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A conversation between Nika Dubrovsky and Vera Mey about (re)thinking cities.

  • Oct 11 2023
  • Nika Dubrovsky
    Is a transdisciplinary researcher which practice evolved from visual arts, journalism, internet culture and publishing. After an artistic career in Israel in the early Nineties, Dubrovsky was among the pioneers in Russia's new media start-up scene and specialized in social media and open source culture. Moving to New York in 2001 she became a significant voice in Russian blogging. Her critical position on educational regimes led to the development and publishing of doodle books for children. Her current project Anthropology For Kids aims at creating a publication series with a participatory approach. Reframing crucial aspects of human life – family, money, migration, privacy, and alike – Anthropology For Kids seeks to deconstruct conditioned notions of how we (should) live, demonstrating the diversity of perspectives and possibilities that exist in different cultures. Nika Dubrovsky was born in Leningrad / St. Petersburg. She currently lives and works in Berlin.

In the following interview, Vera Mey and Nika Dubrovsky discuss their shared experiences as part of the conference series “Challenging Capitalist Modernity,” in which Dubrovsky had taken part on behalf of her organization, Anthropology for Kids. This conversation reflects on Dubrovsky’s experience at the workshop in collaboration with Kurdish activists, touching on themes of urbanism, community, and imagination. The conference took place in Hamburg, Germany, from April 7-9, 2023, and under the title We Want Our World Back, focused on the arts, education, and construction of democratic confederalism.

What is the objective of the Anthropology for Kids (A4Kids) project, and how was it initiated?

I began A4Kids 15 years ago after meeting my late husband, David Graeber. Since he’s the one who actually introduced me to the discipline of anthropology, in a sense, I learned anthropology like a child learning about the world from an adult. Eventually, the project grew out of that relationship.

Throughout its existence, A4Kids has taken different forms, including interactive books and an in-person workshop series. But the purpose has always remained the same: introducing people – as I was introduced myself – to the various ways in which essential social institutions such as Family, City, Museum, and so on, have been perceived in different cultures and at different times. A4Kids invites people to imagine new ways of organizing society around the values they hold dear.

Originally, I imagined the project as being less of a product and more of a community-oriented educational tool. I thought I would create “doodle books” –  notebooks, or some sort of collective drawing practice. Something that can be easily integrated into the everyday life of a parent taking care of their kids; that would look like play, without requiring lots of resources – something equivalent to singing songs together. However, that was proven to be very difficult to pitch to publishing houses, and so David and I began adapting the project from doodle books to more traditional educational books. (The doodle designs are still available for download from our website,

Another project born out of the initial idea was the City of Care Assembly, which David and I designed together during lockdown in London. This time, we were working with our adult friends from the art group and environmental movement Extinction Rebellion. We drew on the pavement with chalk, collectively visualizing urban social alternatives by literally drawing onto the city.

Ever since, lots of international A4Kids workshops have been organized with people of all ages from different cultural, economic, and social backgrounds: 6 and 7-year-old kids from Havana, teens from central London, homeless 18 and 20-year-olds from Berlin, and Romanian teens from Timișoara have all taken part in it. Even though the groups have been very diverse, one aspect that has remained the same throughout has been the gender dynamic: despite being from very different backgrounds, they have shown a similar behavior pattern of assuming gender roles. The moment when children start to invent social scenarios, boys in almost every country start building robot factories to kill their enemies. They fantasize about taking over the city, building roads in a way that would either cut off supplies from one part of the city or protect the city from future attacks. While the boys were engaged in warfare with each other from start to finish, the girls would look for ways to provide care. Girls would say, “Looks like it will be a war. There will probably be wounded people. Let’s build a hospital.” Or, “We should make a community garden and a school for our future kids.” If they were to build a factory, it would be something like a toy factory. Only in Iceland, a country with an inspiring feminist history, did the girls choose to take over a part of the city and state, not to adapt to the rules created by boys, but to make their own.

How did it happen that a kids' educational project ended up at a conference with such a name like “Challenging Capitalist Modernity”? 

Anthropology promises an incredible opportunity to examine our society through the prism of others organized in different times and by different cultures. A4Kids came about as an attempt to create and spread non-academic and egalitarian knowledge with links to practice – meaning, learning by doing. Gradually, the A4kids project changed its audience from kids to adults. A similar process happened with the A4kids book series. They are now being published by MIT Press under the title ...Made Differently. The reference to children has been removed from the title.  

