Stevphen Shukaitis, “Questions for Aeffective Resistance”
“Questions for Aeffective Resistance”
Chapter Eight, Imaginal Machines: Autonomy & Self-Organization in the Revolutions of Everyday Life, Autonomedia, 2009. [PDF]
Each wound accumulated over the years, each hope frustrated feels a part of your pain and disappointment. Often I wonder, what the heck keeps us going on, despite such hurt affected in a walk that is supposed to be beautiful, trustful, liberating, juvenating? I do not know any more, or forgot what I once knew. Perhaps those glimpses we have had, here and there, planned or spontaneous, with friends or with strangers, glimpses of “the best” in each one of us, in love, risk, togetherness, joy, labor, and, yes, in pain and disappointment. It seems to me that there is no obvious “reason” we must hang in there, except the reasons we can provide for and with each other in the midst of this insanity that passes for reality, left and right. What can I say, but that if we fail to be that reason, let us, at least, fail better. – Ayca Cubukcu 1
I’m tired. It’s 3 am. The desk is stacked tall with too many things to be done, too many projects that have fallen behind schedule, and ideas that would come to fruition beautifully if only there was time for them to be born. If only there was time. But there never seems to be. The endless march of everyday pressures and gripes mounts endlessly-the moment it seems that they have been beaten back, that there are conditions of respite to move from with thought out intentions-the flood just sweeps in again. And my whole body aches. It never seems possible to catch up with this mounting pile of tasks. Sometimes I wonder whether this constant sense of growing tiredness might just be something that’s my fault, something I caused by taking on too many projects and not managing time effectively. Perhaps. Surely there are few foolish enough to make this kind of mistake, voluntarily taking just enough so that they don’t totally collapse, but always teetering close to doing so.
But it’s not just me. No, far from it. If it were only me it would be much easier to dismiss just as a personal issue-something that I need to deal with. But that’s not so. It seems that nearly all my friends and comrades are constantly faced with similar dilemmas. At times it seems one could compose a calendar of varying and interlocking seasons of burnout cycles: intense periods of hyperinvolvement, manically attempting to balance fifteen different projects at once, trying to hold them all together, and to a large degree succeeding. But that can never last.
Eventually exhaustion kicks in and forces one to withdraw, to cut back a little, and to find some time to gather one’s energies again. Periods of isolation and withdrawing from communities of resistance more often than finding support in them, followed by another cycle of the same crests and crashes. And so it goes on, our own little angel of history looking back on the mounting pile of personal wreckage and emotional catastrophe.
And so we feel guilty for not having done enough. For needing time for ourselves.
Everyday insurgencies are sublimated, almost as if there was a voice constantly reminding, commanding that we have failed in our task, that we need to do more to prove our chosen status and assure our ascension to heaven… I mean revolution. And so the grounded reality of resistance is dematerialized, transformed into an imaginary-promised but never to be achieved-realm, always beckoning, almost mocking us.2 Perhaps this is what Suzanne Cesaire had in mind when she observed that “if we see a suffering and sensitive-at times mocking- being, which can be recognized as our collective self, appearing in our legends and stories, we would seek in vain the expression of this self…We sense that this disturbing age will see a ripened fruit burst forth, irresistibly invoked by solar ardor to scatter its creative energy to the winds” (1996: 96). Or maybe instead we are caught in a process and dynamic marked by a strong consumerist undertone: we must do something now! It doesn’t matter what as long as we do it now! Satisfaction that we have done something, whatever that something may be and regardless of whether it is effective or not, whether it is connected in any way to a long term sustainable strategy of building capacities to sustain joyous lives of resistance rather than brief moments, is largely irrelevant. It is sacrificed to the imperative to do something now. Satisfaction guaranteed, no warranties implied.
But surely the struggle to create a better, joyous, freer, more loving world is not one that is premised upon a constant struggle that leaves one tired and run down. The question is one of creating communities of resistance that provide support and strength, a density of relations and affections, through all aspects of our lives, so that we can carry on and support each other in our work rather than having to withdraw from that which we love to do in order to sustain the capacity to do those very things. To create a sustainable culture of resistance, a flowering of aeffective resistance-that is, a sustainable basis for ongoing and continuing political organizing, a plateau of vibrating intensities, premised upon refusing to separate questions of the effectiveness of any tactic, idea, or campaign, from its affectiveness. Affect here in the sense used in a line of thought beginning with the work of Benedict de Spinoza, who defined it as “the modification of the body by which the power of the body itself is increased, diminished, helped, or hindered, together with the idea of these modifications” (1949). In contrast to Descartes, who’s idea of the mind/body split in many ways forms the basis of inherited philosophical thought for some time, Spinoza saw the mind and body not as two substances but as differently articulated versions of the same substance. His ideas have been taken up by those working in a counter-history or submerged lineage to that of Descartes (as well as Hegel), and thus was taken up by figures such as Gilles Deleuze, Louis Althusser, Antonio Negri, and various feminist strains of thought focusing on the body.3 These varied notions of affect, considered as a creative power of immense potentiality, particularly in creating new forms of relations, finds it way into the text, even if not explicitly cited.
The simple gestures, even sometimes ones that seem insignificant, are often the ones that mean the most in creating affective community. Not that they are glorious tasks by any means- asking how someone is doing, taking an extra five minutes to work out what’s bothering someone or why they’re pre-occupied-but because of this it is easy to overlook how important they really are.4 They form the basis underlying our on-going interactions, lodged within the workings of our affective memory (Titchner 1895). Immersed within the constant and everrenewing nourishment contained within the gift economies of language, motions, and affections, all too often we fail to appreciate the on-going work of social reproduction and maintaining community that these acts entail (Vaughan 2002).
