Thursday, May 22, 2014

Further gleanings from browsing around with Lefebvre in mind: Gottesdiener, Bollier, Chapin, Scharmer, Rey, Wanenchak, New Left Project, Pink Noise Rev, Friedman, Sterling, Schneier

Here’s a third batch of gleanings that I collected by happenstance while doing the three posts about Lefebvre’s book The Production of Space.

Again, the purpose is to show that spatial orientations — some Lefebvrian, some not — crop up constantly in myriad areas, usually just as a metaphor but often as an analytical concept. In my STA-biased view, we’d all be well-advised to become more sensitive to noticing them, along with their relations to time and action orientations. I’m not trying to make a complex point — just trying to raise awareness of a fundament, for the sake of advancing with STA.

The materials in this batch, in order of appearance, are from Laura Gottesdiener, David Bollier, Ross Chapin, Otto Scharmer, PJ Rey, Sarah Wanenchak, New Left Project, Pink Noise Rev, Thomas Friedman, Bruce Sterling, and Bruce Schneier. A few of them I regularly follow at their blogs; others I’ve never heard of before — I just got routed to them by links at blogs I do follow, the case for all four batches. I batched these gleanings together for this post, because they raise themes about the rise of the commons and/or the impact of cyberspace.

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Gottesdiener on community mattering as much as individualism: As further evidence of the importance of “the American story” that Zalman highlighted (in the first batch), notice a fine remark made by author activist Laura Gottesdiener during a talk about her book A Dream Foreclosed (2013):
“I'll never forget something that my Mom told me … “People who feel powerless gravitate to powerful stories because their own stories are so disempowering.” … So our challenge is to make a story that is more powerful than the current narrative. And just to remember what the current narrative is, it's a belief in competition between individuals as the driving force in history. And I'm certainly not saying that individualism is a bad thing. What I am saying is that if there is no shared community tying these individuals together, we could become no more than distrustful walking manikins who are still wearing our price tags to intimidate the others.” (source)
Her remark is not explicitly Lefebvrian, and it’s mainly about STA’s action element: “people who feel powerless” and need “a story that is more powerful than the current narrative.” Yet, there is a strong spatial content in the contrast she posits between competitive “individualism” as “the current narrative” and “shared community” as the desired narrative. Individualism and community pose different ways of organizing and valuing social space. For that reason, this quote is good as any I’ve seen lately for illustrating that ideological narratives reflect (and depend on) the spatial orientations that are embedded in them — a point Lefebvre made long ago, as noted in Part 1.

Bollier on the commons as not fitting standard “dualities”: Commons-advocate David Bollier also makes a somewhat Lefebvrian point, when he observes that the concept of the commons “scrambles” and “blends” many of the ingrained “dualities” that have come to rule public policy discourse:
“[T]he commons scrambles many of the familiar categories of modern political thought and worldviews. The dualities of public/private, collective/individual and objective/subjective simply do not apply in the commons because the commons blends these concepts into a different kind of social organism. For example, by requiring commoners to interact directly with the more-than-human world, commoning helps us see that we are intimately connected with “nature”; it is not an inert resource and “other.” The point of moving beyond homo economicus is to get beyond its empirically inaccurate, reductionist and politically regressive categories.” (source)
He does not refer explicitly to space here, but I know from other readings that he and his fellow visionaries do indeed regard the commons (and peer-to-peer relations) as an emerging social space of its own, one that will increasingly reshape other social spaces. And the points he makes about “dualities” are thoroughly reminiscent of Lefebvre (as laid out in Part 2 of this series). Bollier criticizes the “collective/individual” duality that bothers Gottesdiener as well.

