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Cities Methodologies 2012

Games Monitor was pleased to exhibit at UCL Urban Laboratory's Cities Methodologies in April 2012. This essay, entitled Grasping the Incommensurable: Coresearch and Politics as Immanent Experience, appeared on a display board with slide show of photography by Charlie Charman, Martin Slavin and Mike Wells, and computer terminal to access the website. Charman and Wells also spoke in a seminar on techniques of investigative and citizen journalism, freedom of information legislation, and detail of their investigations into excavation and disposal of contaminated and radioactive soil on the Olympic park site in Stratford.

London 2012 presents a performative mythology, the Olympic Games becomes (in the words of philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy [1991: 50]) 'communitarian articulation of mythic speech', effacing resistance of beings in common, and effecting division (of space and resources) (ibid: 50, 57–58). Invention/recitation of the Olympic narrative elevates '[h]umanity … on [to] the stage of myth, humanity being born to itself in producing myth – a truly mything humanity becoming truly human in this mythation: this forms a scene just as fantastical as any primal scene' (ibid: 46, 49). Nancy describes myth as 'autofiguration' (ibid: 54), designating 'the absence of that which it names' (ibid: 52). Our website, Games Monitor, emanating from the Lower Lea Valley, seeks to interrupt this mythologisation, and interrogate falsity of official representations: state PR but also policy statements and evasions.* Nancy has given a name to this interruption or writing, used here somewhat tongue-in-cheek: that of ‘literary communism’.

Our research process, never consciously stated, can be framed retrospectively as coresearch (conricerca). This aims to diminish separation of political and intellectual spheres, striving against normalising processes of capitalist hierarchy. Coresearch was praxis at the base of Italian autonomist journal Classe Operaia (1964–1967), and has been taken up more recently by organisations such as Kolinko (Germany), Colectivo Situaciones (Argentina), Precarias a la Deriva (Spain), Edu-factory (Italy), Zerowork, Midnight Notes, Counter-Cartography Collective and Team Colors (US)(CUNY 2009).

CUNY (ibid) cite historical antecedents of coresearch: Engel's Condition of the Working Class in England (1844) and Marx's Workers Inquiry (1880), US workers' research on labour struggles in the 1950s (CLR James, Martin Glaberman, Johnson-Forest Tendency), and militant inquiry initiated by another Italian journal, Quaderni Rossi (1961–1965; pioneered by Raniero Panzieri, Mario Tronti and Sergio Bologna).

This split between two autonomist journals is informative. Quaderni Rossi sought to innovate political and trade union culture (and practices of trade union organisation); Classe Operaia turned to 'the urgency for a political experiment in revolutionary autonomous workers' organisations' (Roggero 2011). Games Monitor, working in an extremely different political climate, eschews any attempt to 'improve' the Olympic project and processes (of consultation, planning and social policy frameworks etc). Rather, it can be described as a shared search for a viable way to shift conditions of prevailing hegemony, a negative conception.

How to situate the incommensurable? As an informal collectivity we produce counter discourses, support oppositions and alliances, and explore the 'materiality of social exclusion' (Stephenson and Papadopoulos 2006: 26). We attempt to militate against technocratic expression, complicity of local functionaries and much mainstream media. We approach the Olympic event, its discourses, construction, planning and outcomes, as a diversity of immanent experiences (ibid), that is as intrinsic to the everyday, continuous and lived; and 'aleatory', random, multiplying, contingent. Immanent experience is productive, a forceful process. Each one of us cultivates a different trajectory of research and action: photography, film making, journalism (investigative and citizen), policy analysis, planning objection, networking, technical expertise and social media activism; tarrying until spark lights, then immersed in obsession. We refuse all roles and representation (each one speaking for themselves), working from a multiplicity of subject positions and starting points. We have no overarching interpretation of events, our pronouncements may be contradictory; we alienate each other. Yet at the same time, while we experience research as process of subjectification, we move beyond the self towards the collective dimension. Stephenson and Papadopoulos (ibid) describe immanent experience as plastic, corrigible and sociable. Our discussions are intensive; somehow amid the collision of event, opinion and (in)action, the website gets made.

