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Praxis: The Everyday Not as Usual

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Abstract

In the context of 'The Idea of the Avant Garde - And What It Means Today' of the edited volume, this essay considers the role that professionals play or could play to a polycentric rearrangement of values and power positions. To these ends, it discusses the question of autonomy understood in political and professional terms and elaborates the open interventional network of professionals of exigency and forums of commonality as framework in which probable change of energies can occur, along with the nuances and limitations pertaining to it.
220
e global crisis runs deep. It is manifested as an economic
crisis, an environmental crisis, a social and geopolitical
crisis. Within the neoliberal global matrix and the new
mode of immaterial production, the sites of opposition
spread year by year: anti-globalization movements, urban
riots, anti-systemic social movements, struggles for the
“right to the city” and initiatives of communization.
2
Accel-
erating revolts in all parts of the world and alternative
forms of economic and social interaction are hopefully
producing and contributing to value transmission and
system change. Yet, despite these struggles, capital accu-
mulation increases without pause. Given the context of
late capitalism and the intensity of its discourse, one has
to consider the role that professionals play in a now global
division of labour. In the following I will briey discuss
the question of autonomy in political and professional
terms, and the related AAO project, which I initiated in
light of the above-mentioned crisis as the possibility of a
constructive form of (self-)governance.3
For Marxist sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, autonomy denes
the site of struggle for relative power, which, along with
heteronomy, identies the cultural eld’s social function
and its relation to the broader eld of power.4 While auto-
nomy tends to be consonant with a degree of independence
from the economy, and completely fulls the eld’s internal
rules and logic, heteronomy favours those who dominate the
eld economically and politically. Autonomy adheres to the
disinterested values that constitute the specic internal logic
of the eld. e state of the power relations in this conict
depends on the total degree of autonomy of the eld and
the extent to which it manages to impose its own norms
and rules on producers, including those who comply more
fully with external demands.
While this fragile state of equilibrium between the internal
and the external conditions of a eld was theorized by Bour-
dieu in the 1980s, this topology of struggle originates more
or less at the turn of the twentieth century, the period when
Max Weber analyzed those aspects of modern rationaliza-
tion that encompass the economic, political and cultural
elds, which were already at that time aspects of the chain of
production. It is around this period that the modern profes-
sions were established through their ocial institutions,
which later gave rise to the sociology of the professions.5
Bourdieu’s denition, however, illuminates the function of
autonomy as a barometer of the struggle between external
and internal conditions, not only for the literary and artistic
elds but for any other profession, including architecture.
It is widely acknowledged that the ideal of professional
autonomy is the antithesis of proletarianization: the prac-
titioners determine for themselves what work to do and
how to do it. Professional autonomy allows them to empha-
size discretion in their work, to assert their own judgement
and responsibility as arbiters of their activity. An ideal of
professional autonomy, which is one of the main traits of
the genuine professions, together with specialization and
the emphasis on credentials, means that professionals have
control over those personal, social, economic and cultural
aairs that their knowledge and skills address. Professional
autonomy ideally means to make one’s own laws.
Autonomy is therefore associated with the boundaries of
a profession; it is a place of conict, transient or perma-
nent, and a border that delineates a territory.6 Autonomy
often emerges as a gesture of negation or as a site of nego-
tiation between professional groups, or, to put it dier-
ently, between professionally established social players
Praxis: The Everyday NOT as Usual
Lina Stergiou
Empire is everywhere nothing is happening.
Everywhere things are working.
Wherever the normal situation prevails.
– e Invisible Committee1
12_Chapter 21-30.indd 220 10/23/19 11:30 AM
221
and between each professional group that comprises the
economic, social and political reality. is site is mani-
fested as the autonomous moments of a profession, as those
moments when it employs all of its knowledge and skills
to respond to this complex condition, and in relation to
which it will pursue its autonomy. Autonomy functions on
an intermediate level between external conditions and the
profession’s established cognitive, normative and evalua-
tive grounds.7 Imbued with the elements of reaction, refusal,
resistance and consensus, autonomy manages to bring
about, to a greater or lesser extent, action. e moments of
action mark a line of tension, the point of transition from
internal rules, and knowledge, to the social, economic
and political reality that prevails outside of it. It is at these
moments of tension, for instance, on the point of transition,
that new possibilities arise. It is this approach to autonomy
that I believe needs to be stressed in the present context as
it provides an occasion to become a mechanism for change
towards constructive forms of (self-)governance.