Chapin on the importance of “pocket neighborhoods”: Answering interview questions, architect activist Ross Chapin advocates that people form into “pocket neighborhoods” and “claim the space around us” as a commons in order to feel at home without fear:
“Can you explain how the commons influences your design for pocket neighborhoods?
“In pocket neighborhoods, a small cluster of households is situated around a shared commons. This small-scale setting is what makes them work. The commons is a “pocket” set apart from cars and traffic, and because of this, it is safe and sociable. …
What do you see as the biggest obstacle to creating a commons-based society right now?
“Simply stated, it’s fear. Until we truly have a sense of “being home” and of “belonging” to a place and a community, there will be an underlying sense of fear. In response, we strike out to claim the space around us, including all the useful resources within reach. This of course, is the existential quandary of our time.” (source)
That’s a thoroughly spatial view. Architects normally think and talk in spatial terms anyway. But tying “pocket neighborhoods” to “the commons” is an apropos touch for this post. His points about easing fear and enhancing belonging also relate to other gleanings in this series, notably Brin’s (in the second batch).

Scharmer on “Capitalism 4.0” and the commons: Speculation abounds these days about prospective new kinds of capitalism — whether called 3.0, 4.0, or something else. Here, MIT-based innovator Otto Scharmer outlines an evolutionary progression from capitalism 1.0 to capitalism 4.0. Apropos this post, he not only brings in “cultivating our commons” but also touches on Lefebvrian notions about overcoming “false dichotomies of the past”, creating new spaces (“sectors”), and expanding actors’ spatial horizons from narrow “ego-system (2.0)” to expansive “eco-system awareness (4.0)”:
“So my first takeaway is this: Traditional right-left polarization keeps the political discourse locked into false dichotomies of the past. …
“So here is another view that frames our current situation in the context of four logics and paradigms of economic thought. They all respond to the basic coordination problem of our modern economies, but in a different way.
1.0: Organizing around centralized power: state and central planning → giving rise to socialist and mercantilist economies (single sector)
2.0: Organizing around decentralized power: markets and competition → giving rise to entrepreneurs and the private sector (two sectors: public, private)
3.0: Organizing around special interest groups: negotiation and dialogue → giving rise to the NGO sector (three sectors, conflicting: public, private, civic)
4.0: Organizing around shared awareness and cultivating our commons → giving rise to co-creative relationships among the three sectors (government, business, civil society) in order to innovate at the scale of the whole system.
“These four logics mirror four different stages of economic development. Each earlier stage is included in the later ones. As economies move from 1.0 to 2.0, 3.0, and now possibly to 4.0, the consciousness of the human economic actors also evolves from traditional (1.0), to ego-system awareness (2.0), to stakeholder awareness (3.0), and to an eco-system awareness (4.0) that we see beginning today.
“The problem of our current economic debate is that we are trying to solve 21st -century problems with 19th- and 20th- century economic thought. That is: our discourse is stuck between "more markets and free enterprise" (2.0) and "more regulation and government" (3.0). In reality, neither of these approaches will suffice.” (source)
Besides being apropos STA, that also sounds a lot like TIMN (as well as P2P theory) — from his initial evolutionary lay-out, to his final advice that problem-solving move beyond old government–vs.–market discourse.

