File spoon-archives/postanarchism.archive/postanarchism_2004/postanarchism.0403, message 30


Date: Fri, 5 Mar 2004 15:57:10 -0800 (PST)
Subject: [postanarchism] Sullivan: "Radical Theory Workshop at the Second European Social Forum: Some Notes"



Radical Theory Workshop -AT- the 2nd
European Social Forum: some notes 

by Sian Sullivan, 

1st December 2003 

After a navigationally-challenging half-hour suburban
walk from the main Social Forum spaces of Bobigny,
north-east Paris, we eventually found our allocated
space for the somewhat grandly titled ‘Radical Theory
Workshop’. We – Steffen Böhm (co-editor ephemera:
critical dialogues on organisation, University of
Essex), Jeremy Gilbert (Signs of the Times, University
of East London), Jo Littler (Signs of the Times,
Middlesex University), Oscar Reyes (Independent
Student Media Project, University of Essex), Sian
Sullivan (University of Warwick), Tiziana Terranova 
(University of East London) – registered the workshop
as a response to our shared sense that the ESF in
Florence last year, while electric, eclectic and
inspiring, was rather low on theoretical content and
reflection with regard to contemporary supranational
socio-political ‘movement(s)’. Our blurb for the
workshop registration process went something like
this: As part of the European Social Forum, we hope to
establish an international network of
intellectuals/activists who are interested in the
relationship between new theories and new forms of
politics. How can we move beyond a simplistic
opposition to representative politics? How can the
network form contaminate the institutional spaces in
which a vast 
number of people live and work? How can we relate the
analysis of new forms of power with experimentation in
political practice? 

Given the workshop’s location in the backend of
suburban nowhere, and the one week Forum registration
notification which meant we had next to no time to
publicise the workshop, we entered the space with
somewhat low expectations regarding what might
transpire over the next three hours. Having rearranged
the lines of chairs into a more conversation-friendly
circle for around 15 people, we opened up proceedings 
with personal introductions. At this point we
consisted of the five of us who had made it from the
registration ‘team’ (Tiziana had unavoidable teaching
commitments and couldn’t make the Forum until the
following day), and about five other punters: more 
encounter-group than theory/practice workshop. 
But people kept on coming. By an hour later all the
chairs were taken, and our intimate circle had
expanded to fill the periphery of the room. The last
time I took a note of numbers there were more than 50
people (37 men, 24 women), from a range of European
countries (Finland, Denmark, Italy, France, Germany,
Holland, the UK, Yugoslavia – apologies if I’ve missed
any), as well as a few folk from North America. That
such a diverse collection of individuals - streetwise
activists, university lecturers, performance artists,
students – should be drawn to a meeting entitled
‘Radical Theory’ in itself reflects a contemporary
blurring of boundaries between the conventional (and
impossible) theory/practice divide. Add to that the
range of academic disciplinary backgrounds represented
– cultural studies, organisation studies,
anthropology, ecology, geography, media studies,
political science, art, performance, critical theory
(anything else?) - and we were at the brink of finding

ourselves either a melting pot of radical intellectual
activist potential, or an incoherent mess. 

Given the burgeoning size of the group, and with our
intentions for the workshop to provide a meeting and
improvisational space rather than be directed by a
clear and predetermined agenda, a decision was reached
to divide into three smaller discussion groups and
then report back in the larger group in the last
half-hour of the workshop. Questions and issues raised
related to things like: what do we mean by ‘Radical 
Theory’ anyway? What areas of thinking, what
theoretical frames, might be included in this term?
How to enhance our shared political and moral concerns
through finding some sort of common discursive space
when we come from such diverse intellectual 
and other backgrounds? How to provide a ‘learning
space’ for those unconfident and perhaps distanced by
the language and conceptual terms employed by
theoreticians, but nevertheless drawn towards the
radical potential of radical theory? And conversely,
how to engender a similar space for those leaning more
towards the ivory tower dimensions of academic life to
enc ounter a perhaps more corporeal experience 
of activist practice? 

At this point, I can only speak for my experience in
the group I elected for (any other contributions
welcome). We began by each identifying one or two key 
words/ideas/concepts that we as individuals understood
as being a part of this notion of ‘Radical Theory’;
and/or what we might like to see as being part of this

discourse/practice. Interestingly, a number of
reference concepts came up more than once, which in
itself is an indication of perhaps more coherence and
shared concepts in people’s thinking than we might
have anticipated. What emerged from this initial 
whip round was something like the following verbal and
conceptual snapshots, each of which lend themselves to
both thinking and doing practices at the core of our 
endeavours as theorists and activists: 

How can radical democracy be brought down to earth and
its pragmatic possibilities thereby magnified?
 
How to popularise/make accessible radical theories:
the significance of art and poetry in contributing to
a popular radical theory? 

