Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Hardt & Negri 3 (week 9)


  1. The main strength of H & N is to show how it is resistances and struggles that come first. The idea of governance without government is frequently debated in my field of public administration. Governance typically refers to a shift from top-down command and control structure in which the state plays the major role of making policy and implementing it, to a horizontal network structure to make and implement policy in which the state plays a less dominant role. Many argument in the 90s and early 00s argued that the state had become ‘hollowed out’ as a result of this shift.
    By placing less emphasis on hierarchy and attempting to include more plurality in the process of decision making and implementation, governance—especially in networked form—is easy to get excited about. My own excitement of the concept of network governance was tempered as it become clear that capital has benefitted greatly from it. Does this mean that network governance is bound to always favor capital? I’ve gone back and forth on this, but an interesting story might appear if the starting point is resistances and struggles. The practice of top-down ‘government’ and bureaucracy was being criticized by both the left and the right. The left was more concerned with the lack of participation that bureaucratic structures allowed the citizenry. In the mid-20th century, the federal government started to require ‘participation’ in order to get funds. Long-story made extremely short, we can see the emergence of network governance as a demand for more participation in decision making, and even in the implementation of policy.
    Now, despite the rhetoric of plurality and horizontal coordination, network governance still appears to be hierarchical. For one, the expansion of governance to include more people often means including ‘experts’. Second, in theory and in practice, the concern appears to be over the ‘accountability’ of governance. Accountability in these debates always refers to not being able to have one person, or one group, to hold responsible for decision making. For instance, Kjaer (2004) says, “networks may be efficient in conceiving new policy ideas and realizing them, but they may also impede a democratic process. The democratic problem is that networks usually only serve some interests, and not the aggregated interest: the common will.” (55). Many aspects of the is interesting in light of H & N. There is the admission that networks, and we could say, biopolitical production, is great at producing new ideas. But the problem is that not everyone is involved in the process, and the only imaginable solution is to resort to the need for a representative to be held accountable. Kjaer actually goes on to mention that the local representatives feel left out of network governance. The theory of governance almost always goes back to the need for an elected official to be involved, because they are the only ones who can properly represent ‘the people’ in an accountable way.
    If we travel further down the hierarchy of network governance, we find that the implementation is often done by social workers who are now under strict auditing controls that severely limit certain forms of discretion. Keeping with the resistance theme, these strict auditing practices where put in place, in part, because the many social workers were playing a more activist roles on behalf of ‘clients’ rather than the role of a neutral implement of policy no matter how unjust it is. Overall, there seems to be an argument to support the idea that network governance, as a form, is not inherently in favor of capital. Rather, the content over the last 30-40 years has been co-opted in favor of ‘experts’ who know the best practices, those who know the best way to set up an environment conducive to capital investment, and/or co-opted by the continuing need to reproduce the identity of ‘the people’.

