Decentralized networks, smart mobs, collective intelligence, open source software, biopolitics, the emergent social Web and the integration of love percolate the New Edge, yet how do we use all these sexy, geeky, quasi-spiritual concepts to deconstruct the global empire of control and build a movement in response?
Welcome to the first Reality Sandwich reading group, featuring Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt. As the subtitle suggests, the book grapples with two of the most pressing issues of our age. It can be argued that all other causes that we care about health, environment, media, etc. pivot on the dual problem of a militarized system trying to maintain global control while it pushes against the unfinished work of democracy. We're led to believe that "democracy" is codified, set in stone in the guise of the world empire envisioned by the Neocons, yet the reality is that democracy is a work in process. We are constantly shaping it, evolving it, but often in unconscious ways. The goal of Multitude is to make more conscious the nuts and bolts of this process, and to demonstrate how it is evolving along with the emergent paradigm of network theory, immaterial production and knowledge work.
Multitude is the sequel to Negri and Hardt's highly popular book, Empire. Multitude departs slightly, amplifying the arguments of Empire, but also simplifies them for a more general audience. The book examines the contradictory forces that shape contemporary warfare and control, but then moves on to explore alternatives, opposition, and ways in which the world can actually transform itself despite the gloomy picture of global militarism. For this reason, Multitude is a good springboard for exploring how people shape a response to power in a postmodern political environment when corporate control is so illusive and difficult to bounce off of. By understanding the importance of networks, collective intelligence and self-organization, the authors propose a map for a way to a more peaceful future.
So here's how it works. Buy, borrow or check out the book and begin reading. Each week starts on Friday and ends on Thursday, though discussions will no doubt linger and there is no reason we have to be strict about a time limit for each week. We officially start the discussion on Friday, March 14. This should give people time to get the book and start reading.
Please: DO NOT WRITE COMMENTS ON THIS PAGE. Go to the Multitude forum and check the dates for each week's session, and comment there. (Also note that there's a link to the forum on every page of RS, under the "Commons" link in the main navigation.) The thread for Chapter 1 is here: http://realitysand1.wpengine.com/chapter_1_simplicissimus. We'll create a new thread each week for new chapters, but the previous forums will remain open. If past experience stays true, debates will continue as we move through the book. About once a month we'll edit together a selection of comments from the forum into a post for the Reality Sandwich home page.
There is a separate "administrative" thread, which is just for technical or non-reading issues. There is also a "taxonomy" forum for terms in which people can offer terms and definitions. For people who want to post links that were inspired by the group or reading, there is a "Further Reading and Links" thread where you can post recommended materials. All of this will probably appear during regular discussions, but we thought it would be useful to break out the links and resources so they are easier to find and navigate.
I suggest reading this overview first.
Also, please update your RS bio page so people can check out who you are.
A persistent theme of Multitude is the emergent intelligence of informal networks. The Reality Sandwich crew is one node in such a network. With that said, for this reading group I have a few guiding intentions. Let me start by stating what this is not. The goal is to create a space for discussion, so this is not a "class." No lectures, no summaries. Though topics might delve into the academic stratosphere, I envisioned this being like one of those informal novel-reading book clubs that friends participate in, but in this case we are reading something dealing with social studies and we are all presumably interested in social change. Consequently, I encourage participants to treat this as if it were a forum of "normal" people, that is, try to link or define any jargon that is not accessible to those unfamiliar with critical theory or political philosophy.
The original design is to do a chapter a week, which might seem a little slow, but I thought this would be a good pace because we all have "other" lives and we might benefit from a closer reading of the material rather than jamming through it. Some of you might be ambitious and finish the text quicker than the established pace. If it seems like one chapter a week is indeed too cumbersome, we can change course later, but let's give it a try for the first couple of weeks.
As facilitator I'm going to suggest a few topics and questions each week, but I thought that it would be more fun if others decided to "lead" weekly discussions. The forum will be organized by chapters, so if anyone is interested, let me know and I'll put you in as the discussion leader for a particular week (or weeks). "Leaders" could set the tone for the week's discussion by offering some insights, themes or questions. Of particular interest would be links outside the book that is places that people see connections between what the authors discuss and examples they see in their own work or in that of others. Because I have a background in media studies I'll offer my expertise, when applicable, for areas that might seem abstract or difficult (Empire requires more theory than Multitude), but I think the book will be accessible to most. There will probably be people smarter than me in the forum who could also answer difficult questions far better than I can.
Like all online forums, the usual standards of etiquette apply. Please be civil, and if there is excessive flaming or abuse by any of the participants, it may result in that person being asked to leave. With that said, I don't imagine encountering any problems, but as with most political discussions, passions can be enflamed. We're not here to be right, but to be informed and to learn from our collective potential. I hope and believe that this will indeed be the outcome.