Hillary Clinton, Microfinance, and an Actually Democratic Alternative

Thomas Frank has an article in the latest Harper’s (April 2016) that I found to be really good work. The piece is, overall, a complaint about Hillary Clinton, but it registers some very specific, and, I think, important criticisms. The most compelling for me was Frank’s dismantling the idea, championed by all the Clintons, that microcredit is the way to help people in the global South out of poverty. This way of thinking[1] assumes that the problem poor people have is that they are “unbanked,” and so the whole effort is to “bank” them, i.e. have them enter into debtor relations with global corporate financial institutions. The larger agenda, and Frank breaks out the italics to drive it home, is to “extend Western banking methods to encompass every last individual on earth.” The large banks, unsurprisingly, are all for it. In this light, the criticisms of Clinton for taking huge speaker fees from big banks take on real weight.

Frank points out that microcredit has been a disaster in the short term, in that it has produced little development and lots of debt. But of course, even if revenue trickles were being created in the short term, in the long-term the idea of extending debtor relations across the globe, “banking” a greater and greater percentage of the world’s population, is to the advantage of the banks and the disadvantage of everyone else.

In this context, I want to point to the work of Mahila Milan, a network of poor women in India who come together to pool their savings and manage that money collectively. I am not an expert on their work, but from what I understand the gist is that women who participate in Mahila Milan recognize that 1) they do not have access to financial resources, and that is a problem, but 2) they do not think streaming themselves into the formal banking system is the best solution to that problem, and so 3) they organize their own pool of money, and they also organize their own system for managing that money. The results are not perfect, I am sure, but the network does offer participants more access to money when they need it, without causing chronic indebtedness among members. Moreover — and I think this may be even more important — through their participation in the network, members grow stronger in their ability to both manage complex financial systems and collectively govern their community.

[1] Frank notes that this way of thinking is enthusiastically shared by the Gates Foundation.

Luce Irigaray at Bristol

Thinking Love – a three day conference with Luce Irigaray

On 9, 10 and 11 June 2016, a conference on ‘Thinking Love’ with Luce Irigaray will take place at the University of Bristol, UK. Each day will be devoted to a theme: Loving Life; Generational Love; Love between Lovers.

Talks will be given in the morning and other activities will be organised in the afternoon in connection with the theme of the day. The conference will be organised by Luce Irigaray in collaboration with the Universities of Bristol, Sussex, and the West of England.

If you have participated in one of the past seminars held by Luce Irigaray and would like to present a paper or propose another activity, please be in touch with Luce Irigaray (at this postal address: 15 rue Lakanal, 75015 Paris, France or at this email address: towardthinking@gmail.com) and send: a title and an abstract (no more by email!) of your eventual intervention.

If you want only to attend the conference, please contact Luce Irigaray at the same address. Participants in the Luce Irigaray International Seminar of 2016 can attend the conference. Practical details about the conference will be circulated later and a website will soon be open at the University of Bristol for registration.

Everyday Code

Here is the text from my talk at the AAG conference last week. It was for a really great session organized by Joe Shaw and Mark Graham (who are at the Oxford Internet Institute) on “An Informational Right to the City”.


Everyday Code: The Right to Information and Our Struggle for Democracy


Henri Lefebvre proposed a right to information, and he thought that right must be associated with a right to the city. I want to urge us to understand both those rights in the context of Lefebvre’s wider political project. That wider project was the struggle for self-management, what Lefebvre often called “autogestion,” and what I prefer to call democracy.

Lefebvre articulates his wider political vision in terms of what he called a “new contract of citizenship between State and citizen.”


This contract is made up of a series of rights, which include the right to the city, to services, to autogestion, and to information. Clearly this agenda looks very liberal-democratic; one might expect that a minimal State will guarantee individuals this list of rights. But this is not at all Lefebvre’s vision. Instead, he is calling for “a renewal of political life,” for a generalized political awakening among people. Lefebvre hopes this awakening will constitute a revolution, through which people decide to become active participants in managing their affairs themselves. This new tide of popular political activity, if it can sustain itself over time, will eventually make the State (and capitalism) superfluous, and they will wither away. And so Lefebvre is proposing a very strange sort of contract between citizens and State, a contract whose aim is to render both parties obsolete.

