Politics, theory and practice

When we consider the manner in which human collectives take decisions or establish norms, we tend to think of these phenomenons as belonging to the discrete domain of the political. This conception is inherited from the social organization of ancient Greeks, which was centered around city-states (polis) where the assembly of the citizens was understood as the source of all authority in managing public affairs (politiká, or literally “the affairs of the city”). The notion of the political still evokes the exercise of and the negotiations around “government”, understood as a key subset of people and institutions with the power and legitimacy to enforce norms and decisions onto a broader society. This picture seems especially convincing today, since the social and material infrastructure of modern States enable an unprecedented level of centralization in decision taking - although this power can lie in the hands of pluralistic elected parliaments as well as those of authoritarian strongmen. To participate in public affairs, it appears, reduces to influencing the decisions of those in power through public debate, voting, demonstration, or revolution.

Yet, each human action participate in constructing the landscape of cultural norms and expectations in which social activity occurs : all action prefigures the emergence of one world or of another. In consequence, we must understand the variety of human organizations that don’t revolve around influencing or opposing current governmental forms and institutions as “political” in their own right. Throughout the world, we can observe variety of arrangements pertaining to resource distribution and appropriation, land use, energy management, information processing and communication that don’t neatly align with currently existing governmental or state mechanisms. In particular, “commoning” emerges interculturally as a robust way to manage shared resources through shared norms regarding the use of those resources, which do necessitate the concentration of power in central administration or individual landlords. This is especially true for the economy of knowledge, as (unlike with material goods) producers can typically reproduce the product of their work at minimal cost to themselves and therefore rely on unconditional cooperation to cement economic reciprocity relationships. Such “alternative” institutions - whether traditional, innovative, or both - still exist within a context dominated by States and other centralizing administrations. Therefore, they tend to build symbiotic relationships with centralizing institutions, attempt to avoid their influence altogether, or enter direct conflict with them.

Kairos aims to probe the historical dynamics defined by centralizing institutions and their competitors, while staying away from the simplistic dichotomies of human vs environment, markets vs state, democracy vs autocracy, or people vs elites. Generally, we attempt to question the modern notion that government represent the will of their citizens, rather than pursuing their own agendas while trying to produce legitimacy through ideological mobilization. By contrast, we would like to understand the emerging forms of collective action and coordination in the Anthropocene, and to do so we document existing movements both within and at the margins of centralizing institutions - be they authoritarian neoliberals, reactionary movements, left-wing populists, cults, cartels, rural insurrection armies, collectives of hackers, 3D printing experts and guerillas gardeners, or homesteaders. We experiment ourselves with the possibilities of self-organization through our own activity as a decentralized knowledge-oriented collective, with the intent of using our own case as a way to gauge the possibilities of decentralized organization and draw general insight into the more general problem of collective action. In doing so, we try to cartography the space of plausible futures and gauge how we can push the scales toward the most desirable ones.

Our research talks

  • 2023 October 20 : “Identity capture in the Unification Church - An Active Inference account of power”, Research conference, at the Societies in Historical and Comparative Perspective conference, by Avel GUÉNIN–CARLUT.

This article was updated on October 23, 2023