neil cummings

Public Body

17 Oct 2009

I will be participating in a Public Body Barcamp. 

On Saturday 17th October at 14:00 at the Nowy Wspanialy Świat, Ul. Nowy Świat 63, Warsaw, Poland.

Jointly facilitated by Critical Practice - a cluster of artists, researchers, academics and others hosted by Chelsea College of Art & Design, London - and Free/Slow University Warsaw -  a nomadic centre of interdisciplinary studies, critical reflection, and independent thinking about art and society - the Public Body Barcamp is an extension of Publicamp. The assembly will be concerned with notions of being-in-public, and aims to explore ideas about the public body.

The Public Body Barcamp aims to examine the relationships among singular and assembled bodies, what infrastructures are necessary to facilitate a public body, public knowledge, art, social practice and fields of action in public space.

BarCamps are an international network of user generated unconferences — open, participatory, and often thrilling workshop-events, whose content is provided by participants.

presentation They work like this: presentations are proposed in advance or on on-the-day by attendees. We then try, live and on-site to build themed 'sessions' or groups of related presentations using white/flip boards. All attendees are encouraged to present and share their expertise. At the moment we are thinking of 10 minute presentations, with 10 minutes for questions/discussion. We try and keep lots of notes (live scribe and blogging) and everyone is encouraged to share information and experiences of the event, both live and after the fact, via blogging, photo sharing, social bookmarking, wiki-ing, twitter, etc.

If you are in Warsaw, Saturday 17th October at 14:00 at the Nowy Wspanialy Świat (former Nowy Świat cafe), ul. Nowy Świat 63 and would like to participate; arrive early and sign-in on the day.

These are my notes I used for my contribution

When we were working on the ideas for the barcamp, it became clear;
That the British tradition of the thinking the public body, or the body-in-public is different from the North American and possibly European, and definitely - since talking with Kuba- the Polish tradition.

I think in Britain (or maybe it is just me) there is a simple notion of assembly.

That the constituted subject – legal, corporeal, authorial, whatever, is scaled-up (assembled) into public bodies.

At whatever scale - local, regional, national, or networked.

And that a public body, is not necessarily - the North American tradition?- a management organization of the state.

Something that is done to the subject

I  began to think why,
And looked at one of the foundational texts of political economy.

The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil,

by Thomas Hobbes published in 1651.

The book – its worth remembering, was written during the English Civil War - concerns the organization of society and legitimate government.

Its one of the earliest and most influential examples of social contract theory.

Hobbes saw in the chaos of civil war a condition he identified with what he called a ‘state of nature”

In this ‘State of Nature’ there is  "the war of all against all" where “every man has a right to everything, even to another’s body

and contains the famous quotation describing life in this state as

“the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short “

This situation could only be averted by a social contract –

An agreement to surrender our individual interests, in order to achieve a security that only a mutual existence can provide.

For Hobbes, the social contract, or covenant is

 “that a man be willing, when others are so too, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men as he would allow other men against himself. “

For Hobbes If people agree to this covenant, a commonwealth is instituted

The ‘commonwealth’ embodies a network of associated – social - contracts.
In Hobbes's view, the formation of the commonwealth creates a new, artificial person (the Leviathan) to whom responsibility for social order and public welfare is entrusted.

The famous frontispiece – the image of the Sovereign is composed of the bodies of the multitude

The sovereign has twelve principal rights: Which I will not enumerate, but the  principal is; in exchange for sovereignty, to protect those that give up the right to self-protection.

This is the social contract.

It’s a popular misunderstanding; that the commonwealth-creating covenant is a contract between subjects and their sovereign.

Actually: It is a contract among people, all of whom agree to subordinate their self-interest in order to secure the benefits of mutual peace, liberty and prosperity.

That's why  - in Hobbes's view - the minority who might prefer a different sovereign have no right of complaint - even though they have no respect for this particular sovereign, they are still bound by their contract with fellow-subjects.

The sovereign is nothing more than the institutional embodiment of an assembly of subjects – a public body, a body politic,

Hobbes identifies three types of commonwealth - monarchy, aristocracy and democracy.

“When the representative is one man, then is the Commonwealth a monarchy; when an assembly of all that will come together, then it is a democracy, or popular Commonwealth; when an assembly of a part only, then it is called an aristocracy. “    

either one, or more, or all, must have the sovereign power

Hobbes thinks monarchy is the best, on practical grounds:

I’m not sure I agree with the outcome –Monarchy, but Hobbes' logic and model is at the root of British political economy, and, almost hard wired into British consciousness

And this notion of a Sovereign public runs through many institutions – Common Law for example.

And for me connects to contemporary struggles over creativity, knowledge and resource manabement….

Re-animated through (technologically enabled) peer-to-peer processes,
Resources generated through the free cooperation of producers.
What kind of social contract is possible? Or, necessary?


Who have mutual access to distributed forms of capital – like creativity, innovation, enthusiasm, trust and respect, over vast distances, between individuals (perhaps) unknown to one another, and outside of conventional 'Sovereign' state or corporate structures

Love, trust, intimacy, resistance, difference

Aggregated knowledge, of a cognitive proletariat

A distributed Leviathan, a distributed Sovereign?

As is the fractal image of the subject assembled into the body politic, ANT?

But in this model of the Sovereign, what guarantees peace and security?
Constant War, war on terror?

The Public Body Barcamp evolved out of some earlier research into publicness we did in Warsaw, and you can read the letter of invitation to Parade, or read about a related walk into Value and Waste.

52.23701, 21.017902

Cafe Nowy Swiat
Nowy Świat 63

Submitted by neil on 12 October, 2009 - 17:34