Belief over Strategy

Themes in current portion of dissertation writing:

Analysis of moments where we see how political beliefs take primacy over political strategizing.

That is, an anarchist who does not vote (belief) is unlikely to engage in discussion of strategic uses of voting (even by others, not requiring her to vote) because it is ‘wrong’ because ‘it wont fix anything.’ While it sounds like strategy, it essentially returns to positing insurrection vs. reform, with reform being ‘wrong’ or ‘undesirable.’ However, anything that cannot be paired/aligned with (stylistically violent mass) insurrection is thus ‘othered’ as reformist and, thus bad.

The implication is that reform is pushed by reformists, who are morally in the wrong. This limits political imagination, and, further, may be dangerous in the sense of opening up radical politics to the pitfalls of being comfortable with failure (supports moral high ground) which is fine for essentially ‘safe’ upper mid class whites, AND in the sense of pitfalls/traps of commodification and even cooption of practices (blind to fact that they are approaching it morally, and seem to think it is strategic). But if these were strategic (rather than moral) debates, there would be actual debate, experimentation, exploration, imagination.

The question ultimately becomes, then, is where is room for strategic thinking that allows beliefs to be maintained but bracketed such that they do not immediately forestall exploration and experimentaiton with possibilities.

Dissertation Distillations 1

Im almost done.
I'll be posting sections and pieces,abstracts and selections; follow along for a shorter read of the lumbering beast.

Transcripts of fieldnotes recorded the night of Occupy Philadelphia’s eviction from its two-month encampment at the doorstep of City Hall:

At around 11pm on November 29th, 2011, I began to receive emails, texts, tweets and Facebook updates about rumors of an impending eviction of the Occupy Philadelphia encampment at City Hall. I was chatting online with a friend, checking out bands for a benefit show he needed help organizing, when he shared word of police confirmation of the eviction, passed on to him by a friend who works for the local NBC affiliate. I suited up for the cold, wet night and hopped on my bike to alert a few friends before heading downtown.

I passed a local bar, where a Metal and Punk dance party was being held and shouted to Kathy, Jim and the other people smoking on the steps, most of whom I didn’t know. Though both Kathy and Jim had been working regularly with Occupy, neither seemed interested in leaving the music or the booze. The information moved quickly through the small crowd and, as I turned to leave, three people I didn’t know nodded at me as they hurriedly unlock their bikes. As I rode away, I heard a boy in a leather studded jacket loudly shout, “Who the fuck cares about that shit, [feigning a ‘hippie’ voice] the 60s are over man!” as the Dead Kennedy’s opined about Reagan on the stereo inside.

I turned north and headed to Mika’s house, a large Victorian duplex typical of this part of West Philly, where six self-identified ‘Queers’ were living collectively. Inside, I found twelve people, meeting to discuss plans for a series of events aimed at fostering Queer solidarity. When I shared the eviction news, blank stares told me quickly that the events at City Hall mattered little to this group. A person to my left commented, “Good, we weren’t made to feel welcome there, they deserve it” and a few others nodded. As I was leaving, a recent acquaintance, smoking on his porch across the street, waved me over; he helps out at a radical autonomous space in the area that has been around for decades. Though I knew he had not been involved with Occupy, I asked if he wanted to come along. “No,” he replied, “I haven’t been in the street since the RNC [Republican National Convention in 2000] and I’m pretty much done with that…Besides,” he chuckled, “someone has to keep the space running when y’all are all in jail or until you get bored fighting with the cops.”

When I arrived at City Hall, a close friend called me over and others made room in the locked-arm sit down the group was using to stall being moved by the police. She turned to me and said, “Of course, Tim, Mike, Sally and those kids aren’t here.”  I knew whom she was talking about, and I’d seen a few people from that group of friends once or twice in Occupy’s first few days, but I asked what she meant by her snark. “They’re just worried about not looking cool and, you know, they’re into being ‘grown-ups’ now, buying houses and starting businesses and [making a face] ‘serious’ politics…they go on and on about ‘community’ but I think it just means their community, vegan coffeeshops and all that. A few minutes ago, I saw Tim posted something on Facebook like ‘good luck kiddies’…what an ass.”

