TOOLBOX

Here we collect practical and theoretical tools that help us exploring the commons and practices of commoning in New Cross, and also tools in the form of notes that the New X Commoners produce and hopefully other collectives could make use of.

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12.10.16

Job de-centre, anti-work and feminist subversion of economy (Amaia Perez Orozco).

For Reclaiming our Lives: Anti-Work Struggles Past, Present and Future, organised by Lynne Friedli

plotegher-job-de-centre-antiwork-and-feminist-subversion-of-the-economy

20.07.16 A brief answer to a complex issue that could be only partly summarized by this statement made by a local community organiser: “Expecting the field to remain completely independent of its capitalist environment isn’t just naive, it is actually undermining its ability to function, as well as actively excluding people who can’t afford to give their time for free.”

No one ever thought that the Field should or could be some kind of happy bubble isolated from capitalism, but from the beginning we wanted the Field to become a place to experiment with alternatives to capitalism (capitalism as the dominant system that shapes our lives in all their aspects not just economically), countering the privatization of the market and the centralizing hierarchies of the State (which also shape our lives in all their aspects). Traces of the many discussions and workshops we had before opening the Field are on the new cross commoners website, in the “toolbox” page, here I retrace that trajectory with a focus on the question of money, work and the charity and service models that are so much embedded and functional to capitalism. I hope this will help people understand where the Field comes from and it will also help defining its relationship with its “locality”.

Before starting, amongst other aspirations, we wanted for the Field to become a place that could generate a different economy in the neighbourhood. There was no grand plan about how to generate that economy but there were some ideas: this would have been an economy based less on money and more on social solidarity. Some examples going already in this direction of a withdrawal from a money-based economy could be time banks, local currencies, transition towns etc. We wanted to experiment with The Field as a place where, through solidarity amongst different people, people’s lives could become less chained to capitalism and what comes with it: isolation, individualism, competition, consumerism, dependency to an economic system profoundly unjust, alienating, oppressive, exploitative and threatening the life of the planet in all its forms (the list could go on). This for us was not an utopian fantasy, it was reflected on the reality of being able to turn the Field from the wreck it was initially into the place it was when we opened it without using much money, thanks also to the help of local small businesses who donated material and technical advice, thanks to a practice of re-using instead of buying, thanks to the help of many people living in the neighbourhood etc.

We interrupted this discussion about generating a different economy through the Field when we opened it because we got carried away by other urgencies, but nevertheless the Field has been experimenting, at least to some extent, with an economy based on solidarity rather than money. The bike repair workshop is a good example, the aim is not just to help people saving money but it’s also to generate a culture of mutual help where the experts teach those who are not experts so that they can teach and help others in turn. The “mutual healing in New Cross” functions in similar ways: instead of paying an expert for a healing session you share your knowledge of healing, you learn healing techniques and healing is given and taken collectively. The “mutual healing” has been intended as a challenge to the professionalization and commodification around health, to a culture that has destroyed the possibility to even imagine collective and non monetized forms of taking care of each other’s bodies. Another example of a challenge to a money-based economy at The Field could be the “job de-centre” which has been an attempt to learn how to rely more on each other and less on work, money and ourselves as individuals. The Soma workshops are also possible through an economy that is not based on profit and it’s to complicated to explain here. I’m sure we could make more examples, I hope it’s clear that what I’m talking about is not examples of an economy where money is banned or not involved, but where it is not the base, the motor for things to happen. There is much more we could do to generate such economy based on people coming together through the Field, and hopefully soon we’ll be able to discuss again this possibility.

I’d say this possibility can only take place away from a charitable / managerial approach. What is the problem with charity + management? With such model the separation between those who help and those who need help, between those who know how to help and get paid for it and those who are supposed to get helped, gets perpetuated. The charity + management model operates according to a hierarchy where some people are paid because they know more and have more skills, some people work for free as volunteers, some others are the subject of charity. When someone gets paid or pays him or herself to be a “community organiser” the hierarchies and separations functional to capitalism get perpetuated, the opposition between those who are supposed to know how to organize things and those who are not able to gets validated: it’s very difficult to challenge this hierarchies, separations, oppositions. This is not to say that “community organisers” should not exist, but they can hardly challenge the very system that makes the life of many people miserable. We wanted for The Field to operate in a different way, not from the position of those who know how to help others but from the position of those who help others and themselves together with them by trying out non hierarchical forms of organising, emancipating from the neoliberal logic of work, professions, careers. With the charity + management model you can offer momentary improvement of life conditions as when, for example, people who don’t have money to buy a meal can get a meal for free, but what is this changing, really, on a systemic level, on a political level? I tried to explain this at the last meeting with Ngozi: what’s the point of filling the Field of “real people”, to use Ngozi’s term, if those people simple use the Field as a cheap or free restaurant, as a whatever venue, to then go back to their usual lives, what’s the point if the aim is simply to provide “real people” a nice meal and a nice time for a few hours a week? This model of charity is part of a wider culture of service provision that is so strong everywhere and especially in a place like London, where people are forced to become costumers in all aspects of their lives. I believe that at the Field we need to build alternatives to this culture of service instead of having more of it.

About feminism, reproduction and wages (sorry if this sounds like a lecture): there was an important feminist campaign in the ’70s called “wages for housework”, Silvia Federici was part of it, and, as Kathi Weeks and others explain, the aim was not to make sure housewives would get a salary but to politicize the household. The place for political struggle at that time was the factory and that struggle was organised by men. Often this was a struggle for better working conditions, but in that very decade people started struggling not for better work but against work. The feminist struggle of “wages for housework” was also an anti-work struggle: women fought for their emancipation from work inside and outside the household, they didn’t want to be free from housework to the able to work in an factory or an office or as “community organisers”. They knew there was something wrong with work the way gets organised under capitalism and they wanted to organise labour differently. They didn’t want to move from one form of exploitation to another. They explained how the basis of capitalism was not the factory but the household, sustained by the reproductive labour of women: the naturalised reproductive labour of the housewife was reproducing not only the life of the family but also that of capitalism itself, the struggle for emancipation from capitalism had to start from the kitchen and from how reproductive labour is organised. This is why Silvia Federici insists so much about the importance of collectivising reproduction and care, and this is what makes an economy based on social solidarity rather than money. The examples at the Field would then be largely the same as above: the bike repair workshop, the “mutual healing”, the “job de-centre” also encourage, more or less directly, a sensitivity for a collectivization of care. The kitchen on wednesday is another example, it is organised not by a master chef with his or her assistants, but by new people and more experienced people coming together, whilst people eating are encouraged to clean and take responsibility for the kitchen itself. A more recent example could be HAGL, a group inspired by HASL, Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth, that operates through an anti-charity ethos: we help you to help yourself so that you can help others. I’m sure we could add more examples.

If the Field gets reshaped as a place were professionals get paid for their labour as organisers we’ll end up falling into a model that has to be constantly fed by money and this will turn the Field into a commercial enterprise (the private of the market) and / or it will come with strings attached that will turn the Field in yet another charity, community centre, and so on (the centralizing hierarchies of the State). The Field would cope with some of the disastrous effects capitalism produces in the neighbourhood and in our lives without challenging its functioning and without proposing alternatives.

 

25.02.16 Presentation, Visual Culture, Goldsmiths:

nxc for permissions 

 

28.11.15 Gustavo Esteva “Commoning in the new society” http://cdj.oxfordjournals.org/content/49/suppl_1/i144.full.pdf

We read this text to reflect on commoning at the Field and to think the notion of resource in relation to the commons: is the Field a common resource? How to avoid reducing the Field to a venue that many people use whilst the task of caring for its reproduction – as a building and as a social centre – is left to only a few people. Assembly people were there as well, and it was good to discuss the same issue referring to the different contexts of the Field and the Old Tydemill Garden.

For Esteva to talk about resources in relation to commons is to tie the commons to (capitalist) economy, which is what someone like Ostrom amongst others does. In the context of the commons a resource is often a natural one, at least in the tradition of the commons as land for common use. Esteva understands a resource as something managed by an economy of “development”, the commons for him are beyond (this) economy, beyond a discourse that understands resources as limited and economy as the discipline to manage those resources (at some point he defines resources as “scarce means”).

Still, instead of getting rid of the terms altogether, it might be useful to conceive economy and resources beyond calculability and monetization, questioning anthropocentrism, opposing exploitation, profit, accumulation. It makes sense for us to talk about an economy of the Field and not to discared the possibility of thinking the Field as a resource.

The central part of the essay is dedicated to Ivan Illich and his proposal to develop “tools for conviviality”. What is convivial are the tools themselves, says Esteva. Tools have to do here with technology in a broad sense, a tool can also be a method, or an institution. Convivial tools are tools that everybody can access. They are not industrial tools, their task is not to increase productivity but to produce conviviality: to reshape society by generating bottom up and autonomous organising. The connection between this part on tools and the rest of the essay is not explicit but we could read the suggestion of a shift from resources to tools for conviviality, to tools designed for a collective use and for the production of commons. A tool has to be used and taken care for, it has a sense of adaptability and the possibility of being passed on, it does not partake in a logic of consume / consumerism in the same way a resource does. What does it mean to rethink the Field not as a resource but as a tool? If the Field is a tool how to use it and what for? (for the revolution)

Esteva’s examples of commoning in the “new society” of his tile are around eating, learning, healing (there is no reference to housing). The position of the commons towards the market is one of departure (see above), the position towards the State in Esteva seems to be more interesting and complicated. There is a footnote that talks about the Zapatistas and we could take this as an example of how a practice of commoning can confront the State. The relationship is not oppositional. The government violently harasses the Zapatistas (not directly but through paramilitaries) and the Zapatistas do not respond with violence. They firmly stand for what they stand for: the right to organise themselves by themselves, without centralization and hierarchies. In 1994 they had the Mexican government changing the constitution and laws and policies that relate to indigenous communities, the following governments refused the agreements despite the Zapatistas unprecedented public support, but they still stand for the autonomy they gained and for the practice of organising themselves autonomously, they stand for the right to commoning, to self-organisation, to the use of tools for conviviality. Here there is something useful we could learn in terms of the relationship between the Field or Old Tidemill Garden and the Council (and the forces of the market inextricably tight to it).

New Cross Commoners at Deptford Town Hall 14.11.15

This is the only time we organised something at Goldsmiths as New Cross Commoners. We prepared an event as part of a “Radical New Cross Festival” which Goldsmiths was involved in. Initially our idea was to organise a people’s kitchen but then we got so many restrictions imposed by the Goldsmiths management that we decided not to call the event a people’s kitchen but “Commoners at Deptford Town Hall”. We opened the organisation of the event to others by holding at The Field a reading of an essay by Paul Hendrich on the history of the Town Hall, which underlines how, when Goldsmiths acquired the building, the contract stated that the it had to stay open for the use of people living in New Cross. Actually, in order to access the building you have to have a valid student card. We wanted to turn the event into an occasion for locals who do not pay students fees to make use of the building, at least for an evening. Some people saw the danger for Goldsmiths to capitalise on the “radicality” the New Cross Commoners could bring to the institution. Things got organised in such way to make sure people and commoners would get something out of this. What happened that evening was in fact a kind of reclaiming the building. We placed a huge banner outside the building and we invited people to come, and in fact there were many people who had nothing to do with Goldsmiths and for which the building is actually felt as an enclosure. We were not allowed to used the kitchen of the Town Hall so we cooked food at the Field and we brought it there. We had an “open mic” without a microphone and we took turns to talk. Niel, a local historian who has a blog called transpontine, talked about the history of the building, we talked about the relationship between Goldsmiths and the neighbourhood, people talked about the public baths they used to go to in Laurie Grove before they were acquired by Goldsmiths and to be turned into artists studios, a Croatian lady started singing a revolutionary song… At first people were shy with the microphone but afterwards there was a stream of people talking, some of them were also talking about other initiatives in the neighbourhood. It felt empowering to take part in an official program at Goldsmiths and still be able to do what we wanted to, to make use of the limitations and blockages the management imposed to us instead of hiding them. We got a sense that we managed to temporarily disrupt the enclosure and privitazation that Goldsmiths makes of public resources like the baths and the town hall itself.

25.05.15 Guattari’s cartographies in New Cross

The plan for this session was to re-draw Guattari’s fourfold diagram (see picture) with the help of Holmes’ text and to then use the diagram to analyse the “chaos” of New Cross starting from our experiences of the neighbourhood.

After a round of names and after checking the degree of familiarity with Guattari and this text, we started the session with a brief introduction to the text, by using the double image Holmes places at its beginning: a renaissance map of the earth’s globe and an astrological map of the sky.

Holmes starts with the beginning of capitalism, with these two renaissance maps, and he says that the map of the “real” world of the earth cannot be separated from the map of the “imaginary” world of the sky, explaining how astrology in the renaissance was in fact a kind of “second religion”, producing knowledge and mapping tools largely functional to sovereign domination, alongside and together with the representation of the continents of the terrestrial globe. Holmes makes a parallel between astrology then and cybernetics now, where cybernetics is a system, equally produced by human imagination, that enters in composition with the earth, our bodies, society, to shape them in order to produce the homo economicus, to produce us as consumers, subjected to the axioms of capitalism – profit and accumulation. This subjection takes place today through the proliferation of digital technologies and their tools that reshape our worlds, lives, bodies in different ways and at different levels: from tools to digitalize our lives like all sorts of applications for computers and phones, to tools specifically dedicated to control like cctv cameras and drones, to advertisements and shopping environments designed through consumers’ studies, to the whole of financial markets – Holmes defines the financialization of capitalism also as a creation of human imagination. Financial capitalism has been using theories and techniques to manage chaos and complexity for its own advantage, Guattari offers some tools to navigate chaos and complexity without and against the aim of profit making and accumulation.

Cybernetics is a tool of domination as astrology used to be, it is used to remap the cosmos, in this sense it is also a cartographic tool. There can be other uses of (astrology and) cybernetics, other than the dominant one that serves capitalism, and Guattari was very interested in those different uses, in practical terms as well, for example he directly engaged with Radio Alice and the free radio movement in Italy and with similar experimentations in France. The question here is: what makes an autonomous use of cybernetics, and of imagination at large, radically different from its capitalist use? The critical debate around this issue is huge and dominated by analysis that often end up reinforcing the scary power of capitalism to co-opt imagination, creativity, art, thinking, knowledge production. With his cartographies Guattari offers something other than a critical analysis, he offers tools that have to be used in practical terms, tools that have a “pathic uncertainty” at its core, says Holmes. It is this pathic uncertainty that differentiates a neoliberal cartography from Guattari’s cartography, the uncertainty of pathos and affects placed at the core of a method for analysis, mapping and remaking the world. This pathic uncertainty is what capitalism both needs from humans in order to function and what it gets consumed and erased through neoliberal subjectivation and control. It is what allows for the machinery of capitalism to operate, what provides its vitality and avoids the entropy of capitalism itself, there is a tension here, on one side capitalism needs this pathic uncertainty generated through our bodies to feed itself, on the other it needs to erase it in order to function. This tension reveals a vulnerability of capitalism: what happens if we learn how to collectively re-place this affective uncertainty at the core of our life and our worlds, despite and against its erasure by capitalism?

A diagram is a drawing that can be used to navigate the complexity of the world. Diagrams have been used for centuries, a mantra for example is a diagram, usually oriented according the four cardinal points, to which the four elements are often related. There can be four “corners”, or directions in a diagram (“functors” is the term Holmes uses pointing at their transformative functionality), there can be more, and each corner has a meaning which is never fixed, it variates according to the context in which the diagram is used. Starhawks uses diagrams form the Celtic pagan tradition, and similar diagrams are used by shamans in different parts of the world. Sometimes they are called “medicine wheels”: diagrams are not simply tools to interpret the world, they are also healing tools, tools to change yourself and the world through reading. The diagram is a tool that you use by placing yourself as well into it: there should not be separation between the one who analyses and an object of analysis, you read the cosmos and yourself as part of it, you read yourself as part of the cosmos. These are also the features and functions of Guattari’s fourfold diagram, which should be placed as part of a tradition that starts well before the emergence of capitalism in the Renaissance: this diagram implicates those who use it and are affected by it, and it is used not simply as a tool of interpretation (as for example when an astrological chart is used for divination) but as a tool that performs transformation (this transformation is called sometimes “magic” – in Starhawk for example).

What makes Guattari’s diagram specific and particularly important is the way it responds to the cybernetic diagrams of capitalism. Those diagrams have also the power to perform transformation, they also have an effect on both individual bodies and the cosmos, and, as said already, they are designed to produced consumers and certainly not to heal people and the earth. They are also diagrams that, by connecting elements, flatten out diversity and erase uncertainty, they produce homogeneity, they produce individual people as consumers on a global scale. Instead of connecting, says Holmes, Guattari’s diagram divides, cuts, produces and encourages breakages. This is the peculiarity of his diagram and its difference from those of non-capitalists practices, which often limit themselves, at least in their contemporary use, to produce “holistic” connections and smooth differences without confronting the diagrams used by capitalism. They are often also used in the name of a return to the earth that demonizes the advancement of technology, whilst what Guattari proposes is a kind of co-evolution of the earth, humans and technology as re-appropriated for a collective experimentation and use (see also Guattari’s text on the tree ecologies). Of course Starhawk is an exception here.

