environments on individuals and groups?
  • Investigations of the function of swamps in political rhetoric.
  • Pieces that investigate swamps as veiled, uncharted, or otherred locales or those that approach swamps as spaces to be traversed.

We invite extended proposals (500-1000 words) to be submitted to submissions@soapboxjournal.net by February 21st 2023. Following conditional acceptance, an initial draft version (3000 words) will be due two weeks after receiving the acceptance email. The editing process will take place throughout Spring/Summer 2023. If you have any questions regarding your submission, do not hesitate to contact us at info@soapboxjournal.net. Editing and peer review guidelines will be sent to authors individually upon acceptance of their submission. For full submission guidelines, see our website.

Guidelines for creative submissions are more flexible and can be finished works, but please keep in mind spatial limitations: there is usually room for one longer or two shorter pieces in the print version. A sense of the formatting possibilities can be garnered from previous issues (open-access pdf versions are available on our website).

We also accept submissions for our website all year round. We encourage a variety of styles and formats, including short-form essays (around 2000 words), reviews, experimental writing and multimedia. These can engage with the theme of the upcoming issue but are not limited to it. Please get in touch to pitch new ideas or existing projects that you would like to have published by reading our submission guidelines and filling in the form.

Works cited.

Berger, Victor L. Berger’s Broadsides, Social-Democratic Publishing Company, 1912.

Berlant, Lauren. Cruel Optimism. Duke University Press 2011.

Crary, Jonathan. 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. Verso, 2014. 

Gaylord, Winfield R. “Gaylord Makes a Statement.” Daily Northwestern [Oshkosh: WI], 10 Oct. 1903, p. 8.

Han, Byung-Chul. The Burnout Society. Stanford University Press, 2015.

Hesselberth, Pepita., and Joost de Bloois, editors. Politics of Withdrawal: Media, Arts, Theory. Rowman and Littlefield, 2020.

Jackson, Helen Hunt. A Century of Dishonor: A Sketch of the United State’s Government’s Dealings with Some of the Indian Tribes. New York, Harper & Brothers, 1881.

Randolph, A. Philip, and Bayard Rustin. A Freedom Budget for All Americans: A Summary. A Philip Randolph Institute, 1967.

Randsborg, Klavs. Roman Reflections: Iron Age to Viking Age in Northern Europe. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015.

Snowden, Frank M. The Conquest of Malaria: Italy, 1900-1962. Yale University Press, 2006.

Wilson, Anthony. Swamp: Nature and Culture. Reaktion Books Ltd, 2018.

Call for Creative Work - 5.0: SWAMPED!

October 2, 2023

For the upcoming issue of Soapbox, a graduate peer-reviewed journal for cultural analysis, we invite young artists to submit creative works that critically engage with the theme of swamped. We are inviting proposals or finished works to be submitted to submissions@soapboxjournal.net by October 10th, 2023.

Swamps speak to the imagination. While it may first be thought of as a space of stagnation, the swamp is also a transition zone: an area in which water and land merge, a space where the earth resists being controlled. In addition to its geographical referent, the swamp also covers less tangible—though equally murky—semantic ground. It has become associated with systems, both of society and signification, that are overwhelmed—whether in terms of a job market being swamped, or in the politically loaded draining of “the swamp” as a network of corruption. Where the former strand of signification uses the swamp to highlight agency, the latter points out a lack of it. How do these strands of meaning diverge, and where do they come together?

Guidelines for creative submissions are flexible: poems, short-stories (up to 5000 words), visual art pieces, collages, drawings, comics, anything as long as it's printable! Feel free to take a look at our previous issues for inspiration.

Open Board Positions 2023

We are currently looking to expand our team. Soapbox is a student-run journal focused on promoting voices that creatively engage with concepts and cultural objects in the broadest sense, through publishing academic, artistic, and interdisciplinary works. Soapbox is a collaborative effort in gaining experience and experimenting with running a small publishing platform. All members take part in actively shaping what Soapbox is by weighing in on editorial decisions and take part in any aspects of publishing (both online and in print). 

In general, the time commitment expected is between four and six hrs/week, including a weekly two-hour meeting. The journal is run on a voluntary basis. For all roles, applicants should be based in the Amsterdam area and available for weekly meetings for at least the remaining academic year (until June 2024).

If you're interested, please email info@soapboxjournal.net with the particular role(s) you are interested in and a few words of motivation.

Deadline: Sunday, October 15th


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