Features Projects

CONTENTS #2: they are several.

 An introduction to Cara Baldwin’s contribution, they are several. At the end of April, when Cara was compiling links related to a situation in which Facebook shut down the pages of dozens of anti cuts groups in the UK, I invited her to use the platform of CONTENTS (at that point more of an idea than a platform) as a tool to organize and make public this research. It seemed to be another instance (after Wikileaks and then the government imposed internet cutoff in Egypt during the revolution) of power swiftly and decisively intervening in the infrastructure that supported a certain type of horizontal organizing or dissemination. Although her contribution has evolved into a reflection on horizontality and more generally the metaphors with which we imagine our collective formations, I still think these questions among others are lurking within Cara’s text and selections – what happens when horizontality occupies a vertical landscape? or the reverse? how do we manage at the intersection of these ways of thinking and living, what new languages and subjectivities are to be articulated here? -SD

CONTENTS #2: they are several.

Cara Baldwin

Cara Baldwin is an artist, writer, researcher and theorist whose work focuses on art practice, public art, and intersections of cultural production and political organizing.


“Our ribs are broken to spare planes of glass.”

— Escalate Collective, UK

Abstractly, social struggles are configured horizontally and vertically. Concretely, social struggles are centered around resources, power and their distribution. In this field of the everyday we find social forms.


Just as life challenges us to redefine the terms through which we live in a personal sense, in the last decade, new words have emerged to describe new cultural forms. In the wake of economic collapse in Argentina in 2001, for example, the term horizontalidad came to describe parity of exchange that was both creative and dynamic.


Horizontality or horizontalism is a social relationship that advocates the creation, development and maintenance of social structures for the equitable distribution of management power. These structures and relationships function as a result of self-management, involving continuous participation and exchange between individuals to achieve the larger desired outcomes of the collective whole.


[Horizontalidad is a word that encapsulates most directly the ideas upon which the new social relationships in the autonomous social movements in Argentina are founded. It is a word that previously did not have political meaning. Its new meaning emerged from a practice, from a new way of interacting that has become a hallmark of the autonomous movements. Horizontalidad is a social relationship that implies, as it sounds, a flat plane upon which to communicate. Horizontalidad requires the use of direct democracy and implies non-hierarchy and anti-authoritarian creation rather than reaction. It is a break with vertical ways of organizing and relating, but a break that is also an opening.]


Speaking for myself, I became radicalized in the context of the anti-globalization movement and collectively organized media and art projects. In the same way that Lucy Lippard traces herself back to the Argentina in the summer of 1968 and experiencing the work of Tucumán Arde, I often find myself in the doorway of the LA IMC in the summer of 1999. Occasionally, I leave my post and look out at oceans of police and friends from the fire escape. Sometimes I join them. And then I am not there. In fact, I am here now. This is just to say layers of shared experience are formative—they are under our skin.


In 2004 in the UK, the terms ‘horizontals’ and ‘verticals’ [re]emerged to describe ideological orientations that are respectively non-authoritarian and authoritarian. In 2011 in the UK, the same terms again [re]emerged in organizing debates in the student movement. Nina Power and friends from Occupied Goldsmiths in London shared several instances in which this occurred and I represent some of those here.


Thankfully, social struggles are not only characterized as tussles over power and resources. These vital moments of rupture are also art and life; they are sites of creation as well as destruction. As Brian Holmes recently noted in relation to ACT-UP, “The event can be a glance or a tear in private, a gesture or a speech in a meeting as much as a public action.” Little by little —and sometimes explosively— it’s through these moments that we develop humor, imagination, discernment and experience embodied action and feeling.


[Returning to this idea of horizontalidad; when explaining how an asamblea or unemployed workers movement functions, in the months and even years after the rebellion it was common to have people set the palms of their hands to face down and then to move them back and forth to indicate a flat plane, as well, in order to indicate how it does not function, joining the tips of their fingers together to form a kind of triangle or pyramid. In many ways is these hand gestures with the knowledge that they genuinely represent a new and powerful set of social relations. As Neka, a participant in the unemployed workers movement of Solano, outside Buenos Aires, Argentina explains:


