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<nettime> Governance and the Undercommons
stevphen shukaitis on Mon, 7 Apr 2008 14:42:05 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> Governance and the Undercommons


Governance and the Undercommons
Stefano Harney

The Third Term
1.	Governance is a third term, beyond sovereignty or  
governmentality.  Although the term governance may still mark a form  
of government.  It is longer only a political term.  Governance is  
also now a term of the economy, not in the sense that the economy is  
also governed, as in corporate governance, but as economy itself.   
Governance is a form of economic production itself.

2.	Sovereignty establishes the public and private.  Governmentality  
makes this establishment of the private productive, through the  
production of the public.  Governance today marks the emergence of  
the public as directly productive.  No longer is the public, in all  
its micropolitics of subjectivity and macropolitics of population, an  
instrument for creating a private that can then be exploited.  Today  
the public itself in all its anti-social glory, because the public is  
the most anti-social moment of capitalist society, is also a direct  
and dominant source of capitalist wealth.  This is because the public  
holds all of the social qualities of the general intellect up to the  
light, making the general intellect obvious even in its disfiguration  
in the figure of the public, and offering up this captured aspect of  
the general intellect for exploitation.

3.	Governance puts the public to work, or, perhaps we could say,  
after Mario Tronti, governance is the new labour process.  Mario  
Tronti said the capitalist brings only this labour process, brings  
only work, while the worker brings her class relation, her  
socialisation, and her living labour, in short she brings the  
capital.  Today we could say the capitalist brings only governance,  
as for instance one might understand the Davos meetings, or the rise  
of the business schools of ignorance, or the sinister efforts of  
African debt relief, all experiments in governance as labour process,  
in governance as the effort to locate the general intellect and, as  
Tiziana Terranova says, to harness it.  The capitalist brings  
governance as a desperate attempt to arrange a labour process beyond  
his control.  And how does he do this?  How does governance work as a  
labour process?


The Mosquito
4.	Being in public is different from being public, and being in  
public has always been criminal.  Once that criminality was connected  
to sovereignty, as in reckless eyeballing and the African slave.  The  
male African slave needed to be in public to work, but if his being  
in public threatened the idea of being public, he could be accused of  
looking at a white woman, being in public, ‘reckless eyeballing,’ and  
punished or killed.  The public was dominated by a sovereign  
definition here.  Later this is not enough, and perhaps was never  
enough, for labour discipline.  Malcolm X tells the story of a  
hanging in London of a pickpocket, and even while the pickpocket was  
being hanged, other pickpockets worked the crowd watching the  
hanging.  Clearly sovereign power was not enough for the kind of  
labour discipline emerging in London at that time.  Governmentality  
names the experiments that come to supplement this power.

5.	But now to be in public, but not public, is a form of direct  
sabotage of the labour process. This is why we see the disconnection  
between the ever smoother operations of governmentality at new ever  
greater levels of differential inclusion, and at the same time the  
more regressive uses of prisons, police violence, rendition, and  
social censure, co-existing in one space.  Today being in public does  
not threaten the public only as the process of securing private  
exploitation.  It threatens exploitation itself.

6.	Social time, as Toni Negri says, cannot be recognized as such by  
capital, as pure social potentiality.  But it can be recognized as  
waiting time, if the wait is for work, as Paolo Virno says.  We can  
call this exhibition time, after Virno, the time during which we  
exhibit to all who pass our potential to labour.  And this is the key  
to establishing the difference between being in public and being  
public.  Because how do we exhibit this willingness to stand beside  
production and yet to attend to it (rather than having it attend to  
us)?  In other words, what does ‘sabotage of the capitalist capture  
of the general intellect’ look like?  I would say, it looks like a  
lack of governance.

7.	And what does governance look like?  I would say in large part it  
looks like the continuous production and exhibition of  self- 
generated, intelligible public interests. This is not just our  
interest in the public, but our interest in generating the public  
through the production of more interests, more politics if you like,  
even more politics of difference, as long as this difference is  
public, and therefore not different.  The exhibition of willing  
labour-power in the form of public interests is increasingly what  
composes the public.  And it is the exhibition that governance seeks  
to organize.  And why public interests?  Because public interests are  
a way to capture all the social cooperation, all the social  
interests, that reside in the general intellect, and that are, as  
Michael Hardt and Toni Negri have taught us, the chief source of  
capitalist wealth today.  Governance that provokes the production and  
exhibition of public interests therefore mines the wealth of the  
general intellect for what it cannot reach without the aid of all  
those who identify, volunteer, and offer up their public interests.

