“Good Politics”: The Dissertation

Yes, I know my PhD dissertation book should be done already.  And now that I have revised the manuscript for a press, I find the original dissertation lacking—but please do enjoy it here if you can’t wait.  You may also look to my upcoming essay titled “Anthropology” in The SAGE Handbook of Marxism (eds. Farris, Skeggs and Toscano, 2021), which provides a summary of certain main theoretical and ethnographic elements.  I published Occult Features of Anarchism (PM Press, 2019) first, underestimating how much attention and labour it would generate, but don’t worry about Good Politics—I’m on it.

Excerpts below taken from: Lagalisse, Erica. 2016. “Good Politics”: Property, Intersectionality and the Making of the Anarchist Self, PhD dissertation, Department of Anthropology, McGill University, Montreal.  To download PDF of dissertation click here.

From the Prologue – Adventures in Anarcolandia: Cancun 2010

“Everyone was wondering what (the fuck) was going to happen when we actually reach the Zona Hotelera. A guy known as the Stimulator told me all about the ANTI-CIV movie he would be screening in the Anti-C@P space the next day. An American woman picked a fight with a guy named Israel – its not enough to be anti-Zionist, she explained, he should really “check his white privilege” and “do something useful” like teach local women how to make fish tacos like she had done the day before. A bicycle-powered boombox zoomed up and drowned her out. We munched on complimentary ham sandwiches prepared by the Via kitchen. Vegans of all nations complained…” (Lagalisse 2016, 16-17)

“We can’t go back without doing something. Besides, we happen to have an enormous inflatable hammer. Obviously we will penetrate the cop barrier with the large anarchist phallus. It will get sliced up by little cop knives, dragged back over the razor wire, and look great on video. Later that year the European art collective will publish a 65-page book devoted solely to the hammer’s genesis, symbolic journeys, and eventual violation.  Meanwhile back in Cancun 20 teenage anarcopunks will spraypaint a banner to say “VIA CAMPE$INA VENDIDO$ ($ELLOUT$)”, and wave it in the Via leaders’ faces as we walk past them toward the fence. Afterwards we will have to find a way to fit 150 people onto two veggie buses because Via will abandon us as promised, but the hippies come through.…” (Lagalisse 2016, 18)

From Chapter 1:  The Anarchist World

“We sang for hours, getting better with each bottle of course.  The Venezuelans knew the Cuban revolutionary songs and the Cubans knew the ones from Argentina.  The Yankees sang Solidarity Forever and everyone knew the chorus, same thing in reverse for A Las Barricadas.  The Italians who had just arrived sang Bella Ciao and most of us knew the lyrics in Spanish.  The French sang the Internationale and the rest were drunk enough to fake it.” (Lagalisse 2016, 61).


From Chapter 2: Gossip as Direct Action

“In my experience anarchist men can be marvelously disingenuous when it comes to their commitment to “direct action”: As soon as it may apply to male authority, they turn into proper politicians. Our male collective members’ suggestion that women’s only legitimate course of action is to bring up our grievances for discussion in the “public sphere” of the formal collective meeting is tantamount to the typical liberal critique of anarchists-in-general, whereby anarchists should be petitioning government authorities to respond to their various social demands instead of organizing independently from the state….” (Lagalisse 2016, 108-9)

From Chapter 3: Occult Features of “Anarchoindigenism”

“Freemasonry, on the other hand, is what social movements look like after the witch hunts: Just as Alchemists played at the creation of life while arresting feminine control over biological creation, speculative Masonry emerges in which elite males worship the ‘Grand Architect’ upon the ashes of artisans’ guilds while real builders were starving.” (Lagalisse 2016, 124)

“Just as Marx’s proletariat was a romanticized unity, based only partially on the reality of working class existence and serving to justify Marxism as much as liberate real workers, anarchism’s peasants and indigenous people fill a certain “savage slot” (Trouillot 1991) that has always served to justify anarchist politics whether or not real peasants or indigenous people are liberated in the process.” (Lagalisse 2016, 137)


