Marshall Sahlins at CUNY Graduate Center — Common(s) Course — Week 2

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Monday — 09.23.13 – Marshall Sahlins at CUNY Graduate Center —
Common(s) Course — Week 2

0. About Monday
1. Useful Readings
2. Notes from the First Meeting
3. Additional Notes

0. About Monday

What: Field Trip – Discussion – Week 2 of Common(s) Course
Pt. 1 5:00-6:30pm talk by Marshall Sahlins at CUNY (Room 9204)
Pt. 2 6:45-8:15pm post lecture conversation (Room 6107)
Where: CUNY Graduate Center, 5th Ave. and 34th Street
Who: Free and open to all, bring a form of ID

This week, as a part of the common(s) course, we will be meeting at CUNY Graduate Center instead of 16 Beaver to attend a talk by anthropologist Marshall Sahlins entitled: “The Alterity of Value and Vice Versa” at the Graduate Center (CUNY).

Following the talk, we will have a second meeting of our common(s) course, which will take place on the 6th floor. If all goes according to plan, we will also be joined by two guests and intermittent contributors to the common(s) course , David Graeber and Michael Taussig. It would be great if people can bring a light cup of their own, something to eat or drink for this part of the session to share with others.

As we mentioned in the meeting on Monday, though we see each encounter as an important part of developing this inquiry into commoning the city and withdrawing from the community of money, these first sessions are attempts to try and introduce the inquiry and build up a conversation together and begin getting to know each other.

We look forward to seeing everyone who can make it this Monday. For everyone else, who cannot attend this week, we look forward to seeing you the following Monday at 16 Beaver, at 5:15. We will also be posting a summary and audio, if possible from the meeting.

1. Useful Readings

On the culture of material value and the cosmography of riches
By Marshall Sahlins

It is value that brings universes into being
By David Graeber

Also …

Journal of Ethnographic Theory, Special Issue on Value as Theory
Part 1
Part 2

The Original Affluent Society (From Stone Age Economics)
By Marshall Sahlins

Stone Age Economics
By Marshall Sahlins

Waiting for Foucault, Still
By Marshall Sahlins

Marshall Sahlins Essay Collection

2. Notes from the first meeting

We were excited by the large group which came at such short notice and humbled by the generosity everyone showed to enter a speculative space of thought and debate in the midst of our attempts to invent new forms of political resistance and common(s) life.

We will be posting audio from the meeting and useful readings also on our website this coming week. Below, we add notes put together by two
contributors to last week’s discussion. However imperfect, we will try to post some notes from each week to keep some trace of our movements and conversations.

Monday Sept. 16, 2013

Introduces the work of the preceding weeks and overall commoning project. What is the intention? Raises the critical point is to make these
questions practicable in our lives.
Opening remarks. We are here testing something together: to go beyond speculative research, and explore other mode of exchange and practices of commoning in the city and in our lives.
Tried to write something about money but it became a poem.
[reads a poem]
How to think money without money subsuming thought?
Maybe within the thought of “money” itself a horizon of non-capitalist life might begin to emerge . . .

Money is thinking through us – this changes the kind of people we are:: i.e. money is shaping and constituting what we imagine as possible. Money colonizes our lives and thought.
How to counter-act this. We can try to experiment in our own lives. One possibility is to explore different systems of exchange, including one developed in Argentina by friends (bioecon)

What can we think about in terms of abolishing money? Is it a viable question? What would it look like?
What are the alternatives? [Existing social relations.]

Gifting – can it reproduce inequality? Questions also around exploitation and abuse from gifting.
Domestic workers describe how gifting can produce exploitation – what social relation emerges out of projects which flee exchange?
Examples of communities with unique forms of exchange, not money. Anti-capitalist struggle.
Exchange value, inequality, stratification.
She also discussed Bio-econ, a potential ground we may experiment with non monetary exchange – where wealth “oxidizes” – cannot be stored over a period of time and therefore accumulation is impossible.

How has money developed a particular practice over centuries? Philosophy behind this development. Money thinking through us. 17c – 20c and the end of coinage.
Looking at philosophers: David Hume, John Locke. Berkeley. [Make us philosophers in our discussion].
Post-2008 is like the 1890s and emergence of populist movements. They were asking what is money? And I see this as a parallel moment.

If money structures social relations how do we reexamine, or reimagine, transform these social relations, how do we look at the social relations so that they are not determined by money? “The community of money” is insulting to life: isn’t this the community we are living in?

If our life and our dignity has been assaulted by money, how do we recuperate it?

Withdrawing from the community of money. [An interesting and suitable notion].

Always had an interest in money, role in Marx’s critique of political economy. Got impatient with various representation of Marx’s idea of money. Hard to figure out what his position is exactly on what money is (it is unclear).
Organized a seminar on money last semester.
History of the money form/dynamics of it/consequences.

