Precarious Publishing in Latin America: Relations, meaning and community in movement

Lead Research Organisation: University of Surrey
Department Name: Languages and Translation Studies

Abstract

This project focuses on a contemporary publishing phenomenon that lies at the intersection between cultural trend and social movement, artistic intervention and community environmental project. Known in Latin America as editoriales cartoneras (or catadoras in Brazil), the phenomenon is often translated as 'cardboard publishing', because one feature that unites the diverse publishing projects is the material from which they make their books: recycled cardboard. Yet the term 'cartonera' encompasses far more than the English word 'cardboard'. It is also a reference to the cartonero figure - the cardboard collector or waste picker, a product of economic crisis and unemployment - that was so central in the formation of the first cartonera publishing organisation Eloisa Cartonera in Buenos Aires (2003). It was from cartoneros that Eloisa's founding artists and writers gained inspiration and purchased cardboard, and it was with them that they set up a productive publishing workshop that has since published around 200 titles. Editoriales cartoneras might thus also be translated as 'waste-picking publishers'. Some of them, like Eloisa and Dulcineia (São Paulo), continue to work directly with waste-pickers. Many others, though, have recycled the idea, and adapted it to different local contexts, communities and social needs: some work with groups of school children from deprived areas, others with indigenous communities, to name just two examples. What underpins these divergent, fragmented projects, however, is the shared notion of working productively and creatively from a situation of precariousness - material, social, political, economic and/or environmental.

In this comparative study of cartoneras from Brazil and Mexico, we explore 'precarious publishing' in its two closely inter-related guises: an artistic trend and a social movement. In methodological terms, this requires a transnational, interdisciplinary approach that analyses the projects simultaneously as a collecion of artistic texts and objects (through literary analysis) and a set of production methods, everyday interactions, organizational logics and social networks oriented toward social transformation (through ethnographic fieldwork).

This project makes a number of contributions to research across different humanities and social science disciplines. From sociological and anthropological perspectives, it explores the ways in which theories of social movements can be productively broadened out to include - or dialogue with - phenomena that, like cartoneras, are not only artistic in character, but also fragmentary, fragile and precarious in nature. From a literary angle, it fills a significant gap in research: though these publishers have attracted attention from scholars and journalists since 2003, their focus has largely been on the unusual ways in which they publish (organizational structures and processes), leaving the literary form and content of the books untouched. Our project explores how the content and form of the books (as literary, philosophical or political texts and as art objects) play a key part in creating new relations, communities and meaning. Finally, our innovative use of interdisciplinary methods makes this a ground-breaking study for scholars approaching similarly complex movements that are emerging worldwide in response to increasingly precarious economic, social and environmental conditions.

Beyond academia, our project is designed to create productive international collaborations between academics, publishers, cultural promoters and library archivists, which will lead to a number of shared outputs: a series of blog posts co-written by publishers, academics and librarians; a participative exhibition in London, in which participants will contribute to a new cartonera book; and a collection of cartonera texts accessible to UK-based readers and researchers at Senate House Library, Cambridge University Library and the British Library.

Planned Impact

Impact is at the very heart of the precarious publishing project. Our research will extend the reach of this existing impact on cultural life, heritage and education by working with four communities beyond academia: cartonera publishers in Latin America; related organizations in the UK; the UK general public; in the longer term, pupils and students from primary to higher education. Its impact will be on cultural life, public discourse, heritage and education.

1. CULTURAL LIFE
A key component of this research project will be an exhibition at Senate House Library, London (in collaboration with Maria Castrillo). The exhibition will be innovative and interactive, allowing the general public to engage with the cartonera movement (to touch the objects and read the texts) and become part of it: the response book will be transformed into a multilingual cardboard book. The impacts of the exhibition will be diverse, ranging from 'soft' outcomes like transformed attitudes, values, emotions and beliefs, to increased knowledge and understanding of contemporary social movements and artistic practices (and also of Latin America for the British public).

The event at Senate House Library will benefit cartonera organizations in Latin America, helping them to gain visibility and to disseminate - that is, sell - their work to a wider audience. This event will benefit a number of related UK-based organizations (community projects, sustainability organizations, educational establishments, libraries, publishers and bookshops) by offering a space for knowledge exchange across different areas. It will also benefit readers from varied backgrounds by opening up their conception of the 'book' and of social movements.

2. PUBLIC DISCOURSE
We will disseminate our research via mainstream media (e.g. Huffpost, New Internationalist) and social media (Twitter, Facebook, including the British Library's accounts (see Letter of Support)) in order to widen the reach of our research and enhance public awareness and understanding of major social issues (social mobilization and transformation, sustainability, social exclusion, etc.). Blogs will be co-authored by the researchers, publishers and archivists for optimal reach.