From Chapter 4: The Rhizome in 3D

“Where Foucault (1990) meets Deleuze and his fans, interesting things could happen. One might wonder why the rhizome becomes such an interesting metaphor for the Left at the historical moment it does; one might inquire into so much consensus around the rhizome, and wonder what is accomplished by so much talk about it. Where Bourdieu (1984; 1986) meets Deleuze, even more interesting things can happen. One might notice that the “networking” among elites that Bourdieu pinpoints as the conversion of “cultural capital” into “social capital” (into “economic capital” and back again) may also apply to networking anarchists. Deleuze and Guattari invite us to “follow the plants”, and yet the wisdom about plants they put forth to illustrate their point is a quote from Carlos Castañeda’s The Teachings of Don Juan (1971), a fictionalized ethnography about a person who might not exist written by a guy who has probably never dug up a rhizome in his life (1987, 11).  European man-philosophers can get away with this sort of thing.  In any case I will take their advice: Personally I have transplanted many wheelbarrows full of day lilies over the years, digging up their rhizomatic root systems, tearing them apart, and planting them again, and I have noticed certain things…” (Lagalisse 2016, 151-2 )


From Chapter 5: Articulating Anarchafeminism

“At that same “Creative Resistance” workshop leading up to the FTAA summit in 2001, where the Ya Basta guys popped in to say that we should come glue their foam weapons together because we “weren’t doing anything”, I also said something that inspired a symphony of groans:  When the group was discussing the wording of banners, statements and call-out invitations, I ventured to say that referencing the “goddess” only, as opposed to “god” as well, would have an insularizing effect – “or, if we don’t want to say God” I said, “Why not something more general like ‘divinity’ or ‘creation’?  If we are about basing our resistance in spirituality, why not appeal to all those religious people who do so?  I used to be into the Goddess in high school and I get it, but this is not speaking to me now.”  As the last sentence came tumbling out of my mouth I knew I had blown it, but it was even worse than I thought.  Apparently everyone in the room except for me was crashing at that house all weekend because some important witch guru named “Starhawk” was visiting from California and staying there too, and apparently the whole point of that “Creative Resistance” workshop was to plan a specifically pagan-feminist action. They failed to put that part on the flyer.  At the time I felt embarrassed and shut right up – I had clearly stepped in a pile of shit by implying that the religious feelings of every woman in the room amounted to an immature teenage obsession.  In the intervening 15 years, however, I have often thought about what I would have liked to say at that moment:  “It’s one thing – and totally fine – to get together with one’s neo-pagan feminist friends and plan a goddess ritual action, it’s quite another to host a public workshop for women to plan “creative resistance” and assume that everyone who shows up will want to march under the banner of their Goddess, and then act like if they don’t it’s because they aren’t really feminist.”  There.” (Lagalisse 2016, 199-200)

creative resistance workshop 2001

“Carmen is quite sure she will still be indigenous if she gets to sleep off her hangover like everybody else instead of being dragged out of bed at 5 am to make tortillas.  Why should the guys get to be the ones who define “indigenous” – or “culture” in general – anyway?  Very often “cultural relativism” is brought to relativize everything except for a certain idea that one must always submit to existing social authority and male social authority in particular, the slip being hidden in a move whereby not Magdalena, not Carmen, but Mr. NEFAC, Juan, a hypothetical village leader or Carmen’s boyfriend get to decide what “culture” comprises and whether or not it should stay the same.  Even if a definitive village authority were known, present, and real, if a person judges that Carmen should behave the way the village authority commands, this person is arguably neither a “relativist” nor “anti-imperialist” (nor an “anarchist” for that matter):  He or she deigns to adjudicate between Carmen and the village leader from the position of distant observer, and based on an imported and a priori premise of his or her own that stipulates that women should always act the way male village authorities say (while supposedly anarchists are all about “questioning authority”)…” (Lagalisse 2016, 228)

