Fifteen Ironies of Research work and Militancy

Fifteen Ironies of Research work and Militancy

Who is the object? Who is the subject?

Many of us have been trying to escape from the objectivist basis of mainstream scientific research. We have encountered allies in some literatures going from feminist epistemology to critical ethnography ( and possibly actor network theory) to more extra-academic traditions such as militant research.

But somehow there is always an institutional and social expectation that a researcher is the subject of knowledge, the one who looks for data, who ask questions; and the rest of mortals are objects, passive and spatially circumscribed, limited to answering queries coming from nowhere in order to justify researchers’ hypothesis.

In dealing with some social movements though, this standard notion of research can get turned upside down. We would like to offer a brief recollection of our fieldwork experience in Spain thus far. We have been funded to do research on the current changes in the European Union and responses by civil society, specifically focusing on cartographic and research initiatives undertaken by social movements. As PhD students we are supposed to arrive to a far-away place –the more exotic the better- and start a one-year search for data; however, what happens when the research comes to you? Here are some instances where the subject/object simplification gets ridiculed and substituted by a more fractal experience of multiple roles taken by both parties and its consequent richer relationship and research work.

Irony n.1: The object is the one who poses the questions

Irony n.2: The object invites you to speak at their conferences

Irony n.3: The researched explains Deleuze, Negri and other social theorists to the researchers

Irony 4: The object asks you to edit their work; work that will become primary research material for the researcher

Irony 5: The object asks you to translate material you will need for your research into English, and pays you for it!

Irony 6:The object/researched asks you to write about your research trips and pays you for it

Irony 7: The researched organized a conference where the speakers are many of the authors you had/have to read for your doctoral degree

Irony 8: The researched ask you to write about your organizing work and publish it.

Irony 9: The researched translate the researcher’s work and publish it.

Irony 10: The researched contact and converse with the researcher after having read the researcher’s work, work that the researcher had been paid to write by other researched

Irony 11: The object corrects the subject

Irony 12: The researched uses the reseacher’s material to teach in their class

Irony 13: The researched thanks the researchers for quoting them

Irony 14: The researched comes and lectures at the researcher’s university with the researhcer’s PhD supervisor in the audience and has dinner at a PhD committee member’s house

Irony 15: The objects offer the possibility to join a research project of their own. The researched asks the researcher to do research with them.

We proceed with our investigation by embracing these ironic instances where assumed notions ascribed to the figure of the researcher were reversed (the one that ask the questions, organizes and attends conferences, that publishes, that reads big books, etc.). We are sure that many of these instances are not unique to our fieldwork experience, but are often ignored as legitimate research experiences (especially in writings and publications) in order to follow the expected standard procedures. By writing these notes, we don’t want to call attention to the exceptionality of this research, but to give importance to these growing moments in the practice of research as epistemological fractures from which to re-invent modes of inquiry attuned to current conditions and political commitments. Could these moments be points upon which to construct networks of political affinity?

After all, what are we to do? Should we force the “subjects” into a regular research paradigm and assume we share little or nothing with “them”? Should we tell “them” not to pay “us”; not to correct “us”? What if the supposed to be objects accept a more “traditional” framework for discussion (rigid formal interview-questionnaire), would that lead to better research results due to its form? How would those results be better if they lead to more enmity with the researched and a lack of access for the researcher? Should we even be thinking in terms of “us” and “them”? So after this experience couldn’t we conclude that we’re all subjects and objects to some extent? Or should we even think of ourselves as singular nodes relating to each other in a broader network of affinities?

Genealogies of recent autonomous movements in Spain just prior to the emergence of global movements:

Talking to one of the vets of these autonomous movements in Iberia, during our visit to Terrassa and Ateneu Candela. Through a great conversation late at night about his personal itineraries, we learned lot.

The end of the Transition: During the transition period there was a strong radical Left. Many of the organizations of that period continue on well into the 80’s and early 90’s (a few still exist though heavily transformed or reduced in number). Two principal organizations fuse some time in the mid-80’s. This and other like organizations immerse themselves in social movements struggles- they aren’t really electoral structures though may be organized as a rad left party. It was in particular at the end of the 80’s that Herreros puts the transformation. The non-submission/antimilitary movement was going on (draft dodging, direct action, etc) and university struggles were still quite strong.   Due to some failures in achieving a victory or some other sort of analysis, many of the leaders of Liberacion make the decision basically abandon a lot of the more streety movement stuff and integrate as part of Izquierda Unida (United Left party- the main leftist party in the Spanish state- which it should be mentioned interestingly was born originally as way to give voice to and strengthen forms of popular struggle [at least some saw it that way], in particular it was born after the powerful anti-NATO movement that organized across the country. IU incorporated the PCE [Spanish Communist Party].