The cut Holmes talks about is that of the prefix “schiz” in schizoanalysis, which is a reading that cuts in the sense of allowing for cracks to alter the homogeneity produced by capitalism, of letting emerge the affective uncertainty that humans bring with them and that machines lack, of caring for what Deleuze and Guattari call “desire” to open everything up towards otherness, towards encounters with differences. Just a brief note here to say that these encounters are not necessarily smooth and easy themselves (Starhawk herself talks a great deal about conflicts in her writings).

Brian Holmes starts explaining Guattari’s diagram from the bottom right “corner”, the corner of the body, or body / psyche, and of existential territories, and this is also were we started using the diagram in the session: we draw the diagram on a big piece of paper on the table we were sitting around and we wrote down anecdotes and stories that we recently experienced in New Cross or other places in London, stories that, no matter how minor or apparently insignificant, affected us somehow. The plan was to then read more of the text by Holmes as a guide to unpack the stories, to have them cracking, to let something like an affective uncertainty undo their coherence, to open them towards a non human otherness (upper right corner), to see if they could become collective stories (lower left corner), to think if from this process we could derive some practices that would help us further counter the subjection of our existence to capitalism (upper left corner).

After placing a few stories on the diagram we decided to choose one and “schizoanalyse” it. The story was this: one of us saw someone dying in an accident in New Cross, it was a Sunday, people were going back home from the church, a group of black people started praying for the dead guy. We read the two paragraphs where Holmes talks about the corner of existential territories. Many of the things we initially said in the discussion were closer to this corner, they had to do with bodily responses and impressions. But reading the text made us also think about a conversation some of us had a couple of days before with Valeria about the first project AAA organized in Paris. There was no direct connection between the story and this conversation, but to read some of the text allowed for this interjection to take place. What follows is the a report of the discussion with Valeria.

Hi commoners, good to see some of you yesterday at Orsalia‘s screening. Alice, Lawrence, Rosie and myself had a chat yesterday with Valeria about the first project AAA did http://www.urbantactics.org/ (Atelier d’Architecture Autogeree – we invited Doina to talk about AAA to the commoners some time ago). Similarly to the Field, AAA got to permission to use a small plot of land, owned by the council, for a few years: they built a garden together with people living in the neighbourhood, and the place hosted many other activities organized by people living there, e.g. African women were cooking and selling food to make some money for themselves. When the council claimed the land back there were enough people deeply involved in the project to organize a massive protest in front of the council, which provided another space. Valeria was saying that this happened also because the space was clearly communicated as precarious to everybody getting involved, and for example the garden was grown in portable boxes so that they could be moved to another location if necessary: everybody was aware from the beginning that they were using a precarious space and this was part of a process of politicization. Something amazing AAA did was to document the journeys of people engaging with the project, registering their entry points (e.g. growing tomatoes), their paths (e.g. from growing tomatoes to taking part in the radical pedagogy group) and their disappearance (e.g. the husband gets sacked and she has to work double shifts and she cannot come anymore). This documentation has not a box-thicking function of control, often a requirement of cultural institutions and events, it is a documentation of the precarious conditions of people, it is giving value to their engagement, paths, contributions, learning, and also it is a form of taking care, it fosters mutual care. Instead of counting people as numbers as usually institutions do, you acknowledge people, their difficulties and their contributions. I found this inspiring and I thought of sharing it with you, xpaolo

At some point during the session there was another “breakage” in the process, an old friend with whom some of the people at the Field had a conflictual confrontation in the past stormed into the room in a attempt of reconnecting with people there and then left after a few intense minutes. The situation is too complex to explain here, but this short visit, instead of being a distraction as it would have been with other kind of meetings, triggered a discussion, whilst the story of the old friend found place on the the diagram itself.

At some point during the session we had the feeling that we didn’t know what we were doing and were we were going and what was happening. Something was happening for sure and we didn’t get frustrated or annoyed, not even by several moments of silent. We followed Holmes’ trajectory, from the more human and personal dimension of the body and its existential territory, to “art” and other non-corporeal elements like colours, intensities, sounds (the light of sun that sunday morning? The siren of the ambulance?The murmur of the prayers? Does all this count here?). The corner of the non-corporeal side of subjectivation brings otherness into existence, it brings in the non human which “deterritorializes” the territories we construct for ourselves.

The next corner is that of the turbulence of society and social flows: institutions, groups, politics, conflicts, all of them are flows in the sense that are always in movement. Here we talked about race, the divide between the white middle class of Telegraph Hill and the black people on the other side of the street. How to understand race in the context of this diagram, what to do with it? To read cracks into “race”, to open it up beyond its individuated sociological coherence, does not mean to pretend race does not exist as a socially constructed category.

At some point we tried to move further away from the story and to think a bit more deliriously, through something like desires emerging from the empty spaces of the diagram. The following is part of the writing we placed on the diagram. Going beyond life and having some tools to relate with that. Militant investigation and religion: the church as the factory? Religious services in London in industrial estates. Broken connections in the city. A spiritual / ritualistic aspect in the people’s kitchen? Marking events through simple rituals or just by acknowledging them, marking what is important for people, celebrating, marking people’s departures, acknowledging relationships and care. Spirituality doesn’t need to be transcendental. Parading every dead body in the streets of New Cross. Zen and the art of the motorcycle. Horses in the garden. A degree show on the day of the flying ants in New Cross.

The last corner of the diagram is also the first in a way, it’s the corner of ideas, “the blue sky above”, as opposed to the earth below our feet of our existential territories. This is the corner of theory and of abstraction, it is the corner where we ask ourselves what are the effects of the cartographic process, what are we learning from it and how can we start again, how can these effects have an impact onto the territory again, how can we rethink our collective practices, is there any practice that can emerge from the process? It is here that it seemed many of the elements we put on the diagram could be somehow related to the technical device AAA re-created to document people’s paths in and out the place of ECObox, especially in its connection with the place: the device is not simply about people, it is opening up their “existential territories” to something else, to the reading of a wider territory, of social flows described as raising from a shared condition of precarity. This device can be seen also as a type of cartography, a schizoanalytic map where cuts and affective eruptions can emerge as well.

Going back to the diagram as a tool for healing through reading, we could even attempt a comparison with Starhawk’s diagram, where the corner of “abstract machines” in Guattari would correspond to the East of air and thought, whilst the territory would be the North of the earth, the South the fire of energy and power relations and social relationships, and the West would be associated with water and emotions.

Towards the end we started discussing the session itself, someone observed that it resembled some kind of therapeutic session. Others talked about spirituality, maybe because of the people praying for the dead, or the references made to Starhawk. It was observed that there was something spiritual about this meeting, something unexpectedly non academic. Someone even suggested that the meeting resembled a séance, and a comparison with certain readings of astrological charts was made. Hopefully we will take further the idea of adapting the AAA device with Valeria’s help. Also Cristina might take up Guattari’s diagram again in schizoanalytic sessions on what Guattari calls “speech” and on the production of vocabularies at the Field, in New Cross, through the new cross commoners. The next reading will be based on “future archaeology” and a book by Ursula Le Guin introduced during this session.

Meeting with Fred Dewey at the Field 05.03.15

Marc invited Fred to come to the Field to talk about his experience in LA with neighbourhood councils.

It all started with the LA riots in 1992 when the city was shaken up and everybody dramatically experienced the huge gap between citizens and those in power. This was a moment of crisis for political institutions as well and this crisis allowed for the creation of neighbourhood councils, something that Fred had been talking and writing about for many years, whilst being ignored most of the time. A neighbourhood council has officially no legislative power but, unofficially, it often has the power to exercise pressure on the council on many decisions concerning the neighbourhood. When it works, and it often does in LA, the neighbourhood council is a great tool for self-governing power, it enriches civil life and it undoes the gap between those who govern through the state and corporations, and those who are supposed to be represented by them (principle of self-governing power).

Fred discussed several issues related to his experience with the council movement, some of them are below.

Principles and programmes. A principle is something you believe in, it has to do with your values, it is something that can guide you, it doesn’t tell what and how to do things but it gives the sense of carrying something forward. In difficult times, when it feels people around are hostile, to have a principle to stick to makes you feel you know what you are doing and why. A programme is something already defined, something that the Black Panthers for example could implement because of a long standing engagement at the level of neighbourhoods, but there is often a element of imposition in a programme.*

Endurance and burn out. To have a principle to follow might allow you to endure and to avoid burn outs. Take the time to nurture yourself, you cannot be active all the time otherwise you burn out. And take your time, don’t get discouraged if things don’t change straight away, sometimes it takes a long time, to build trust, for the right moment to take place, to build alliances with different people.

Activism. Fred doesn’t define himself as an activist, an activist for him is someone who is driven by an issue more or before than principles. And this is often a single issue, and it is difficult for such activists to build alliances with people who are not dealing with that same issue.

Making allies vs. outreach. Sometimes your best ally is the person that you would never imagined could be your best ally: you never know who the supporter is. It could be someone who does not share your same political views. It will be probably someone who is not a charismatic leader but someone who sits quietly at the back with a perplexed expression on her face. Talk to the unhappy people. Get to know everybody who cares for the neighbourhood, no matter how long will take to you. Build solidarity with other groups that share your concerns, at the level of the whole city (example of the garden movement in NY, it was successful because it happen at the level of the entire city). What matters is not to help the disadvantaged (outreach) but to address all together the political structure governing the neighbourhood: how to empower ourselves to intervene in that structure? We also need to know what’s wrong with that structure and what’s wrong with the neighbourhood. Always keep in mind the larger issue at stake.

Tables, union and unity. We all have different ideas, ways of thinking, and so on, but we also all want to live a good life in a good neighbourhood (public happiness). We don’t need to reach consensus, we don’t need to achieve unity, but some kind of union which is there because we all want to live a good life. It is like sitting around a table, the table functions as something to connect us but also to make sure we can all be together without being on top of each other, we can all have some space for ourselves and our ideas, our differences.

Culture and politics and Hannah Arendt. In a locked political system you can make changes through culture. When it’s too hard to do politics directly (e.g. with the neighbourhood councils), you can do politics through culture: culture has the potential of trigger political change even if in an indirect way, for example by building a new reality for yourself (not that this is enough in itself). Fred had the examples of reading groups he has been organized for a long time, where people with different levels of literacy read the text aloud, again and again, not so much to give an interpretation but to embody it and share it. It’s especially great to read Arendt because she uses simple terms that have to do with everybody’s life. And Arend’s On Revolution ends with a section on councils.

Fred wrote a book where he also talks about his experience with community councils http://www.errantbodies.org/doormats_4.html

* note written by Fred:

A principle to work out and follow is not really for those who are hostile (people are seldom hostile to a principle, it only exists to stir thinking and action, in contrast to an agenda or even an idea), but far more debilitating when people are totally indifferent and there is NO echo whatsoever. This is the really crucial part: how to keep going when no one seems interested or answers or, most importantly, joins you. You think there’s nothing there, and there may well not be anything there – YET. There seems no solidarity or power possible. But principle will guide you forward and is there when situations – local, citywide, even national – suddenly change and open up. Activists and militants and organizers utterly miss this. They are pushing an issue or program. The trick is not to be caught in an issue but to have a principle. This keeps one strong and focused, and is deeply existential. It allows drifting from the matter, sometimes for months or a year or even more, needing to be, or just simply being, because of life, focused on other things – living, culture, survival, whatever – but then suddenly, without much work or effort, to weigh back in and resume pushing on something one believes is so and needs to be so. It helps focus as one meets people, to think clearly and not be steered off course, or get discouraged. principles can endure for centuries. And in one person’s lifetime, they are everything. In particular, a first principle. This is really key.

Art as commons: collective collage and poetry making 07.12.14

As an introduction to the workshop Rosie showed us some of the collages made by herself and in collaboration with other artists, and images of the collage making at people’s kitchens in New Cross: using images of New Cross past and present the collage there is used to make people imagining a different New Cross. Then we started the collective poetry and collage exercise: after choosing together topics like “community of misfits”, “individualism”, “urban dancing”, we took a page each of a cheap novel Rosie got in a charity shop. We circled some words to recreate a broken narrative out of the page responding to the chosen topic. We then took someone else’s page and make a collage with it around the circled words by cutting images from different books provided by Rosie. We then brought all the collages together and we had a discussion. What has happened during this exercise? Is there anything we learned that we can bring somewhere else?

We could operate in a similar way with adverts in New Cross, modifying their words and images. With this exercise we learned to subvert received, already existing texts and images: the found material, a cultural product of some kind, gets dismembered and recomposed to produce a different meaning, and often a more unstable one – destabilizing. The Situationists used to call this practice detournement. What we experienced by doing the exercise responding to specific topics is a series of frictions between the material received, the labour of choosing, erasing, cutting, and the chosen topics. The results are a combination of poetry and collage as a kind of rethinking, exploring, questioning and becoming delirious around those topics important to us. We could repeat the exercise with different topics and different material as a way of rethinking together, exploring, questioning and becoming delirious around a topic / issue related, for instance, to the Field.

The question, broaden as such, would then be: how to rethink and subvert what is produced by a dominant culture? How to rethink learning by subverting academic learning and the functioning of the neoliberal university (new cross commoners)? How to rethink art by subverting not so much or not just its products, but the processes and procedures that reduce art to professional products of an “art world”, hanging in museums, galleries, and private collections (art as commons)? How to rethink the structure and function of all the institutions, organizations and places in New Cross and London, from job centres to bet shops, through an expanded practice of collage-making and detournement, not just of words and images but of the machinic components of those institutions, organizations and places (The Field and plans for initiatives like the “job de-centre” and the “initial research”)?

Some tools from co-counselling to be used in different contexts – connecting the micro with the macro-political, personal growth ans social change. Workshop with Claudia 29.11.14

Some tools from co-counselling to be used in different contexts – connecting the micro with the macro-political, personal growth and social change.

Co-counselling is based on one to one sessions of active listening. Everyone takes turns as a “client” and as a “counsellor”. Active listening: the client is free to talk and build his or her own narrative and to be listened whilst the counsellor expresses attention and support. At first while practicing listening it is a good idea not to say anything: no questions, no projections, no advice, no talking. With practice supportive comments and questions can draw out the client. Each session lasts an agreed amount of time that can vary. Emotional discharge like crying is supported and valued as an effective way of coming to terms with traumas. It is a healing process rather than something to be stopped.

The counsellor should bear in mind that feelings are most often related to the past and not to the present. Most of the time what could appear as something terrible happening during the session is actually related to a previous experience and not to the session itself. It’s necessary to put a temporal boundary to traumas. And also to understand that feelings are feelings and they should be taken seriously as that and not reality or necessarily a guide to action.

It’s important to get at the bottom of the pile of shit, to go back in time and try to remember the first time we sensed a certain feeling. “Does this upsetting thing remind you of something?” “What is your earlier memory of this feeling?”

Once the session ends the counsellor might ask the client to describe something in the room as a way to help getting him or her back to the present. You can also ask the client to talk about a good memory. You can make him or her laugh (this is also a type of emotional discharge).

Co-counselling is based on the belief that people are good and co-operative by nature. Different models get installed in people since an early age shaped on gender, class, race and so on. These models and roles produce domination, exploitation, injustice. Racism and patriarchy are something that people learn, something that has to be unlearned. Racism: white people as well are dehumanized through racism, racism is an issue affecting them as well. Similarly, the owning class is forced into its ruling role, they are privileged people but at the same time de-humanized, since human nature is based on co-operation.

Workshop:

Round saying names and something good about this week.

Active listening in pair: tell about your week in 5 minutes.

Game: “I like people who…” have blue eyes, have suffered abuse, wear socks, and so on – this has to be something you have or have experienced yourself: you step forward and people who share this with you do the same.

Connected with this game: active listening in small groups about identity related issues. The groups form on the bases of what people propose: a parents group, a group of people who suffered gender related harassment, a group of white and British men, a group of people confused about identity… Each person has 5 minutes to talk about the topic. It follows a discussion.

In academia we have learned that identity politics is something outmoded and of the past, but engaging in this exercises makes us understand how much different models of identity have been influencing each of us, our lives and our relationships.

Final round with names, something we have learned today and something we were looking forward to.

This text offers a short and useful introduction to co-counselling: https://www.rc.org/publication/uer/BasicTheoryOfRC.html

Words bodies and bodies… workshop with Marc 22.11.14

With this workshop we played with many of the elements composing the experience of the new cross commoners:  group-work,  the reading theoretical text, reading aloud; gender dynamics, political idealisms, eating and serving food,  moving together and using our bodies; addressing the neighborhood, silence, abstraction and general weirdness.