“Constructing freedom is a learning process that can only happen in practice. For me, horizontalidad, autonomy, freedom, creativity, and happiness are all concepts that go together and are all things that both have to be practiced and learned in the practice. I think back to previous activist experiences I had and remember a powerful feeling of submission. This includes even my own conduct, which was often really rigid, and it was difficult for me to enjoy myself, which is something sane and that strengthens you, and if you do it collectively it is that much more so. Like under capitalism, we were giving up the possibility of enjoying ourselves and being happy. We need to constantly break with this idea, we have life and the life that we have is to live today, and not to wait to take any power so that we can begin to enjoy ourselves, I believe it is an organic process.” Quoted by Marina Sitrin in Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina, 2006]


Just as one of the significant ways that contested social fields are [re]defined is through language, the sort of sorting that takes place on AAAAARG is political. As Stephen Wright points out this space is one that actively challenges authoritarian notions of ownership and expertise and enacts instead a space of exchange and intersectionality. One of the affects of this flat architecture, this impermanent archive is that it allows users to reconfigure ideas and histories of ideas. Therefore, subversive power of this project is not simply a matter of copyright or intellectual property, but rather, a challenge to those who think they benefit from keeping ideas from freely circulating and associating.


[These are not authors—they’re brokers.]


I chose these texts because they show some of the problems with free labor and collective organizing. Much has been said, for example, about the self-managing worker whose communicative production is monetized and exploited. While I do share these concerns and have long felt that the ‘open platform’ is capitalism’s response to self-organizing labor, I’m more concerned at this moment that public libraries, schools and museums are being closed.

This year, many of my friends allowed institutions to charge money to hear them talk or to read their writing—a few got paid—even fewer were exposed to their work.  This year saw the near dismantling of our commons. Others stand outside. What is the quality of this exchange? What does it have to say? Moreover, what life does this work aspire to?


[A shelf-life.]


In this way, production by and for a common is, increasingly moving from a luxury we cannot afford to a criminal act. As you read through these texts I want you to think about your relationship to them. I want you to be aware of the way you look at them. In this archive, we can set ideas alongside one another.

While this means we look at relationships like intersectionality and horizontality wondering how they came to be so far apart— it also means the way we are looking is different. We are casting a sideways glance rather a furtive gaze. Entire histories of ideas will bounce off and thread through one another freely and everywhere.


[They are several. They will not be contained.]


And us? I think we need to insist on the logic of free.

This is not surplus. This is not content. This is ours.



affect | anarchism | anti-globalization | archive | autonomia | autonomy | cognitive capitalism | collaboration | collective | communicative capitalism | communization | composition | commons | crowd-sourcing | critical pedagogy | direct democracy | effect | enclosure | event | everyday | factory line | feminism | field | flat interface | flexible worker | globalization | horizon | horizontalidad | horizontality | human resource management | individual | intersectionality | lines of flight | marxism | multitude | neoliberal aesthetic | networked economy | participation | platform | post-fordism | post-neoliberalism | post-operaismo | post-structural | post-workerist | relation | urban planning | structural | verticality

The Edu-factory Collection
Toward a Global Autonomous University: Cognitive Labor, The Production of Knowledge, and Exodus from the Education Factory

[The Edu-factory Collection – Toward a Global Autonomous University: Cognitive Labor, The Production of Knowledge. Especially “All Power to Self-Education” as read against George Caffentzis and Silvia Federici (Midnight) Notes on the edu– factory and Cognitive Capitalism.]

Jasbir Puar
‘I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess’: Intersectionality, Assemblage, and Affective Politics

[Jasbir Puar offers some preliminary thoughts on the limits and possibilities of intersectionality and assemblage Cultural Feminism meets Material Feminism. Thinking this in relation to Jo Freeman’s excellent Tyranny of Structurelessness.

Jo Freeman
On so called leaderless, structureless groups as the main form of the movement: Jo Freeman’s essay has been a hidden touchstone for many. This work seems both timeless and timely in what it says about cultural production. Thinking about kinship and other insidious power-forms such as flex and self-managing labor in relation to horizontalism and the inform.
Marina Sitrin
Argentina’s workers took over factories, citizens took over the streets—no one seemed to miss having a boss.
[A foreshortened history of horizontalidad by Marina Sitrin, author of Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina, AK Press.]
Voices of Resistance from Occupied London
Issue Four, Winter 2008/09

[Especially “turning cracks into landscapes” by Marina Sitrin, author of Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina, AK Press.]

Escalate Collective

[UK student organizers debate around organizational structure; horizontalism. Thanks to Nina Power and University of Goldsmiths Occupation.]