When the police finally moved us out of the street, we joined the much larger crowd that had formed on the sidewalk over the past hour. I was surprised to see a boy who had told me a week earlier that he was “done” with Occupy because of an interpersonal conflict he had had with a friend over organizing a march. He had felt that his friend hadn’t considered her own class and racial privilege when she argued that the march should try to get the cops to chase them. I smiled and said, “I thought you were done.” He replied, “Yeah, but I can’t pass up a chance to fight with the cops!”

That bike ride, quite literally, weaved through what can be described as the concrete, physical manifestation of radical-DIY culture in terms of networks of people and places, referred to here as Philadelphia’s ‘radical-DIY scene.’ The scene represents a combination of physical/spatial and sociocultural networks, linked via their radical-leftist political orientation and/or symbolic and cultural markers and practices that draw heavily from radical-DIY political culture (Leach & Haunss, 2009).

To most outside observers, many of these people and places would appear similar, and in many ways they are. They share a culture in the sense of shared ways of doing things, as patterns of speaking and acting that people practice in everyday situations; they share political convictions, styles of dress, tastes, social norms, signs and symbols, and specialized knowledge.

However, this passage also points to important differences, variations in what and how much is shared. Here we see not only significant variation in people’s opinions about Occupy Philly (they deserve it), but also variations in opinions about others’ opinions about Occupy Philly (60s are over), and political opinions about others’ lifestyles (buying houses) and how it relates to OP participation. Occupy Philly’s particular transect into the life of the radical-DIY scene reveals certain differences in political orientation, expressed here via the participation of some and the objection, disinterest, or even hostility of others. Indeed, as I continued research within the scene, I surprised at the variety of political orientations I encountered.

That said, despite differences in what and how much of the radical-DIY culture is shared by individuals throughout the scene, there is a striking similarity in the ways people talked about politics and expressed political belief. In the example above, while the reasons or justifications for nonparticipation varied, the manner or form in which these were framed, formulated, and expressed was surprisingly similar; here too we see the sort of rejection and difference expressed via moralizing talk.

As I continued my research, I found these forms of political talk and expression throughout Philadelphia’s radical-DIY scene, appearing in moments and around issues far afield from the concerns of Occupy. Years after Occupy, at Punk shows, in online discussions, at parties, at other protest mobilizations, and throughout the everyday world of the radical-DIY scene, I encountered forms political talk and expression replete with themes of rejection, difference-making, and moralizing.

Significantly, these wider patterns of rejection, difference, and moralizing actually hint at some of the concerns about the tactical and strategic viability of lifestyle or prefigurative politics that have been raised in debates among activists and academics since the 1970s. Of particular concern here is the possible tendency for lifestyle practices to “become targets of self-righteous moralizing and other forms of social policing,” or what Laura Portwood-Stacer calls “politicking over lifestyle,” and that this politicking over lifestyle “can fracture bonds of solidarity among activists who make different lifestyle choices” (Brown, 2001; Hill-Collins, 1998; Portwood-Stacer, 2013, p. 9). Further, the notion that one’s lifestyle is completely malleable via choice ignores (or at least downplays) the many issues of power and privilege at work in the formation of political identities and movements. Wendy Brown (2001) further suggests that such moralizing is not simply an issue of solidarity rupture, but that such moralizing represents an underlying political stance that actually “misleads about the nature of power, the state and capitalism; it misleads about the nature of oppressive forces, and about the scope of the project of transformation required by serious ambitions for justice” (Brown, 2001, p.37).

Brown’s argument in regarding moralizing behavior deeply influenced the development of this project and my initial guiding question – how does this happen? – began to make more sense reframed as “should this have been expected?” How can we explain these similarities, even in spite of the differences? How can we explain the behavior and its pervasiveness? Is the rejection, difference, and moralizing (RDM) I saw in OP and in the scene indicative of something about these politics and/or this culture more generally? If so, what might that be, and what are the implications for collective projects for social change built around these radical politics?

Many questions develop from this general line of investigation: when and around what issues do these RDM forms of political talk and expression appear, or appear more strongly; how is the discursive work of RDM done in interactions among individuals and groups; can a generalized basis or explanation for this behavior can be found within the political culture itself and its radical prefigurative political ideology; what are the implications of these findings for radical politics themselves and for movements and other collective projects of social change built around radical prefigurative political ideologies?