Many of the younger militants at that time disagree with the strategy of abandoning the street. They think there is something innovative and potent going on in the movements afoot at the time- and continue to struggle with these.  Another Transition (for movements): mobilizations occur around the Olympics in Barcelona- not huge but some networks are formed.  In a book by Ramon Fernandez Duran called something like “Nuevo Desorden Mundial” (New World Disorder) comes out that talks about things like networked struggle, new technologies, global economy, etc.- a huge eye-opener for young militants in Barcelona (and the country it seems).  It should be mentioned that Duran seems to be something of a key intellectual of social movements in the country- his stuff circulates well and has been read by many militants there- it’s kind of hard to miss his stuff.  Right around that time, as unemployment is thrashing the society (20% overall during those years). Platforms and networks of the unemployed are forming all over- some of which will become one of the first non-party or union based European militant networks- the Marches of the Unemployed. A march is launched from Valencia to Madrid of unemployed and other movements in solidarity (this may have coincided with an EC/EU summit in Madrid). During that march, the Barcelona folks come into contact with people from Valencia and Madrid, who had founded some of the first recent squatted social centers.  Squats had existed previously but those two (Madrid and Valencia) were some of the first in recent memory to have the explicit goal of being a social center. Upon returning from these mobilizations- the Barcelona group says we got to get our act together! The plans for squatting a social center get under way and soon they got one- though then the problem is eviction. Around the same time as this, and only a year or so after the book of Duran and the rest-, emerges the Zapatista rebellion.  Very quickly the Collectiu en Solidaritat amb la Revolucio Zapatista forms in Barcelona- and this collective picks up on the innovativeness of the revolt and provides lots of info for people locally as well as organizing some of the first delegations to go to Chiapas. This was another key moment in the development of current autonomy in Iberia- the idea of rejecting state power too was a smack in the face to the radical left from the transition period, but was very appealing to the new generations. There is also the meeting of the IMF-WB in Madrid. Protests are launched and well-attended- but more significantly it was probably the first time that there was mass exposure to the use of internet as an activist tool. The Nodo50 network is formed (as the network fighting the 50 years of the Bank) and becomes and internet portal for social movements since then- still going strong 13 years later. This is the first opening of a new form of mass activist communication. A powerful squatting movement begins (mid-late 90‘s throughout the area of the province  of Barcelona- an unclear but large number of squats and social centers are opened. A very vibrant counterculture begins that is very extensive- large marches in the tens of thousands come out to defend squatted social spaces; even in a small city like Terrasa pro-squatting demonstrations could number 3-4-5,000 people.   New ideas of politics- zapatismo, autonomy are running amok.  But by the end of the 90’s-2000 things are changing and the focus is heading elsewhere. As the squatting movement is getting bogged down in a repression cycle, a new effort on cancellation of third world debt takes off.

Coming out of a radicalization of the 0.7% movements (to get 0.7% of the public budget dedicated towards development or something like that)- a new movement asks directly for debt cancellation- but they are also very influenced by the Zapatistas- and use network forms of mobilizing, autonomous actions, disobedience etc. The RCADE organize the popular consulta in Catalunya (and elsewhere) modeled on the Zapatista consultation in Mexico. This popular referendum was on debt cancellation and was organized parallel to an official election- often with activist running with their tables as police chased them away form election stations.  This consulta has enormous reach and impact and teaches the squat scene (or some of them) once and for all that the ideas they were working on are out in the open and they need to listen to other organizing efforts going on out there

At this point the global movement is starting to land in Spain- preparations for Prague and Nice, and especially the mobilizing for the Barcelona summit of the WB ABCDE. This was a new phase of confluence- multiplication of groups and analyses and an approach marked by what our conversation companion’ called as “listening â€Â, especially on the part of his crowd (though sometimes he asks if they listened so much and every opinion was sooo ok that no one dared answer back maybe they should have spoken as well). And so, the EU campaign, anti-war mobilizing- Aznar and 11-M, lots of powerful mobilizing was going on- but the creativity and initiative seemed to be on the wane. There was a search for new tools- ideas- how to mobilize in a new context, etc. Precarity became one of the main foci- and a new turn in the idea of social center was under way— and thus the Ateneu Candela (not squatted) a much more open and interactive space- less countercultural, less identitarian.   Precarity became a new focus in order to mobilize around these new figures (temp work, youth migrants, etc.) that were not being addressed by other (whether public institutions, unions, parties, or other activists). EuroMayday, the precWebring, and now the ODS (Oficinas de Derechos Sociales)- a “political hypothesis that needs to be tested”

The question of Europe?