Paolo Virno and Alexei Penzin
[Paulo Virno interview by Alexei Penzin, a member of the interdisciplinary group “Chto Delat / What is to be done?”]
Colectivo Situaciones and Brian Whitener et al.
Genocide in the Neighborhood

[Brian Whitener edits and translates an English translation of Genocida en el Barrio: Mesa de Escrache Popular by Colectivo Situaciones) documents the autonomist practice of the “escrache”, ChainLinks Press]

Eyal Weizman
[While the term ‘verticals’ has been used in the UK to describe an authoritarian approach to organizing, here Goldsmiths architecture grad Eyal Weizman uses it to frame material enclosure and colonization of Palestine.]
Stan Allen
[Read against Brian Holmes’ swarmachine and considered with horizontal and cellular forms of organization and action such as a riot, mob, escrache. Also interesting in relation to urban planning and infrastructural control of public space.]
Jodi Dean
[Draft of political theorist Jodi Dean’s forthcoming book of the same title shared recently through Not An Alternative and The Public School, NY. Emphasizes the ‘horizon’ to point out limits of hortizontal organizing. Desire, here is centered on future and the Party.]
Christopher Newfield
[Christopher Newfield connects the precarity of knowledge workers and the crisis in the university.]
Brian Holmes
[Brian Holmes on the role of decentralized media intervention as a catalyst for grassroots action at the global scale from Escape the Overcode: Activist Art in the Control Society, Half-Letter Press.]
Markus Malarkey
[From Ceasefire Magazine August 8, 2011: UK student organizers debate around organizational structure; horizontalism. Thanks to Nina Power and University of Goldsmiths Occupation.]
Matt Hall
[Posted on January 2, 2011 by UCL Occupation: UK student organizers debate around organizational structure; horizontalism. Thanks to Nina Power and University of Goldsmiths Occupation.]
Stevphen Shukaitis
[Stevphen Shukaitis  describes militant collective action and imagination in response to the present, but also comes out of the 90’s and antiglobalization struggle.]
Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis
Notes on the Edu-Factory and Cognitive Capitalism

[Autonomist Marxists Silvia Federici and George Caffentzis of Midnight Notes Collective on the Edu-Factory, critical pedagogy and forms of social reproduction.]

Features Projects



The first issue of Contents is a contribution from Stephen Wright on “Usership.” For the past few years I’ve been fascinated by Stephen’s ideas about invisibility, use, and redundancy, all of which come into play in the writing below. In particular, I’ve wondered about the relationship between “the user” and “the worker” – on the one hand, the difference is one between playing the role of a consumer and that of a producer; but on the other hand, as users, our activity is producing value somewhere (websites, telecoms, IP holders). It’s understandable to be repulsed by the idea of the “user” because that’s exactly how the industry and its funders name us when they’re diagramming about how to monetize our activity. But, that’s why this contribution is important: it looks at our situation plainly and begins to ask how we should act in our position as users, what kinds of rights we should have, and then how these concepts might help us map our relationship to the commons. All of the texts are available somewhere on the Internet – each issue of Contents simply points to them. -SD

Stephen Wright

Stephen Wright is an art writer, independent researcher and curator and professor of art history and theory. A selection of his writings are available on the blog n.e.w.s. to which he is an active contributor,



An AAAAARG Users Guide to Usership

What makes aaaaarg function? And beyond its functionality, what kind of relationality does aaaaarg at once require, engender and transform? How can its terms of engagement be simply but accurately named? The term that comes immediately to mind is: usership. Readership may describe our engagement with some book, author or set of readings, but not the relationship between aaaaarg and its… users. Participation — that loathsome term bantered about by the neoliberal ideologues of the mainstream artworld — may describe one aspect of the empathetic but anonymous community that has coalesced around aaaaarg, but completely fails to address why we use it, and how. Not as participants nor as mere readers, but as users. And though the collective noun “usership” remains dramatically undertheorized — indeed the word itself, though immediately understandable, has not been ratified by those indexes of expert culture called dictionaries — aaaaarg itself has, here and there in its vast, user-uploaded archive, contains some compelling resources to help better grasp the philosophical underpinnings of the concept and to unpack some of the implications of a politics of usership. Of course there is no “proper” way to use aaaaarg; usership is an inherently restive and unpredictable category, meaning that the word for alleged misuse is simply actual, factual use. A tremendous amount of latitude exists between existent infrastructures, services, rules and dispositives and the countless uses to which they are put. If one were to define the premises of an emancipated usership, it could be said that a kind of reflexive poaching supersedes faithfulness and obedience. These contents are proposed in that spirit, and hopefully, in sorting and repurposing the contents of aaaaarg around usership, usefully instantiating usership while taking a first stab at shoring up the concept.