Creating a vibrant political culture, one that exists “beyond duty and joy,” to borrow the phrasing of the Curious George Brigade, is not an easy task (2003). Here the Curious George Brigade uses joy when arguably what they are contrasting is overly serious, dogmatic “duty” activism with that based on pursuing and engaging in things for the pure, ephemeral thrill of them (read: irresponsible politics), which they use the word joy for. This more than any is perhaps indicative of the lack of a conceptual vocabulary to describe forms of commonly felt joy, a condition that Spinoza commented on. Indeed, as our very joys, subjectivities, experiences, and desires are brought further and further into the heart of the production process, creating autonomous spaces based upon their realization becomes all the more tricky. Fortunately some people have begun to explore and find ways to cope with and overcome the traumatic stress and tensions that can build as a part of organizing (Activist Trauma Support 2005).5 But what about the less spectacular or obvious forms, the damage of the everyday? What happens as all the constantly mounting and renewing demands on our very being, our capacity to exist and continuing to participate in radical politics, build up? We find ourselves in ever more cramped positions, unsure of how to work from the conditions we find ourselves in. Do we carry on as we can, slowly burning out, and finally withdrawing from ongoing struggles, perhaps consigning them as some part of our former youth that had to be left behind to deal with other things?6
Might there not be other options and paths to take? To take part in what has been described as the “affective turn,” to use the title of a recent collection put together by Patricia Clough (2007), that is, to foreground questions of our individual and collective capacities to affect and be affected by the world around us, means that questions and concerns about sustainability, personal relations, and caring for each other are not insignificant concerns that can be brushed aside to tackle whatever the pressing demand of the day. As famously observed by Gustav Landauer, “the State is a condition, a certain relationship between human beings, a mode of human behavior; we destroy it by contracting other relationships, by behaving differently” (quoted in Day 2005). Politics is not external to the relationships and interactions we have-it grows out of, is intensified by, and ties them together. Affect, developed through interaction and care, exists as expansive and creative powers: “it is a power of freedom, ontological opening, and omnilateral diffusion… [that] constructs value from below” and transforms according to the rhythm of what is common (Negri 1999: 86).
Aeffective resistance, as one might gather from the name, starts from realization that one can ultimately never separate questions of the effectiveness of political organizing from concerns about its affectiveness. They are inherently and inevitably intertwined. The social relations we create every day prefigure the world to come, not just in a metaphorical sense, but also quite literally: they truly are the emergence of that other world embodied in the constant motion and interaction of bodies. The becoming-tomorrow of the already here and now. And thus the collective practices of relating, of composing communities and collectives, exists at the intersection of “the interplay of the care of the self and the help of others blends into preexisting relations, giving them a new coloration and greater warmth. The care of the self-or the attention that one devotes to the care that others should take of themselves-appears then as an intensification of social relations” (Fouacult 1984: 53). And so it is from considering the varying affective compositions, dynamics, and relations that these questions aeffective resistance begins. It is the unfolding map that locates what Precarias a la Deriva have described as the condition of affective virtuosity, where “what escapes the code situates us in that which is not yet said, opens the terrain of the thinkable and livable, it is that which creates relationships. We have to necessarily take into account this affective component in order to unravel the politically radical character of care, because we know-this time without a doubt-that the affective is the effective” (Precarias a la Deriva 2006: 40).
Autonomous Feminism & Aeffective Revolt
Strike or unemployment, a woman’s work is never done. – Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James (1973: 30)
To find inspiration and some kernels of wisdom for teasing out a basis to expand the concept of aeffective resistance, perhaps one could turn to the experiences and knowledges in the history of autonomous feminism,7 from the writings of figures such as Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Silvia Federici to campaigns like Wages for Housework and the more recent organizing of groups like Precarias a la Deriva. Because their efforts come from experiences where the very basis of their being, the capacity of their bodies to care and relate are directly involved in necessary functions for the reproduction and continued existence of capitalism, but in ways that for a long time unacknowledged by large segments of the so called-progressive and revolutionary political milieu, one can learn from their insights into organizing from such tricky positions to find routes and passages toward more aeffective forms of resistance. Despite the importance that autonomist feminism has played in the development of autonomous politics and struggles it is commonly relegated to little more than a glorious footnote of figures emerging out of operaisti thought.8 George Katsiaficas, for instance, argues that in many of the most significant dimensions of these movements, the meaning of autonomy, feminist currents are the most important source (2001).
Strangely enough, because housework, caring labor, and many other forms of social labor were not directly waged, it was often assumed that they simply took place outside of the workings of capitalism, as if they existed in some sort of pre-capitalist status that had mysteriously managed to persist into the present. Organizing around gender, affective labor, and issues of reproduction posed numerous important questions to forms of class struggle that focused exclusively on the figure of the waged industrial worker (Hardt 1999). The revolts of housewives, students, the unwaged, and farm workers led to a rethinking of notions of labor, the boundaries of workplace, and effective strategies for class struggles: they enacted a critical transformation in the social imaginary of labor organizing and struggle. Because the labor of social reproduction and unwaged work was not considered work, was not considered to produce surplus value or to be a relevance for capitalism, it was often ignored and looked over as an arena of social struggle. Relegated to an adjunct status compared to what was held at real focus of power, economic power and class struggle, it was assumed that these sorts of concerns would be worked out after capitalism had been overthrown. But, as argued by Alisa Del Re, there is a great importance in learning from and taking seriously the concerns put forth by autonomous feminism, precisely because attempting to refuse and reduce forms of imposed labor and exploitation without addressing the realms of social reproduction and housework amounts to building a notion of utopia upon the continued exploitation of female labor (Del Re 1996).
Autonomous feminism, by exhorting that this simply was not going to stand anymore- that it was ridiculous to be expected to constantly care for and attend to the tasks of social reproduction, from childcare to caring for parents to housework all the while being told that what one was engaged in was not work at all, shattered the ossified and rigid structures of the narrowly and dogmatically class-oriented radical imagination. One should also note that the recognition of forms of gendered labor as work doesn’t necessarily mean that struggles around them start from a better position. As Angela Davis notes (1981), black women were paid wages for housework for many years in the US before the advent of the Wages for Housework campaign, but that didn’t mean they were in a better position in their struggles around such work. This should make clear that the potentiality political recomposition found within a strategy such as Wages for Housework is always dependent on the particular social situations it is deployed within.
As observed by Elisabetta Rasy, feminism is not external to politics nor is it necessarily part of class struggle in an already determined manner, rather it is a movement within these various groupings, a movement creating conditions for the emergence of other subjects and experience to finally be acknowledged and learned from: “feminism opens up a magnetic crack in the categoric universe of the male-Marxist vision of the world, painfully exhibiting a history of ghosts behind the slippery façade of facts and certainties. The absolute materiality of the ghosts who embody need and desire stand in contrast and opposition to the phobic philologies of the existent and the existed” (1991: 78). Issues such as legalizing and access to abortion, divorce, contraception, sexuality, violence against women, while not reducible or contained within the framework of class struggle, organizing around them embodies a challenge to forms of class based social domination as it exists through the ability to control and restrict possibilities for social reproduction.
