DOI link for Introduction
DOI link for Introduction
What does it mean to act as a cit izen? What is the relationship between theorizing, hope, desire and polit ical practice? What are the con ditions for cit izen ship? This book is about utopias and utopianism. Its purpose is to bring theories and practices of hope into dialogue, to help us ima gine new ways in which we can think, act, and enact change in every day life. The topic of cit izenship is poignant, topical yet intellectually elusive. Citizenship refers to the relationship between the indi vidual and their polit ical com mun ity, and is taken in this pro ject to be a multi-dimensional concept, en com passing issues of parti cipation, rights, obli ga tions, identity and the appropriate arena for pol itics. It is also a concept that operates on mul tiple levels, ranging from the personal and psychological to the national, global and societal. The book starts from the premise that there is something wrong with the institution of cit izen ship in the twenty-first century. In the con text of global prob lems such as eco nomic downturn, escalating mater ial in equal ity, terrorism, resource depletion and climate change, the world we live in today seems to be intensely aware of the prob lems that we face and sadly lacking in solutions. There is increasing disenchantment with traditional pol itics, gov ern ment and the state, and it is well docu mented that ac tiv ities and practices associated with cit izen ship since antiquity, such as participating in governance, are steadily declining in the West (Kymlicka and Norman 1994; Inglehart and Catterberg 2002; Pattie et al. 2004; Electoral Commission 2005). All this is reflected in a growing tend ency in academia to move away from understandings of cit izen ship that tie it to the nation-state. Dominant notions of
cit izen ship are often judged unable to deal with global prob lems. Forces beyond their demo cratic control often impinge upon the rights and enti tle ments of citizens promised by the nation-state (Held 1995; Carter 2001). Contemporary citizen ship discourses are also problem at ical on the indi vidual and sub ject ive level. Advances in communication, transport and tech no logy associated with globalization mean that identities, relationships and com munit ies are often formed through connections that are not contained within the territorial bound ar ies of nation-states (Friedmann and Wolff 1982; Soja 1992; Brenner 1998; Smith 2003). The question of what, exactly, binds cit izens together within a polit ical com mun ity arises, with theorists positing such concepts as ‘global cit izen ship’ (Held 1995; Carter 2001), ‘eco lo gical cit izen ship’ (Dobson 2003), ‘post-state cit izen ship’ (Faulks 2000; Hoffman 2004), ‘dissident cit izen ship’ (Sparks 1997), ‘sexual cit izen ship’ (Plummer 2003; Lister 2007) and ‘neurotic cit izen ship’ (Isin 2004). What is lacking in this vast liter at ure is an expli citly utopian articulation of cit izen ship that pays attention to every day forms of resistance and cre ation undertaken by indi viduals and groups trying to reconstruct spaces of com mun ity and parti cipa tion at a grassroots level. A focus on utopianism reveals that articulations of dreams, desires and the imagination are sadly lacking and cynicism prevails in con tempor ary pol itics, and that this does not have to be the case. Academic theory, pop ular culture and gov ern ment pol icy seem increasingly to be paralysed by nar rat ives of panic, fear and blame rather than shared dreams for a better world. In part, this refusal to engage with utopianism can be traced to the failure of the big socialist utopias of the previous century, and fear of religious and funda mentalist utopias in this century (Sargisson 2007). It is certainly true that utopianism can con trib ute to a pol itics of domination and terror. However, utopias also have an essential role to play in pol itics and soci ety. Utopias have an im port ant crit ical function because they tell us what people feel they lack in the present (Levitas 1990: 8). They also have a creative function – they allow us to experiment with new ideas and ways of living in imaginary and concrete spaces, which can have a wider trans formative role (Sargisson 2000: 116). Visions of al tern atives can inspire action in the face of oppression (Scott 1990: 81). Utopias can be dangerous, when they are totalizing and lay claim to truth, but they can also lie at the heart of pro gressive social change. This book argues that what is needed is a new way of approaching utopianism that allows us to distinguish between oppressive, perfection-seeking or totalizing utopias, and those utopias which are propulsive, immanent or prefigurative (Bonanno 1988; Anon 1999; Robinson and Tormey 2009). The approach is interdisciplinary and draws on a tradition of scholarship on utopias and utopianism par ticu larly emerging from the work of Ernst Bloch (1986 ), and continuing through more recent ‘crit ical’ and ‘transgressive’ utopianisms of Tom Moylan (1986) and Lucy Sargisson (1996, 2000). The book envisages that the utopian impulse is not something that is confined to social engineers, but rather is endemic to every day life. What differentiates ‘crit ical utopias’ from oppressive, totalizing utopias is that they are self-reflexive, and they do not claim to be
