Radical media, politics and culture.

Stefano Harney, "Governance and the Undercommons"

Governance and the Undercommons Stefano Harney

The Third Term
 1. Governance is a third term, beyond sovereignty or
governmentality. Although the term governance may still mark a form
of government. It is longer only a political term. Governance is
also now a term of the economy, not in the sense that the economy is
also governed, as in corporate governance, but as economy itself.
Governance is a form of economic production itself.

2. Sovereignty establishes the public and private. Governmentality
makes this establishment of the private productive, through the
production of the public. Governance today marks the emergence of
the public as directly productive. No longer is the public, in all
its micropolitics of subjectivity and macropolitics of population, an
instrument for creating a private that can then be exploited. Today
the public itself in all its anti-social glory, because the public is
the most anti-social moment of capitalist society, is also a direct
and dominant source of capitalist wealth. This is because the public
holds all of the social qualities of the general intellect up to the
light, making the general intellect obvious even in its disfiguration
in the figure of the public, and offering up this captured aspect of
the general intellect for exploitation.

3. Governance puts the public to work, or, perhaps we could say,
after Mario Tronti, governance is the new labour process. Mario
Tronti said the capitalist brings only this labour process, brings
only work, while the worker brings her class relation, her
socialisation, and her living labour, in short she brings the
capital. Today we could say the capitalist brings only governance,
as for instance one might understand the Davos meetings, or the rise
of the business schools of ignorance, or the sinister efforts of
African debt relief, all experiments in governance as labour process,
in governance as the effort to locate the general intellect and, as
Tiziana Terranova says, to harness it. The capitalist brings
governance as a desperate attempt to arrange a labour process beyond
his control. And how does he do this? How does governance work as a 
labour process?

The Mosquito
 4. Being in public is different from being public, and being in
public has always been criminal. Once that criminality was connected
to sovereignty, as in reckless eyeballing and the African slave. The
male African slave needed to be in public to work, but if his being
in public threatened the idea of being public, he could be accused of
looking at a white woman, being in public, 'reckless eyeballing,' and
punished or killed. The public was dominated by a sovereign
definition here. Later this is not enough, and perhaps was never
enough, for labour discipline. Malcolm X tells the story of a
hanging in London of a pickpocket, and even while the pickpocket was
being hanged, other pickpockets worked the crowd watching the
hanging. Clearly sovereign power was not enough for the kind of
labour discipline emerging in London at that time. Governmentality
names the experiments that come to supplement this power.

5. But now to be in public, but not public, is a form of direct
sabotage of the labour process. This is why we see the disconnection
between the ever smoother operations of governmentality at new ever
greater levels of differential inclusion, and at the same time the
more regressive uses of prisons, police violence, rendition, and
social censure, co-existing in one space. Today being in public does
not threaten the public only as the process of securing private
exploitation. It threatens exploitation itself.

6. Social time, as Toni Negri says, cannot be recognized as such by
capital, as pure social potentiality. But it can be recognized as
waiting time, if the wait is for work, as Paolo Virno says. We can
call this exhibition time, after Virno, the time during which we
exhibit to all who pass our potential to labour. And this is the key
to establishing the difference between being in public and being
public. Because how do we exhibit this willingness to stand beside
production and yet to attend to it (rather than having it attend to
us)? In other words, what does 'sabotage of the capitalist capture
of the general intellect' look like? I would say, it looks like a
lack of governance.

7. And what does governance look like? I would say in large part it
looks like the continuous production and exhibition of self-
generated, intelligible public interests. This is not just our
interest in the public, but our interest in generating the public
through the production of more interests, more politics if you like,
even more politics of difference, as long as this difference is
public, and therefore not different. The exhibition of willing
labour-power in the form of public interests is increasingly what
composes the public. And it is the exhibition that governance seeks
to organize. And why public interests? Because public interests are
a way to capture all the social cooperation, all the social
interests, that reside in the general intellect, and that are, as
Michael Hardt and Toni Negri have taught us, the chief source of
capitalist wealth today. Governance that provokes the production and
exhibition of public interests therefore mines the wealth of the
general intellect for what it cannot reach without the aid of all
those who identify, volunteer, and offer up their public interests.