One of the things we have heard quite a few times since arriving here (and especially among some Italian circles) is that of tackling how to engage “Europeâ€Â. How should social movements, and especially autonomous groups in this case, act in the light of the transformations happening at the EU level- network with other groups, articulate demands etc.-? NO light matter and no easy answers.

Just a couple of brief notes on this then

This is by no means the place to do an institutional or critical history of the EU, those are out there, and we’d recommend taking a look at the book by Ramon Fernandez Duran on the subject (upcoming in English) “La problematica construccion de la Europa Superopotenciaâ€Â

Brief history

After the European Steel and Coal agreement and the formation of the WEU (Western European Union ), you have the Rome treaty in 1957 – the first major step at integration and still considered one of the most important docs- establishes the EEC. Zooming over other milestones to more recent stuff. It is with the final agreement, around 85, on the Single Market that the (proto) neoliberal shift becomes clear- a convergence of economies along the line of the increasingly hegemonic global paradigm and with the pressure of newly formed European level lobby groups (like the ERT (European RoundTable of Industry ). Maastricht treaty of 92 solidifies things even more but adds a new twist- this is the first treaty that begins to hint (timidly) toward more overtly political and military integration. Though this had been attempted (i.e. through the WEU) it had not been within the larger and deeper economic process. At the Lisbon summit of 2000 the goals of much more economic restructuring are honed- the idea of becoming the “most competitive knowledge economyâ€Â are placed on the table. ’99 The Euro begins to circulate in markets and in 2002 it is the daily currency of 12 out of the then 15 countries. Prices jack up across the continent. 2004 10 new countries come in and 2 more in 2007. With such huge expansion and an increasingly strong currency that some suggest could work as a global reserve currency as the dollar does- the initiatives towards increased political and military integration speed up- a strong currency needs solid political and state power behind it after all- if you’re going to denominate your savings in that currency (or so the argument by IR folks goes). Enter the ECT (European Constitutional Treaty)- it passes in many countries but is nailed in France and Holland through referenda. A mini crisis emerges- but in the 2007 June summit the “Reform Treatyâ€Â is agreed upon which will replace the ECT while maintaining most of its features (it primarily ceded in symbolic terrain and in allowing some member states more maneuverability for the time being- it has yet to be passed by member states though).

A neoliberal project

The story goes on and lots was overlooked there. Besides the initial stages of the political and military integration- the EU is now clearly an economic project oriented towards more competitiveness defined in corporate terms, a retreat of social police of the welfare era, privatization and neoliberal policies in many aspects, like any good wannabe imperial powerâ€â€its all about open markets as long as they work in the EU’s favor as understood by the EC and its different Directorate Generals.

Different critical understanding of the “European projectâ€Â

But it is also much more than a neoliberal project- or so it is hoped by many. There has been much confusion of what to make of it on the part of critical and left parties, as well as social movements, unions, and other actors as these.

-wasn’t the EU there to solidify the vision of a “warlessâ€Â Europe? Given the horrors of WWI and II isn’t that a victory? How can we go against that?

-for countries such as Spain, Greece Portugal and others- isn’t Europe equal to ‘modernity and development? Coming out of dictatorships shouldn’t we be running to embrace Europe as an idea and project? For much of the liberal left in those countries Europe (always a mythical other place yet to be achieved) was the land of human rights enlightenment, freedoms, and had to be emulated

-wasn’t the confederal/federal structure at work something promising? That could bypass overly centralized nation-states? For minorities in EU countries (especially historic ones) wouldn’t the EU be a new promise of rights and a defense against overly nationalist central-states?

-couldn’t we use the integration of EU countries as a platform for struggling for more rights? In the same way that corporations were benchmarking market-friendly policies across the EU, couldn’t we look at the social policies of member states and push for the best policies to be implemented across the board via the mechanism of the EU (this was part of the argument of the “Social Europeâ€Â slogan as opposed to “the Europe of Capitalâ€Â)?

-What about institutions like the Euro Court of Human Rights, the EP (European Parlament) aren’t these incipient institutions helping solidify a new level of democracy and rights in the region?

-Isn’t the EU providing funding we need for our underdeveloped region (particularly in some rural regions of the EU)> Why would we want to bite the hand that feeds us?

