Workshop: What is Militant Research?

8 June 2009

What is Militant & Co-Research?

Kevin Van Meter | Team Colors


For the workshop:

Theory, Territory & Targeting: Research for Movements

Additional Presenters & Affiliations:

Paul Glavin | Institute for Anarchist Studies (www.anarchist-studies.org)

Dave Negation | Tarantula Publishing (www.socialwar.net)

6 June 2009 as part of the Portland Anarchist Book Fair

An audio recording from this talk will be available shortly.

Introduction

  1. Defining Inquiry, Militant & Co-Research
  2. A Genealogy of Militant & Co-Research
  3. What Does Militant & Co-Research Provide to Radical Movements

Defining Inquiry, Militant & Co-Research

“Militant research is that process of re-appropriation of our own capacity of worlds-making, which (…) questions, problematizes and pushes the real through a series of concrete procedures.”

– Precarias a la Deriva (Madrid, Spain)

“What does knowledge become when it renounces the comfort of “critical distance” with regards to the “object,” when it refuses each and every “evenly balanced evaluation” and adopts a point of view based in struggles? How is the ability to research experienced when it becomes part of the experience of life, when it becomes potential to create? What happens when the discussion is no longer about “who is who:” who is on the inside and who on the outside; who “thinks” and who “acts;” who has the right to speak and who is better off letting others speak on their behalf? When the question who is who is no longer policed, a new possibility emerges: that of producing together.”

– Situaciones – Colectivo de investigacion (Argentina)

Inquiry is simply the process of producing knowledge and addressing problems; and there is a long history of political inquiry in radical and revolutionary movements.  Any substantive and engaged political campaign, organizing drive, and community processes utilizes methods of inquiry to understand the conditions of life, politics and to create initiatives.  Within larger radical and community organizing traditions of inquiry, there is militant and co-research.

Militant research refers to “research carried out with the aim of producing knowledge useful for militant or activist ends” as well as “research that is carried out in a fashion that keeps with the aims and values of radical militants.”

Co-research “is a practice of intellectual production that does not accept a distinction between active researcher and passive research subjects.  At its best co-research aims for a productive cooperation that transforms both into active participants in producing knowledge and in transforming themselves.”

Team Colors, the collective of which I am part, refers to this as inquiring into the encounter – inquiring into the in between.

Finally, practices of inquiry take place in radical movements and community organizing initiatives that don’t fall under these concepts, and there are complementary and counter-traditions of inquiry to these.

A Genealogy of Militant Research

While inquiry, militant and co-research have long and varied histories we can point to a few interesting examples of their development.

Workers Inquiry: Karl Marx in 1880 developed a list of 100 questions (101 in other translations) on the conditions of the working class in France, and his partner Friedrich Engels thirty-six years earlier produced “The Conditions of the Working Class in England”.  These became points of reference for the Marxist and workers movements.

Situationist International: In looking to inquire into the conditions of everyday life, a group of French artists and revolutionaries developed techniques, such as mapping, dérive (drift) and détournment.

Operisti, Autonomia & Autonomist Marxism: During the factory struggles of the early 1960’s Italian Operisti (workerists) began to develop militant research techniques (surveys, interviews, discussions with factory workers) to understand the struggles taking place in factories and the university that were outside of the unions and political parties.  These techniques carried on as the site of struggle changed from factory struggles to the social factory – that is the conditions of work and life in all of society – hence the development of the Autonomia movement in Italy.  As these techniques, concepts and ideas spread beyond Italy they intersect with those of Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari and American radicals such as Harry Cleaver, who called this current of heterodox Marxism that “begins with existing struggles” and the autonomy of the working class (now broadly defined to include all those that “revolt against work”), Autonomist Marxism.  In the United States initiatives such as Zerowork, the Wages for Housework Campaign, Midnight Notes Collective and Processed World carried on this current, often in concert with older radicals like C.L.R. James, Marty Glaberman and George Rawick. 

Precarity: Carrying this tradition into the present – developing in the wake of the counter-globalization movement and the cycle of protest that marked it – struggles around precarity have emerged in Europe, South America and across the planet. Herein new research projects have developed and pushed militant research in more participatory and radical directions, hence seeking to break down the barrier between researcher and the subject of research.  Additionally, these new projects have sough to “queer these concepts” and bring them into contact with feminist, queer, and anti-racist discourses.     

What Does Militant & Co-Research Provide to Radical Movements

Militant and co-research provides a set of tools – that is concepts, techniques and mechanisms – that contribute to existing frameworks in radical movements by adding research components and by taking a direct role in producing knowledge and strategies that resonate with movement campaigns, organizations, and initiatives.  Here militant and co-research provides “a focus on struggle from the perspective of struggle”.  Hence in seeking to identify the development of new subjectivities and new emergences, as well as understand current class and movement composition – these research tools produce strategies and insights for strategic thinking.  Additionally, militant and co-research provides opportunities for communication, a widening of the field of struggle, and dialog around important struggles in everyday life.  Radical initiatives when they resonate with militant and co-research practices and discourses begin to address the important project of documenting movements and developing movement strategy.

Here in regards to research practices and intellectual practice, militant and co-researchers seek to delink research and knowledge production from the power relationships that define the academy, capital and the state-apparatus.  The purpose of this research is to be engaging as well as useful, and create a feedback loop for movements so that strategies can be strengthened and the limited resources we have for organizing can be used strategically.  Additionally, it is vitally important that movement organizers and participants document their own activities so that we may amplify, grow, and at times replicate our efforts.  Finally, militant and co-research provides mechanisms to participate in radical movements and tools for those outside of said movements to examine the flows and contours of their everyday lives and resonate with others experiences and realities.

Such participatory mechanisms include, and are certainly not limited to: community dialogs and listening sessions; social and engaged mapping, dérive (drift), and community inventories; surveys and interviews; the production of fanzines and the myriad of forms independent media can take; and the development of community mandates from which to launch future activities and initiatives.

The forms of research I am describing seek to challenge the assumptions about what we know and how we think; and it is this challenge that needs to move to the fore of our community organizing and other radical initiatives.

Additional information on these militant and co-research is available on the Team Colors website / Resources page.

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