8.	This is the way, I suggest, to understand the Eighteenth Brumaire  
of Barack Obama.  American interest in politics under this ‘fetish of  
the public interest’ is a manifestation of the overwhelming labour  
discipline of that society, the overwhelming willingness to identify,  
volunteer and offer up public interests, or in other words the  
overwhelmingly willingness to exhibit the capacity for capitalist  
work.  On the other hand, it is also the way to understand ‘the  
mosquito’ – a device used by the English police to disperse young  
people in public squares and malls by using a high-pitched noise only  
people under 20 years of age can hear.  Those who do not exhibit this  
capacity for capitalist work must be cleared from the public space  
because it is the site of capitalist exploitation today.  Rather than  
close the public space, as in earlier phases of neo-liberalism still  
trying to invent governance, it must be open for production and  
appropriation, but only for this.


NGOs, Art Museums, and the Metroversity
9.	As I have said elsewhere, the laboratory of the production of  
public interests is the NGO.  The ethos of the NGO is that  
populations must be provoked into identifying and volunteering their  
own public interests.  The NGO regards it as counter-productive to  
speak for the illegal migrant.  Only the illegal migrant knows the  
contours of her own public interests.  An illegal migrant ought to  
know her rights, says the NGO.  In this boiling cauldron of neo- 
liberalism and civil society was this new meaning of governance born,  
and from there has it spread.

10.	This is also the key in my view to the creative industries.  It  
is not a question of business invading culture or even of culture  
invading business.  On the one hand, the creative industries do offer  
new private sources of exploitation as scholars like Andrew Ross have  
shown us.  On the other hand as I have tried to show, the business  
school has no subject except itself, and is therefore filled with  
creativity, politics, and cultural forms.  But these two sides alone  
of the creative industries leave out its real attraction to capital  
as a vehicle of governance, as a new labour process carved through  
the general intellect, strip-mining social attention and opinion.   
The creative industries are harnessed as the way art makes audiences,  
and audiences make public interests, in the form of taste, attention,  
prohibition, pleasure, and from all of this, new value.  This is art  
as governance, as labour process.  The market is a market in what can  
be revealed about audiences through new art.  This is what is worth  
millions.

11.	And finally the metroversity, which thanks to the Edu-factory  
collective has come so much into view for me.  What seems important  
here is the reversal of the visibility of the general equivalent.   
Broadly one could say the university was a place where one acted on  
the possibility of an original use-value while suspecting (correctly  
as we see in Christopher Newfield’s work) the world of exchange  
outside was also inside.  Now, in the university this suspicion has  
become common sense.  The university is overtly the place of the  
production of knowledge as exchange-value, and no one has any  
illusions about it.  Curiously outside the university, however, one  
is now supposed to act like original use-value is possible.  Out in  
the city one acts as one used to act in the university, like original  
use-value is possible while suspecting (again correctly) that  
exchange-value reigns.  Thus we fetishize public difference and  
accept pure command over our time as once was the case in the  
nostalgic university.  Taken together these two conditions and their  
reversal and blending are for me the definition of the metroversity.


Dumb Insolence of the Undercommons
12.	Fred Moten and I tried to think about the metroversity through  
its workers, through the undercommons produced by the self- 
organisation of these workers.  (In the US the metroversity also  
remains a form of rural patronage as well as tending toward an urban  
social factory of a new kind.)  For us, the undercommons is, from the  
revolutionary point of view, the self-organisation of the  
incommensurate.  From the point of view of capital, the undercommons  
is the unacknowledged self-organisation of the despised, discounted,  
and anti-social.  The first act of self-organisation in the  
undercommons is a refusal of subjectivation through, and only  
through, self-organisation.  This disidentification through self- 
organisation is also, for us, not a prerequisite to what Toni Negri  
calls the common management (gestione) of the commons, but the  
potential of that organisation.

13.	Those who work in the undercommons of the metroversity are often  
said to be dumb, and often said to be insolent.  They must not go out  
in public.  They do not exhibit the right attitude.  They are workers  
from the darkness of the private.  To governance they offer only dumb  
insolence.  But they seek a way to be together that does not require  
explanation or interests first, and is only of use to others who seek  
a similar ensemble.  This is why for us translation is crucial and  
the work of Sandro Mezzadra and his colleagues so important.  But  
dumb insolence is also about bodies and senses and social affect, not  
just cognition and language.  It is also about, paradoxically,  
laughter, music, touch, and the invitation to an ensemble of these  
affects and comprehensions that is not issued but remains possible,  
even necessary, nonetheless.

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