Key to understanding Lefebvre’s wider vision is this right to autogestion. In English it means “self-management,” and traditionally it referred to rank-and-file workers taking over the management of their factory from the factory’s owners and professional managers. Lefebvre advocated that kind of autogestion, but he also wanted to extend the idea, beyond workers as political subjects and beyond the factory as political arena, to a range of political subjects and political arenas. He was aiming at something people at the time called “generalized autogestion,” in which all people take up the project of collectively managing all matters of common concern.

That last idea is important, that autogestion is a project. It is not a utopia, not an ideal community at the end of history, without the State, in which people manage their affairs entirely for themselves. Autogestion is, instead, a project. It is a perpetual struggle by people to become increasingly active, to manage more and more spheres of their lives for themselves.

So of course information is critical here. Effective and enduring self-management, by whatever agents in whatever arenas, requires that people have access to and effectively use the information that is relevant to their common affairs. And so the right to information is a part of the contract that Lefebvre proposes. In our own liberal-democratic vernacular, the “right to information” would mean something like: individual citizens have the right to access information that is being kept from them for some reason, usually by the government. But if we understand the “right to information” in the context of Lefebvre’s wider project, I think we will conclude that access to information, people having information, is necessary, but it is not really the main point. What matters most, in the context of autogestion, is what people do with the information they have. Once they have access to it, do they engage with it? Do they appropriate the information—which is to say, do they make it their own—and put it into the service of the project of autogestion?

If we understand the right to information this way, with Lefebvre, I think we will tend to frame the problem of information differently than it is usually framed. The problem isn’t so much that we are being prevented from getting the information we need. There is more information available to us than we know what to do with. The problem is, more, how can we become active, appropriate the information available to us, and use that information effectively in our project to manage our affairs for ourselves.

And so I want to draw our attention away from much discussed struggles to gain access to information, like Edward Snowden and Wikileaks. While such struggles are germane to Lefebvre’s wider project, they tempt us to assume that once we have access, the struggle is won. But it isn’t. And so I want to draw our attention to the struggle to appropriate and use the information we already have access to. Are we engaging with it actively and incorporating it effectively into our political project of autogestion?

To do this, I am going to talk about something quite a bit less sexy than government secrets, or big data, or all the new forms of geographical information we use.


I am going to talk about the software that runs our personal computers. That is, I want to talk about how we use, understand, and interact with the information—the software code—that structures our everyday digital environments: window managers, system trays, power managers, and so on. These programs are, increasingly, the medium through which we engage with the world. Do we understand how they work? Are we able to? Do we care?

Everyday (Digital) Life: GUIs


The larger paper addresses three main topics, but it’s this first question of Graphical User Interfaces that I think sheds the most light on this issue of whether we use and appropriate the information on our desktops.


A graphical user interface (GUI) is a program that allows a user to issue commands to a computer without knowing the actual commands themselves. A GUI opens a window on the desktop and presents the user with buttons, drop-down lists, check boxes, and tabs with which the user can, through a series of mouse gestures and clicks, tell the GUI what changes s/he wants to make.

Let me take you through one very small example. On my machine, the monitor resolution is changed by issuing this command:

xrandr --output HDMI-0 --mode 1280x960

‘xrandr’ is the program that issues the command, the –output flag tells the computer which monitor to adjust, and the –mode flag tells the computer which resolution to set that monitor to. I can make these changes directly, by typing the command above into a terminal window and pressing enter. Or I can use a GUI. In my case that would mean using a mouse to click the “Launch!” button in the top-left corner of the desktop, which would show me a base menu of options. Clicking “settings” on that menu opens another menu, on which I would click “display.” Then the GUI opens a new window, and it makes a query to find out which monitors are available to use. It then presents me with an icon for each available monitor. I click on the icon for the monitor I want to change, then I select the resolution I want from a drop-down box that offers me all the resolutions that monitor is capable of. Then, behind the scenes, the GUI will issue the “xrandr” command above, and the resolution will change. At this point, most GUIs will even check in with the user and ask if the new resolution is acceptable, to which the user responds by clicking the “yes” button or the “no” button.

Nearly all of us use a GUI to change our monitor resolution. We rely on it. We don’t know how to change the resolution directly. We don’t know what command to issue. We don’t know how the command works; we can’t avail ourselves of the many powers it has. We don’t know how to find out the actual names of the monitors, the ones the computer uses, or what resolutions they can operate at. We need the GUI to help us. And it does. It doesn’t trouble us with the specifics: it issues the command in the background, out of our view. We are probably not even aware a command is being issued at all. The monitor just changes. The GUI takes care of it. It takes care of us.