After moving inside the Field in groups of three or four as a warm-up, we piled on top of each other while Marc read to us; first an excerpt from Anais Nin. We then split into pairs; in pair-work, on partner placed their hands on their partner’s belly and was tasked to get in touch with their partner’s organs. The partner with free hands held up a text for the belly-holding partner to read to them. With this first round of reading completed, we returned to a large group formation, this time sitting side to side and swaying while Marc then read to us a militant queer manifesto. As with before, one member was asked to respond with their voice muffled into a cup. A second member was asked ot go outside and respond to the text while walking down the street and talking aloud to themselves. Partner-work resumed with the same task but roles reversed. The paragraph excerpts were a variety of sources- bits of Deleuze, Fanon, Heidegger, Foucault; the commonality was their musing on being. After the second round of partnerwork, we finished up with a final group formation- standing and leaning on one-another. Marc read an excerpt from George Jackson’s prison letters.

Art as commons: collective drawing session 23.11.14

Daniel started with an introduction to his practice as an artist. There are three main strands in his practice: 1 work he does by himself, 2 work he does together with others, 3 work he does for others. Today’s exercise falls in the second category. About the third category: he draws, often in the street and in public spaces, as a service to whoever wants it. He does this either for free or for a small amount of money. Sometimes instead of money he asks for something the person owns in order to re-balance the energy between giving and taking through exchange. Sometimes there is a topic: to make a drawing for someone to give to a person who is recovering from something (cfr. Ex-voto and other non-western similar practices); to make a drawing directly for someone who is recovering from something; to make a drawing for someone as thanking for something in his or her life; to make a drawing about someone’s biggest dream; to make a drawing about someone’s relationship with someone. In the process Daniel might ask questions for clarification but he doesn’t explain what he is drawing and the meaning of drawing. Through drawing, through the space between the one who draws and the one who asks, there is the opportunity for the images / ideas of the one who asks to change, to expand, to redefine themselves, to lead towards action and other thoughts, to a different way of sensing. In other words, this is not drawing to represent something that lays in someone else’s head, but drawing as opening the possibility of a transformation in the encounter between people, images, thoughts, emotions, sheets of paper, colours, pencils and other tools. Daniel also explained this transformative process as a process of healing, and drawing and image making as a practice of healing. it’s not so much the image itself that has healing properties, but the relationship between image, people’s imaginary, feeling, thinking, in the processes of drawing.

Exercise: we sit around a big table, we have a sheet of paper each where Daniel has previously drawn an unfinished drawing. We are both “slaves” of the person on our left and “masters” of the one on our right: we follow the indications of the person on the left and give indication to the person on the right to complete the drawing.

Who’s drawing is the drawing you draw?

Art as commons and discussion afterwards:

Art as commons is an experiment that aims to make use of art as a shared resource, against the control of the State and the enclosure of the art market and the “art world”. As New Cross commoners for more than a year we have been using texts to learn how to organize different forms of commoning in our life. With art as commons we also try to make use of art to explore different ways of sustaining our lives collectively.

This drawing session is very much open also to those who do not draw and who are not professional artists. Art as commons is art beyond its professionalization. How to make of drawing a practice that intersects with everyday life? How can drawing respond to everyday needs and desires?

1 is there anything that we can learn from the experience of this exercise, is there anything we can bring into everyday life, into our relationships as commoners, as people living in New Cross, as people relating with other people, with different roles and different tasks, through different power dynamics?

Through this exercise we learn ways to ask and to respond to people. In the discussion we talked a lot about power dynamics and roles and how the exercise made us experience a different way of giving orders and asking things to people and a different way of responding to people’s requests. The difference here was that we were both “master” and “slave” at the same time, that what mattered was the result, which was collective also in the sense that it was created through a kind of chain where people would feedback and re-adjust to each other.

With this exercise the opposition between “master” and “slave” is not so stable and clear anymore, it gets challenged.

Example of a “master and slave” game / exercise in Tamera ecovillage in Portugal that can last several days: you are in pair and you do everything the other person asks you to do and then you swap roles, this is very useful to build trust amongst people. It’s also about learning how to be in charge and how to respond to people’s demands.

Roles and different roles in meetings: Daniel talked about the “six thinking hats” method and swapping the hats in meeting.

We talked about the usefulness of having roles that are clearly expressed and shared: not unsaid and unspoken roles for hidden power relationships and soft control.

2 is there anything specific to drawing together and making art together that we can learn and bring into our life, collective lives, ways of dealing to each other?

We talked about a kind of space of freedom that drawing allows in the relationship between the one who asks and the one who responds. Trust amongst people is needed in order for this space to emerge. This is a free space as a gap between words and images, an impossibility of exhausting the passage from a demand to a response, as a space of indeterminacy and possibility. The experience of this drawing exercise encourages us to think about the possibility of cultivating and bringing this space of freedom into the relationship amongst people, into our collective actions.

At he same time this freedom is powerful and can come into existance also because is bounded by shared rules, by people and their stated roles, requests, desires, etc. This freedom is very different from that of a neoliberal “free” individualized choice that alienates people.

With this exercise we also learn about failure: there is no failure here in the sense that there is no individual failure. On the other side, there is no individual success. Individual failure and success and their value is something we have been exposed to since we were children.

We talked about self-expression, in the case of this exercise the self-expression is collective, and not individual as it’s often the case whit professional artists, with professions in general. And it’s collective in a kind of expanding way, because it’s not based in a group of equally skilled people: this marks a difference with collaborations amongst artists, and with any kind of professional collabor

Bat Walk in Deptford 30.09.14

Armed with bat detectors and guided by Cliff http://cliffhammett.com/ we strolled around some dark places in Deptford in the attempt of learning something about the neighbourhood by listening to the bats inhabiting it. Is the bat population in Deptford proportionally decreasing to the advancing of gentrification? The new buildings in Creek Road, compact plates of glass, steel and concrete, appear to us as being design to keep bats away. We walk around looking into the dark and listening to everything that emits ultrasounds, from invisible little animals in the grass around us to car engines: a different geography of the neighbourhood begins to emerge, a different sensorial sensitivity begins to develop in conjunction with a cheap technological device. Thanks to Owen we access the amazing Old Tidemill School Garden http://assemblyse8.org/ and we talk about the possible alliance that can be forged with bats to delay the destruction of old buildings and gardens perpetrated by property developers.

Here a detailed account written by Cliff: http://cliffhammett.com/scrap/2014/10/01/newx-batwalk/

***

Royal Geographical Society

From co-production to alternative futures: social movements, common(s) and ‘other values’

FRIDAY, 29 AUGUST – 14.40-16.20 – IMPERIAL COLLEGE, SKEMPTION BUILDING, ROOM 165

Notes:

– with our intervention we want to challenge us and the people attending

– give tiles to people attending and ask to clean them – weave a narrative around the tiles and the activity of cleaning them

NEW CROSS COMMONERS/THE FIELD: PRODUCTIVE TENSIONS

WHILE THE OTHER SPEAKERS ARE ON

– one of us sits on the panel, the rest is distributed in the audience

INTRO

– we hand out tiles and tools

– we tell the story of the commoners/the field -> how it started, how it developed, where it is at now

– in the background, a slideshow with images is running

MEANING OF TILES/GENTRIFICATION

tiles – we found them in the building / it was an Antiques shop until the late 80’s / they are tiles from the area, collected from the houses surrounding, an area that was built up almost entirely in the late 1800’s / the tiles are from the floors of the large middle class victorian family homes, houses that were built on farmland – the area has only existed as a part of the city since then / houses being middles class family homes, then being split into apartments, shared by many people, being left empty or squatted, now being re-inhabited by single middle class families as living in the city becomes desirable again – a kind of return to victorian urban life that can be seen in advertising for new developments, e.g. Nunhead Village.

The building: architects office – professional, respectable place – then an insurance office – respectable, stable, middle class place – then antiques shop – gradually more informal – people’s memories from the area are of a very informal business where the owners lived as well as worked. More recently – for the last 20 years the place has been squatted, informal, a place for drugs, full of needles, rotten roof and floor, leaking, no toilet, like a landfill site – but also some kind of haven? Lots of people have told us stories about the place, there was an informal community with rules and respect for each other around the place for many years – it housed people for free… Now us… we are interested in using the place as somewhere that we can experiment with ‘creating other values’ – but we have painted the front, planted a garden, put up trellis, replaced the original sash windows stripped of decades of paint, covered the graffitti. Stories of how people used to behave around the place, vs. how they do now.

Most of those organising this project came to New Cross via the university – what does it mean for us to have taken over this place, to be acting on the area, the methods and tools we use to find out about the area, it’s history, the people who live here now and have lived here – mostly we ask questions, or try to stimulate conversations with maps or surveys, but it seems inadequate. There is a tension about having the ‘right’ to act in the area, and about how to use our privileges…

A tension we feel with this relationship with history – how processes of gentrification so often appropriate the history of a place and people in order package and sell it to outsiders, to commercially valorise a place. How do we do it differently? How can we have a different relationship with the history of the place? Can our activities be informed by that history and concerned with the future? Can our activities be antagonistic to the processes of gentrification, capital, privatisation… or not?

WORK

– Trying to involve everyone at the Field but most people work during the day. A few can work part time but then take on disproportionate amounts of work in the project. Precarity.

– Many of those involved in the project are also state-funded. Sense of guilt we get when unemployed and when getting benefits. On the other side ability to get more things done.

– Salaried labour and commoning of care? As something to look into in the future?

– Desire to escape salaried labour resulting in doing free labour – self-exploitation? But does it just feel like this because we end up doing a lot of manual labour that in a ‘career’ we would do our best to escape?

– Precarious labour and spreading disaffection towards our jobs.

– Voluntary work and Big society: this is not a project practising in production of “social value”, or social service. How to break away from state jargon under which unpaid labour is recruited?

– What do we do with the boring/dirty work nobody wants to do?

– A wish to get funding so people can be paid, but will this create dynamics where we are no longer in control of what we do with our time?

– One of the worst everyday symptoms of work in the normal economy is stress. But do we escape stress by getting involved in a project like the Field? What is it that causes stress in this management-free environment?

Maybe it is problematic to think of ourselves as exploiting ourselves if there is no direct relationship between the time and effort we expend and money.

We are trying, with this project, to think about how we can organise our lives around different values, different ways of understanding what our time and effort are for, outside the logic of labour / capital.

TALKING ISSUE

– we all went through academia -> talking has become the most important method to resolve things/issues

– the way we talk is excluding people – although we started with the NXC to learn from and with the neighbourhood and a lot of what we do is also based around reading texts in non-academic ways (this includes combining reading with an activity)

– can we talk less and do more? It’s also about being less afraid of getting it wrong

– we are moving slowly and need to get used to it

CLOSING

– tiles for The Field – a place in NX where we try to align our desires and materialise them, a place where values become materialised in value-practices

– we experiment with ourselves to see if we can live differently

– often don’t know where the boundaries are with creating other value practices -> painful, disorienting but also energising and empowering

WHAT WE NEED TO BRING ALONG

– bucket full of tiles

– little pieces of sanding paper

– little pieces of cloth for polishing

– newspaper to catch powder

– New X Commoners publication

NXC summer camp, Nomi, Italy 12-18 August 2014

Italy_Val_2014_2

Making Rituals that Matter, workshop with Starhawk at Grow Heathrow 2-3 August 2014

FIRST DAY

S introduces to the workshop, she also asks to Grow Heathrow people what can we do as a group for Grow Heathrow’s eviction the 15th.

Participants introduction: it is not a round, people speak if and when they like: you say your name and something about yourself, the others respond either by stepping forward if they share that with you (I’m from Italy, I’m part of the new cross commoners, I am distressed because of what is happening in Palestine… she starts with examples herself) or by moving their fingers if they share what you say.

S ends with a few questions for the whole group: people step forward if the answer is yes: do you consider yourself an activist of some kind, have you done a ritual before, is it the first time you do a ritual, is your first language different from British English? Cfr. with the power shuffle game.

Grounding (roots and branches, sensorial awareness) + walk: observe what is around you. Permaculture + paganism: intervene in your “consciousness” (subjectivity) by becoming a walking tree through visualization and experiencing nature and things around you in a different way (cfr. Body / Mind Centering). Permaculture’s learning from nature + magic as willingly intervening in consciousness, learning from nature’s consciousness. “Consciousness” is related with awareness, but also to feminist practices. It is not only related to reason and understanding, but to sensing, perceiving, etc., it has not only to do with the mind but with the body as a whole. There are many forms of consciousness. A tree has a consciousness. Cfr. with animism.

Tableau vivant with the 4 elements + spirit (no words). Embodying an element collectively. Cfr. with theatre of the oppressed’s machines.

Feeling the aura exercise. Make something happen to your body and feel the aura again. Cfr. with nanopolitics (e.g. Body / Mind Centering).

The importance of having a purpose for a ritual, to come up with an intention for the ritual: what do we make it for?

What do you personally care for? What would you give your life for? To think of this serves as a starting point to come up with an intention for the ritual.

The day after this “sacred” something gets reinforced by saying what is that you care for to the person next to you, whilst chanting together, giving hands and holding them, and so on.

Collective discussion and small group discussion about the intention of the ritual.

After a group discussion a self elected group works on the sentence summarizing the intention.

S leads as a facilitator / priestess, but she always encourages people to take initiatives and the structure of the workshop is designed with that intention, to foster participation in a non hierarchical way. Cfr. ultra-red how in their workshops they move through different stages from the personal to the collective.

In pairs defend what you care for (what is sacred for you) against someone who opposes you. In pairs explain what you care for to someone sympathetic to it. Feel the aura again. Cfr. theatre of the oppressed and soma.

Healing exercise: think of someone who needs healing and imagine him or her inside a pool of water in the middle of the circle, already healed.

Healing is different than curing: healing implies a change, curing a reverting to an ideal state of sanity, wellbeing, health.

This is a kind of commoning around health, the second day this will be even more strongly so. Which kind of healing could we organize and perform at the Field?

The role of the witch was to heal communities, is what happens here as well, but healing becomes collective, participatory, and something that is easily learned.

“With magic you fake it until it becomes real.”

Issues around performance, theatre, artificiality and genuineness: the problem of being able to exercise critical awareness and at the same time let yourself go to an affective experience. Learning to expose yourself to the ridiculous, learning to become minor, and to empower yourself as minor (e.g. Starhawk as producing minor knowledge in relationship with academia in the sense that what she writes is not taken seriously by academia but this allows for a freedom from the academic framework).

The ridiculous in the eyes of the normal is displacing everything in difficult moments like a kettle and a demo.

Cfr. the ridicule with the Radical Faeries: it’s a specific mode of queerness and not necessarily a “cool” (fashionable) one, different from the more aggressive style of House of Brag.

To subvert (what?) by having moments of meaningful ridiculousness at the Field? Exposing yourself as ridiculous to the public as a way of challenging what is public and its normativity, but also as a way to allow a transformation of subjectivity.

Walking in a trance: choose something around you that can give an answer to what you care for, to what is sacred for you. Come back and share what you have found in small groups.

The intention / sentence for the ritual is composed of 5 parts: celebration of the harvest, use of inner forces, use of outer forces, use for grow heathrow, use for the rest of the world. People choose which group to join, each group decides how to organize its part of the ritual and half way communicates the ideas to the other groups for the purpose of coordination.

S is amazingly calm and not worried about what each group can come up with, she doesn’t give suggestions to change things, and this is an attitude she has throughout the whole workshop: we are doing rituals but what matters it’s not so much to get them right – there’s no pressure on people to do things efficiently or in a certain way, people and their chaotic behaviours are more important than the rules of the game, and this is how magic as a change in “consciousness” can take place.

Field: learn the formats and the tools, make some rules, but don’t get martial about them, people and what they potentially bring with them are what matters most.

S smiles in a funny and beautiful way.

Ritual: make a protection, call ancestors, goddesses and other forces.

Each group performs and prays.

The ritual ends with the raising of a cone of power, with a chanting that becomes less structured, with noises.

The circle breaks and people gets mixed up and closer to each other and this seems to make the cone more powerful.

Give back some energy to the earth for its healing.

The ritual is made to strengthen Grow Heathrow, to protect it, and the protection is intended to expand beyond Grow Heathrow (e.g. we have been talking of Palestine), but what happens is also a kind of healing of the participants, a healing energy gets produced and people get in a state of excitement. Dionysian. How to create similar states of mad excitement at the Field? Whilst still having a purpose for them? A game cannot really provoke that. Cfr. With the mad excitement (and collective healing?) at the end of the first Summer Drafts.

SECOND DAY

Grounding and observation of the surrounding this time focusing on one thing.

4 elements + spirit: 5 groups and 5 scenarios (e.g. create an invocation for a ritual about air for children in a kindergarten). Resort to your “child state”. Some exercises remind kindergarten experiences. Cfr. theatre of the oppressed.