This shattering of the previously hermetically sealed dead end of the radical imagination opened up a long needed avenue for contesting and confronting forms of domination in all aspects of capitalist society: in the family, the street, the factory, the school, the hospital, and so on. As argued by Leopoldina Fortunati, while it may have appeared that the processes of production and reproduction operated as separate spheres governed by different laws and principles, almost as if there relation was “mirror image, a back-to-front photograph of production,” their difference was not a question about whether value was produced, but rather one of how the production of value in social reproduction “is the creation of value but appears otherwise” (1995: 8). This is directly contrary to claims that housework and forms of domestic labor produced use values and thus were not involved in the production of value for capitalism. Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James emphasized the point this way: “We have to make clear that, within the wage, domestic work produces not merely use values, but is essential to the production of surplus value.” (1973: 33) It was on this point, the domestic labor produced value, surplus value in the Marxist sense, that provoked a great deal of controversy, particularly from those who held to their sense of Marxist categories regarding the dividing lines between productive and unproductive labor. It was often argued that women produced use values, not surplus value for capitalist production, and therefore were in a position more akin to feudalism or pre-capitalist relations. Alternately it was argued by people like Carla Consemi, not that women were not producing surplus value or that they definitely were, but that the relations of mediation and all the layering forms of social relations involved in such makes it difficult to see quite how that works: “[Housework] does not produce ‘goods,’ it will not be transferred into money-unless it is in a very indirect, incalculable way (which is still to be examined)” (1991: 268).
While in some ways the question of whether domestic labor does or not really produce surplus value might seem a bit silly from the outside of it. But to appreciate the significant of this it is important to remember that in debate carried on in the terrain of Marxist thought, to argue that such forms of labor did not produce value was an important part of marginalizing and arguing against their importance. Thus one can see how making the argument that domestic labor does produce surplus value expands the spaces where labor struggle occurs precisely because it is organizing around the production of value necessary for the functioning of capitalism. As argued by James and Dalla Costa, “The possibility of social struggle arises out of the socially productive character of women’s work in the home.” (1973: 37) It might be possible to argue that domestic labor either does not produce value, or does so in a way that in indirect, subtle, and ephemeral, while still affirming the importance of feminist struggles around domestic labor. This was not an argument commonly made, and would be somewhat strange, and difficult to continue to make within a Marxist framework centered on issues of exploitation in value production. In other words, by only focusing on certain forms of social labor and the exploitation involved in them (which was considered the basis for an antagonist political subjectivity capable of overthrowing capitalism), this analysis overlooked myriad forms of social power and exploitation that operated within fields of social production and reproduction that because of their unwaged status did not appear as such. And perhaps even more importantly, this blindness, a situation created by the obfuscation of the theoretical baggage, also blinded radicals to the possibilities for political action emanating from these positions. But, as long as housewives, or the unwaged, or the peasants, or other populations were excluded from the narrowly defined Marxist framework of analysis and politics, “the class struggle at every moment and any point is impeded, frustrated, and unable to find full scope for its action” (Dalla Costa and James 1973: 35).
Wages for/against Housework
We want to call work what is work so that eventually we might rediscover what is love and create what will be our sexuality which we have never known. – Silvia Federici (1980: 258)
Slavery to an assembly line is not a liberation from slavery to a kitchen sink. – Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James (1973: 35)
There has long existed a relation between the nature of social reproduction and women’s forms of political self-organization.9 But this relation is not specifically between women and the form of political organization as much as the influence of the resources and possibilities available for supporting social reproduction. Rather, it is more often women because of their location within specific articulations of social roles and relations that are affected with a greater intensity of by various forms of political domination and power that attack the basis of social reproduction. Just as the destruction of the commons was accompanied by the enclosure of the female body, as Silvia Federici (2004) explores with great brilliance (and largely came to replace the role formerly played by the commons through countless hours of unacknowledged labor), neoliberal assaults from the 1970s until the present have coupled together assaults on forms of collective ownership as well as a politics bent upon the destruction of the meager gains congealed in the form of welfare state programs and conservative backlashes to the gains of feminism that had occurred.
Given the often-harsher effects that capitalism and the whole array of forms of social domination have on women, it really should not be of any great surprise that they would play important roles in struggling against these forms of domination precisely because of how intensely it affects their ability to exist and live. From the mother’s demanding “bread and herring” that started the Russian revolution,10 to the role of women in struggling against the IMF and World Bank imposed structural adjustment programs and austerity measures that accompany the disciplinary devices of international loan slavery, the importance and roles played by females all too often get ignored or passed over because they do not fit into the form of what is generally recognized as political action (Dallacosta and Dallacosta 1995; Federici and Caffentzis 2001). This makes the reluctance by much of the Left, from Marxist theoreticians to union organizers, to see the relevance of feminist organizing as a class issue all the more exasperating. It’s one thing to be exploited constantly and seemingly through out all moments of the day and spaces of one’s life, but then it’s another, even worse condition to find that one’s allies and comrades don’t consider your struggle against these conditions to be part of a common endeavor. In other words women found themselves in conditions trapped not only with a “double shift” of work both formal waged sense and various tasks of social reproduction, but also that in which their work during the “third shift,” or efforts expended on behalf of unionizing and political organizing campaigns, many of which were replete with people who did not value these multiple layers and difficulties and treated organizing around them as “reactionary” and “divisive” (Huws 2003). Or, as quipped by Silvia Federici, “We are seen as nagging bitches, not workers in struggle” (1980: 255). Given that, feminist separatism is clearly a totally sensible response to “comrades” that are often times little more than condescending and patronizing allies.
