Saturday, March 28, 2009

Collective identity, contemporary & 'postmodern' anarchism, and neo-Situationism

I feel that I should put up this post now, as it will concern issues that have arisen as central to my discussion as it will appear in my presentation Monday. Essentially, it concerns my interest in describing the possibility of a 'collective identity' as constructed in the online anarchist presentations of the Greek uprisings - which necessarily entails both the on- and off-line constitution of shared ideas or orientations (perhaps a 'political culture') among contemporary anarchists. Taking 'collective identity' in the sense of Alberto Melucci (1989, 1996), conceptualised as forming part of the connection between individual subjectivities and collective action, manifested as a process by which social movement constituents come to exert some aggregate force - and which may emerge through forms of communicative or direct interaction, generating cognitive definitions (and eliciting emotional responses) related to social movement-linked interpretations and goals, potential ends and means, and conceptualizations of 'social movement' contexts - I need a broad frame of commonality...but , perhaps unsurprisingly, what is really of interest in my observations is what is different moreso than what is common. Of course, within the task of describing what is interesting about the axes of difference it is necessary to focus on particular themes or oppositions (in reality, often manifested as tensions between analytically distinguished poles that establish the axes of difference with which I wish to concern myself).

In order to describe difference among what I wish to conceptualize as an analytically cogent 'group', I need a broad basis for 'collective identity'; in my reading, I feel that I've found a serviceably broad base in Uri Gordon's (2007, 2008) conceptualization of the 'political culture' of contemporary anarchism - which constitutes a 'field' of 'collective identity' in very general terms, and which I can proceed to cut up according to my observations and interests.

Gordon (2007:29), who wrote an excellent piece for Ha'aretz on the Greek situation in January, suggests that contemporary anarchism is marked by three “conceptual clusters”:

(a) the construction of the concept of ‘domination’ and the active opposition to all its forms and systems,

(b) the ethos of direct action as a primary mode of political engagement, both destructive and constructive, and

(c) the open-ended, experimental approach to revolutionary visions and strategies, which endorses epistemological pluralism and is strongly grounded in present tense action.

The key concept of ‘domination’ for Gordon is best described as “a disvalue: what anarchists want to negate. The word in its anarchist decontestation serves as a generic concept for the various systematic features of society whereby groups and persons are controlled, coerced, exploited, humiliated, discriminated against, etc.—all of which dynamics anarchists seek to uncover, challenge and erode” (ibid:37-38).

Contemporary anarchism, by Gordon’s account, is a relatively new coalescence of previously distinct struggles, a development that he traces back to the New Left of the 1960s, but the full ‘fusion’ of which he dates to the late 1990s and the advent of the global movements against neoliberal globalization. Contemporary anarchism, in this conception, amounts to a ‘political culture’ corresponding to forms of organization and ideological orientation identified with the ‘keywords’ “anarchism, anti-authoritarianism and horizontalism” (ibid:32).

This obviously does not cover all bases (actually, I think it might obscure a bit the opposite pole to the one I am about to describe, a more traditional, modernist, class-struggle aspect of anarchism that rest in realism, the pseudo-scientific problem of decoding the meaning of given sets of conditions, etc.), but serves as a decent launch-pad, in its high generality, for a tracing of the axes of difference that jump out at me in what I've been looking at. The commonalities of much of the 'anarchist' content seem to fit well with this definition, and many of the interesting divergences and debates seem to hit on questions of how to deal with problems that can - at their most general - be framed in this kind of vision.

One of the particular axes of difference jumping out at me, and the concern of this blog post, is the notion that a number of sources (see, for example, the my post on the text reproduced on the On the Greek Riots blog regarding the recent occupation adjacent to the Athens Polytechnic, or some of the material translated in the Tapes Gone Loose blog prior to its passing) seem to exhibit an affinity for poetic language, an artistic bent, and a loose idiom which seeks to link all 'domination' and struggle while maintaining a creative and provisional flavor that seems bent on fighting on a plane very concerned with representation - that challenges the language of the quotidian, and which really emphasizes the aspect of the 'experimental approach' and 'epistemological pluralism' Gordon points to.

It seems to me - and this actually emerged in the data forcing me to account for recurring themes - that there really is a strong tendency consonant with what Lewis Call (2003) calls 'Postmodern Anarchism' ( also the title of the book). This vision of anarchism takes up Baudrillard's notion that Marxism "may be radical in its content, but certainly not in it's form, which retains the language of bourgeois political economy almost in its entirety" (6-7). The idea here is that the PoMo critique of PolEcon "must stand entirely outside that seemingly hegemonic system" (8). Calls 'postmodern anarchism' calls out a critique of the sign a la Baudrillard, and weaves it with the common threads of certain contemporary feminisms, socialisms, subaltern theories, and - of course - anarchisms, that seek to reverse the flows and configurations of the micropower-based social reproduction mechanisms of the larger and more apparent structures of formal power (and the undercurrents associated with them). Call evokes an 'anarchy of the subject' and and 'anarchy of becoming', in terms of self-overcoming as perpetual project, and suggests a more capillary offensive against 'power' (as domination).

Interestingly, a major field here is the 'net - as simultaneously hyper-commodified and site to "the most outrageous revolutionary declarations" (14). What is big here is a revolution in signification, in semiotics - the kind of decentered and perpetual subversive attempts one might link to May 1968 in France via the influence of the Situationist International. To again cite Baudrillard: "even signs must burn" (23).

"Today simulation has become a massive social and cultural fact; it is therefore in the realm of simulation that any meaningful political action must take place" (ibid.). This takes the form of a "powerfully anachistic neo-Situationist politics" (ibid.) - which I will try to demostrate as an effective characteriztion of an important pole to be described in the axes of difference which cut across the field of contemporary anarchism described by observation of the presentation of the Greek scenario in anarchis/radical-left online contexts...but that's for next post. I will mention, however, that I have noticed a lot of talk of 'spectacle' a la Guy Debord in some of the revolution-speak reproduced from Greece online. Now I have to read Society of the Spectacle!

In terms of theoretical backcup on this point, Richard JF Day ('Setting up shop in nullity: neo-situationism and the new protest aesthetic', 2007) similarly highlights the neo-Situationist aspect of much contemporary anarchist - and other radical-left - protest, and connects it with the notion of a resistance which refuses to petition 'power' (government, the formal political structures of authority) or simply try to topple existing structures and take the reins - but rather seeks to work around, outside of, and in the interstices of formal power operations and to refigure the subjective aspects of micropowers and thus subvert their 'objective' manifestations...Graham St-John backs 'em up, focusing on the 'carnivalesque', etc...

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