Questions to Starhawk: amazing examples of how she brings rituals into activism and other contexts: in demos and kettles (to disrupt the oppositional dynamic created by the police), in universities / certain kind of work environments (example of a friend who invokes the spirit of co-operation of the place), in prisons (giving support and healing especially when people go out of prison). George Bush and people in powerful positions: instead of hexing, which can be dangerous for those who do it, we need to take power away from those people, they are like children going around with loaded guns, we need to undo their power and work at the level of the institutions, corporations, structures and machines (people are replaceable anyway). S talks about non violence and she practices it, but she also does rituals with black blocks, it’s just an example, to say that her approach to non violence is complex. Think also how she stresses the importance of letting conflicts emerge and deal with them. Once again it seems that what matters is what can heal people (commoners) and empower them. The very choice of Grow Heathrow as a venue for the workshop indicates the importance of bringing together the “no” against the expansion of the airport and the “yes” of an alternative inspired by transition etc. S also makes the example of the Latinamerican kids and the question of violence: what to do with their violence generated through oppression? It’s better for them to channel it against the police, at least verbally, rather than for them to kill each other, to bring out violence against each other. This way of understanding conflicts and violence makes S’s approach very different from others in Paganism or Buddhism, it makes it very different from some kind of peace and love hippy naivety (is Buddhism middle class and Paganism working class?)

How to bring rituals into the Field?

How to deal with conflicts at the Field (how to establish something in common despite and together with the differences)? How to deal with repressed violence in the neighbourhood?

Cfr. S contaminating different trajectories and approaches (Paganism, feminism, anarchism, activism), like in a new cross people’s kitchen (the convivial with the serious).

Storytelling, mythology as a collective creation of images and stories, catharsis (also in classical theatre): collective healing by sharing personal stories.

In pairs talk about something personal that moves you strongly, turn it into an image, into a story to be told in a couple of sentences. Storytelling at the Field?

Take a stone from the ground. Tell your story if you feel like: grief, vulnerability, rage, joy… (she names some categories and then she asks if there is more).

Get rid of the stone in a bowl of water. This is “water of the world”, all these details make the ritual more powerful, it is water coming from sacred places all around the world, and from places of struggle with power, collected over decades.

Many people come forward to speak, some of them cry. She sais from the beginning (and shows it when she sais the story of the Palestinian woman whilst her voice tremble) that the purpose of the ritual is to get emotional, she might says that also to make feel people entitled to express their emotions. Collective affective turmoil, compassion, the separation between people seems to break down towards the end of the second day, a common “sparkle” in each of us becomes perceivable, and the possibility for a stronger connection between us gets opened, beyond our differences and our individual characters.

Is there a way we can experiment with this at the Field through something closer to us, something that would not put people off? Schizoanalysis? This is about healing traumas as well. It is sharing with others what you usually are asked to keep for yourself. Cfr with feminist consciousness raising.

The story of Gaia: we are already collectives, each of our cell is a collective, in our bodies there are more bacteria making our bodies functioning than human cells. This is a story to undo the paralysis that can provoke the knowledge and awareness of how our planet is fucked up already and our life in danger. It’s a tale on the resilience of the earth (but not necessarily of the human being). We are all stardust. No need to panic or get apocalyptic.

We are the 99%, we are the 1%, we are the 100%

Spiral dance with our individual “seeds” / what we care for (the sacred). Chanting and looking into each other’s eyes whilst moving in circle. Chanting and dancing at the Field? Cfr. with political chants.

Ancestors: they are not necessarily human, they can be also the dust of Gaia. “Each of us used to be a warrior”. Reconnect with a history that is personal but goes beyond the personal, it reconnects you with all times and all places and all people and all things. Cfr. with Nietzsche’s eternal return and with Deleuze and Guattari’s delirium.

Spirituality: bringing spirituality back on earth, within earth and nature (“earth base spirituality”). Think of the many religious people in New Cross, how to address that need for spirituality?

How to develop as nxc / the field a practice of collective care, of healing ourselves as individuals and as a group and maybe at some point beyond the group. How to connect with big struggles for huge problems like fracking and climate change? I would say that what we do and aim to do is commoning, and this is what it seems to miss from S and paganism: that in between personal healing and activist campaigns that has to do with everyday life and its conditions. What we do in New Cross is experimenting a different way of living together, and personal healing and activist campaigns are part of that. Through an experience / example like that of this weekend, can we find our own ways to develop a connection with those two other levels of healing and of a campaign based activism?

Theatre of the Oppressed with Mara and Nelly 12.07.14

The workshop developed a different perception of the Field and what it could become. Sensing, feeling, perceiving and not just thinking: sounds, gestures, body postures, movements… before writing and talking.

There was negative stuff coming out (fear, insecurity, frustration…) that we didn’t realize it was a latent part of us and the Field, because we tend to try making our relationships, meetings and everything nice and smooth, with words and thoughts.

There was a sense of being frustrated because others misunderstood what we do and what our intentions were, and because it was difficult to be “moulded” by others.

We had a glimpse of everyday life at the Field when enacting a complex tableau vivant throughout the space (building and garden): how to produce those “everyday” moments as part of the Field, moments when we don’t have to do or say anything, but just being there, as statues?

We learned at school that we need to get things right, but with this workshop we experienced that it’s ok not to get it right (the instructions, the rules of the game, the analysis…) and get confused: we can operate together and well anyway.

More notes [from Il]:

“Firstly about the question of whether we are going to address intrapersonal relationship issues as a group or trying to regard it as a private matter. And if we do address it, to what extent? How we will be able to draw the boundary? If not, how do we deal with gossip and things like that? So far we did not took time to actually think about channels to deal with human relationships within the group (can be friendship, love, sexual relationship, broken, cracked or whole).

The workshop made me think that maybe we also need to start to slowly work on creating channels where emerging intrapersonal conflicts can resurface rather than waiting for them to burst out. Most of the collective project I worked in always postponed those meetings which actually addressed emotions, group dynamics and power-relations. Also I found that the strive to address the intrapersonal conflicts tend to become gendered, leaving one sub-group bearing most of the emotional labour. And that’s not cool or healthy.

In many long lasting project (mostly live-in communities) I found a structure where so-called ’emotional meetings’ were always part of the agenda. At some places it was one meeting every month, at some other places it was three whole days every two months. I see how our group is just in the process of forming and it could easily feel like that we have no stuff or conflict to address just yet. I would be really in favour of slowly starting a monthly workshop where firstly through more embodied exercises and practices we could create channels and a safe space for potential discussion. From the last exercise at the workshop I also saw the importance of trying to build a safe space for intrapersonal conflicts not through ignoring them or gossiping about them. I think it’s important to feel confident and also responsible for these issues to able to bring them up for the group. However, while doing this, it is also very important to set lines where the personal and community boundaries are.

The other thing the workshop brought up is about openness. At the beginning of the session as a group we decided to close the door. Questions emerged such as how to remain open to newcomers while also be able to form a healthy and functioning group. To think about openness but also about closing in when it’s needed. How to be clear, structured and transparent. Should we think about sometimes closing the door (literally and also in the abstract way)?

In the discussions we talked about the constant dilemma of having an idea and you want to do it in a way you imagined it or letting a “supposedly hierarchical process” take over and shape it as it wishes. It raised questions about accepting and challenging leadership. About the importance of being comfortable to put forward things and how a strong opinion or a fortified status can obstruct that. We talked about the problems consensus decision making can bring, when it becomes the matter of whoever sticks longer to their opinion wins over those who are more ready to give in or compromise. It is also about being prepared to be open and ready, being ready to be moulded.”

11.07.14 NXC at Wick Session

http://r-urban-wick.net/events/the-makeshift-city

This was a brilliant presentation of the New Cross Commoners and the Field, it was ten of us all together at the front, we had a plan and structure but we talked alternatively. Everybody talked also those who couldn’t make it to the meeting to organize the presentation. The “makeshift” format of the presentation reflected what we were saying and how we usually operate – collectively. The discussion was good, some people were enthusiastic, some others more sceptical, and overall it was important and empowering for us to make this first public presentation outside New Cross and in a context that deals with some of the issues we care about in a more structured way (see also the notes on the R-urban Wick visit below).

Meeting on GAMES 25.06.14

We had an intro on games. A game implies a set of rules and a group of people who understand and accept the rules. There is a proximity of games with everyday life and with art. Everyday life: there are always rules but often we are not aware of them, we don’t understand them and most often we don’t decide or agree to submit ourselves to them. In that sense playing is a kind of simulation that can have an impact on everyday life, and for example this is what’s at the core of Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed, theatre is a rehearsal for a revolution which then happens in “real” life. Art and games: a game is something that gets created, as an artwork is, and it is something that has to do with emotions and affects as an artwork does. A good example of art / game is the Situationist derive, where the rules of the game are decided together and the walk is done together in order to experience, read and perceive the city in a different way, and also imagine a way to change it. Mary Flanagan Critical Play is based on this proximity between games and art.

We had a round where people talked about amazing experiences with games, as a way to start collecting games and understanding how they function and what we like about them. Games collected:

– Game with homeless alcoholic people moving though a grid with music and with topics like “greed”, “being broken”, etc. Connected to a housing project. Sticky movements, contagious, you deal with everyday issues in a different way: collectively and bodily, in a different setting.

– role games for kids: the poor and the rich, playing for a whole day, the rich command and the poor are supposed to obey; a similar game with European citizens and migrants, you play out the stereotypes you have absorbed, you might come up with strategies for resistance, you pose ethical questions based on the experience of the game. Discussion afterwards.

– a similar game with a playing card on your forehead, you don’t know the card / your status and you play out the relationship with the others. In another version you know the card yourself.

– seeds for change, at the beginning of the meeting people choose an object to introduce themselves, and the facilitators had an object through which they talked about personal, intimate, delicate things, to create an environment of trust and sensitivity: it’s ok to expose yourself, be vulnerable, sensitive. Meeting always need this kind of sensitive care, compare this with our meetings.

– a strange game, were we had only a piece of paper with “power” written on it and no instructions, and we had to decide together how to play the game. The atmosphere became very tense and conflictive, also because there were different ways of understanding power. The game opened up a space for antagonism.

– an illegal demonstration is also a game, and it’s a very different game from a legal demonstration. Pushing the rules of the game to make something happen. Exit strategies. But a “real” game allows you to take a distance if you need it, it provides a safe framework to take “risks” that have not consequences like being beaten by the police or being arrested.

– folding the mat game, an easy game, it implies developing a collective strategy, skills, trying out things. What do you do after succeeding? Games as leading to something else.

– the power shuffle game, as played with the new cross commoners, readapted from a friend.

– the gate: looking into each other’s eyes

– zombie game: shouting games

– dancing in the dark game

– dancing in a forest with changing music

– military game, conflict between groups played in a forest

– meeting / games: Starhawk – different roles for different people, kind of crazy roles but also useful for meetings. Meeting with 6 huts – optimism, pragmatism, etc. In both cases you play out yourself but also someone else, you can exit the burden of your identity, your character, your role inside the group, etc. Meeting as a game, a ritual, an artwork.

What defines the type of games we are interested in:

We create it or readapt it ourselves, it’s collective, it’s fun / exciting / joyful (good vibes more than negative vibes), it involves movement and our bodies and not just thinking and talking, it’s discussed afterwards…

Note on good vibes: It’s not that a game has to be necessarily joyful, it can produce also conflicts, uncomfortable feelings, bad vibes (see the examples above), also because we are not used to confront each other using our bodies, movements, emotions, especially with people we don’t know or people we are not intimate with, so a game does not only produce or have to produce good feelings, the point is more to let emerge and turn conflicts, uncomfortable feelings, bad vibes and so on into good vibes, and learn how to do that. In other words the point is to confront each other and be able to produce some kind of joy in what we do together, dealing with a task, an issue, a decision to be taken etc.

Games and the Field / nxc, listing games according to their purpose:

1 games / meetings, to make meetings more playful, e.g. Starhawk’s roles; different huts…

2 preliminary games that can be useful to move onto another activity, e.g. the folding mat before working together at the building

3 situated games that interact with New Cross, that engage with a specific area and the people living in it, e.g. anti-gentrification games, situationist derive…

4 value games: by playing you deal with certain values through thinking + embodiment, e.g. Theatre of the Oppressed, e.g. undoing discriminations (this aspect should be active in every game since there are always values we consider important – see also the last chapter of Flanagan’s book on designing games).

5 abstract games that deal with a specific issue or question: instead of dealing with the issue only by talking around a table you design a game and play it, e.g. instead of using the questionnaire on our working condition to have a discussion we design a game starting from those questions. How to turn everything into a game: a text, an artwork, a question. Here Guattari and his ideas on mapping and cartography could be useful.

 

Reading on Exodus and Marsh Farm: some ideas 20.05.14

http://digitaljournalist.eu/OnTheRoad/exodus-parties-with-a-purpose/

Exodus: to address needs of people living in New Cross / to address desires (desires – needs) – in the case of exodus there are examples of housing for homeless people / raves (for young people). For exodus this was a winning formula: they got respected by some councillors and politicians because of their social provision (needs) whilst they were also doing less “acceptable” entertainment provision (raves). And what they were doing was different from Big Society, it becomes big society when it is a kind of volunteering that is “facilitated” and controlled by the government instead of being self-organized. There is nothing bad in itself with providing a service, it depends how you do it: if you volunteer for public or private institutions your good intentions and desire to help others get exploited (Big Society); if you do it for others where this produces a separation between you and them, and dynamics of dependency and domination, that’s assistentialism. But if you do it in a self-organized way, giving the possibility for people to move from provided to providing, and doing something that benefits in the same way both those who provide and those who are provided, that’s great, and for this to happen change has to happen, so that those who are provided can become allies, it’s a way of inviting them through needs to join the living experiment we are doing. And this experiment we are doing has a certain shape, principles, ethics… So it should be a kind of provision that activates people, it activates the receivers as well, and at the same time it is also for ourselves, it has an impact on our lives and our experiment. The Black Panthers as well were offering a provision with their free breakfast program, and at the same time they were building and reinforcing a movement. It is not about imposing an ideology by making use of people’s needs, it is, at least in our case, creating a terrain for an encounter with people who otherwise will not engage in this experiment.

What are the things people need in New Cross? There are basic answers to a question about basic needs. Those are the needs community centres, youth centres, churches and other public and private organization already address. For us it would be a matter of addressing them differently. We could think of all sorts of service provision offered in New Cross and how to make it ourselves but differently. Like this:

Example of needs in New Cross:

A learning: school work for kids; language; homeschooling (from school to homeschooling) … from state / privatized education to anarchist and libertarian education.

B food: from food banks to people’s kitchen (cooking enough for people to take away); from buying to skipping, growing, harvesting; from supermarkets to food co-ops.

C jobs: from job centres to “centro di scollocamento”: a database promoting an informal economy, from employment to something else, by putting people in contact with each other. We could write a questionnaire to makes us think of what each of us can do in terms of skills and what each of us would like to do and learn. The questionnaire could be used to gather information about people’s skills that could be shared. This would be also: from virtual time banks to people actually meeting and knowing each other. From jobs to other ways of sustaining our lives.

D housing: from expensive rents to… housing co-ops. This is such a huge problem, maybe we could just make some knowledge available. This problem of housing is very much related to gentrification, there might be something small we could organize here, something like a database of complaints, to be use as a basis for possible future actions. To have meetings inspired by the readings on militant investigation, where people share stories about housing, the relationship with landlords, the council, etc, to share not just complaints but also knowledge that could be useful to build actions.

E care, health: poetry workshop and similar workshops (collage?) where people can come together and also talk about what they live through a different register; yoga, agopuncture, hair cutting as they do it at the Common House; from shops to exchanging stuff and jumbo sales; from pharmacies and chemical medicines to growing medical plants in the garden and learn how to use them.

Examples of desires in New Cross:

A fun and sociability: from clubs to free parties; from restaurants to people’s kitchen; from expensive beer to cheap beer.

B love: from dating sites and speed dating to a free dating agency: e.g. how to break up without hating each other?

C psyche: from counsellors and self-help groups to the new cross poetry workshop.

D playing, moving, bodies: from gyms to nanopolitics

E art as commons: from galleries and museums to making use of art – to organize a programme of studies to make use of art to produce social transformation in new cross (how to make and use art everyday and everywhere, how to be artists collectively without having to have art as a product).

Basically, it would be a matter of asking ourselves how to experiment with and (artistically) reorganize all the aspects of our lives. And get other people on board. And confront ourselves with other institutions and organizations.

Another important aspect of Exodus is that they were open towards other people not just through provisions, but also because they were having troubles (struggling, resisting): with the police / the council / the government. They had to learn how to deal with policemen, councillors, politicians. When you read their story you understand to what extent they were engaging with public institutions, using the modalities of the protest, reclaim, resistance. Protest, reclaim, resistance in the form of a direct confrontation with public authorities, this is an important political kind of engagement.