While this example may seem almost painfully trivial, still, it matters to us whether the monitor is set to the right resolution. If it wasn’t, it would be hard to get work done. But even though it matters to us, we don’t really know how to tell the computer directly to behave the way we need it to behave. We are illiterate, most of us, unable to read and write the simple commands the computer understands and responds to. We need the GUI to read and write for us. We are helpless without it.

And so we users are alienated from the information that runs our desktops. In the paper I call this a “soft alienation,” rather than a hard one.


In hard alienation, we are being actively prevented from accessing information by some intentional means, such as a government’s claim to secrecy or a corporation’s claim to intellectual property. Soft alienation is alienation that we can overcome, often with only a little effort. To return to my xrandr example, no real barriers exist to prevent me from learning xrandr. It is installed by default on my operating system. Its manual is included, it’s only 2,100 words, and it’s comprehensive. Xrandr can be mostly learned in about a half an hour. It is a powerful command that is capable of much more than what the GUI can do. And yet most of us don’t learn xrandr. We rely on the GUI.

So in soft alienation, we are choosing to be alienated, choosing to let others produce and manage information for us. The impetus for this kind of alienation does not lie outside us, it lies inside us. The struggle against this alienation will be different from the struggles where ‘we’ confront ‘them’ because they are oppressing us. The struggle will be, instead, a struggle within, a struggle between the part of us that wants to be passive and alienated, and the part of us that wants to be active and master the information that matters to us.

How do we engage a struggle like that? I don’t think we should try to defeat our bad desires, those that want us to be passive and dependent. I think we should focus on our good desires—our desires to actively manage the information that runs our desktops—and we should try to cultivate those desires. What we need is simply to start doing the right thing, start building up our ability to access and master information. We need to read the xrandr manual, start issuing commands, and see what happens. When it works, we can try out other features of the command. When it fails, when we break something (which we will), we can figure out how to fix it, or we can turn to others who have had the same problem, and they can help us. As we build our strength in this way, by practicing, by exercising our good desires, I think we will develop a taste for it. We will come to enjoy the feeling of learning a command, issuing it directly to the computer, and seeing the changes happen. We will come to prefer that way of interacting with our machines over the alienation of the GUI. This feeling—call it pleasure, or joy, or delight—is vital. It will have to be there if we are going to succeed. It isn’t a cheap pleasure, the kind of thrill we get when we see the redesigned Apple OS for the first time.


It’s a deeper pleasure, slower burning but longer lasting, that we can settle into, that we can make a habit out of.


I have been focusing my attention on the desktop, on this little world we inhabit so intimately, and I have tried to give some account of what Lefebvre’s right to information would entail in that world. But of course this session is on “An informational right to the city.” And so what about the city, and the urban, both of which were so important to Lefebvre? In making the argument that our little desktop worlds matter, I am not saying, at all, that the city no longer matters. Both matter. However, I am willing to say that the two struggles are analogous, almost to the point of being isomorphic. In managing the information on our desktops for ourselves, we users must become active, aware, and alive; we must decide to take up the project of producing and managing this newly-vital realm for ourselves. The gist of the right to the city, as Lefebvre understood it, is the same: those who inhabit the city must take up the project of actively producing and managing urban space for themselves. They must overcome their desire to be ruled, to have urban space managed for them, and they must discover the delight of governing the city for themselves.

And of course the struggle for our desktops and the struggle for the city are only two of the many struggles that matter. When Lefebvre turned his attention toward the city and the urban inhabitant he was trying to generalize the concept of autogestion, beyond the factory and beyond the working class, to the city and the urban inhabitant.


There is no reason to think we should stop there. The school, the family, the military, the desktop: all are arenas in which we can pursue the project of autogestion. I am happy to think of these all as essentially equivalent political struggles. We shouldn’t nest or hierarchize them: a struggle for autogestion on the desktop is no more or less important than a struggle for autogestion in the city, or the home, or the school. Each moves us farther down a path toward autogestion, toward managing our own affairs for ourselves. Each teaches us the habits, skills, and attitudes we’ll need to maintain the struggle. Each trains us to know what it’s like to appropriate a sphere of experience, to take up the challenge of being the author of our own lives. Each reveals to us our own power to create, to manage, and to decide. Each helps us know what it feels like: the pleasure, or joy, or delight, of autogestion. Each is a little project—both individual and collective—to save our lives. What we need to do is not to rank them or prioritize them; we need to notice them, amass them, connect them together into a spreading project for generalized autogestion, into a spreading project for democracy.

