attempts at living

to make a system out of delusions

Tag: capitalism

Pharmaco-centric capitalism: a reply to Will Self.

Psychiatry is undoubtedly experiencing something of a crisis. It is a clean and currently self-contained crisis, one that rarely troubles national headlines or makes it into the everyday conversations of workers in the office or the clothes shop floor, but it is a crisis nonetheless. Whilst the so-called anti-psychiatry movement of the 60s had a libertarian and experimental edge to it that courted controversy and political radicals, the “rational anti-psychiatry” or “critical psychiatry” of today is a lot less exuberant, more level headed and nuanced but, perhaps because of that, grips the imagination of the mass of people much less. This is weird. Its weird because when mental health issues do hit the headlines it is to warn us of epidemics of depression, anxiety and dementia; or to warn us of the terrible lunatics that roam the streets whenever “a schizophrenic” kills someone in the street or “psychopath” stalks playgrounds, gunning down children and teachers alike. Even with the publication of the new DSM-V it has only been the readerly classes and the commentariat who have raised furrowed brows and waded into the murky waters of psychiatry’s history. The quiet crisis of psychiatry is weird because 1 in 4 people are supposed to be affected by “psychiatric illness”, although this must be a conservative figure when we include the toll taken on carers, families and friends.

One member of the commentariat, the author and self proclaimed psychogeographer Will Self, has waded in to try to ask the question of whether the current epidemic of depression and hyperactivity has been caused by psychiatry and big pharma themselves. In an online column  published last Saturday, Self recounts an anecdote of his own time being treated for heroin addiction under the supervision of an unnamed psychiatrist, before going on to provide a brief synopsis of the noxious collaboration between psychiatry and big pharma. On first read, Self’s is a decent survey of this potent combination of science and industry.

In his view, psychiatry has increasingly tended to attempt to colonise everyday misery and suffering in order to expand its influence and power. As he puts it, the problem lies with ‘psychiatry’s search for new worlds to conquer, an expedition that has been financed at every step by big pharma’. This partakes of at least two types of narrative that have become incredibly popular. On the one hand, we have the narrative of the pathologisation of everyday life, and on the other hand, clasping the first tightly, is the narrative of imperialism. This story is one that should be familiar to anyone concerned with psychiatry and the experience of mental distress but will be especially familiar to those of us who have trained and work within the psy-disciplines, no less than for those of us who engage with critical theory and radical politics. There is nothing wrong with these stories in and of themselves, but presenting them in such a way as to suppose that this is an inevitable or teleological development of psychiatry would be misleading.

Psychiatry has had a number of minoritatian aspects in its history which have been more or less radical and which could have led to the establishment of a different psychiatry. To list all such missed opportunities would take too long but we could briefly include on such an account RD Laing’s attempt to create new therapies at Kingsley Hall, Felix Guattari’s work at the highly experimental La Borde clinic in France, and Loren Mosher’s similarly radical Soteria Project, the latter of which has demonstrated better efficacy than standard psychiatry in a number of studies in the treatment of psychosis (for instance, see here). We could also include the current work of Romme and Escher with Intervoice and its growth into the Hearing Voices Network, based on the psychiatrist and journalist team’s seminal findings that far more people experience voice hearing than ever receive psychiatric treatment. All of these projects were initiated, led and analysed by psychiatrists and psychiatric survivors against the tendency of biopsychiatry to pathologise distressing or divergent experience and to treat it with neuroleptic medications via coercion or legal compulsion. These projects either failed or remain in suppressed as “alternative” not because psychiatry has some immanent imperialistic drive toward the colonisation of our minds but for historical and material reasons. Some elements of these projects have been filtered into the current trend for person-centred care and use of the recovery model, but people involved in the founding of the recovery model (such as Ron Coleman), and some of those involved in its incorporation into mental health services (like Philip Barker and Poppy Buchanan- Barker, whose essay on “pharmaco-centrism” can be found here) see nothing tokenism destroying a potentially liberatory approach to working with people experiencing distress.

In fairness, Self doesn’t actually ascribe to a narrative of psychiatric imperialism for its own sake but suggests that the drive towards transforming everyday human misery into pathological disorders comes from biopsychiatry’s failure to cure the psychoses. As he puts it

unable to effect anything like a cure in the severe mental pathologies, at an entirely unconscious and weirdly collective level psychiatry turned its attention to less marked psychic distress as a means of continuing to secure what sociologists term “professional closure”.

As an explanation for why a group of people who ascribe to the hegemonic “medical model” of psychiatric research and practice would attempt to make the sorrow of grief or the tantrums of a toddler into morbid biochemical or behavioural dysfunctions the invocation of a professional collective unconscious does indeed seem weird. It seems weird because it imports an unnecessary combination of Freudian psychological and ontological presupposition onto a turn that can be much more easily explained. To suggest that psychiatrists are attempting to make the misery of unemployment into a brain disorder treatable with antidepressants because it failed to find a cure for psychotic illness is a stretch at the very least. At most it implies the existence of a symbolic order that only a subset of psychiatrists exist inside of that has structured their desire in such a way as to force them to treat all problems in living as if they were the same a severe and enduring psychotic disorder. While at first it might seem fair to say that feeling wounded by their failure biopsychiatrists expanded their attention to include more “conditions”, it is ludicrous to suppose that this was because the psychiatric unconscious made them do it. Even if Self doesn’t intend to invoke a psychiatric unconscious it remains remarkable that the unconscious drives of the majority of psychiatric researchers and practitioners (recall the two don’t always overlap) across the globe were effected in such a way as to synchronise them into coalescing around a singular trajectory.

Self does note that psychiatry may have wanted to secure its ‘professional closure‘ after it’s legitimacy as a medical science had been called into question by the failure of its curative ambitions. This seems a reasonable suggestion and is probably closer to the truth, but it does not require an invocation of Freudian psychoanalytic concepts to explain. If psychiatry’s legitimacy as a science was challenged this would also obviously constitute a threat to the status of psychiatry as a medical profession awarded with high status and high salaries. It is thus more likely that psychiatry’s desire to maintain the demarcation of its professional boundaries was driven by directly material and cultural capital concerns. In short, if psychiatry wasn’t a medical profession, if it was nothing but pseudo-science, then consultant psychiatrists would lose their money, their gravitas, their status (recall, in the 1950s psychiatrists were glamorous) and their power as agents of the state. As Self also notes, in the United States insurance companies require that a medical condition be present in order to payout on psychiatric treatment. It is commonly asserted that the DSM-III, published in 1980, was largely produced because of the increase in insurance companies refusing to payout  for such claims during the 1970s. In that same period the American NIMH slashed its funding for psychiatric services by 5% in 1976 on the assertion that such funding could not be afforded when mental illness was so vaguely defined and unmeasurable (largely a response to the prior dominance of psychoanalysis in American psychiatry). In the same moment, clinical psychology was just beginning to find its feet and was looking to launch an offensive on the hegemony of psychiatry in the care and treatment of the “mentally ill”, whilst survivor groups were launching offensives on the inclusion of homosexuality in a diagnostic manual of mental diseases. Threatened from all corners, psychiatry renounced psychoanalysis and renewed its original basis as a biomedical enterprise. There was nothing unconscious about this move, and the collective movement towards rekindling biopsychiarty was far from unanimous. Simply, threatened with the accusation of being a “pseudo-science” that lacked diagnostic validity and reliability, lacking evidence of outcomes for treatment and accountability, psychiatrists had to take measures to protect their relationship with medical cognitive authority and ensure its practitioners private wealth.

Simultaneously with all this, psychiatry also had to be defended as the sole means of dealing with “the mad” because it proved to proved itself as a powerful means of social control. The techniques and drugs employed by biopsychiatry in its past, resurgence and in the present day remain attached to the processes of discipline and normalisation that Michel Foucault elaborated on in a number of texts. As a series of dispotifs aligned to the management of bodies and their conduct psychiatry plays a pivotal role in regulating the distribution of the sensible. What can and can’t be said, what can and can’t be done, what can and can’t be seen or heard, on what is and isn’t to be considered “normal” are part of the preserve of psychiatric institutions. This role is especially important when life under late capital proves itself to be anxiogenic and depressing.