8. This is the way, I suggest, to understand the Eighteenth Brumaire
of Barack Obama. American interest in politics under this 'fetish of
the public interest' is a manifestation of the overwhelming labour
discipline of that society, the overwhelming willingness to identify,
volunteer and offer up public interests, or in other words the
overwhelmingly willingness to exhibit the capacity for capitalist
work. On the other hand, it is also the way to understand 'the
mosquito' – a device used by the English police to disperse young
people in public squares and malls by using a high-pitched noise only
people under 20 years of age can hear. Those who do not exhibit this
capacity for capitalist work must be cleared from the public space
because it is the site of capitalist exploitation today. Rather than
close the public space, as in earlier phases of neo-liberalism still
trying to invent governance, it must be open for production and
appropriation, but only for this.

NGOs, Art Museums, and the Metroversity
 9. As I have said elsewhere, the laboratory of the production of
public interests is the NGO. The ethos of the NGO is that
populations must be provoked into identifying and volunteering their
own public interests. The NGO regards it as counter-productive to
speak for the illegal migrant. Only the illegal migrant knows the
contours of her own public interests. An illegal migrant ought to
know her rights, says the NGO. In this boiling cauldron of neo-
liberalism and civil society was this new meaning of governance born,
and from there has it spread.

10. This is also the key in my view to the creative industries. It
is not a question of business invading culture or even of culture
invading business. On the one hand, the creative industries do offer
new private sources of exploitation as scholars like Andrew Ross have
shown us. On the other hand as I have tried to show, the business
school has no subject except itself, and is therefore filled with
creativity, politics, and cultural forms. But these two sides alone
of the creative industries leave out its real attraction to capital
as a vehicle of governance, as a new labour process carved through
the general intellect, strip-mining social attention and opinion.
The creative industries are harnessed as the way art makes audiences,
and audiences make public interests, in the form of taste, attention,
prohibition, pleasure, and from all of this, new value. This is art
as governance, as labour process. The market is a market in what can
be revealed about audiences through new art. This is what is worth

11. And finally the metroversity, which thanks to the Edu-factory
collective has come so much into view for me. What seems important
here is the reversal of the visibility of the general equivalent.
Broadly one could say the university was a place where one acted on
the possibility of an original use-value while suspecting (correctly
as we see in Christopher Newfield's work) the world of exchange
outside was also inside. Now, in the university this suspicion has
become common sense. The university is overtly the place of the
production of knowledge as exchange-value, and no one has any
illusions about it. Curiously outside the university, however, one
is now supposed to act like original use-value is possible. Out in
the city one acts as one used to act in the university, like original
use-value is possible while suspecting (again correctly) that
exchange-value reigns. Thus we fetishize public difference and
accept pure command over our time as once was the case in the
nostalgic university. Taken together these two conditions and their
reversal and blending are for me the definition of the metroversity.

Dumb Insolence of the Undercommons 12. Fred Moten and I tried to think about the metroversity through
its workers, through the undercommons produced by the self-
organisation of these workers. (In the US the metroversity also
remains a form of rural patronage as well as tending toward an urban
social factory of a new kind.) For us, the undercommons is, from the
revolutionary point of view, the self-organisation of the
incommensurate. From the point of view of capital, the undercommons
is the unacknowledged self-organisation of the despised, discounted,
and anti-social. The first act of self-organisation in the
undercommons is a refusal of subjectivation through, and only
through, self-organisation. This disidentification through self-
organisation is also, for us, not a prerequisite to what Toni Negri
calls the common management (gestione) of the commons, but the
potential of that organisation.

13. Those who work in the undercommons of the metroversity are often
said to be dumb, and often said to be insolent. They must not go out
in public. They do not exhibit the right attitude. They are workers
from the darkness of the private. To governance they offer only dumb
insolence. But they seek a way to be together that does not require
explanation or interests first, and is only of use to others who seek
a similar ensemble. This is why for us translation is crucial and
the work of Sandro Mezzadra and his colleagues so important. But
dumb insolence is also about bodies and senses and social affect, not
just cognition and language. It is also about, paradoxically,
laughter, music, touch, and the invitation to an ensemble of these
affects and comprehensions that is not issued but remains possible,
even necessary, nonetheless.