New Book: Radical Space

Debra Benita Shaw and Maggie Humm are pleased to announce the publication of their edited volume Radical Space: Exploring politics and practice (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016). This is the second publication in the Radical Cultural Studies series edited by members of the Centre for Cultural Studies Research at the University of East London. With contributions from Debra Benita Shaw; Maggie Humm; Joanna Rajkowska; Connell Vaughan; Zlatan Krajina; Victoria Hunter; Carl Lavery; Lee Hassall; Deborah Dixon; Carina Fearnley; Mark Pendleton; Brian Burke-Gaffney; Matt Fish; Angie Voela; Dimitris Papadopoulos; Rob Coley; Kat Deerfield
The book can be purchased from the RLI website at 30% discount using the code MAR1630.


Thursday, April 28th, 2016, 6.30pm

Open School East

The Rose Lipman Building

43 De Beauvoir Road

London, N1 5SQ

All welcome

Planning for Racial Justice

Seems unlikely to me, but if anyone can imagine it, it is Lisa Bates!  See info below…


Last month’s 2016 Dale Prize Colloquium on planning for community self determination and racial justice generated a lively and stimulating discussion. Scholar Dr. Lisa Bates (Portland State) and Practitioner Mr. Hector Verdugo (Homeboy Industries) discussed practical ways of advancing racial justice. A video of the colloquium is available. Enjoy!


More information on the Dale Prize is available at http://www.cpp.edu/~urp/daleprize/

Workshop on Urban Marginality

Call for participation: British Council-Newton Fund workshop in Mexico City

Producing and contesting urban marginality: Speculation, public space and social movements in the neoliberal city

Universidad La Salle, Mexico City

From Tuesday 12 to Friday 15 July 2016 (inclusive)

The workshop is coordinated by Julie Cupples (University of Edinburgh) and Mario López González Garza (Universidad La Salle) with contributions from mentors Tom Slater (University of Edinburgh) and Antonio Gallardo (Universidad La Salle)

We are now inviting Early Career Researchers from the UK and Mexico to apply to attend this workshop. Travel (up to a maximum of £1000 for UK-based and £150 for Mexican-based researchers) and accommodation expenses (up to a maximum of £320) will be covered by the Newton Researcher Links programme. The application form, available here, must be submitted to julie.cupples@ed.ac.uk before the deadline of 11 April 2016.

Workshop details

In Mexico City, as in many other large cities worldwide, contemporary modes of urban governance have overwhelmingly benefited affluent populations and widened social inequalities. Disinvestment from social housing and rent-seeking developments by real estate companies and land speculators have resulted in the displacement of low-income populations to the urban periphery. Public social spaces have been eliminated to make way for luxury apartments and business interests. Low-income neighbourhoods are often stigmatized by dominant social forces to justify their demolition. The urban poor have however negotiated and resisted these developments in a range of ways. Our workshop seeks to explore these urban dynamics in Mexico City and beyond, looking at the material and symbolic mechanisms through which urban marginality is produced and contested. It seeks to understand how things might be otherwise, how the city might be geared towards more inclusive forms of belonging and citizenship.

We seek to chart the ways in which processes of urban transformation are enacted both materially and symbolically and the impacts these processes have on the urban poor. We will also explore the urban struggles that result from these impacts. We are
especially interested in discussions that are focused on linking the macrodeterminants of urban political economy to the life options and strategies of the poor at ground level. This would provide propitious terrain for reformulating from ‘below’, in empirical terms, the labels, discourses and categories imposed from ‘above’ that
have been shown in scholarship to have corrosive consequences. Drawing on these insights, we hope to produce a series of recommendations for stakeholders with a view to producing a more inclusive city where the social, economic and cultural needs of marginalised people become a central principle according to which the restructuring of urban space occurs.

The workshops will provide a unique opportunity for sharing research expertise and networking. During the workshops early career researchers will have the opportunity to present their research in the form of a short oral presentation and discuss this with established researchers from the UK and Mexico. The workshop will also include a field trip to a number of marginal and irregular settlements in Mexico City to interact with artists and community leaders. There will be a focus on building up links for future collaborations and participants selected on the basis of their research potential and ability to build longer term links. We will for example partner UK and Mexican researchers to co-author a book chapter for a published anthology after the workshop is completed.

