on Interdependence

Taeyoon Choi
4 min readJan 21, 2022

Deem journal organized an online forum that featured Mia Birdsong, Zenat Begum, myself, and moderated by Ari Melenciano. January 21, 2022. The streaming can be found here for now.

Here are some of the questions Ari sent out before the forum and my notes.

Questions: What have been some guiding lights as you’ve created work around the idea of interdependence?

My introduction to the concept of Interdependence was through the disability arts and justice community. Sunaura Taylor, who is a disabled painter and scholar, and Judith Butler’s conversation focused on interdependence in the film Examined Life by Astra Taylor. In Butler’s words from the film,

“There’s a limit to individualism, although each of us are obviously negotiating our individual solutions to the problems of ability, disability, gender normativity, all these issues, we can’t do that as radical individuals. We can only do it by entering social space, demanding different kinds of recognition, producing certain kinds of bodily scandals in the world, and, also, acting in concert with other people as a way of changing what is normative and what is not …. I think underlying all of this is the idea that we are interdependent as we try and attract certain social transformations that affect us at very personal levels” (Abrahams, 2011)

Since the initial encounter with the concept of interdependence, I’ve been trying to practice and expand the concept through performance, practice, and teaching.

Question: What does interdependence mean to you?

In the social science theory of interdependence, there are four conditions. 1. Cooperation that maximizes joint outcomes. 2. Equality which minimizes differences in outcomes. 3. Altruism which maximizes positive outcomes for others. 4. Aggression which minimizes positive outcomes for others. It’s worth noting in all these cases, there’s a clear distinction between two subjects, and their relations are defined by the condition of results.

Interdependence, for me, means cooperation which maximizes joint outcomes through care and forgiveness. Such interdependence is not defined by the mere quantity of outcomes, which would be mere delegations for efficiency’s sake. Interdependence is defined by both parties’ capacities to be generous.

E.J. Koh said “My poetry teachers taught me how to look closely, and by doing this, how to care and create a space for magnanimity and forgiveness.” (Rumpers, 2020) When we recognize our pain, give a name to our resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed us, we have a choice to be magnanimous. In the place of forgiveness and magnanimity, for others and ourselves, we can start to build the foundation for trust, transparency, and vulnerability, a few of essential requirements for interdependence.

Question: What are some challenges you’ve dealt with when trying to create healthy forms of interdependence?

Mia’s workbook in Deem journal, there’s a short question and an empty page. The prompt asks me to celebrate how I failed my American Dream. I felt so upset and thankful to have had a chance to reflect on my failure. Because recognizing failure is the beginning of a repair. If I could share what I learned from my failures. Particularly, as an Asian American person, I’ve always found myself in a difficult position in the racial conflict in the US. My complicity to systemic racism and compliance to white supremacy can and does bring collateral damage to the marginalized communities. Interdependence requires mutual understanding, appreciation and dedication to transparency, and capacity for great patience. These are virtues, which sound easy, but actually are actually difficult because they are against our natural tendencies for stability, recognition, and satisfaction within social relations. I am still reflecting on my relationship with racism in academia, which is an American Dream of my own. I recommend Wesley Yang’s essay We Out Here for others who are wondering about the same dream.

Question: How have you balanced community and business throughout your work to be both humane and empathetic but also self-sustaining?

Interdependence requires active and consensual participation from two or more entities. Once they engage with each other, the second law of thermodynamics explains, “as one goes forward in time, the net entropy (degree of disorder) of an isolated or closed system will always increase” When entropy in human relations increases, there may be more unequal conditions. Interdependence may lead to more chaos, instead of equilibrium. Self-sustaining becomes more challenging, as we continue to bring more disorder and dependence on each other as we grow. The trouble is with our desire to be making-for others. As creative species, we the humans desire to create for our loved ones. We are also thirsty for recognition, validation, and love in return. All relationships are difficult and they require work and care. When our desire for reciprocity is not met, what started out as an interdependence may become a missed opportunity, conflict of interest, misunderstanding, and exploitation. Perhaps it’s best to understand interdependence as making-with each other, as opposed making-for each other. I’ve been thinking about the concept of Sympoeisis, which is a Donna Haraway term for ‘making-with.’ Sympoiesis is a different concept from Symbiosis, which is a living arrangement between two or more species. Living and nonliving things that have sympoetic relationships show us that nothing makes itself. Thus there’s no autopoiesis or self-organization in a closed system. Perhaps you can build feedback loops(cybernetics) or self-replicating systems, but interdependence can not be automated within a closed system.




Taeyoon Choi

immigrant. art. tech. learning. accessibility. inclusion. Co-founder @sfpc. fellow @datasociety. artist http://taeyoonchoi.com