It will be argued here that explanations can indeed be found within the radical prefigurative political ideology itself, in the way in which it understands itself, the radical project of social transformation in which it is engaged, and most importantly, in how it conceives of and understands the forces of power and oppression it aims to confront in that struggle. This radical, prefigurative, lifestyle-based political ideology promotes a view of social change that places the individual and individual choices and actions at the center. But the same thinking that encourages individuals to ‘be the change you want to see’ also leads to a similar (though inverse) personification of the forces being struggled against, a reification of systems of power and oppression in their effects. Sources of injustice, systems of oppression, and histories of injury remain obfuscated as the focus is instead placed on their effects as manifested in specific remarks or events, embodied in individuals and their actions.

Thus, in the research presented here, we find endless accusations and condemnations of individuals and their ‘privilege,’ instead of a radical analysis of the systems and sources of racism, sexism, and economic inequality that actually create and sustain that privilege in the lives of individuals. We find two people accused of being ‘party operatives’ and ‘encouraging participation in an evil system’ through voter registration instead of any radical critique or analysis of the systems of power and oppression at work in that ‘evil system,’ and what participation actually means and looks like. Perhaps most ironically, we find a seemingly endless supply of ‘gentrifier’ invectives and condemnations, but an almost outright refusal to acknowledge the complexity of the systems of power and injustice at work in processes of gentrification, let alone a willingness to admit radical-DIY culture’s own significant role in shaping and even accelerating it.

The following chapters will further develop and elaborate this argument.


Brown, W. (2001). Politics Out of History. Princeton University Press.

Hill-Collins, P. (1998). Fighting Words: Black Women and the Fight for Social Justice. Minneapolis: Univerity of Minnesota Press.

Leach, D. K., & Haunss, S. (2009). Scenes and social movements. In H. Johnston, Culture, Social Movements, and Protest (pp. 255–276). Ashgate Publishing, Ltd.

Portwood-Stacer, L. (2013). Lifestyle Politics and Radical Activism. Bloomsbury Publishing USA.



Head Above Water

I feel like I’ve slipped a bit.  The work I’ve been forced to do over the past 12 months descends from the directives of academic-intellectual relationships.  Giver-Reciever, etc.  It’s made me lose my eyes; I feel that it sort of deadened me, that is, it has hampered my ability to assess my subject.  Spending twelve months jerking off a history of half-assed, tautological “epistemological revelations” in a subdiscipline that has been ruled by an endless cadre of white, middle-class révolutionnaire has, at the very least, tuckered me out.

But the past 48 hours have been an Inigo Montoyan-level ice-steam bath routine. I finished this fellowship application that required I submit a 3 page brief of my dissertaiton porject; but I haven’t even written a prpposal to my advisors. So, I’ve been thinking a lot recentlyabout questions.

I have questions; one that came to mind tonight was, “who is the enemny here?”

I was at a srot of open reading event, where authors with varying interests and styles all read work, if only to motivate themselves to create. Throughout the night, there was an everpresent ‘they.’  Sometimes it was named (capitalism; oppression; hipsters; people in brooklyn (literally, b/c he equated all of brklyn with his hipater sister by using it as a signifier for inautheticity), and so on.

One person read a story called “Brunch is not a Brooklyn subculture.”  It began with a story from the author’s childhood, when they ventured from their upstate NY home to visit their grandfather in S. Philly. Then there were 400 words devoted to a romanticized account of what summer in s. philly looks like: stoops, hydrants, music, etc.  The hook is supposed to be the pivot to when the author moved to s. philly as an ‘adult,’ and watched all this ‘publicness’ and ‘community’ disappear because of “hipsters,” ‘the internet,” and “gentrification.”

Here’s the icebath.  The author’s origional, inspiring picture of philly happend when they were under 10; they moved to s. philly less than a year ago.  The reason he came was to follow up on a romaticised meoery of his grandfather and some sort of s. philly public sphere.  But, contrary to the author’s latter suggestion that ‘brunch places that serve expensive beer’ are the key marker of gentrification, destroying community by attracting an internet-using, individualized cliente.  Instead, I would argue that conspicious consumption is superceeded by the power of myth in the engine of gentrification. Myth drew the author to s. philly to “take pictures and lean how to fight,” as the opening lines establshed. Myth of a white working class authenticity has gentrified; myth as hsitory has gentrified.