Critical issues arose:
1. Value in Marx is social labor – as such it is immaterial and therefore has no material representation. An immaterial notion of social value which “cries out” for a material representation – that representation becomes MONEY.
2. Money should have a physical property – metals – silver and gold.
3. Social value had a strong anchoring in its commodification. 4. Eventually gets replaced by “fiat” monies – paper money etc. 5. Labor is social relation.

Meta-representations emerge when the material representation doesn’t circulate. I.e. when material is directly tied to value – gold, silver – accumulation is impeded because it doesn’t circulate. Ever more abstract forms – “meta”-forms of representation, increasingly divorced from the material and local value as social labor and social relation, therefore emerge.

We are living the endpoint of this (neoliberalism as hyperb extreme) 6. Fiat money can be appropriated by private persons. As a store of value.
7. Representation of social value.
8. Marx comes up with a layering of the money form – first is social labor – then gold – then fiat monies – which underpins the credit system. They each perform different functions.
9. Autonomous and independent but subsumed within the capitalist system.
10. Layering of bailouts.
11. From 1968-73, global monetary system de-metalized.
12. Money changes – money as a fetish form.

Paris Commune – they protected the Bank of France. Big mistake – lacunae in left thinking – what to do with the monetary form at the point of revolution. Money becomes a restitution or remnant of a past order.


Ben interjects – objects to a long discussion of Marx. Objects to the use of Marx as an authority. Marxism is the flip side of the materialist coin and flip side of capitalism. [Ben lived without money for 5 years] Speaks of indigenous experiences. And other points of references.

Rene – contextualizes David’s discussion of Marx in the spirit of
different attempts to introduce arriving to the question of money. And speaks of David’s work to also bring a spatial analysis to Marxist critique.

Francis – Where are there other discussions of money? Dante, Aristotle.

Harout – Ben’s intervention is important to understand in the context of what he and others in his family lived also in the urban context here in new york in the 60s.

Rene – tension between social relations and inquiry around money.

Ron – Heilbroner – makes an important point that through the middle ages, money played only a minor point in societies. In the middle ages – two things that were never commodities became commodities – land and people (labor).

Cindy brings up the question of Ben’s interruption as violence.

Violence versus interruption is discussed, as well as the necessity to sometimes interrupt.

Rene – Patience in the group. 16B has always been a space of generosity.

Cindy – would like to hear David continue.

Noemi – our planet is dying. We might have to think from the perspective of caring for life. The land and natural resources and our social relations etc. are all things that we sell. We need to be talking globally.

A critical point is the complexity of urban commoning: a certain “mixture” is needed. . . The world is in fact dying . . . a blending of perspectives (“marxist”, anarchist, permacultural, etc.) is needed.

Rene – on this space. Hybrid structure – inviting people who have some specialty to share their research and then having a moment of more horizontal discussion.

Yates – what are we getting into, how do we move it beyond an academic space?

Potential Method: everyone has an ‘experiential basis’ on which to enact a non-capitalist life. Describe our experiences.

David – Disagrees with Ben and says that Marx has been very important for his understanding of how capital functions. Even if we may disagree with his solutions.

The two big questions, to summarize:

Why do we live in a world that is being increasingly monetized? Education, health care, etc. Housing prices – who is getting all the rent? Monetary calculus is getting increasingly important.

What are the alternatives? 7bn people on Earth. Exchange mechanisms are important. Access to basic life needs. Exchange value dominates use value. What might the alternatives look like?

How do we organize production and consumption so we get the things we need?

How do we change NYC so it becomes livable?

How do we “reverse” the urban space’s saturation with the money form – if rentiers occupy spaces according to very specific determinants, according to embedded internalizations of the “money form” as such, then how in a larger frame can we make, for instance, new york city livable again, as a paradise?

The film being shown at Film Forum, Le joli mai provides an example of how Parisians in 1962 are forced into little cubicles, and how communal life in the city is atomized and this process only deepened its reach in the following decades, how to reverse it?

Sure, urban communing is “complex”, but we have the technology to provide electricity for an entire city block for free.

How do we re-envision this technology so that this is possible?

How do we envision a “non-capitalist life”?

Rather than flight to another place to live according to communing principles (e.g. the Dominican Republic) or look to a kind of survival of nostalgia for an “intertwined neighborliness”, or a permaculture principle applied to a rural commune, how do we create or recreate this in the urban field? This is a critical question . . .

At a certain point a factory occupation – or factory labor – would have been the issue: the fact that money itself is the issue is a tangential leap . . . but how would a factory occupation have an analogue today?

Perana asks a question about whether our inquiry will also address questions of monetary policy.

The question is not about “policy”, it is about abolition and
alternatives, in a similar way to the question of abolishing prisons arises. What structures are necessary for this?
The question is where we want to concentrate our political energies, this is fine. We cannot do it all at once.

What forms does this take?