It is on the role that psychiatry plays in the medicalisation of everyday misery as the medicalisation of the destructive effects of post-Fordist capitalism that Will Self’s article veers firmly away from. In the analysis of psychologists like David Smail and political theorists like Mark Fisher, the production of distress is seen to be accelerated by the effects of capitalist recomposition. As the psychiatrist Joanna Moncrieff puts it giving someone a psychiatric diagnosis ‘allows behavioural control to be presented as treatment and it sanctions the release of state funds for support that may not be desirable’. Since Richard Warner’s Recovery from schizophrenia: psychiatry and political economy, psychiatry has been aware that long term unemployment and a precarious/casualised labour market produces all the signs and symptoms of depression, and I have written time and again on how life under capitalism produces anxiety, panic, and other “new symptoms”, such as self-harm and eating disorders. I have no doubt that depression and anxiety are on the increase, and that hyperactivity is increasingly being diagnosed, but to suggest that this is the fault of psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry is to confuse a cause with a symptom and means of managing disastrous psychological effects. That people work shit jobs at low pay, that are increasingly precarious, and that there appears on the temporal horizon a choice between more of the same or some catastrophic moment (ecological, industrial, whatever) within austerity conditions, the corrosion of public services and support networks such as the NHS, unemployment and disability welfare, under increasingly totalitarian state power means that everyday life is increasingly leading to mental distress. People feel impotent and unable to control their lives. They are taunted with empty consumerist visions of a happiness that is denied to them. As Self points out, their traditional coping networks are fragmented and, as Smail and Fisher both point out, their suffering is rendered as a personal failure or a biological disorder.

Why would psychiatry need to pathologise depression and hyperactivity? Its obvious why dubious diagnoses like borderline or anti-social personality disorder exist, but less so why unhappiness should become depression? Self openly states that ‘I don’t think it helps anyone to see the current imbroglio as simply a function of late capitalism’, and yet this would help immensely. The pharmaceutical industry (not “big pharma”) is an industry, which is to say no more or less than that it is a section of capital. For pharmaceutical capitalism to continue accumulating profit it must have an audience to sell its products to and it has that in the form of psychiatry, itself a wing of state power that has a captive market who can be legally compelled to take their medication. Psychopharmacology and psychiatry have been entwined since psychiatry’s birth, and even in the heydays of psychoanalytic psychiatry in the USA benzodiazapines were still regularly prescribed.

What is new in recent years is the transition from a Fordist to a post-Fordist economy, and to the revolution in social life that this has entailed. David Healey, a psychiatrist and psychopharmacologist, has discusses how SSRIs were marketed through pathologisation (ie. transforming unhappiness into a market). Its worth noting that Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors have nothing “selective” about them, and that the RCTs that prove their effectiveness are- as Self notes- funded by pharmaceutical companies. SSRIs were marketed precisely at the time when the possibility of collective response to capitalism broke down and when capitalism entered a faze in which everything was submitted to economic reason, including human emotions and affectivity. Thus, capital effects a double stroke: a new market and a chemically constrained population. This chemically constrained labour force, who might otherwise slide into despair given the new reality in which real subsumption appears to have swallowed everyone and everything whole, individualises the causes of its distress, never looking to the conditions of its subjectification, and never being capable of summoning the energy to fight back. Of course, this is capitalism’s dream, rather than an accomplished fact. Yet even those people who riot or refuse to work, those who enact a kind of psychic withdrawal from the harshness, uncertainty and emptiness of the work-consume world, can now be medically treated to ensure no further loss of working hours. Economically, the biopower of psychiatry ensures that labour-power can be regulated more or less efficiently whilst as Moncrieff suggests,

concealing the political nature of the responses to the situations that are labelled as ‘mental illness’, psychiatric diagnosis prevents these responses from being questioned and scrutinized. It allows the state to delegate a difficult area of social policy to supposed technical experts, and thus to remove it from the political and democratic arena.

In separating actually existing psychiatry from “big pharma”, and in separating “big pharma” from capitalism and the interests of a particular class protected by state power, Will Self’s analysis effectively decouples his critique from any economic or political implications. What we are left with is a weak moralism that he himself even calls ‘ lily-livered liberal’, that also misrepresents certain aspects of the history of the two disciplines. This moralism is born out in Self’s comparison of psychiatrists as “drug-pushers” where it is clear that we’re supposed to read “drug-pusher” as a good go-to caricature of a bad person. This moralism of the psychiatrist as unscrupulous bastard getting kids hooked on downers is conjoined to the weak assertion that ‘we are all to blame’. Our responsibility, according to Self, comes from the fact that we are

‘absolutely bloody miserable, we can’t get up in the morning, we are dirty and unkempt, and we go along to our GP and are prescribed an antidepressant and lo and behold we recover.

For Self, the bad dealer-man gives us misery guts a pill and we feel better and therefore “we” are to blame for having been miserable and/or for the ‘chemical repression of the psychotic’ (it isn’t clear which). This complete obliteration of a perspective willing to recognise, analyse and critique the structural causes and consequences of psychopharmacological psychiatric treatment completely mirrors the prevailing ideology under which that structure justified itself (the same problem is found in the second half of Soderbergh’s recent film, Side Effects). Presumably this morality also extends to the parents of children, or the children themselves, who are desperate to find some way to ameliorate the incredibly stressful situation that hyperactivity can cause. It is also telling that people who experience psychotic phenomena are given only fleeting mentions in the article, as if concern over psychiatric power is really only important when it concerns the middle class readership of the Guardian. People diagnosed with psychotic illness tend to be either live in poverty at onset or to drift into poverty as a result and Self only real reflection on economic position seems is his correct reference to ‘socio-medical discrimination: no sick note – and no social benefits’, although he leaves out any reference to the fact that today many people who should not be working are having their welfare revoked and forced back to work.
Self does include reference to ‘autonomously organised self-help groups’, suggesting that these might provide adequate compensation for the loss of traditional family networks. While this might be true, Self’s example is the 12 step program that is used in alcohol and substance misuse, groups that require members swap a pathological identity (“ill”) for a deviant one (“addict”). While 12 step programs might prove useful to some people they do not challenge the causes of people’s problems but further privatise them as individual failures- “My name is Arran and I am an alcoholic”, as the well-known admission of responsibility goes. I have no qualms with self-help groups. They are shown to be efficacious, to foster recovery, to aid in the production of destigmatising communities of support, and may even lead to the ability for people to become politically active. I don’t want to suggest that the answer for all mental distress- as one insurrectionary anarchist text has it- is ‘revolt, not therapy’, but therapy without an understanding of the material conditions in which distress develops often does more harm than good. Examples like the Hearing Voices Network and the Soteria Project are far closer to how I understand the term ‘autonomously organised  self-help groups’. In time, members of such groups might even drop the “self-help” reference, and engage in the organisation of autonomy.

I like Will Self’s novels and short-stories. They are full of a dark humour and Ballardian insights. If I am critiquing his understanding of psychiatry, psychopharmacology and the pharmaceutical industry it is not because he is part some nefarious cabal attempting to mystify us but because his view is symptomatic of a mystification that is already in place. Self’s brief overview partakes of a fiction that he didn’t write, but when he write that ‘I don’t think it helps anyone to see the current imbroglio as simply a function of late capitalism’ he becomes a supporting character inside of it. After all, what else but capitalism is helped by refusing to see capitalism’s role in the production of “mental illness”, and accusations that psychiatry is a is precisely what lead to resurgent bio psychiatry.

Radical interpretations of the current crisis

Radical Interpretations of the Present Crisis, NYC, 11.14.12 from Platypus Affiliated Society on Vimeo.

