Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri on the Felicitious Encounter in the Urban Commons

Excerpted from Gabriel Murgar:

“In Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s recent book, “Commonwealth” the authors focus on the idea of the city as a location where the disenfranchised are able to organize and take what they have to contend their marginalized position. In other words, the authors look at the common resources available to people and how, when individuals come together,they can leverage their “common wealth” to overcome obstacles.

Referring to this common wealth as the Commons, the authors note that it refers not only to what 18th century european social theorists saw as commonly held land and other physical resources, but also to the brain power or services that individuals are able to provide. For the authors, what makes the Commons visible between individuals is what they call the Felicitous Encounter, or the moment when two individuals come together and because of their interaction, combine their mutual resources to the benefit of a common good. This idea of of the Felicitous Encounter is what Hardt and Negri say is the “great wealth” of the city.

The great wealth of the metropolis is revealed when the felicitous encounter results in a new production of the commons when, for instance, people communicate their different knowledge, different capacities to form cooperatively something new. The felicitous encounter, in effect, produces a new social body that is more capable than either of the single bodies was alone. (Hardt & Negri p. 254)

The authors go on to say that it is the political imperative of the metropolis to promote the felicitous encounter. “Its task is to promote joyful encounters, make them repeat, and minimize infelicitous encounters. (p.255)

Looking beyond the theory of the felicitous encounter and to its practical manifestations, the authors point to studies done by scholars on metropolitan regions in Africa that span from Lagos and Kinshasa to Johannesburg. The scholars show that despite impoverished conditions, the residents of this region have been able to overcome complete destitution and finds ways to survive through “informal networks of communication, mobility, employment, exchange, and cooperation that are large invisible to outsiders”(P.254)

“The multitude of the poor, in other words, invents strategies for survival, finding shelter and producing forms of social life, constantly discovering and creating resources of the common through expansive circuits of encounter” (P.254)

Looking at the previous post on this site, the idea of the felicitous encounter is related to the idea of weak ties and how they are depend on the presence of public space where the formation of weak ties can occur. If we are faced with a scarcity of public space we must think about the ways we promote more opportunities for the formation of “expansive circuits of encounter” to emerge.

The role of the encounter in its ability to steer people towards beneficial resources and partnerships is directly related to the theme of the previous post where the paper by Nilan and D’Eredita pointed out that information is the product of conversation. When we take this idea of the Felicitous Encounter as it relates to the idea of organizing resource information around the act of the conversation, we are again drawn to the power of social networking sites or forums and the role they can play in helping people to be resourceful, self sufficient, and valuable members of their community. Looking then to established information platforms in Boston and elsewhere, we must think about what role they can play in creating the conditions for Felicitous Encounters to occur, or in other words, creating the public space for people to interact.

While looking at the existing platforms and thinking about how they can be combined to better leverage what they have to offer, the recurring theme that will no doubt dominate this the conversations on this site is the notion of bridging the digital divide. With consumer purchasing habits of poor urban residents pointing to a greater consumption of mobile technology over personal computers, such existing platforms should begin to make themselves amenable to supporting the Felicitous Encounter using mobile technology so that all people can have a relatively equal ability in gaining a greater awareness of the Commons.”

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