Games Monitor website (maintained by the core production group) and open discussion list are an extensive archive unique to the Olympic event, comprising two searchable databases (articles and news postings), extensive document archive, book reviews, blog, media contacts page and background papers. One might argue that the website institutionalises a process of media flux while invoking a memorial process (for instance, background papers attempt segmental narrative analysis; GM stories highlight research and inform on international developments), Twitter (amplification of the negative) provides the main website gateway along with Google search. Multiple entry points interpellate visitors to the site: the document archive hails researchers, background papers are written for students, the discussion list attracts the news junkie. Blog, latest and main stories keep the site up-to-date and engage a global audience. The beginner's guide attracts those with little time. The website aims to be a hub; we rely greatly on our supportive hinterland. Stories are gleaned from the news, erupt out of personal experience or are the result of intensive research, while others are crossposted (with permission) from critical sources. Humour, detail and analysis are our tactical weapons.

For Spinoza, collectivity is a process of increasing differentiation, of the production of singularities; beyond capture, refusing to become a normalising force (ibid: 128, 131–132).

'To do politics entails disidentification, refusing who one is supposed to be. Doing politics refigures the perceptible ... to make evident the incommensurability of worlds ... Politics in this sense is a refusal of representation ... Rethinking collectivity provides [one] way of pursuing this refusal, ... introducing the part which is outside, which is not a part of community' (ibid: 138).

The Olympic Games is a prima facie example of exclusionary force, bolstered by exceptionality measures. Matrix of exclusion works through discursification, effacement, material displacement and exploitation, along with extinction (of spaces and economies) (ibid: 25). For many, despite 'promises' made on behalf of the Olympic event, it precludes the capacity for people living locally to project on to the future, to actively structure desire in any form that does not cohere with the technocratic, moralising vision; effecting a loss of hope. As local residents, we experience a distortion rooted in our own materiality, an effect of disorientation (ibid: 44‚ 45). This 'elsewhere' is a desert we retreat to. It enables the logic of negativity – exodus, dissenting. As campaigners, therefore, we prioritise critique, not redistribitional assertions.

Tiqqun states: ‘The problem with demands is that, formulating needs in terms that make them audible to power, they say nothing about those needs, and what real transformations of the world they require ... But also, demands often end up masking the real conflicts whose stakes they set’ (undated: 29). As Stephenson and Papadopoulos suggest, we need to rearrange the conditions on which political projects are formulated. Games Monitor’s research and media reporting extends this process of experiment, of continuous negativity. Out of this comes a re-engagement: reversal of contemporary conditions, the sharing of effective means. Collectivity becomes one form of organisation of the secession (ibid: 37, 42).

Carolyn Smith, April 2012 (revised September 2020)

* For some reason. this crucial phrase changed during the editing process in 2016, suggesting instead our interest in challenging ‘notions of belonging’. While perfectly valid in itself as research objective – left politics in the UK (and also local government statements) often reduce legitimacy of claims on injustice to shallow assertions of ‘the local’ or ‘community’ – in the context of Games Monitor’s remit this assertion too is, essentially, false. ‘Belonging’ does, however, imply ‘the proper’, what might be considered correct in relation to the Games, such as celebration of sporting achievement or constructive participation. Or indeed (to contradict planning academic Libby Porter) ethical viability of opportunism in the context of displacement or securitisation.

CUNY Geography Department (2009). 'The politics and practice of militant and coresearch, autumn seminar’, republished here:
Nancy J-L (1991). The Inoperative Community, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.
Roggero G (2011). 'Organized spontaneity: class struggle, workers autonomy and soviets in Italy',
Stephenson N and Papadopoulos D (2006) Analysing Everyday Experience: Social Research and Political Change, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan
Tiqqun (undated) The Call.