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Refiguring the Common and the Political

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - HETEROPOLITICS (Refiguring the Common and the Political)

Reporting period: 2017-04-01 to 2018-11-30

Since the dawn of the 21st century, a growing interest in rethinking and reconfiguring community has spread among theorists and citizens. There is a pressing need for drastic collective commitments that will effectively address climate change. Liberal democracies are beset with popular alienation and dwindling participation. Economic crises and the shrinking of the welfare state have stimulated the search for new forms of community economies. Finally, rising xenophobia raises with renewed urgency the question of how to live in common with newcomers and how to reach a global common understanding so as to tackle the root causes of displacement.

These issues are essentially political. Therefore, rethinking and refiguring communities goes hand in hand with rethinking and reinventing politics. Hence ‘hetero-politics’, the quest for another politics, which can establish bonds of commonality across differences and can enable action in common without re-enacting the closures of ‘organic’ community or the violence of transformative politics in the past.

The overarching objective of Heteropolitics is to contribute to this much-needed rethinking of the common and the political in tandem. The research project breaks new ground by combining: i) a critical and creative re-elaboration of contemporary political theory with (ii) a more empirically grounded research into new social movements and initiatives which explore alternative ways of doing politics and building communities in the economy, in civil society and in politics. The ultimate aim is to elaborate new ideas and practices of the common and the political, in search of better ways of living in common and governing ourselves.
Work Package 1 has been successfully accomplished, while the Work Package 2 is still underway and will be completed in May 2019. The main publications are due to be produced in the final year. A volume of conference proceedings has been already published. Till January 2019, we have already produced three further project publications.

i) Main results in WP1 (completed)

1. The literature review is unique both in the comprehensive breadth and in its original discussion that innovates by engaging with the commons from the perspective of the political theories of ‘agonism’, i.e. the politics of conflict (C. Mouffe, J. Tully and others), and ‘hegemony’ (E. Laclau, A. Gramsci). This analyses how broad-based political organization and transformation can take place through the construction of ‘chains of equivalences’, which rally together different subjects and demands around open points of unity and an antagonistic division.

The commons are analytically distinguished in their different strands, and they are examined in terms of their contribution to rethinking politics in the direction of equal participation, openness, diversity, horizontality, justice and sustainability. The commons are also questioned for their lack of strategic thought that could initiate wide-ranging transformation.

2. The ‘first international workshop’, organized in Thessaloniki, hosted twenty five (25) speakers. Extended abstracts have been published in a 133-page-long volume, which is available on-line at heteropolitics.net and offers a fresh and diverse discussion of commons and alternative politics.


ii) Main results in WP2 (fieldwork and conceptual work; ongoing)

The fieldwork is pursued in communities which self-manage collective goods and pursue alternative politics of democratic renewal, in three countries: Spain, Italy, and Greece. Field research has taken place in: a) the community digital network of Sarantaporo at the Olympus mountain, in Greece; b) the ‘ecosystem of co-operativism’ in Karditsa, Greece; c) the Cavalerizza collective art space and commons, in Torino, Italy; d) the similar case of ‘Ex-Asilo Filangieri’ in Naples, Italy, which has initiated the process of participatory ‘civic use’ in collaboration with the municipality; e) the municipal movements and governments in Barcelona (Barcelona en Comú) and Madrid (Ahora Madrid), Spain; f) self-organized childcare in Barcelona, Spain.

Despite their divergences, all these communities deliberately undertake a different style of civic democratic politics around common goods, whose key features consist in:

collaborative self-organized work with social value;
co-operation combined with an emphasis on individual autonomy and horizontality;
local and global connections beyond closed communities;
diversity and openness;
pragmatism: emphasis on co-work rather than on ideologies and identities;
co-administration (Co-city) of citizens with municipal authorities;
an ethic of active citizens’ care for their communities and the environment.

A key research question is how this kind of politics can be fostered on the level of cities and beyond, through political reforms, legislation, and broader alliance-building.
The theoretical endeavours of the project contribute, first, to the elaboration of a unified political perspective on the commons, which still remains to be fully fleshed-out in existing literature. Our ‘alternative political’ (‘heteropolitical’) angle addresses the commons as social activity around collective goods which are jointly produced and managed by communities on terms of equality, horizontality, openness, participation, diversity, fairness, sustainability and individual autonomy, moving beyond the dominant logics of the market and the state.

Second, the research of Heteropolitics brings out the various deficiencies which beset the ways in which contemporary theories of the common(s) relate to politics or understand politics -conflictual diversity, power asymmetries, the building of effective social movements and political communities under conditions of social fragmentation, heterogeneity, neoliberal dominance, and increased interdependence.

Third, Heteropolitics seeks to tackle the foregoing deficiencies by drawing on agonistic political theory and post-structuralist conceptions of ‘hegemony’ in the work of C. Mouffe, J. Tully, W. Connolly and E. Laclau. This is an unprecedented endeavour in both political theory and the literature of the commons.

Fourth, Heteropolitics reconfigures contemporary political theory to capture various processes of ‘commoning’ politics, that is, of opening up politics to ordinary people on a footing of equality, through open, participatory and egalitarian modes of collective representation; collective and decentralized leadership; political unity and consensus based on the affirmation of plurality, pragmatism, openness beyond fixed ideologies.

Expected results till the end of the project will include the further elaboration of conceptual frames and critical analyses that will be useful for empirical inquiries and a more conscious pursuit of ‘common politics’ for the common good and democratic renewal. They will also offer detailed accounts of political practices and strategies through which such alternative civic politics can be effectively promoted in connection with existing institutions, mainly in city administration and legislation (‘municipalism’, ‘civic use’ etc.), and by way of specific patterns of self-organization and collective mobilization, such as ‘populism 2.0’ and ‘new localism.’
Assembly of Teatro Valle, Rome, commons in art 2011