TOOLS FOR PEOPLE’S KITCHEN

Posters:

  • “Come to the New Cross People’s Kitchen debrief meeting +++ we’ll decide together how to carry on with the people’s kitchen.”
  • Box: “Contributions: we need to cover the costs for the space and for some of the food like oil, lentils, etc.”
  • Mailing list
  • Posters outside with arrows to find the place
  • Black board with welcome and tasks
  • “Please wash your dish! People’s kitchen is not a service, it is doing things together”
  • Info about things (like campaigns, neighbourhood plan and so on) going on in New Cross
  • Poster about the people’s kitchen (make it nicer): “the new cross people’s kitchen is not just to reduce food waste, cook and eat together and have a good time, it’s also to bring together different people, talk about issues concerning our life in the neighbourhood, organize other activities in new cross.”

WORKSHOP: OUR WORKING CONDITIONS

This workshop is an attempt to put into practice what we learned about militant investigation through the text by Marta Malo by starting from ourselves (new cross commoners) before engaging in conversations with other people (people’s kitchen, streets of nx).

INTRO

Militant investigation – main points

Common aspects: a) theory and practice come together + together with action [what is political action, what do we understand by that?] b) the “experts” are also part of the process, with a different role, but involved in it as everybody else c) militant investigation is based on minor, everyday, difficult to perceive and pin down knowledge.

Historical trajectories:

1 autonomist co-research

– to produce rebellious subjectivities + work: rebellious to how work is organized under capitalism

– class composition

– refusal of work and a history of this refusal

– to think critically through questions and questionnaires (Marx)

2 feminist consciousness-raising

– oppression and power dynamics

– gender but also race, age, ability, and everything that constitutes a person socially

– bodily and affective knowledge + critical analysis

3 institutional analysis

– desire and blockages

– assemblages, connections with the bigger picture beyond the personal and the human, connection with social movements and capitalism

– delirious madness, liberation of expression, lines of flights (away from capitalism)

– transversality

4 participatory action research

– learning and minor knowledges  (pedagogy of the oppressed)

– neighbourhood planning

PURPOSE

What to get out of this workshop? There are two possibilities:

A. To start building a knowledge about our working conditions, to experiment with questions, to find a more structured way of talking about our experiences with jobs and unemployment, so that at some point we could do this with other people living in the neighbourhood, maybe in the street whilst sitting on a table making collages, or at a people’s kitchen, or even just by walking around the neighbourhood. This would be a way of producing something like a “neighbourhood composition” to organize actions around shared working conditions in the neighbourhood (but it could be also something else, housing for example).

B. to know more about our working conditions as new cross commoners so to understand what can we do as a collective to withdraw from wage labour and experiment with forms of cooperation that would transform work into something else. (see also the example of Macao as reported by Marc). This “purpose” would be more focused on the new cross commoners as a collective and less directly on engaging with others living in the neighbourhood.

ROUND OF INTRO

What is my working condition now, what was in the recent past, what will it be in the near future [trust and confidentiality!]

QUESTIONS

1 tell something like a modality or a (personal) episode of rebellion that has to do with work and with (precarious) working conditions (to be rebellious to how capitalism organizes labour). What can be rebellion today (today that work for most of us does not take place in a factory…)? What does it mean to be rebellious under precarious conditions? What does it mean to “rebel” to precarity? Can there be a connection between this rebelliousness and commoning? [define precarity together]

NOTES on the first question (autonomist co-research) 31.03.14

We talked a lot about the sense of guilt we get when unemployed and when getting benefits. Since we are kids We learn that labour is something noble, but this is crap, and people often hate to work, sometimes secretly, and even more secretly they do small rebellious acts, like stealing for example, even if it is small things. We came up with examples of micro-rebelliousness, like stealing, that we imagined equivalent to that kind of sabotage in the factory which is not consciously political in the first place. One of the main points of the autonomist co-research is to politicize those minor practices of rebelliousness (and those who practice them) so that they can become strong and even fashionable somehow and they could propagate like a virus, and form a “class composition”. We imagined how to produce effects like that in New Cross (our factory is the neighbourhood, our class to compose is people living in the neighbourhood). We said that to do this we should overcome the morality of guilt and shame attached to work, we should overcome the individualization and secrecy of those minor practices, and we should talk with people about work and reflect together how work under capitalist conditions (profit, accumulation, private property etc.) is always shit.

We talked about the possibility of spreading disaffection towards our jobs. This is something that precarity itself could sometimes encourage (you don’t give a shit about the shitty job you are doing). Is there something of precarity that we could use against capitalist precarity?

We also said how the idea of pursuing a career of some sort and of accumulating work experiences in a cv gives people a sense of security, whilst it is scary to work little or/and live on benefits in order to do things that you really want to do (e.g. the Field! the people’s kitchen! the new cross commoners! and so on).

We talked about snitching as something the government encourages to do, even through adverts in the streets, to denounce everyone you know who gets benefits without being entitled to, or who has an empty room in a council flat, and so on. It would be great to act on this, to dismantle this culture of snitching, guilt, shame, individualization, this ideology of the good citizen that is good inasmuch as s-he is exploited without complaining or even realizing.

We talked about the possibility of making collages in the street using images taken from these snitching adverts.

We also said how great it would be to have this kind of conversations as part of the people’s kitchens.

2a what is oppression today in relation to our working conditions? Is there something we share today as precarious workers with the housewives of the 70s? What are the forms of exploitation we are subjected today, are they different from those in the factory and at home in the 70s? Let’s try to address these questions by starting from our bodies and our emotions: what happens to my body when I am at work, when I have to work, when I have to look for a job… let’s share anxieties but also joy and excitement: what makes you feel sick when you are at work, what makes you feel joyful?

2b what makes you privileged in today’s highly competitive “job market”? Let’s talk about not just gender, race, age, ability, etc but also about cultural capital. What is cultural capital? Is it something we can collectivize? How to produce commoning with it (to produce commoning not just by sharing skills but also by sharing cultural capital)?

[We could make a power shuffle exercise where the questions deal with cultural capital and work + discussion: would you imagine yourself sharing some of the privileges related to your cultural capital?]

2c A question strictly connected with the previous one: How to share social skills? Is it possible to share something like a personal charisma? Is this something we can learn and develop?

2d what is the relationship between our jobs and what we really like to do? Are they separated? Should they be kept separated?

2e how to read power dynamics everywhere (not just in a workplace) and what to do with that reading? It’s important to reading power dynamics everywhere since work is often not confined in a specific place anymore, in a workplace like the factory. How to read power dynamics even when they are not clearly ascribable to people?

3a what is your desire when it comes to work? and what is the blockage? How to disentangle your desire from the logic of capitalism? How to think your desire and blockage not as personal and individual but as plural/collective/multiple: as part of an assemblage?

3b How can a delirious kind of madness help us organize work away from capitalism?

4 can there be a relationship between our working conditions and the possibility of (physically) transforming the neighbourhood (for example with a neighbourhood planning)?

Notes on autonomist co-research and feminist consciousness raising 17.02.14

– Marta Malo de Molina, “common notions, part 1: workers-inquiry, co-research, consciousness raising

At the last nxc reading on the ollas comunes in Chile we saw how women were not only cooking together but also trying to understand the causes of the food problem by talking to other people in the neighbourhood. We could see this as a form of militant investigation. To read on militant investigation could help us learning how to ask questions to each other and how to talk with other people living in New Cross, in order to weave a commonality of our needs and issues, and gather a knowledge that could inspire action.

When reading this text it’s important to understand the specificity of autonomous co-research and feminist consciousness-raising, and attempt a use of these practices which could be as close as possible to what we can understand of them, not so much in terms of their formats but of the politics they produce: we don’t want to turn these practices into neoliberal techniques! They should not be reduced to formats and methods to be equally used either by radicals or by corporations! We need to grasp their political sense, also to make a use of them that could be coherent with what we have learned about commoning: commoning as an anti-capitalist practice, as an antagonistic practice to both the privatization of the market and the hierarchies of the State.

What co-research and consciousness-raising have in common is a questioning of the separation between the one(s) researching and the object of research. When reading on the ollas communes we came up with the idea of being in the streets on New Cross with a table, to make activities like creating collages, and talk to people. The aim is not to get information out of them, as a sociologist researching on the living conditions of New Cross would probably do, but to understand what their concerns and aspirations are, to share ours with them, to create alliances when possible, to produce a knowledge that could become action. We can see ourselves as the initiators of a militant investigation, but we become part of a process of investigation that concerns ourselves in the first place, as well as other people in New Cross. There are conditions that we all share as people living here, despite our differences, and a militant investigation can weave a commonality across those who ask questions and those who answer them, it can operate transversally to class, gender, race, allowing for an emancipatory political transformation to take place.

Autonomist co-research

A key term in this section of the text is rebellion. The aim of autonomist co-research is to produce rebellious subjectivity. Rebellion is first of all rebellion to a capitalist mode of production, to a capitalist organization of labour. This is also an everyday kind of rebellion, a minor rebellion that happens every day and all the time, even if it’s not perceived as such and it’s not perceived as political. An example of this rebellion can be sabotage in factories, a kind of sabotage that happens through laziness and boredom. This is a rebellion related with a refusal of work, or a resistance to work (work as activity organised through capitalism). So the point of the co-research is to turn these micro practices of rebellion, often performed individually, into something collective, to make workers aware of their potential of transformation when those practices are collectivized. This is a different kind of antagonism from that of the unions, which already in the 60s were showing limits and problems, it’s different because it is an antagonism that is not asking for ameliorations in the workers conditions, without structural changes, it is not an heroic kind of antagonism and it is not a consequence of the embracement of a political ideology. It is a rebellion that happens anyway, and co-research can reinforce it and, from its middle, from within, it can activate its potential of transformation. A term used by the autonomists was self-empowerment: co-research leads to a process of self-empowerment through a valorisation of rebellious practices and their histories. There is also an historical trajectory of this rebellious practices and learning this history could help workers to sense the power these practices can have. Is there a history of minor rebellion that we can collect in New Cross (not a history of New Cross but a history of people living in New Cross)? To ask people to talk about stories coming from the past could be easier because it would be less compromising (less compromising than talking about a jobseekers allowance one gets without being entitled to it).

Co-research is researching not just about rebellious practices but also about needs (“needs, behaviours and antagonistic practices”). More broadly co-research could be, taking Marx’s inquiry as a starting point, a tool to make workers think in critical ways about their working conditions and about ways to collectivize struggles around that. This could be something we could do in New Cross, the difficulty is that we don’t have a place like the factory that functions as a common site of labour, and we don’t share a profession, all we share in New Cross is a broad condition of precarity. A co-research could make this condition more tangible in it aspects, producing knowledge about different forms of exploitation and different forms of rebellion in New Cross, and producing a rebellious subjectivity that people interviewing and people interviewed could share. What are our practices of rebellion, what are our uneasiness and our insubordinations?

The connection between co-research and commons and commoning is important: rebelliousness should go together with commoning and commoning should be practiced as a concrete response to the refusal of work, allowing for a withdrawal from waged labour and self-employed labour. Commoning is collective work that becomes something else than work, it becomes an activity that subtracts itself from exploitation, competition, accumulation, profit, individual achievement and success.

Also, we could think about rebellious practices as a commons, as a resource to be collectivized, and reclaimed and defended from the attacks and appropriations of the market!

Important for co-research is the notion of autonomia, which is autonomy from capitalism and from its organization of labour. Surely the organization of labour under capitalism has changed a lot from the 60s, and autonomists like Virno and Negri have tried to rethink the autonomia in response to these changed conditions. In a city like London, in a neighbourhood like New Cross, the factory is not the central place for labour and for a struggle around labour. Many of us commoners share not only to a condition of precarity but also a kind of labour that requires us the use of affective skills, skills of communication, creative skills, it requires us to be flexible and adaptable, to engage with different and changing contexts. Virno ideas of “exodus” is this: we could make use of all those skills we have to learn to survive as precarious workers in order to organize ourselves differently and together, away from work as the labour activity of capitalism. This is what we already do to some extent as new cross commoners, with the people’s kitchen… in a way we don’t do it enough because most of us are still dependant on wage labour!

Another key concept for co-research is “class composition”. Negri more recently has been talking of multitude, and this for him is a sort of theoretical exercise in class composition. Class here is not a category that exist in itself and is characterised by certain featured, it is something to be shaped and constructed, with theoretical tools (e.g. Negri) and practical tools like that of co-research. So for us as well it would be a matter of compose something like a “class” in New Cross, on the basis of a shared condition of exploitation, and more importantly on the basis of shared practices of rebellion. The question would then be: what would these practices of rebellion look like today in a place like New Cross? Can we see elements of rebellion in something that we do already? Can commoning be rebellious?

Feminist consciousness-raising

There are some elements in common between autonomist co-research and feminist consciousness raising: both practices undo the separation between a researching subject and an object of research, both start from personal experiences and everyday life, both deal with aspects of the everyday that are not necessarily visible or perceivable, both claim to be scientific: – co-research comes from sociology and consciousness-raising can be framed as a science that questions the pretention of objectivity and the primacy of the intellect over bodies and emotions of traditional western science.

This feminist science is both embodied and situated, the material consciousness-raising makes use of are personal emotions in the first place, and this knowledge is situated in the sense that is generated from concrete situations and places. To start from our emotions and find a rigorous way of sharing them could be something we could do in New Cross, not in the streets but in situations where people can trust each other.

With co-research the key term is rebellion, whilst here it seems to be oppression: consciousness-raising is a way of collectivizing experiences of personal oppression to produce a knowledge that is also a knowledge of how to organize and what to organize around in order to fight this oppression. Example of what to organize around could be: the public burning of bras, the clandestine networks of family planning, the self-management of health. So, from the analysis of oppression consciousness-raising moves to the organization of forms of rebellion. This is something that we could think for New Cross as well, how to plan actions and organise practices in response to an analysis of oppression. This would also imply an understanding of what oppression might mean in our context. Oppression is not necessarily something exercised by a person onto another person or group, as power is not necessarily exercised by a person onto another person or group. It would be not necessarily oppression related to gender, it would be any kind of oppression connected to power dynamics. If with co-research the commonality is based on a “class” to be constructed, here as well, instead of starting from a problematic category like that of “women” we could start from a place, New Cross, and a commonality based on living in a place. But on this ground it would be fundamental to take in consideration social categories based on gender, race, class, age, ability. The challenge would then be neither to reinforce those categories nor pretending that they don’t exist, but to build transversal alliances across them. Consciousness-raising would then mean to develop an ability to read those differences, to counter oppression, to redistribute privileges, by moving away from guilt and victimisation, in order to sense and understand the oppression of the other as something that harms ourselves as well. This is the consciousness here at stake: a conscious understanding of oppression that starts from a sharing of emotions.

Consciousness-raising could start not just from our emotions but from our bodies, from an analysis of the sickness of our bodies as a consequence of oppression, of the living conditions in neoliberal London. With our head we take many things for granted and as inevitable, but in the meantime our bodies get ill. Consciousness-raising could be learning to sense oppression with the body and moving from body to mind, to consciousness, reconnecting the body with the mind through that sensations. All this is done collectively it is not an individual exploration (nanopolitics).

Consciousness-raising is learning to make a political reading of our everyday lives, is to gain an awareness of the power dynamics that shape our everyday life (the political here has to do with power relations, oppression, domination, privileges). These power dynamics today can be more difficult to read because often we cannot individuate the oppressor in a person, and because the oppressor has often a friendly and smiley face.

Autonomist co-research understood labour as productive labour, feminism makes us understand that there is another kind of labour that traditionally, under capitalism, women had to do: this is reproductive labour, all those forms of work that guarantee the reproduction of livelihood, from cooking, to cleaning, to taking care of other people, children, old people, disabled people, but also husbands. This is where co-research and consciousness-raising should be brought together. We can have rebellious practices not just in places of production but also in places of reproduction. As there is oppression, and not just exploitation, in places of production. It would make sense then for us to try bringing co-research and consciousness-raising together, to collectivise practices of rebellion that have to do with all kind of paid and unpaid labour, including reproductive labour.

The ollas comunes can be understood as a rebellious practice (and this is why they were persecuted by the Chilean dictatorship), besides being a practice that would counter the oppression of women produced by patriarchy.

The politics that emerges from the feminist practice is different from the politics of unions and parties and institutions. This was also the case for the politics emerging from autonomist practices: in both cases we have a politics that emerges from the (imperceptible of the) everyday and from the middle instead of being organized from the top.

To bring together commoning and consciousness-raising: commoning should go together with a sensing and understanding of power relations amongst the commoners, with the development of a collective sensitivity towards the power dynamics of the group (see also the power shuffle exercise we had at the New Cross Cutting). At the meeting we talked about the problem that non-native speakers can have in expressing themselves, this for example has to do with power relations and “oppression”. But when it comes to commoning is also important to analyse the oppression that the commoners are subjected to because of the confrontation with the power of the market and the State. It will be then a matter of organizing activities against that, building transversal alliances with other oppressed people. Think for example about the power of the corporations gentrifying the area (e.g. Convoy Wharf) or the power of the council selling off council flats and everything. It might be difficult to act against that kind of oppression, but to have an analysis of that oppression as connected with commoning (and commoning as a practice to reclaim) could be a starting point to take action.