Though aaaaarg is exemplary of a usological turn in contemporary culture, it is not alone; the past ten or fifteen years have witnessed the broad expansion of the notion of usership as a new category of political subjectivity. It’s not as if using is anything new — people have been using tools, languages and odd and sundry goods and services (not to mention mind-altering substances) since time immemorial. But the rise of 2.0 culture and user-generated content and value, as well as democratic polities whose legitimacy is founded on the ability of the governed to appropriate and use available political and economic instruments, has produced active “users” (not just rebels, prosumers or automatons) whose agency is exerted, paradoxically, exactly where it is expected.

Usership represents a radical challenge to at least three deeply entrenched conceptual institutions in contemporary society: spectatorship, expert culture, and ownership. That is, it challenges hegemonic assumptions of relationality in the aesthetic, the epistemic and the ontological realms. Modernist artistic conventions, premised on so-called disinterested spectatorship, dismiss usership (and use value, rights of usage) as inherently instrumental — and the mainstream artworld’s physical and conceptual architecture is entirely unprepared to even speak of usership, even as ever more contemporary artistic practices imply a different regime of engagement than that described by spectatorship: a regime at once more extensive and more intensive. Usership represents a still more deep-seated challenge to ownership in an economy where surplus-value extraction is increasingly based on use: how long will communities of usership sit idly by as their user-generated value is privatized? In the artworld and other lifeworlds, it is expert culture — whether it be the publishing industry, or the city hall’s design office — which is most hostile to usership: from the perspective of expertise, use is invariably misuse. But from the perspective of users, everywhere, so-called misuse is simply… use. None of which is to deny that usership is a something of a double-edged sword — which is precisely what makes it interesting to consider. The challenge would seem to be to imagine a non-instrumental, emancipated form of usership.

There’s not much theoretical work on usership per se, and though it’s probably high time to fill that gap, it is also easy to understand what explains that lack: usership always plays itself out in occupied territory. Usership names a mode of groundshare, a reappropriation of a territory that will never be all its own. Usership never plays out on home ice, but is inherently on the road, challenging not merely home advantage but reinterpreting the rules of the game. For this reason, it can only be observed at play on familiar yet foreign conceptual territories, such as those of spectatorship, expert culture, and ownership — some of the most abundantly theorized institutions in our society.

Ludwig Wittgenstein
Philosophical Investigations
Wittgenstein’s second major philosophical work on language, mind, meaning and philosophy, published in 1953 after his death. Wittgenstein here puts forth his theory of user-based meaning. With disarmingly simple logic, he argued that words, propositions, languages at large have no “true” meaning independent of the way speakers use them, outside the pragmatics of common use.

Michel Foucault
Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984 Volume 3: Power
Book —> Michel Foucault – Essential Works of Foucault 1954-1984 Volume 3: Power
“The Subject and Power” is Foucault’s key text on the politics of usership. In a way, usership shapes the focus, function and adressee of his later work: a theory of uses, a useful theory, intended for a community of users.
Michel Foucault
The History of Sexuality Volume 2: The Use of Pleasure
1.9 MB, OCR’d PDF, full book scan
In analysing the Greek understanding of “Chresis Aphrodision” — the “use of pleasure” — Foucault emphasizes the tremendous leeway in terms of how laws and customs regulating pleasures were followed — thereby defining the conceptual space of usership.
Mathieu Potte Bonneville
“Politique des usages: une boîte à outils pour la lutte des usagers”, in VACARME 29 “Michel Foucault 1984-2004”
Indispensable introduction to the concept and politics of usership in Foucault’s thought published in a special issue of Vacarme on Foucault
Giorgio Agamben
it begins with the Genius
That which is sacred is removed from the realm of usership. As such, usership is premised on an act of profanation — returning to common usage that which had been separated into the sphere of the sacred.

