Para-sites cannot be defined

The following is the unedited version of an essay i wrote that appears in PARA- an anthology on art and parasitism edited by Woo Yun Jin



photo(2) islmondaymay20141 isl4 georgiaisl soul IMG_1319


This essay explains how we appropriate the idea of para-and explain a Para-site in the context of our

work with two spaces we have created; the SOUL HQ and Di Institute for Social Leadership. We
find the word Para-site to be a useful one because it is similar in nature to the scientific parasite and
because we operate a site/space that is “outside of” the norm in Jamaica. Firstly we present our general
ideas about the Para-site. Then we describe the two spaces as Para-sites and explain briefly why they
exist, what they do and where they are located. We then make an argument about the definition of
Para-sites, our core argument being that they cannot be defined. The context for this thinking which
rest within a Rastafarian Philosophical view and way of appropriating language to bring
“overstanding” as opposed to understanding.

Questions that are asked of a Para-site?
What is it?
What is the objectives?
What is the vision
How will it make money?
How is will it sustain itself?
Is this a viable project?
What explains Para-sites?
The Para-sites is explained and exist through your interaction with it. This is important because the
Para-site is challenging your social constructions trapped in definition. Para-sites are explained by
examining the trails that they leave. Para-sites grow out of your expectations all the time. They also
find new directions and spaces to occupy.
Talking about a Para-site: Definition vs Description
There is a way I can “describe” the SO((U))L HQ and Di Institute for Social Leadership. I do it in
simple terms. The HQ is a space where we do things like art and music and discussions and DI institute
is a school. I always describe them as spaces. A space is not a organization or institution. A space is a
Para-site. There are few Para-sites which exist here in Jamaica and this is because of a preference for
definitions a simplification of ideas expressed in a common language. For example being able to say
this is a social enterprise- because it serves the community while making money, this is a non-profit or
this is a business.
Para-site 1
“In June 2010 we started a crazy experiment in providing “alternative creative events and music”in
Kingston. We responded to the general frustration that we and our peers felt about the dearth of
interesting alternatives to standard, commercially driven formulas for entertainment. We agreed that we needed
to create more spaces, products and services that could foster and harness politically
compelling ideas that could push Jamaican music, art and culture in more diverse direction.” So we
called ourselves SOUNDS OF LIFE or SO((U))L for short.
We operate from THE SO((U))L HQ. The HQ is a small place we’ve identified in the hills of St. Andrew, just
outside of Kingston at which we plan to host most of our events and activities. Though close to the city, this
place is located in a beautiful and lush part of Jamaica. The type of place that we hope persons can feel safe
exploring new ideas and challenged to discuss neglected social and cultural
As a way of dealing with the economic constraints we’ve tried to utilize new/social media as much as
possible to create our own “news” and information about our activities and vision.
We want to create models that are inclusive and sustainable for others who are interested in
maximizing the full social potential of music, art and culture. We want to create spaces for other young
women like us to feel brave and confident enough to truly create the change, difference and revolution
that we so desperately need in Jamaica and the world.”
We wrote the description above for a grant application for the the HQ. For the first time we needed to
communicate to others outside of those who came to the HQ what we were really trying to do.
Communicate enough and accurately so they would fund us. They didn’t and we continued with the
The HQ lives in a studio apartment in a “gated complex” in Stony Hill, St. Andrew. The city is known
for being the location for most spaces and venues, but we decided to move away from that and to also
move away from the city. Moving away from the city is symbolic and also aligned with the Para-site by
nature. Being where you were not expected to be is an important requirement for the Para-site. We
thought that being away from the city would help the Para-site to grow, it would always represent a
place of difference and purpose because of it’s location. We also felt that the Para-site disrupted the
upper-class community where it was located, much like the Apartment complex itself.
The HQ host art exhibitions, film screenings, poetry events, reasonings, jam sessions, discussions,
parties, a radio station, and a library. The Hq has primarily promoted critical thought among artist and
the “community.
Para-site 2-
Di Institute for Social Leadership (ISL)
Sometimes when we keep quiet long enough when we are still we can see all of what is our context. we can see
the intricacies, injustices, dynamics of our life. We see it as if we were watching a movie.
All of the characters, their actions, the institutions, the time we are living in, the future. Di institute exist is the space of silence or still. This is where it was created. The need for community has become apparent
at least in the silence it is. Di institute was born from and with the idea of social leadership.
Social leadership builds community, it creates community, it believes in spreading the idea that it is all of our
responsibility to fill the gaps. But community building is complex, village building is complex and it
takes time and learning and searching and understanding.

I wrote the above in response to a question about the mission, vision and objectives of the organization.
It was my reflection of Di Institute an honest reflection where I found it difficult to speak to what was
being created in sterile terms as mission, vision and objective.
We say that the ISL offers learning opportunities and social support services for youth and adult. It is a
“community university”.