We closed the meeting with a consciousness-raising inspired temperature check. We could have a temperature check round at the end of every meeting. We could also have one at the beginning.

So, let’s have a workshop to put this into practice, as proposed in the meeting: it will be a workshop on our experiences of working conditions and unemployment, we could tell stories, and we could also try to let our emotions speak! And we’ll register points in common, to start drawing something like a collective knowledge around our experiences of precarity.

Notes on Institutional Analysis and Participatory Action Research 10.03.14

Marta Malo de Molina, “common notions part 2: Institutional Analysis, Participatory Action Research, Militant Research”

An important question when discussing this text is: how can we relate all this to the people’s kitchen, can we think, imagine and practice the people’s kitchen, as well as other things we do and organise, as militant investigation?

Another important question emerged in this session was: why reading about practices coming from other countries, why not reading about UK practices, since each geographical context is different and an activist practice developed in one part of the world won’t be suitable for another part of the world.

In a way the text itself answers this question, when Marta Malo talks about the importance of moving from practice to theory and back, the importance of thinking theory and practice together. We read this text in relation to New Cross not to turn the New Cross People’s  Kitchen into a session of institutional analysis, not to extrapolate a format and apply it onto an activity we organize. We read this text to understand what are the principles of those practices, to see if we can share those principles. So, what we do is a theoretical operation as well: we start from a text which is rather abstract (it’s very short and concrete examples are just mentioned in footnotes), but explains concrete practices; we produce a different kind abstraction in order to understand the principles, the key points, the pivots through which those practices operate, to compare them with what we are doing, with what is going on in New Cross, to think and imagine how to embrace those principles, or political and ethical values, I’m not sure how to call them. Maybe principles is not the right term, maybe we could talk about operating principles, but what’s at stake is definitely something else then just learning a technique, Marta Malo says this clearly, it’s not about fetishising a format, and she shows here how forms, formats, methods can be easily co-opted to obtain even opposites results sometimes, to exercise control and domination.

Institutional Analysis

If with autonomist co-research the terrain of investigation was mainly the factory and with feminist consciousness-raising it was based on the idea of a female gender, here the terrain is the institution, and primarily the mental hospital and the school. Others could be the factory itself, any kind of hospital, the prison, the university – Goldsmiths for example. The institution is here understood as “the form, at first hidden, adopted by the schemes of production and reproduction of dominant social relations”. But we could widen the possibilities of this practice by thinking not just of institutions but also of groups, of something like a “group analysis”, or better a “micropolitics of group”, see for example this brilliant book written by activists: http://micropolitiques.collectifs.net/. A micropolitics of group would not necessarily imply a research as such, but is a way of taking care of the life of a collective by making use of the same operating principles which are key for institutional analysis: transversality, assemblage, micropolitics, economy of desire and liberation of expression, lines of flight… these and other key terms are also discussed in The Anti-Oedipus and other books Guattari and Deleuze wrote after May 68.

With institutional analysis as well we have a radical questioning of the separation between the subject who investigates and the object of investigation: in a mental hospital doctor, patients, cooks, cleaners, nurses, gardeners, they all become analysts, they all meet and discuss and analyse the institution and themselves operating as part of it, and they experiment with ways of changing the institution and how they function, think, live as part of it. So here as well knowledge is produced in order to change things practically. Maybe the action taken is here of a different nature from other forms of militant investigation, but there is something like actions in the transformation of the institution, the collective, and society at large, which an approach that works on subjectivity and institutions and forms of organization at the same time. The question that action responds to is: how do we function, work, discuss, think, organize, live together?

The actions here take place from within the institution itself, but at the same time a fundamental aspect of institutional analysis is to connect the institution (or the collective) with what is outside of it. Simplifying we could say that this connection takes place in two ways or directions, on one side the institution (or the collective) analyses from its vantage point the impact capitalism and the State have on its people in order to overcome it and undo it, and on the other it attempts to connect with social movements and their life, their potential for transformation. Of course institutions like hospitals are different from grassroots collectives, but it’s important to bring them together: grassroots collectives as well as institutions are part of, are subjected to and interiorize aspects of capitalism, of the dominant system, of State government, of fascism, and this subjection, embodiment, interiorization takes place also at a micropolitical level, through subjectivity and subjectivation (the constant process of constituting subjectivty), no matter how radical the macropolitical values of the collective (or the institution) are. How can we unlearn capitalism collectively through subjectivity and our bodies? How to undo the patterns of thinking, talking, behaving that we reproduce also when we are together organizing as a collective, as New Cross Commoners, with the people’s kitchen, and how to change the people’s kitchen itself? How to undo existing forms, patterns, dynamics and change how we organize ourselves, creating different kind of institutions, organizations, collectives? The notion of desire and of an economy of desire is here very important: in a away institutional analysis is re-organising through desire, is to experiment with institutions through desire and a different economy of desire.

Desire is here understood not as something generated by a human subject that points towards an object the human subject wants to obtain (this psychoanalytic logic of possession is fundamentally capitalist) but as a force or energy of connection and transformation between people, things, animals, everything that lives and exist in the cosmos, both material and immaterial. “Assemblage” is a term that define this connection without beginning nor end, a connection made not necessarily by subjects but across subjects and what they are formed of. In the context of institutional analysis we can see assemblage as a process of empowerment: power is a term Guattari does not use in this context but it’s important to talk about empowerment here, in relation to militant investigation. Assemblage is also a way of organising differently, and this is important, because assemblages have to do not only with the micro of subjectivity but also with the macro of institutions and organizations. An example of desire could be for us all the movement generating now though the cleaning of the building at 385 Queens Rd by Lawrence, Alice and Dan: no one really knows what the place is going exactly to be but there are so many people passing by and living around who get excited and start doing and imagining things in and around it – and still the place itself is not an “object” of desire for those people.

For capitalism (but also for fascism) desire is crucial, because is not only what makes consumerism function but also what makes people move and do things and produce, it is often what makes people ready to be exploited without realising they are exploited. Think for example of how much free internships and free labour function on the basis of a desire of succeeding, being recognised and valued, being able to make it and so on. So there is a capitalist economy of desire that produces a fake freedom of expression which in fact is subjugated to the rules and features of capitalism itself (individualism, competition, profit, privatisation, enclosure and so on). Institutional analysis not only analyses those dynamics capitalism produces, the patterns that shape our relationships and our bodies, but also tries to overcome them, to undo them, and it does so also by connecting with the forces of liberation and emancipation generated by social movements, so that through a different production of subjectivity a different way of organizing and instituting can emerge.

Now the question for us would be what are the social moments we can connect with today? How to connect with their economy of desire? There seem to be not much going in London at the moment. As Marta Malo says, in the 60s and 70s there was much more social effervescence, social movements had a different intensity and it was easier to connect with them. And, she says, for us today who live in fragmented societies the urgency is to connect with the “Other”, which is what we are trying to do as New Cross commoners, to connect with different people living in New Cross, for example with the people’s kitchen. We had a short discussion about social movements today, they are different and more scattered today, but there are social movements, even if they look different from those of the ‘60s and ‘70s: it would be good to carry on thinking about this connection with social movements, their economy of desire, their mutable forms (what is going on in London after Occupy? Which kind of economy of desire was Occupy producing and what can we learn from that experience?).

If we think about the mental hospitals and Guattari’s La Borde clinic and we compare it with the here and now, we could say that for us the “madhouse” is everywhere, it is New Cross, it is London, and madness is everywhere, in different forms. And so it is the possibility to organise through madness. Here again there are different ways of understanding madness and different kind of madness, to simplify again, on one side there is a madness produced through capitalism, as useful for capitalism or as its by-product, which is often and individualised madness the pharmaceutical industry makes big profit from, and on the other side there is a madness that is collective liberation of expression, something like the delirious madness of social movements, or that sometimes produced by art. There is definitely a madness of the New Cross Commoners as well, it is an important element of how we do things, and this madness is much more than saying, “we are all a bit crazy”, it is a way of allowing for the process to be delirious and change, even if this makes everything slower and not very “efficient” in organizational terms. We could say that institutional analysis is coming to terms with madness as something that is everywhere, coming to terms with it away from capitalism and towards a liberation of expression that gives shapes to new ways of organizing collectively (in the neighbourhood).

An important term we discussed is “transversality”, as something that differs from both the verticality of hierarchy and the horizontal which often radical collectives claim to operate with. The problem with the horizontal is that it might suppresses differences, it might enforce uniformity, it might hide power relations, it might create an illusion of “structurelessness” (as the feminist Jo Freeman explains in “The Tiranny of Structurelessness” http://www.bopsecrets.org/CF/structurelessness.htm ). Transversal is a mode of countering hierarchies without suppressing differences and with a sensitivity for the possibility of differences to question and recompose themselves, to liberate collective expression. Hence, transversality is a practice not an ideal or a type of structure. At La Borde transversality was practiced also through a system called “grid”: people changed roles every week, so that the nurse would sometimes cook, the gardener would do the injections and so on. So the whole point here is not to respect the differences and live all peacefully together, but to incite a collective transformation of roles, identities and ways of organizing together, through something like a social experimentation through madness, desire, and a liberation of expression which is also a liberation from capitalism and the State, fascism, racism, patriarchy, and all forms of oppressive, repressive, and even charitable relationship with the different.

We can think again about the people’s kitchen here and the possibility not just to meet the “Other” but to shake the identity of ourselves and the other together, the possibility of undoing absorbed and internalized patterns of relation with the other (the charity pattern for example), and to experiment with different ways of doing things together – the people’s kitchen to function as a platform to organize other initiatives in the neighbourhood. Guattari also talks about “micro-discourses” that can intertwine through transversality, and we can also think about micro-discourses in the context of the people’s kitchen: the people’s kitchen it’s not just about expressing opinions and sharing ideas, but also about all the “micro” of what we say, about what is not necessarily rational and meaningful in our conversations (“micro-discourses as well, more or less babbling, at the level of everyday life relations, interactions with space etc.”), it is about learning to let a different economy of desire emerge through our conversation and learning to listen to it to reorganize how we are together and what we do together, at the level of groups, collectives, organizations, and more broadly the neighbourhood itself. The point is not to translate micro-discourses in a clear and meaningful discourse, but to deal with the micro as such, and this is a difference with the feminist consciousness-raising which starts from similar material (emotions to be shared related to everyday life) but focuses in producing a conscious awareness of oppression.

We talked about micropolitics, that is, a politics of subjectivity, for an activism that operates on the collective transformation of subjectivity, but also on the collective transformation of institutions and groups and the way they function. It is important to underline that micropolitics is tightly connected to macropolitics, that the transformation of subjectivity has to go together with a transformation of institutions, organizations, collectives, and this is something that corporations and the State won’t like, and this is why Marta Malo focuses on institutional analysis, rather than for example, schizoanalysis

We talked about schizoanalysis as a practice that comes from this experiences of institutional analysis, a practice that does not starts from the institution, it focuses on subjectivity, it can be exercised one to one, and it is not really research based: it is not militant research as such also because it does not necessarily lead to action. The principles are the same: undoing capitalism and fascism as absorbed by our bodies and producing a different kind of (liberated, emancipated…) subjectivity.

Participatory Action Research

The key term here is learning, PAR is a practice that was initially developed in South America, it was inspired by the pedagogy of Paulo Freire (“pedagogy of the oppressed”). With his practice and theory Freire explores ways in which the separation between those who know and teach and those who supposedly don’t know and learn gets radically questioned. We all know and we all learn, but we learn different things, in different ways, for different purposes. There is something like an official kind of knowledge which is officially sanctioned by public and private educational institutions, but there are other forms of knowledge as well, minor knowledges that are learned on an everyday bases, and often, in comparison with institutional knowledge which is often abstract, are deeply connected with specific contexts, places and situations. Maybe it’s more difficult to find today these kind of micro knowledge in urban environments, especially in the “Western” parts of the world: what would be minor knowledge in New Cross? What are the different forms of knowledge the neighbourhood produces? But maybe these minor knowledges are precisely something that cannot be named, or it is not easy to define. We could think this minor knowledge in terms of a common (or commoners’) knowledge, a knowledge that gets produced collectively, that is neither public (schools, universities) nor private (schools, universities), that is, controlled through the State and the market. This is kind of common knowledge is what we produce with the New Cross Commoners, and we should have more of it.

Freire talks about the “banking” system of education of schools and universities: students are treated like empty vessels that have to be filled with something that exists out there and is called knowledge and is property of specialists called teachers. Instead of conceiving people as empty vessels we should think that everybody knows something in some way, and it’s important to start from what we know already and together when learning, and it’s important to listen, sense and take in consideration minor knowledges as well. Participatory Action Research takes in consideration these minor knowledges bringing them together with more “specialist” kind of knowledge that can be helpful to avoid the repression of minor knowledges and to construct (and fight for) a better life (Marta Malo talks of “adult education and community struggles for improving everyday life conditions”). We have here something similar to a coming together of teachers and students: we have sociologist or more broadly facilitators (Marta Malo talks about “critical social research and pedagogy”) and local groups and communities. The different kind of knowledges come together in order to plan actions that have a strong impact on neighbourhoods and villages, helping the fight of the locals against the oppression of the corporations and the government. So this is a kind of research that is clearly on the side of the oppressed, that aims to emancipation, social justice, freedom, self-empowerment. It’s important to frame PAR around knowledge rather than around oppression because the point is not that the oppressed has to be helped by the not oppressed (this is something we have experienced with the people’s kitchen, feeling privileged and feeling to have to do good to the less priviledged in our own terms), it is more useful to think that we are all oppressed in different ways and to different degrees, that some of us have acquired a critical ability to read things that, precisely because it comes from official institutions, it can be useful to fight “official” oppression, injustice, exploitation, gentrification (think how academia is a place that produces also oppression, injustice, exploitation and gentrification). This critical knowledge acquired in academia has to be activated in the encounter with the neighbourhood and its minor knowledges in order to become action, in order for the life of the neighbourhood to be changed collectively (critical knowledge is taught in academia most of the time as an intellectual exercises that should remain on the sphere of theory and the intellect). This radical questioning of the separation between those who teach or facilitate and those who learn and are supposed to be ignorant and empty is something that has to do with the people’s kitchen and other activities of the New Cross Commoners: to question the separation is not to say that we as commoners should pretend not to know, or we should pretend not to be able to facilitate or do things in a certain way (like writing these notes), it is to acknowledge that we are not the only ones who know, and it is to conceive our role as facilitators also as facilitating other kind of knowledge to be expressed to construct concrete alternatives (in the neighbourhood).

PAR is militant in as much as it connects with social movements, with the lucha campesina and more in general with anti-colonial movements, PAR is a “Third World wide tool for radical organising”, it is also learning how to take part in militant struggles as a group or a community.

PAR is bringing together different kinds of knowledge, know-hows (that is practical and operational knowledge) and needs to make a collective research that leads to a result, to an action, to something that changes the life of a neighbourhood. What has to be done in New Cross? This is the basic question that has to find collective and practical answers through PAR.

PAR is based on a dialogical practice, it’s about asking questions, facilitating, talking in groups, in order to organize action, and this is what we do with the people’s kitchen:  the people’s kitchen could be conceived as a form of learning together towards action, action to improve our life conditions in the neighbourhood. It might be also useful to read about buen vivir, which is also a notion that comes from South America and could be useful to qualify more specifically the kind of change we talk about.

PAR allows for “dynamics of self-confidence” to take place, and here in our case the separation between the expert and the oppressed is once again crossed since self-confidence is what we are developing ourselves as facilitators of the people’s kitchen. What makes us more self-confident? It is not just experience, it is becoming aware of the political value of what we do, and the political importance of being able to talk in public, facilitate discussions, etc.

More specifically Participatory Action Research is often about planning changes for a neighbourhood or an urban context. This is again related to New Cross and this new neighbourhood plan some of us are already involved with: https://freethinker85.wordpress.com/2014/02/03/a-neighbourhood-plan-for-new-cross/

A few of us went to the first meeting and we actually very much felt on the side of a “minor knowledge” since many of the people present were architects, urban planner, politicians, long term activists… that is, experts and professionals, and we were wondering if there would be space for our knowledges and know-hows in the process, and we thought that we should definitely claim that space and have an impact on the plan (how to define our knowledge and our skills? should we do that?). The difference between this neighbourhood plan and PAR is that the plan has little to do with resistance (gentrification is a term that came out from our side of the room), with a connection with social movements, and even with organizing action (as far as I understood the aim is more to have an impact on the decisions the council can take). This neighbourhood plan does not come from the above of the council though, and this is why we think it is important to engage with it.

