Building the Common: nine political propositions from Dardot and Laval

In an earlier post (here), I summed up Dardot and Laval’s position on how we should think the common. What I want to do now is focus on the nine key political propositions about how to build the common to which their thought leads them. I have inevitably had to condense their writings and leave out many of their key references but have done my best to convey the spirit of what they propose faithfully.

Proposition 1: it is necessary to construct a politics of the common: Although the politics of the common builds on the tradition of 19th century socialist associationism and 20th century workers’ councils, it can no longer simply be thought in an artisanal context or in that of the industrial workplace. Nor will it emerge from some sort of encirclement of capitalism from the outside, nor from some mass desertion. There can be no politics of the common without a rethinking of property rights concerning the land, capital and intellectual ownership. Rights of use rather than rights of property must be the juridical axis for the transformation of society. It is necessary to find the correct form for the common production of society by creating institutions of self-government (whose role will be the production of the common) in all its sectors. It must not be thought, however, that the existence of a common principle will simply abolish the distinction between different socio-economic, public or private, or political spheres. To prevent public deliberation being captured by the interests of any one socio-professional category, the sphere of production and exchange must be completely reorganized around the self-government of the commons. Each commons must also take account of all the ‘externalities’ of its activity so that the its governance includes the users and citizens concerned by the activity. The socio-economic arena thus becomes schooled in co-decision taking. Continue reading

Posted in Morality, philosophy, theory, the common(s), Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Thinking about the common with Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval

Best known outside of France for their important book on neo-liberal governance, Dardot and Laval have more recently (2014) added another important work to their output, a work whose breadth and ambition is clearly indicated by its title, Commun: essai sur la revolution au XXIème siècle (Common: An Essay on Revolution in the 21st Century). The use of common in the singular also casts light on one of the main thrusts of their argument. When one talks of ‘the commons’ in the plural one tends to view contemporary initiatives through the frame provided by the agricultural commons. At the same time, one tends to see the common(s) as a thing rather than as a set of practices. Both tendencies lead us in unhelpful directions for reasons that should become clear below. At the same time, and as the authors also note, we currently find ourselves in a political impasse and desperately need to find ways to move forward. While neo-liberal capitalism is seen to work more and more nakedly in the service of the few, alternatives, whether in the shape of a return to the old Welfarist, post-1945 model, or the authoritarian state socialism of the old Communist bloc, are either condemned to the past or radically undesirable, or both. At the same time, the self-governance and occupation of public spaces practiced by a range of recent protests (Occupy, the Gezi park protests in Turkey) shows a real hunger for more direct forms of democracy and a deep mistrust of traditional, state-centred, representative models.  Yet the fact that none of these protests were able to generate more durable or more widespread modes of action also points towards some of their limitations. This is what Dardot and Laval’s important book seeks to address. Continue reading

Posted in Morality, philosophy, theory, Protest and mobilisation, the common(s) | 2 Comments

Using the work of Maurizio Lazzarato to understand subjection in the contemporary British university

Previously on this blog (here), I provided an account of Maurizio Lazzarato’s elegant, concise and persuasive book on debt. What I’d like to do here is take some of the main insights from two later works, Governing by Debt (Semiotext(e) / MIT, 2015) and Signs and Machines (Semiotexte, 2014) and show how they can help us understand governmentality and subjection in the contemporary British University. I give a developed account of the two works in a forthcoming piece in SubStance, the North American journal of theory and criticism, so what I am doing here is necessarily and deliberately partial, an application of knowledge to a specific context rather than a rounded explanation. There has been a great deal of insightful analysis of the neo-liberal university. I feel, nonetheless, that Lazzarato’s work can help open up some productive new lines of inquiry.  Continue reading

Posted in Crisis and the university, debt in theory and culture, The politics of crisis | 1 Comment

