Who are we, really? The micropolitics of 3Cs

Photo of toy blocks spelling out "3Cs Maps"The Micro-Politics of the Counter Cartographies Collective…

Who are we? If it is not already obvious from the name, we’re mapmakers… we base our work on the use, reappropriation and expansion of mapping and cartographic tools as ways of intervening in our worlds. By mapping, we mean 2-D foldable sheets, but much more as well. Mapping and cartography for us are ways of thinking and tackling the spaces we inhabit and creating territories of transformation and mutual aid. Saying we are mapmakers is to say that we take a different approach to thinking community, activism, work, friendship and struggle by focusing on space.

We are based at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill- and we say this because it has profound effects on how we understand our role. A large part of our work and activity focuses on reworking the university as an ‘ivory tower’ and to map it as a complex actor in shaping new worlds. In our mappings, drifts, and convergences, we trace how the university is making and is made, how it shapes the town and country around it and how it creates worlds for students and shapes new worlds for us all… how it is, and always has been, a site of possibilities and struggles.

Our work tries to rethink the relation between theory and action- weaving together our different individual itineraries as students/professors/TAs and as activists to hone tools and modes of intervention that can help unsettle the campus and our communities.

Our research is provocative, it asks questions, it reconfigures public space. A map is not only a product of careful research, a reflection of the world as ‘just so,’ but a proposition, a suggestion for the way the world could, and at times should, be.

We use different media and languages to learn and to advance our work: from high social theory to ‘zines and pamphlets, from art work to textbooks, from Legos to Latour. A product is never final, instead opening up whole new conversations, trajectories and possibilities.

Our work, and our focus on the university and the territories it is a part of, is not just an intellectual exercise- we try to imagine different ways of inhabiting these terrains and invite others to join in creating other spaces, of hope and of struggle. How can we live differently? How can we challenge the injustices we see around us? How can we learn from others in our area and network to create communities of convergence and transformation?

If you had to define us you could say we’re an affinity group1-that is, a small group of folks intimately tied by shared notions of political principles and practices, working together on common projects.


Some of our affinities:

We are political in that we understand our work as interventions in the social worlds of our communities, recognizing our place as part of a large struggle of collectives and individuals in the area and beyond. We make the decision to politically inhabit the university but also from a position of autonomy– that is, both from within and against, based on logics of re-appropriation and exodus. We respect those strategies that try to enter university governance to transform it, or those groups who distance themselves from the university. But (despite individual actions) collectively we do not see those positions –either working completely from within or from a total outside- as the role of 3Cs.

We are project and product focused. But not in a capitalist sense: we see the process of collective production as a way of advancing and growing practices of radical thinking. Within the university, we are surrounded by excellent critical classes and incredible reading groups that sometimes help us to sort out the interstices of power in the world around us, but we find the symbioses between analysis, action and intervention more exciting, and more effective. This is where 3C’s insists that our thinking and debates center on projects and products.

We are proficient. We don’t imagine 3Cs as a hobby, nor as pro bono professional work. Productivity is more important than either category. We believe our work is simultaneously useful as an intellectual contribution to our specialized fields, the disciplines we trespass into and for its networking and convergences. Our meetings feel both playful and productive. We operate by bi-weekly short meetings run by consensus process, where we manage to check many items off of our collective running to-do-list.

We believe in mutual aid. We support each other individually and collectively in our political, professional and personal itineraries and in the places where these coincide. We try to nurture a collective silliness in this regard; to be humorous about what we are and what we do (even if it is serious); to build relations of solidarity and to check any sense of vanguard or leadership in what is a community of diverse ways of life and struggles. We mutually exchange skills and knowledges among us: from dissertation writing tips to map software use, from driving lessons to daycare assets.

1Affinity group is a term that originally comes from historical anarchism in Spain, and that in the US context can go from fighting nuclear weapons and power, to blockading Seattle, to tending gardens.