When used in Europe and the States PAR gets often co-opted as a governmental method to “activate” the silent mass just the little necessary to approve what was already decided from above, and to give the illusion that unjust and gentrifying plans and projects are actually subscribed and wanted by citizens. This is precisely the opposite of a pedagogy of the oppressed, it is treating people as empty vessels, negating people agency by giving them the impression they have some, by manipulating them, using them to validate what got already planned. We can see this everywhere, not just with PAR but also in public consultations and neighbourhood assemblies organized by the council, participation is a hot term, and it is often used to prevent or silence conflicts and social unrest and to have people participating in processes that are guided and controlled from above. It is like a strategy of making people speak to better govern them. Participation in itself can be seen as a problematic term: to participate can be something like taking part in what already exist, in something established by someone else. Also, minor and local knowledge can be very useful when co-opted and PAR can be also used to get useful information from people living in a neighbourhood in such way that knowledge get turned against people

A good example of a contemporary participatory practice in Europe comes from AAA, http://www.urbantactics.org/ see the notes of the New Cross Commoners meeting with Doina Petrescu.

Militant research today: some examples.

Marta Malo talks about an activism which is not identitarian or sectarian and which is not “voluntarist”, these are some of the examples:

Bureau d’Etudes http://bureaudetudes.org/

Act Up http://www.actupny.org/

Colectivo Situaciones http://colectivosituaciones.blogspot.co.uk/

Precarias a la deriva (the collective she is part of) http://www.sindominio.net/karakola/antigua_casa/precarias.htm

To summarize: why reading and talking about militant investigation? So that what we do gets informed by radical political practices, so that by connecting to historical trajectories of militancy we don’t get lost in what we do, so that we can politicise and radicalize our practice. From militant investigation we learn to bring theory and practice together, we learn to connect knowledge with action, we learn to question the separation between us and them, we learn to take our bodies and subjectivities in account when thinking, talking, doing.

From autonomist co-research we learn to produce rebellious subjectivities, from feminist consciousness-raising we learn to perceive and sense oppression and power dynamics, from institutional analysis we learn to deal with desire and blockages to liberate collective expression transversally, from PAR we learn to listen and take in account different knowledges, know-hows and needs, and all these leads to actions to change the neighbourhood and our lives, to have more commons and commoning.

Discussion about “The kitchen never stopped. Women’s self-help groups in Chile’s shanty towns” 20.01.14

– the kitchen never stopped

We discussed and compared the ollas comunes in Chile with New Cross, the issue of food for people living in this neighbourhood, the people’s kitchen we organise.

An important difference is that for people in Chile the issue of food was common and equally strong for everybody living in the neighbourhood. For us it’s not the same, people in New Cross are affected by this issue of food in different ways: in New Cross there is food poverty and people using food banks, but no one in our group does. For women in Chile coming together to get food and cook together was a result of a strong need: the nuclear family was not sufficient to sustain reproductive activities around food and women got together out of necessity. Only afterwards they started realising that what they were doing was political, that political organising was not just what their husband were doing with the unions, that the dictatorship considered the ollas communes even more dangerous and that’s why it repressed them violently.

The New Cross People’s Kitchen is very different, it generates not in response of a shared need, food is mainly used as a means to create conviviality  – at least for the moment but we have been talking about the possibility to give the possibility for people who need it to take food away without having to be the object of charity, of the possibility of turning the people’s kitchen into something like a permanent institution that would help us dealing with food in a different way.

How to make issues, problems, needs emerge, how to construct a commonality for them? We want the n x people’s kitchen to function also as a platform for discussions and organising with different people in the neighbourhood and we thought about the importance of discussing and organising around a common issue / problem / need. We thought it would be good to be in the streets and talk to people to let common needs emerge. The people’s kitchen is a place where we invite people to come, but we thought we could also be in the streets of New Cross, engaging with people more directly, maybe just sitting outside with a table and material to make collages, and use such a simple kind of activity to initiate conversations people. We then thought that it would be good to get some tools to learn how to speak with people and how to weave a commonality for our needs. We thought about militant investigation as historical trajectories where we could try to place our practice (see Marta Malo de Molina “Common Notions” text).

Women in Chile were not just cooking together, they were sometimes going around neighbourhoods to talk to people about the problem of food, to understand and analyse the causes of food poverty together with other people affected by it. This is a kind of militant investigation. We have been saying from the beginning that with the new cross people’s kitchen we don’t want to do charity, we don’t want offer a service, that we want to break down the separation between us the organisers and them in the guests. It is not us the privileged working for them the not privileged. This is why it’s important to communise problems by discussing together. The women in Chile were not cooking to help someone else, they were cooking together to mutually help each other, and to change social conditions.

We thought that it would be useful for us to start discussing issues amongst ourselves in a more systematic way. We know a bit about each others’ lives through conversations in the pub, but it would be good to learn a more systematic way to discuss our everyday problems, in order to gather a knowledge that could be used to start collectivising those problems. To read on feminist “consciousness raising” could be useful to this end. Examples of topics / problems to discuss: work, house, food, knowledge, care-sociality-love, time for ourselves.

More about the text:

With the ollas comunes another politics and another way of organising politically emerges: not a politics of institutions and campaigns, but of reproduction, domestic labour, of everyday life organisation. This two kinds of politics have to come together.

How to break down the narrative that only when in need people wake up and do things together?

In Chile as in New Cross poverty is something to be ashamed of, something to cover and hide, something that makes people feel guilty. This, especially here today, is also because of a capitalist ideology of success. We could understand poverty in a broad sense, as suffering in its different forms: we are forced to cover that suffering, to pretend that everything is OK, and more than OK, we are encouraged to project an image of success for ourselves, as people that in a way are at work all the time, because you never know when the next opportunity to get a small and temporary job, or commission, or project will arise. This has to do with a condition of precarity that we all share. How to make this condition tangible, how to talk about the different forms of poverty and suffering that affect us, without reducing this talking to an outburst that does not change anything? Here militant investigation could also help.

The role of the church in Chile (see also theology of liberation): the church was not directly oppositional to the dictatorship but it had an important role to sustain people’s lives and their activities, even radical ones. Is there something comparable in New Cross / London? This makes us think about the importance of making use of resources available even if there is nothing “radical” about them.

Ollas comunes were not just about food and cooking together, sometimes from the ollas comunes other activities were organised, especially forms of learning from each other, learning to organise as well as learning new skills, learning how to practically challenge gender roles and the nuclear family based on patriarchal authority (cfr with new cross people’s kitchen).

Buen vivir: happiness not as something manufactured for us but as something we can construct differently.

13.01.14 contribution to an issue of ephemera

Here an issue of ephemera with a contribution of the new cross commoners that does not appear from the index after hours and hours of writing, rewriting, negotiationg with the editors… http://ephemerajournal.org/contribution/grassroots-initiatives-pioneers-low-budget-practices-activists%E2%80%99-roundtable

And this is is an extended version of the contribution

ephemera131220_NEW_CROSS_COMMONERS

Notes on Caffentzis, “The future of ‘the commons’: neoliberalism’s ‘plan b’ or the original disaccumulation of capital?”

– Caffentzis “The Future of the Commons”

Wild neoliberalism is dangerous for capitalism, the “plan b” is to make use of the commons to have a more sustainable kind of capitalism.

A capitalist commons make capitalists save money because the resources are organised by the workers themselves rather than by the State or the private owner / company.

To reappropriate and collectivise means of production and subsistence (reproduction).

Commoning to avoid being workers / exploited.

Commoning and appropriation of new technologies (the pirates, the hobos, the hackers).

People’s kitchen: how to use people’s excitement generated by coming together and cooperating (skipping, cooking…) in an anti-capitalist way? What would this mean?

Some notes from our walk around Hackney Wick with Andreas from Public Works [by Loz] 

Public Works have collaborated in the area of hackney wick with many groups and individuals who are working to make the place more resilient and less reliant upon market and state structures.

Lea Valley as commons. Local resident Charlie has taken over a small section of the Hackney marshes to grow comfrey. He uses the comfrey he grows to produce fertiliser, as well as experimenting with methods of food growth. He is happy to share what he grows/produces.

Although the authorities that manage the marshes are unhappy with Charlie using the land, he serves as an example of how localised, specialist knowledge and practices can exist within and alongside institutional/governmental frameworks. It is unsanctioned, yet able to thrive.

It is also a non-institutional learning which is practice and place based. He learns by doing.

Public Works put together a pamphlet, ‘experiments in household knowledge’, in which some of Charlie’s experiments have been documented. Formalising this local knowledge, creating avenues for it be transmitted.

http://household-knowledge.net/2013/09/15/130914_-_EHIK_Final_lr.pdf

Create Lifestyle centre –  Building a community garden with recycled materials through public workshops that are open to anybody, involving the expertise of local groups. It serves as an example of how a lot of projects/workshops work in Hackney Wick. Informal connections and relationships of reciprocity come out of the collaborative nature of these projects, between different projects, and between projects and local businesses/institutions/council, as different people work together, sharing materials, skills, time, expertise. These projects also become sites of sharing informal knowledge.

Andreas talked of how they often hold workshops on the street, attracting the attentions of curious passers by.

Tom Fletcher started a company called rejuice, that uses surplus fruit to make smoothies. He has built relations with market holders at the local new spitafields market who let him take away fruit at the end of the day. He sells the juices to local businesses. He uses a milk float that is shared with other projects in the area to pick up and transport the fruit and the smoothies. He uses the leftovers from the fruit he uses to make chewy sweets. He aims to run the milk float from a locally run bio-digester, which produces gas from recycled organic materials.

Many of the projects Public Works have been engaged with are based on “finding informal loops to engage with formal structures”. Getting to know individual market stall holders or speaking to labourers on the olympic site, has allowed for much of the bureaucratic/legal restrictions to be by-passed, allowing for people to make use of waste/offer solutions to problems/inefficiencies.

Talking about Hackney Wick more generally, and the processes that have made it a ripe site for experimentation, Andreas talks of how, because of its state of insecurity and precarity at least since the olympics were announced, workspace has been cheap, attracting many creatives to the area. Yet at the same time it is an inherently unsustainable situation, since the processes that allow for hackney wick to exist will also be the same ones that will sweep it away, as the live/work space that supports many of its inhabitants are sold off to be turned into luxury flats.

Meeting with Doina Petrescu – AAA http://www.urbantactics.org/index.html
Thoughts taken up from Doina:
– To take it as a given that working collectively or creating a collectivity will always be coming along with frictions.
– To be sustainable within temporary locations and to out live them through relocation.
– Build your strength through resistance in time.
– Find ways in which you can use your energy wisely in order to prevent yourself or the collective of becoming exhausted.
– Not to get bogged down by the fear of failure.
– Think long-term, not in months but in years. This might take away pressure of needing to achieve things fast.
– Mapping, mapping, mapping as a strategic way to activate but also to communicate an initiative.
More thoughts:
We talked about the differences between occupying and asking permission to use a building, either to privates or to the council. What to go for? It depends how you feel like using your collective energy, an occupation implies a full time commitment, and you don’t know how long will last; it also produces a stronger confrontation with the owners, the authorities etc., hence a different kind of political action, a very intense one, but more difficult to sustain. To get a place from a private or the council could give you more security to have a more long term and slow process. It also allows you to get funding. In getting funding and negotiating with the “authorities” (e.g. Goldsmiths or the Council) what is important it’s not just to get the money, but also to confront us with them, since they have the power and the responsibility to do something for the public, and we can take the responsibility to show them amazing ways of operating at a community level (“new institutions of the commons” says Doina after Negri). It will be useful to talk with the Wick people to know how they deal with funding and with local authorities. In order to get funding through Goldsmiths we would have to go through a senior, or we could do that as researchers. To have a space it’s a commitment but less so if you have the keys and you don’t need to be there all the time. To get a space will give us the opportunity of learning how to construct and organize a space together, through discussions, decisions, and making together.
Before getting the space it would be important not only to make a map of empty spaces in the area, but also to contact their owners. This is also a way to get to know people and to get a knowledge of the area that can be then used in the future: we get a space, we know it’s not going to be forever, we fight to keep it, and we know already where to go next. It’s a matter of thinking and acting in nomadic ways, that is, knowing that the space is not granted forever, knowing that the whole thing can fail and it’s still worthy to pursue, knowing there is always the possibility of moving and reactivating everything somewhere else, knowing that what you build can be transported and used somewhere else. To be nomadic means also to fight for the space you got, not simply to move every time you are asked to do so.
A space of the commons: this could be a space that can also imply the development of economies for individual benefit. Individuals could use the space to get something out of it, in the case of Ecobox the rule was this: it was fine to use the space for individual purposes as long as people would also commit to collective activities and responsibilities (example of the women using the facilities to cook and sell the food). At some point there were 80 official keys for Ecobox. How to develop a culture of the collective, an ability of doing things together? It’s also through apparatuses like the multiple key system. Those kind of organizational devices make it possible and it easier to start developing a culture of the collective – a sharing of political and ethical values can come after, it is something more difficult to pursue in itself, and something that does not need to be a pre-requisite (away from the idea of the avant-garde collective).

Deptford Beach Outing – notes 

– Linebaugh Ships and Chips

On our ways from Deptford train station to the beach we made a few stops and talked about a social centre at the beginning of Deptford High Street – at the end nearest the river – which has been empty for some time (and it’s waiting for commoners to do something about it…); we talked about pirates, anarchists and communal ways of living at St. Nicholas church; about the horrifying fake-neoclassical-luxurious development next to Convoys Wharf (see also the adverts in front of Deptford train station), and about the plan to develop Convoys Wharf itself, a huge piece of land which used to be a royal shipyard and has been enclosed for centuries. Convoys Wharf was recently a property of News International (Rupert Murdoch) and now is in the hands of a corporation that plans to cover the site with luxurious flats (only 14% are going to be “affordable” flats), car parks and shopping malls. Through ongoing campaigns some locals have proposed to reconstruct a 17th century warship and to restore a garden and archaeological site (there are still parts of the old shipyard under the concrete and there are also a couple of listed buildings): these would force the developers to take in account the local history of the place and the benefit of its inhabitants – a commercial kind of benefit since the warship and park would attract tourists turning the area into a sort of extension of Greenwich (is this kind of benefit for all?). This would be better than having only cars and luxurious shops and flats, but are there other ways to understand the history of the place rather than through reconstructions and archaeological remains? In the London Hanged Peter Linebaugh shows that in the 18th century Convoys Wharf was a place of successful struggle and resistance of the working class against the attempts of the royal government to enslave them with a wage system and a concomitant suppression of common resources (mainly wood at Convoys Wharf). It would be a matter of making use today of this kind of history of Convoys Wharf. If we think at his present, Convoys Wharf is different from Heygate Estate because no one is leaving there and no one is losing their home in this business. This makes it difficult to reclaim something meaningful for the life of Deptford through Convoys Wharf: what would it mean to reclaim the commons in such a place, enclosed for centuries, emptied of people and surrounded by huge walls? This is not an easy question: would it mean to reclaim the use of the (polluted) river, of the energy its tide could produce? Would it mean to reclaim the right of something like the “chips” Linebaugh talks about in his book, the right to have access to a resource that would allow us to partially free ourselves from the slavery of wage labour (“chips” where pieces of wood sometimes big enough to make not only fire but also furniture and even houses)? Would it mean to reclaim the right of developing a different knowledge related to labour, one that would not be easy to control and rationally account for, as that produced in the shipyards of the 18th century (a knowledge different from that of today’s neoliberal universities)? How to reconnect the present with a past of emancipatory struggles related to a specific place?

Workshop: collectivizing needs, skills, resources

Part 1: re-shuffling power and privileges / skills and resources

[walk a step forward or backwards according to the questions]

What do we have that others do not have, how does it make us feel, how do we want to share it? We have resources and skills that makes us  “powerful” within certain contexts. Recognising and communicating the skills and resources of each of us might open the possibility and desire to share them.

Part 2: having and not having / needs and desires

[draw something you have and something you don’t have – write answers to questions about this skill or resource you have / don’t have]

Commodities that make our lives easier and comfortable often result in individualized and enclosed activities. A lack of individual possession can potentially engage us more in a collective life (commoning).

How to share our skills, possession, knowledge with others? What can this sharing allow to us, how can it empower us? What happens if we transform the idea of possession through sharing?

With this workshop many of us realised that their most important and valuable resource lays in their network of friends, family and lovers, people you can count on. What does it mean to share this resource with others? How to counter the logic of capitalism, its exploitation of social capital, that tends to reduce those networks to connections with useful people for our career, projects, interests? If our unstable and precarious lives make it difficult for us to cultivate meaningful relations with people, how can this be changed?

Sharing my house, sharing my village, sharing my private garden to turn it into a common, sharing my kitchen, sharing my ability to touch and move, sharing the skill and resources to make mosaics, sharing my parents, sharing a terrace, sharing my friends, sharing our wages…

Notes on a discussion about Silvia Federici “Feminism and the Politics of the Commons”

– Silvia Federici, Feminism and the politics of the commons

The commons have become trendy also for neoliberal economists: under the banner of the commons and their protection often enclosures get actually produced (example of the United Nations and the World Bank fencing off forests to protect them as “commons”: the natives cannot use them anymore, the forests are turned into eco-tourist businesses). In New Cross we have seen that what we define as commons is never purely emancipatory. What is an emancipatory common? We can think this case by case by understanding to what extent and in what ways the commons produced imply an emancipation from capitalism, and a struggle against it.