How can theory also be radical political practice? 

Radical theory can itself engender possibilities 
The ability of a theoretical frame to have robust
explanatory power at a variety of different levels or
scales of analysis (e.g. from the universal to the
subjective) makes for empowered and empowering radical
theory possibilities 

People are talking about ‘Social Forum Theory’ – what
is this? 

Theorising/engendering radical structures
organisations: complexit y, nested systems, scale,
weak ties, networks, flattened hierarchies,
decentralised structures, fluidity and
crystallisation, unfolding, moving beyond 
How does socio-political change emerge from these
phenomena? 
Network of networks 
Complexity is anarchy 
Anarchism; relationships between anarchism and the
libertarian New Left positions 

Going beyond ideological purism and sectarianism;
political identity promotes sectarianism; a move from
stating identity to affirming a practice, e.g. from ‘I

am a feminist’, to ‘I advocate feminism’ 
Relationships between state institutions and anarchist
theory/practice, e.g. re: public services 
Taoism 
Subjectivity/subjective experience 
Post-logos: a rethink/deconstruction of the categories
of modernity, including the cate gory of ‘political’ 

Relevance of cross-cultural exchange/communication:
one person in the meeting (not me!) made reference to
anthropology being ‘the discipline of the 
movement’! 

The practical need for radical spaces that are more
permanent but not deadened by top-down forms of
organisation; we need to work in real space, not just 
theoretical space 

The challenge of constructing a counterhegemonic
position that remains fluid 

How to hegemonise ‘the’ grassroots 

A substantial part of the meeting revolved around a
discussion regarding the implications of naming, given
that in many ways we are talking about, reflecting on,

and participating in socio -political movements
without names and/or with many 
names. 

This is both problematic and necessary: it is
difficult to represent something that cannot be
categorised, named and pinned down; by the same token,
the contesting and opening up of the bounded
categories fetishised by modernity is at the heart of 
contemporary radical resistance politics. A name
implies another category with another boundary,
another inside/outside border. Radical resistance
politics resists fixity: embraces becoming rather than
being. Altermondialist (alternative globalisation) was
noted as an affirmative label. It moves away from
being framed as anti- this or that, and also leaves
open the space of possibilities for becoming
something(s) beyond and alternative to what is being 
contested in the here and now. 

Someone also observed that it is astonishing how terms
and concepts associated with radical socio -political
movements have become normalised in popular discourse
over such a short period of time: e.g. diversity,
multiplicity, pluralism, reflexivity. And now what to
do? 

A number of proposals and initiatives were made at the
workshop. It remains to be seen how these will unfold
over time. These included: 

• The setting up of an elist called Radical Theory
Forum (thanks to Tom Cahill for doing this). A main
focus of the list would be a space for communicating 
about the possibility of establishing a non-specialist
journal. 

The description of the list is as follows: 

‘This list was born during the European Social Forum
in Paris. The group intends to publish a "Radical
Theory Journal" which will be neither academic, 
nor activist. It will try to create a tension laden
and dynamic new form of theory informed by action that
arises from, helps to understand and bring benefit to
the altermondialiste movements. This list is the
working forum for the journal.’ Appropriately, the
list has been established with Riseup.net, an activist
web host which operates to support ‘altermondialist’
political work and is resourced on principles of
mutual aid. 

• As noted above, a number of the workshop
participants felt that an opportunity existed for the
establishment of a journal that linked radical
theoretical work with political practice. A second
evening meeting was held during the Social Forum to
take this discussion further. 

• An explicit intention is to establish a space for a
longer and more structured ‘Radical Theory Forum’ to
coincide with, or be part of, the next Europeans
Social Forum, which is to be held in London in 2004.
Possibilities for participation in the organising
process of the next ESF were also raised, and details
for the next preparatory meeting were flagged up at
the workshop (13th - 14th December). 

The workshop also provided a space for networking and
connecting with other theory/practice,
scholar/activist, ideas/action initiatives in which
people are already participating: 

• Planetary Anarchist Network 
• Peoples Global Action 
• Shifting Ground Collective 
• Academia, Activism and Postanarchism CSGR project
2004 
• Social Movements and Activist Research conference in
Barcelona, January 2004 

In sum, and as someone pointed out in the final
feedback, it is clear from the number and diversity of
participants that the notion of ‘Radical Theory’
compels us, even if we are not sure exactly what we
mean by the term. It is also apparent that there is a
demand for critical and reflective thinking spaces to
be at the heart of the social forum process. 

Sian Sullivan, 27th November 2003 s.sullivan-AT-warwick.ac.uk

===="Being at one is god-like and good, but human, too human, the 
        mania
     Which insists there is only the One, one country, one truth and
         one way."

- Friedrich Hölderlin, 1799

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