According to Cornelius Castoriadis, “autonomy comes from
autos-nomos: (to give to) oneself one’s laws.8 is view of
autonomy as an ongoing political project sheds light on
how we perceive modes of (self-)governance. Autonomy,
for Castoriadis, is no mere “self-institution” and bears little
relation to Kantian denitions of autonomy. It does not
consist in acting according to some a priori law set in stone
by an immutable Reason, which is given once and for all. It
is rather a constant self-questioning about the law and its
foundations, as well as the capacity to make and to insti-
tute. Castoriadis describes autonomy as a political activity
that questions our own representations and transforms our
institutions. e autonomous eort aims not at a complete,
nalized system that will accept no further change, but
rather at initiating and constantly renewing a decisive and
thoughtful eort to reshape institutions to meet our recog-
nized needs and desires. Autonomy for Castoriadis diers
from heteronomy, which occurs everywhere in society as a
way of concealing this self-instituting process and attributes
it wrongly to some extra-social and supra-natural source.
Autonomy therefore indicates a constant battle between
autonomy and heteronomy, between the assertion of auto-
nomy and that which erodes its closely connected elements.
Autonomy and heteronomy have a reciprocal relation to
oneanother and work to alter themselves and the other.9
Italian Operaists brought forward in the 1960s another
understanding of autonomy. In their 2007 text on autono-
mia, Sylvère Lotringer and Christian Marazzi revisit this
concept.10 For Operaists, autonomy consists in the rejec-
tion of party politics, refusing readymade classications
and doctrines, such as labour discipline, and seeking new
autonomous avenues for bringing about a new social order
rather than any sort of prescribed programme.11 Gather-
ing around the journal Querderni Rossi, Operaists advocated
workers’ autonomy from their representatives, stressing
their independent view beyond party organizations and
ocial unions, and for new forms of struggle against the
diuse spectacle of consumer capitalism. With a forward
looking vision, their eorts aimed beyond the factory to
encompass all producers of material and immaterial goods
and who receive wages for their service. Experimenting
with new modes of living, students and new class subjects,
along with the industrialized working class and support-
ive cadres demanded that autonomy and political power
be granted them, emphasizing power rather than political
representation.
On this point, Ulrich Beck’s advocacy of the concept of the
“emergence of sub-politics” is enlightening.12 Beck argued
that in the “risk society” in which we live, one should not
look for the political in traditional arenas such as parlia-
ments, political parties and trade unions. For him, it is
necessary to cancel the equation between politics and
state power. e political erupts today in very dierent
places. A series of new resistances emerge that are grass-
roots oriented, extra-parliamentary and no longer linked to
political parties. eir demands concern issues that are not
and possibly cannot be expressed through traditional polit-
ical ideologies. Such politics take place in a variety of sub-
systems where demands shape sub-politics in a process of
political conict over power-sharing and power-positions.
Sub-politics, Beck declares, are distinguished from poli-
tics in the sense that agents who are normally outside the
political system are allowed also to appear on the stage of
social design. is includes professional groups, research
institutions, citizens’ initiatives, and so on. Second, social
and collective agents but also individuals compete with
each other for the emerging power to shape politics. For
Beck, sub-politics means “shaping society from below”
around issues that are not addressed by the ocial political
system.13 To understand Beck’s point of view one simply
needs to remember that ecological urgencies began as
sub-political claims, which later entered the ocial agenda
of the political system. us, what would be required for
the transformation of groups from the status of alien
outsider into political subjects, and into political sub-
systems, is the creation of forums.14 Forums, where all
possible forms of co-operation are built among, for
instance, professionals, citizens, politicians or industri-
alists, shape a political sub-system.
12_Chapter 21-30.indd 221 10/23/19 11:30 AM
222
Various instances of the AAO project, mobilizing bodies, institutions and corporations, c.2011. All photos by Dimitris Giannoulakis, except the
nal image, by Maurice Benayoun. Courtesy of Lina Stergiou and AAO project ‘Ethics/Aesthetics.’ Details at www.aaoproject.org.
