Optional Reading: Hardt and Negri’s Declaration

Written shortly after the strings of international protests in 2011, Hardt and Negri’s Declaration is an attempt to theorize a future politics built on the new political imaginary both expressed and created by these various encampments. The political actors and forms of organization at play in recent movements cannot, according to Hardt and Negri, be easily mapped on to former leftist frameworks reliant on the categories of the proletariat, property relationships, the factory, trade unions, etc. Instead, there has been a radical shift in the production of subjects, which has meant an equally radical shift in modes of resistance and forms of organization. 

Hardt and Negri identify four dominant figures of subjectivity produced by neoliberalism’s adaptation to a political and social climate no longer dominated by forms of production housed in the factory. The indebted are produced as a result of the increasingly contingent situation of today’s workers. Whereas wage workers of previous eras were exploited via a myth of free and equal exchange, the “dominant image of [the indebted’s] relationship to capital is configured […] as a hierarchical relation of debtor and creditor”(11). According to H&N, it is impossible to make one’s way through neoliberalism today without acquiring some among of debt (e.g., university debt, mortgage, car, etc.). The emerging mode of economic dependency permeates deep into our view of both self and world producing a new ethics of responsibility. Rather than valorizing this new ethic, H&N consider what rebelling against one’s “responsibility” and thus one’s subjectivity as indebted would mean. What if we the multitude decided to default on our debts?

The mediatized, the second figure of subjectivity produced through neoliberalism, suffers from the problem of over-stimulation by the total inundation of information fed us by the media. With the emergence of new technologies workers are asked to be available for work for indefinite periods of time. With the proliferation of social networking sites the masses express themselves ad nauseum leading to a significant decline in the quality of our forms of communication. While sites like Twitter and Facebook allow for more spontaneous, farther reaching, and more democratic styles of protest and organization, they lack the benefits of physical proximity and the affects created therein. H&N ask how we can take advantage of encampment cites of protest to resist the hyper-alienated condition of the mediatized and construct new political affects of being together?

With the growth of technologies so too there is the growth of the means of surveillance. The culture of surveillance first born in prisons has left those walls and become a part of everyday life. Drawing on Foucault, H&N argue that this new age of biopolitics asks that we act as both guard and inmate. However, not all securitized subjects are created equally. Those in prisons face clearly identified systems of surveillance to which they are asked to submit themselves; those freer to move around in society are haunted by the spectre of a surveilling power that refuses representation in any one form, at any one place, with any one directive. (While I take issue with H&N’s hierarchization of securitized subjects and their claim that those in prison are somehow less fearful because of their ability to identify their security threats, I will not engage with this problem in this post). Rejection of this mode of subjectivization is multi-tiered: we must abolish all prisons, flee identifiable modes of surveillance, end the ever expanding military industrial complex, and overcome fear.

The final form of subjectivity described by H&N is that of the represented. The constitutional principles grounding democracy rely upon systems of representation wherein the few speak on behalf of the many. We vote “experts” into power and naively believe their claim that they speak on our behalf and truly express our demands, our interests, and our political-economic conditions of life. Because of the increasingly competitive nature of representative politics—specifically the economic competition where only the extremely rich have a chance—there are fewer and fewer choices for our represented officials. This leads to fewer forms of accountability ensuring true representation. Rather than reform electoral politics to allow for better representation, H&N ask what it would look like to expand the model of non-representation popularized in OWS, Tahrir Square, and others? What would a politics look like without representation?

Declaration ends with a lengthy consideration of how these four-fold figures of subjectivity and their corresponding modes of resistance can inform a new constitutional model grounding our future politics. Combining practices of defaulting on our debt, cultivating being together, fleeing from the surveillance state, and non-representative organization with a drive for equal access to the commons and a three-tiered structure of government (i.e., executive, legislative, and judicial), H&N conceptualize a potential outline for a new constitution. Because H&N seem to end their claims right at the point of the identifying how exactly we move forward, I would like to spend the rest of this blog post thinking through some potential ways of filling in the details. Specifically, I am interested in how the rejection of the creditor-debtor relationship in favor of a new model of relationship building established in the encampments of 2011 and after can be informed by Care Ethics and the value of relationships explored by different threads of feminist theory.

On page 35, H&N write: “The social forms of debt that result demonstrate the virtuous side of the common. These are debts, first of all, for which there is no    creditor, and these debts are defined by binding relationships among singularities. Further, they are not bound by morality and guilt. Instead of moral obligation, they function through an ethics of the common, based on the reciprocal recognition of the social debts we owe to one another and to society.” Coming to the awareness that the common is originally available to or meant for all, and recognizing that this truth is distorted by the false social bind of creditor-debtor, leads us to reflect on the other aspects of social relations covered over in neoliberalism. Specifically, we realize that underlying our manufactured debt to a series of creditors are the manifold debts we own in and through our relationships. Rather than thinking through our responsibilities to our debtors, H&N ask us to consider what obligations we have to the management of our social debts. Reflection on this leads to a greater understanding of the potential for cultivating new political affects in being together.

