Jean-Luc Nancy and Antonio Negri on Collective Potentialities

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Transcript of Jean-Luc Nancy and Antonio Negri on Collective Potentialities

Communication, Culture & Critique ISSN 1753-9129

ORIGINAL ARTICLE

Community/Common: Jean-Luc Nancy and Antonio Negri on Collective PotentialitiesHelen Morgan ParmettDepartment of Communication Studies, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA

Philosophical debates about the common have emerged as a prevalent thread of scholarship in communication. Little of this work, however, considers the relationship between the common and community. This essay takes up this relationship by putting the work of Antonio Negri into conversation with Jean-Luc Nancy. I attend to the two scholars differing conceptions of immanence and alterity, death and poverty, language and communication, work and production, love, and the people and multitude. I suggest juxtaposing Negris and Nancys ontologies of the common creates divergent possibilities for understanding how collective potentialities emerge and can be actualized. Ultimately, I argue for a refusal to choose between the two thinkers, suggesting the necessity of thinking the common kairologically. doi:10.1111/j.1753-9137.2012.01125.x

Community remains a prevalent and ubiquitous discourse in modern culture. Take, for example, post-Katrina New Orleans, where community emerged as a central organizing principle for understanding the storm, its aftermath, and the citys rebuilding. Cited variously as the reason for survival through the storm (the communitynot the governmentpulled together to rescue its citizens), the mobilization behind the rebuilding process (the community is pulling together to rebuild the city), and the object of the rebuilding itself (the city will be rebuilt to restore a sense of community), community is a keyword (Williams, 1985) through which the city is imagined and reimagined. In these examples of New Orleans, community is taken for granted as a necessary and ultimate good. Yet, it can also be thought of as a terrain of struggle, where community is a site of contestation between those forces that seek to emphasize collective responsibility and discipline as the basis of successful prosperity (i.e., positioning on the market) and movements that tend to oppose alternative forms of identication based on radical decommodication and reappropriation from below (Barchiesi, 2003, pp. 45). The continued pull and

Corresponding author: Helen Morgan Parmett; e-mail: morga429@umn.eduCommunication, Culture & Critique 5 (2012) 171190 2012 International Communication Association

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import of a discourse of community in the current conjuncture is precisely its ability to speak to these tensions between a kind of government through community (Rose, 1999) and what is increasingly being referred to in philosophical and political debates as the common. Despite its recent uptake in a range of scholarship, discussions around the common infrequently reference Jean-Luc Nancy, though his writings on being-incommon and community emerged in conjunction with the autonomist Marxists who are more commonly associated with thinking through the common. Antonio Negri emerges as perhaps the most well known among the autonomists, but his approach to the common and to community is quite different than Nancys. For both thinkers, the common is an ontological category that grapples with the collective potentiality of singularities and problematizes philosophical and political conceptions of community. Both aim to think of how to understand difference and being together in common beyond its capture, governmentalization, or sublation. Yet, the alternatives that each poses differ, and, thus, they offer different critiques of community and pose different ontological frameworks for thinking about the collective potentiality of the common and how such potentiality might be actualized. In this essay, I put Negri and Nancy into conversation to draw out the tensions between their categories of the common, including their differing conceptions of immanence and alterity, death and poverty, work and production, love, and the people and multitude. In thinking through the tensions between these two thinkers, I argue that the common emerges as a complex and multifaceted category for understanding how collective potentialities emerge and can be actualized. Further, the juxtaposition of the two thinkers conceptions of the common provides a critique of community at the current conjuncture and of alternatives to its capture and governmentalization. I contend juxtaposing Negris and Nancys ontologies of the common complicates what the common can be. Ultimately, I argue for a refusal to choose between the two thinkers, suggesting the necessity of thinking the common kairologically.Governmentalizing community

As Butchart (2010) notes, community is often taken for granted as a necessary and ultimate good; yet, it is precisely its seeming innocence that renders it an integral category of critique for addressing persisting philosophical questions on the universal and the particular, the interior and the exterior, and similarity and difference (pp. 2122). Community can be traced in ancient Greek thought about the polis (Delanty, 2003; Depew & Peters, 2001; Miller, 1993), Christian thought about the cosmos and neighborly brotherhood (Delanty, 2003; Derrida, 1997; Isin, 2011), as well as in critiques of modernity and the fall of medieval institutions (Durkheim, 1964; Isin, 2002, 2011; T onnies, 1963; Weber, 1947; Williams, 1983). By way of creating a constructive dialogue between Negri and Nancy, I172Communication, Culture & Critique 5 (2012) 171190 2012 International Communication Association

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Community/Common

would rst like to think through what is one of the exigencies to which the common is posed to address at the present conjuncture: the governmentalization of community. Nikolas Rose (1999) argues that although the theme of the loss of community and the desire to restore it has been prevalent at least since the 18th century and particularly in the work of Rousseau and Hegel, it was in the 1960s and 1970s that community emerged as a response and solution to problems in government. Before this, community was primarily theorized in terms of a sense of belonging in relation to society and modernity. Community was characterized by its loss and the passing of an organic world that had given way to one of industrialization, urbanization, fragmentation, and alienation (e.g., T onnies, 1963, distinction between Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft ). Durkheim (1964) and the Chicago School of Sociology (Burgess, 1926; Park, 1915; Park & Burgess, 1925; Wirth, 1938), conversely, looked for how community emerged out of diversity in new forms in modern society in, for example, industrialized urban communities. Themes of communitys loss and retrieval amidst an increasingly fragmented society are followed in communitarian theories of community as well, where community is posed as belonging in terms of citizenship (e.g., Bellah, 1995; Bellah, Madsen, Sullivan, Swindler, & Tipton, 1996; Etzioni, 1995; Putnam, 1993, 1999). Robert Putnams (1999) suggestion that community has been lost in postmodern society, as we now bowl alone rather than together in our communities, contends that bowling alone produces a lack of social capital and a consequent diminishing of the democratic structures of society. Community is thus offered as a solution to the problems of governing a diverse and dispersed citizenry. Roses (1999) theory of governing through community draws attention to how community is rationalized as the appropriate locus for crime, psychology, social welfare, community care, architecture, policing, and so on. Governing through community does not entail repressive mechanisms of force and control but instead depends on the active and productive participation of individuals who articulate themselves to a community and to community ethics. Rose argues governing through community points to a transition into a new form of power, what he terms ethico-politics. Ethico-politics concerns itself with the self-techniques necessary for responsible self-government and the relations between ones obligation to oneself and ones obligations to others (Rose, 1999, p. 188). Although these communities that are brought into existence are not a cooptation of previously authentic communities, the governmental move is nonetheless a kind of harnessing or capture of something else: . . . in the institution of community, a sector is brought into existence whose vectors and forces can be mobilized, enrolled, deployed in novel programmes and techniques which encourage and harness active practices of self-management and identity construction, of personal ethics and collective allegiances. (1999, p. 176)Communication, Culture & Critique 5 (2012) 171190 2012 International Communication Association

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On my read, Rose is suggesting community is a kind of harnessing of the commona harnessing of the collective potentialities that are embodied in these active, material, technical, and creative assemblages that serve to constitute potential forms of life. In post-Katrina New Orleans, for example, the collective allegiances that arose directly after the storm risk being harnessed by the reconstituting of a community through the governmentalizing and making measurable those structures of care and support that arose out of the struggles and resistances of the poor. Efforts such as the Neighborhood Participation Programwhich encourages neighborhood organizations (a key site of collective organizing after the storm) to register with city government to receive benetsharness, rationalize, and limit the collective potentiality that is forged out of these organizations by putting them to work in the interests of governance rath