From Chapter 6: Policing the Boundaries

“The dynamics around “safe space” in Anglo anarchist scenes are complex and presently the subject of much heated debate – one can just imagine how Mr. NEFAC might respond.  Women activists who organize around rape culture within the anarchist scene continually face defensive retorts that revolve around the possibility of “false accusations”, and struggle hard to insist that a woman should be taken at her word when it comes to such matters. North American anarchist feminists face a situation whereby Kristian Williams can write an essay criticizing the politics of (feminist) denunciation around sexual assault and denounce feminists who disagree at one and the same time, while himself publishing a pamphlet on how to identify and call-out a different category of undesirable – cops – the only salient difference between “rapists” and “cops” being that “cops” hurt men as much or more than women, and thus actually deserve our attention.”  (Lagalisse 2016, 269-270)

“Given all of this, it might appear irresponsible to first mention “safe space” with reference to the example above, in which it is used to eject refugees from a party simply for dancing.  Yet some of the impasses in current “safe space” debates might be better engaged by exploring the margins and extensions of its use:  “Safe space”, like “cop”, is often extrapolated to articulate with a variety of misrecognized categorical decisions regarding who is a “true comrade” and who is not.  No discussion of “policing the boundaries” within the anarchist scenes of North America can go without addressing “safe space”, because its rhetorical power is such that when even an accusation of “cop” does not definitively decide who is “out” and who is “in”, an invocation of “safe space” can.” (Lagalisse 2016, 270)

Chapter 7: The Diversity of Consensus

“Wherever we find anarchism we find the anarchist self, and yet the anarchist self changes from place to place.  While it is possible to sketch out something of an anarchist culture that transcends borders and places – what I have been calling the “anarchist world” – the anarchist self is always local and particular: The self is always a complex of desires, manners, ideas, aspirations and embodied values, some conscious, some not, which necessarily betrays its origins – both where and how it grew up.  We may say with confidence, for example, that anarchists most everywhere reject the majority vote – an ideological position – but it is also true that in no two places is “consensus process” the same.  The ideological position interacts with local cultural codes, styles of speech, body language and emotional expression, unspoken rules about eye contact and laughter, place-based ideas around whose voice(s) matter more, and even culturally distinct notions around what counts as “agreement”…”   (Lagalisse 2016, 272)

Chapter 8: The Consensus on Diversity

“Combined with an explicit statement or de facto assumption that anarchism is what anarchists already do, the caveat that everyone be “from the same side of the political spectrum” allows for the unrecognized exclusion (presented as “self- exclusion”) of anyone who does not share the specific lifestyles and desires of a particular white middle class demographic, and encourages us to see diversity where there is none:  We are distracted from the fact that anyone who is significantly different from the middle-to-upper class university student who speaks three languages and gets a thrill from eating out of the garbage often quickly drops out of the movement, as does the woman accused of being a racist for trying to defend her right to speak, as does the non-elite who suffocates on “consensus process”, as does the person of colour whose critique of white dominance is dismissed as Marxist sectarianism in disguise.  Of course none of this is supposed to be happening, and less distracted anarchists, particularly those of the “intersectionality” faction, are upset about it.  Some lament the failure of “outreach” while others counter that we should position ourselves “in solidarity with struggles rooted in frontline communities”, but everyone nonetheless talks about being “inclusive”, and so far the best answer is to operationalize “anti-oppression” in movement spaces…” (Lagalisse 2016, 298)

intersectionality flag

From Chapter 9:  Hierarchy, Property and “Intersectionality”

“It should be clear at this point that the anti-oppression game requires a fair amount of math…the power relations among activists cannot be rendered with any algebraic formula, nor can the activity of activists who refer to such formulas.  The salient point is rather that activists mentally refer to these in the first place, and build pedagogical games based on them (and then mentally refer to them even more).  The same activists and scholars thereof who refer to dynamic non-linear complexity as an overarching theoretical metaphor for the movement are, in their everyday relations with others, still operating largely according to simple atemporal algebra.”  (Lagalisse 2016, 341-4)