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Rey on “information as occupying space”: The growth of cyberspace keeps raising issues about relations between the virtual and the physical. Here, Cyborgology blogger PJ Rey observes that cyberspace is something of a myth, a fantasy — yet the ways that we “imagine information as occupying space” are proving “cognitively necessary.”
“We begin to imagine information as occupying space and then imagine this space as something that can be traversed and experienced, an alternate geography that provides a new path to reach the other person on the line. And though we know we are indulging in a fantasy, we can’t help but take it seriously. Sterling captures this when he writes: “Although it is not exactly ‘real,’ ‘cyberspace’ is a genuine place … This ‘place’ is not ‘real,’ but it is serious, it is earnest.”
The fantasy of cyberspace is “serious” because it is cognitively necessary. It relieves us of the burden of having to parse the seemingly infinite complexity of the systems that make such communication possible.” (source)
Wanenchak on “our space”: Another Cyborgology blogger Sarah Wanenchak writes about “the complex interplay between physical and digital” regarding an on-line harassment incident during a real-world conference. The incident was treated as “an action with symbolic power that had feet solidly in both “spaces” — which were really a single space — from which this person was both physically and symbolically removed.” The incident affected how participants “perceive the spaces they were in.” It prompts her to insist that “This is our space – our space” — in terms of responsibility, obligation, and community.
“It’s also worth noting that, adding to the complex interplay between physical and digital that was a fundamental part of the incident in question, the removal (“blocking”, even) of the person from the physical space was recorded and shared and discussed via social media. People saw it, and they talked about what they saw and how it made them feel and how it made them perceive the spaces they were in. The significance of that can be interpreted as an action with symbolic power that had feet solidly in both “spaces” – which were really a single space – from which this person was both physically and symbolically removed. The sheer complexity of all of this makes it even more important – and potentially more challenging – to consider our actions and their meanings carefully, on all levels. …
“This is our space – our space. Not in the sense of ownership but in the sense of responsibility and obligation. And it’s also our space in the sense of community, something that extends beyond any core group and into the hands of everyone who participates. Something that we all help to create. I think we’re still in the process of figuring out exactly what all of that entails.” (source)
New Left Project on “the territorialised place and the deterritorialised network”: A feed from the P2P Foundation blog led me to this and the next gleaning at sites that are not on my normal browsing list but prove relevant for this post. This article about the Occupy movement points out “its spatialities” — its reliance on occupying real places, e.g., city parks and squares, plus its networked structure, so “horizontal” that it “lacks a centre”, and so skilled at modern communications that is has been able “to globalise and overcome spatial barriers”. The key point is that “These two spatialities, of the territorialised place and the deterritorialised network, can support each other” and thereby enable “multiple simultaneous occupations”.
“For many activists and academics interested in the autonomous movements of recent years, their proliferation has largely been down to their operations within a networked structure. The network is horizontal, embodying the key anti-hierarchical tendency of autonomy. Moreover, it lacks a centre and is thus resistant to external agents who seek to co-opt and dismantle it. Finally, its use of modern communication technologies has allowed it to globalise and overcome spatial barriers.
“However an occupation cannot exist solely on the basis of this deterritorialised network, as some prominent voices have suggested (Hardt and Negri, 2004). Many of the activists are mobilised on the back of place-based struggles, e.g. at the work place, in which they develop strong-tie relations and build the confidence and skills necessary to participate. Moreover, the act of occupying relies on a strong embeddedness in a particular territory, in which activists are forced to put down some roots, if only temporarily. Indeed many occupations can soon become a struggle over the territorial politics of place.
“These two spatialities, of the territorialised place and the deterritorialised network, can support each other. Most occupations tend to rely on online networking to gain broad support and publicise their message. Moreover the space of the occupation can act as a useful meeting point for diverse networks to encounter each other and discuss strategy. The call to “occupy everything”, is rather a strategy of multiple simultaneous occupations, embedded in particular territories, but brought together through a wider network.” (source)
That call for “multiple simultaneous occupations” verges on a call for a swarming strategy.

Pink Noise Rev on “opening new spaces for confrontation”: This collective statement from Pink Noise Rev, which is associated with the “15-M” movement in Spain, reads on the cutting-edge of pro-democracy protest strategizing attuned to the network age. The main (but not only) reference to space is the phrase about “opening new spaces for confrontation”:
“The fact is that since the birth of 15M, we’ve spent more than two years experimenting with radically new modes of mass organization. Crowds capable of synchronizing en masse, to attack or to defend themselves at specific moments and with blinding speed; initiatives that detach from the movement at strategic junctures to then develop on their own, opening new spaces for confrontation; mechanisms capable of mobilising huge sectors of the population when they’re most needed … new forms of mobilisation that have come to stay. We’re rehearsing the mass social self-organisation methods of the future, and we’ve managed to create a scenario for hegemony and social conflict the likes of which we’d never have imagined. An understanding of the organisational models that have led us here is paramount for forging ahead.” (source)
Like the prior gleaning, this too verges on being a statement in favor of swarming, but without using that term.