Within the above framework, I would like to refer to Against
All Odds (AAO), an interdisciplinary architecture project
conceived as a political sub-system and a praxis of (self-)
governance.
15
While asking how architecture and other disci-
plines can contribute to the broader debates on social and
environmental crisis, and against the existing reality, AAO
redirects values towards commitment, ecological conscience
and environmental protection. It intervenes in the capitalist
ways that public space is produced by “squatting the city from
below.16 ese aims are fulled through the mobilization of
international artists, designers, architects, intellectuals, schol-
ars, activists, institutions, corporations (through supportive
and not restrictive sponsorship), and Greek state institutions,
rearranging the existing value system and order of crisis.
From a professional perspective, AAO identies, delin-
eates or creates a eld as a battle zone of transition from the
external conditions to an internal generation of construc-
tive and promising thoughts and actions. e notion of
“external” here pertains to social, political and economic
realities as a structured given, and “internal” denotes a
profession’s rules and norms. It is at that boundary of
tension, of negotiation between the internal and external,
that its position emerges. e multidisciplinarity of a project
like AAO is manifested when it acts for the benet of soci-
ety as a whole, merging its dierent and often conicting
professional value systems. It acts in order to discover how
professionals can proceed through either clashes, negotia-
tion or indierence in order to advance social aims and soci-
ety as such; to produce thoughts, ideas and actions, opposing
individualistic conscience and each profession’s status quo;
to rearrange the social order and power structures; to keep
global issues in mind but with local insight and application;
to disseminate ideas and to build a collective conscience.
17
In
other words, to raise awareness about how reformed profes-
sions can together resolve issues.
From a political perspective, AAO’s inherent opposi-
tion to the prevailing neoliberal order does not provoke
micro-structural resistances but moves towards reorga-
nizing and redistributing real and symbolic power within
the local structures of the capitalist mode of production,
12_Chapter 21-30.indd 222 10/23/19 11:30 AM
223
mobilizing bits and pieces of institutional and political
organization, and rearranging positions. In AAO, antago-
nism takes the constructive stance of “changing the rules.
More than simply an alternative solution emerging from
the margins, AAO places itself at the centre, mobilizing
actors from the widest possible range of social, institutional
and political contexts in order to support, contribute to,
and implement solutions to contemporary social, ecolog-
ical and cultural problems. AAO distributes energies and
resets ethics in the spatial, social and cultural domain. It
acts as a political sub-system (emerging from the cultural
domain, a space of relative freedom) as a paradigm of (self-)
governance, collective action and catalyst of change.
Aiming for (self-)governance marks the goal of autonomy.
Attaining it presupposes an unlimited, according to Casto-
riadis, self-questioning about its laws. Yet reaching this stage
requires a revolutionary self-understanding, thinking about
and coming to know the truth about the eects of capitalism.
is implies action.18 ought happens through action and
acting is a locus of freedom. Freedom does not exist if people
do not have the intense desire to do what they are doing.
Freedom necessitates transcending the routines of everyday
institutions and its demands to uphold social roles within
the increasingly narrow range of choices that are available.
Revisiting radical avant-garde instances for theoretical
justications of contemporary action leads to a retreat into
“radical” clichés. eoretical deliberation precedes us and
indicates a contemplative standpoint, even as it gestures
anxiously towards action. Its object becomes external and
transcendent while its subject is reduced to a fragile, thin-
ly-veiled self-armation. e nature of those instances
resists being transformed into a weak object.
Moments of action succeed while not exactly coalescing with
theoretical inquiries, evaluations and ideologies. ey have
their own verve and inherent logic, born at their best from
out of an almost unavoidable necessity. As they are neither a
professional project nor a form of alternative profession, they
cannot be entirely predicted.
19
Action falls outside the regular
ow of the everyday. It occurs when it needs to, superseding
and transcending the daily stream of prioritizations.