The invitation to participate in the conference was very personal, as David and I were friends with the organizers. David was doing everything he could to help the most important revolution since the Spanish War: the Rojava Revolution. David was an anarchist like his father, Kenneth Graeber, who, as a young American anarchist, went to fight in the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War. Just before I left for the conference, I learned that the administration of the University of Hamburg had refused to hold the event. The preparation of an international conference with more than 1,000 guests takes a long time. It is almost impossible to coordinate infrastructure and logistics at the last minute. The conference would have to be canceled. 

The interference of the administrative powers in the affairs of an independent university caused outrage among activists and students in Hamburg and around the world. Amazingly, through a collective effort, organizers managed to get the conference going within just a few days.

How was the practice and agenda of A4Kids embedded into the conference?

My experience of delivering the A4Kids workshop at the “Challenging Capitalist Modernity” conference was unlike any other I have had in the 15 years of running this project.

I brought a large piece of paper containing initial outlines of Hamburg and proposed the joint planning of a new city to the 20-some  people who had signed up for the session.

Participants were from all over the world: there were Kurds, Germans, Brits, Indians, Romanians, and people from the Balkans. Despite coming from different places, they shared a lot; it felt like they already had a common language and had known each other for a long time. Thus, it was easy to collaborate. People supported each other in developing ideas. Having come to the conference about "different modernity," they were already geared up to collaborate on building an alternative world. My workshop simply provided a place where they could discuss the details of this world with each other.

An important detail that stood out to me about the workshop in Hamburg was how the participants approached the concept of security. David admired how, in Rojava, collective safety became an integral part of the society, rather than the mission of an outside force set up to police society itself. David recounted how, in his visit to Rojava, there were almost no traffic police. It seemed like adults were just making sure that kids would not attempt to drive cars. The street traffic was pretty safe.

Interestingly for me, at the workshop in Hamburg, participants began creating their city by building a river. When it was time to think about the police, they suggested that the police would be a group of citizens who always float on the river, constantly going from one neighborhood to another. When the police were absent from a neighborhood, they were replaced by local members of the community. This way, the population would remain in control, and the police would only exist for society’s protection. I thought that was a brilliantly smart and well-thought-through city design. There were numerous other clever ideas; for example, a girl from India combined a food cooperative with an art space for women. So many brilliant ideas were born about how to build a world where very different people could live freely, respecting each other and the world around them, that it would be hard to recount them all here, but I felt like I had taken part in an incredible сrash course in the making of the Rojava revolution. 

Even though I was supposed to run this workshop, I didn't actively participate; I simply observed the group as they collaborated on designing this city of freedom and care. Some might describe what I saw as utopian, but I don’t think so. Indeed, in my experience taking part in the workshops over many years, when people have lacked ideas for crafting a solution, they tend to create dystopias based on dark fantasies. Many people get a bit lost when asked to join in planning social spaces together since it's not something they've done much in their lives. There was no confusion among the participants at the Hamburg conference, only a cheerful confidence in their ability to build something beautiful together. They were both highly practical and meticulous while thinking most of all about social justice. I couldn't help but imagine how fortunate I would be to have such people nearby when the inevitable catastrophes, environmental or otherwise, hit our part of the world.

This impressive, solutions-focused way of thinking was also present in the approach of the conference's organizers. When the venue canceled the event, it came as a total shock. Despite being faced with this massive problem, the organizers of the conference were results-oriented, just like the way participants in my workshop approached building a city. 

The organizers spread the workshops and panel discussions across several venues in Hamburg, so everything went as originally planned: without a hitch!

It looked magical. As if they were being helped by magical fairies or superheroes. But the secret was the solidarity of a large network of activists and sympathizers, ready to react in unusual situations towards a common cause. 

The University of Hamburg administration surely didn't anticipate this amazing unity and vibrant spirit from the conference organizers and participants. I wish to think that the Anthropology for Kids project will at least partly follow this example. 




Dijberiya Modernîteya Kapîtalîst:

"Bajarê Pêşerojê" - atolyeya Antropolojiya Zarokan a Nika Dubrovsky transcript


Çapa 4'emîn a rêze konferansê "Dijwar Modernîteya Kapîtalîst" a li Hamburg, Almanya, di 8'ê Adara 2023'an de hate lidarxistin. Di bin sernavê çarçoveya Em dixwazin Cîhana xwe vegere, bal kişand ser huner, perwerde û avakirina konfederalîzma demokratîk.

Armanca projeya Antropolojî ji bo Zarokan (A4Kids) çi ye, û çawa hate destpêkirin?