Over the past few decades Care Ethics has posed a series of similar questions. For a number of years now I have been interested in the potential for bringing together theories of revolutionary solidarity and Care Ethics’ consideration of relationships. First, H&N’s notion of singularity is meant to stand in direct opposition to efforts of individualization encouraged by neoliberalism. As I see it, singularity is very closely related to claims within feminist theory that we are always already relational beings, and the processes of individualization can only come after the support we have received through networks of relationships. Concretely this means that we can only be examples of neoliberalism’s individual agents after we have successfully made our way through infancy; after systems of education; after we have established that someone will be home waiting to take care of our needs when we return.

Rather than take these relationships for granted and relegate them to an apolitical sphere, Care Ethics asks us to think through both how we can reciprocate the care received and the efforts required to maintain these relationships. I appreciate the language of “social debt” used by H&N because it foregrounds this need to reciprocate modes of support and care. When I am younger my parents (lucky as I am) take care of me as I will do for them when they are older. When occupying Zuccotti Park, my comrades looks after me as I look after them. This is not a quantitative calculation that ultimately comes back to and reinforces an ethics of individualization. This is rather a qualitative series of exchanges based on sustaining our ability to be together—to share in a political affect that cannot be created by way of a formula. Just as Care Ethics altered the model of autonomy grounding historical theories of ethics, so too can it alter the shape of being together in political spaces.



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2 Responses to Optional Reading: Hardt and Negri’s Declaration

  1. keborrowman says:

    Jasmine, thanks for your run down of Declaration; you’ve convinced me it will be useful secondary material for my project this semester with regard to the shift in the production of subjects. I also appreciate that I can now see my inability to pay my student loans as rebellious…

    There’s a way in which I think that the new technologies of social media are over talked about and under-thought. One such a way is the ‘ad nauseum expression’ available to us, which, in turn, creates and restates and restates and restates our identity. No doubt, this is also a medium for the growth in means of surveillance, which, as you note, can be understood in the twofold way of guard and inmate. This surveillance is a self-surveillance of our own identity formation, too. Where my interest lies is how this radical shift in the production of subjects has demanded a sort of self-revolt (a revolt against oneself) necessarily. I hear this in H&N’s rebelling against responsibility, a rebel against ‘appropriate’ self-care or being-in-the-world-as-adult, as thus rebelling against subjectivity. Likewise, the social media you pointed to is in service of the neoliberal individual. This is to say, not just the subject under/within neoliberalism, but the individual hell-bent on embodying neoliberal values of individual development and efficiency, where we are told we are responsible for ourselves and, thus, the work that we do becomes the work of creating ourselves (over and over again).

    With regard to the creditor-debtor relationship, I have in mind two works, both of which I’m confident you’re familiar with: The Queer Art of Failure by Halberstam and Queer Phenomenology by Ahmed. Both of which circulate around questions of inheritance, debt, and the queer rejection of indebted inheritance (or, you know, being left out of the family will, in some cases). It seems that the point on rebelling against responsibility fits nicely with this quote from Ahmed, “For a life to count as a good life, then it must return the debt of its life by taking on the direction promised as a social good, which means imagining one’s futurity in terms of reaching certain points along a life course. A queer life might be one that fails to make such gestures of return” (21). The failure to repay, then, offers “new lines to emerge,” even new bodies, and, certainly, new modes of political action because we are able to follow lines other than those we have already taken (63). (I won’t go in much to inheritance, but it should be noted that Ahmed connects inheritance to a gift that demands a return, contrary to our notion of a voluntary, non-contractual social bond.)

    I think each approach is a way of responding critically to the proliferation of indebtedness. That is, they provide responses to the creditor-debtor relationships where there is no locatable creditor, like there is no locatable surveillor. There’s a way in which social debt seems to further this proliferation, but I take your point as correctly noting that it is not simply a ‘paying back’ but a relationship of communal reciprocity. Still, I sense a tension where something like ‘individual responsibility’ can be reinscribed. Again, though, you note that a significant difference lies in its qualitative character – there is no formula, there is no calculation or measurability to these types of care. That is, it’s about giving care rather than giving a return on the care received.

  2. danielallenwood says:

    Hi Jasmine, thank you for your thought-provoking post. I have not read this text, but am interested in many of the points it raises (and I will try not to repeat Kelsey’s points). I’m curious as to whether and how we could speak of care, affect, and subjectivation at a supra-singular level. Hardt and Negri’s concerns seem to be directed to the ways in which media, state, and credit institutions produce certain neoliberal subjects that make up the multitude. And in a sense, one can see these micro-powers at work in OWS and in various movements because these spaces gather a lot of political energy into particular city squares and parks. But in relation to the extension of the concerns of revolutionary practice and care ethics to larger frameworks, what do these different micro-powers look like at a geopolitical level, and could one sensibly talk about care and the production of affect at the state or inter-state level? Maybe Hardt and Negri already do this at the level of the multitude. I ask this because it might allow for an interesting overlap with questions in theories of group agency that I would be interested in discussing more. Thanks again and safe travels to Lisboa!



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