In fact, theory is exceeded by moments of praxis. e most
insightful theories are challenged by radical praxis, which
extends, enriches or redirects them. Such praxis gathers
around immediate urgencies, at a specic time and within
a precise context. It is a transformation of our ways of feel-
ing and thinking, the construction of a new intellect and
sensorium. Praxis cannot be repeated by remaining the
same. If retroactively regarded as emergent avant gardes,
previous actions will be ascribed to their generalizing force
and nature, due to their appeal to a more universal than
particular socio-spatial context and magnitude. Past actions
will thus be regarded for their usefulness as paradigms
and resonate across time and space, spreading from place
to place after their initial spark. is is what the Invisible
Committee calls “revolutionary movement”:
An insurrection is not like a plague or a forest re—a
linear process which spreads from place to place after an
initial spark. It rather takes the shape of a music, whose
focal points, though dispersed in time and space, succeed
in imposing the rhythms of their own vibrations, always
taking on more density. To the point that any return to
normal is no longer desirable or even imaginable.20
Born out of real questions seeking self-expression and solu-
tions, with its basic ingredient being dynamism, radical praxis
forms a hard inner core, almost inaccessible in its original
sense. It acts unpredictably in relation to the preconceived
limits of ideologies, ideas and principles born within them.
Radicalism is performed instantly. It has an expiration date. It
bursts and is gone. Its eects shift to other domains that do the
rest of the work, prompting a chain of actions and contribut-
ing to the emergence of a new order. If it were to continue, it
would evolve into a new hegemonic structure. If it ceased, it
would shift into the eld of discourse, in relation to which the
emergence of a new “music” could occur.21
and Contemporary Struggles (Wivenhoe: Minor Compositions,
2011).
3. e professional dimension refers to the sociological denition of
“profession” as an occupation that controls its own work, organized by
a special set of institutions sustained by a particular ideology of exper-
tise and service. See Eliot Freidson, Professionalism Reborn: eory,
Prophecy and Policy (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994) 10, 16-17.
Notes
1. The Invisible Committee, The Call (2004), available at http://
bloom0101.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/ENGcall2.pdf.
2. See Yann Moulier-Boutang, Cognitive Capitalism (Cambridge:
Polity Press, 2012). For the role of urban space in social mobili-
zation, see David Harvey, Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City
to the Urban Revolution (London: Verso, 2012). See also Benjamin
Noys, ed. Communization and Its Discontents: Contestation, Critique,
12_Chapter 21-30.indd 223 10/23/19 11:30 AM
224
4.
Pierre Bourdieu, “e Field of Cultural Production, or: e Economic
World Reversed,” in Bourdieu, e Field of Cultural Production: Essays
on Art and Literature (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993) 29-73.
5. In England, from 1880 to 1917, the collective organization of the
professions grew signicantly. To the seven qualifying associations
of 1800 (four for barristers, two for Royal Colleges, one for medical
doctors), the years between 1800-1880 added 20 more (architects,
solicitors, builders, pharmacists, veterinary surgeons, actuaries,
surveyors, chemists, librarians, bankers, accountants, and eight types
of engineer). From 1880 to 1917 there appeared no less than 39 (estate
agents, town planners, etc). See Harold Perkin, e Rise of Professional
Society: England Since 1880 (London: Routledge, 1989) 85-6. e most
widely known and earliest thinker to address the professions in theo-
retical terms is the American Talcott Parsons in 1939.
6. For the characteristics of this boundary, see Bourdieu, e Field of
Cultural Production, 42-3.
7. e three dimensions of the ideal type of profession are cognitive,
normative and evaluative. See Sarfatti Larson Magali, e Rise of
Professionalism: A Sociological Analysis (Berkeley: University of Cali-
fornia Press, 1977) x.
8.
Cornelius Castoriadis, “Power, Politics, Autonomy,” in Philosophy, Poli-
tics, Autonomy: Essays in Political Philosophy (New York: Oxford Univer-
sity Press, [1988] 1991) 164. See also his 1989 lecture text “e Retreat
from Autonomy: Postmodernism as Generalized Conformism,” in e
World in Fragments: Writings on Politics, Society, Psychoanalysis, and the
Imagination (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997) 32-43.
9. Castoriadis, “Power, Politics, Autonomy,” 159.
10.
Sylvère Lotringer and Christian Marazzi, eds. Autonomia: Post-political
Politics (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2009).
11. Sylvère Lotringer and Christian Marazzi, “e Return of Politics,” in
Autonomia, 8.
