Presenting at NeMLA (Boston) February 27, 2009

I will be presenting a paper titled “Hive minds: value, commons, imagination” at the North East Modern Languages Association (NeMLA) in Boston on Friday, February 27 at 8:30am.  Here is the abstract for the paper:

Hive minds:  value, commons, imagination

 A new radical conceptualization of the possibility of commons towards a new commonism must begin by theorizing what we value in common.  While the theoretical corpus concerning the commons is growing, less attention has been paid to notions of value, largely due to the term’s connection to a dubious legacy of Marxist scientism infatuated with the white, male industrial worker as the subject of history.  My paper seeks to link a rejuvenated theory of value to a more rigorous conceptualization imagination as part of the groundwork for meditating on the politics of the commons. 

Drawing on the work of David Graeber and Massimo DeAngelis, I argue that value and imagination are intimately linked as part and parcel of cooperative human activity (biopolitical production in the language of Hardt and Negri) in its specifically future-oriented aspect.  Imagination vivifies living labour, the lifeblood of social cooperation that both creates and is created by value.  Capital is a logic whereby this circuit is intervened in and shaped in the interests of accumulation and this dynamic takes on an especially important and grim aspect in a moment of financialization.  Where wealth proliferates from the vertiginous imaginatory acrobatics of high finance, where interventions into life itself are mined in imagination bunkers formerly known as universities, where more and more strata of social existence and subjectivity are opened to the market with the proliferation of  “smart” commodities, and where “creative” work has become a key ideological if not economic mover of the new economy, the articulation of imagination and value has never been more acute.

The mobilization of the imagination of shared value inherent to creating or sustaining commons is rendered extremely difficult and always contingent and temporary within a moment of accumulation (financialization) designed to colonize non-capitalist expressions of value and channel modalities of imagination towards desired ends. Such a framing of the issues can, I argue, help us theorize the ebb and flow of resistance and appropriation noted by numerous scholars without succumbing to pessimistic paralysis.

            In order to ground my analysis, I take up the work of the Beehive Collective: an amorphous group of artists and public educators who, beginning with community consultations, collaborate on creating massive murals telling stories of the ways in which people’s movements around the world are resisting and building autonomy against corporate-led globalization.  Their uniquely rendered murals (bursting with symbolism, with the “’we’ to come” represented as insects, lacking yet somehow haunted by classic Western aesthetics of depth and focus) are then used as radical educational tools around the world. Eschewing both the socioeconomic location of professional artists as well as the ambivalent ghetto of the avant-garde, the Beehive Collective has become, I argue, a unique articulation of common values and common imagination between struggles across and beyond North America and an echo of a nascent commonism from which we have a great deal to learn.

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