Experimental Geographies

"There is tenderness only in the coarsest demand: that no-one shall go hungry any more" – Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (1974: 156)

Politics of Pacification: Response

I would like to thank Dan Simon from The Oubliette for responding so promptly to my original post. It was not my intention to castigate the organization or to simply paint its practices in a negative light. Ultimately, I was more worried about the effect that certain discourses have on the broad church of squatting and other autonomous occupation-based practices. I’m currently working on the history of the scene that developed in Berlin from the late 1970s onwards and it is clear that municipal authorities and the police often actively worked to divide an increasingly diverse scene into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ practices usually as a pretext to eviction, etc. At the same time, the independent arts programme advocated by Dan in his response was something certainly seized on and developed by a number of former squats in Berlin with considerable success. The kind of ‘institutional’ thickness that we still see in neighbourhoods such as Kreuzberg is perhaps a modest testimony to the creative labour undertaken in the face of adversity.

Rather than place organizations such as The Oubliette within the crosshairs of the endless internecine squabbles that still characterize debates across transnational squatting networks (I know I still sometimes fall into this trap), perhaps there are at least two ways of reformulating a broader politics of occupation:

1) That such practices might plausibly speak to the “alternative economies” approach to participatory action and community-building explored with great acuity by Julie Graham and Kathy Gibson among others. I’m not sure to what extent their work focuses on the kind of community or relational arts-based practices that we see in the work of The Oubliette though this would certainly be a fruitful line of future inquiry/collaboration/dialogue.

2) That the kind of work outlined by Dan in his response may engage with an increasingly urgent need for the cultivation of new spaces of the ‘common’ however precarious or durable they may be. One of the key insights of Slavoj Žižek’s recent book, First as Tragedy, then as Farce is the growth of a new geography of exclusion and inclusion that has come to install itself at the heart of contemporary urban landscapes. Finding new common spaces for reclaiming “the gap that separates the Excluded from the Included” (Žižek, 2009: 91) demands a number of creative solutions and strategies and perhaps an organization such as The Oubliette should be understood with these pressing imperatives in mind.


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This entry was posted on December 22, 2009 by in Commons, Geography, Public Space, Squatting.
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