Loren Goldner ┇ David Harvey ┇ Andrew Kliman ┇ Paul Mattick

New approach to homelessness is old approach to homelessness

We decided to create an employment academy offering training schemes, which will be integrated into a not-for-profit members’ club opening in autumn 2013. The club will provide opportunities for work experience in a dynamic environment and first-rate commercial hospitality training. The club, charity and employment academy will be part of the beautiful and historic building at 1 Greek Street, Soho, offering a new vision for members’ clubs, one with the drive for social change at its heart.


The full story of this club-cum-training academy is available on the Guardian’s website. After only a quick assay of the story it seems undeniable that this is an exercise that partakes of precisely the same logic that ATOS and the Workfare Program operate by. That is, take people who are in a position of desperation and get them to work for nothing. Of course, they aren’t working for nothing at all. This is a training program for future employment in the hospitality industry. Yet aside from vague hopes that it will provide a means to ‘reintegrate those devastated by homelessness into sustained employment’ there is no discussion of exactly what positive impact this will have on homeless people.

In fact, the article, written by one of the projects architects, is more aimed at cooing a liberal, media-savvy, and probably media employed (it’s in Soho after all), audience. They identify their hoped for clientele as: ‘architects of social change, the interested and interesting and the incurably curious’. The first group is vague enough to catch pretty much anyone with a social conscience, the second anyone vain or voyeur enough, and the last- I don’t know…the incurably curious? This sounds like scientists or explorers. The upshot is that it sounds like an advert for an “ethically sound” private members club that allows the liberal elite, and whoever it wants to bring along, to indulge in feeling good about helping, whilst rubberneck at, the homeless who parade around as unpaid chefs, barstaff and waiters with no ultimate guarantee of employment. How many business meetings will be conducted over a nice salad and glass of white?


There is also a basic problem with one of the core assumptions of this model: it operates as if a lot of these homeless people won’t already have skills. They will. They may even (shock horror) be highly skilled! They might have, until recently, been in employment but, thanks to the structural recomposition of capital, and the demand that capitalism be saved at all costs, they may have been made redundant after having lost most of their savings in the banking crash or in some exorbitant mortgage. Or perhaps, as is common on the streets of London, they will include people who have fled from abusive, traumatic conditions and have found themselves, with any support or without the prerequisite requirement of a fixed abode (that isn’t a homeless shelter), unable to find work…even in a bars! 

But no, they should of course feel thankful and obliged for this olive branch, this latest extension of charity from these good people. Such good people that they manage to include in their list of ‘architects of social change’ presumably include those who are helping to finance this project. These include such luminaries of the radical world as Virgin Media and benguo

This leads us to consider the charitable capitalist aspect of this project. In one fell swoop it accomplishes two things on behalf of the more affluent members of society. Firstly, it allows them to feel as though they are “contributing” something to the homeless, a good ego boost, and lets them situate themselves as the modern day equivalent of 19th century philanthropists (without the £millions, and more into going along to see Brian Cox talk about physics, or listen to the radio-approved guitar music Slow Club…actually I’m tempted to go just because Ekow Eshun will be chairing a discussion and I’ve always enjoyed hating him). 

This philanthropic function, clearly what interests a monolith like Virgin Media, is the function not just of easing consciences but also of presenting what we regularly hear called “capitalism with a friendly face”, thereby providing the illusion that capitalism can be a humane, non-exploitative, love-fest of mutual empowerment. Except that that isn’t the case and homelessness is one of the most visible reminders that the structure of capitalism means that that isn’t the case. Except that one side benefit of this project is that there will be a hell of a lot less homeless visibility, even if there won’t be any reduction in homeless itself. A neat trick! Come and look at/help out the homeless by helping to make them disappear.

While we are at it, let’s not ask any of those nasty structural questions that people are beginning to ask. Obviously there are bad capitalists but look at Virgin Media, they are the good capitalists (let’s ignore their history of outsourcing jobs to more easily exploited labour forces, tax avoidance, what sounds a lot like centralised employee surveillance, and that they are a very large territorialisation of financial capital). Let’s also not ask about our own situation, our own involvement in, as reproductive elements (exploited and exploiting) of a global economic system. This is the second function, the function of ignorance and of beautiful souls. The ethical consumer gets to point to herself as someone outside of those systems of exploitation and violence and identify the evil of the fallness of the world as elsewhere. As Zizek puts it, ‘when you buy something, your anti-consumerist duty to do something for others…is already included into it’. These two moments of generalised philanthropy generate an almost identical mirage that expropriator and expropriated can both identify with. The problem of homelessness, which is properly a symptom of capitalism, is thus maintained. Indeed, what do we see in this project? What we see is the inclusion of the homeless population into considerations of a reserve army of labour. On this I am being strictly Marxist and echoing Marx’s claim that ‘capitalistic accumulation itself… constantly produces, and produces in the direct ratio of its own energy and extent, a relatively redundant population of workers, i.e., a population of greater extent than suffices for the average needs of the valorisation of capital, and therefore a surplus-population’. 

With all this said, let’s not be so foolish as to think that there won’t be homeless people who do welcome this intiative, and for whom it makes absolute sense to welcome this initiative. These are not idiots or victims of some false consciousness. We can also applaud the motivation of those at House of St. Barnabas for what it is they think they hope they accomplish. Who exactly though is going to benefit from a private club that talks about providing a space for ‘entrepreneurial exchange’ at an annual cost that ranges between £300-£5000, with additional annual fee, 50% of which go towards charitable work. I am not suggesting that these are evil capitalists trying to hoodwink idiot liberals into exploiting the innocent homeless. Such would be to trade in caricatures. What I am saying is that this doesn’t look like a model that really wants or can effect structural politico-economic problem of homelessness. 

Hijack, Reclaim, Occupy!

Introducing the Emergent Service Workers Party

“When we demanded an end to wage labour, we didn’t just mean the wages!”

From people being forced to stack shelves in Poundland for free, through to office workers pushing their hours later and later, our wages no longer reflect our work.

The casino banks are being bailed out with our money, the corporations dodge their tax, our services are cut and we’re forced to work even more for even less.

Emergent service workers of the world unite!

The Haymarket martyrs died demanding an 8 hour paid working day. When was the last time any of us managed that?

When we’re not being blackmailed into slave labour for Homebase or Poundland, we’re burning the midnight oil working after hours for free. Every waking hour we check our emails, quickly responding to that memo from HR, or finishing off that report before the morning meeting.

Google and their ilk blur our work into our free time, we’re on call 24 hours a day, but no more!

Demand that the corporate internet is shut down at 6pm!
Unplug corporate gmail, spam filter that shite till the morning!
While we’re at it, demand that google pay some bloody tax too!

The eSWP will be launching this mayday.
A political party in the truest sense of the word!

Watch this space and join us to down tools at 6pm, Wed May 1st
The official mayday after party

Please forward this link to your friends and family.
Sign up to be a Space Hijacker
Follow us on twitter @spacehijackers

Take the BBC test, what class are you?

The spacejackers can be found here.

Tactical openness: against reformism and revolution

From Platypus Review #55

Norbert Trenkle. [note: Trenkle is a member of The Krisis Group].

I would like to stress the need to overcome the conception of resistance as micropolitics, and instead refocus on the totality. The terms “reform” and “revolution” have become deeply infected by the logic of capital. In fact, they are a reflex of the consolidation of capitalism, and for that reason no longer useful for the supersession of capitalism. Their meanings have changed too: Reform today means the cutback of social rights, of the rights of workers, or in other words, a thorough economization of society. And revolution implies nothing more than the overthrow of some authoritarian regimes to make way for free markets or, at best, an attempt to introduce democratic rights.