Spectatorship and the usership challenge

To an even greater extent than objecthood or authorship, spectatorship continues to enjoy almost self-evident status in conventional discourse as a necessary component of any plausible artworld. The critical sermons of contemporary art are rife with celebration about free and active viewer participation. Yet is there not something almost pathetic about such claims at a time when ever more practitioners are deliberately impairing the coefficient of artistic visibility of their activity, challenging the very regime of visibility designated by the collective noun “spectatorship”? When art appears outside of the authorized performative framework, there is no reason that it should occur to those engaging with it to constitute themselves as spectators. Such practices seem to break with spectatorship altogether, to which they prefer the more extensive and inclusive notion of usership. Is the current mainstream focus on spectatorship – as a number of recent theoretical publications suggest – not merely a last-ditch effort to stave off a paradigm shift already underway in art? Why and when in the history of ideas did spectatorship – let alone disinterested spectatorship to use Emmanuel Kant’s paradoxical term – emerge as the linchpin institution of visual art? And above all, what alternative forms of usership of art are today being put forward to displace and replace it?

The end of spectatorship does not mean the end of public engagement with art. Spectatorship is an historically determined regime of engagement — it is not synonymous with seeing art, but rather a specific mode of looking. In recent years, there has been a spate of “invisible” art practices — it has become something of a fashion to elude immediate recognition by spectatorship. But this is not a challenge to the institution of spectatorship, but merely a game of now-you-see-me, now-you-don’t, played within the relational frame of spectatorship. Still, within our art-historical moment, these games may suggest deeper discontent; however, they have often described as “participation” — the artworld version of 2.0 culture: the value of the work (such as it is) in this case is produced by the unpaid, unnamed “participants”, while their surplus value (what they contributed to the work but did not get back) is extracted by the artist alone. Usership is an entirely different, and entirely more restive regime of artistic engagement. For a work to have use-value for a community of users it must not only have a finality other than spectacle, it must actually have a purpose and finality other than art.

AAAAARG.ORG is not something to look at, nor some convoluted portrait of its instigator and still less of its community of users, but at once a massive and working online archive and a proposition of a massive and working online archive. In philosophical terms, a user-driven project of this kind has a double ontological status: it is both what it is and a perfectly redundant proposition of that same thing. Redundancy is usually considered to be depreciative, a term used to discredit something – be it an activity, phenomenon, device, or utterance – whose function is already fulfilled by something else. But given the number of practices adopting a logic of redundancy today, it may well be emerging as the single-most useful focusing tool in understanding the dynamics of forward-looking art today. These practices, however, though they refuse to embrace existent conventions, do not – as so many vanguard practices of the past century did – engage in a frontally antagonistic relationship with mainstream institutions and practices. On the contrary – and this is where redundancy comes into the equation in an invisible but powerfully tangible way – they do indistinguishably what is already being perfectly well done in other realms of human activity, yet they do it with an entirely different self-understanding. Redundancy is perhaps the single best concept to describe non-mimetic, or post-mimetic art that is deliberately and perfectly redundant with respect to what it also is. One could always say that a Rembrandt was both a picture and an ironing board (to quote an example chosen by Marcel Duchamp to instantiate what he brilliantly called the “reciprocal readymade,” no doubt because ironing is so ironic). However, redundancy in this sense inverses the primary-secondary logic: it is first of all an engineered system, an online archive or anything at all, and only in an accessory way a proposition of an engineered system, online archive or whatever the case may be. Whereas art used to dream of becoming non art, it now appears to have increasingly opted for a caustic form of calculated redundancy.

Jacques Rancière
The Emancipated Spectator (full text, London: Verso, 2009)
“It is in the power of associating and dissociating that the emancipation of the spectator consists…” The argument, indeed the book, is elegant, powerful but odd. It reads better if one replaces “spectator” with “user”… Rancière vs Rancière…
Friedrich Nietzsche
On the Genealogy of Morality
Cambridge translation of Nietzsche’s ‘On the Genealogy of Morality’
As Nietzsche points out, it was Kant who first introduced the ‘spectatorship’ — or what he paradoxically called ‘disinterested spectatorship’ into aesthetics. See essay III, 6.
Immanuel Kant
Critique of Judgment (Oxford 2007, Walker’s update of Meredith trans)
3rd Critique – Walker’s revision of Meredith’s translation. Excellent pdf document with bookmarks – searchable.
To get to the root of the problem. Upon a close reading, it is remarkable to see the extent to which the conceptual architecture of contemporary art conventions of display is derived from Kantian premises.
James Kirwan
An interesting reading of Kant’s “pre-Wittgensteinian” attempt to bolster up disinterested spectatorship by language-use arguements: “you can’t say ‘beautiful for me’…”
Michele White
The Body and the Screen. Theories of Internet Spectatorship
The Body and the Screen: Theories of Internet Spectatorship
An telling case of what can happen when “spectatorship” is conflated with any form of seeing — a common but disastrous error in the age of 2.0 and post-spectatorship.
Claire Bishop
Introduction to collection of writings
There has been a great deal of talk of “participation” in art practice recently, to describe practices breaking with the spectatorship paradigm, while carefully avoiding the unwashed category of usership. Limp, but instructitive.

