November 13-16th, 2020
The unprecedented global intertwining of pandemic and revolt have disrupted the present and future of the social-economic order. This crisis of power opens new possibilities for non-sovereign life and action. This strange here and now is our starting point for a digital conference to reflect on the openings in our moment, to think beyond inherited political orders toward an indissolubly common life that can be located in destitution, fugitivity, and refuge.
On November 13th-16th, then, Indiana University’s 2020 Critical Ethnic Studies symposium brings into dialogue two zones of contemporary insurgent study: the undercommons and destituent power. To explore social life that evades political constraints such as citizenship, sovereignty, and governance, we seek to build upon the work of Fred Moten, Stefano Harney and Giorgio Agamben. Reveling in the fields that ground their work, the Black radical tradition and Italian Autonomia, this forum seeks to collect and share what we’ve learned from the practices and forms of life that are already breaking free of politics.
This panel opens the conference by placing us resolutely in the present. In this moment, this astonishing particular present, the age of the virus and the uprising, what is possible? What is possible now that was not, that may not have been possible even one short year ago? The panelists address this brutal, hopeful present by asking, first, what it means to enact abolition now. Abolitionists have long insisted that their task is a practical one, stepwise and immediate; what does this mean then, right now (Rodriguez)? Addressing the mutual aid work happening in Portugal during COVID, where are these practices prying open new possibilities for destitution, where are they leaning into undercommons (Carvalho)? What can we learn from the ways the virus and the uprisings spread, as joined and like phenomena (Gupta)? In this startling shift to a post-hegemonic politics in Chile, what can we hope and learn from the breakdown of the right and the left there, the crisis of subjectivity as the stable structures of subjectivity disappear (Karmy and Muñoz)? And how does the horizon of the virus and the uprisings, together, reveal—the landscape of health care always already structured by white supremacy—the entry points for desituting settler colonial health and opening up other horizons of care (Moore)?
This conversation starts with the shared observation that western ontology began with the separation of public from private life, and that politics today imposes and defends this (delusion of) enclosure. The city, the fort, the university, the institution, the home, the state, the nation, the citizen, the individual, are all artifice of enclosure on different scales. With that said, we can also say that today we are part and parcel to a long-running, leaderless revolt in the streets across the globe. We feel in our shared breath and the soles of our feet that “we got politics surrounded,” as Stefano Harney and Fred Moten point out, pointing us toward ante-politics—a lived practice and set of relations antecedent to politics and subjectivity—which they call the surround. Here surrounding, we’re uncharted, or as Idris Robinson says, we struggle “from within the constellation of riots: the paradoxical organization of disorder beyond any measure of control.” It’s here that participants in the George Floyd uprising are coming up with ethics rooted in (ante-)self-defense, and a result Robinson argues is that today “all that is constitutive of the typical American citizen is slowly being worn away by the insurrection and the uprising.” Through this refusal to be contained by a political order, this mass that wears away at the citizen, this dispelled hallucination of the world forced onto the earth, social life comes into focus. Stefano Harney recently said, “insurgency is primary, rebellion comes first. We don’t rebel against the police because there’s police. The police come after us if we show ourselves as that primary antagonism… The police are there to separate us from our social wealth.” With the revolutionary stakes (up)set, the questions we have for ourselves are: what of our potential cannot resolve back into constituent power? What are we learning through the self-defense of the surround? How are we already preserving social wealth? What is our own abolition?
This panel invites reflections on hostility, whether as enmity, ontological antagonism, class conflict, or internal escape into already-existing interstices. It departs from Carl Schmitt’s sense of the centrality of the state’s enmity against its external other, the heart of the nomos, invisible during normal times but revealing itself in the state of exception. Schmitt’s recognition of the anomic foundation of constituent power reminds us that anomic formations are not in themselves necessarily liberatory. Taking up enmity, therefore, as a metaphysical foundation and basic political problem, we look to civil war, the prospect of which may confront us quite concretely in mid-November.
The panel considers paramilitary violence as a potential vector of emancipatory or repressive violence (Whitener); the shifting valence of destituent power as global corporations diffuse sovereign state power (Illas); the relationship of sovereign power to an undertheorized part of law, the jurisprudent outside that is blackness (Lamb). Regardless of the focus on acrimony, the panelists’ marvelous hope about the “anarchic jurisgenerative character” of blackness (Lamb), the engagements “always already taking place in the continuous situations of emergency of global war” (Illas), and the search for emancipatory violence in unlikely places (Whitener) position us in relation to the positive horizon we yearn to envision with this conference.
How does a revolt become an insurrection, and this a revolution? How can we shift from a dynamic of negation and refusal of crisis governance toward an affirmation of non-sovereign ways of inhabiting the world? While uprisings against state violence and corruption continue to spread and intensify, our effort to reanimate the world must extend beyond the street battles into a thoroughgoing transformation of everyday life. This panel aims to think through the potentialities of the present cycle by considering the relation between the destitution of sovereignty and the creation of autonomous places of life. What lessons can be drawn from the experimental territories of communal zones of the Zapatistas, the Mohawks, the ZAD, the Gilets Jaunes, as well as here in the USA? How have these diverse struggles allowed us to imagine a shift beyond the ephemeral festivity of revolt toward the positive fragmentation of governmental space? What would a breakup of the nation-state paradigm of sovereignty look like in our different contexts? In an an-archic age, could the affirmation of fragmentation offer itself as the sole remaining universality?