By this, I don’t mean to say that these terms have simply become suffused by neoliberal dogma, although they are rather closely connected with the social process of bourgeois society, in that they are subjected to the historical trajectory of the continued expansion and permanently revolutionizing means of production. However, this basic process has become a metaphysically bloated conception of philosophy of history, particularly in its classical formulation, with its emphasis on progress. Marxism, on the other hand, already regards bourgeois society as a transitory phase, directed toward a higher social formation. “Reform” and “revolution” stand in the tradition of this conception of progress and refer to it. Despite the fact that those two terms are antagonistic, they both share similar points of reference and are closely related, since they both imagine that the historical process is pushing them forward. We need to liberate ourselves from this metaphysical conception of social transformation as it is infected with the real metaphysics of bourgeois society.

By real metaphysics I mean that our actions are already anticipated by unconscious processes, or in other words, what Marx calls the “fetish,” a reification of social relations which rules over people. Liberation or emancipation can thus only mean a liberation in terms of the unconsciously presupposed that rules over people although they are their own social relations. This also implies that emancipation cannot be formulated with metaphysical or historico-philosophical categories.

Bourgeois-capitalist society has reached its limits. This, however, is not a historico-teleological interpretation but the result of the immanent contradictions of capitalism. This process does not point into some beyond, but rather to the fact that the limits have been reached. We are at a point at which we are forced to confront the question of what will follow next, since we are in a situation in which the whole of capitalist society has been formed through these contradications, and not only in its objective structures but also in its structures of consciousness. This means that there are no prerequisites for emancipation that we can relate to—these prerequisites have to be created first. Likewise, there is no presupposed “us,” no prior subject, but this “us” has to be created first through our reified consciousness.

The question of tactics and forms of protest poses itself anew once we become aware of the limits to our own consciousness. The same is true for the problem of immanence and transcendence, or, in other words, what kinds of immanent demands can be raised while at the same time pointing to the transcendence of this society. Neither the tactic nor the form of protest is the problem but rather the question what our cause is all about. First, there needs to be a negative identification of the liberation from this reified process, and secondly an appropriation of material wealth. The crisis of bourgeois society has emanated from the paradoxical fact that this society is too rich. Therefore, the answer to the question of what our cause is all about is access to material wealth and an emancipation from this form of value, for only then can forms of actions and tactics be determined anew.

A comment on urban struggle and recomposition

‘The first mass influx will begin over the next few months as an estimated 40,000 families affected by the Benefit Cap will be forced to seek housing outside the capital. This is only likely to be the beginning however as soaring rents and shrinking benefits could mean soon almost all private sector tenants on benefits will be priced out of the capital. Hundreds of thousands of claimants could soon be making a move to Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Berkshire and Kent over the next few years’. (Jonny Void. Here.

Not only does this exo-urban migratory flow seem to be entirely in keeping with the inner city’s gentrification, although these two operations are probably not coupled by intentional design, a strategic operation emerges on the part of capital and the neoliberal state that seeks to recompose it. This neoliberal recomposition of capital is being met with a recomposition of urban space by an attack on the working class. This is to say, echoing Murray Bookchinm, David Harvey and Paul Virilio, that the city is a sight of class struggle (whether that struggle articulates itself in those terms or not). The ‘right to the city’ is the right to space, to this space, and it is a demand that provides a kind of linking-up (I’m thinking about workers, unemployed, disabled claimants, but also about the homeless who, in cities like Edinburgh, are under attack simply of existing in the wrong space). On the issue of homelessness, is there any kind of homeless union? At the same time, again in agreement with David Harvey, this shows a poverty of thought in relation to those strands of anticapitalism that make calls for dropping out of the city (cf. Tiqqun, in a certain sense Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi as well- the city doesn’t ‘slow down’, although it might have “decelerative zones”) play directly into the hands of the plutocratic-oligarchic class. The material contestation of space might involve an intensification of the Occupy movement’s strategy. If you are threatened with eviction, that is if your spatial vulnerability is exposed and attacked, then what do you have to lose exactly? The Occupy movement might become another form of squat movement:

What squatters seek, and have always sought, is security of tenure, and indeed personal security. However, there has been a marked deterioration in the public mood which enabled local authorities in the 1940s and again in the 1960s and 1970s to make creative deals with squatters, but in the 1990s led central government, relying for support on what it saw as the self-protective instincts of a property-owning democracy, to adopt policies which have had the effect of criminalising them’.

(Colin Ward, 2004. The hidden history of housing. Here.).

Ward says that squatting can be ideological and/or pragmatic. Clearly in the Occupy movement as a Squatting movement is would be both simultaneously, and it would exceed the demand for security of tenancy but would also call for the security of the ability to occupy certain spaces as such. A city like London is built on the historical labour of workers, in terms of wealth and in the sense that so much of it’s materiality is the dead labour of workers, and (“the city is not itself”- Virilio) continues to be exist in a phase space produced by the ongoing labour of construction workers and cognitive workers (architects and so on). A city like London, my home city, a city that I hate and miss in often equal measure, could be the perfect place for a wave of squat actions. Now that we are revealed as the precarious class (“the 99%”) I would think that the public would be less inclined to see squatters as parasites and crusties.

A step too far to consider at the moment, but why not: the exodus of claimants and the homeless (who are really one figure, right? one is just latent while the other is manifest), have another member of their chain that naturally calls out to them. I am writing about the travelers who are still, even in the current episode of the crisis, scapegoated and seen as a illegitimate, a menace, an mobile ecological disaster (and yet urban planning has produced the primary agent of mobility not as bodies, not public transportation networks, but the car; indeed, cities still thrive on the road networks that connect them together as material-logistical veins of the flow of material goods, so perhaps even more than the car or the 4×4 it is the articulated lorry that is the principle object of the inter-urban infrastructure).

In pointing to the traveler community I am not pointing to an ally, and ally who at the moment still appears as an enemy to the sedentary populace. To be clear, I am not wanting to suggest a tactic of urban nomadism, which would only be a way of living open to a small number of people without jobs or dependents and thus might amount to little more than adventurism. In the end, the tactic of urban nomadism is atactical because it all too often appears as a lifestyle choice or out of necessity; it is either an experiment in living that is not open to all latent homeless people or it is a reactive coping mechanism that capital impels people to take up. We can list the modalities that urban nomadism takes: car living, couch surfing, temporary homes, sleeping rough, and, in a city like London, the kind of accomodation supplied by the towering Center Point. Couch surfing is an intriguing phenomena because it is a sort of dual-urbanism of the megapolis, the urbanism of the multi-nodal network of cities connected by road, flight paths and airports, sealines, ferries, tankers, and ports: a whole material-logistical ontocartography of a city beyond any particular territorialisation (a city more of movement and speed than stasis and sedation). Of course, the accusation of adventurism shouldn’t be extended to travelers.

Indeed, this points even further to those who are involved in the urban regime of spatiality, those cognitive workers who are active in the production of urban space. Take for example the Spatial Agency project that speak in:

Bruno Latour’s terms, critical attention is shifted from architecture as a matter of fact to architecture as a matter of concern. As matters of fact, buildings can be subjected to rules and methods, and they can be treated as objects on their own terms. As matters of concern, they enter into socially embedded networks, in which the consequences of architecture are of much more significance than the objects of architecture.

and which wants to move

away from the figure of the architect as individual hero, and replaces it with a much more collaborative approach in which agents act with, and on behalf of, others.

So here there is another potential ally. The Spatial Agency project is a fantastic resource, one that more people should know about and which we could benefit from some time reading.

Perhaps this sounds like a call for an insurrectional movement in the sense that Saul Newman, taking the word from Max Stirner, gives it:

What was striking in Occupy was the absence of the usual modes of communication and representation. There were no demands, no programs, and no revolutionary blueprints, just the coming together of singularities without anything in common apart from a desire to create new relations and subjectivities. The mode of communication, on the contrary, was completely innovative, decentralized, and gestural. Lastly, there was no party, no centralized leadership, no form of representatives, no Lenin waiting in the wings to take over state power. Those times are over. The vanguard has fallen from its privileged place in revolutionary politics. It’s completely defunct. This is the time not of revolution, but of insurrection, the creation of autonomous spaces and relations and new collective intensities. Occupy gives a glimpse of the possibilities of the insurrection today. Here.