“To return to the self-proprietor as the subject of modern rights, it should be clear that a logic of encompassment/exclusion (whether or not it is universal) is at work in the attribution of “immanence” (vs. “transcendence”) to the women, slaves, servants, and workers who cannot be property-holders on account of the material entanglements that prevent their “rationality” (cf. Dumont 1970; 1986). That the patriarchs of the proletariat managed to “lift themselves up” as “individuals” first is no coincidence; whether as consequence or cause, their elevation was one and the same with “owning” and representing their women, and servants or slaves if they had any.  Furthermore, to the extent that bourgeois women had claim on respectability it was partly insomuch as they were co-owners of material property.  But perhaps due to their legal subsumption by men, their respectability was always contingent on performing the most impeccable self-possession. Indeed it was the bourgeois woman’s job to manage her husband’s image of self-containment as well as her own, by making everything “grotesque” in their lives – sex, eating, waste and bodily filth – all magically disappear.  And to the extent that the women propertized themselves, it was at the expense of servant, slave and proletariat women who were made to do the dirtiest work.  And when the white underclass propertized itself in turn it was in contradistinction to racialized others, hence “whiteness as property” (Harris 1993).  None of this should be a surprise.  What has not been sufficiently contemplated, however, is that identity-based rights involve the same combination of encompassment and exclusion as the original franchise…” (Lagalisse 2016, 356)

“It is true that there are features of “working-class-ness” that working class subjects generally consider to have absolute value, and which they imagine “taking with them” when building a post-capitalist society, such as “sincerity”, “solidarity” and “sharing” (see also Skeggs 2011).  These cannot be imagined as being properly “taken with them” when experiencing class mobility, however, because these features of working class culture are collective value practices rather than values that can be imagined as embodied by one individual. They are thus values that cannot remain attached to a person (be “left over”) as their individual property if or when this person becomes a bourgeois individual him or herself.  Said another way, these are use-values that have no exchange-value in the bourgeois arena, and are indeed values that work against one’s exchange value in this arena:  Practicing “sincerity” actually gets in the way of success in the “discrete, tactful, professional” world of bourgeois selves we discussed in the last chapter, for example.

There are also specific use-values to be found within indigenous or black cultures, or within networks of reciprocity among neighborhood women, for that matter.  These values often likewise include versions of sincerity, solidarity and sharing, as well as diverse other collective values beyond.  These collective value practices cannot cross the threshold into exchange value in the bourgeois sphere either.  The fact that the immutable properties (that come to stand in for) “woman” or “person of colour” can, however, means that within the bourgeois sphere, these properties can be recuperated to stand in for the practices themselves: the practice of sincerity cannot have exchange value, but a symbol for it can, which is what we see happening in the anti-oppression game.  Said another way, it is true that all of these oppressed groups include subversive collective practices (the “cultures of resistance” of activist lingo), yet the potentially subversive content, or use, of these “cultures” (the sincerity or sharing itself) is necessarily liquidated at one and the same time as group members adopt “sharing” or “sincerity” as a property of their individual persons.  This is especially true if they then proceed to valorize themselves vis-à-vis one another by similarly reifying as many other use-values as possible, such as the logic of exchange in the anti-oppression game encourages them to do.” (Lagalisse 2016, 361-362)

“It is no coincidence that the construction of the perfect anarchist self (whose political formation is always complete from birth) in practice intersects with a self-contained manner, and that the politics of identity in the anti-oppression game intersects with this particular politics of the body. It is not mere coincidence, for example, that Damian is a “person of colour” as well as a refugee, but does not have the skills or self-orientation (desire) necessary to propertize himself with pain and skin colour, whereas Carlo mobilizes both identity and the value of self-containment against him in one and the same gesture.” (Lagalisse 2016, 376-377)