3. CULTURAL HERITAGE
Cartonera books are at present extremely difficult to access in the UK: there are only very limited collections in the British Library and Cambridge University Library, none in UK bookshops, and the books are difficult and expensive to acquire online due to shipping costs. To enable UK researchers and readers to access these books, we will coordinate the creation of three special collections of cartonera books in the British Library, Senate House Library and Cambridge University Library. This will benefit not only the cartoneros (financially), but also the users of these libraries (culturally), by giving them access to new, exciting literature from Latin America.

4. EDUCATION
Our research will be used to develop modules at the Universities of Surrey (School of English and Languages) and Durham (Department of Anthropology). Because of the interdisciplinary aspect of the project, the outcomes will be valuable across a range of undergraduate and postgraduate programmes from Anthropology to Modern Languages (e.g. the module 'Arts in the Spanish-speaking World' at the University of Surrey).

Through Follow-on Funding for Impact and Engagement, we are interested in developing new teaching materials, workshops and education exhibitions for primary and secondary schools on creative recycling and sustainable social transformation. Indeed, though the inclusion of sustainability in the curriculum is an Ofsted Inspection requirement, schools receive very little governmental support to ensure its implementation. Connections have already been established with curators from the Saatchi Gallery (contact: Rozenn Logan) who are committed to collaborating on such projects in future.

Publications

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Title Curatorial cartonera text 
Description This curatorial text relates to a collaboration with one of the project's cartonera publisher partners. The text is published in cartonera form and is the result of our project's interactions with community partners. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2017 
Impact The text, and book in which it is published, has circulated through Brazil. 
 
Title Herbario Cartonero de San José del Carmen 
Description The Herbario Cartonero de San José del Carmen is a carboard book developed in a collaboration between our research project, the Rey Chanate publisher, and the telebachillerato of San José del Carmen, a rural sixth form school located in Zacatecas state, Mexico. The book was developed in two workshops coordinated by Patrick O'Hare and the teacher and publisher Oscar Edgar. In the first workshop pupils from the school went into their local environments and collected examples of edible, medicinal, or decorative plants. They sketched out the plants and filled out a fact sheet which included the uses of the plants, and their characteristics. Oscar and Patrick then edited the pupils' work into book format. In the second workshop, pupils each compiled a cardboard book using sewing, cutting, and gluing techniques, then designing unique covers. 
Type Of Art Creative Writing 
Year Produced 2018 
Impact Discussions are underway with educational authorities in Zacatecas for Patrick and Oscar to take the pupils and books around other Zacatecan schools, demonstrating our work and imparting the techniques involved in cardboard publishing. 
 
Description HEFCE Global Challenges Research Fund QR Award
Amount £68,000 (GBP)
Organisation Durham University 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 07/2018
 
Description Building a Cartonera Special Collection 
Organisation The British Library
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We are in the process of building three special collections of cartonera books for the Senate
Collaborator Contribution Each of the libraries will be contributing in-kind (their time for project meetings and curation) and directly (their purchasing of the books). We have not included their contributions above as the purchases will be made at different times throughout the project, but each library has pledged a certain amount for the collection. University of Cambridge - £2,000; University of London - £1,000; British Library - £500
Impact This collaboration is ongoing - the collections are to be launched in 2019
Start Year 2017
 
Description Building a Cartonera Special Collection 
Organisation University of Cambridge
Department Cambridge University Library
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We are in the process of building three special collections of cartonera books for the Senate
Collaborator Contribution Each of the libraries will be contributing in-kind (their time for project meetings and curation) and directly (their purchasing of the books). We have not included their contributions above as the purchases will be made at different times throughout the project, but each library has pledged a certain amount for the collection. University of Cambridge - £2,000; University of London - £1,000; British Library - £500
Impact This collaboration is ongoing - the collections are to be launched in 2019
Start Year 2017
 
Description Building a Cartonera Special Collection 
Organisation University of London
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution We are in the process of building three special collections of cartonera books for the Senate
Collaborator Contribution Each of the libraries will be contributing in-kind (their time for project meetings and curation) and directly (their purchasing of the books). We have not included their contributions above as the purchases will be made at different times throughout the project, but each library has pledged a certain amount for the collection. University of Cambridge - £2,000; University of London - £1,000; British Library - £500
Impact This collaboration is ongoing - the collections are to be launched in 2019
Start Year 2017