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An International Conference

Université Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense, December 6-7, 2012


Key note speakers:

Judith Revel

Paolo Virno (tbc)

Giorgio Vasta

Maurizio Lazzerato (tbc)


Call for Papers

This international conference is the third and last in a cycle of conferences that started last year in Amsterdam, and continued at Chapel Hill (USA) in May 2012, and is part of the international research project Precarity and Post- autonomia: the Global Heritage, funded by NWO (The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) which involves several Dutch universities (Universiteit Leiden/ Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam, Universiteit van Amsterdam, Universiteit Utrecht) in collaboration with two North-American Universities (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) and the University of Paris Ouest Nanterre La Défense. The project aims at stimulating the debate on today’s developments in “autonomist” movements, born mainly from Italy’s workers movements during the Seventies, and to connect these currents with a broader reflection on the topic of precarity within globalized capitalism.

The title of the conference originates in a newspaper article by the young Sicilian writer Giorgio Vasta in which he unpacks the identikit of the new generations. Vasta feels that those born in the 1970s, the 1980s and the 1990s, have grown up with the perception of the ‘end of the present’ and of the present as the ‘end’. If this impossibility or incapacity of having a perspective is proper to today’s youth, then this, says Vasta, should become their stronghold: “Because if our connotation is uncertainty – alienation not as an anomaly but as a permanent experience of the real – in that case it becomes fundamental to not turn uncertainty into an alibi but to use it as a tool for knowledge. To have the courage of uncertainty” (La Repubblica, 6-10-2009).

This uncertainty mentioned by Vasta is synonymous with crisis, with a two-faced precarity that therefore becomes ambivalent and that is not longer recomposable into a dialectical object. On the one hand the condition of economic insecurity, caused by the traumatic consequences of so-called labour “flexibility” in globalized capitalism, reduces the subject to a (biopolitical) state of permanent precarity. On the other hand, however, the claim of an identity that is precarious and resistant at the same time, and which is located outside and against the capitalist system, would entail that there still exists a margin from which we can pronounce a cultural critique. If we move our attention towards the ‘creative industries’, these seem to have incorporated precarity as a mode of cultural production. If this is true, the question is to determine the margin of “relative heteronomy” acceptable to survive economically without sacrificing artistic liberty. This could be a way to consider initiatives such as the Coordination des intermittents et précaires d’Ile de France in France and the occupation of the Valle Theatre in Rome, supported by the Generation TQ, the movement of cognitive laborers between thirty-forty ( One may ask what type of autonomy is envisioned by the artists’ resistance against capitalism and if their confinement to an “autonomous” margin could lead, on the contrary, towards the depoliticization of the aesthetic of the avant- gardes? What does marginality mean if we start from a general precarization of public and private space? In the past decade, art institutions and academic contexts have become privileged spaces for conversations concerning both the (partly subversive) knowledge of the precarious, and a search for commons (in order to constitute the political). As for academic contexts, a reference can be made to EduFactory (, a transnational collective that focuses on conflicts and transformation of the university.

Narratives of precarity express two components: that of an inquiry of and a charge against post-Fordist society, and that of the creation of a new kind of precarious ontology. The case-study of Italy seems particularly interesting because it offers the opportunity to analyze the palimpsest both of a history of long duration, transmitted by (post)autonomous workers movements and radical thought in 1970s Italy, and a recent history of social movements that starts from the (tragic) events of the G8 summit at Genoa (2001) – but many other countries and movements must be taken into account, from the first EuroMayDay parade (2001), to the Madrid-based feminist activist group “Precarias a la deriva” (2004), to the transnational indignados movement (2011, Spain) and to the Occupy movement.

The intention of the conference is thus to establish a link between transnational narratives of precarity – narrative in the broad sense of storytelling, including various representational and performative arts in prose and in poetry – and different types of cultural activism. The central question is whether such cultures of resistance, when embedded within art institutions or social movements, do not risk becoming expressions of containment policies, of strategies of ‘governmentality’ (Foucault) that conforms the precarious subject to the cultural logic of capitalism. If the absence of dialectics allows instead for a multidirectional relationship between object and subject, the question is whether this ambivalence of precariousness may become a new way of being that invites an artistic and political revisioning of cultural activism operating at the margins. Therefore the conference also questions whether the ways of creating narratives, and indeed forms of representation of precarity, undergo the same dynamics as the biopolitical subject. Language itself is put into a state of precariousness, and comes to war with itself.


Topics include but are not limited to:

            -­‐  Aesthetics of precarity in arts and in social movements

            -­‐  Forms of cultural activism

            -­‐  Cultural “events” of precarity

            -­‐  Precarity and memory

            -­‐  The luxury of precarity? Whose precarity?

            -­‐  The aesthetization of precarity

            -­‐  Precarity and new forms of cultural production (i.e. the ‘creative industries’)

            -­‐  Precarization as constituent power

            -­‐  Precarity and new forms of local, regional or global ethics of ‘relationality’

            -­‐  A ‘geo-aesthetics’ of precarity 


The languages of the conference are English, French, and Italian.

Abstracts of about 200 words together with a brief biography should be sent before 09/20/2012 to the following two Email addresses: /  

Acceptance of proposals will be communicated by 10/15/2012. 

Scientific Project and Organization: Silvia Contarini (Paris Ouest Nanterre) and Monica Jansen (UtrechtUniversity).

In collaboration with: Luca Marsi and Christophe Mileschi (Université Paris Ouest Nanterre); Judith Revel (Université Paris 1) NWO partners: Vincenzo Binetti (University of Michigan, Ann Arbor), Joost de Bloois (University of Amsterdam), Silvia Contarini (Université Paris Ouest, Nanterre La Défense), Frans-Willem Korsten (Leiden University/Erasmus University Rotterdam), Federico Luisetti (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill), Monica Jansen (Utrecht University).

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