The community you lament as passed (I am willing to wager) you wuld likely find abhorrent.  There is a reason the mummers are routninely criczied for sporting blackface makeup, they also routinely march down 2 street.  The ‘deep roots’ you speak of were hardened through severe racial and ethinic conflicts and violence. Further, what of ‘internal’ community oppression.

I guess I find it so fascinating when people, or ideal types of people, become the enemy. Here, ‘hipsters who eat brunch’ stands for so much.  But binding it all up like that into a targetabble ‘hipster’ package is to ignore the deep processes at work.  Gentrification is something that happens in large cities, and has for a long time.  The villian is money, not hipsters extactally.  It was a performatively self-concious, white dude who is all enamoured with the idea of working at the wooden shoe as somehow resistance enough in and of itself, standing there telling us how the problem is the gastropubs or whatever that have popped up in the last 4 years or so.

If you’re focused on gastropubs, your too late.

And compare this with the postive stuff about west phillia.  Or was it tounge in cheek.??

No, coulnd’t have been.  All the mirroring of ideal, fictional, and actual…and then trashing some random bar as ‘ruining things.’  IS THIS NOT THE SUBWAY FIGHT ALL OVER AGAIN?

It is when it comes to consuption that it becomes intelligible to this social-psychological ideal type.  An bvious Q is wether shopping and consumption are so impt. here that it really is only then that change is truly felt.??


Blah Blah, Whine Whine.

In an attempt to win some fellowship money, I’ve spent the past two weeks or so working on an abstracted version of my dissertation project; the audience here is juding between proposals based on doability, their personal familiarty with the subject, neoptism, etc.  The problem is I have yet to write a dissertation proposal.  I was encourgared to apply for this thing that supposedly is only meant for people who are one hurdle ahead of me.

This is only a problem because ‘an abstract’ is just a boiled-down, highly condensed version of whatever it is ‘an abstract of;’ it might be a scientific study, an archive of diaries…really anything.


I have been searching for questions.  My approach to this project demands that I remain open to unexpected lines of questioning. No a priori assumptions of relevance or motivation; there is a phenomena (tremors), but I deeply believe we know so little about it that any structuring of the inquiry needs to be carefully justified.


Made in the USA: guns

here’s an idea; why does this not make sense:

guns. fiscal cliff. jobs.

do not touch gun rights, control supply.  ALL weapons sold in USA will be made in USA.

the problem with the way these episodes of public violence have roped in the gun issue is the focus on right to buy.  The problem is not loose rights, but pressure to buy.  There are millions to be made selling guns to americans.  but  ‘guns we dont need’ is different than ‘soap we dont need’ or ‘video games we dont need.’

short circuit the debate.


Gonzo Ethnography Collective

I’ve had this idea floating around for a while.  It began when I accompanied a friend to an Insane Clown Posse concert to do some ethnographic work for a (undergrad) course paper he was writing.  It was an amazing event, with a lot of unexpected experiences and his write-up was great.

Yesterday a friend sent me a link for an event being held nearby: A ‘Sound of Music’ Sing-a-long.  What is interesting is that there is a “for kids” version held earlier in the day and a “18+” one being held later at night.  Of course, the first thing that came to my mind was: what kinds of adults are spending their night (and buying tickets to) an ADULTS ONLY Sound of Music sing-a-long night.  What on earth could this event be like?

I have found myself asking similar questions about other events and phenomena: civil war reenactments, tweed bike rides…the list could be nearly endless.  So, posted on facebook asking if others might be interested in some sort of ethnography collective that might hit these types of events.  It seems like a popular idea!

So, I am proposing forming a gonzo/radical/rouge ethnography collective for precisely this reason.  I think the key requirment is that the collective is fun.  This is all inspired by marveling at ridiculousness and I don’t really have an interest in trying to produce something super serious or all starry-eyed like NYTimes or New Yorker articles.  I want to go out, take notes, film, record and have fun with friends.

That said, I also think this is something people would like to read.  We could set up a website/blog where we could post reports with video and whatnot.  Anything is possible really.

Finally, I also think this might be a cool way to run an ethnography training course.  I could teach people what I know and, like in classes, go out and put it into practice.  It’s a field school…with more booze and smiles.

