The Anarchist Turn


Duane Rousselle
Süreyyya Evren

In the inaugural issue of Anarchist Developments in Cultural Studies we made the bold assertion that anarchist studies, as an interdisciplinary area of radical scholarship, has rapidly eclipsed Marxism as the radical scholarly engagement within the academy. Our position has not changed. Rather, we feel that it has been validated to some extent by the recent conference at the New School for Social Research which has been titled, fittingly, “The Anarchist Turn”.

The aim of the conference, according to organizers, has been to “argue for an ‘anarchist turn’ in political philosophy.” But we would be reluctant to fail to mention that the domain of political philosophy encapsulates only a selection of terms within the debate. The anarchist hypothesis, if indeed we may describe it as a hypothesis sensu stricto, demands its object to be released from the confines of particular disciplines – its object transposes argumentation across “other disciplines like politics, anthropology, economics, history and sociology.” In this way topics have ranged from “Black and Red: The Freedom of Equals,” to “Geographies of Anarchy,” and “Queer Anarchism and Anarchists Against the Wall”. The conference has brought together world-renowned cultural critics such as Simon Critchley, Judith Butler, Todd May, Alberto Toscano, Mitchell Verter, Andrej Grubacic, Cindy Milstein, Miguel Abensour, Cinzia Arruzza, Banu Bargu, Chiara Bottici, Laura Corradi, Stelphen Duncombe, Stephanie Wakefield, Ben Morea from Black Mask, and the alleged authors of the by now infamous book, The Coming Insurrection.

The symposium takes its name from two anarchistic philosophers, Hannah Arendt and Reiner Schürmann. Both of these thinkers have been formative to the development of a distinctly post-anarchist or cultural studies position within (and, of course, without) the academy and they have been an inspiration for the projects that we have been working on over the last few years. It is by attempting to inherit and extend this tradition that we feel it fitting to present to you our first “virtual issue” (web-exclusive media content) of several of the presentations that occurred at this symposium on the days of May 5th and May 6th, 2011.

We could not conclude this release without sending our sincere gratitude to Dr. Michael Truscello, who travelled to the conference for the purpose of video recording the presentations. Any fault one finds in the final product should be blamed on my (Duane Rousselle) subpar video editing abilities. I should also thank Laura Hanna from the media collective Hidden Driver for sharing some of her audio with us. We would also like to express our thanks to the organizers of the conference at the New School for Social Research in New York for helping to popularize anarchist cultural studies. Finally, we would like to offer our thanks to the Angry Nerds Collective (specifically, Aragorn!), for assisting us with the technological hurdles involved in bringing this collection of media articles to you today.

What follows is the advert for the symposium from the conference organizers:

For a long time, the word ‘anarchist’ has been used as an insult. This is because, at least since Thomas Hobbes, the concept of anarchy has been extended from its etymological meaning (absence of centralized government) to that of pure disorder – the idea being that, without a sovereign state, the life of individuals can only be brutish, miserable, and chaotic. This move was certainly functional to the ideological justification of modern sovereign states, but not to an understanding of what anarchy might be.

In the last decade, this caricature of anarchy has begun to crack. Globalization and the social movements it spawned seem to have proved what anarchists have long been advocating: an anarchical order is not just desirable, but also feasible. This has led to a revitalized interest in the subterranean anarchist tradition and its understanding of anarchy as collective self-organization without centralized authority. But the ban on ‘anarchism’ has not yet been lifted.

The aim of this conference is to argue for an ‘anarchist turn’ in political philosophy. We want to discuss the anarchist hypothesis with specific reference to the philosophical tradition in its many historical and geographical variants, but also in relation to other disciplines like politics, anthropology, economics, history and sociology. By bringing together academics and activists, past and present, this conference will assess the nature and effectiveness of anarchist politics in our times.

Speakers: Miguel Abensour (Paris VII), Cinzia Arruzza (New School), Banu Bargu (New School), Chiara Bottici (New School), Judith Butler (UC Berkeley), Laura Corradi (Calabria), Stephen Duncombe (NYU), Todd May (Clemson), Alberto Toscano (Goldsmiths), Mitchell Verter (New School), Stephanie Wakefield (CUNY), as well as writers such as Andrej Grubačić , Cindy Milstein, Ben Morea from Black Mask and alleged authors of The Coming Insurrection.”