Friedman on networked “Square People”: In a pair of op-eds, Thomas Friedman fielded a term — “Square People” — to name the new generation of information-age pro-democracy activists who keep mobilizing in city squares and parks around the world. His term harks back to terms that activists have used before, e.g. “Global Square” and “Global Street”, to name the virtual and physical terrain they’re fighting on, and for. What’s pertinent here is that it’s such a spatial term, in tune with the “spatial turn” in postmodern philosophy, sociology, and networked social activism.
“[A] new global political force is aborning, bigger and more important than Davos Men. I call them The Square People.
“They are mostly young, aspiring to a higher standard of living and more liberty, seeking either reform or revolution (depending on their existing government), connected to one another either by massing in squares or through virtual squares or both, and united less by a common program and more by a shared direction they want their societies to go. We’ve seen them now in the squares of Tunis, Cairo, Istanbul, New Delhi, Damascus, Tripoli, Beirut, Sana, Tehran, Moscow, Rio, Tel Aviv and Kiev, as well as in the virtual squares of Saudi Arabia, China and Vietnam.” (source)
“Indeed, “The Square” — as the place for these newly networked political forces to gather, collaborate and pressure for change — is truly disrupting both traditional politics and geopolitics. But the big thing to watch going forward is which Square People can go from disruption to construction — can take the energy and inchoate aspirations of their Square followers and turn them into parties, elections and better governance. …
“This failure to translate their aspirations into parties that could contest elections and then govern is the Achilles’ heel of The Square People — from Tahrir Square to Occupy Wall Street. …
“Without Square People, no change is possible in these countries, but without civil society institutions and inclusive politics, no change is sustainable.” (source)
From a TIMN standpoint, Friedman’s Square People are tantamount to +N People. It’s not at all clear that they are bound to fail if their efforts don’t convert into “parties that could contest elections and then govern”. But that’s a topic for TIMN; I better stick to STA here.

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Sterling on “the Stacks”: Silos and stove-pipes are common metaphors for characterizing self-contained vertical hierarchies that have difficulty networking — as Pundita indicated in the first set of gleanings. Here, futurist Bruce Sterling adds the “Stack” as a metaphor to depict corporate social media based on the Internet:
"[There's] a new phenomena that I like to call the Stacks [vertically integrated social media]. And we've got five of them -- Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Microsoft. The future of the stacks is basically to take over the internet and render it irrelevant. They're not hostile to the internet -- they're just [looking after] their own situation. And they all think they'll be the one Stack... and render the others irrelevant. And they'll all be rendered irrelevant. That's the future of the Stacks.” (source)
That metaphor may not catch on for long, but it provides further evidence of the significance of spatial thinking — with Friedman’s “Square People” and Sterling’s “Stacks” as a contrast.

Schneier on “feudalism” in cyberspace: Computer security technologist Bruce Schneier has warned for years that government and corporate actors are behaving in cyberspace in ways that add up to a new kind of feudalism. In this instance, he does so by depicting an “epic battle for power in cyberspace.” On one side are government and corporate powers; and “On the other are the distributed and nimble: grassroots movements, dissident groups, hackers, and criminals.” He doesn’t use explicitly spatial terminology, but his key point — “I have previously characterized this model of computing as "feudal"” — is spatially evocative, both as “metaphor” and “model”, and seems potentially inherently Lefebvrian.
“We're in the middle of an epic battle for power in cyberspace. On one side are the traditional, organized, institutional powers such as governments and large multinational corporations. On the other are the distributed and nimble: grassroots movements, dissident groups, hackers, and criminals. Initially, the Internet empowered the second side. It gave them a place to coordinate and communicate efficiently, and made them seem unbeatable. But now, the more traditional institutional powers are winning, and winning big. How these two sides fare in the long term, and the fate of the rest of us who don't fall into either group, is an open question -- and one vitally important to the future of the Internet. …
“I have previously characterized this model of computing as "feudal." Users pledge their allegiance to more powerful companies who, in turn, promise to protect them from both sysadmin duties and security threats. It's a metaphor that's rich in history and in fiction, and a model that's increasingly permeating computing today.
“Medieval feudalism was a hierarchical political system, with obligations in both directions. Lords offered protection, and vassals offered service. The lord-peasant relationship was similar, with a much greater power differential. It was a response to a dangerous world.” (source)
Schneier’s warnings about the advent of postmodern feudalism fit with gleanings in the first batch about the “deep state” and just above about “Stacks” as information-age fiefdoms. His warnings also raise the prospect of conflicts between the Stacks and Square People — or, to put it in TIMN terms, between +I and +N forces. It’s becoming the spatial drama of our time.

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