December 2, 2023 → Who Are We #12 Collective Frictions and Fictions, Urbane Praxis Lobby & Uferstudios, Berlin

„If commoning has a meaning, it must be the production of ourselves as a common subject” — Federici, 2019

The first part of ‘Collective Frictions and Fictions’ took place on September 8th at Mehringplatz, just a few months after the founding of the ‘Revolutionäre Anwohner*in- nenrat’, a neighbourhood initiative that is demanding the right to the square after years of construction, changing ownership and disinvestment that have left the post-war settlement in a state of disrepair. Nina Peters and Kristin Lazarova from Urbane Praxis invited us to engage with the notions of urban commons and commoning. These words are on the lips of many of us engaged in urban practice, but what do we mean when we talk about ‘commons’ or its verbal translation, ‘commoning’? Answering this question collectively turned out not to be easy: there are many frictions, contradictions, misunderstandings and misuses behind these terms. But finding answers is crucial, as Silvia Federici says: „Ambiguous and significant differences remain in the interpretation of this concept that we need to clarify if we want the principle of the commons to translate into a coherent political project“ (2019).

We looked at the academic discourse on the commons (e.g. Elinor Ostrom, 2009) and its critique: the variation on the agential dimension of commoning (e.g. Peter Linebaugh, 2009), the divergent strategies of nation-states acting for the so-called ‚common good‘ versus indigenous communities acting to protect their lands (Marisol de la Cadena and Mario Blaser speak of ‚uncommons‘, 2017), or the claims from the margins of the ‚undercommons‘ (Stefano Harney and Fred Moten, 2016). In Berlin, Nina Fräser and her colleagues at the Technical University, engaged in the research project ‘Mit Recht und jenseits des Rechts. Feministische Perspektiven auf Urban & Housing Commons’, published a plaidoyer for a feminist approach to the analysis of the commons. Such critical perspective makes patriarchal and colonial continuities visible, while questioning the commoners’ practise: “who has the time and energy to deal with them, which contributions are considered important, but also who does the emotional care work (…)” (Fräser et al., 2022).

Vera Hofmann helped us to prepare the ground for productive discussions and conversations, sharing her impressions as co-editor of the book “Commoning Art. Die transformativen Potentiale von Commons in der Kunst” (Transcript: 2022): What defines commons? What are the structural and organisational implications of commoning? And who takes care of the reproductive work behind them?

Nina Prader, librarian at Lady Liberty Press & Library accompanied us on a journey across different feminist struggles, shedding light on publishing activities as a means to change public space and express claims and demands for commons.

Explosive drinks and fragmented bites, provided and performatively initiated by Ayscha Omar, sparked conversations on the legacy of struggles for the commons in Berlin and elsewhere: starting from our own experiences, we imagined how to bring the learnings into our practices, how to become “a common subject”.

In this second event, which took place on 2 December at the Uferhallen, we continued our research. Josephine Findeisen’s choreographic practice examines socio-economic realities and their influence on moving bodies. In doing so, Josephine addresses proletarian perspectives and explores the intersections of class, gender and the body. Josephine offered a collective reading of Nancy Fraser’s foreword to the publication ‘Öffentlicher Luxus’ (communia, BUNDjugend, ed.: 2023) entitled ‘Mit Öffentlichem Luxus gegen den Allesfresser’ and guided us through anatomical exercises and dance scores to address the issue through our bodies in movement, as individuals and as a community.

A festive banquet by Ayscha Omar closed the workshop, while a lot of questions on the sense of common still remain open:

What do you mean when you are talking about the commons? Do you think that your definition is shared by most people? What is the difference between the commons as a noun and commoning as a verb? If I say commoning, what is the first place you think about? Is there a struggle for the commons or a commoning process that particularly inspires you? What is problematic about commons and commoning? Are you taking care of the reproductive work behind commoning? What kind of power relations persist in commoning processes? What heteronormative-patriarchal, or colonial continuities do you observe? Are queer and female people more affected by urban enclosures? Are they (because of this) more represented in the commons movement? “Women had historically been at the front of struggles for the commons.” Can we rely on their achievements? Or are we going to need some more fighting? How can feminist theories and approaches analyse and support struggles for the commons? Is there a continuity be- tween the urban commons and the rural commons? What can we learn from past struggles for the commons? Is commoning able to produce a collective subject or is it producing enclaves? (How) do you use the words commons and/or commoning in your practice?

→ Images

‘Collective Frictions and Fictions’ was a two-part workshop curated by Who Are We? and hosted by the Netzwerkstelle Urbane Praxis, funded by the Senate Department for Urban Development and and Housing.

upon invitation by: Nina Peters & Kristin Lazarova

contributions by: Vera Hofmann, Nina Prader, Ayscha Omar, Jenni Baus, Josephine Findeisen, Raquel Gómez Delgado

Who are We? is a discursive, self-reflexive event format that strives to accompany its participants’ independent spatial and artistic practices of sensible, urban transformation. Its first session happened in 2020 in Berlin. The initiative aims to encourage a discussion on collaborative organisations: Who belongs to them? What are the existing power structures? Which communication and decision-making cultures are prevailing?  Which projects, spaces, cities “we” design and build accordingly? How do they influence the way “our” city is produced and represented?

by: Licia Soldavini & Mascha Fehse