Mataroa Conference (Ikaria 2013)

The Mataroa Conference was based on an idea by Nikolas Kosmatopoulos, was co-organized by a group of researchers/ academics and took place on the Ikaria island in 2013.

For further information, documentation and proceedings please visit the website: https://mataroa2013.wordpress.com

Mataroa 2013 Concept

Against Crisis, For the Commons: Towards a New Mediterranean

I. Crisis and the New Mediterranean

Over the past few years, populations in Southern Europe have been subjected to harsh austerity policies – usually dictated by international monetary institutions and economy experts – that have in turn led to dramatic deteriorations in the quality of their lives and their futures. Further South, the ‘people’ on the Arab shores of the Mediterranean Sea have risen up against poverty and injustice, demanding – and sometimes achieving – fundamental changes in the ways they are governed. Although the developments in this new Mediterranean have been the subject of journalistic coverage and scholarly attention in widespread and manifold ways, much of this activity seems to be described solely – or mainly – in terms of crisis. In the global public sphere, crisis-talk and crisis experts proliferate (neoliberals refer to ‘debt crisis’, Marxists remind us that ‘crises of overproduction’ are endemic in capitalism; humanitarian NGOs, think tanks and specialized UN agencies tend to see ‘crisis’ in poverty, natural disasters and political conflicts alike). It seems that ‘crisis’ has become a powerful social imaginary (Taylor 2002), intrinsically tied to emergency imaginaries (Calhoun 2004), permanent states of exception (Agamben 2002) and contemporary states of emergency (Fassin/Pnadolfi 2010). Further, crisis imaginaries are often organized around the use and abuse of catch-words in international development such as «failed states» (Bilgin & Morton 2002. Call 2008, Kosmatopoulos 2012) and «security risks» (Goldstein 2010). With the help of crisis imaginaries, experts in media, politics and the economy, based mostly in the Global North, tend to portray the Mediterranean region as the perfect antithesis of the essential West. This new version of post-colonial ‘Othering’ can be said to open the way for new versions of what Edward Said called Orientalism (Said 1978), and which, in the case of the Balkans, has been succinctly described by Maria Todorova (1997). On the face of these developments, the Mataroa meeting seeks to pose the question whether- after Orientalism and Balkanism – dominant expert discourses on crisis pave the path towards a new Mediterraneanism.

The Mataroa Meeting 2013, entitled “Against Crisis – For the Commons,” seeks to investigate the extent to which crisis imaginaries and their practical uses rather hamper than advance our thorough understanding of contemporary global condition. It suggests that we should regard crisis not as an objective contemporary condition or a temporary rupture, but as a powerful discourse that introduces a new regime of Foucauldian governmentality (Burchell, Gordon, and Miller 1991). Thus, we call for a critical deconstruction of ‘crisis’ by all means possible. The meeting seeks to account for the uses and the abuses of ‘crisis’ in – and especially upon – the region, bearing in mind that the notion tends to become a quasi-autonomous domain of knowledge and that serves to strengthen what Timothy Mitchell has called “the rule of experts” (Mitchell 2002) over populations. This meeting is driven by the conviction that recent developments in the new Mediterranean have – unintentionally — turned the region into a uniquely promising space for rethinking some of our basic tools, theories, and methodologies. This is especially true because the region is currently serving as the laboratory for experiments in important domains of modern government: economy, social welfare, (bio-)security, border control, peacemaking/-keeping, humanitarianism, (para-)state building.

II. Commons and common futures

Long before “crisis” officially arrived in the region, quotidian struggles against austerity, injustice and state repression were and still continue to take place at thousand levels and across the borders of the region.These struggles revolve to a great extent around the issue of natural commons (e.g. water, forests, mountains) and civic commons (e.g. workers’ rights, public health, public education).For example, these struggles include the mobilization of rural communities around the region for the protection and self-organization of their natural resources threatened by commercialization and privatization; the proliferation of self-organized centers of mutual aid and popular committees of solidarity, clandestine trade unions and shadow networks of fair trade and social pharmacies; the mushrooming of squats for the homeless and the unemployed in big cities and of self-supported initiatives for radical thought everywhere; the political use of public spaces and squares as sites of direct democracy and popular emancipation (Stavridis 2011).

Recent efforts by social scientists to theorize the notions of the commons have been very popular (Massimo De Angelis 2003; Schofield et al. 2010; Reid and Taylor 2010). In this context, novel approaches put forward by evolutionist economists, that suggest re-orientation towards “a-growth” or “de-growth” (Van den Bergh and Kallis 2012) advocate for changes in policy based on environment-friendly uses of the common resources. Other suggest a move from crisis to commons altogether (Midnight Notes Collective 2009).

