Noticing and knowing


Looking at the image above, I notice three AIDS activists parading down a Vancouver street – putting their bodies on the line and working for change. I notice they are armed with instruments and with placards. I notice the two people on the left are sporting “EPP = DEATH” shirts while the person on the right is wearing a leather jacket and what looks like a police hat. I notice how they are holding themselves. I notice how they are holding one another. Looking again, I notice two men in conversation behind them. Both are wearing business suits while the guy on the left – the one who looks like Roger Sterling from Mad Men! – is holding a clipboard or an envelope or what I’m assuming is an official piece of correspondence. Zooming in, I notice more activists lining the sidewalk behind them. Buildings, trees, cars. Shadows on the sidewalk. A yellow streetlight. People putting their bodies on the line; people working for change.


Looking at the image above, I notice AIDS activists staging a die-in on a Toronto street – putting their bodies on the line and working for change. I notice six people laying on the ground, drawing attention to HIV/AIDS related deaths. I notice four people bending over, outlining others in chalk. I notice a woman smiling at the camera, and a white woman with a white hat and white outfit taking off her white purse. Zooming in, I notice a pride flag and a golden bell. I notice a man armed with a bulky camera inscribed with a ‘City’ logo and two – count them! two! – Canadian flags. Looking closer, I notice a crowd of people lined up on the sidewalk. I notice people standing with their arms folded, cameras out, fanny packs on. I notice a man with his hands on his hips, turned away. I notice a woman with a Minnie Mouse shirt, fanny pack, and an As hat. I notice a man snapping a picture standing in front a bicycle. His bicycle? Someone else’s bicycle? I notice that my noticing practices are limited. Situated, stunted. Yet, I go on noticing. I notice cars lined up, a sale at Talbots, and what looks like a USA Today mailbox. Did we have USA Today in Canada? Sneakers, socks, sunglasses. Asphalt, streetlights, and a Bloor Street West sign. I notice people working for change; putting their bodies on the line.

Now, I note that my ways – our ways – of noticing are personal, political, dialogical. As John Berger puts it, “we never look at one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves” (1972, p. 9). We notice and we know. Our ways of noticing are ways of knowing. George W. Smith, a member of Toronto’s AIDS ACTION NOW!, invites a shift not from “objective” to “subjective” ways of knowing, but from “objective” to “reflexive” ways of knowing (1990, p. 633). He invites noticing and knowing concrete and sensuous material worlds replete with coordinations and connections. He invites knowing from within. “The sociologist,” he writes, “cannot know her world from outside but only from inside its social organization.” Noticing and knowing. Zooming in and zooming out. Attending and disattending. Working for change and putting our bodies on the line.

Posted by Janna Klostermann (@jannaKlos)
Research Assistant, AIDS Activist History Project