Min panzdeh sal berê dest bi "A4Kids" kir piştî ku bi hevjinê min yê rehmetî, David Graeber re hevdîtin kir, ji ber ku ew e yê ku bi rastî min bi dîsîplîna antropolojiyê da naskirin. Di vî warî de, ez fêrî antropolojiyê bûm mîna zarokek ku ji mezinan fêrî cîhanê dibe. Di dawiyê de proje ji wê pêwendiyê derket.

Di tevahiya hebûna xwe de, A4Kids formên cihêreng girtiye, mînakî pirtûkên înteraktîf û forma rêze atolyeyên kesane. Lê mebest her tim maye ku zarokan bi awayên curbecur ên ku saziyên civakî yên bingehîn ên wekî Malbat, Bajar, Muze û hwd, di çandên, cihê û di demên cuda de hatine dîtin, bidin nasîn. A4Kids xwendevan û beşdarên xwe vedixwîne pêvajoyek afirîner, ji wan dipirse ku rêyên nû yên rêxistinkirin û rêzkirina civakê li dora nirxên ku jê hez dikin xeyal bikin.

Di eslê xwe de, min projeyek kêm hilberek û bêtir amûrek perwerdehiyê ya civatê xeyal kir. Min fikir kir ku ez ê pirtûkên doodle, notebook, an cûreyek pratîkên xêzkirina kolektîf biafirînim. Tiştê ku bi hêsanî dikare di jiyana rojane ya dêûbav de ku lênêrîna zarokên xwe dike, dê mîna lîstikek xuya bike û gelek çavkaniyan hewce nake - tiştek wekheviya stranan bi hev re digotin. Lê belê, hate îsbat kirin ku ew pir dijwar e ku meriv ji weşanxaneyan re ragihîne, û ji ber vê yekê min û David dest bi adaptekirina projeyê ji pirtûkên doodle berbi pirtûkên perwerdehiya kevneşopîtir kir. Sêwiranên doodle hîn jî ji bo dakêşanê ji malpera me berdest in.

Projeyek din a ku ji ramana destpêkê çêbû Meclîsa Bajarê Lênihêrînê bû, ku min û David bi hev re di dema girtina Covid-ê de li Londonê sêwirand. Vê carê, me bi hevalên xwe yên mezin ên koma hunerî û tevgera hawîrdorê ya Serhildana Vemirandinê re dixebitî. Me bi kelmêş xêz kir û me alternatîfên civakî yên bajarî bi hev re xêz kir û bi rastî li bajêr xêz kir.

Ji hingê ve me gelek atolyeyên navneteweyî yên A4Kids bi kesên ji çand, aborî, temen û paşerojên civakî yên cihêreng organîze kirine: ji zarokên 6-7 salî ji Havana heta ciwanên ji navenda Londonê, ji zarokên 18-20 salî yên bêmal ji Berlînê heta ciwanên Romanî ji Timişoara. Her çend kom pir cihêreng bûn jî, yek aliyek ku di tevaya beşdaran de wekî xwe ma dînamîka zayendî bû: her çend ew grûpên pir cûda bûn, lê dîsa jî şêwazek tevgerê ya wekhev a wergirtina rolên zayendî nîşan dan. Wexta ku zarok dest bi îcadkirina senaryoyên civakî dikirin, hema hema li her welatî kur dest bi avakirina kargehên robotan dikirin da ku dijminên xwe bikujin. Ew ê xeyal bikin ku bajar bi dest bixin, rêyan bi rengekî çêbikin ku an dabînkirina beşek ji bajêr qut bike an jî bajêr ji êrîşên pêşerojê biparêze. Ji destpêkê heta dawiya atolyeyê piraniya xortan tevlî şer dibûn. Berevajî vê, keç dê li rêyên lênêrînê bigerin. Digotin, “Baş e, dixuye ku dê şer bibe. Ji ber vê îhtîmal e ku kesên birîndar jî hebin. Werin em nexweşxaneyek ava bikin." an "Divê em ji zarokên xwe yên pêşerojê re baxçeyek civatê û dibistanek çêbikin." Ji ber vê yekê, heke ew fabrîqeyek ava bikin, ew ê bibe tiştek wekî kargehek pêlîstokan. Tenê li Îzlandayê, welatek xwedî îlham dîroka femînîst, keçan hilbijartibûn ku beşek ji bajar û dewletê bi dest bixin da ku ne li gorî qaîdeyên ku ji hêla kur ve hatine afirandin, lê ji bo xwe bikin yek.

A4Kids beşdarî konferansa Dijberiya Modernîteya Kapîtalîst bû. Tevlîbûn çawa pêk hat?