So quite a bit of hope has been laid into the EU project by many critical activists, politicians, intellectuals, etc. but this has also left them unable to attack and critique those aspects which were not so ‘wonderful’ or has left any critical discussion and analysis of the EU in diapers. The positions above may or may not be correct or tenable positions but what has become clear is that they have contributed to a veneer of legitimacy of “Europeâ€Â that can sidestep potential critique before it’s even articulated.


By no means has resistance been absent though.

One could look at the anti NATO movement in Spain in 1985-86 as partly against a particular idea of “Europeâ€Â but more clearly by the early to mid-nineties explicit resistance to the UE became more and more visible. On the day following the Denmark referendum on the Maastricht treaty the roughest rioting in Danish post-war history occurred, rougher than anything in ’68 and only approached by what has happened after the eviction of the Ungdomhouset this year. On that day in 93, 11 people were shot and even the police were pretty wounded after the intense rioting. By the mid-90’s EU summits rotating around the cities of the respective country holding that semesters presidency were sites of mass mobilizations and protest. By ’99- the EU summits became clear targets of global resistance movements- the famous Gothenburg (2001) protest were at an EU summit, and the protests against the EU summits of Barcelona in 2002 were/are the largest- numerically speaking-, at a summit against a ‘global’ institution (around 500,000 people). The idea of coordinated protest across targets in Europe began to develop: the unemployed Euro-marches in the mid 90s; the Renault strike in the late 90’s; the farmers’ tractor caravans toward Brussels; in a more spontaneous way the fuel protests of 2000; etc. And more increasingly the emergence of European spaces of networking: the ECN (European Counter Network), PGA Europe (People’s Global Action), the ESF (European Social Forum), EuroMayday and other more sector related: migrants, unions, etc.

And Now!…?


This resistance has for the most part been oriented towards a particular protest- towards signaling that a critique of Europe is possible (and does not imply one is from the xenophobic right)- but these different efforts had not really deepened or engaged with the questions of how to deal differently with Europe.

How do you engage this amorphous thing?

The Italians like Gigi, Alex are saying: “come on let’s do it! This is some of the most important potential stuff going on!â€Â

Others like

Sil: “it’s still to distant, doesn’t relate well to the everydayâ€Â

Marta: “realities are still lived within the state and movements still operate within that framework- but more and more is resonating in common: policies enacted in one country are also enacted in a slightly different form in another, policy trends are moving in the same direction, etc.â€Â “What if we don’t have a Euro wide network when we really need on?â€Â

The PrecarityWebRing project in its general and in its current phase is to engage in a research/mapping project that could inhabit/take advantage of that “Europeanâ€Â space.

-Currently many participants feel there is a crisis of EU-wide networks: such as the ESF, EuroMayDay…?Euromovements?

-How are movements to inhabit ‘EU’ space and interact with, fight, different processes? like: Bologna; particular EU policies; common strategies of struggles (maybe for fighting similar policies being enacted in different countries); etc.

There are different ideas on how to deal with this though not too much that seems to be working over a period of time- language and travel issues are a factor- difficulty of maintaining communication outside of a specific action calendar, etc. But this was the goal of a project like PWR a way to grow and politically mature the EuroMayDay process.

Spain: from semi-periphery to the G-8?

Understanding recent transformations in the Geo-Economy of Spain

While carrying out this project of research and immersion in new movements practices, and especially militant research and activist cartography, we’re encountering more and more incredible information about the transformation that are going on within the territory of the Spanish state. Much of this info would be relevant for any deeper understanding of current movement practices as well as why it is important to search for new forms of militant intervention.

The more time passes- the more it seems clear that the country is going through a series of vary impressive and rapid changes, many within a relatively short period of ten or fifteen years. We’ll try to highlight some of these by listing a few and reflecting a bit on what this may mean

Timeline a grosso modo:

-’75 beginning of the transition period from Franco’s regime. First general elections in ’77, constitution adopted in ’79 and last attempt at coup d’etat in ’82. At this point Spain is considered well “behindâ€Â in terms of the rest of Europe and the First World. In fact a popular phrase referring to Spain and Portugal was “Africa begins in the Pyrennesâ€Â (i.e. once you crossed the Southwestern border of France you were in Africa not Europe).