Autonomous feminism is thus not just important in itself, which it clearly is, but also in that it works as an important re-opening and cracking apart of the sedimented imaginary of struggle that could not see outside of the blinders it had created for itself. By demanding that housework and caring work be recognized as work, that labor takes place not just in the physically bounded workplace, but also exists all throughout the tasks of social reproduction and community life, autonomous feminism opened a space for a reconsideration of many of the concepts and tactical baggage that had been held on to: “Once we see the community as a productive center and thus a center of subversion, the whole perspective for generalized struggle and revolutionary organization is re-opened” (Dalla Costa and James 1973: 17). In other words, the personal is political, but it is also economic, as well as social and cultural. Struggles around issues of care and housework, of the tasks of the everyday, are not just individual concerns unrelated to broader political and economic questions-they are the quotidian manifestations of these larger processes. Recognition of their connections, as well as the connections against questionable power dynamics in the home, school, office, hospital, and all spaces of social life, is an important step in socializing and connecting minor moments of rupture and rebellion into connected networks of struggle. As James and Dalla Costa argue, there is great importance in understanding the relation of domestic labor and its exploitation to struggles diffused through out society precisely because, “Every place of struggle outside the home, precisely because every sphere of capitalist organization presupposes the home, offers a chance for attack by women” (Dalla Costa and James 1973: 38). Organizing around domestic labor acted as a key point in the developing of autonomous struggles because of its locations within intersecting dynamics of gender, race, and class;11 thus learning from these struggles is all the more important precisely because of the multiple constraints and difficulties they faced, and ways that they found to contest multiple forms social power and domination.
One of the ways these demands would become embodied was in the various “Wages for Housework” campaigns inspired by these ideas. Originating initially in Italy and the UK, these campaigns, based on demanding the recognition of the countless hours of unpaid work involved in typically female labor, quickly spread to many locations across the globe. Originating from struggles of both women of the classical working class (such as demands around equal pay in the workplace), student groups and the New Left, and various feminist organizations, the campaign used many of the concepts and framing of Marxist categories while at the same time attempting to move past the limitations and assumptions about the “true” revolutionary subject that often accompanied them. Admittedly the campaign and demand for remuneration for housework was controversial and received much criticism both from the right and the left.12 In particular it was argued that the campaign could have the effect of further consigning and limiting women to be confined within a domestic sphere, this time in a way that had been argued for through a feminist lens.13 Alternately it was argued that the demand for wages represented a further commodification of yet another aspect of life and was harmful in that way. But what is perhaps most inspiring in such a campaign and contains key insights for considering aeffective resistance in the way in which such was formulated by working from within the position that women found themselves in to formulate demands and forms of antagonism based upon that position, to find ways to socialize and connect struggle based around the ways their capacities and very existence were being exploited. This could be understood as its function as a pole of class recomposition and route for the increasing of collective political capacity of struggle. In the words of Mariarosa Dalla Costa:
The question is, therefore, to develop forms of struggle which do not leave the housewife peacefully at home, at most ready to take part in occasional demonstrations through the streets… The starting point is not how to do housework more efficiently, but how to find a place as protagonist in the struggle: that is, not a higher productivity of domestic labour but a higher subversiveness in the struggle (1973: 36).
The various Wages for Housework campaigns attempted to do just that: to find positions of higher subversiveness in struggle from where it was possible to organize against the isolation and misery that accompanied the miserable conditions of capitalist patriarchy.
In that sense the ultimate goal of such campaigns could be seen not as the demand of wage themselves, but rather using the demand for wages to ferment and spread antagonisms against the structural systems of patriarchy and capitalist control that has instituted and relied upon the unwaged and unacknowledged burden of women’s labor to begin with. This was the source of much of the antipathy towards the campaigns, based on confusing the demand of wages for housework as object (from which it could be seen to keep women in the home, the commodification of caring labor, etc) rather than as a perspective and catalyst of struggle. This confusion, argues Silvia Federici, separates a moment and temporary goal of the struggle from the dynamics of composition and the formation of collective capacities, and thus overlooks “its significance in demystifying and subverting the role to which women have been confined in capitalist society” (1980: 253). The demand for wages for housework is not then an embracing of and struggle for waged status, but is a moment in finding effective methods to struggle against the imposition of work and the dynamics of class power that exist under capitalism. That is, Wages for Housework is precisely the construction of a composition of social forces that make possible to struggle against the forms of housework, social roles, and dynamics of exploitation that underpin them: “To say that we want money for housework in the first step towards refusing to do it, because the demands for a wage makes work visible, which is the most indispensable condition to begin to struggle against it” (1980: 258). In other words, Wages for Housework in a moment in the struggles of wages against housework, a dynamic of composing class power from the position that women found themselves in thus that they could attempt to find ways to escape from that position. In the words of Roberta Hunter-Hendersen, “The essential task was to re-appropriate our own energy, intellectual, social and emotional, and it meant working together with patience as we unfolded our constricted limbs, began to stretch our oppressed kinds, and learnt again to interact with each other” (1973: 41).14
We’ve drifted a Long Way (or have you?)
The oppression of women, after all, did not begin with capitalism. What began with capitalism was the more intense exploitation of women as women and the possibility at last of their liberation. – Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James (1973: 23) Despite the amazing feminist upsurge that entered public visibility and consciousness during the 1960s and 1970s, many of the issues that inspired it continue to exist, even if there have been vast improvements in addressing some of them. Disparities in wages, gender discrimination and differences in power, and violence against women continue to be major issues for almost the entire world to some degree or another. The neoliberal onslaught of the 1980s and dismantling of the welfare state in much of the industrialized west have also created difficult questions for many women. And perhaps most depressing in some ways, large sections of the left, and even the “radical left” continue to largely ignore issues around gendered labor and forms of organizing around them.
It is from this realization that Precarias a la Deriva, a feminist research and organizing collective who in many ways is one of the most notable inheritors and visible forms of this strand of feminist politics existing today. Precarias a la Deriva began in 2002 starting out of a feminist social center, La Eskalera Karakola, initially as a response to a call for a general strike. It was realized that the call for the strike did not address the forms of labor that many of the women were involved in, namely forms of caring labor, informal work, invisibilized jobs, intermittent and precarious work. These are forms of work that if this involved in them attempted to participated in the strike it would be very unlikely to have any effect on their circumstances and could very easily end with them losing their jobs altogether. In fact, a majority of people who were increasingly involved in such forms of work, which have come to be discussed under the concept of precarity, were not even that affected by the proposed changes in labor legislation that inspired the call for strike because their social position is already so unstable.
