You had me at “posthegemony”

When I first saw OSU’s reading list, the title of Posthegemony caught my attention, not because I am personally ready to eschew the concept of hegemony, but because I’ve been thinking about how it may or may not mesh with the largely Deleuzoguattarian approach I’m taking with my research. For example, one need look no further than my previous post to see a references to Gramsci’s notion of cultural hegemony. Nevertheless, the conclusion to Beasley-Murray’s book provides an argument for why it may be time to move on to new conceptual terrain via three concepts: affect, habitus, and multitude. I spent some time reading Bourdieu a few years ago and had largely shelved him in the flurry of other theorists I’d been reading, but I’m going to use this post to quickly sketch my understanding of how his concept of habitus fits in with affect and multitude.

In Distinction, Bourdieu provides us with an idea of how habitus and other phenomena relate to practice in the form of an equation:

[(habitus)(capital)] + field = practice

And though the equational form of this idea may be off-putting for some, I think it’s helpful acknowledge that what he’s telling us is that our habitus — our tendency or disposition to act in some particular way — cannot freely control our actions, but is affected by the (social, cultural, political, etc.) capital at our disposal, as well as the field in which we are situated. Throughout his work he calls habitus a “structured and structuring structure” and a “cultural unconscious,” among other things, but the main point I want to make is that it is formed not through the imposition of rules, but through interactions. Bourdieu is, after all, someone who said, “I can say that all my thinking started from this point: how can behavior be regulated without being the product of obedience to rules?”* Or, as Beasley-Murray would say, habit is not constructed through contract, but rather through contact.

With this in mind, Beasley-Murray’s assertion that habitus is one route by which constituent power can be reasserted is indeed a powerful one: if hegemonic constituted power seeks to discipline and order practice through rules — wait for the walk signal to cross, post no bills, no skateboarding in the plaza — then transgression not only flouts those rules, but operates in a cultural realm that seems to exist in parallel. It’s like walking on the Upper West Side, where nobody waits for the signal to cross: you step out into the street and look for cars and then you cross the street (c’mon, everybody’s doin’ it!). And perhaps it’s just me, but after living in Seattle where people stand on corners, in the rain, waiting for the signal to change, I truly find joy in this practice. This is, of course, a simple example but is nevertheless such positive affective modulations — love, joy, etc. — that Hardt and Negri are suggesting to be the connective tissue of the multitude, and I’m thankful to Beasley-Murray for pointing out how the realm of habit meshes nicely.**

* cited in David Swartz’s Culture and Power, 95.

** I’m also thankful that he posted the conclusion to his book for us to read!

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multitudinous

I almost posted a thought for the last reading, Multitude. I decided to refrain for a couple reasons…. One reason being that I never finished the reading… But I wasn’t compelled to finish it, either. But reading Beasley-Murray’s conclusion (or, secondary elaborations, as Jameson calls his lengthy conclusion), it still feels relevant.  The crux of the almost-post focused on ‘spirit of engagement’, and how I feel wholly dissatisfied by H & N’s narrative style. I can’t say I disagree, necessarily, with their articulation of Empire, or Multitude, but I can say I don’t respond to their ‘attitude’, for lack of a better word….

When I read Deleuze- or Deleuze and Guattari- it brings me joy. The way in which they work through ideas I find inspiring, and their characteristic ‘movement’ between poles of a concept is infinitely helpful as a strategy for understanding something in its complexity, to the best of one’s ability. I feel strongly about classic dialectical strategies and I loathe binaries. Both feel artificially constructed and what results, I think, is an often thin articulation of two opposing points of view, in order to advance the third position. Even if that third position feels ‘right’, the process of getting there leaves much to be desired, at least for me. And when a particular position is advanced, like Empire or Multitude, as concepts, the way in which H & N articulate the pervasiveness of the concepts, the inevitability or teleology of the narrative, I end up feeling like I don’t really have a lot of room to ‘move’. They have (or, really, ‘one has’, as this is less about H & N, per se, than a stylistic tendency) constructed a particular narrative in which they forcefully advance a particular position. I feel hemmed in, and I find myself wanting to ‘pick a fight’ and offer as many points that contradict the narrative. I find myself wanting some concrete specificity for what feels like generalizations… (and it also stands as a consistent reminder to be ‘mindful’ with my own work.)

