Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Debt and the Commons Three-Day Seminar


August 18, 19, and 20 – Three-Day Seminar on Debt & the Commons – with Silvia Federici, George Caffentzis, David Graeber

0. About the Seminar
1. Longer Introduction
2. Seminar Schedule
3. A Bibliography

0. About the Seminar

When: Thursday, Friday, Saturday / August 18,19,20
Who: Free (please rsvp, details below)
Where: 16 Beaver Street, 4th floor, New York City
What: 3 Day Seminar with Silvia Federici, George Caffentzis, David Graeber

Beyond Good and Evil Commons is a three day seminar focusing on debt, economic crisis and the production of commons

The seminar organizes itself with and around the work of three individuals: Silvia Federici, George Caffentzis, and David Graeber

It will take the shape of 2 sessions per day, each session building around a talk by Silvia, George, and/or David and followed by collective discussions.

It is being organized in the spirit of collective inquiry inspired particularly by recent anti-debt organizing in NYC but draws also from a number of international contexts in which new political cultures have developed to challenge the command of money, austerity and debt in the crisis. Moreover, it builds off previous seminars organized in the space with friends over the last years.

The idea is, at least partially, to develop and test political concepts that help us better orient our understanding of these new political cultures but also aid us in further developing our own. Our starting point is an attempt to bring together a politics through both an analysis of debt anthropologically and an anti-capitalist perspective on the commons.

The hope is to achieve some focus, to sharpen our terminologies and analytical tools, to direct our collective intelligence toward a new orientation of existing organizing efforts and guide new interventions as well, to better know what, how and with whom. It is a difficult and elusive hope. It also relies on enough of us approaching the seminar with the idea of collectively enacting an enlarged framework for political action (which implicates many different practices).

We know that many on our list also live in different parts of the world. For this reason, we have put together a website with many readings as a resource. We also hope to be able to put some recordings from the presentations for those who are interested in following or connecting with this seminar. We also make the effort to articulate the motivations for the inquiry in the hopes that we can also build upon one another's efforts.

For those planning to attend, we ask you to please RSVP, as it will allow us to better prepare.

You can do so by writing to seminars [the at sign] 16beavergroup.org with rsvp in subject line.

The event is free, but we will be making a daily collection to cover basic expenses.


1. Longer Introduction

Molecular Investigations / Seminars

This Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, we will continue a collective journey and experiment.

Over the last years, we have tried to organize with friends collective seminars (e.g., Continental Drift, Connective Mutations, Something Becomes Visible) which give participants an opportunity to have a rich intellectual experience attempting to raise critical questions about how we live, think, struggle - in an open, autonomous, non-institutional, non-commodified, non-authored situation. Those seminars have attempted to cross-weave intellectual efforts with activist and artistic practices. Moreover, rather than merely become attempts to represent ideas, knowledge, or knowingness, the seminars have been a part of an effort to situate and suggest, through the work of specific individuals, where we may devote further work collectively in the coming years. And to build potential solidarities across disciplines, practices, and approaches.

At their best, they have been like small, concise, intellectual bombs detonated carefully, collectively, not far from Wall Street, with all intents to illuminate the cracks in the edifices of those buildings, and on the ground, on the very terrain we cohabit. They have been suggestions for paths of individual, collective projects, militant investigations: artistic, intellectual, political, economic, activistic, and beyond.

In a period which has seen the neoliberal machine produce a seemingly invincible force of financialization, mega-gentrification, and militarization: together with a multitude of friends and contributors, we built up a counter-image and research of those aforementioned cracks. We have done this collectively, autonomously, and as a direct counter-force to the commodification and competitiveness that has all too often marked intellectuality in these same times. In doing so, we have placed ourselves, along with many other initiatives emerging globally, into a new situation, for the generation and maintenance of critical discourses, analyses, and practices.

An important struggle today is to realize how these practices, whether artistic, intellectual, or otherwise can most effectively combat the emergent paradigms of racism, militarization, and a more formulated, articulated war by the wealthiest elite and corporate interests on the very fabric of human and planetary reproduction.

For some people, six years ago, an introduction like this may have appeared as potentially catastrophic (or utopian), alarmist, or delirious.

In the midst of the recent insurrections in London, massive revolts against forced austerity measures in Spain, Greece, and throughout Europe, revolutionary resistance in North Africa and the Middle East, we find ourselves having to acknowledge that these efforts of collective research have not only been substantiated, but today ask how can they conjoin to actions, global political processes unfolding in our midst.

Today, the cracks appear as gaping holes, through which one of the most radical transformations of the world irrupts before our eyes.

