Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Occupy as Form: Kevin Smith

The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is sponsoring the working session "Occupy as Form" on February 10, 2012. Participants have been invited to post some brief thoughts on the topic in advance of the event. This guest posting is by Kevin Smith, graduate student in Anthropology and Critical Theory at UC Davis.

Keyword: Staying

I am interested in the ways in which the burgeoning Occupy movement inhabits an affective, social temporality of permanence that forcefully breaches the already available time-slots of reified, rationalized administration of public space. It has often been discussed how specific occupations reclaim public sites in the interest of rebuilding the commons, and the gravity of spatiality in determining particular formations of Occupy activities – tents arranged by task; safe spaces for queers, women, and minority groups, boundaries that must be patrolled by community security, etc.  Space is undeniably crucial to understanding how occupations operate – the ethos is founded upon taking back places that belong to the public, in one way or another. Nevertheless, I propose an examination of time as inextricably intertwined with the materializations of Occupy communities in space. What is novel to the Occupy movements in my view is not just that they belong to the commons, understood in spatial terms, i.e. they are publicly visible holding down sites in urban and not-so-urban localities so as to “demonstrate” our frustration with the logic of capital and to make recognizable the possibilities for building new affective communities on our own terms. Viewed through this spatial analytic, they belong to the commons much in the same way do other political demonstrations; they are to be seen at specific points in time and space conveying a message, however various it might be.  In contrast, Occupy breaks with these spectacle based forms of politics in actualizing through a temporal permanency our collective ownership of public space; that is, we do not remain at sites for the, say, 2 hours of capitalist time allotted to us by the authorities on pre-negotiated terms, but we remain there for as long as necessary to generate new affective, relational forms of becoming, even when we violate camping laws or other reified legal constructs.  This is what is confrontational and threatening to the status quo about the Occupy movement, but also what contributes to its possibility for successful communization. Herein lies my interest in the durational nature of Occupation – occupying space-time outside the permits of legal jurisdiction clashes with petrified conceptions of regularity and systematicity integral to the reproduction of capital, through which individuals must inhabit certain spaces at certain times. Occupy offers a rupture in the continuity and routinization of social life, in that a community cements itself so as to be accessible at any point in the day. Rather than surrendering to the inevitable atomization and individualization that follows pre-arranged political marches or gatherings, Occupy retains its solidarity by actually enabling the possibility of “living together” outside the framework of bourgeois private existence. This also radicalizes exclusivist claims to territorial identities embodied most awfully in nationalism by prioritizing not the specific locale and affective ties to it, but the vitality of the community itself. While spectacle based political actions can powerfully force into view fleeting traces of the promise of a new society, “staying” allows us to partake in the longevity of that new society itself. 

1 comment:

  1. I appreciate your closing remarks that "'staying' allows us to partake in the longevity of that new society itself." During my participant observation with Occupy Oakland, I was struck by the ways in which the "occupy-ers" did not simply denounce corporate rule and call for inclusive democracy on all levels, but rather came to embody the very change they sought. They embodied inclusivity, democracy, and care through free schools, libraries, food tents, medic tents, art tents, and musical shows.