perfect. They are committed to experimentation in the every day life of the present as an ethical principle. Everyday practices have long been a concern for anarchist thought, which has largely been ignored by con tempor ary cit izen ship theory. In his plea for an ‘anarchist anthropology’, David Graeber posits that one aim of such a pro ject might be to ‘theorize a cit izen ship outside the state’ (2004: 68). This book might be seen as a partial response to his entreaty. It is my con tention that in failing to conceptualize the pos sib il ity of an ‘outside’ to the state, many theorists of citizen ship remain trapped in a paradoxical situ ation where their ends or norm ative con tent are contra dict ory with means of reform; in par ticu lar, parti cipa tion, political action and belonging are frequently seen to be practices that can be imposed by states (Faulks 2000: 130; Hoffman 2004: 93, 105). Aspects of canonical and con tempor ary polit ical theory rely on an implicit logic of hege mony, unquestioned hier archy and domination, which can be disrupted through imaging and practising al tern ative possibilities. Utopianism can thus be seen as a basis for resistance. If cit izen ship means belonging to a place, one might suggest reson ance with utopianism as a theory of ima gined and al tern ative places. Some utopian beliefs work by turning existing ar range ments upside down, leading to a ‘total reversal of the existing distrubution of status and rewards’ (Scott 1990: 80), whereby the slave becomes master and the master becomes slave. Other utopian beliefs operate as a ‘systematic nega tion of an existing pattern of ex ploita tion’ (ibid.: 81) – that is, they involve imagining the absence of hierarchical distinctions. It is this latter kind of utopianism in which I am most inter ested. Where James Scott concentrates primarily on the utopian imaginaries and discourses of subordinate groups through his tory, Richard Day (2005) concentrates on the polit ical practices of con temporary activist groups. He argues that rather than trying to estab lish a counterhegemony that shifts the balance of power back in favour of the oppressed, some con tempor ary rad ical activist groups ‘are breaking out of this trap by operating non-hegemonically rather than counter-hegemonically. They seek rad ical change, but not through taking or influ en cing state power, and in so doing they challenge the logic of hege mony at its very core’ (Day 2005: 8). Graeber argues that anarchist, or anarchist-inspired prin ciples such as ‘auto nomy, voluntary asso ci ation, self-organization, mutual aid and direct demo cracy’ now form the basic prin ciples of organ iza tion for ‘rad ical movements of all kinds everywhere’ (Graeber 2004: 2). Despite the every day proliferation of practices of resistance that work to overcome all forms of domination rather than seize power for themselves, these prin ciples have ‘found almost no reflection in the academy’ (ibid.: 2; see also Day 2005: 8; Tormey 2006: 139). It is my con tention that some of these prin ciples might offer a basis for an al tern ative conceptualization and practice of citizenship. In seeking polit ical com mun ity and cit izen ship beyond the state, this book is composing a space for pol itics outside the usually conceived terrain. This relies on a nuanced understanding of power. A traditional but comprehensive definition of power is that ‘A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do
something that B would not other wise do’ (Dahl 1957: 202-3). Aside from the pluralist position, it is now widely accepted within debates on power that a sufficiently broad definition of the polit ical must include non-decisions (Bachrach and Baratz 1970) and the hege monic shaping of inter ests (Lukes 1974). Hegemony is best de scribed as a pro cess of domination (which is always partial) manifested when a social group ‘tends to “liquidate” or to subjugate [antagonistic groups] perhaps even by armed force’ whilst it ‘leads kind red and allied groups’ (Gramsci 1971: 57). Domination thus operates through a com plement ary pro cess of coercion and manufactured consent:
the threat of the man with the stick per meates our world at every moment; most of us have given up even thinking of crossing the innumerable lines and bar riers that he creates, just so we don’t have to remind ourselves of his existence.