We are seeking researchers who are working on questions of urban marginality in cities in Mexico or elsewhere in the world. We are particularly interested in scholars who have built close relationships with urban social movements or with communities in irregular settlements or those facing eviction of displacement.

Eligibility Criteria:

Researchers must be conducting research on urban marginality in Mexico or other cities in the world and are interested in sharing insights from diverse geographical locations.

Applications must be submitted using the Researcher Links application form, available here

Application must be submitted before the above deadline.

Participants must be early career researchers: Early Career Researchers are defined as holding a PhD (or having equivalent research experience) and having up to 10 years post-PhD (or equivalent) research experience.

Participants must have a research or academic position (either a permanent post, research contract, or teaching/research fellowship etc) at a recognised research institution either in the UK or in Mexico.

Applicants must be willing to contribute a co-authored book chapter to the anthology that will result from the workshop. Support will be provided by the workshop coordinators and mentors. The language of the workshop will be in English, so all participants must be able to work in English, but allowances will be made for non-native English speakers. UK participants with some Spanish fluency will be particularly welcome.

Quality Assessment

Experience and relevance of the applicant’s research area to the workshop
Motivation and contribution to the aims of the workshop
Description of the long term impact expected through the participation in the workshop
Ability to disseminate workshop’s outcomes

Notification of results:

Applicants will be notified by email no more than two months prior to the workshop and hopefully no later than 25 April.

More details and access to the application form can be found here.

ACME: Call for Editors

ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies
Call For Editors
CLOSING DATE: April 1, 2016

ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies would like to invite applications from anyone interested in becoming an Editor for the journal. We are seeking TWO new Spanish-speaking editors, one of whom can also handle submissions in one of the other key languages of the journal (English, French, German, Italian). The Collective is especially encouraging applications from workers in positions of precarity and/or the Global South, as well as those who are from marginalized backgrounds and/or are first generation scholars (bearing in mind that all who apply will be considered). A commitment to mutuality, collective work, conviviality, and revolutionary punctuality is highly desirable.

ACME is an international journal for critical analyses of the social, the spatial, and the political. Our underlying purpose is to provide free access to critical and radical scholarship. We set no subscription fee, we do not publish for profit, we refuse to participate in neoliberal systems of audit regarding spurious claims to impact factor and journal ranking, we offer authors Creative Commons licenses (i.e. free use) of all their work, and no ACME Editors receive any compensation for their labour. The journal’s purpose is to provide a forum for the publication of critical work about space and place — including anarchist, anti-racist, environmentalist, decolonial, feminist, Marxist, non-representational, postcolonial, poststructuralist, queer, situationist, socialist, and anti-systemic perspectives. Analyses that are critical are understood to be part of the praxis of social and political change aimed at challenging, dismantling, and transforming prevalent relations, systems, and structures of exploitation, oppression, imperialism, national aggression, environmental destruction, and neoliberalism.

The role of Editor will involve shaping the direction of the journal through the following: (all of which will be reciprocated by each member of the ACME Editorial Collective)
Agreeing to engage in the practice of mutual support, congeniality, and collective work;
Communicating with editors, authors, and referees in a timely and constructive manner;
Regularly liaising with the Collective in a cooperative and non-hierarchical fashion;
Agreeing to participate in frequent processes of consensus based decision making;
Sharing thoughts on the overall direction, philosophy, and practices of the journal;
Performing normal editorial duties associated with issuing decisions on manuscripts and submissions;

To be considered for a post, please provide the following (in a combined microsoft word document):
Expression of Interest (maximum of 400 words)

The Expression of Interest should address the following points:
Why you would like to join the ACME Editorial Collective;
What you feel your experience/areas of interest would contribute to the post;
What your general perspectives on “knowledge production” are;
Your vision of what directions you would like to see the journal take in the future;

CLOSING DATE: April 1, 2016
Please send your application as an attachment to ACME’s current Managing Editor/Bell Hop, Levi Gahman, at: levi.gahman@uwi.sta.edu
For more about ACME, please visit: www.acme-journal.org/

Vandana Shiva Interview

“There is this fear of intellectual freedom because the old paradigm must be maintained to continue that project of colonising the earth, colonising people’s minds. The minute people are able to think for themselves, that project is over.”

Ethemcan Turhan’s interview with Dr. Vandana Shiva, leading figure on ecofeminism, climate justice and food sovereignty is now online on ENTITLE Blog…

Happy International Working Women’s Day!