-During this period and with the state-wide victories of the PSOE (euro-socialist) Party during the 80’s, two quite large scale processes begin to get underway in Spain: the construction of welfare state on the European model (with its own peculiarities); and the beginning of economic and political integration into the European Union/Community- in particular regards to this last point Spain solidifies its role as a second-tier industrial country producing goods (such as cars & ??) for the European market, labor is still cheap and European capital begins to flood in. It should be stressed that these processes were already beginning in the later part of the Francoist period: manufacturing outposts for large industrial groups (including US capital like Ford and General Motors). Massive rural to urban migration really began in the 50’s and 60’s. During the 60’s and 70’s Spain was a net exporter of people, mostly people going for a period of time to Germany and some other countries to work. From that period were inherited a number of state-owned companies and elements of a fascist-planed economy while favoring powerful industrial groups.

So as we arrive in the 1980’s one can see a picture of a country that had recently passed from primarily rural to primarily urban; served as a manufacturing base for foreign companies to sell in foreign markets (the domestic market was building but still much smaller); a very frugal population and consumption culture, consumer cap had not hit, financial mechanisms like credit cards, mortgages etc. were weird and distant. The capital Madrid was “an industrial city in crisis, capital of a semi-peripheral countryâ€Â (Rodriguez 2007 p.14-Diagonal #55). No powerful multinationals of Spanish origin existed.

As the 80’s end and we enter the 90’s –Spain enters NATO and the EC in ’86- the economy begins to transform. De-industiralization, “rationalizationâ€Â of companies begins to take place- the early 90’s are rocked by 20% unemployment across the country, higher in some areas, and much higher across the board for youth, prospects look grim for an entire generation. Large public companies begin the privatization process: Iberia airlines, Telefonica, energy companies like Repsol, Endesa & Iberdrola, etc. as the nineties march on regional and national banks begin to become huge global players: BBVA & Banco Santander in particular. Instead of being a net exporter of people, migrants begin to arrive: from Eastern/Central Europe, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa- initially Spain serves as a transit country, but as the years pass people begin to settle and form communities (It should be noted there existed regions where migration has been a reality for decades though, often it was temporary migration or limited in geographic scope, it is only in the 90’s & 00’s that it becomes more of a country-wide phenomena)

Briefly then some data to think about what is going on:

-in 2006 Spain was the second country in the world, after the US, in number of migrants received (BBVA sociological study 2007). In 1992 it would probably not even have been 10th. Migration has grown exponentially almost every year without a break from 1994 on- to the point were the foreign-born population is currently about 8% of the total (only counting legal migrants). Not only is this one of the highest in the EU but considering the fact that in 1993 foreign-born population was less than 1% this is pretty uncanny- a radical cultural and demographic shift is underway. This should also be read in the context of Spain being and EU “borderâ€Â country- while its borders with Portugal and France are opening- the border with Morocco is militarizing heavily, beginning to eerily look like the US-Mexicio border (or maybe its vice versa ???)

-from being an industrial platform it has gone to a mini-center of finance, urban speculation and service industries: On this note it is interesting to talk about tourism. This has been one of the major development poles of the Spanish economy: about 10-11% of the GDP is from tourism currently- and Spain this year was second only after the US in number of tourists and second to France in amount of money generated form tourist dollars/euros (it might be vice versa but you get the picture). This may have helped explain the decrease in permanently unemployed on the one hand and the skyrocketing of precarious forms of employment on the other (temporary, no benefits, seasonal, low unionization, etc.)

-From not having any multinationals based in Spanish capital to note in the 80’s, nor having many headquarters of global corporations hosted there… to being the eighth city of the world for large corporate headquarters (Rodriguez). The privatization of public industries, and the take-off of an unleashed private sector, has also lead to the creation of what are sometimes referred to as the “new conquistadorsâ€Â or the “new Spanish Armadaâ€Â- especially in reference to their entry into Latin American markets. Due to the opening up of those markets trough IMF & IADB adjustment plans Spanish corporations took advantage of linguistic and cultural facility to rapidly enter those markets during the mid-late 90’s becoming key players (controllers) of key sectors such as: telecommunications, commercial air transport, energy/petrol, banking, in quite a few countries. Ironically now the third largest stock market of Latin American stocks is in Madird- and is a specific subsidiary of the IBEX (the Spanish stock market) called the LABOX (or something similar).

-Five out of the ten top European construction companies are based in Madrid. And this is no joke- just ask Greenpsan on the importance of housing markets and construction …There is currently a construction and housing super boom going in Spain that has only just recently begin to burst, some say that its was this boom that was helping the economy keep afloat. Construction is going on all over the place- unclear who or what it is for sometimes, interesting to note that many of these top companies though are also huge global player and much of their earnings comes form foreign contracts.

