Cartography with Your Feet

Workshop at the US Social Forum, Detroit

How can the scattered communities of the Rust Belt and the Corn Belt recognize each other, connect, share resources and build cultures of transformation? The Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor is a sign, a vision, an invitation to meet people in cities, towns and rural areas on the roads to Detroit, to learn about local situations and find common issues. Our group of artists and writers, The Compass, is dedicated to exploring the radical roots of better futures for the region. This workshop offers a convergence for caravanistas, bicyclists and walkers to say how they are linking their home environments, projects and struggles to other localities and initiatives. Participants can tell stories of their travels, show images with a projector and trace out routes on a large map of North America, locating the places they found most meaningful. Key themes are environmental and social justice campaigns, alternative food production, cultures of resistance and grassroots institutions. Follow-ups during the Forum will include a walking tour in Detroit in collaboration with local inhabitants. We will also carry out video interviews with participants about the life path that has led them to Detroit, to create a lasting document distributed for free. Everyone paying special attention to the territory they cross on their road to the Forum is invited to share. This workshop can be merged with any similar proposal: the point is to meet people and make the dream of the Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor into a reality. Map it with your feet!

 Visioning the Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor on the Roads to Detroit

Workshop at  Beaneath the University, the Commons

Driven by the pressures of corporate competition, Midwestern capital elites envision a network of highspeed trains linking the scattered cities of flyover land into a dense urban grid. Oblivious to territories, histories and peoples you whisk your way from center to center like a roulette ball spinning through the global casino. What gets lost in the dreams of power are the connections between the city and the country, the earth and the sky, the past and the future.

What kinds of worlds are installed on the ground by the neoliberal planning processes developed in the technocratic universities? How to start building a cultural and intellectual commons that can seep into the fabric of everyday life?

The Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor is a call for longer, slower, deeper connections between the territories where we live. It’s a cartography of shared experience, built up by those who nourish lasting ties between critical groups, political projects, radical communities and experiments in alternative existence. Why not help build the commons by overflowing your usual daily routines? Why not make the journey to the US Social Forum into a chance to discover the worlds we can create right here in our own region?

This workshop draws from the inspiration of Grace Lee Boggs and the travels of the Compass Group on the “Continental Drift through the Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor.” The idea is to propose an act of collective discovery and creation, carried out this summer by anyone who’s heading to the Social Forum. Multiple caravans each chart their particular pathways and organize their own activist campaigns, artistic exchanges, skill-sharing sessions, solidarity dinners or whatever else they desire on the roads to Detroit, then converge at the Allied Media conference and the US Social Forum to share stories, images and artifacts from their detours through the Midwestern labyrinth. Meanwhile, those with different priorities can invent their own forms of travel and exchange, explore diverging temporalities, set up “stationary drifts” in the neighborhoods they inhabit and continue the projects they’re pursuing, while the moving worlds pass through them.

By taking the time for a conscious experience of the territories we are continually traversing we can build up what Stephen Shukaitis calls an “imaginal machine”: a many-headed hydra telling tales of solidarity and struggle, daily life and outlandish dreams in the places that power forgets, leaving their inhabitants free to remember living histories and work toward better tomorrows. The Compass Group will present images, narratives and documents from their Continental Drift in 2008, then open up the concept to input and debate. With the help of anyone who’s interested, we hope to lay the basis for a collaborative process of self-organization and convergence at the USSF in Detroit and to sow the seeds of future meetings and projects.

Outline of the Session

We begin by tacking up an instant exhibition of maps, diagrams, art works and projected photographs to give a glimpse of the MRCC as a reality and a potential. Group members briefly narrate the 2008 drift through Illinois and Wisconsin, introducing the desire and the concept along with a few scattered touchpoints of the open corridor. Key idea: “Another critique of the university is possible.” An embodied critique that reverses the imperative to accumulate and master knowledge into a situated practice of perception/imagination/expression within inhabited social spaces.

The technocratic disciplines of the knowledge factory are imperial strategies of scale imposing instrumental flex-connections between the spheres of economic circulation (global, national, regional) and the target-sites of production/consumption (cities, towns, institutions, businesses, demographic groups, families, individuals). These disciplines come together in the process of “corridor planning” for multimodal transportation networks, first conceived for the megalopolis region of the Northeastern Atlantic Seabord in the US and subsequently developed across the world (Trans-European Networks in the EU, Golden Quadrilateral in India, Initiative for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America, Plan Puebla Panama and Trans-Texas Corridor in North America). What the factured and instrumentalized structure of knowledge-work in the corporate university barely allows us to conceive (let alone resist and transform) is the integrated production of technological “flowspace” for global capitalism. At the heart of our proposal is an ethics of scale that can respond to the modular accelerations of the “Petroleum Space-Time Continuum.” This is not about localism or even the finely demarcated ecotopias of bio-regionalism, but instead about inventing ways to traverse the really existing scales while remembering the lived horizons and temporalities of bodily experience. At best, the encounter with other groups opens up territories of mutual self-recognition.

The trans- or extra-disciplinary connections at stake here include contemporary art and geography. One good reference is the Detroit Geographical Expedition and Institute (DGEI), an anti-racist, anti-capitalist collaborative research project initiated in 1969 by a group of Michigan geographers and African-American residents of Detroit. Another is the Timescapes project by Angela Melitopoulos exploring Corridor X through Southeastern Eastern Europe as part of the B-Zone exhibition in Berlin in 2005. Like Don Mitchell, one of the founders of the People’s Geography Project, we want to “radicalize popular geography and popularize radical geography.” The motif of “drifting” evokes Situationist psychogeography and dozens of contemporary projects, many of them developed in the wake of social movements. But the desire and the need to cross boundaries of class and culture leads to a focus on stabilities as well as movements, and suggests practices of the “stationary drift” used by the Counter Cartographies Collective to begin mapping university labor relations at UNC in 2005.

By presenting these and other elements in about 45 minutes we want to open up the discussion about possible practices of research, expression, collaboration and intervention, departing from the sophisticated languages of the university to open up permeable territorial spaces of dialogue, dissent and alternative living. These in turn can connect, not to the university disciplines as such, but to the commons that lie beneath them and make them meaningful. Right now our contacts with the Boggs Center are pointing toward the possibility of collaborations with local residents in Detroit, as well as possible spaces or contexts to welcome those who take the time to travel through the territory on the road to the social forum. Hopefully some ideas for future projects could arise from this meeting – not necessarily with us, and not necessarily in the USSF context, but definitely in the Midwest Radical Cultural Corridor as an “imaginal machine” that belongs to those who live it.


We did this workshop at the conference and it was great. Thanks to all who attended and keep in touch! The conference itself was a very engaging event, reaching out in all directions from the university crisis and the rising social movements. A generous and joyful gathering with real thinking and striving, held in the West Bank Social Center in Minneapolis to prefigure future autonomous universities. Check it out on the web!

Some Links:

– Beneath the University, the Commons:

– Critical Spatial Practice:

– People’s Geography Project:

– Counter Cartographies Collective:

– Boggs Center:

– US Social Forum:

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