The turn to the cities and P2P heterogenesis

I have noticed in circles of political thinkers, such as Toni Negri for instance, a turn towards the cities, which is part of a much larger trend that drives attention towards strategies of localization.

From a totally different perspective, military analyst John Robb in his blog on Global Guerilla warfare, has been analysing cities both as disruptive forces in current warfare, but also, after a predicted decline of the current global order, as seeds of localized peer to peer organized alternatives for social life, obviously in a more ‘survivalist’ sense.

Negri is “arguing that the present day metropolis, as a space of biopolitical production, is somehow equivalent to a factory and that it has to be seen as a space of resistance and of struggle. It is in the metropolis that we have to create these spaces of encounter that can take different forms.”

From a discussion reproduced in Eurozine, which strategizes that trend, I’m excerpting an interesting comment on local P2P dynamics (which the author calls ‘mutual aggregation’), at the city level.

To my understanding, Petcou here below argues not so much from the radical, ‘activist’, and ‘fast’ premises of Negri, but rather from a slow-built up of a new relational fabric, that is the result of constructive peer to peer aggregation on the local level, which he sees as creating new social and political identities.

Constantin Petcou:

In spaces like these, there are especially people such as the unemployed, pensioners, artists; people who have a lot of time and who don’t have a socially valued subjectivity in the capitalist social and professional environment. Through their implication and by taking up an activity (cinema, gardening, music, parties), they create positions, roles, subjectivities that they build via a process of mutual aggregation. Via inter-subjectivity, they get to the point where they create collective relationships. This appears over time, through everyday practices. Félix Guattari underlines the importance of lasting “existential territories” for the production of subjectivity and heterogenesis. This is not something specific to the highly visible and frontal struggles.

You cannot produce existential spaces in movements that are too agitated, so you must unite the conditions of heterogenesis, which is what we define as “alterology”. When you let the other self-manifest and build his or her subjectivity, there is less violence, more listening, and more reciprocity. You can even attain a political dimension without it being intended from the beginning, as happened with “ECObox”: first people came to garden, then they started taking part in the debates, and in the end they were in front of the town hall carrying placards. Among them were people who were not even legal residents. They never imagined that their involvement in the project would come to that; and it was possible because there was a group, they were not alone, and because of the coherence of the project. It is difficult to be in this alterology, because for the most part capitalism emphasizes a logic of individualism.

The political dimension is not natural. It is more of a social dimension. Social issues are learned via education – there are different types of culture and sociability – and politics even more so: one learns to claim one’s constitutional rights, about democracy, equality. For me, subjectivity is a kind of pre-political condition. To be able to act politically, one must already be somewhere. Thus we, through our action, greet the emergence of subjectivities and afterwards, if possible, go further.

But I don’t think that everyone can, just like that, act on a large political scale and connect him or herself to activist networks. Before, political struggles took place in the workspace, in the factory. That is less and less the case. We sometimes define the spaces that we’re working on as neighbours’ unions. Since the workspace is no longer an entrance into politics, the neighbourhood provides access to another form of political practice.

Negri then theorizes these trends:

A constituent power produces subjects, but these subjects must get together. The production of subjectivity is not an act of innovation, or a flash of genius, it is an accumulation, a sedimentation that is, however, always in movement; it is the construction of the common by constituting collectivities. Just think of the banlieus: there was this incredible rebellion. Next time around, this will take off from a much higher level, politically speaking. There are thresholds of irreversible accumulation … A whole range of social and political creativity has accumulated and found the opportunity to express itself, to take shape, and to attempt to organize itself. And this was not a wild, disorganized, spontaneous insurrection. The urban dimension is fundamental, just as is the question of the precariat; one must thus rethink the building and the organization of the political from the base up. The problem of democracy is not only that of anti-fascism: it is the setting of goals, the construction of shared conflictual and projectual dimensions, it is to come together, to create the common through difference. It is a capacity to work in common.”

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