The members of Precarias a la Deriva (PAD) thus set out to find methods to investigate and understand the changing nature of work and social relations and to develop methods of generating conflict that would suit this changing terrain. The method they initially chose to work with was that of the dérive, which is drawn from the ideas of the Situationists, who employed forms of wandering through the city while allowing themselves to be attracted to and repulsed by the features of the city, and thus hopefully to open up new spaces and experiences that would otherwise and usually be ignored or looked over.15 Precarias a la Deriva modified the concept of the dérive, which they argue in many ways was particularly marked by the social position of the bourgeois male subject that had nothing better to do. Instead they sought to update the dérive to drift through the circuits and spaces of feminized labor that constituted their everyday lives.
Arguably there could be seen to be some tension in this kind of updating. Notably, if the purpose of the dérive was to open up unforeseen possibilities and connections through the drift’s openness, stipulating an already understood framework and space for drifting then could foreclose possibilities for connection that might exist outside of that framework. Alternately one could argue that the Situationist notion of the dérive already had an understood framework and space of its operation (provided by the subjective positioning of those involved and the understood spaces of the city) that was not quite as open as they would have liked to believe. The alternations of PAD have thus not limited the possibilities per se, but have thus made more explicit about their framework and positioning compared to that which was assumed in the Situationist version. The drift was thus converted into a mobile interview, a wandering picket that sought out women who were involved in the many forms of precarious and caring labor, to find out how the conditions affected them, and how they might work from them. They decided to investigate five overall sectors and interconnected spaces: 1. domestic 2. telemarketing 3. manipulators of codes (translators, language teachers) 4. food service (bars, restaurants) 5. health care. Using this method of mobile interview / picket was used
to take the quotidian as a dimension of the political and as a source of resistances, privileging experience as an epistemological category. Experience, in this sense, is not a pre-analytic category but a central notion in understanding the warp of daily events, and, what is more, the ways in which we give meaning to our localized and incarnated quotidian (2003).
PAD used this practice of drifting as means to explore the “intimate and paradoxical nature of feminized work,” wander through the different connections between the spaces of feminized labor, and to find ways to turn mobility and uncertainty into strategic points of intervention: to “appropriate the communicative channels in order to talk about other things (and not just anything), modify semiotic production in strategic moments, make care and the invisible networks of mutual support into a lever for subverting dependence, practice ‘the job well done’ as something illicit and contrary to productivity, insist upon the practice of inhabiting, of being, a growing right” (2003). They aim to use these forms of intervention to construct what they describe as points of aggregation, which borrowing from the Buenos Aires militant research group Colectivo Situaciones (who they have corresponded with a great deal), will be constructed based not a notion of aggregation capacity (the construction of mass forms of organization) but rather on consistency capacity, or the ability to form intense and dense networks of relations.16
The practice of the dérive, the drift, as wandering interview and as a form of militant research, was thus an important starting point (and continues to be an importance practice) for PAD because it operates, in their words as a form of “contagion and reflection,” whose potentiality is not easily exhausted; it is “An infinite method, given the intrinsic singularity of each route and its capacity to open and defamiliarize places” (2003). The shifting and transformation of everyday social relations and realities does not cease after the first phase of engaged research and intervention into a social space. Thus the need to continue to ask questions about how that space is formed and those living within it carries on as a pressing question, all the more so in that as methods for visible political intervention change the composition of a particular space the relations within it also change. While often times militant research is employed for a brief period of time to get a sense of the territory in which forms of intervention will take place (the most famous example being how such methods were employed in Italy in the 1960s), often after the initial inquiry the projects cease, and organizers continue to rely on their knowledge of the composition of social relations and realities that had previously existed, not taking into account how they have changed and been transformed. PAD, by emphasizing the openness and fluidity of the drift, of its capacity to defamiliarize oneself in an environment (particularly in an environment one may have spent many years in), thus emphasized the need to keep the questions and inquiry open, and to keep circulating and exchanging knowledges (which they often do through the forms of workshops, gatherings, encuentros, and their publications) which are then fed back into other projects.
For PAD in many ways find themselves, though they have drifted quite far to discover new methods of intervention, having to confront many of the same questions that faced feminist organizers in the 1970s, particularly those involved in campaigns such as Wages for Housework. While PAD argues, “care is not a domestic question but rather a public matter and generator of conflict,” they are also quite aware of the difficulty in this task, for as they observe, “the question of how to generate conflict in environments which are invisible, fragile, private” (2003). This division between the political and the personal, the public and the private, has long been one of the dividing lines that feminists have confronted as a barrier to the raising of their concerns and demands without having them merely consigned as their concerns and demands. One can see this dynamic, for instance, in the ways which concerns about retreat from public life, the specter of bowling alone, overlooks the invisible networks of civic engagement embodied through forms of care which are typically overlooked as possible forms of political involvement (Herd and Harrington 2002). In other words, the process which discussions around gender become understood as “women’s issues,” rather than the way that construction of gender roles and social roles more broadly (which involves, although this is not discussed nearly as much, the construction of masculinity, of norms of heterosexuality). Or the ways in which domestic labor and care, even in their discussion within radical political circles, can become assigned and narrated as a feminist issue alone, rather than seeing the ways in which these forms of labor, interaction, of the tasks that are perhaps the most primary in keeping together a society (as they are critically involved in primary socialization) relate to and are enmeshed within larger frameworks of power that are being contested.
PAD’s answer to this encompasses multiple parts of their overall project and centers to a large degree around questions of affect. Rather than treating issues of domestic labor, the role of empathy and the creation of relations, interaction, sexuality, and forms of care as separate issues and concerns, they rather seem them as existing along a continuum, which they logically describe as the communicative continuum sex-attention-care. This continuum connects the diverse sectors and areas of their investigations, along which they point out that sex, care, and attention are not pre-existing objects but socially narrated and constructed ones. They are not means naturally formed into a specified arrangement (although they are often naturalized as if this were the case), but rather are “historically determined social stratifications of affect, traditionally assigned to women” (2006: 34). It is along this continuum that they see the role of affect as being key, existing at the center of the chain that “connects places, circuits, families, populations, etc. These chains are producing phenomena and strategies as diverse as virtually arranged marriages, sex tourism, marriage as a means of passing along rights, the ethnification of sex and of care, the formation of multiple and transnational households” (2003).
