The Operative Commons: urban land in the age of biopolitical production

William Conroy

November 2018


This presentation analyzes the politics of land in contemporary Chicago. Empirically, it looks at efforts to re-commodify vacant land in the South Side neighborhood of Englewood, and at the ongoing gentrification of the lower-West Side neighborhood of Pilsen. In doing so, it follows a dialectical structure, arguing that both cases represent moments in the same process. That is, it argues that in Englewood we see efforts by planners and developers to produce the “biopolitical commons” for the sake of future land commodification; and in Pilsen we see the enclosure of the commons – many of which are only considered valuable because of past moments of biopolitical subjectification – through processes of gentrification. The main theoretical argument put forward in relation to this set of empirical processes stands in contrast to the claim that post-Fordist capital simply expropriates wealth that is autonomously produced by/in the urban commons (see Hardt and Negri 2017). That is, it suggests that in locales of racialized "ontological devaluation" (like Englewood and Pilsen) – which have emerged as such due to the ontological hierarchies of racial capitalism – capital plays an active role in the attempted production of new subjectivities, affects, and modes of collective sociality, for the sake of enclosure and accumulation. Finally, it will close by discussing the ways in which these processes have been resisted, with a particular focus on practices of "counter-commoning," and on the articulation of counter-normative ontologies and their implications.