L’histoire est dans la rue: L’Écotaxe and the Crisis in Brittany

Saturday 2 November witnessed a mass demonstration in Quimper, Brittany. Anywhere between 15,000-30,000 people were in attendance protesting for the suppression of the l’écotaxe in Brittany. This tax will target and charge the most polluting vehicles using the French road network and is aimed at encouraging a greener approach to transport with money raised being to be ploughed into improving infrastructure. Emerging from the Grenelle sur l’environnement under the Sarkozy era, this measure has met with a certain degree of opposition in France and in particular concerning the contract awarded to the private company Ecomouv’ to oversee the implementation of the tax. The outraged reaction in Brittany, which has included militants actually dismantling  and setting fire to the huge gantries (portiques) used to scan the road network and charge users, can be explained through a consideration of certain regional specificities. Continue reading

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Trading Clichés, evacuating critique: the debate over Sunday shopping in France

Where Sunday trading has long been entrenched in British culture, it is still heavily regulated in France, limited to certain trades, some of which (furniture but not DIY tools) seem something of a misnomer. Despite calls to relax these laws, there remains an ‘ideological’ resistance to Sunday trading in France not dissimilar to the one voiced in the UK in the early 1990s prior to the law changes. A comparison of the economic, labour and socio-cultural issues arising from the difference in these laws might be a useful exercise – a springboard for thinking more carefully about how we spend our free-time and, consequently, how such time is structured in relation to the working week. To discuss Sunday trading laws should inevitably involve a discussion of how and why an extra day of trading is deemed necessary to a country’s economic survival and development as well as the impact this places on the labour-force, infrastructure, childcare and welfare and other related effects of increased production and consumption. Continue reading

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Boundary problems : Beur / banlieue / political film in the context of contemporary French Cinema

In a very interesting recent article published in the journal Contemporary French and Francophone Studies (16:1, 2012, pp. 55-68), French film scholar Panivong Norindr laments the way in which other scholars (including the author of this blog entry!) have tended to establish a de facto dividing line, a kind of analytic apartheid, between mainstream political cinema (itself a much debated object) and Beur and banlieue  film-making, two groups of films associated with French directors of North African heritage and the troubled outer cities respectively. The consequence of this division, if we accept it is real (it may not be quite as stark as Norindr suggests) is that one set of questions (about class, about workplace struggles or about economic distribution, for example) tends to get asked of one group of films while a different set of questions (about ethnic origins and identities and their recognition or non-recognition, or about spatial segregation and social exclusion) is asked of another group or groups. As a result of this, instead of seeking either to break down problematic distinctions or to ponder the reasons for their emergence, film scholars tend not simply to take them for granted but to reinforce them. Based on a recent paper that I gave, and drawing on the work of theorist Nancy Fraser and on two films, Couscous (2007) by Abdellatif Kechiche and Dernier Maquis (US Adhen) (2008) by Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche, I would like to explore some of the grounds on which the divisions noted by Norindr might be challenged. I have chosen these specific films because of the very active way in which they seem to be posing the same kind of question and asking for a radical rethink of problematic cinematic boundaries. Continue reading

Posted in Culture and the crisis, Film and crisis | 1 Comment

The reconfiguration of European Space: French and Italian responses to migration after the Arab spring

Following the Arab Uprisings of 2011 and the subsequent migration of those fleeing the war in Libya and political upheaval in Tunisia, the small island of Lampedusa has become synonymous with death, conflict and statelessness. This week, a ship carrying over 300 migrants from Somalia and Eritrea caught fire and capsized just off the island with only half of those on board rescued. The declaration that the dead will receive automatic Italian citizenship is cold comfort to those alive inside the island’s detention centre as they wait for news about their asylum claims. (See here ). Where much of international reporting and debate on migration to Europe during and following the Arab Spring has focused on Lampedusa and Italy as landing points, there is a more complex story to be told here. It is one that draws our attention to the paradoxes at work between the individual EU states and their internal borders together with the fluid definitions of terms like ‘economic migrant’ and ‘Schengen’. Continue reading

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