  2. Hardt and Negri’s treatment of slavery in Commonwealth drew my attention. What sticks out to me most is that their mentions of slavery seem strategically confined to certain types and spheres of slavery. They speak in terms of slave property (12), modern slavery (77, 362), ancient slavery (366), or wage slavery (87). No where is there a mention of contemporary slavery. We are left to wonder whether the multitude is intended to be perceived as contemporary slaves to capital. Equating the multitude with slavery is something I don’t believe Hardt and Negri ultimately intend, as this would raise numerous problematic implications. They do, however, explicitly link biopolitical resistance directly to slave resistance. “Like the slaves who collectively escape the chains of slavery to construct self-governing communities and quilombos, biopolitical labor-power subtracting from its relation to capital must discover and construct new social relationships, new forms of life that allow it to actualize its productive powers” (152). The resistance of the multitude seems to be structured like the resistance of slaves. What stood out to me is that even at the seemingly most opportune time to bring up contemporary slavery, Hardt and Negri fail to. Speaking of the feminization of biopolitical labor, they speak of “jobs traditionally designated for women . . . sex work . . . Third-World women as an appropriate cheap labor force [emphasis added]” (135). They address the racialization of slavery at length, but not the genderization of slavery. The closest we get is an acknowledgement of the genderization of property (326). It almost seems as though contemporary slavery poses a threat to Hardt and Negri’s theory, and as such is dealt with in a similar fashion to “republican and capitalist ideological operations [which] seek to make slaves disappear, or cast them as mere remnants of premodern economic relations” (72). I am not certain about how contemporary slavery could pose a threat to their theory of resistance, but its exclusion from the discourse does not seem coincidental. My best guess is that contemporary slavery does not fit the mold of the slavery which Hardt and Negri wish to model resistance off of. They continually refer to slave revolts, in particular the Haitian revolt, but seem to overlook the fact that, in general, in white European societies, slave freedom ultimately resulted from a top-down process rather than a bottom-up resistance. Of course, these top-down processes were certainly influenced by bottom-up resistances, but it was finally white legislators in England and America that abolished modern racialized slavery. This kind of framing of modern slavery tends to go against Hardt and Negri’s desire for revolution to be a purely bottom-up process. Correspondingly, successful contemporary slave revolts are extremely unreported on in the media, if existent. The prospects of locating the radical bottom-up resistance Hardt and Negri need in contemporary slavery seems dismal.

  3. Another religiously-themed post from me. I'm interested in the implications of Hardt & Negri's discussion of bodies and events for Christian fundamentalism. In a section we weren't assigned to read, Hardt & Negri discuss religious fundamentalism as holding a contradictory double-relation to the body. On the one hand, in religious fundamentalism, the bodies is made incredibly important. They rigorously stipulate what is allowed to go into the body, what is allowed to come out of it, how one is to clothe it. In Christian fundamentalism, there is even a constant awareness of the (hazardous) embodied nature of moral decision-making: "I do what I don't want to do, and I don't do what I want to. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." However, the double relation emerges in the fact that, while exalting the body as of utmost importance, fundamentalism also negates the body by ascribing transcendent spiritual significance to what passes through or is enacted by the body. Fundamentalism then claims that only this spiritual condition or consummation is what matters. H&N claim that biopolitics is the antidote to fundamentalism, "because it refuses the imposition of a transcendent, spiritual value or structure, refuses to let the bodies be eclipsed, and insists instead on their power" (38).

    I think it's interesting to consider the relation of biopolitics and Christian fundamentalism in relation to the event. H&N side with Foucault over Badiou in saying that, in biopolitics, the event is produced by the forward-looking movement of the multitude, rather than in a backward-looking judgment which ascribes meaning to an event and goes on act out that meaning in the present. I'm curious to consider the apocalypticism inherent in much of Christian fundamentalism here. In some ways, apocalyptic fundamentalists exist in a paradoxical location between these two ways of understanding the event. On the one hand, they live under the discipline of the meaning which their community has ascribed to the events of the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. The insidiousness of this backward-looking disciplinary ascription of meaning has also gone on to produce the rigid morality regarding the use of one's body. On the other hand, there is also the forward-looking messianic expectation of the coming event of apocalypse/Armageddon/Second Coming. While for many this event is expected passively, there are certain sects of Christian fundamentalism that believe they are producing the possibility of this even through their action--through the spiritual significance of their prayers, worship, charity, support for Israel, meddling in electoral politics, etc.

    What Christian fundamentalism fundamentally lacks, however, is this "believing in the world" which H&N cite from Deleuze. For them, what happens in the political space of the world and, more intimately, what happens at the level of the individual body has its only significance in the coming world, the post-apocalyptic New Jerusalem. Although, this is complicated by those--still conservative, and even more orthodox--Christians who look forward not to an apocalyptic annihilation and replacement of the world but rather to a general resurrection of all bodies and the instatement of a new political, theocratic kingdom on this earth--the Kingdom of Heaven, the coming community. This actually implies the biopolitical production of a new subjectivity--a reborn people--and a new relation to the earth. However, it expects this to happen by divine intervention from outside the world, thus negating the ultimate potential for a purely immanent production of a redemptive new society.