-mass consumption is booming- cell phones, computers, cars, designer clothing at accessible rates, increase in the use of credit through cards; as well as loans: mortgages and others.

-While unemployment has fallen- precarious employment has skyrocketed: especially in domestic work, constructions and services such as restaurants, hotels, entertainments etc. lots of jobs have been created but many of them just “go awayâ€Â after a while. Salaries have remained more or less stagnate with regards to prices, while prices have skyrocketed especially due to the entry into the Eurozone as well as the speculation going on in housing markets. (see Berrendero)

-these things have also translated into other social practices: from being a country of fairly traditional and solid family structures to being the second in Europe in terms of separations of marriages. Spain currently has one of the lowest birth rates in the world as well- only stemmed by immigrants and their families. Also being the top in Europe in terms of new Commercial Centers “mallsâ€Â being built (replacing the type of local commerce for which the country was so famous) and which many would proudly compare themselves to countries such as the US, UK, France, etc.).

In some sense then Spain may be a copycat case of a modernization paradigm- but moving very fast?

All of these dizzying changes are hard to capture- and it is not always clear the movements are armed with strategies to deal with them. In the particular case of the corporatization of the economy and the increasing role of multinationals in the country- it seems that the institutional left and to a large degree extra-parliamentarian movements do not really realize the transformations or discuss what to do about it. The absence of practices such as ‘corporate campaigns’ and similar tools, seem to speak to this.

It may very well be the practices such as militant research and radical cartography are responding to precisely this situation. We can’t read this link too directly of course as in: <rn
> this would be somewhat ridiculous. But it could be part of what is happening- as in movements need new tools to understand the rapid transformations taking place and new ways to diffuse=se information about these processes. At least in the case of the Observatorio Metropolitano and the ‘Map Madrid’ project these seem to be particularly the case. A large research project was undertaken by a group of people involved in different social movements collectives and different struggles to try and understand what is going on in Madrid: rapid urban transformations, gentrification, segregation, immigration, subcultures, movements etc. Large volumes of different projects then are being put together for a book and accompanied by a series of maps the results that include interactive online maps for user to try and create those maps with the information most relevant on them. A serious and more than a year long attempt collective effort (more than a dozen people involved regularly in the project) to grab at what in the world is going on and what can be done about and to put it into debate amongst different antagonistic networks in the city.

precarity web-meeting in Rome


After a long day of talking at an international seminar, trying to restart a collective map as part of the Web Ring process we retire back to the ESC space where I ask Paolo to tell me more about different activist experiences in Rome and what’s going on with the student movement, activist research & cartography, & everything else.

He scrambles for two beers- we cheer, chug and the story starts –

First- the Scene: where we are. ESC ( is a squatted warehouse in the neighborhood of San Lorenzo- right by the Sapienza university- the largest university in Europe (and one of the largest in the world somewhere after the UNAM).

A series of struggles around 2002/3 in universities in Rome start the process that will lead to the squatting of the ESC space toward the end of 2004- by students (undergrad and grad), researchers, cultural workers, and intermittently employed folks. Soon after ESC gets going as a project- in 2005 there’s a large strike at the Sapienza with departments and buildings taken over for weeks/months at a time. ESC gets enmeshed in all of this of course- so when they are threatened with eviction can muster up thousands of people in support. So for the moment- the squatted status navigates a sort of tense legal space.

The idea of ESC operates on a sort of two fold plane. Principally it serves to act as an interface between the “university” and the “city”. Being that the two increasingly make each other and currently- if all the talk about cognitive capitalism, creative class etc. has any merit to it- then the university itself and its spaces begin to reform/remake metropolitan spaces in order to drink from that boiling pot of creative relations. So ESC serves as a switchboard or transit station between movements, activities, interventions, within and without the university, making a strategic choice to intervene in questions around the university due to their analysis of its current role in economics, politics and class formation as well as being a part of its most members’ vital experience.

On the second hand ESC is also part of a series of new social centers that try to reorient the politics of social centers away from a sort of counter-culture politics and towards a more out-reaching extraverted approach towards the city. This includes strategic uses of autonomy as opposed to a more “purist” approach.

Besides a lot of work around the Bologna process (the EU’s institutional attempt to create a European Space of Higher Education) currently ESC has begun a series of very interesting projects- many focused around their idea of “autoformazione”. “Autoformazione”- or self-formation/teaching- is for ESC the creation of autonomous spaces for research and education. Spaces of training/workshops/classrooms, etc. that can aid in building people’s capacities as well as strengthening struggles. Their approach towards “AF” lets call it, includes fighting with the university or others on occasions for recognition of the material taught in spaces such as ESC so that people can claim official university-like credit for what they’re doing.