Living amidst the civil war in Lebanon, a friend of the space once remarked that there is no official day, where everyone is notified that a civil war has commenced. It begins as a small series of loosely related events, which only later, can be reconstructed as a civil war with precise dates of commencement and end.

'Returning to Normal life'?

How can one speak of returning to 'normal life' in the midst of a post-nuclear Japan? Where do we draw the limits of solidarity with that reality? Is the solidarity expressed as far as the radioactivity travels? Or will it end with the struggle to end nuclear plants or nuclear arms in every country? How can one speak of returning to 'normal life' in the midst of this historic transfer of common wealth to private banks and the continued intransigence on the part of those who govern (and in most cases, even their opposition parties) in confronting (rather than engendering) growing inequalities, processes of enclosure, social and ecological destruction? Will the outrage end when each particular group, being effected by cuts, saves a small piece of the pie to continue doing what they were before with even less resources? Will it end with a broad 'new deal' or 'social contract' as even many of the staunchest critics of neoliberalism hope?

Or can we imagine and build toward another horizon of struggle beyond the specificity of resisting nuclear technology or local/national austerity measures tied to financial speculation and crimes? How to connect to already occurring processes of revolt or production of commons? And can the efforts to build upon such processes of resistance be done without addressing the basic terms upon which we reproduce our lives?

The Proposal

The proposal is to collectively approach two notions which have valence in contemporary movements but call for further interrogation:

The Commons

There has been a great resurgence over the last decade or more in thinking about and elaborating the notion of the commons. As George Caffentzis writes: "The ‘commons’ has undergone a remarkable transformation in the last fifteen years, from a word referring rather archaically to a grassy square in the centre of New England towns to one variously used by real estate developers, ‘free software’ programmers, ecological activists and peasant revolutionaries to describe very different, indeed conflicting, purposes and realities., ... "What accounts for this resurgence? What are the merits of this concept and its potential dangers as 'two streams, coming from opposing perspectives' begin to utilize and mobilize it?”

In exploring the prospects for a commons that is resistant to capitalism, one key position of this seminar, and it is a position, time and again, emphasized by Silvia Federici's work, is the incorporation of basic insights of feminist critique concerning the centrality of reproduction within any social, economic, or political regime. Moreover, her consistent attention to women's struggles to maintain spaces which are common – engender communal forms of life and social reproduction (historically and today), especially in impoverished parts of the world – points us to the necessity of learning from and using these experiences to better understand what resistance to capitalism can mean.

Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis have been two very important figures in conceptualizing and interrogating this notion of the commons as well as historic and contemporary processes of enclosures. In addition to their own writings, their work within the Midnight Notes collective has been an inspiration for sustained, collective, engaged research outside of the disciplining / enclosing that can happen in the university or academy. With their collaborators, they have offered some of the most decisive, direct, historically and geographically expanded account of capitalist accumulation and struggles of resistance. Their political commitments have sometimes overshadowed their theoretical contributions, and this seminar will be an opportunity to give space to those contributions and begin what we hope will be a longer inquiry together with them.


Whether it is through the imposition of or the resistance to debt, processes from above or below, one can see that debt obligations have been a central figure of political considerations.

From student debt strikes

To millions losing their homes or being foreclosed upon; from financial instruments imposed upon countries underwriting new enclosures; to the dismantling of social provisions and justifying politically motivated austerity measures, which rely upon seemingly objective 'hard' economic 'realities': debt is the terrain upon which various actors and discourses take shape.

But can an anthropological inquiry into debt help us view these processes and struggles in a new light? Can such an inquiry help us build upon contemporary struggles against debt?

David Graeber is among other things, an anarchist, a thinker, an anthropologist, and an activist. His intellectual contributions have been timely, pertinent, useful, and yet antagonistic to the established norms pertaining to each of those three terms. Thus one could speculate, under the regime of capitalist realism, his contributions would be characterized as 'historical', 'inapplicable', 'unrealistic'; but somehow this has not been the case. David's accessible approach to writing, as well as his insistence to situate his work in places where struggle takes place, has made his work resilient to dismissal. His current book entitled 'Debt: The First 5000 Years' is more than a theorization of debt: it is also a trenchant treatise exposing tangible limitations of imagination and language for describing the range of human relations existing historically and today. As David writes:

"This book is a history of debt, then, but it also uses that history as a way to ask fundamental questions about what human beings and human society are or could be like—what we actually do owe each other, what it even means to ask that question. As a result, the book begins by attempting to puncture a series of myths—not only the Myth of Barter, which is taken up in the first chapter, but also rival myths about primordial debts to the gods, or to the state—that in one way or another form the basis of our common-sense assumptions about the nature of economy and society. In that common-sense view, the State and the Market tower above all else as diametrically opposed principles. Historical reality reveals, however, that they were born together and have always been
intertwined. The one thing that all these misconceptions have in common, we will find, is that they tend to reduce all human relations to exchange, as if our ties to society, even to the cosmos itself, can be imagined in the same terms as a business deal. This leads to another question: If not exchange, then what?"

