Sara deals with different methods of stopping complaints in chapter two “On being stopped”. I was interested in the phenomenon of <<complaints stopped by a yes>>, referring to nodding, as explained in the book, but also to yeses that with time turns into noes. Or yeses that after going into detail or going in further phases turn into noes.
I wanted to make an image to explain it so I did this. We find a “yes” that after going through a door(?) turns into a “no” without even giving a reason.
I am intrigued by the difference and distinguishment of formal and informal complaints. The book Complaint! By Sara Ahmed mainly addresses formal types of complaining but encourages complaining in all forms and shapes. “Formal” complaints are consider here those ones that follow procedures given by the institution, and “informal” are those who don’t ask for permission, are done without premeditated or stablished frame. I know filling forms and reporting in legal ways is the lets-say-propper-way to do things but is the informal way of complaining that captures my attention.
As Sara explains in Part III “Participation and protection”, there is a power when an action or protest reaches and interferes the reputation of the institution. It is this moment when the structure moves and reacts to an “attack”. If the procedure is kept in the shade of a folder it is less likely to success. I suggest that the procedures kept in the silent corridors of the institution can benefit when they are combined with posters, megaphones and graffitis.
But for sure there is a risk to sound radical, to make “too much noise” and be seen as over exaggerating. This might cause “neutral” people reject the original cause because of the “extremism”. This makes me think about what I have heard from (other) adults around me when protest and riots happen in the street and urban furniture or public properties are damaged. You can often hear things like “yes, I think the same but they have tho mind their manners”. I am sorry I do not care that much about those trash cans. Anyway, I can understand this but I will try to explain my point in the next paragraphs. I would like to add that writing about this confrontates my insides as it has been a while since I do any non formal complain that has this kind of impact. I am -just- writing in the internet.
In any case, here I share an overview of a good example where formal and informal types of complaining collide and work together. This is Emma Sulkowicz’s Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight). It is mentioned in Sara Ahmed´s book in page 290 as an example to “turn spaces into complaints”. This case of complaint activism consist of complaining about the sexual assaults that happens in the campus of Columbia University. (Morningside Heights, Manhattan, in New York City). In this case, the former art student Emma Sulkowicz alleged to be raped by another student of the University and the institution never positioned in order to protect the victim. Her aim was to get the University to expel the alleged rapist. She made paperwork as well as act of protest in order to call attention to her situation.
She carried a mattress around campus as showing the physical place and physical burden that she has to carry. It was a 23 kg university dormitory mattress that she would have to carry following the rules of engagement she decided until her rapist was taken out of the University. The rules were written in the walls of her studio and she considers the piece as an endurance performance art. He was never expelled from the University and the paperwork procedure finished without charges, as a lack of reasonable suspicion.
Emma’s complaint was filled 8 months after the encounter and she made it mainly after knowing that two other female students who said they had also been victimized by him. After Emma’s complaint, these other students also filed complaints with the university against the same masculine student. This is a clear example of the behavior of complaints.
“One story coming out can lead to more stories coming out”
Sara Ahmed, Complaint!. Pg 8
Having the both paths to show discomfort about a rape situation (paperwork and performance), I would like to proceed and evaluate them as in different stats that can define the “power” of a complaint. Inspired by the interner phenomenon of “Tier lists” where users subjectively rank for example the characters of a video game based on stablished criteria, I will try to rank complaints as my own established stats.
I thought about five parameters to calculate how good a complaint is: – The importance for the person making the complaint. Does the person complaining feel satisfied with this action. – The impact on the environment. How did it affect to the mates, colleagues, team, family… – The impact on the institution. How did it affect the people that work in the institution/are part of the structure that the person complains about. – The changes on the institution. Did it change any rule or policy in the institution – The safety for the person making the complaint. Did the complainer expose themself to any possible external attack (example: revealing their names or face, being a body in a hostile space, compromising their career…)
This Emma Sulkowicz’s complaint comparison would look like the image below
Knowing the performance has better stats than the paperwork, I would suggest the performance would be in a higher rank in the list than the other option. But could the performance live without the paperwork? I could also consider if the complaint was only consisting about the performance, it would have been taken completely different by the public. The paperwork, the boring folder, is what grounds the procedure for the “real world”. Me personally, I hate to say this as I do find this ethically good but I also have to acknowledge the structure in which the institution positions us.
