On the Commons; or, Believing-Feeling-Acting Together

On the Commons; or, Believing-Feeling-Acting Together

09 May–27 May 2011

The Banff Centre, Banff, Canada

On the Commons, Banff Research in Culture

The commons has emerged as one of the key concepts around which social, political, and cultural demands are being articulated and theorized today. Harkening back to the displacement of people from shared communal spaces and their transformation from public into private property — a central act in the development of European capitalism in the 18th and 19th centuries —the commons insists on the fundamentally shared character of social life: that everything from language to education, from nature to our genetic inheritance, belongs irreducibly to all of us. As an increasingly rapacious capitalism draws ever more elements of social life into its profit logic and renders seemingly every activity and value into a commodity, thinking with and through the commons has become an important means of generating conceptual and political resistance to the multiple new forms of enclosure that continue to take place today, and which need to be confronted and challenged forcefully and directly.

The commons is a concept used in analyses and interventions in popular culture, art, new media, political philosophy, social theory, law, literary studies, and more. The ease with which neoliberal ideology — which celebrates the supposed rationality of privatization and has managed to transform taxation into an act feared above all else — has become embedded in the beliefs and lived structures of everyday life demands an intensive examination of how and why we have come to prefer enclosure to the commons in almost every area of social life. Just as importantly, it also requires us to investigate and invent new ways of being-in-common–ways of believing, feeling and acting together, of creating the commons that seem everywhere to be receding from view.

The aim of this year’s Banff Research in Culture workshop is to give scholars, cultural producers, and artists an opportunity to explore how we believe, feel, and act together, and the ways in which we are prevented from doing so. How might we shape new collectivities and communities? What are the capacities and dispositions essential to producing new ways of being? What lessons can we learn from history as well as contemporary struggles over the commons (from challenges to intellectual property to indigenous struggles)? What concepts and vocabularies might we develop to aid our critical and conceptual work with respect to the commons (e.g. Alain Badiou’s revival of communism or Jacque Rancière’s reconfiguration of equality and democracy)? How does artistic and cultural production participate in the production of new collectivities and defense of the commons? Where do we go from here-a moment in which neoliberalism seems to have stumbled and lost its forward momentum? We welcome projects dealing with the full range of issues and topics related to being-believing-feeling-acting together today.

On the Commons will run concurrently with the thematic residency La Commune. The Asylum. Die Bühne led by artist Althea Thauberger, providing opportunities for interaction and collaboration with artists in residence.

Developed by Imre Szeman, Canada Research Chair in Cultural Studies and Professor of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta, Heather Zwicker, Associate Dean (Graduate Studies) in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Alberta, and Kitty Scott, Director of Visual Arts at the Banff Centre, On the Commons is part of Banff Research in Culture (BRiC), a new residency program designed for scholars engaged in advanced theoretical research on themes and topics in culture. Graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, junior faculty, and practicing artists from across Canada and beyond will convene at The Banff Centre to pursue their work — and, ideally, to incubate new collaborations and creations — for three weeks. During the residency, participants will attend lectures, seminars, and workshops offered by distinguished visiting faculty from around the world, each of whom will stay at Banff for a week or more and will be available to discuss projects and ideas. Participants will also be encouraged to present their work to colleagues through readings, talks, and presentations held over the course of the program.

As a residency program, BRiC is designed to allow participants to devote an extended period of time on their own research in the company of others with similar interests. In addition to giving researchers and creators from different disciplinary and professional backgrounds an opportunity to exchange opinions and ideas, it is hoped that participants will develop new artistic, editorial, authorial, and collective projects during their time at Banff, both individually and in connection with others. We are especially pleased by the opportunity that BRiC affords visual artists and researchers to work together on issues of common interest.

Guest Faculty: Lauren Berlant, Michael Hardt, Pedro Reyes
Organizers: Imre Szeman, Heather Zwicker, Kitty Scott