Di ISL is located strategically, by accident. Bordering several “volatile communities”, economically
depressed neighborhoods as well as prestigious high school. It is also across the road from schools
where prestigious parents in Jamaica do not send their children. Right in the middle of all this is
tremendous history, a lot of which we are still discovering. The National Heroes Park used to be called
Race Course. They used to have horse racing there. It is now a very dry open land where kids mostly
play and a grassy area where statues of national heroes are located. There is nowhere else I can think of
in Kingston with the concentration of Government Ministries such as Marescaux Road where the ISL is
located. The Ministry of Finance, The Ministry of Labour and Social Security and the Ministry of
Education. 10 mins from Marescaux road is Downtown Kingston and this is where everything happens.
The former or possibly still the heart of Jamaica.
Di ISL is only 2months old. We have hosted one art exhibition and regular reading classes for youth 7-
12 yrs old. One youth comes every day. It is home now and we are his friends. Sometimes his cousin
visits with him.
Para-sites exist outside of definitions
I had a conversation with a friend the other day. We talked about documentation of my work (both
projects). She asked about how and where I wrote about what I was doing, how I explained and
communicated the different pieces. Reflecting on the conversation , I thought about definition,
memory, history, documentation, writing, academics and space.
I had another conversation with another friend of mine, she asked me to state the vision and mission of
the ISL. I remember my conversation with my partner in both projects about pineapple slices. Needing
to dissect information and make it presentable in small pieces so that people will understand. They both
seem to agree on the power and importance of communicating in the common language.
Though I understand, I fundamentally disagree. I question the power of familiar language. I think it is
ineffective in embedding critical ideas. Like an army uniform. Your idea, just another one in the
line. I think the spark of the idea loses meaning when reduced to familiar vocabulary.
Definitions are ready made ideas. They impose meaning.
For example we explain the ISL as a school that provides learning opportunities and social support for
youth and adult we do this only because as a Para-site we negotiation how we present ourselves. If we
were we to say that we aimed “to infect the surrounding communities with politically aware education
consciousness and Rastafari ideology, to ensure that justice and equality is secured for the majority of
Jamaicans who live and work in poverty and mental enslavement, we could not exist.
Descriptions are therefore not definitions because para-sites cannot be defined. The biological structure
of para-sites resist definition it is fluid and keeps growing to control or contain it is to have less and less
expectations of it. Not understanding that a para-sites takes root from many directions also descriptions
embedded within descriptions.
What challenges do Para-sites face?
There are several communities where the ISL is located and several challenges that we have to
understand and embrace slowly. For example? What do theses communities want? Not just the obvious
needs, what is the history, structure and dynamics of the communities that dictate what they express as
needs. Most Jamaican communities that are described as vulnerable or volatile are susceptible to gang
violence or gun violence or they are controlled by a “DON” ( strong man or woman) that you may need
to understand avoid or interact with. Is Di ISL prepared to be involved in this level of community
politics? But a Para-site will have to. For the other community, the government workers for example?
How do we talk to them? Do we run the risk of killing the Para-site when we engage them? Will they
support our growth? Can a Para-site be supported by a business model? What is the model that
supports a Para-site? We have started to sell second books at Di ISL for example but the model that
supports the ISL has to be able to withstand external influences, demands and shocks.
Our biggest question from the HQ and biggest learning is one about community. People came to the
HQ. The events were free so they came. They came in small numbers sometimes large numbers. They
said they like the placed. They said the energy felt great. Some said it was too far to come. The dream
of facilitating a community was constantly being challenged as we couldn’t understand how people
were wanting to contribute to the space, to support it, financially or otherwise through programming or
offering support with inviting other people to the space. We continued to struggle with “community”
looking to see the ways in which the Para-site had created a support for its existence and a reason for its
existence. Perhaps trying to understanding whether the Para-site had really began to work. We kept our
programming cool and interesting and open and we thought that this would constantly pull people in.
Perhaps what we have learnt is that Para-sites work over extremely long periods of time in order to
inject itself in the social fabric deeply. Para-sites need time to grow and therefore defy definition in this
way. Similar to the question we asked of the ISL can the HQ be supported by a business model? What
is to be the model? We funded the HQ ourselves. We made sure it was paid for, we keep it going. Then
we tried to make it available to visitors to the island for short-term stays. We setup a shop on Ebay
called “things with soul”. Our objective was to create a model that would support the HQ. We sold
books and vinyl records. It was working but slowly and the demands of our lives was moving more
quickly. We have had to consider the relocation of this Para-site at least temporarily to the living room
of our apartment in the same complex. This might be the beginning of doing reflections to understand
community. Community is important, very important to our existence and the Para-sites continues to
exist to create conditions around which we can understand community and build community. Non of
the challenges that the Para-sites face have any predictable resolution. Some may resolve over time.
Some may never resolve themselves in the current political, economic and cultural context.
A Para-site on an island is also very vulnerable and Jamaica is extremely vulnerable affected by
capitalist and neo-liberal global currents. This is perhaps our biggest challenge.


1 thought on “Para-sites cannot be defined”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s