Yet this is collection of singularities is precisely a liberal formation of pre-existent individuals that have come together as a in Stirner’s union of egoists. It is a collectivity rather than a community. This is to say that it is the mirror of the capitalism that it seeks to resist (did it dare think it could overcome it?). Regardless of this philosophical point, there is the practical one that- and against Newman’s later comment from the same text about the lack of a ‘Lenin waiting in the wings to take over state power’, there was reportedly no real organisation either. The self-organised form of the Occupy movement would have proved inadequate to the task of building anything out of the wreckage of the crisis of capitalism. Let’s be clear on this if on nothing else: the focus on urbanism implies that we do require some kind of Lenin, if not Leninism, because this is a huge undertaking. We can’t think about organising in the style of bolo’bolo, the totally impractical idea of radical localism. It isn’t enough that singularities ‘with nothing in common’, which is itself a piece of neoliberal propaganda (indeed, it is how the logic of scapegoating travelers works), is the kind of thinking we need to do away with. Newman calls Occupy a “post-identity politics” and then seeks to lump class warfare into “identity politics”, when the point of the proletariat is precisely its radical dissolution of identitarian and substantialist models of political thinking. Why is he making this argument now, as class division begins to emerge once again as the all too obvious structural partition of the distribution of the sensible? In part because his career as a postanarchist means that he is committed to an abandonment of the desire for (rather than tabooing of the term) of revolution and to the kind of radical individualism that Max Stirner inaugurates as an idealist form of freedom. Actual freedom is defined by Stirner in precisely liberal terms, and he is looks upon it with indifference and even disdain. Not even the Stoics, with their emphasis on equanimity, jettisoned the political in the same way that Stirner did. It is this thought that there is nothing in common- and why not, following Lingis, ask if this isn’t exactly what we have in common- that has prevented us from developing beyond spectacular protest. This is precisely what is shifting. There are calls for the inaugeration of a new party of socialism, a reinvigorated anarcho-syndicalist movement, and the return to openly talking in terms of communism and anarchism. The prefix of “post-” is precisely what needs to be abandoned. As Chris Cutrone puts it in his Platypus article, ‘The relevance of Lenin today’

the people—the demos—seem resigned to their political powerlessness. Indeed, forming a political party aiming at radical democracy, let alone socialism—a “Jacobin” party—would itself be a revolutionary act.

Saul Newman represents what has variously been post-anarchism, neoanarchism, ‘the new anarchists’, and the anarchist ethics of infinite responsibility. Slavoj Zizek has called it hypertical protest, and others (more and more myself included) are coming to see it as a form of liberalism that has to be exceeded within the problematic of communist organisation. The idea that insurrection is opposed to revolution, or that we are living in an age beyond revolution is already to buy into a very specific discourse on what revolution means, and who carries it out. In fact, it is to speak in the language of what would once have been called counter-revolutionary terms. Similarly, Simon Critchley has stated that

Politics is perhaps no longer, as it was in the so-called anti-globalization movement, a struggle for and with visibility. Resistance is about the cultivation of invisibility, opacity, anonymity, and resonance.

The struggle for visibility remains vitally important to the homeless of cities like Edinburgh, as it does for a great many people. Occupy itself is about cultivating a form of urban visibility and about the visibility of the nature of space and the identification of real live people and institutions in space-time-matter. That much is obvious from the fact that Occupy is not simply the occupation of anywhere but of named places; Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Sussex, and so on. In the conditions today we are forced to accept a tactical openness, I believe the conditions we find ourselves in demand such a stance, but it does demand a stance nonetheless. Pure mobility and absolute withdrawal are, in actuality, the image of recession to the private sphere that liberalism has long been held to; we will gather publicly, but we are isolated and private individuals. Against this, Occupy involved the production of publics that, could they cohere and become ‘a city within the city’ (in Richard Seymour’s formula), would have also formed municipalities:

There is every reason to believe that the word anarchism, with its historic commitment to the confederation of municipalities — the famous “Commune of communes” — is in [the hyterical liberals] eyes completely “utopian” and that she merely hijacks the word to add color and pedigree to her simplistic [protest movement] — a world that, by her own admission to me, she personally knows little about. (Murray Bookchin, A meditation on the ethics of anarchism. Here.

What was Occupy and what are the continued occupations (Sussex University) if they aren’t a conflict of regimes of time-space-matter? Bodies organised in space, tied to it, holding it, producing it as a public and political space, and thereby returning an embodied gaze on the disembodied gaze of the financial infosphere. The demand of the international citizenry is that those responsible take responsibility. This means locating them in space and thereby contesting spatiality. To use the internet, the mobile phone, the screen in order to do so is merely to weaponise the technologies of the illuminationism attempts to abolish publicity and politics. The tactic of occupation remains open and might well be accelerated. Could there even be cross-occupations? Mass occupations? This is crucial, it is the crucial move, but it is also the beginning that be radicalised. To risk dialectical language, it must be sublated in a movement of aufheben. The urban struggle, the struggle in, with, and for the city is an ancient one. It is what was at stake in the demos of Greece, and it is what is at stake again in a renewal of class struggle and communism. Quite against a certain thought, a thought that the militarisation of urban space is anything new, we should recall that the city has its history in military thought. That is to say, we have always been, in a shifting manner and under different contexts and for different reasons, been sunk in a military space. Class war is not simply rhetoric. Today it is more visible than it has been for a long time. It demands that we stop singing hymns to the power of powerlessness, to parody, to irony, to hysteria, that we rediscover the potency of the organisation of bodies and the articulation of demands.

The political economy of vulnerability

In Judith Butler’s work, a consideration of the economic concept of precarity opens directly onto considerations of ontological vulnerability. Paige Sarlin has followed this route, and back again, to trace a concept of “vulnerable accumulation”. Here I reproduce a few sections of a definition of vulnerable accumulation:

The concept[1] of vulnerable accumulation accounts for and incorporates both economic and affective registers in its description of the processes and activity involved in forms of sociality that arise between people experimenting with social forms outside or in opposition to market forces (and without financial remuneration).

Like capital itself, vulnerable accumulation and vulnerability are un-equally distributed across the globe. Various populations and formations are more susceptible to violence, enclosure, appropriation, monetization, dispossession, and destruction than others.

The vulnerability of being-in-common is both a weakness and a strength (see 5).
a. The fact of the accumulation of vulnerability exposes the assumption that forms of togetherness (and particularly, forms of togetherness that respect difference) are easy or simply emancipatory things. It seeks to name some of the paradoxes and difficulties of being-in-common.

Read in full here.

Nihilist Optimism: on horse meat, onto-cartography, and case studies.

If we wish to summarize in a few words the meaning of a nihilistic hermeneutics—one that is, after all, an entirely open enterprise—what I myself see in it at this moment is a confirmation of Heidegger’s thesis on being as ‘event’, and not as a stable structure given once and for all (what Heidegger calls ‘metaphysics’). An event that is possible only on condition that being ‘is not’, or is no longer—on condition that God is dead and that the eternal structures of values have been unveiled as a lie. Only on condition of traversing the experience of nihilism understood in this way is it possible to plan a society where freedom will not be an empty term: truth is always ‘to be made’, and thus values are always to be invented anew. It is in nihilism thought in this way that equality finally establishes itself, and what Richard Rorty calls solidarity becomes possible—or better necessary—for life, the only possible basis for a truth that does not claim to evade the historical conditions in which existence is always ‘thrown’. (Gianni Vattimo, 2006. Nihilism as Empancipation).

Not only do the objective conditions change in the act of reproduction, e.g. the village becomes a town, the wilderness a cleared field etc., but the producers change, too, in that they bring out new qualities in themselves, develop themselves in production, transform themselves, develop new powers and ideas, new modes of intercourse, new needs and new language. (Karl Marx, Grundrisse).