Expert culture and the usership challenge

As a collective noun, “usership” names not merely a paradoxical but a dialectical relational category. This is what makes it so uncomfortable for many, and why talking about the politics of usership invariably draws contestation. Because usership is a double-edged sword, whose immanence to the merely existent (users use what is, rather than proposing something else, yet through that use, which is also misuse and abuse, transform the very terms of engagement) is at once its immeasurable strength and its inherent stumbling block. Is it possible in a general way to tease out the dialectics of use? By dialectics, here, one would refer to the play between the two opposing but inseparable faces of usership: emancipated and encumbered, one the one hand offering a way out of the impasses of spectatorship-ownership-expertise, yet on the other hand constantly prey to the pitfalls of self interest and prosumerism.

Because usership is not a form of counter-expertise, it stands in a hostile but asymmetrical relationship to expert culture. Users are consistently dismissed by expert culture that discredits their claims as contaminated by self interest. Take the experts of State. Anxious to uphold their regime of exception with respect to the market-driven private sector, public-sector experts are quick to point out that they serve users, rather than customers or clients; and on the other hand, they are the first to again uphold their exceptional status by stigmatizing users (or consumer advocacy groups) as the Trojan Horse of this same market-driven logic… But the person who takes such and such a bus line every morning at dawn to get to work knows something about that line which no urban planning expert, whose perspective is informed by countless disinterested “studies”, can simply never know. This cognitive privilege is user specific. As such, usership at once designates the site where individuals and their comportments and needs are expected, where a space is available for their agency, both defining and circumscribing it; and it refers to the way in which these same users surge up and barge into a universe, which, though accustomed to managing their existence, finds itself thrown off balance by their speaking out as users. In other words – and this is related to Foucault’s theory of political action – it is not as if users burst forth in places where they are not expected, but rather the very immediacy of their presence that is ambivalent, and cannot be reduced to a progressive recognition nor to a mere cooptation by the powers that be. Governance, control, disciplines of all kinds, necessarily produce usership comprised of users and not just rebels or automatons submissive to an exterior norm. Users take on those instances of power closest to them. And in addition to this proximity, or because of it, they do not envisage that the solution to their problem could lie in any sort of future to which the present might or ought to be subordinated (very different in this respect to any revolutionary horizon). They have neither the time to be revolutionary – because things have to change – nor the patience to be reformists, because things have to stop. The radical pragmatism of usership struggles then have this specificity that they renounce power in the name of power. “We are all governed, and as such in solidarity”: such is Foucault’s conception of usership as a model of political agency and action, setting aside both a horizon (in the name of the present alone) and sovereignty (that it, the ultimate identity that he saw between traditional resistance movements and the power which they contested and wanted to transcend).

Michel de Certeau
The Practice of Everyday Life
University of California Press, Berkeley.1984.
“Innumerable ways of playing and foiling the other’s game, that is, the space instituted by others, characterize the… activity of groups which, since they lack their own space, have to get along in a network of already established forces…” MdC
Mackenzie Wark
A Hacker Manifesto
Full Book VersionAs a modern-day, reflexive poacher, the user is often a hacker, in Wark’s expanded understanding of hackership.
Jonathan Hill
institution, creative user, reader, viewer
Refreshing to note how decomplexed architectural theory is with respect to usership, and how the centre of creative gravity has long since shifted from the authorial to the usological axis.
Jonathan Hill
Occupying Architecture – Between the Architect and the User
Interested in how Death of the Author can influence architecture
The very title, “Occupying Architecture,” reads like a definition of the usership challenge to expert culture.

Ownership and the usership challenge

Ownership describes a legal institution that codifies a relationship of exclusivity with respect to an object, or any property construed to be an object, in terms of rights and control. It is made up of complex sets of instruments of regulation and enforcement, and is such a mainstay of liberal ideology that it would virtually self-evident status in majority opinion were it not for… usership, which challenges its very conditions of possibility by insisting on use value and rights of use.