Quantitative easing has propped up wall street and is giving a
disportionate segment of the population a great concentration of wealth..

Or, perhaps this is too big of an issue:

Time sharing? How do we grow and systematize this? Through bioecon?

The point is that there are many political projects that could come out this …

In this we must find our affinity, and each must be articulated …

Solidarity economies, workers co-ops. How do we create a monetary form that can sustain these initiatives?

Patrick – how did the group come to focus on money – not labor or other issues related to capitalism.

Rene – The horizon is one of a common world and different social
relations. And if inquiring into money is a part of rethinking existing social relations, how they are traversed by money, and how we might outlive those types of relations.

Patrick – the critique of capital and money – how has that changed with media and new technologies? There are many examples, from McLuhan to more contemporary thinkers.

We tried to end abruptly so that we can keep them enjoyable and able to sustain on a weekly basis.

3. Additional Notes

– We are asking ourselves: can an inquiry into our existing and desired for social relations, also become a form of political activity and open up to different experiments and experiences in the fabric of the city?

– Why is every facet of life and in equal force, our relations with others, becoming monetized or dictated by money or some form of promissory note, credit, debt, capital, … ? And what kinds of everyday practices and social relations can alter, resist, and disrupt the forces of money and capital? And how do these social relations dictated by money rely on other forms of domination, exclusion, and violence? Moreover, if these processes of monetization involve enclosing upon existing common(s), then how can that common(s) be reclaimed not as an end or promise, but as the very premise or means of struggle – common(s) as verb, as activity?

And it is in this context, that commoning the city and withdrawing from the community of money meet:

– The role and function of money in different contexts, both historical and contemporary.
– Examining existing social relations and their overdetermination through the expanding monetization and financialization of everything.
– Understanding the perpetuation and exploitation of existing forms of domination, coloniality, patriarchy, and racism through the power vested in money.
– Investigating existing and potential forms for resisting, undoing and withdrawing from monetization processes and the relations they presuppose, through alternative modes of exchange and/or forms of communization, sharing, or commoning.
– Inquiring into and experimenting with processes, which could orient toward social relations not determined by dynamics of hierarchy or even exchange.

– We meet and ask, without any preconceptions or accepting any naturalized response:
Why are supposedly ‘free’ people born as debtors?
Why do so many people in the so-called developed parts of the world have to equate living with money? And to be rich to have access to non-toxic food and non-toxic housing? Why is this the standard of ‘development’ that is being imposed globally?
Why is money seen as a means of liberation when all that it implies is materially more connected to slavery?
How has money colonized thought and imagination?
Why and how has a professed means of facilitating transaction and exchange emerged today as the bearer and executor of life? So much so that nearly no existing social and political organization today can think of sustainability outside the register of money.

– Beside overcoming the separation of knowledge and action, we will have to collectively overcome our imagination of what a collective inquiry can be or become. How can we create encounters and conversations, which at once have the speculative qualities of an intellectual inquiry, the aesthetic force of sparking the imaginary, and with equal force the qualities and urgency of a political meeting or gathering.

– That contemporary education has become more and more impotent against this avalanche of monetization of all life, if not one of its very instruments is not outside our reflection. It is exactly why today a proliferation of groups are attempting to inquire and critique these processes while building up common spaces which can cultivate the
multi-faceted character of learning experiences able to exceed the knowledge/work matrix.

– Sites of ‘knowledge production’ have been rendered impotent today by being used either as instruments for forces of monetization and militarization or as sites of pacifying and rendering irrelevant any resistance to those forces. Inside many universities and cultural institutions (by the very circumstances of orienting thought exclusively toward ‘professional’ or ‘vocational’ domains and under increasing pressures of monetization) knowledge is being ‘produced’ and ‘accumulated’ to normalize, advance, and glorify the violence that communities of money believe is necessary to underwrite their relations (of force and purported exchange) and forms of life. But if knowledge was a premise for
emancipation, and ‘profession’ cannot be the path of emancipation, and indebtedness is not the path of emancipation, then what kind of knowledge can reconfigure itself toward emancipatory processes? What form can the sharing and generation of that knowledge take? What kinds of spaces can be created to allow this kind of knowledge not only to be shared, but also to be put into play in everyday life?

– That education and learning have become increasingly instruments of military and economic interests is perfectly embodied in the context of this week’s meeting at CUNY. Earlier this year, Marshall Sahlin’s withdrew from the National Academy of Sciences, in part because of the military research projects of the Academy. Additionally, as most of you may know, an Ad Hoc Committee Against the Militarization of CUNY has been formed and has been involved in organizing against the appointment of ex-general and ex-CIA chief Petraeus. This week’s student protests were interrupted by an outburst of violence from police, assaulting and arresting six students, prompting a large group of students and faculty to sign a letter supporting the students actions, condemning the actions of the police and asking for charges against students to be dropped, and CUNY to terminate Petraeus’ appointment.

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