One Goal

A hope is, that for these three days, we could give our energies to these three individuals and one another. And construct together a kind of machine which could collectively take us to the center of two critical nodes in perceiving, understanding, and struggling with/against our contemporary reality.

A short parting note on London and beyond:

In 2005, with the revolts in Paris, pundits could characterize and particularize those revolts as disaffected and disenfranchised youth or even worse dismiss them by mobilizing xenophobic fears. There never was room for entertaining the racist readings of those events. And the events in Norway this summer further clarify where such a critique is coming from and headed. But the events in Paris still left many wondering what was the political horizon or meaning of those revolts.

In the summer of 2011, any analysis of events, like those in London unfolding these last days, cannot but be read as part of a disarticulated yet emerging globalized picture of revolt against 'capital', capitalists, and the various state forms that have advocated on their behalf.

Thus, this seminar takes place in the midst of these events and struggles. Thus, there is an additional hope that collectively we can consider what global solidarity can look like, unfolding across different modes of doing, producing, and thinking in light of such events.

The seminar has been organized with and by Silvia, George, David, 16 Beaver Group, This Is Forever, and various individuals affiliated and not affiliated with other spaces and initiatives in New York.


2. Schedule

THURSDAY - August 18
Doors open at 4:00

Session 1
4:30 - 6:45 Silvia / George
light food
Session 2
7:15 - 9:30 David

FRIDAY, August 19th
Doors open at 4:00

Session 3
4:30 - 6:45 Silvia / George
light food
Session 4
7:15 - 9:30 David

SATURDAY, August 20th
Doors open at 1:00

Session 5
2:00 - 4:30 David
light food
Session 6
5:00 - 7:30 Silvia / George

Please note:
This schedule is a script of what we have planned. The actual seminar times and order may be altered according to how things unfold. Best place to follow changes or updates will be on our website for the seminar: http://www.16beavergroup.org/silvia_george_david/


3. The Bibliography

A full and updated bibliography can be found on the seminar website with additional texts: http://www.16beavergroup.org/silvia_george_david/

Below, we have listed a shorter selection of readings:

-\ \ \ Midnight Notes
The New Enclosures n.10: http://www.midnightnotes.org/newenclos.ht

-\ \ \ Silvia Federici
Feminism And the Politics of the Commons: http://sduk.us/silvia_george_david/federici_feminism_politics_commons.pdf

-\ \ \ George Caffentzis
The Future of 'the Commons': Neoliberalism's 'Plan B' or the Original Disaccumulation of Capital?

-\ \ \ David Graeber
Debt: The First Five Thousand Years (overview from Mute 2009): http://sduk.us/silvia_george_david/graeber_overview_mute.pdf

All from DEBT, THE FIRST 5, 000 YEARS

On the Experience of Moral Confusion: http://sduk.us/silvia_george_david/graeber_debt_chapter_1.pdf

A Brief Treatise on the Moral Grounds of Economic Relations: http://sduk.us/silvia_george_david/graeber_debt_chapter_5.pdf

1971–The Beginning of Something Yet to Be Determined: http://sduk.us/silvia_george_david/graeber_debt_chapter_12.pdf


16 Beaver Group
16 Beaver Street, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10004

For directions/subscriptions/info visit: http://www.16beavergroup.org/

4,5 Bowling Green
2,3 Wall Street
J,Z Broad Street
1,9 South Ferry
R Whitehall


‘I believe in the afterlife.
It starts tomorrow,
When I go to work’
Cold Hands & Quarter Moon, ‘Human Herbs’ at: http://www.myspace.com/coldhandsmusic (recording) and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2h7tUq0HjIk (live)

‘Maximum levels of boredom
Disguised as maximum fun’
Cold Hands & Quarter Moon, ‘Stagnant’ at: http://www.myspace.com/coldhandsmusic (recording) and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GLjxeHvvhJQ (live, at the Belle View pub, Bangor, north Wales)

Posted here by Glenn Rikowski
All that is Solid for Glenn Rikowski: http://rikowski.wordpress.com
The Flow of Ideas: http://www.flowideas.co.uk
MySpace Profile: http://www.myspace.com/glennrikowsk i
The Ockress: http://www.theockress.com/

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