This perspective at looking at the interconnections between forms of activity that have often been constructed as feminine is extremely important, especially in a period where the forms of activity described as such have become mush more enmeshed and widespread across the functioning of the economy, from the “service with a smile” or “phone smile” of the McDonald’s employee and telephone operator to the hypervisibility of the body (particularly the female body) in media and advertising as a way to excite libidinal desires for the glories of consumption. And it has been argued that those involved in caring labor, which constitutes an estimated 20% of the work force, tend to be more highly class conscious regardless of the gender of those involved (although notably there are higher percentages of women involved employed in such positions) (Jones 2001). Thus the question of aeffective resistance, attention to the dynamic of affective labor, becomes all the more pressing because those involved in such work contain a potentiality for rebuilding an inclusive revolutionary class politics at a moment where it seems that such in many ways retreated from the realm of existing possibilities.
Arguably the increasing rise of forms of human resource management, particularly those stressing the appreciation of diversity and cultural difference, as well as attention to issues of gender, are also part of the growing presence and importance of skills of communication and interaction extended through the social fabric as directly productive activities and abilities. But this “becoming woman of labor,”17 which as an ambivalent process has highlighted the potentiality found within forms of affective labor and relations, has also continued to be marked by forms of social division and domination in which gender relations are historically embedded: “a tremendously irregular topography, reinforcing, reproducing and modifying the social hierarchies already existent within the patriarchy and the racial order inherited from colonialism… [upon which] the global restructuring of cities and the performances and rhetorics of gender are imprinted” (2003).
Precarias a la Deriva thus proposes a typology for considering forms of feminized and precarious labor, not based upon overall transformations in social and economic structure (although such is clearly related), but rather on the nature of the work and the possibilities it opens up or forecloses for insurgencies against it. Typologies based on specific forms of economic transformations in labor markets (for instance distinguishing between chainworkers and brainworkers) lacks coherence, they argue, and tends to overlook the many ways in which similar dynamics overlap and affect multiple positions (as well as tends to homogenize various positions and particularities). Developing this typology based on unrest and rebellion there are three general types of labor:
1. jobs with a repetitive content (telemarketing, cleaning, textile production) which have little subjective value or investment for those involved-tendency for conflicts based upon refusal of the work, absenteeism, sabotage
2. vocational / professional work (anything from nursing to informatics, social work, research, etc) where there is a higher subjective component and investment-conflict tends to be expressed as critique of the organization of labor, how it is articulated, and the forms it takes
3. jobs where the content is directly invisibilized and/or stigmatized (cleaning work, domestic labor, forms of sex work)-conflict tends to manifest as a demand for dignity and recognition of the social value of the work (2005)
The question for PAD, as already observed, is finding points for commonality and alliances, lines of aggregation where intense forms of relations and communities can emerge and are strengthened. PAD have also been involved the creation of various social centers and feminist spaces where such can occur and have been involved in the EuroMayDay Networks and parades which have acted as key points of visibility for those contesting existing conditions: In their words:
The Mayday Parade constitutes a means of visibilization of the new forms of rebellion, a moment of encounter for the movements, and practices of forms of self-organized politicization (social centers, rank-and-file unions, immigrant collectives, feminists, ecologists, hackers), a space of expression of its forms of communication (the parade as an expression of pride inherited from the movements of sexual liberation, but also all the media-activist artillery developed around the global movement against the summits of the powerful of the world) and a collective cry for rights lost (housing, health, education) or new ones (free money, universal citizenship), which day to day and from each situated form we try to begin and to construct from below” (2005)
Thus the central problem, and one that has become much more pressing in recent years, centers around the issue of security. The military and neoliberal logic of security,18 involving anything from increased border controls and migration regulation to the proliferation of private security firms and NGOs, has risen during the past 20-30 years during the same period that the decline of the welfare state and apparatuses of social security and welfare measures have been taken apart. It is a condition where an overall shift in the macropolitical situation is articulated in what PAD describe as a “micropolitics of fear” that is directly related to the regulation of the labor market (and the configuration of state-labor-business) and increasing forms of instability and precarization of life that extends over the whole of society as regimes of discipline. The increasing importance, or perhaps overwhelming nature, of the logic of security is such that PAD have argued that it is “the principal form of taking charge of bodies and organizing them around fear, contention, control, and management of unease” (2005). As particular regimes of security, visibility, and exploitation comes together in a particular kind of state-form that at the same time it dismantles the meager bits of itself that served the purpose of maintaining some sort of social safety net, PAD see it as a moment where it is necessary to put forth a logic of care as the counterpoint to the logic of security which has become the hegemonic dispositif of politics in many locations, because, as they argue, “Care, with its ecological logic, opposes the securitary logic reigning in the precaritzed world” (2006: 39).19
This involves four key elements: affective virtuosity, interdependence, transversality, and everydayness (2006: 40-41). These four elements are used to address questions of the sustainability of life, of the ability to continue in the everyday tasks of life, labor, and communication in which we are constantly immersed; in doing that, in particular in attempting finds ways to contest the arrangements that they have been articulated in at the present, organized by a logic of security that is based the generation of fear and negative affects (Sharp 2005), it becomes possible to create cracks in these forms of articulation, and by doing so, focus on the role that forms of care, affects, and relations have in the continual process of social reproduction, to develop “a critique of the current organization of sex, attention, and care and a practice that, starting from those as elements inside a continuum, recombines them in order to produce new more liberatory and cooperative forms of affect” (2006: 41).
