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Democracy and the Multitude

Spinoza against Negri

Sandra Field

Negri celebrates a conception of democracy in which the concrete powers of individual humans are not alienated away, but rather are added together: this is a democracy of the multitude. But how can the multitude act without alienating anyone's power? To answer this difficulty, Negri explicitly appeals to Spinoza. Nonetheless, in this paper, I argue that Spinoza's philosophy does not support Negri's project. I argue that the Spinozist multitude avoids internal hierarchy through the mediation of political institutions and not in spite of them; nor do these institutions merely emanate from the multitude as it is, but rather they structure, restrain and channel its passions. In particular, the required institutions are not those of a simple direct democracy. There may be other non-Spinozist arguments on which Negri can ground his theory, but he cannot legitimately defend his conception of the democratic multitude by appeal to Spinoza.

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Introduction

Anthropology and the radical philosophy of Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt

Ara Wilson

The trilogy by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (2000), Multitude (2004), and Commonwealth (2009), is among the major works of political theory to emerge in this century, with specific relevance for anthropological analyses of global power. This introduction provides a synthetic overview of the conflicted encounter between anthropologists (John Kelly, Aihwa Ong, Anna Tsing, and Sylvia Yanagisako) and Hardt and Negri's vision that is staged in this thematic cluster of Focaal. It reviews the anthropologists' three main critiques of the Empire trilogy, the analysis of state and labor, the scale of analysis, and the ethics of global theorizing, which point to an apparent disciplinary rift between global ethnography and radical philosophy. This disciplinary rift is itself characterized differently by anthropologists and Michael Hardt, which I suggest results from different modalities for depicting social dynamics.

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Empire/Multitude—State/Civil Society

Rethinking Topographies of Power Through Transnational Connectivity in Ecuador and Beyond

Suzana Sawyer

This article uses a lawsuit against Chevron as a means to examine the complex, compromised, and incomplete practices that form what can be described as Empire/Multitude and state/civil society. The class-action suit, filed on behalf of 30,000 Ecuadorian citizens, encapsulates processes of globalization and their attendant consequences. I argue that the binaries Empire/Multitude and state/civil society assume a physiology of coherence and topography of power that obscure their deeply transnational nature. Systematically exploring the networks of connectivity that produce and transform these dyads allows for a refiguring of indigenous peoples within the political realm. Rather than outside or below, subaltern subjects (indigenous and non-indigenous alike) are co-existing political embodiments that can shape the sphere of authority and legitimacy that make up the state and the practices of Empire.

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Powers of sovereignty

State, people, wealth, life

Aihwa Ong

Hardt and Negri's trilogy describes an American Empire as shaping a world split between global capital and disenfranchised multitude, leading to a final confrontation between the Empire of capital and the counter-Empire of workers everywhere. However, their interpretation is limited by their philosophical abstraction and revolutionary vision, which fails to recognize the implications of actually existing processes of sovereignty and capital at this global juncture. The situation found in Asia challenges their analysis. In contemporary China, experimental assemblages of sovereign powers, capital, techne, and ethics have not weakened, but, in fact, have strengthened political sovereignty, nationalist sentiments, and collectivist ethos, presenting a different picture of biopolitics from that of Hardt and Negri's global theory. The authoritarian outcomes in China are political solutions forged in circumstances that mingle the global, the historical, and the situated. This article argues that Asian aspirations are rearranging capitalism and political sovereignty as Hardt and Negri understand them.

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Immaterial and industrial labor

On false binaries in Hardt and Negri's trilogy

Sylvia Yanagisako

At the core of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's thesis that a new global form of sovereignty has replaced a previous imperialist geography is their claim that the capitalist mode of production has undergone a shift from a modern era in which “industrial labor“ was hegemonic to a postmodern era in which “immaterial labor“ has become hegemonic. In this article, I argue that capitalism in Europe (let alone other areas of the world) does not conform to this model. I draw on the history of Italian manufacturing and on my ethnographic research on the silk industry of northern Italy to question the analytic usefulness of their distinction between “industrial“ and “immaterial“ labor and to show that the latter has always been crucial to industrial production. I conclude that Hardt and Negri's attempt to expand the definition of productive labor to include the “multitude“ unwittingly parallels an emerging discourse that serves to legitimate transnational hierarchies of labor.

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Maria Antonietta Perna

The present paper aims to explore the Spinozean notion ‘multitude’ as it is used in texts by Antonio Negri and Paolo Virno, although I shall only touch upon the latter’s work to the extent that it appears to agree with Negri’s theses. Doing so will bring up an issue which, in my view, impinges on the articulation of the praxis of liberation envisioned by the above philosophers. In particular, although their analyses adopt ontology as a point of departure, and this is a core methodological tenet in their thought, they fall short of offering an account of the ontological structures of agency which would be adequate to ground the motivation for the appointed ethico-political task.

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Tendayi Sithole and Paolo Cossarini

Violence in/and the Great Lakes: The Thought of V-Y Mudimbe and Beyond by Grant Farred, Kasereka Kavwahirehi and Leonhard Praeg (eds.) Tendayi Sithole

Radical Democracy and Collective Movements Today: The Biopolitics of the Multitude versus the Hegemony of the People by Alexandros Kioupkiolis and Giorgos Katsambekis (eds.) Paolo Cossarini

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Seeking what?

Subversion, situation, and transvaluation

John Kelly

Hardt and Negri's transvaluation of violence into the sign of emergent revolutionary subjectivity begins in a philosophical dream, not any actual historical anthropology. Negri's politics of subversion attempt to articulate the ongoing constitution of a new multitude but actually constitute the alter ego to Pax Americana's vision of nation-state sovereignty and finance-dominated capitalism. Thorstein Veblen's critique of the finance-dominated, postmodern new order, first rendered in 1919, draws similar conclusions about fictions in sovereignty by nation-state and contradictions between vested interests and the global commons. But Veblen correctly warns against romanticizing violent tactics. An anthropology of situations will better help scholars clarify contemporary predicaments and potentials than will search for an insurgent global multitude. The issue is urgent in the situation of globalized counterinsurgency. Anthropology can and should mount a better critique of actual global politics than it can find within the values of any philosophy, even one committed to the Spinozan celebration and amplification of immanence.

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In a World of Migration

Rethinking Literacy, Language, and Learning Texts

Elizabeth P. Quintero

This article has evolved from teaching future teachers about literacy and language in multilingual contexts. The examples are taken from contexts in the United States with learners from around the world. Professionals in the classrooms, in the teacher development programs, and in schools and colleges of education have been doing responsible research for many years, and have learned much regarding the learning of multilingual people who represent a multitude of histories. In this article the focus is on rethinking literacy, languages (home languages and target languages of host countries), the connections between personal and communal history and learning texts, and how all of the above relate to the curriculum in various learning arenas.

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Hannah Arendt

Radical Evil, Radical Hope

Jeffrey Newman

The world is facing a multitude of interconnected issues, leading to avoidable starvation, poverty and death for hundreds of millions. Is Arendt's concept of the 'banality of evil', which she adopted in preference to Kant's 'radical evil', applicable here? Are we bystanders, addicted to 'growth'? The paper considers the central role of thinking and, with the help of Greek myth and Nietzsche, the relationship between evil and hope. Finally, there is an emerging concept of 'radical hope'. What is this, could it be of help and how would it connect with Judaism's teachings of the Messiah?