What do people think?  You can comment below and/or email me and I will get some sort of list together.  We could share upcoming potential field sites and just see if anyone feels like going and hanging out.  Once we get some under our belt, we can start thinking of publishing online, etc.  What do you think the best way to proceed might be?

Perhaps begin with a Google Group:

Occupy Acts Poltically

Occupy Sandy: Why Activists Are Working with NYC Mayor, Police

Yesterday I posted about an article criticizing Occupy for its anti-politics, its inability or refusal to ‘act politically.’  It is hardly uncommon to encounter this sort of argument.  It’s usually pretty vague and feels like an old man just railing at nothing.

The call to ‘engage’ is not sounded in a productive way, this is crucial.  It makes reference to various theoretical problems posed by Occupy’s behavior  but it remains high above the ground.  The call the ‘engage’ is never born out into practical advice, into a discussion of what ‘engagement’ entails, how it might be navigated, and what might arise unexpectedly. In short, it is not knowledge that is contracted to or meant to aid those it criticizes.  The grit of what ‘acting politically’ means, day to day, decision to decision  scenario by scenario is not even relevant to these arguments.

Well, the above article was published today in Time: “Occupy Sandy: Why Activists Are Working with NYC Mayor, Police.”

The article describes how Occupy activists’ response to Sandy has been incredibly important both for those they’ve helped, but for popular understandings of Occupy as well.  Because it’s in Time, it does not move to locate these actions within Occupy’s story, but mostly just covers the situation, which is important for Time’s audience who are not likely to have a detailed understanding of Occupy’s biography beyond the mainstream news coverage in 2011.

There are a lot of threads here, and I am trying to get better about writing here on WOP more causally  so I am not going to try to lay them all out in full now.  Rather, because this blog is as much for me as any audience, the following should suffice:

-A ‘moment in the spotlight’ for Mutual Aid, both because of the situation and the way in which Occupy has acted and promoted the phrase

-An example of Occupy almost transcending politics, coming back into it only when officials ‘catch up’

-More later, laundry now.

-Suggestions? Ideas? Write me!

Second Life Woes

I am a research assistant on a project studying  Second Life, the online…world.  I wont go into details of the whole project, but I have been studying political culture in Second Life (SL) for neigh on three years now.  For a while, I think I let my desire for the potential liberatory potential of the medium (i.e. for those not able/willing to find similar interactions in Real Life)  cloud my judgement.  These are not cosmopolitan, level, diverse arenas of social interaction.

False Publics.

While there are multiple reasons the spaces may claim to include a plurality of voices, or reasoned debate, most do not, in fact, feature it.

Unfortunate Ruling in Case


“The judge sentenced Mueller to one year in jail with all but 90 days suspended. That will run concurrent with a 60-day sentence he is already serving for resisting arrest.”

Last week I posted a story about this case.  He was on trial for a wiretapping charge realted to phone calls he recorded with police officers after he posted a video of a highschool student being violently assaulted by a confused police officer to  An unfortunate outcome; I hope an appeal angel will sweep in and make something bigger out of this.

There was also an interesting note from earlier in the trial,

“The judge had to stop proceedings multiple times to reprimand the members in the gallery, many of whom were using cellphones to record the proceedings…The bailiffs will confiscate the phones and ask each of you to not come back only after you agree that you’re not going to be doing that,” the judge said. “We have live cameras. Ian’s filming and WMUR is filming. There’s plenty of film coverage. Does everyone understand?””

These quotes are interesting. It is true, there is plenty of film coverage, so why the concern over cell phones? We are increasingly pushing up against the edge of an out-of-touch older generation of bureaucrats and civil ‘servants,’ among the last of their cohort, persisting seemingly only to hold on to whatever meager power they possess: beating up kids, petty intimidation, and juridical arrogance.

(Blogger found guilty of illegally taping police, school officials | Local News – WMUR Home.)

National Gathering Debrief

Prepping for a national gathering debrief session and reading some early comments by fellow organizers.  This was clearly experienced as a labor of love by many, leading me to return to some early thoughts I had regarding the relationship between feelings and experiences of ‘sacrifice,’ undersandings of activism as struggle, and perceptions of social change.