We follow these debates closely and do not regard the ongoing struggles for the commons merely as moments of resistance against a raging neo-liberalism. Instead, we intend to look at them within the historical examples of ‘commoners’, the villagers in England and elsewhere who have fought against the ‘enclosures of the commons’ that introduced the primary accumulation of common land by landowners in the late Middle Ages. In general, it is our conviction that in the midst of this contemporary context of savage neo-liberalism and expulsion, the commons are emerging as a serious potentiality for social, economic and environmental justice, but also as a concept to think new theories to organize our lives and our environment.

III. Ikaria Island and the tradition of commons

The island of  Ikaria has a long tradition of communal management of natural resources (Koumbarou, 2002), and the island’s recent history has been marked by marginalization by the state – mainly for political and economic reasons, which often coincide with the identification with the capitalist Other (i.e. Communists). Today, amidst rampaging crisis in Greece, Ikaria features more and more in the international news, such as in the New York Times, yet in rather essentialist terms (e.g. Buettner 2012). Against the habit of portraying the island as a paradise of idleness (which in fact inverts the common stereotype about Greece in general only to place it in a positive light), we seek to connect the long history of the island’s commons, not only with longevity (Lawler 2012), but most importantly, with current local struggles of the commons. All in all, the Mataroa meeting aims at bringing together people with diverse backgrounds but with shared experiences on thinking/acting against the crisis and thinking/struggling for the commons. Either drawing from critical theories or from experiences of struggles for the commons, participants will have a chance to discuss and debate ideas and exchange knowledge. This meeting seeks to contribute to the ongoing discussion on the ways we can re-think about the crisis and the struggles for the commons.

References 

Agamben, G. (2005). State of Exception. Trans. Kevin Attell. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Van den Bergh, Jeroen C. J. M., and Giorgos Kallis (2012). “Growth, A-Growth or Degrowth to Stay Within Planetary Boundaries?” Journal of Economic Issues (M.E. Sharpe Inc.) 46(4): 909–919.

Bilgin, P., & Morton, A. D. (2002).”Historicising representations of’failed states’: beyond the cold-war annexation of the social sciences?”. Third World Quarterly23(1), 55-80.

Buettner, Dan (2012). “The Island Where People Forget to Die”. The New York Times, October 24. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/28/magazine/the-island-where-people-forget-to-die.html

Burchell, Graham, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller (1991). The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Calhoun, Craig (2004). “A World of Emergencies. Fear, Intervention, and the Limits of Cosmopolitan Order”. The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, 41(4): 373-395.

Call, Charles T. (2008). “The fallacy of the ‘Failed State’.” Third World Quarterly 29.8: 1491-1507.

De Angelis, Massimo (2003). “Reflections on Alternatives, Commons and Communities”. The Commoner 6: 1–14.

Goldstein, D. M. (2010). “Toward a critical anthropology of security”. Current Anthropology51(4), 487-517.

Koumbarou Dimitra, 2002, The Regime of Communal Property:The Case of the Randi Forest at Ikaria Island. PhD Thesis, Mytilene, University of Aegean, Department of Environmental Studies. 

Kosmatopoulos, Nikolas (2011). “Toward an Anthropology of’ State Failure’: Lebanon’s Leviathan and Peace Expertise”. Social Analysis55(3), 115-142.

Lawler, Kristin (2012). “The Politics of Austerity and the Ikarian Dream”. Slackerpoliticshttp://slackerpolitics.com/2012/11/16/pleasure-politics-and-ikarian-dreams

Midnight Notes Collective (2009). Promissory Notes: From Crises to Commons.

Mitchell, Timothy (2002). Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.

Reid, Herbert, and Betsy Taylor (2010). Recovering the Commons: Democracy, Place, and Global Justice. University of Illinois Press.

Said, Edward (1978). Orientalism. New York: Pantheon.

Schofield, Paul N., Janan Eppig, Eva Huala, et al. (2010). “Sustaining the Data and Bioresource Commons”. Science 330(6004): 592–593.

Stavridis, Stavros (2011). Public Space as Commons in: Paraskevaidoy and Senova, (eds.) Uncovered.

Taylor, Charles (2002). “Modern social imaginaries.” Public Culture. Vol. 14, No. 1. pp. 91-123.

Todorova, Maria ((1997). Imagining The Balkans. Oxford: Oxford University Press.