Conceptual Cluster 3: Ecologies of Practice

by Fredrik T

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Psycho Buildings, Hayward Gallery, London, 2008

There is an ecology of bad ideas, just as there is an ecology of weeds, and it is characteristic of the system that basic error propagates itself. It branches out like a rooted parasite through the tissues of life, and everything gets into a rather peculiar mess. When you narrow down your epistemology and act on the premise “What interests me is me, or my organization, or my species”, you chop off consideration of other loops of the loop structure.” (Gregory Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Minds)

The first half of the first sentence above is the opening of Guattari’s The Three Ecologies. Bateson’s cybernetic ideals presumably provided inspiration for Guattari’s three ecologies. There are however fundamental differences. In Cybernetics, the world is construed as feedback loops in a giant system, and this system strives towards balance. It is a holistic structure encompassing all material aspects of the world, but it is fundamentally a system that focuses on nature (and to a great extent ignores culture) and universalism. While Guattari adopted the notion of ecologies and the interrelated systems, he strove to overcome this technocratic and in his eyes potentially fatal division between “nature” and “culture”. Instead, the notion of ecologies is expanded beyond that of the environment and incorporates both subjectivity and social relations. The resulting approach, which Guattari dubs ecosophy, is described as an “ethico-political articulation”.

Guattari outlines three ecological registers that form corner stones of ecosophical thinking: the environmental; the ecology of social relations; and the ecology of human subjectivity. The common principle of the three ecologies is “each of the existential Territories with which they confront us is not given as an in-itself, closed in on itself, but instead as a for-itself that is precarious, finite, finitized, singular, singularized, capable of bifurcating into stratified and deathly repetitions or of opening up processually from a praxis that enables it to be made ‘habitable’ by a human project.

The currently dominant ideology, which Guattari refers to as Integrated World Capitalism (IWC) is currently producing a dis-equilibrium that according to Guattari ultimately threatens human existence. Attempts to address this dis-equilibrium are invariably undertaken within a single ecology (for example, cybernetics focuses solely on balancing the environment, not on human subjectivity or social relations). IWC is however so integrated in our world, social relations and subjectivity – it is in fact monopolising the production of subjectivity, which leads to homogeneity – that any appropriate response to the capitalist system will have to be transversal, that is, it will have to cut across all three ecologies in order to confront capitalism.

In lieu of the holistic universal solution of the cybernetic discourse, Guattari is interested in the micropolitics, as opposed to macropolitics. Guattari’s social ecosophywill consist in developing specific practices that will modify and reinvent the ways in which we live as couples or in the family, in an urban context or at work, etc.” He calls for experimentation on a micro-social as well as institutional level; for the invention of alternatives; for exploration of the potential of heterogeneity and the production of subjectivity. The production of subjectivity is central to Guattari’s ecosophical thinking. One of the most problematic and fundamental problems created by IWC, as Guattari understands it, is that it has shifted its focus from the production of goods to the production of sign, syntax, and ultimately subjectivity. Guattari suggests that ecosophy will “target the means of production of subjectivity, that is, of knowledge, culture, sensibility and sociability”. Since capitalism is everywhere, it cannot be resisted from the outside – there is no longer any outside – but must instead be confronted in the cultivation of multitude, of dissensus (as opposed to consensus), and the “singular production of existence”.

Guattari propagates micropolitical and microsocial practices resisting homogenization through engaging in processes of heterogenesis (processes of continuous resingularization). “I am not proposing a ready-made model of society here, but simply the acceptance of a complete range of ecosophical components so as to institute, in particular, new systems of valorization.” These systems of valorization go beyond the “abstract labour-time” and “expected capitalist profit”. Instead of replacing one system with another, Guattari advocates “new poles of valorization”. Ecosophy aims to become “a multifaceted movement, deploying agencies and dispositives that will simultaneously analyse and produce subjectivity”. However, in order to evade the perpetual cycles of crises, we need to articulate: “a nascent subjectivity; a constantly mutating socius; an environment in the process of being reinvented”. The way to do so is through the application of transversal tools to install subjectivity in all three ecologies.