In the comments to my post ‘Corporealism is a transcorporealism’, dmfant responded to my question as to whether something like an onto-cartography had or could be undertaken in relation to the horse meat scandal that dominated British news media for months. This is a story has been an emotional story, but this serves- in part- to occlude a view of the very materiality of our reality. In this post I’ll discuss that materiality a little, and respond to/make use of dmf’s objection to map making of such a situation. I want to elaborate on why between onto-cartography and a kind of onto-political atomism we can situate dmfant’s idea of the case study. In no uncertain terms, this post owes its existence to the conversation with dmfant. It also owes its existence to a trip to the museum that I’ll reconstruct a little below.

Flogging a dead horse.

I didn’t quite notice when the story broke that retail giant Tesco had been selling mass produced ready-meals that contained horsemeat. As the story unfurled it soon became apparent that Tesco were not the only big trading culprit. It also came to light that some meat products contained 100% horsemeat. While the story followed the usual massified emotional morality play structure of victim (the consumer) being lied to by the bad guys (food producers and sellers) with the good guys (the media and select politicians) crusading on our behalf, the real story was much more materially focussed. News media, new and old, print and broadcast, were filled with stories and images of the material production of ready-meals. The Guardian newspaper produced an online interactive map featuring the trade distribution routes of equidae (horse and horse-like meat) in Europe. This map also featured the question ‘what does this all mean? Can you tell us?’, vindicating Adam Curtis’s critique of the eclipse of expertise in the media whilst also showing us that we ourselves have become the subject supposed to know (hysterics yelling in a mirror, online newspaper comments sections; is there a massive difference here?). The Guardian also provides a handy timeline of how the story played out should you be interested.

I don’t have a TV but as I’ve commented before, it is nearly impossible to enter (what used to be called) a third space without being met by the unblinking, high definition glare of one or more giant plasma screens. These are invariably tuned to some 24 hours rolling news network, such as BBC24 or Al Jazeera. At some point I began to notice what was being delivered into the majority of British homes like a continuous intravenous feed: graphic images and videos of food production, documentary footage of farmers rearing animals for slaughter, talking heads with small-scale localist food-producers (also assigned the status of unquestioned “good guys”). Suddenly the global material network that had receded from the consumer’s view is made to stand in stark relief. Exposed, the multitude of bodies that form the intermatrices of the food-production network, itself a loose ensemble or assemblage, lay open before our eyes. It’s an almost Christ-ian moment of revelation, ‘he who has eyes let him see’: the farmers, the farms, the pig feed, the grass grown for cows to graze on, the fences delimiting the farmers field from the field surrounding them, the cow sheds, the milking machines, the tractors, the lorries that transport the animal to the abattoir, the abattoir itself, the men and women employed therein, the instruments of slaughter and clean-up, the machines, techniques, chemical processes and so forth needed to preserve the meat, the agencies involved (or failing to be involved) in assessing the standard of the quality of the meat, the lorries to distributors, the cross-border roads (and the implications of the European Union allowing freedom of movement and so on), the companies that are paying for this processing and packaging of the ready-meals, the supermarkets who sell them to the consumer (both the corporation “Tesco” and the brick-and-mortar Tesco down the road where I buy my bread and milk, and the “…”. This “…” is stolen from the underappreciated philosopher and psychotherapist Eugene Gendlin. In his work the ellipse conveys a quality of what he calls the ‘felt-sense’ that exceeds the capacities of language to capture. Here, I mean the ellipse to indicate the inexhaustibility of this network of particular bodies and particular ensembles of particular bodies. No list could list everything included in the food-production network that the horse meat scandal has delineated. The territory is too big to map; indeed, the map would need to be significantly larger than the territory it was supposed to be mapping.

Another upshot of the horse meat scandal and its media coverage has been its Baconism. Consider the reaction Bacon might have had to the idea of images such as the one below being exposed to people in every humble and stupid corner of their lives. Imagine the family sitting down to their TV dinner, the material assemblage that produced that meat disappeared from view for the time being, the awareness that this hamburger used to be a sentient cow capable of suffering and enacting a world safely pushed to the boundaries of consciousness. Imagine that same family, that same scenario, and then this image appears on the TV. Francis Bacon would delight.


Capitalism, onto-cartography, and the case of the case study.

Things have been exposed. We have collectively had to pay attention. This is the experience of living in a country where there might be horse meat in your hamburgers. The banality of the phrase is as hilarious as it is telling: so obvious a revelation after all. And there has been a collective response of sorts, an emotional one in the first instance. People were angry. They felt lied to. They felt as though the people providing food for them had broken their trust. Personally, I’m not sure of this. I haven’t met any of these angry people, but then my friends are largely people who either don’t eat meat or wouldn’t care a less if they were told they’d just finished all the soylent green in town.

The people wanted lamb and instead they got horse. This speaks to the different places these animals have in our systems of signifi-cance as much as anything else. Beef and lamb are for eating, horses though…these were once loyal co-workers (they were vital to canal-building, among many things); they provide us with entertainment and means of showing how skilled we are (horse-racing, dressage, and show-jumping); they give us spectacular means to extend our capacity for mobility (they can carry us further than we can walk); they give us access to unparalleled vistas (the beauty of horse rides in the mountains); and they are bearers of great majesty, pride, beauty, and dignity. Sometimes it is as we considered horses to be ensouled in a way we don’t extend to any other animal. Yet of course, other nations eat horse meat and make no bones about it. Meat is meat, as long as it is nonhuman. So the emotions ran high. Tesco apologised in huge full page black text on white background sincerity. Angry debates were had, and continue to be had. In the background of all of this one senses the figures of Paul Virilio or Bernard Steigler, muttering about the synchronisation of emotions and the birth of ‘a communism of affects’.

Other responses have been registered as well. It is changing the buying habits of retailers. It is hard not to think that this will alter the material distribution of production and consumption in Europe, producing a redistribution in the material mechanisms of the assemblage of assemblages, system of systems, that has escaped accusation and exposure in this story: capitalism. Op-eds from experts predict the collapse of some of the attractors that capital flows toward- through-and-out of that we call companies or corporations. National and local news and trade outlets have featured a variety of articles (lifestyle, news, editorial, even style features) on why we should shun the global food production market and turn toward the local producers. Some sources say we ought to do so because it will bolster the national economy (a strong argument in Scotland given we are gearing up to a referendum on independence that will larger be determined economically), others because the local producer is more trustworthy, reliable, and “knows you”. These seem to be the two biggest demands then. 1) Reject globalised capitalism in order to revalorise a beleaguered nationalist capitalism, or 2) Reject globalised capitalism in favour of a nostalgic village capitalism. The debate surrounding potential versions of localist food production models that might run along socialist, autonomist, or anarchist lines seems not to have erupted. I might be wrong (and would be more than happy to be corrected) but it seems like the radical or revolutionary voice has ceded an issue on the material organisation of the present to an internal dialogue between representatives of variants of capitalism. I’m sure I must be wrong on this…yet if the debate is going on its doing so in the places it always does rather than out in public with a population that might be more receptive to broadly eco-anarchist ideas. This possibility is evinced by the very material effect of this news story: a sharp rise in the sales of vegetarian alternatives to meat products. Although, as the populist left Red Pepper magazine points out, vegetarianism isn’t any grand solution because the ‘global supply chain’ that this story has exposed also demonstrates to people, even as the BBC or SKY News aids in the occlusion of, operates transversally. That is, the model of a global supply chain applies to clothing, footwear, and electronics just as much as it does to food production.

This story has literally shown people the operation of capitalism, even as the mechanisms that do so in such a way as they attempt to contain that showing. To paraphrase Judith Butler [1], the media narratives take part in the active interpretation of capital compelled by capitalism and the state. In my own life, it has reinvigorated my own self-accusation regarding veganism. If I think a core ethical principle must be acting so as to reduce the suffering endured by suffering-beings then how can I justify my omnivorous diet? I’m not sure that I can…all I can do is fall back onto the rather pathetic excuse that veganism is “too hard” or pull some Zizekian bullshit about vegans being perverted that no one buys, not even Zizek. At any rate, I hope the importance of this story is coming into focus and that I haven’t overplayed or underplayed its significance to anyone interested in materialism, object-oriented philosophy, or socialist politis.