12.
Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens and Scott Lash, Reexive Modernization:
Politics, Tradition and Aesthetics in the Modern Social Order (Cambridge:
Polity Press, 1994).
13. Beck, Giddens and Lash, Reexive Modernization, 22.
14. Ulrich Beck, e Reinvention of Politics: Rethinking Modernity in the
Global Social Order (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1997) 168-9.
15.
AAO is a series of debates, exhibitions, events, collective experiments
and public actions that took place in Athens from January 2011 to June
2012. It was conceived and ‘curated’ by Lina Stergiou, succeeding two
years of research. See Lina Stergiou, ed. Against All Οdds Project: Ethics/
Aesthetics (Athens: Papasotiriou, 2011), available at https://issuu.com/
linastergiou/docs/aao_book-catalogue and http://aaoproject.org.
16. About Athens Here and Now, see Lina Stergiou, “Athens, a City for its
Citizens. Can We?” Architects #3 Period C (June 2013) 7-8, and “Athens
Here and Now,” Architects #16 Period C (October 2015) 8-9.
17. AAO has local insight and application in Greece. On the post-2008
Greek context and communization initiatives, see Nicholas Anastaso-
poulos, “e Crisis and the Emergence of Communal Experiments
in Greece,” in ICSA2013: Communal Pathways to Sustainable Living,
Conference Proceedings, 2013, 349-59.
18.
Richard Gilman-Opalsky, Precarious Communism: Manifest Mutations,
Manifesto Detourned (Wivenhoe: Minor Compositions, 2014).
19.
On the notion of the avant garde as an alternative profession, see David
Cottington, e Avant-Garde: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 2013) 38-44.
20.
e Invisible Committee, e Coming Insurrection (Los Angeles: Semio-
text(e), 2009) 6.
21. On the notion of the dierent phases of the avant garde, from emer-
gence and formation to institutionalization, see Cottington, e Avant-
Garde: A Very Short Introduction.
12_Chapter 21-30.indd 224 10/23/19 11:30 AM
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Article
To be fully understood, literary production has to be approached in relational terms, by constructing the literary field, i.e. the space of literary prises de position that are possible in a given period in a given society. Prises de position arise from the encounter between particular agents' dispositions (their habitus, shaped by their social trajectory) and their position in a field of positions which is defined by the distribution of a specific form of capital. This specific literary (or artistic, or philosophical, etc.) capital functions within an ‘economy’ whose logic is an inversion of the logic of the larger economy of the society. The ‘interest in distinterestedness’ can be understood by examining the structural relations between the field of literary production and the field of class relations. A number of effects within the literary field arise from the homologies between positions within the two fields. This model is then used to analyze the particular case of the literary field in late 19th century France.
For the role of urban space in social mobilization, see David Harvey
  • Cognitive See Yann Moulier-Boutang
  • Capitalism
See Yann Moulier-Boutang, Cognitive Capitalism (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012). For the role of urban space in social mobilization, see David Harvey, Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution (London: Verso, 2012). See also Benjamin Noys, ed. Communization and Its Discontents: Contestation, Critique,
) 164. See also his 1989 lecture text "The Retreat from Autonomy: Postmodernism as Generalized Conformism
  • Cornelius Castoriadis
Cornelius Castoriadis, "Power, Politics, Autonomy, " in Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy: Essays in Political Philosophy (New York: Oxford University Press, [1988] 1991) 164. See also his 1989 lecture text "The Retreat from Autonomy: Postmodernism as Generalized Conformism, " in The World in Fragments: Writings on Politics, Society, Psychoanalysis, and the Imagination (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997) 32-43.
Power, Politics, Autonomy
  • Castoriadis
Castoriadis, "Power, Politics, Autonomy," 159.
The Return of Politics
  • Sylvère Lotringer
  • Christian Marazzi
Sylvère Lotringer and Christian Marazzi, "The Return of Politics," in Autonomia, 8.
About Athens Here and Now, see Lina Stergiou
About Athens Here and Now, see Lina Stergiou, "Athens, a City for its Citizens. Can We?" Architects #3 Period C (June 2013) 7-8, and "Athens Here and Now," Architects #16 Period C (October 2015) 8-9.