Antropolojî soza fersendek bêhempa dide ku em civaka xwe bi prîzma çandên din vekolînin. A4Kids wekî ceribandinek di afirandin û belavkirina zanîna ne-akademîk û wekhevîxwaz de bi giranî li ser fêrbûna destan an fêrbûna bi kirinê derket holê. Vexwendname ji bo beşdarbûna konferansê pir kesane bû, ji ber ku ez û David bi organîzatoran re heval bûn. David bi hemû hêza xwe alîkariya şoreşa herî girîng ji Şerê Navxweyî yê Spanî, ku bavê wî tê de beşdar bû, guhertina civakî û siyasî li Rojavayê Kurdistanê kir. Kesên ji welatên cihê beşdarî konferansê bûn: ji Meksîka û daristana Amazonê, ji Bakurê Kurdistanê bi xwe û ji Dewletên Yekbûyî yên Amerîkayê, ji Almanya û ji Fransa. Hemûyan li ser îmkana jiyîna li cîhaneke din axivîn. Helwesta hevpar a li hember qeyrana avhewa, şer û neheqiyan ev e ku ew ne neçar in, lê bi tercîhên me ve girêdayî ne.

Bi xwe, min axaftinên panelîstan pir bi bandor dît. Tewra ez ê bibêjim ku wê ruhê min bilind kir, ji ber ku di van salên dawî de nûçe ji xemgîniyê wêdetir bûn, û li vir hûn bi mirovên ku bi awayekî çalak dixebitin ji bo afirandina herêmên azadî û lênihêrînê li çaraliyê cîhanê diaxivin.

Demeke kin beriya ku ji Londonê biçim konferansê, ez hîn bûm ku li ser daxwaza Polîsê Veşartî yê Alman, Zanîngeha Hamburgê red kiriye ku ev çalakî were lidarxistin. Ev bê guman dibe sedem ku konferansek were betal kirin. Jixwe, amadekariya bûyerên wiha demek dirêj digire. Bi gelemperî, her tişt di pêş de tête saz kirin, û ne gengaz e ku di deqeya paşîn de binesaziyê û lojîstîkê were hevrêz kirin.

Destwerdana polîsên veşartî di karûbarên zanîngeha serbixwe de bû sedema hêrsa organîzator û piştgirên konferansê, di nav de gelek akademîsyenên navdar û rewşenbîrên giştî, wek Naomi Chomsky û Silvia Federici. Xwendekarên zanîngehê jî wêrekî û yekîtiyê nîşan dan. Bi xebatek kolektîf, organîzator bi ser ketin ku konferans tenê di çend rojan de pêk were. Wek gelek caran, hewldana têkbirina hevgirtinê, tirsandina çalakvanan, bû sedema berevajî vê yekê: bilindbûna hevgirtin û coş.

Di konferansê de pratîk û rojeva Af4Kids çawa hate bicihkirin?

Tecrûbeya min a lidarxistina atolyeya A4Kids a di konferansa " Dijberiya Modernîteya Kapîtalîst" de ne mîna ya din bû ku di van panzdeh salên birêvebirina vê projeyê de hebû.

Beşdar ji çar aliyên cîhanê bûn: Kurd, Alman, Îngilîz, Hindî, ji Balkan û Rûman û gelek kesên din. Dema ku ji cihên cuda dihatin, gelek tişt parve dikirin û jixwe zimanek hevpar hebû. Wisa hîs dikir ku mirov ji demeke dirêj ve hevdu nas dikin. Ji ber vê yekê hevkarî hêsan bû û mirovan di pêşxistina ramanên kolektîf de piştgirî da hev. Wan ji bo afirandina şert û mercên jiyanê yên wekhev li bajarê xeyalî hevkarî kirin, û pêvajoyên hilberîna xwarinê yên kolektîf, wek nimûne, çêkirin. Tevahiya komê yek beşdarê astengdar li ber çavan girt û pêdawîstiyên taybet ên welatiyên astengdar xistin nav plansaziya bajarvaniyê.

Bi kesane, tiştê ku herî zêde bala min kişand ev bû ku çawa mijara ewlehiyê hema hema yekser di navenda nîqaşa komê de bû. David Graeber heyranê xwe hişt ku çawa li Rojava ewlekariya kolektîf bûye parçeyekî bingehîn ê civakê, ne ji hêzeke derve ya ku ji bo polîskirina civakê bi xwe hatiye avakirin. David diyar kir ku hema bêje polîsên trafîkê tune bûn, lê di şûna wê de, mezinan temaşe dikirin ku zarok hewl nedin ajotina otomobîlan, û xuya ye ku seyrûsefera kuçeyê pir ewledar bû.