(we’re not sure if this would be the same as some sort of internship credit- it could be problematic- but there are a series of arguments around claiming recognition for autonomous education spaces- how they would avoid or deal with other groups they don’t agree with -‘right-wing groups or what have you- claiming their own “autonomous education” is unclear).

Not only has ESC done this with La Sapienza but has also helped to found a network called LUM- Libera Universita Metropolitana. LUM includes other Sapienza-university based groups as well as organizations from Roma III (the other big Roman university) and a few other places.

LUM not only attempts to create the sort of space of “autoformazione” as described above- their classes additionally try to challenge divisions between mental and physical/ material and immaterial labor. So they will have courses on things like contemporary Marxist/operaist thought, another class to get basic electrician skills, and another on DJing. Tests to pass a course can include: for example connecting the electricity in houses/squats/etc. where the electricity has been disconnected. Flyers for the course on DJing speak of “Knowledge- for us, by us”. So as a corollary to questions of militant research the idea of self-formation in some of these Roman groups takes a center stage.

Later, ESC and LUM form part of a broader recently formed national network between several cities called UniRiot ( “network delle facolta ribelle” which is a sort of tool and news sharing network for different university movements that are following somewhat similar paths of autonomy, questions of knowledge, anti-capitalism like but more focused and with denser political affinities amongst the groups. (They’ll actually be posting some of 3C’s info there for use by groups in Rome, Bologna and another city or two).

On questions of activist research ESC, jointly with other strictly campus-based groups, is embarking on a process of “incheista”- or “survey”. This is inspired from the tradition of “inchiesta operaia” -workers’ survey- a tool of “coricerca” (coresearch). The idea is a survey about current conditions and transformations at the university that is not based solely or even primarily on obtaining objective quantifiable data—rather the survey itself is a tool for the surveyed to begin to ask themselves questions on how they feel about things such as: access to spaces for student use, university fees, types of education, incursions of -or partnerships with- private sector banks and corporations, etc. The survey fulfills a rather different purpose then (in some sense at a micro-level this is what we may have been gesturing at with the surveys we did for the Labor Day drift). For ESC this new survey will form part of a larger process of work dealing with the Bologna Process.

Additionally, a radical mapping project is going to begin soon focusing on- what do you know,- rethinking the university and its current transformations. For the moment they’re considering two layers, or foci anyway, as far as I’ve understood it:

1) the effects of current university expansion on the city’s spaces, urbanism, gentrification-like processes, etc. (For example- in Roma III, in order to support the building of the ‘creative class’, there are plans to create “la citta dei giovani” (the city of the youth)- a sort of engineered bohemianism criss-crossed through by the university);

2) is a map of layers of types of knowledge being produced (we didn’t quite get where they might be taking this or how they’re conceiving it but it sounds interesting). Right now the map is in initial stages but they were psyched by the 3Cs project as inspiration.

They’ve done some other smaller map-ish initiatives- schematic for the time being- of university spaces within the metropolis- in both Rome and Paris between groups in both cities- – to show the density of university related spaces and their effects on a neighborhood a grosso modo

Forgotten Histories:

Movimento della Pantiera-Posse & Toni Negri’s stories on the way to jail?

We got to talking about forgotten histories of struggles- I think I was mentioning the ’71 general strike and other smaller happenings since then and we got to talking about a very impressive though near forgotten movement from Rome in 1990?!

Though most people make reference to the ’77 movement- or the long ’68, Paolo began to talk about another unique experience. In 1990, a large movement burst out of La Sapeinza university and other places- basically a general strike of the university commences lasting a good while with buildings occupied for months, generating a series of practices and networks in the midst of the post 80’s/’89 malaise in ‘the West’. During the strike a panther (black?) escaped from the Rome zoo, and the panther became the mascot for the movement.