Though radicals have challenged ownership over the centuries, the perspective of usership is original in many respects and may have the potential to turn back the tide on the wholesale privatization of everything. Usership as a community of users has taken on particular importance in 2.0 culture, where inter-cerebral networks of online or offline users generate content, knowledge, affect and value of all kinds. When Google purchased YouTube, how did they calculate the price tag? Not based on the value of the hardware, nor even the software, but as it were on the basis of the user-wear (and tear). They calculated how many people had ever, even just once, used YouTube, and fixed a common price on each and every user — not that they thought all usage is equal, but because it was as a community of use that value had been generated. But this is not just a paradox, it is a scandal. Because none of those value-producing users received anything for the value they produced. Their user-generated surplus value was expropriated, in that case of mass collaboration and countless others. When in the 1970s Jean-Luc Godard quipped that television viewers ought to be paid to watch, it was assumed he was sarcastically commenting on the quality of broadcasting. Thirty-five years on, the remark appears premonitory: if usership generates value, it should be remunerated. If it produces surplus value, great — we may be witnessing the end of work as we know it. But that surplus value must be redistributed within the community that produced it, not foster capital accumulation for a rentier class of owners. Never before has ownership seemed more akin to theft, as Proudhon so flatly described it in 1840. And as ownership seeks to extend the regime of artificial scarcity to the commons of use, withdrawing from common use that which allows usership to produce value, it becomes increasingly mired in a contradiction which can only be its demise. Sooner, let us hope, rather than later.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
What Is Property?
(book) Pierre-Joseph Proudhon – What Is Property? (medium to low quality copy)
Never before has ownership seemed more akin to theft, as Proudhon so flatly described it in the nineteenth century.
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
Qu’est ce que la propriété ?
The property prejudice…
On sait ce que c’est: c’est le vol. Et pourtant, Hadopi vient nous dire, avec une certaine force de l’évidence, que “le libre c’est le vol.”
Matteo Pasquinelli
PageRank is introduced as a diagram of “cognitive capitalism”, a machine to transform the common intellect into network value. One of the hardest-hitting, counter-intuitive essays on how surplus-value extraction in cognitive capitalism is linked to rentier capitalism and ownership to present day usages.
Maurizio Lazzarato
(essay) Maurizio Lazzarato – From Capital-Labour to Capital-Life
“Capture, both in creation and realization, is always a reciprocal seizure open to the unpredictable and infinite, because the ‘creator’ and the ‘user’ tend to merge.” ML
Clay Shirky
Gin, Television, and Social Surplus
Humorous talk on technology’s transformative power toward society
The redistribution of the “cognitive surplus” generated by usership is one of the most pressing issues of political economy today. Yet most users don’t even realize they are producing surplus value…
originally posted at


Continental Drift: Control Society/ Metamorphosis

On the weekend before the March 4th state-wide UC strike, we  invite you to participatein a two-day theory convergence, a “Continental Drift” seminar with the Paris-based theorist, Brian Holmes. Past Drifts has taken a variety of forms in its manifestations at 16 Beaver (2004-2006) in New York, or through the Midwest’s radical culture corridor (2008); and here in Los Angeles it will confront a California whose infrastructure is crumbling, whose government is disfunctional, and whose public education  is in crisis  from  the space of an autonomous education alternative.

Although this Continental Drift is situated here, in a time of  occupations and walkouts, it will connect the changes occurring at our universities to the emergence of a neoliberal control society over the past few decades.

The structure of the weekend will be two-days in four parts. Most parts will be structured as participatory conversations, guided by an interlocutor; togetherwe will explore these themes.

On the first day, we try to understand the massive economic and psychological  shifts that have occurred since the end of the 1960’s.

And on the second day, we will locate possible territories for resistance, autonomy, or invention. Continuing in the spirit of our collective conversations so far, we are leaving the lecture-Q&A format aside for themed discussions.



The Public School
951 Chung King Rd., Chinatown,
Los Angeles, CA 90012


Day 1.
February 27.
Control Society


12:00  Disassociation
facilitators: Liz Glynn, Marc Herbst
2.00  Financialization
facilitators: Aaron Benanav, Zen Dochterman
4.00  Occupationation/Collective Speech
facilitators: Cara Baldwin, Nathan Brown, Maya Gonzalez, Evan Calder Williams
7.00  Day 1 Discussion
facilitators: Brian Holmes, Solomon Bothwell


Day 2.
February 28.

