- Commoning the Political and Politicising the Common
Artistic innovation, while often characterised as a sudden single happening, is actually the result of many long-hidden hours of behind-the-scenes work. The same can be true not only of a book, often the result of many more years’ work than what is visible, but also of political innovations, revolutionary moments and seismic social and political shifts. While being hidden from view, an accumulating aggregation of seemingly disorganised and unsystematic actions can nevertheless provide a pre-history for larger, more visible political actions that might openly challenge dominant power structures. This is what anthropologist James C. Scott calls the ‘offstage’ work of everyday struggles and political actions that go largely unnoticed.1
In this vein, Kioupkiolis’ new book endeavours to answer the question of how disparate, horizontally organised social movements and grassroots initiatives might produce wide, sustainable and long lasting social and political change. In order to do this, he brings together recent thinking around the common, commons, and commoning with theories of hegemony. These two strands, one characterised by horizontal, open-ended, self-organising and self-managed initiatives, and the other by ideas of centralised, representative politics based on antagonism and domination, might seem at first to be essentially polar opposites and irreconcilable. However, by bringing these two seemingly incongruous ‘logics’ together, the book attempts to answer questions that have plagued the idea of ‘the multitude’ for some time. Ostensibly, the perceived lack of strategy within recent social movements, which have been criticised as being more concerned with processes of self-management than with strategic demands.
The book provides a very detailed analysis of these two strands of thinking and argues that is only by embracing a form of post-hegemonic politics that real lasting social change will be possible. The prefix post-, here, is understood not as a total break, so much as a querying or problematicising of hegemony that also goes beyond it. Kioupkiolis argues that what the politics of hegemony offers should be tempered with a bias towards the horizontal, participatory and open-ended relations exemplified by the commons: ‘the politics of hegemony (concentration of force, representation, partial unification) is not, and should not be, disentangled from the politics of the multitudinous common’ (p84). This might seem like an impossible task, but Kioupkiolis, to a great extent, [End Page 122] sets out how this entanglement can, and he argues, already does, operate.
The book sits well within Kioupkiolis’ existing work, which has prepared the ground for this book. Here he combines new writing with several previously published articles. Kioupkiolis is currently leading the research project Heteropolitics at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, where he is assistant professor in Contemporary Political Theory at the School of Political Sciences. While the chapters of this volume are somewhat freestanding, they successfully add up to a thorough survey and in-depth analysis of the theoretical terrain, albeit with some perhaps inevitable repetition. Starting with ontological philosophical explorations of collectivity since the historical discrediting of state communism, the book makes several moves, ‘commoning the political’ and ‘politicising the common,’ to examine both ‘sides’ of the theoretical divide. Concentrating the majority of its focus on Hardt and Negri’s vision of the multitude and Mouffe and Laclau’s work on hegemony, it also critiques Eleanor Ostrom’s ground-breaking work on the commons, Autonomist Marxist writings, and major thinkers such as Zizek and Badiou. The book ends with a vision of common democracy and reflections on what bringing principles of the commons to bear on domains of government might actually mean.
Kioupkiolis argues that whilst recent thinking on the commons has offered much, it has lacked an engagement with certain aspects of the political, in particular, the failure to think through power relations, conflict and the making of collective subjects and communities of struggle. Whilst visions of new societies organised around the commons and tactical ideas for reconstructing the state-and-market system do exist, there is still a conceptual gap in terms of political strategy for transition from global neoliberalism...