After the strike ended- something of a new generation of activists had come into their own, and just going back into a sort of early 90’s malaise wasn’t going to cut it for them. The generation that struck during ’90- after the strike and after university (some people finishing degree others apparently not) ended up squatting approx. a hundred social centers throughout Italy in rapid succession. This was the second generation of social centers. In addition a whole cultural scene emerged with self-managing/self-producing music groups proliferating, the most famous known as Posse 99. These practices became known as the Posse movement based on an old Latin phrase I can’t quite remember (like essere- posse- ??…) and means to be able to- to have the power to. Posse is also the title of one of the principal theoretical journals of current Italian autonomous thinking (Derive Approdi probably being the other). Despite the strength of those movements, almost no trace has been left for newer folks to learn about it- virtually no books, films, zines or articles, few if any workshops by participants, etc- no key spokespeople really emerged from the movement in the same way that they had from ’77 (folks-men- like Negri, Tronti, Virno, Bifo, etc.). Its not quite so much that those experiences were lost necessarily but is interesting to see how the experiments with political/economic autonomy continued and developed after the 70’s in a generation prior to the global resistance movements.

At this point- Paolo shares a copy of Posse with me, we chat some more, and he tells me the entertaining story of how when Negri came back from France when he had to spend nights in jail in Rome during a legal process, him and another mate from ESC accompanied him many nights to take him back to jail. This was in the late 90’s, before Negri became so famous either in Italy or abroad- so they had personalized seminars on the way to jail every night for a while (during this time must have been when he was drafting Empire with Hardt), kind of cool.

Some very cool stuff happening and very cool ideas- though virtually everything can seem like more than it is- so no need to exaggerate. The space itself is quite humble but there’s definitely a lot going on and an effort to generate continuous activities and spaces of contagion between education and urban-community issues.

The Sevilla Meeting on the “Welfare-state Crisis, Precarity and New Social Rights”

The 3Cs Madrid branch participated in a very interesting meeting on issues of precarity, a topic that our collective has been working on during the last project: trying to translate it -as a word, as a concept, as a tool, as a struggle- to the US context, and particularly to the territory of the university. The following is a correspondence that captures the main points of the encounter:

3Cs at the AAG!

The Association of American Geographers met several weeks ago in San Francisco. 3Cs was on the scene at several interesting papers and panels in addition to presenting DisOrientations.

Edward Kinman, from Longwood University in Virginia, presented on a great artwork of his that is directly relevant to this summers 3Cs project. The clay installation maps the institution’s geographic growth and appropriation of a historically black neighborhood. I suggest we go see this work this summer.

Paivi Kymainen of Finland gave an interesting paper about temporary places of urban visuality in which she uses temporally unstable chora to approach the work of the artists that refer to themselves variously as The Barsky Brothers and Akaysim. These artists engage in temporary street-art projects that write urban spaces in different ways. Notably, she quotes them as understanding a city “a place where furniture can be re-arranged.” The temporal aspects of this work parallel other projects such as those in Argentina that Brian Holmes talked about.

Jorn Seemann presented some fascinating ideas that anyone who speaks Portuguese ought to follow up on (He is at Universidade Regional do Cariri, Brazil). He spoke about humanistic cartographies in which he attempted to understand mapping in a broader fashion than “Woodward and Harvey.” He proposes human territorialities such as smellscapes and mental maps that must be understood in a human context.

One panel on contemporary art and geographical activism was particularly relevant to 3Cs.
Our good friend Kanarinka has a new project in which she is recording herself running the length of each of Boston’s new evacuation routes. She is generating several kinds of records, including sound.

Christian Nold is working on in a similar project of biometric mapping. He uses technology from polygraph lie-detector machines to record peoples” excitement as they walk through urban environments and interact with other people. As people walk, a GPS unit records their position, so the biometric measures and degrees of emotion are geo-located. The particular use of these technologies is interestingly subjective and Christian stresses that these measures are very rough at best. In different hands, a normalized version of this could be downright scary. Even these maps clearly show the stress of pedestrians crossing a major intersection.
Much of this work in San Francisco is associated with “Southern Exposure”

I also shared notes with some folks from Illinois’ Critical Spatial Practice group. Nick Brown of that group does good work about discourses of southern Illinois and native lands. His work utilizes a lot of photography with some great results. I’m quite curious to see what else he develops.

The most provocative art in this panel is the work of Trevor Paglen. He photographs and records spaces of the War on Terror and the policy of extraordinary rendition. This is a great mapping of neoconservative geopolitical space that we only rarely see manifested. His work is an interesting way of making spaces legible.

I just missed a presentation on the LA urban ranger experiment, but here is a link anyway. It seems directly relevant to questions of urban legibility and inscription.

One final presentation worth mentioning is that of Jen Giesking at CUNY. She presented a pseudo-ethnographic mental mapping project about students and Mount Holyoake College. She interviewed current and former students and had them draw maps of Mount Holyoake and the area. It is an interesting method into sharing meaning of places and spaces.