Di vê atolyeya taybetî de, beşdaran bi avakirina çem dest bi afirandina bajarê xwe yê xeyalî kirin. Beşdarên komxebatê dema ku behsa polîsên bajêr dikirin, pêşniyar kirin ku polîs ji komek welatiyan pêk tê ku di keştiyek li ser çem de difetisin, serdana deverên cuda yên bajêr dikin û berdewam li her navçeyekê ji aliyê xelkê deverê ve tên guhertin. Bi vî awayî dê ne hêzên polîsên xweser, lê dê celebek tîmê alîkariya taxê ya sivîl hebe. Bi vî awayî dê gel her tim di bin kontrola xwe de bimîne û polîs tenê ji bo parastina civakê hebûna. Min fikir kir ku ew sêwiranek ewlehiyê ya biaqil û xweş-fikir bû. Gelek ramanên din ên jîr hebûn, wek nimûne, keçek ji Hindistanê kooperatîfek xwarinê bi cîhek hunerî ya jinan re li hev kir. Zarokan meclîsek ava kirin ku tê de dikarin bi awayekî komî biryarê bidin ka dê çawa bi sêwirana navenda bajêr bimeşin. Tecrûbeya min a bi vê atolyeyê re mîna derseke bêbawer bû di afirandina bajarekî de, ku ji aliyekî ve garantiya azadî û ewlehiya her welatiyekî bi berfirehî hate fikirîn û ji aliyê din ve jî mafên kolektîf ên tevahiya bajar û hevpariyên wî hatin parastin. Her çiqas diviyabû ku ez vê atolyeyê bi rê ve bibim jî, min zêde nekiriye. Min tenê temaşe kir ku ev koma mirovan bajarek lênihêrîn, komînal ava kir. Dibe ku hin tişta ku min dît wekî utopîk binav bikin, lê belê ez nafikirim ku ew rast e. Bi rastî, di atolyeyên din de min gelek caran dît ku zarok nizanin ka mirov çawa li cîhê hevpar, wek bajarekî, ji pirsgirêka muhtemel re çareseriyek çêbike, ew ê li ser bingeha xeyal û tirsên tarî, an li ser senaryoyên dîstopîk dîstopiyayan derxin holê ku medyaya tirsnak pêşkêşî me dike.

Beriya her tiştî, her fîlimek apocalypse ya zombî bi ramanên xwe yên li ser cewhera rastîn a mirov wekî "şerê her tiştî li dijî her tiştî" pêkvejiyana utopyaya Thomas Hobbes e. Tiştê sosret e ku mirovek bi ramanên wiha eşkere nemirovî li ser mirovan, bû damezrînerê sêwirana siyasî ya civaka ku em tê de dijîn. Ji ber vê yekê ne ecêyb e ku em ji zarokatiyê ve têne fêr kirin ku dinya tirsnak û xeternak e û ku tenê hukûmet dikare me ji xwe xilas bike. Mirovên li Hamburgê mîna komek endezyar bûn, pir maqûl û hûrgulî bûn. Min difikirî ku gava felaketek rast derkeve, ez dixwazim bi vê komê re bim!

Ev şêwaza ramana berbiçav a çareseriyê di awayê ku organîzatorên konferansê de rêve birin de jî hebû. Dema ku konferans di nav çend rojan de ji ber şîretên polîsên nehênî yên Alman hate betal kirin, organîzatorên konferansê neçar bûn ku cîhek nû ji bûyerê re bibînin, û cîh ji bo hemî atolyeyan bibînin. Ev karekî lojîstîkî ya mezin e. Bûyerên wiha bi gelemperî ji hêla pargîdaniyên rêveberiya lojîstîkî yên profesyonel ve têne amadekirin. Bifikirin: bi sedan û bi sedan beşdar, bi dehan atolye, werger bi gelek zimanan, diviyabû her kes bihata xwarin, belavkirin, rêberîkirin, rêwerzên li ser çawaniya gera li Hamburgê û hwd. Organîzatoran di nava çend rojan de her tişt bi rê ve birin. Ti kêmasiyên lojîstîkî tune bûn.

Çawa ku mirovên di atolyeya A4Kids de bi baldarî û bi baweriya xwe nêzî karê plansazkirina bajarekî bûn û encamek bû 'Bajarê Azadî û Lênêrîn', mîna ku min û hevjinê xwe David Greber xeyal dikir. Dibe ku bajarên wiha jixwe li deverek hebin, û mimkun e ku bêtir û bêtir biharin, û ez dixwazim bawer bikim ku em bixwe dikarin li ser wan yek bijîn.




    Images from Anthropology for Kids, workshop.



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