  4. This post comes out of my question for this week's reading. I was having difficulties understanding H&N's section on biopolitics as an event. I think the difficulty I have is understanding how exactly seeing biopolitics (as opposed to biopower) as an event (not-object, not-fact, not-property, and not-time) gets the reader to where they want.

    I understand the chapter's project is to primarily delineate biopolitics from biopower. In that biopower's produces subjects and that biopolitics is alternative production. They're telling the story in a way that gets the reader to appreciate Foucault and the biopolitical project as one about resistance before control. Biopolitics is reclaimed so the reader may see power as “the recalcitrance of the will and the transigence of freedom” (59). From this moment, H&N transition into illustrating exactly how Biopolitics might really be an event or tightly woven fabric of events.

    The reader is then told how biopolitics might be an event precisely because it is a disruptive alternative to the normative system. We might have a historical system (time) that allows us to describe certain actualities, but the biopolitical event will always be in and around that system as a sort of doubling of time. We are always aware of some alternative history that disrupts our normative sense of time. H&N’s end game, I think, is to show that this alterity of history affords localized productions of freedom. They hope to recast Foucalt and biopolitics as a project that “emphasizes the production and productivity of the event, which requires a forward- rather than backward-looking gaze” (60). A speculative form of biopolitics. Which is great, but I think I’m still not sure how this speculative form necessarily or eventually gets us to the commons.

  5. I am trying very hard to not be skeptical of Hardt and Negri, but I’m not doing too well. My major concern with H & N’s concept of the multitude is one that they supposedly address - that is, like Virno, I do not see how the multitude can be framed as inherently a liberatory concept. I agree with Virno that “any discussion of the positive political capacities of the multitude be accompanied by a sober look at the negative” (167). Although H&N attempt to address this issue, I’m not sure they do it quite well; they claim that the multitude is a departure from the corrupt deviations of the commons (family, nation state, the corporation) but I’m not sure exactly how they can make that claim consistently. How does the multitude guard itself against corruption? This all being said – I’m still not sure what is meant by the focus on the “making of the multitude” rather than the multitude as being – how exactly do these differ in the grander sense. If we’re consistently in the process of making the multitude then is there an endgame to the multitude? I get the feeling I’m supposed to give up this skepticism and enjoy the journey rather than look forward to the destination. My suspicions are only bolstered by chapter in which H&N claim the powers of love as a philosophical and political concept (one, I admit, I have always bristled at). H&N write that “love is a process of the production of the common and the production of subjectivity” (180). But love, too, can be corrupted – nationalism, extremism, and so on. So then, I return back to my primary question of how does the multitude maintain a liberatory position and withstand corruption?

    Maybe it’s because I’m coming off seeing a panel on religious extremism in abortion but it seems to me that groups like the Army of God which have no real leader or political position but instead act as singularities with a common goal (of ending abortion) function like the multitude; and, in some ways, are liberatory movements – depending on who you see as the system. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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    1. Here's a response with more words in it, though it is, for the most part, boring and whiny:

      I started thinking about university classrooms toward the end of reading this book, specifically about classrooms that “teach” the Humanities, and maybe more specifically literature courses. In my career as a student, I’ve found that it’s a rare occurrence that a professor can create a space for an idea that wasn’t their own to flourish into affirmative discussion. The classroom is littered with hierarchies, from the books assigned, to the type of assignments and topics that students are obligated to write on, to the professor’s preconceived convictions that steer the class (and are also attached to their ability to maintain their employment). This is not a new observation, but, with H&N’s emphasis on affirming singularities and the ultimate goal of achieving the freedom to make oneself over and over, have English departments become outdated institutions in their current form? Even within grad classes, I don’t believe that students feel the freedom to explore their own thoughts in a meaningful way, especially when their own salaries are tied partly to their academic performance.