 2:00  Autonomous Spaces

facilitators: Hector Gallegos, Robby Herbst
2.00  Precarity
facilitators: Sean Dockray and Christina Ulke
4.00  Brian Holmes Lecture: Metamorpheus
7.00  Sharable Territories/Bifurcation
facilitators: Ava Bromberg and Jason Smith


More details:

Occupationation/Collective Speech
Cara Baldwin will facilitate a critical discussion on material and cultural responses to economic collapse, collective action and debate with contributors to the international occupations movement Gopal Balakrishnan, Nathan Brown, Maya Gonzalez and Evan Calder Williams. This is discussion will bridge both theory and praxis, including theoretical analysis and debate alongside material and tactical considerations. 

Day 1 Discussion: Class Collapse, or why do the media always come closer?
Let’s take time at the end of the day to look at the big economic picture and how it lives in our bodies. The gradual personalization and miniaturization of the media now seems to be heading for a subcutaneous destination. Why is that happening?

Keynesian policies formerly tried to create effective demand for capitalist production through state investment in the well-being, or at least the consuming-being, of the entire population. Neoliberal policies replaced investment with loans, credit cards and fictional assets (formerly called homes) that have now evaporated in the crisis. The intensification of the control society, both on the advertising and surveillance sides, betrays an immense anxiety over an utter failure to resolve the real problem of overaccumulation. Even the opulent facade of southern California will no longer be able to cover what is already a gaping class divide.

Several unblinkered suggestions will be made about possible developments over the next decade, in order to open up the debate. Let’s try to imagine together where the excluded middle will go. Opportunities? Projects? Dead ends? Dangers?

Autonomous Spaces
Propulsive Utopia
From Autonomous Space Towards Liberated Space: Some Points for Discussion and Debate
The Affinity Group

Brian Holmes: The Flexible Personality

In the late 1990s, many of us gave a try at “weaving the electronic fabric of struggle” (Harry Cleaver). The idea was to use the new communications networks to awaken a social movement on a global scale. But the hero of pop culture in the Internet era turned out to be a sleepwalker: the figure of Morpheus, from The Matrix. The meshwork was much more densely woven than we thought, and the promise of the Swarm became the reality of the Drone.

The proposal from many people today focuses on singular territories: urban gardens, neighborhood spaces, discussion groups, rural experiments, self-organized schools, and so on. Instead of calling it a retreat or a regression, maybe it’s better to use Raul Zibechi’s term, and think of it as “crecimiento interior” (growth inside). What he’s talking about is a kind of intensive questioning that has to be done in relatively smaller groups, in order to figure out how to respond to changed conditions when past experience is no guide to future conflicts and creations.

As a discussion tool and a way to relate to our own weekend microcosmos at The Public School, let’s look at Guattari’s fourfold map of existential Territories, aesthetic Universes, social Flows and conceptual Phyla. The point is not to get fascinated with the verbiage, but to think about how to intensify certain compact experiments in which we are involved, to the point where they overflow their limits and affect, or let themselves be affected, by other experiments. All four zones on the map represent strategic areas where the former left can be reinvented, in the realms of everyday life and reproduction, social movements and collective projects, scientific and epistemological invention, and last but not least, the imaginary, the vision thing.

A note on facilitation:
For us, a facilitator is someone who can understand the potential of the conversation to be had and figures out a way to get the group to walk in  that direction. We have questioned with some detail  the relationship between the exchange value of speakers and the reception of their words. We decided to run the planning of the drift as an open class through the Public School so as to create a horizontal and transparent process; ideally to bring  the act of theoretical creation from mystery to into a  practice done by those who set themselves out on a thought-task. We hope that this is mirrored in the facilitation.

Organized by Zen Doctherman, Cara Baldwin, Jason Smith, Sean Dockray, Liz Glynn, Solomon Bothwell, Christina Ulke, Marc Herbst, Robby Herbst

The Continental Drift is a nomadic seminar organized collaboratively between Brian Holmes and DIY spaces. The first Drift occured at 16 Beaver in NY (2005) and has been held there and elsewhere since. The Drift is a conversation around particular elements of neoliberalism.

The Public School Los Angeles is a school with no curriculum. It is not accredited, it does not give out degrees, and it has no affiliation with the public school system. It is a framework that supports autodidactic activities, operating under the assumption that everything is in everything.