In my opinion, Emmas performance was a great example of the fruitfully relation between these two types of complaining. The performance made its way to media so it could gather attention of viewers. Therefore, the so mentioned environment grew. On the other hand, none of the paths had any “real” change in the institution. Should we think this complaint was a failure? I would leave that to the consideration of the viewer as I consider there is no way to have an answer for this. That also makes me think, how would a complaint with impeccable stats be? Is that even possible?
Rethinking the image, it also comes to my mind that it is overall sad. Despite the effort and time spent there was no real change in the institution. For sure, the noise being made and the attention in the case is not bad and it is better like this than without it. The times I am feeling weak and tragic I look at the “real” results and it just gives me hopelessness. Is it worth doing it?
As a conclusion, I understand the importance of the tedious filling forms format but I will always reassess and support the other kinds of complaints. (maybe they could be called in German as “bunte Beschwerden”?)
Ahmed, S. (2021). Complaint!. New York, USA: Duke University Press. https://doi.org/10.1515/9781478022336
When we started this seminar we were asked to write the expectations we had about it. I wrote I wanted to know what a complaint is. More than four months after this moment I think I still do not know what that is. In this post I share the path I have gone through to approach the definition of complain.
Going full cliché I check the definition online, it is a way to start:
So complain is the act and the state. This is big and ambiguous and I like ambiguous things. On the other hand, I spent the time I read the book wanting to know the definition Sara had for us. There was not such a thing like a moment where a ultimate definition of complaint was presented and I did not like that, somehow. We (“we” as referring to “me” but feeling less lonely in this journey) passed the barrier of only considering complaining the formal filling forms format. For a really long part of the reading process I thought that was the case and that got me annoyed. Even if the explanations never closed the definition almost in any way, I was bitter with the writer. I could not believe this. Even though I know in page four (page four!) it clearly explains “a complaint can be an expression of grief, pain, or dissatisfaction, something that is a cause of a protest or outcry, a bodily ailment, or a formal allegation”. This was not enough for me. I just could not stop thinking about the -other- types of complaining that involve maybe unorthodox/impulsive/childish/and-so-on kind of behavior.
Then at some point I realized the writing style she has, repeating some structures or emphasizing by rerunning the sentences maybe adding a little bit more at a time or making minor changes. This is the moment I had the idea of collecting sentences from the book that might clear up my hesitations about the definition presented. I am really thankful about the “searching” tool in texts available in digital books. I take this moment to appreciate the Ctrl + F.
So as we all know, we can get the words and sentences we want from a text, in this case a whole book. For your information, you can find the word “complain” 251 times and “complaint” a total of 1686 times.
I searched for combos like “to make a complaint is”, “to complain is” or the longest one by far “complaint can”. I think the most useful one was this one:
With this collection I satisfied a little bit my needs of definition, still as an ambiguous and big pool.
By the end of the book I finally was dazzled by what it seemed to be a strong statement who says:
“If complaint can be understood as a phenomenology of the institution, complaint is a practical phenomenology“
(And it comes from a previous book from Sara in 2012: “On Being Included: Racism and Diversity in Institutional.”)
While reading I also made many notes about what the institution/structure means to me and how I experience it. I might have been caressing the position of wanting to scape the structure but (sadly?) it is not that realistic. Complain ties us up with the institution. My initial aim was to avoid formal ways of complaining as I thought complaining the formal way would only show that I support the institution/structure. Why would I like to support such thing? Complaining in non-formal ways ALSO knots us with structures. I wonder, could it be because structures are usually the thing to blame? So as we usually blame structures in formal and non-formal types of complaints that could be the link. Even if, for example, you are complaining about your grandpa having an old-fashioned way of thinking and him being intransigent, there is the structure of power+sexism to blame. Huh, how easy is this? If everything is a structure there is always a structure to blame.
I consider <<blame>> a really critical ingredient of complaining. I might talk about this in the future and how we can blame things that are bigger than us/our control.
So, yes, again in this ambiguous map I enjoy. The complaint is together with the institution/structure. But I was still thirsty for limits. I thought if I might not find the big limits of it, I could at least work with the content we know it is inside of it. Thats when I though of classifying the inside of complaint. The first approach was to make a diagram, a Venn one:
Obviously we have the big big circle that captures everything, called complaint, and inside of it the are two main types of complaint. The most attractive part I find is the protest, and how it can be both at the same time (the joy of ambiguity strikes back!?). I would like to go deep about it in other post. In future posts I will suggest as well a way of classifying complaints regarding their traits.
