January 2018

Stefano Harney: Governance versus Governmentality


In The Undercommons, Stefano Harney and Fred Moten write: “We’re more than politics, more than settled, more than democratic. We surround democracy’s false image in order to unsettle it. Every time it tries to enclose us in a decision, we’re undecided. Every time it tries to represent our will, we’re unwilling. Every time it tries to take root, we’re gone (because we’re already here, moving).” Democracy forces us to decide, to take a position, and gives us a subjectivity. It creates an identity and a representation, making us visible as objects for knowledge and power.

Departing from the observation that capital is increasingly exploiting social life itself, Stefano Harney articulates how participation is elicited to help governance prospect social forms as a source of value, scouting for unexploited wells of collective labor that have not yet been turned into capital. Harney suggests governance as a kind of management strategy and democracy as a trap in which we reveal ourselves and are called to speak “the secret of our desire,” to tell what we have to offer. At this point, the individual is then presented with a deal: to commodify a collectively produced social labor, the value of which is appropriated away.

Here, the technics of democracy are multiple and interwoven; governance as management, democracy as prospecting, participation as research and development, and politics as logistics. Even so, Harney suggests that in the moment in which social life is “sold out,” this is still a moment that creates the possibility of solidarity. The collective labor is our labor; the social life exploited is our life; and we are all increasingly presented with “the biobargain” of trading this life for capital. There is possibility within the space unrepresented, unenclosed by these democratic prospectors. The surround is a space not of visibility, the surveilling and surveilled individual, but of touch felt in common: “This is modernity’s insurgent feel, its inherited caress, its skin talk, tongue touch, breath speech, hand laugh. This is the feel that no individual can stand, and no state abide. This is the feel we might call hapticality.”

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