PAD have pursued this through two related proposals, arguing for what they have described as “biosyndicalism” and the proposal of a “caring strike.” Biosyndicalism, which as the name itself implies, is a drawing together of life and syndicalist traditions of labor struggle while stripping them of their more economistic elements. This is not to propose that life has “become productive” or that it has “been put to work,” as starting from a feminist analysis of affects, caring labor, and social reproduction makes it quite clear that affects have always been productive, productive of life itself, even forms of life existed for many years that were not enmeshed inn capitalist relations because they did not exist yet. Rather than arguing that it has become productive, it is rather than there are changing compositions of capitalism, modulated as eruptions of social resistance and flight have been reintegrated into the workings of capitalism, that have altered these arrangements in such ways that forms of affective labor and social (re)production occupy a more directly exploited, more central position, in these arrangements. Similarly, it is not that conditions of instability and a precarious existence are a new phenomena (as they have been perhaps more the rule rather than the exception for the vast majority of the history of capitalism), rather that this process of precarization comes to currently encompass a much broader swath of the population than it has in recent times. Biosyndicalism for PAD does not mean that labor struggles are no longer important, far from it, rather it indicates that as processes affecting the composition of labor and social life are in no ways restricted to any clearly definable sphere of “work” that conflicts over them likewise cannot be easily marked in one area or sphere. Rather, it becomes all the more important to learn from these struggles and their successes (as well as their failures) in order to “invent forms of alliance, of organization, and everyday struggle in the passage between labor and non-labor, which is the passage that we inhabit” (2005).
Thus they propose what they call a “caring strike,” a strike carried out at the same time by all those involved in forms of work all along the sex-care-attention continuum, from those involved in domestic labor to sex work, from telecommunications workers to teachers, and so forth. While this in many ways is close to the idea of the general strike so cherished (and fetishized) within the syndicalist tradition, the difference is here a combined strike by those involved in related forms of labor involving the dynamics of care. It is these dynamics, that are increasingly productive and important to the workings of the economy, are those that are the most often invisibilized, stigmatized, looked over, and underappreciated. While campaigns like Wages for Housework were built upon bringing visibility to forms of struggle and care within the home, PAD are for expanding this notion to not only include domestic labor, but the same dynamics and processes involved in such that are spread across the economy, and bring visibility to them, to organized around them, and to consciously withdraw their productivity, that which holds together the whole arrangement. In their words
because the strike is always interruption and visibilization and care is the continuous and invisible line whose interruption would be devastating… the caring strike would be nothing other than the interruption of the order that is ineluctably produced in the moment in which we place the truth of care in the center and politicize it (2006: 42)
This is not that PAD have magically solved all the most pressing questions of revolutionary politics for today. Indeed, there are difficulties contained in what they propose; what about forms of caring labor that are difficult (and perhaps sometimes even impossible) to refuse? For instance, for those involved in critically intense forms of healthcare, of caring for relatives and children, and so forth? The rhetorical weight and power of such a proposition might very well lie in the reality that it is nearly impossible for those engaged in these forms of “affectively necessary labor” (and perhaps more varying forms of socialized labor) to go on strike at all (Spivak 1985: 40). PAD’s proposal of the caring strike and their concept of biosyndicalism do not solve these difficulties per se, but do rather productively reopen these questions in much the same way that campaigns like Wages for Housework opened the question of feminist organizing and class. In this way PAD bring focus back to aspects of gendered labor and feminist organizing in ways that should not be forgotten, and with the proposal of the caring strike take part in an on-going process of bringing visibility to underappreciated aspects of social reproduction (including for this discussion the social reproduction involved in maintaining the lives of communities of resistance) and by doing so raise the question of what it would mean to withdraw them. While there is great potential for social rupture and upheaval to be dérived from the sometimes manic movement of the radical imagination, it is likewise important to never forget the conditions and processes that underlie the possibility of its emergence and continuation.
A Thousand Aeffective Plateaus: Anticapitalism & Schizophrenia
I think Utopia is possible, I see Utopia in humanity. We can reconsider our existence as completely utopian. Bringing a baby of life or simply the act of walking or dancing are examples of utopist action. Utopia should be in our streets. – Anita Liberti (quoted in Kendra and Lauren: 23)
The problem that confronts us today, and which the nearest future is to solve, is how to be one’s self and yet in oneness with others, to deeply feel with all human beings and still retain one’s characteristic qualities. – Emma Goldman (1998: 158)
It’s 3am again… and several months after when I initially began writing this. And I must admit that in some ways things don’t seem a whole lot clearer than when I began. There are still too many things to do (the pile in a different order than several months ago, is about the same height) and I’m still tired. Have things ended up right back where they started, with the circle unbroken, by and by, but with no pie in the sky when I die? Joe Hill already told me that was a lie. And perhaps that is the point after all: that any sort of politics which promises all the glories of heaven / revolution to come some day after one spent all one’s time and effort in devotion / organizing is deeply troubled. And perhaps most trouble in the sense of without the attention to the on-going forms of care, interaction, and relations that constitute a community, and perhaps even more so communities in resistance, it is very unlikely that such community will be able to hold together for very long.
It is in this space that a focus on care, on affective relations, reveals just how important it really is: when it framed as the question of aeffective resistance. For as PAD argue, “Care as passage to the other and to the many, as a point between the personal and the collective” (2005). Aeffective resistance, the creation of new forms of community and collectivity, involves the creation of subjectivities that are produced in the formation of these emerging communities. So it is never possible to clearly differentiate the different between the formation of subjective positions from the formation of collective relations, as they emerge at the same time and through the same process. But by focusing on this process of co-articulation and emergence, not as a means to stated political goals, but as political goals in themselves which are related to a whole host of other emerging communities, concerns, and articulations, the care of self in relation to the community in resistance is clearly understood as a necessary and important.
This is, perhaps not very surprisingly, quite close to arguments that are made and have been made within strains of radical political thought for some time, from arguments about the importance of pre-figurative politics (the refusal to separate the means of organizing from their ends leading to creating forms or organization which prefigure the kind of social arrangements to which struggles are organized) and the more recent emphasis on creating open spaces, networks, and forums (Nunes 2005). The difference here is that one cannot overlook the very real forms of labor, effort, and intensity that are required for the on-going self-constitution of communities of resistance. To do so all too often is the ways in which patterns of behavior that communities in resistance are working to oppose and undermine (sexism, racism, homophobia, heteronormativity, classism, etc) reappear, as people falling back on structures of thought and assumptions that have become normalized through their daily lives in other ways that often get looked over precisely because it assumed that they been dealt with.