In his reply to my original post on the possibility of an onto-cartography of this story, dmfant said that he was

not sure how available such widespread phenomena would be to research, so many variables in motion with all of the people affected not to mention their environ

and I have to agree. That was certainly my feeling when I was first introduced to the idea of onto-cartography. A few months back I attended a talk at Dundee University at which Levi Bryant introduced the idea of onto-cartography and its attendant practices to his audience [2]. Bryant was more elaborative on what onto-cartography consists of in that talk but here I can only give a brief snapshot of what he means by this evocative term. For instance Bryant calls states that an ‘onto-cartography would thus be a map or diagram of things’ in a given world. Briefly, a world is ‘is not something other than the externally related entities and signs within it’. Onto-cartographic space is thus a kind of choreographic space, structurally related to and materially sculpted by the movements, positions, dispositions (both actual and virtual) of bodies. I prefer this idea of choreographic space because of its immediately embodied connotations, but also because one can understand it more easily: anyone who has ever danced, no matter how well or how badly, has understood that space is choreographic rather than a container or static. In Levi’s terms:

Onto-cartography is thus not a map of space or geography—though we can refer to a “space of things and signs” in a given situation or field and it does help to underline the profound relevance of geography to this project insofar as ontocartographies are always geographically situated –but is rather a map of things or what I call machines. In particular, an onto-cartography is a map of the spatio-temporal gravitational fields produced by things and signs and how these fields constrain and afford possibilities of movement and becoming.

Examples that Bryant gives in his paper of pre-existing elements of an onto-cartographic approach include Bruno Latour, Fernand Braudel, Marshall McLuhan, Manuel DeLanda, Stacey Alaimo (from whom I have stolen the term transcorporeality to better express my own ideas around corporealism as a body-oriented-ontology, with bodies being roughly exchangeable with “object” or “machine”, and audaciously Marx himself. For Bryant the theory of onto-cartography is only an aspect of its appeal, with its real value lying in its empirical expression. Bryant again:

The project of onto-cartography is massive and likely not to be the work of any one person because it is profoundly multi-disciplinary, requiring knowledge of the natures of the things that inhabit the situation, their specific properties, literature, mythology, semiotics, political theory, history, various sciences, technologies, etc

This is an expansive, ambitious, and supremely vertiginous undertaking, and as a sufferer of recent bouts of vertigo I say that with no irony. What is supremely attractive in Bryant’s formulation of onto-cartography is precisely that it requires a ‘multi-disciplinary’ approach. As a nurse, I work in multidisciplinary teams constantly, sometimes leaving the team I am attached to (ward or community staff depending on where I am working) to form another “temporary ongoing” group (such as a MAPPA or CPA group). There is a sense that this immediately makes sense to me. I work alongside psychiatrists, physicians, clinical psychologists, peer-support workers, voluntary befrienders, support workers, healthcare assistants, pharmacologists, porters, ambulance drivers, occupational, physical, speech and language, sexual health and a range of art therapists, and a host of organisations within the voluntary, governmental (including the police), and wider mental health sectors. There is a sense in which as a nurse I already feel like an onto-cartographer whenever I try to tell people what it is that a psychiatric nursing is. Really, I need to return to my misappropriation of Gendlin’s “…” in order to suggest what I want to suggest about the nature of my profession. All this is to say that the work of onto-cartography is too big. Where would we be happy to finish making our map? At what point would our diagram be exhaustive? We might want to suggest that this isn’t really Bryant’s point; really, he only means to orient us to the things that co-produce the space of a co-enacted world, not to trick ourselves into thinking we have an epistemic masterpiece or a political ideology that can explain a situation in advance of the situation itself (this feels like a Badiouian moment). Yet as I sat in that lecture hall that Bryant walked about in as he read (a more engaging style than people who prefer to just sit, I think), I had then and still have now the sense that this is a form of fieldwork of the present that is just too big, too much, too demanding.

This is precisely the reason why dmfant says that he is ‘trying to pitch the idea of case-studies as perspicuous re-presentations via Wittgenstein’. I have no desire to tread on dmf’s toes or to appropriate someone else’s obsessions. Likewise, I am not even sure I have understood what dmf means. I am not very familiar with Wittgenstein, having only read secondary sources and attended the odd lecture on ‘picture-thinking’. Nevertheless, the idea is one I want to work out, respond to or at least use as a way to push my own thinking. This is proper to the working of an intellectual conversation. With those heavy caveats out of the way, I’ll go on.

The reason the “case study” appeals to me is, once again, practical. I am a nurse. I occasionally write case studies and I certainly read them, especially those from nursing, psychiatry, social work and counselling. The case study presents its reader with a caricature of a situation that was once live to the worker-author. Usually, if the case study is to have any value, it will be illustrative of a complex or challenging clinical situation. The worker-author will explore that particular situation in as much detail as space and the pragmatic orientation of the case study allows. This will be done in order to analyse the actual particular decisions made and actions taken. This is not done (or not exclusively at least) to justify what the worker-author decided and did but also to scrutinise those outcomes from a variety of perspectives in order to come to an understanding of whether better alternatives could have been taken and why they were not selected at the time. In other words,

‘this pragmatic reasoning allows for clinical hospitality to presenting individual differences, rather than a theory based clinical stance which assumes to know better before the actual case is at hand’. [3]

The case study caricatures the material complexity of intermatrices in order to ‘test and re-test’ decision making and intentional action. The case study also wants to keep possibility alive, even in the instance where the particular set of possibilities has died along with the situation that they referred to. It is likely in health and social care that one will encounter similar, although never identical, situations that also presents with a similar, although never identical set of possibilities. The case study serves as a kind of critical reflection and heuristic. It also has the function that is more familiar to philosophical audiences through psychoanalysis, as dmfant points out: it is a means of constructing a working theory through an interrogation of one’s practical engagements.

Weaving Wittgenstein and Merleau-Ponty

dmfant suggests that the case study can be conceived of as a species of perspicuous representation [PR]. Wittgenstein tells us that
A perspicuous representation produces just that understanding which consists in ‘seeing connexions’.Hence the importance of finding and inventing intermediate cases. [4]

From this definition it follows that a PR is a specific kind of understanding. As far as I can tell, understanding in Wittgenstein’s philosophy is a kind of a tacit, spontaneous, and immediate agreement among those who share a practical community on the mutual immersion in that practice; it recognises a shared world of concern; a shared ethos; it is an intelligibility prior to intellection. In this sense it is not, as dmfant reminds me in the discussion that has sparked this post, ‘cognitive-behavioural’ and is ‘non-conceptual’. The kind of understanding that PR produces then is the kind of understanding that happens pre-cognitively, pre-conceptually but transindividually. The specificity of this understanding thus lies in its being part of our primordial embodied being. In particular, given that Wittgenstein’s understanding is linked in my view to a community, it must be of the order of embodiment that it is transcorporeal. In Merleau-Ponty’s terms it belongs to the flesh which is

A new type of being, a being by porosity, pregnancy, or generality, and he before whom the horizon opens is caught up, included within it. His body and the distances participate in one and the same corporeality or visibility in general, which reigns between them and it, and even beyond the horizon, beneath his skin unto the depths of being. [5]

There is a sense in which a being that lacked the kind of understanding that PR generates would be an autistic being. It might have cognitive, conceptual knowledge of such and such a situation, but it would lack a carnal knowledge, if you’d pardon the pun. This idea of a ‘being by porosity’ is also the mode in which I discuss the stoic’s concept of God. In that discussion, I went to pains to show that there God is immanent- like Spinoza’s- but in as a material ontomorphological principle-unlike Spinoza’s. I also showed how this stoic concept of bodies (which is at the heart of my own body-oriented realism) is a matter of weaving- the weave, or the enmeshing, is the mode of porosity. I highlight this here in order to promise to return at some point to the idea of the weave-mesh-flesh.