I’m not really sure what that is about, feeling like I have no room to move; feeling crabby about it. But as one who often reads against the grain, the style of thinking becomes really important for me, as I often take concepts or strategies and attempt make them my own. Or at the very least, it stands as a positive example of how I imagine myself to write, or rather, my aspiration to write as such. So, H & N make me crabby. D & G, they make me happy.

The piece by Beasley-Murray made me happy. He takes the concept of the multitude and gives it the space and attention that I often feel is missing with H & N. His careful comparison/explication of a number of concepts, like contract, contact, common, corruption, his overarching concept of ambivalence, etc., all nicely unpack the concepts in relation to H & N’s project. It feels carefully considered, while not feeling overly ‘safe’. This process does a couple of things- through ambivalence, it becomes more clear that there are/can be negative manifestations of the multitude, it highlights the ‘characteristics’ of multitude and empire, showing how similar they are in some ways, which ultimately points to the slipperiness of language and how constructing a concept and assigning it a name should be done carefully.

With D & G, they insist on the same kind of ambivalence of a concept, or what my earlier post on language called ‘neutral’; there are good assemblages and bad assemblages, productive lines of flight and suicidal ones; the concept in and of itself is but one thing. How it is manifested or actualized is wholly contingent. H & N recapture the ‘multitude’ and dress it as positive and productive, one that fits into their overall theory nicely. But this fixing of a definition stands in contrast to the spirit of D & G’s engagement. Considering the subjective nature of ethics, the role of encounter, what is considered to be held in ‘common’ in the multitude, etc., Beasley-Murray convincingly, through his careful articulations/engagement with H & N’s work, reinvests their work with the ambivalence that feels extremely important and necessary.

Notes on multitude and the city

I wrote my post on the Harvey and Holland readings with pages 105-115 of Multitude in mind, though it had been over a year since my first and only reading. I’m going to use this as an opportunity to point out some of the reasons I find it so powerful, especially with respect to thinking about cities.

H&N’s “initial approach is to conceive of the multitude as all those who work under the rule of capital and thus potentially as the class of those who refuse the rule of capital” (106). As they point out, this conception of a potential revolutionary class is inclusive — an “equal opportunity of resistance” (107). Perhaps I’m overly excited about the this idea, but the fact that it opens up the potential for revolutionary action to knowledge workers, service workers, and the unemployed, is the only way that I can be viscerally drawn to contemporary organization around Marxist principles.

Relating this back to the city: I’ve never known a city based on industrial production. As I confessed a few years ago in an urban theory class, the only “big city” I’ve ever known has been a postindustrial one. Engels’s Manchester or the Chicago represented by Sinclair or Bellow are now etched in my understanding of the past, but to see an actual factory in a city that also has skyscrapers still deterritorializes me. So to conceive of an urban revolution based on an industrial base has always been nonsensical to me, while one based on all work that is beholden to capital is clear. To think of a city crippled by striking transit operators — as Negri discusses in Goodbye Mr. Socialism (33-36) — is to think of contemporary revolutionary power.

Second, I think that H&N make a very important point about the centrality of immaterial labor when they assert that “in any economic system there are numerous different forms of labor that exist side by side, but there is always one figure of labor that exerts hegemony over the others” (107). They are not displacing material labor, but instead thinking more along the lines of what Gramsci calls “cultural hegemony”: it’s the culture of immaterial labor that is penetrating and reorienting work and social life. Or, as H&N put it, “today labor and society have to informationalize, become intelligent, become communicative, become affective” (109).

As someone who studies the “urban revitalization” projects, this overlap of culture and the economy is of paramount importance. For example, in the classic literature on gentrification, there is a sharp divide between explanations based on cultural phenomena (the influx of artists, hipsters, et al into devalorized areas, which then become cool and a target for new development) and economic phenomena (the devalorization and revalorization processes operating only as capital flows target areas for maximum profit). But H&N are largely eschewing these types of categorical divisions and asking us to think about the biopolitical, in which “the traditional distinctions between the economic, the political, the social, and the cultural become increasingly blurred” (109). The project I am studying is indeed a collision of all these realms, and though economics are the driver of urbanization, it would be naive to try and think about it without the political, social, and cultural conditions that both make it possible and keep it from proceeding in a profit-maximizing way.