De Angelis uses the example of the factory (production) to explain that commoning happens whenever people help each other and cooperate: capitalism needs to exploit this to sustain itself. Federici uses the example of domestic labour (reproduction) to explain commoning as fundamentally characterized by the care that reproduction needs (a feminist reading of the commons means also to recognize caring as a fundamental aspect of commoning). Capitalism exploits the ability of people to take care of each other and of other things and places. To produce emancipatory commons is to subtract these activities of care and cooperation from capitalism. How to do that in concrete terms? Through a collectivization of reproduction, a collectivization of the activities that imply care: caring for children, for old people, for the sick, and also more broadly caring for our psychological wellbeing together.

What does it mean to care for our psychological wellbeing collectively? We more often pursue our individual wellbeing by paying a psychologist or a therapist, or by taking medicines. Talking with a friend about your problems it’s another way, this is good but it is often similar to the kind of “confession” you make to a psychologist. An example of taking care for our psychological wellbeing collectively could be that of the New Cross Library poetry workshop, where we read poetry but we also talk a bit about our lives. Through poetry a different way of communicating and being together takes place, a different sensitivity towards each other and a different way of talking and listening to each other gets developed. Also, in that context you are not asked to perform in any specific way, you don’t need to prove anything to anyone, as it happens most of time in our life as students and workers, and you don’t have to show your “true” self either, as it happens with a psychologist. The poetry workshop is an example of collectivizing reproduction in the sense of creating a different register to take care of each other’s (psychological) wellbeing.

More examples of caring / reproduction: caring for your partner, caring for your house (cleaning, cooking etc)… Federici makes some beautiful examples of collectivization of reproduction, like the Ollas Comunes in South America, where women used to set up communal kitchen and help each other with getting food and cooking. We could try something like this with the New Cross Commoners: we could invite people to bring the food they have and we cook together food for the rest of the week. You contribute with what food you have, if it’s little it’s little, if you are broken it’s nothing, that’s fine, and it’s not humiliating (as it might be with a food bank where you get food through charity) because you will still cook together with the others. We could do a rota and do this in different houses: our flats are also resources that we could collectivize! Difference between commoning and charity: you do charity for other people from a position of superiority in terms of power relations, and also dependence is often involved. When it comes to commoning there is more like a sharing, and the aspiration to a horizontality (or better a transversality) of power relations.

The labour of care is today required as part of our jobs and exploited by capitalism both in the form of an extra quality you have to add to the job you do (you have to take good care of your customer, whether you are a hairdresser, a waiter, or a teacher, to just make some examples) and in the form of volunteering. Volunteering often is a labour of care. Take the example of the New Cross Library. When is volunteering part of a neoliberal Big Society, and when is it emancipatory commoning? We think that in the case of the New Cross Library there is emancipatory commoning also because of the engagement of the library in the anti-cuts local campaigns. Perhaps volunteering, in all its forms, is today the non visible and not accounted “rock” that sustains capitalist production (a bit like domestic work used to be for the Fordist production of the factory).

Today reproduction is more and more commercialized, in the sense that you are encouraged / forced to pay for everything: for someone to take care of your kids (mothers become “money cows”: you need to work more to get more money for your kids), for someone to take care of your old parents, for a psychologists or a therapists, for a shitty take away because there’s no time to cook, sometimes even for someone to clean and take care of your house. Public services are cuts and damaged, for example (there was an interesting meeting about this in New Cross the other day) the NHS is now violently attacked with cuts and closures but it has been actually slowly damaged for quite some time, this is a way to encourage people to pay for a private health insurance, to use private clinics rather than public hospitals, to think that public services are crap anyway and a privatized health system will function better. We talked again about the idea of having a New Cross Commoners workshop about health.

Federici’s feminism and postcolonialism: there’s a lot we can learn from women and from their struggles, and today especially from women in the so called “third world”: if women in the first world easily become “money cows” completely subjected to wage labour, African women know that it’s land to grow food and not money that can really help the reproduction of families and people (they are not fooled by corporations that offer them money to shift to monoculture cultivations). Another difference: often women (and men) in the “first world” get obsessed by their children and self-obsessed with their families, closing the nuclear family off from the rest of the world, especially when it comes to non commercialized reproduction. Women in the “third world” know how important it is to reproduce their families as part of a wider community. Of course Europe is a different from Africa… An important example of collectivizing reproduction in New Cross is home education, where, instead of sending their kids to school, parents get together and decide together with their children what educational activities to do, what to study, etc. We would like to know more about this initiative in New Cross.

Federici: “to refuse to obliterate the collective experiences, the knowledge and the struggles that women have accumulated concerning the reproductive work, whose history has been an essential part of our resistance to capitalism.” History is important also to know and discover the often repressed history of struggle against capitalism: there is a lot to learn here, this is also why we’ll have a historical walk with Neil of transpontine the 18th of May in Deptford.

What Federici suggests is to “pool our resources and re-appropriate the wealth that we have produced, in order to de-link our reproduction from our commodity flows”. In very concrete terms: what are the resources we could pool together as New Cross Commoners? We also asked ourselves, what makes us take part in the New Cross Commoners? We have decided to organize a workshop on the 11th of May (if possible at the New Cross Cutting), to talk about our needs, resources, skills, and also to talk about our motivations for taking part in the New Cross Commoners.

INTERVIEW WITH EUROPEAN ALTERNATIVES (APRIL 2013)

Com-mon-day notes (De Angelis and Starvrides interview)

– On the Commons: A Public Interview with Massimo De Angelis and Stavros Stavrides

Commoning is something that happens all the time and everywhere: it happens every time people share something. Sharing itself is not antagonistic to capitalism, on the contrary, something like a commoning takes place in the factory, when workers help each other, and in restaurants, offices, and many places of work, sometimes even in such a competitive place like the university. This kind of commoning is “distorted” because it serves capitalism, this ability / desire we have for sharing and helping each other gets exploited by capitalism, and our task is to produce and proliferate this commoning against capitalism. This also means that we still know how to share and cooperate since we are supposed to do that as part of our jobs: we should activate this sharing and cooperation within and against our jobs. Two opposed examples of this taken from De Angelis – 1 commoning exploited and distorted by capitalism: in South African enclaves during the Apartheid regime the support that workers had by their communities “allowed” the factories to pay them very little (a similar example, family-based rather than community-based: parents supporting today the precarious conditions of sons who work for free or get paid very little to pursue a career) 2 commoning produced against capitalism: a few decades ago in Italy the access workers had to common resources allowed for them to sustain strikes. This examples speak of reproduction and commoning: reproduction has to do with commoning because it involves helping each other, taking care of each other and our needs and also affective life. Commons and commoning imply a collectivization of reproduction, beyond the individual and the nuclear family.

Com-mon-day 2

Why is it important for a community of commoners not to be homogeneous? Not so much because variety is beautiful, but because there is a variety of different people living in a neighbourhood like New Cross, and a common is a resource that has to be potentially open to everybody. For a resource to be open to everybody doesn’t mean that everybody can uses it in a whatever way, it means that everybody can take part in the process of negotiation to establish how to organize and use the resource. Two examples: Navarino square in Exarcheia, Athens, and the Zapatistas in Mexico, and Oaxaca. In Exarcheia it’s difficult to negotiate between different actors and communities that understand the square and its use in different ways. How to produce commons where contestation does not destroy “the collective freedom to negotiate between equals”? How to shift from a neoliberal individualization and “individualistic attitude” to a collective care, a collective taking care of a resource and of each other? The Zapatistas are another example of producing commons and commoning, through “prefiguration”: means and ends are equally important, the process is as important as the goal, the rotation system allows for everybody to experience and learn the role of the one in charge, and it counters the fixation of hierarchies.

How to bring this closer to us and New Cross? Occupy at St Paul can be an example of commons and commoning, the difference there was that the camp was isolated in the sense that it was not part of a neighbourhood. There were attempts to open the camp (e.g. with the general assemblies) but often those openings were ambiguous (we ask you to discuss issues related to the camp, but you are not really in the best position to decide and vote because you don’t live here). What missed from Occupy St. Paul was the Zapatistas’ “asking we walk”: there was no walking, no engagement with neighbourhoods in London.

To bring all this even closer to us: some of us have initiated this New Cross Commoners, some others have already taken part in the organization of the meetings, it would good to gradually share more tasks, responsibilities and caring of the process, not just as a way to share the organizational workload, but also for our process to be a process of commoning by carry on undoing the initial separation between the ones who organize and those who participate. The process is more important than the goal: we understand what is already going on in New Cross, we understand what and how we can share and do together, and we do it.

Com-mon-day 3

Occupied factories in Argentina as an example of production of commons and commoning. In comparison with the examples De Angelis and Stavrides discuss, the New Cross Commoners at the moment does not gather around a resource pooled together: there might be a commoning, and a “community”, but not a resource. There might a desire of coming together, read and discuss, meet people and places, but not really a need. De Angelis, Federici and others show how commons and commoning have to do both with needs and desires, resources and subjectivation, and their negotiation. The workshop this Saturday might enable us to think resources in New Cross that we would like to engage with, enclosed resources that we could turn into commons. Those resources could be material and visible, but also immaterial, like skills to learn, share and use together.

The difficulty of relying only with a production of desire comes from the extremely unstable kind of desire we experience today, especially in a place like London: we get excited very soon and we lose interest very soon, we “shop” from a workshop to the other, from a lecture to other, in search of interesting experiences. How to create consistency when moving so fast, when overwhelmed by so many interesting things to do?

We also talked about Grow Heathrow as a fantastic example of a resource that involves an “emancipatory” commoning: it’s not just about caring and sharing but also about struggling against an enclosure and devastation of resources. This is how Grow Heathrow gets the support of a wider local community: the process of commoning there is something that is felt also as a vital struggle for many people who will suffer in many ways if the Heathrow enclosure expands. Grow Heathrow is about collective needs and a production of the commons that is also a communal struggle.

Would it be possible for the New Cross Commoners to take an enclosed resource, or a resource threatened by enclosure, and “cultivate” a collective need around it? A resource as something we actually need for the reproduction of our lives. This might imply partly giving up our individual fulfilment of needs and making room to a collective one. This would be like an experiment in a collective “production” of need: could we do that at a small scale, taking our time, taking care of ourselves in the process, and still in antagonistic ways towards processes of enclosing and enclosures (including the enclosure that makes a group homogeneous)?

Another fantastic example coming from Argentina it’s here in this interview (in Spanish), a self-organized Health Centre that is also many other things (Centro de Salud Comunitaria, de Solano/Varela, Buenos Aires) http://archive.org/details/futurearchive_solano How to turn a specific resource into something that is not organized just by specialists?

Also, here an interview that the same comrade made with people of an occupied factory in Argentina: http://archive.org/details/Fasinpat-Entrevista

Notes on commons and housing

– Stuart Hodkinson, The return of the housing question

Connecting commons and commoners locally and translocally is crucial, if we want them to contribute to social change (example of housing coops).

Commoning is about exploring new possibilities of organising our lives that have not been apparent yet. It is about opening new ways of looking at our lives, about creating our own desires and about creating social practices that defy individualisation, privatisation, competition and fragmentation (from housing coops to…).

To talk about commons when it comes to housing allows us to think desires and needs together.  Commoning is about needs as not separated from desires: when it comes to housing the desire for living in common goes together with the need and the right to live “under a roof”.

To live in common is also something that we can learn, and it is something that often we are not used to – we are more used to compete with each other and think as separated individuals. To live under a roof is a right that we have to collectively struggle for, especially now that public houses are more and more sold to privates, and the market takes over the welfare state.

To create commons through the desire of living together (in housing coops, communes, ecovillages, through Community Land Trust, self-build houses… but do we have or will we ever have enough money to set up something like that?) and to struggle to defend what is or should be common (houses as resources accessible for everybody – resisting the privatization of public housing by occupying houses the council is going to sell, opposing the eviction of people who cannot pay the mortgage; squatting is more on this struggling side) should go together: they should be part of a same process of antagonism towards capitalism, within and against capitalism.

Where does the “desire” many people have for buying a house and getting a mortgage, either individually or as a family, come from? Why are there not more housing coops? Why are not more people living communally in many different forms?

The welfare state gets dismantled and public houses are sold to privates. Privatization is moving resources from the Public / State to the Private / Market: a circulation and proliferation of commons and commoning can contrast this.

Housing and mobility: to imagine a collective space for living that would also allow for people to move and not get stuck in a place.

There are different kinds of cooperatives, it also depends of the degree and ways in which they instate or undo hierarchies (structural hierarchies and informal hierarchies).

To what extent and how can a housing coop be constituted by a “non-homogeneous community” (De Angelis)?

Talking about “non-homogeneous communities”, from Stuart Hodkinson’s text: “The answer lies in the creation of a ‘common housing movement’ that brings together public tenants, home owners, private renters, squatters and the homeless around a political agenda to take all housing out of private property relations and into a form of ‘commonhold’ that would provide affordable, secure, collectively-controlled housing for all.”

What would imply to shift from “housing common” to “neighbourhood common”, to think not just in terms of individual houses (communal or not), but in terms of inhabiting a block of flats, a street, an area in communal ways? Can we imagine ourselves to create not just less precarious conditions for living collectively, but also less isolated ways of living where we live already?

Complexity of the housing boats: you might have two landlords, the owner of the boat and the owner of the land for the mooring. Especially in Deptford the conditions are precarious because of the gentrification, for example, tenants get kicked off to turn the boats into more profitable businesses. The boat community there tries to get together and come up with ways of contrasting gentrification.

Future exercise: make a map of New Cross of “misused private or public land and property” to reclaim and occupy.

Notes on commons and learning (first NXC meeting)

A common needs to be created and activated through acts of commoning.

Commons are continuously created, but also continuously threatened to be enclosed.

Looking at the commons through the lens of efficiency distorts them.

Commons speak of negotiation, exchange and reproduction.

Commoning has to do with anarchy – anarchy is organizing without leaders, not without rules.

Enclosures can be also immaterial, they are not necessarily fenced places. You can physically access many buildings at Goldsmiths, what is enclosed there is knowledge, in the sense that you have to pay a lot o money to study there (and also in the sense that the majority of people living in New Cross would not feel that Goldsmiths is a place they could make use of). Still, the same Goldsmiths is also a place of commoning, or at least it has this potential.

A common is not simply a material resource shared by people without using money. It can be material and / or immaterial. There are rules regulating this sharing, but these are negotiated by the people using the common. A common is composed by: 1) shared resources (e.g. knowledge, a place to live, a piece of land…), 2) a non-homogeneous community that organizes the sharing (transversality across a complex “working” class), 3) a social process of commoning (through which individual “greed” gives way to something else).

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TEXTS

To read together texts on commoning is important as a way to connect New Cross with different experiences, practices and ideas produced elsewhere and communicated in written form. The texts will be also used to problematize commoning, for it to become a practice of coming together, thinking together, doing things together that can be also critical and self-reflective, a practice that asks questions and deals with problems arising in the process of coming together.

On the Commons: A Public Interview with Massimo De Angelis and Stavros Stavrides

Silvia Federici, Feminism and the politics of the commons

Stuart Hodkinson, The return of the housing question

– Federici-food_sovereignty

– Linebaugh Ships and Chips

– the kitchen never stopped (on ollas comunes)

– Caffentzis “The Future of the Commons”

Marta Malo de Molina, “common notions, part 1: workers-inquiry, co-research, consciousness raising

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FILMS AND VIDEOS

Silvia Federici, Our struggles, our selves

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NEW X MAP

newxcommoners_8
Our first map – 9.2.2013.

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COMMONER’S QUESTIONS

How to avoid a common to be co-opted or to be accessible only to a closed community?

How to create commons that don’t end in a cul-de-sac?

Where do our desires come from? How to create different desires?

What is progress? How do we want to define it in relation to the commons?

How can we undo or imagine to undo a specific enclosure we get to perceive?

What can we learn from a specific place / situation of commoning that we experience?

What is the kind of struggle (with the State and the Market) and / or negotiation (among people) this specific commoning implies?

What are the resources shared, to what extent is the community gathered around them “non-homogeneous”, how to describe the social process of commoning involved?

How to create the resources to actually be in the position to explore alternatives?

How to create resources and ways of commoning that allow for autonomy from state and market policies?

How can we collectively deal with the fear(s) that the rhetoric of the market and the state generate in us in order to keep our social practices in check?

How to find a way of producing commoning when we come together and discuss? This would imply sharing, helping each other and taking care of each other whilst and in speaking together. How can we start from what of our different experiences we have in common? How to undo the hierarchies that always are constituted when people get together – because some people are more used to speak, because it’s easier for some of us, because some of us have more experience…? How to undo the patterns and habits that we have learned in academia when it comes to speaking together, patterns dictated by competition, having to prove yourself and your intelligence in front of teachers and colleges…? How to undo the patterns and habits of an everyday conversation amongst friends where you have to be brilliant, fast and interesting? How to undo the patterns and habits of group discussions where what matters the most is to efficiently achieve goals?

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