So we get the understanding Wittgenstein is alluding to, but he also tells us it consists in ‘making connexions’. This is ambiguous. To make connections might mean precisely to weave or mesh things together in the same way that we do if we braid our hair: it might also mean “seeing” connections. I would conjecture that it’s something between these two. I think this is the way you see it anyway, dmf? We not only make connections in the world through our structural relations but also in the realm of theory and how we see the world in our epistemic relations. There is thus a sense in which the horse meat scandal story has structurally produced a change in our epistemic frame; it has made new connections by showing us what connections are already here.
The production of new PRs is thus the production of new ways of seeing and enacting the world in an embodied sense. In previous posts I have casually used the term ‘disposition’ to describe this action-orientation of our epistemic maps. As dmf has said, it is also about approaching matters in ways that people can cope-with and be moved-by them ‘and in ways that allow us to do things differently’.

If this makes sense as a reading of PRs then I think it is because of an experience I had yesterday. A friend and I were walking around Dundee. We needed to kill some time before a lecture by Pierre Cassou-Nogues that we were going to attend started. We decided to drop in on the McManus Gallery, an art gallery and museum about and situated in the heart of Dundee. As we strolled around the exhibits in glass cases we played at a little ‘alien’s phenomenology’. A taxidermy fox with its front paws on a cornflakes box, clearly a scene demonstrating our wasteful society and the porosity of the urban-rural distinction, was looked at from an alien’s point of view. Suddenly the fox became a sacred animal, why else would these “humans” preserve it? And clearly its prey was this strangely coloured rectangular being, spilling its crispy flaked innards onto the display’s reconstructed floor. I became embarrassingly excited at the sight of a huge harpoon that had been mangled, the twisting of its iron shank the corporeal evidence of a probably long dead whale’s attempts to escape from its killing point. The experience that I want to relay, though, happened as my friend and I discussed Dundee’s industrial past.

red in tooth and corn

Dundee was once a thriving industrial city. It was strategically important to the expansion of British capitalist power. Home to the Jute industry (an industry that involved industrial processes of weaving), dock-yards, one of the biggest news publishers, and confectionary producers Dundee was a rich, powerful, booming town full of possibility. It is also true that Dundee had huge and hugely obvious class disparities with the bourgeoisie and the working class living at extreme ends of the spectrum of life. Yet even in this, Dundee has a worker’s movement to be proud of, and a remarkable history of suffragette actions. My point is that although I didn’t live in Dundee then, although I am not Dundonian or Scottish by birth, and although I don’t have much fondness for contemporary Dundee, I had an urgent affective relationship with that city in that moment as I looked down at the exhibits. One exhibit in particular pushed this feeling, almost a physical agitation, to its height: a model of the city centre as it was at its industrial zenith. I could feel the excitement of that city, and I could feel the disappointment at its loss. Dundee never became what it might have, but more than that it also lost the set of possibilities it had open to it then. I can’t remember where it is, but in one of his text’s Virilio sums this up perfectly: ‘the city is not itself’. I was also left with the question of the relation of a city to its own destruction, or partial destruction I suppose. Does a city have a sense of its possibilities? Can a city ‘die’? Can it be a being-towards-death? An open question. As Levi Bryant has it in ‘The Gravity of Things’: ‘a city is not merely an entity, a thing that sits there, but is rather a machine or organism that faces the problem of how to produce and maintain the elements that belong to it…’.

Here it is that I was thinking about what it would mean to ‘find or invent’, as Wittgenstein says, new PRs. It was in this museum artefact that I got the very kind of felt-sense of what a PR is that the idea of the PR pertains to express. Or at least I think I did. What I sensed was that the relation of the artefact to myself as the relation of the ‘perspicuous representation’ to myself. The artefact as PR is also the artefact as case-study. As if an archaeological find, from the artefact I could reconstruct or vicariously feel what was at stake in that city. In that case, the artefact, that little model of a set of possibilities closed down, was a model for that network of possibilities. It was a model but it was also a real, corporeal object. It captured something of the transcorporeal, something of the whole range of possibility, and something of the story of a city without attempting to be an exhaustive onto-cartographic survey.

Just as the case study isn’t simply an obsession with particularities of specific clinical situations for their own sake, and just as it is not an attempt to generate a universal or ideal state, the perspicuous representation is also a kind of production of genericity. Onto-cartography is extensive, too long, too distant, and possibly leads to the generation of a map that is bigger than its terrain. Meanwhile, a focus on particulars alone leaves us unable to join the dots; we can never see the horse meat scandal as anything but a particular case of a bad thing happening floating freely, uncoupled to any other structure and therefore never take advantage of it. Yet, if the horse meat scandal is a case study that manages to ‘make connexions’ without having to make all possible connections then we don’t have to exhaust it or leave it floating in an uncritical space. As Wittgenstein says, PRs involve ‘finding or inventing intermediates’. This would allow us to orient and re-orient ourselves to what is revealed. We wouldn’t be “autistic” to the world we live in, but would understand it in the same way that we do the look on the face of someone we love. A kind of instantaneousness that requires no language to be communicated but that serves as the basis for any possible language. It is the freedom to invent new forms in the knowledge that the old forms were prosthetic after all. We have moved from a world full of matters of fact, to one full of matters of concern [6]. What let’s us see better? What let’s us hold one another better? We could be, as in Francis Bacon’s aporetic phrase, ‘optimistic and totally without hope’.

[1] Judith Butler. 2007. Torture and the Ethics of Photography. In: Environment and Planning: Society and Space. Vol. 25, No. 6, pp. 951 – 966. Link.

[2] Levi Bryant. 2012. The Gravity of Things: An Introduction to Onto-Cartography. Link. All references to Levi Bryant in this post are to this paper.

[3] Dirk Felleman. 2005. Pragmatism and Clinical Practices. In: The Socialworker. Vol.2. Link.

[4] Ludwig Wittgenstein. 1973. Philosophical Investigations.

[5] Maurice Merleau-Ponty. 1968. The Intertwining- The Chiasm. Link.
From: The visible and the invisible.

[6]. Bruno Latour. 2013. War of the worlds: humans against earthbound. Fifth Gifford Lecture. 26.02.2013.

Precariat precluded

In ‘Not Waving but Drowning: Precarity and the Working Class’, Mark Hoskins takes a critical look at the idea put forward by some academics and even parts of the anti-capitalist movement that the “precariat” is the revolutionary subject of our epoch. After examining the subjective conditions of the precarious subject today and comparing its objective conditions to those of the working class of the last century, he goes on to explore how these conditions relate to our end goal, a communist society and what lessons that can teach us in our attempt to get there.

In full here.


Tens of thousands of sick and disabled people in Scotland face being forced on to unpaid work programmes under threat of losing their benefits from tomorrow.

That is when disability claimants will become eligible for controversial mandatory “workfare” placements, according to new plans which have been quietly drawn up by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

People with a range of physical or mental health conditions could find themselves stacking shelves in high-street stores such as Tesco and Poundland, or cleaning private homes, under the new proposals.

Since the Government’s Work Programme began in June, tens of thousands of job seekers have been put on unpaid placements. Now some ill or disabled people are to be told that they must take unpaid positions or risk losing up to 70% of their employment support allowance (ESA).

Ironically, the new measures are coming into effect on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. A series of national protests against the Government’s workfare programmes will take place this week.

Leading Scottish charities have expressed serious concerns about people with disabilities being forced on to compulsory work placements.

Across the UK, some 340,000 disabled people have been placed in the work related activity group (WRAG), which means they must undertake a range of activities to help them get back to work, including training, job-hunting – and now mandatory work placements.

Read the full story here.