      How could the classroom be reconceptualized in order to develop burgeoning voices instead of to conforming them to the genealogy of thought most departments are beholden to? Should a professor’s role be that of a conscientious observer, putting the responsibility of becoming wholly on the students? Should the syllabus be created in cooperation with the students?

      There is definitely already a shift toward some of these things in academia, but they don’t seem to apply to the more traditional and entrenched areas of study. Unfortunately, it isn’t hard to imagine why people scoff at a degree in the humanities. Most undergrad students don’t necessarily graduate with an empowered sense of self. They seem exhausted from years of trying to imbibe and conform to a certain kind of thought. Or maybe they are frustrated that their original voice and insights always had to be expressed in a language and through a form not natural or conducive to their being. Perhaps the humanities will flourish again when the classroom is reconceived as a space of becoming, when it is recognized or admitted that most enduring literature that is now treated not so different from a textbook almost always started as the author’s attempt to express themself, consequences be damned.

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    3. It seems that the fundamental divide here is a problimatization of the multitude’s political capabilities without exploring its ontological preconditions.

      It seems that if we take the claim that ‘the multitude is a class concept’ seriously we can make some progress. It seems that class functions in two registers first economically and secondly logically. The ‘common’ is both a question of those resources (material) that we share in common but also—and more importantly—the mode and means of producing subjectivity held in common (language). As is noted in empire and affirmed in common wealth, the material constitution and the formal constitution cannot be separated and the material constitution is primary.

      Happily, the production of capitalism today is becoming/is bio-political where the product is the relation (the mode of relaitonaity) itself. Thus, ontologically, the multitude (well, all of us trapped within bio-political capital) has the capacity to re-form the very mode of its relationality. Through an exodus from capital (an exodus from the structure of rent that appropriates the externality of biopolitical production) the productive potential of the multitude can be unleashed. In forming the common modes of relationality, the multitude has the capacity to through off the shackles of (1) the individual and (2) the people, which will allow persons to exist as a set of singularizes bound by love in the common.

      The corruption, then, is both ontological (people, state, individuals) which leads to the economic (exploitation, slavery, ect.). If the multitude can realize its ontological condition as singulars and not individuals (which requires an exodus—refusal +affirmation) bound in a multitude and not a people, then the very horizon of possibility changes, which opens the space for a common (ontologically and economy) to exist beyond the corruption of capital in an altermodernity.

      Thus, the making of the multitude is an emphasis on the perpetual becoming of the multitude in the mixture and movement of the plural singularities in the new configurations and production of subjectivity and wealth in common. To say the multitude ‘is’ reduces it to a stable entity which chains it some fixed form that limits its productive capacities. The multitude’s being is its making, its perpetual becoming.

      Here, love appears a new. Love cannot (if it is occurring between singularities in perpetual becoming) be corrupted, for the becoming occurs (1) within each singularity and (2) between the singularities as they form into communities. The examples cited identify the corruption of love under the egis of the people or the as individuals. With the ontological shift working with the material shift, love assumes a different form, drawing a different kind of entity into a new form of community (dare I say, a ‘coming community’).

      Here, it seems that Army of God is a community of individuals. Without embracing the plane of immanent, they are trapped in the transcendental realm of the divine, which creates the conditions of their relationality with (1) themselves and (2) others.

      The multitude, rather, requires a different becoming being, a new form of life, to form. Thus, the muted creates the conditions for a new form of truth to emerge through the interplay of both class concepts. And, here, we intersect with David’s post.

      To open the space for a the Humanities on the edge is to reconfigure the ontology of the student and teacher so that they enter into a dynamic relation. If the student and professor become singualities bound through an immanent obligation of love around whatever text, then we can begin producing the forms of subjective that radicalize education through forging a new vision of ‘true’ self and ‘true’ knowledge emanating from the ontic conditions established by the common (in both and mingling senses).

      The multitude opens a new horizon of possibility through the double movement of the common.