So yes, anyway, what is still the definition of complaint..?
One possible option: could everything be a complaint?
Is it like the definition of art by Dickie? He said something like “a work of art is an artifact upon which some person(s) acting on behalf of the artworld has conferred the status of candidate for appreciation“
yuhuuu then: “a complaint is an artifact upon which some person(s) acting on behalf of the complaintworld has conferred the status of candidate for appreciation”
Lets appreciate coomplaints in the complaintworld then!?
In this post I want to share my notes on the book Complaint!. Here I attach the scans of the pages. My aim was to gather all the information that clicked with me and have it in a small format collection I could carry and look up easily. It is divided in the parts and chapters the book offers. The information from the book is in black and my personal thoughts, additions and comments are on blue (sometimes pencil and pink). There are some small parts written in Spanish. There are also misspellings, mistakes and probably things I do not think anymore.
I hope it can help to have an overview of the content, even if it is my own objective one. Feel free to rescue, comment and use the ideas I mark here. I have the feeling I have a considerable collection of headlines that can lead to good texts if they are cared, squeezed and loved.
The name of this post references an option in social media platforms, such as YouTube or Facebook. Usually is only a selection of comments that is shown beforehand and there is a button to click that says “show all comments”. When clicking this option, the comments can be read in chronological order (as I am showing here).
This book and the time I spent reading this book were a ride. Here are the thoughts I gathered as a first approach to comment it and what I have learnt from it. I hope you enjoy it. As Mohombi said once “It’s gonna be a bumpy ride” 
I am late. This post is late. I should have done this way earlier. I should have started with this way before. But I started on time, way back. It is just that it never showed. I feel bad about this delay. This should not have been this way. What happened? But I do not want to complain about this. Or shall I? No, no. I will not complain because that would mean to excuse myself in a way I do not want. But on the other hand the things that make my excuses for being late are things I really do not like.I am drained from those things. This is not an apology. What is this then?
But these are just excuses and if I excuse myself I don’t like this feeling. I do not like it because I feel that I carry a burden and I do not want to carry a burden. But I carry it anyway. Also, who would care. I am just late. It is not such a big deal. It is mainly me who feels bad about it. Get over it. Grow a pair or something like that.
Ah but please do not be that hard on yourself. Treat yourself with care. How can I take care of myself in order to improve without damage. How can I stop the voice that hits me in my head. It is not such a big deal, isn’t it.
It is hard for me to understand the limits of the complain and the whine (I will talk about this in another moment). Maybe I do not know what complaint is. I think I am biased because I consider the majority of my complaints never managed to work. They were formal and informal ones. Sometimes I think I do not think I believe in complaints.
This book makes me angry and makes me sad and makes me feel useless and not enough. That was probably not the purpose of it. But I feel personally attacked and I do not enjoy it. What is happening. What is this. I feel a big discomfort and I am filled with unease. I should have complained in a proper way and I never did. I should have shared it in that moment, now it will be useless. But also…Why am I complaining? I should be grateful, it is not that bad, just live with it. In other times this was harder, not it is way better. The adult voices that were implemented in my soft head now repeat inside of it. But I managed to dodge this adult voices in my adolescence, I was strong. Why can’t I take them out now? How did they pierce my skull? Why do I hear them? I was stronger.
What I learnt from this readings is an avalanche of nuisance because I feel small in a hostile world. Because I know the world is made up by institutions (institutions called structures) and they are not made for us. They are made by us but do not cooperate with us. What is this gap? Why when a big structure is created it starts lacking tenderness? I am afraid of big structures. But everything is a structure. I am afraid I am part of a structure.
I consider this was a complaint, somehow the worst kind of complaint, the non-effective complaint, the whining type. But I have complained and I have complained about the fact that I have complained as well. Therefore, am I carrying two burdens now?
 Khayat, N, Salmanzadeh, I, Hajji, B, Jannusi, B (2010). Bumpy ride [Recorded by Mohombi]. On MoveMeant [Audio file]. Retrieved from https://open.spotify.com/track/71R6zJsrF3ffc3TBFHfivX?si=320b4eff09904bd4