“An over-arching modern urge to overlay a legible-because-linear grid onto non-linear social complexity blends easily with the specific bourgeois aspiration to self-enclosure, property and authority.  This in turn blends easily with the more basic human desire to protect oneself emotionally and physically and is easily brought to rationalize both:  It is obviously “safer” to calculate in the abstract what people are living, feeling, and thinking without talking to them, or asking them, or feeling their joy, sadness or anger, because that way one can avoid such feelings in one’s own body and indeed continue to forget the body altogether.  In the same gesture one avoids the risk that some uncalculable combination of experience, feeling and thought presents itself, threatening the transcendental pretension that the individual alone, armed with an abstract geometry of pain, can stand above and know the world.  For this reason, the deep insight of intersectionality – that any given perspective will be incomplete, that the map will never be the territory – has been rendered into something much more comfortable: a calculus to facilitate guesswork from a distance.” (Lagalisse 2016, 377-378)


“Jacqui Alexander’s point that the “will to divide and separate” resides in the “archeologies of dominance” (2005, 6) whereas in fact “everything in the universe is interconnected!” thus falls flat, as does John Holloway’s parallel point in his critique of Marx’s own fetish (the “working class”) and any other fetishization that necessarily occurs in the attempt to reify any particular identity as the revolutionary subject: “We overflow the bounds of any concept” (151). “Everything is becoming” (25).  Rather than confusing “doing” with “being” we must “live against and beyond identity”.  Definition  “adds the locks to a world that is assumed to be closed” (141), he explains.  Neither cite Bakhtin (1984 [1941]), but the homology between the transcendent identity-proprietor and the static, closed, classical body (both atemporal vis-à-vis the process of learning, growth, and dynamic imperfection) should be clear by now, as should the logic behind the black man, the indigenous woman and the white woman all deciding to joke around with the activists concerned with form: “True open seriousness fears neither parody, nor irony, nor any other form of reduced laughter, for it is aware of being part of an uncompleted whole”, writes Bakhtin (1984 [1941], 123).  “Laughter purifies from dogmatism, from the intolerant and the petrified; it liberates from fanaticism and pedantry, from fear and intimidation, from didacticism, naïveté and illusion, from the single meaning, the single level…Laughter does not permit seriousness to atrophy and to be torn away from the one being, forever incomplete.” (ibid.)

Foucault was of a different sensibility, but even he, in a rare passage that suggests a way out of all the traps he wrote about, suggested that “the target nowadays is not to discover what we are, but to refuse what we are”; and the political problem we face is not merely to “liberate the individual from the state and the state’s institutions, but to liberate us both from the state and from the type of individualization that is linked to the state.” (1983, 216).  With such “refusal” in mind, Audra Simpson’s (2014) ethnography of Mohawk sovereignty and its complex memberships is entirely different than my own, yet each in our way we seek to historicize, explain, and critically engage the fact that there is simply “no place in the formal political discussion for qualities” (170), even though these might matter the most in the project of dismantling settler colonialism.  Anna Tsing’s (2015) critique of the modern biological assumption that species are self-contained and self-replicating entities likewise intersects with my point.  As I have suggested, her call to behold “patches” of interdependent multi-species life vs. taxonomies of mutually-exclusive “abstract kinds” (“mutualism” vs. a falsely imagined “autonomy”) is logically parallel to beholding social relations as opposed to reified properties.

In other words, a lot of what I have been saying is not entirely new, yet the common failure to perceive the role of property in the composite of “good politics” is partially responsible for the failure of each theoretical camp represented above to enter into dialogue with one another and recognize where they connect.  Only by sacrificing the property that is mobilized by each theorist to speak for and above the others according to the logic of academic knowledge production (e.g. “sociology”, “anthropology”, “class”, “race”, “intersectionality” itself) will anyone actually get past the “class vs. identity” impasse. In other words, the problem is not “identity” – a word that is currently used to refer to an enormous multiplicity of phenomena – but property…”  (Lagalisse 2016, 382-383)

000 intersectional liberation necklace