Aeffective resistance does not proceed by making a giant leap through which all existing dynamics that one could wish to do away with are magically dispersed forever more. Indeed, if it were possible to radically change all the structures of thought, mental schemas and short cuts, and forms of socialization construct our lifeworlds at once, it would be very difficult to do without approaching that closely approximated insanity. Schizophrenia even. Rather it is, to borrow a phrase from Italian feminist theorist Luisa Muraro, it is about creating “relations of entrustment,” an attention to the composition of relations as a necessary basis for revolutionary politics (Muraro 1991). It is to understand the composition of relations and affections as an important pole for a process of political recomposition, one that underlies and is necessary for such a compositional process. To prevent the radical imagination from ever settling into a notion that politics occurs “over there” or at certain moments, rather than as something that grows out of the very relations and ethical interactions that constitute the fabric of everyday social life.
There are cracks in the structure of the everyday, uprisings, moments of excess, where it is possible to create new forms of relations and sociabilities: moments of excess. But it also very difficult to maintain them for any length of time. Rather, perhaps it might make more sense to wander towards creating a thousand plateaus of aeffective intensities, vibrating locations where forms of energy, community, and intensity can be sustained and build links between other plateaus as they emerge. Thus aeffective resistance is not something that needs to be built from scratch, nor something that only concerns relations within movements themselves. Rather it is a focus on intensifying and deepening both the relations and connections that exist within movements as well as finding ways to politicize connections and relations throughout everyday life. Gestures of kindness and care, random acts of beautiful anticapitalism, exist and support life in many more places than just where black flags are flown and revolutionary statements issues. Aeffective resistance is about working from these intensities of care and connection, of constantly rebuilding the imaginal machines of from them, rather then considering interpersonal and ethical concerns as an adjunct and supplement of radical politics.
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1 E-mail June 4, 2006.
2 This argument is borrowed from, or perhaps inspired by, similar arguments made in the introduction to the 2004
Slingshot Organizer. For more information see http://slingshot.tao.ca.
3 Related currents of thought about affect are also found, oddly enough, in post-Katian German idealism. For more on strain of thought see Redding (1999)
4 Even within activist communities these things frequently end up by default as the tasks taken on by females, although such is rarely stated or acknowledged (or done anything about).
5 See http://www.activist-trauma.net
6 For an exploration of the management of feeling, particularly the repression of negative emotions to maintain social peace, and the gendered dynamics of this, see Erickson and Ritter (2001) Wharton (1999).
7 The category I’m employing here, autonomous feminism, is admittedly a bit clunky. While in this particular piece I’m drawing mainly from currents out thought coming out of the autonomous Marxism of operaismo (unorthodox Italian radical politics coming out of the 60s and 70s), this category is not meant to be a delimiting one. It is definitely not intended to be a historically or geographically closed category. Autonomous feminism can thus be understood as any feminist current focusing on the autonomous capacities of people to create self-determining forms of community without forms of hierarchy of political mediation and direction.
8 The worst offenders in this regard are Antonio Negri and Paolo Virno, who often tend to overlook and not mention any of the work on these issues, except for an occasional passing footnote. There is some irony, which the author is thoroughly enjoying, in noting this in a footnote.
9 See Brenner and Laslett (1991), Balser (1987), Ong (1987), and Raunig (2007: 67-96). Of particular importance is Ong’s argument (1991) that the widening gap between current analytical constructs and workers’ actual experiences is from a limited theoretical grasp of both capitalist operations and workers’ response to them.
10 According to Pitirim Sorokin, “The Russian Revolution was begun by hungry women and children demanding bread and herrings. They started wrecking tramcars and looting a few small shops. Only did they, together with workmen and politicians, become ambitious enough to wreck that mighty edifice of the Russian autocracy” (1950: 3).
11 Particular articulations of power relations through gender and class are obviously enmeshed within dynamics of slavery, colonialism, and imperial conquest, and how their effects continue to live on and shape social relations. In the US, for example, organizing around domestic labor played was very important for African American women still living within a social context shaped by the lingering effects of slavery, particularly in their struggle to clearly define their roles as independent employees (rather than servants of household masters). For more about this relation of race and the organizing of domestic labor, see Rio (2005), Kousha (1994), Palmer (1984), and Van Raaphorst (1988).
12 For information on some of these controversies, as well as useful background information and history see Malos (1980). It is also worth noting that there is some divergence and disagreement about whether the analysis put forth by Mariarosa Dalla Costa, which would be the inspiration for the use of demand for wages for housework, supports this strategy. The main text of The Power of Women and the Subversion of Community seems to imply that this demand would not be a suitable basis for organizing, while the footnotes appended afterwards in subsequent editions printed by the Wages for Housework Campaign, not surprisingly, claim that it is. There also seem to be some contested questions about which parts were jointly and which were. For more information on this apparent lack of sisterhood in struggle, see Sullivan (2005). For a more recent overview and reinterpretation of these issues from multiple theoretical perspectives, see Caffentizis (1999).
13 Anna Ciaperoni makes this argument: “It is insidious to try to re-establish-even through filters from feminist experience-a theoretical value for the agelong confinement of women to domestic activities, though unconstrained, because how many women actually choose housework? In this way one risks erasing ten years of feminist struggle and practice, for the destruction of the ideological basis of female subordination.” (1991: 270).
14 There is a quite large collection of interesting resources, papers, and materials coming out of socialist feminist discussion and debates housed at the archives of the London School of Economic library, which hopefully will be made accessible in some form to those not close enough to London to access them there.
15 For more on the dérive see Debord (1958). Also, see Plant (1992).
16 For more about Precarias a la Deriva’s dialogue with Colectivo Situaciones, see Colectivo Situaciones (2005).
17 For a discussion of this concept see Negri (2004), Corsani (2007), and Osterweil (2007).
18 Precarias a la Deriva’s translators have often used the phrase “securitary logic” to indicate the difference between more onerous forms of security (military, border, etc) and security as a more positive value (sense of personal safety, freedom from assault). While such seems a useful distinction to make, I find “securitary logic” by quite awkward and thus have avoided using it. This does should be taken to be a dismissal of attempts to found a politics based upon other notions of security, such as the True Security action during the protests against the Republican National Convention in 2004 (which tried to put forward a notion of security appropriate to the building of self-determining communities as opposed to a military logic of security). See also Brown (1995).
19 For more on the relation of security, surveillance, and the regulation of bodies, see Ball (2005).