Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity.
—Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
In the unique localities and temporalities of insu^tv’s Naples, I encounter a minor history of resistance within a minor history of Italian movements: a minor minor history with something that is hard to put to words but that goes back centuries and feeds the coming together of groups. It feeds their falling apart too. This something, at times ephemeral or nebulous, is not just a thing between a we or an us (our thing) but also the very thing that allows a movement to take shape and reshape. It is that which creates or breaks the social fabric, connecting groups with each other, providing distance and closeness, empathy, solidarity, and indifference. It makes friend, comrade, and frenemy in the face of adversity.
I can find no better word for this something than porosity—the porosity between groups that makes the difference between a crowd and an assemblage. This is a term already embedded in the history of Naples. Walter Benjamin described the informality of the city and creative make-do mentality of the Neapolitans as a kind of porosity, where adaptability (not a choice but a necessity) allows for new, unforeseen constellations. Benjamin observes that in Naples, “the stamp of the definitive is avoided. No situation appears intended forever. . . . Porosity results . . . from the passion for improvisation, which demands that space and opportunity be preserved at any price. . . . Porosity is the inexhaustible law of life in this city, reappearing everywhere” (Benjamin  1978, 171). In the contingency that Benjamin describes, anyone familiar with Naples can recognize not only the tumultuous character of the fabric of the city but also the constant awareness of time and space that Neapolitans have developed to navigate it.1 This awareness is environmental—it keeps one tuned into the milieu of changing potentialities. This awareness is embodied because it is sensorial, only perceivable at the level of affective exchanges, functioning as vectors of individuations of people and collectivities in an environment teeming with energies that thrust people and things toward each other and then apart. The intensities make the social and spatial boundaries porous—like the spaces Benjamin describes. The activist field also reflects this. Alliances between groups form and dissolve. The assembling and decomposition leave traces that take on intensity elsewhere, carrying the imprint of the past in people and groups.
In Naples, I often hear discussions of how groups could retain porosity to scale up struggles for social justice. Neapolitans ask as organizers what I also ask as a researcher: What lures us, them, and us again into proximity, making porosity among groups possible? What kind of compositionality makes the social fabric political? What keeps groups together in the activist field, or what forms of connective activism could do so? There is value in considering the becoming of groups in relation to each other, as the I keeps connecting to the world; there is value for theory and for practice. Sometimes, focusing on the relation between groups is even more insightful than examining what happens between one specific group and constituted power because it reveals how the psychosociality of the activist is itself a terrain for organizing and building momentum.
As I relay here the tales of my compagni, I traverse the political past and present of the city of Naples, following for a while its restless movement that constantly recomposes and layers the city’s spaces and temporalities, porously. Insu^tv is possibly the longest-living Telestreet channel, outliving the network by many years. Its longevity is the outcome of its having made media that brings groups closer to each other, to engender new capacities. Over the decades, historical, economic, and social changes in Naples have led to different approaches to the effort of retaining porosity, from inquiries into new terrains of struggle to the creation of spaces to come together, from yearly festivals to periodic conventions that network groups, from coordination bodies for grassroots groups to psychosocial therapy through media production. This may not be unique but it stands out in the history I have encountered.
In this context, the expression “activist field” is not entirely apt to describe a system of microrelations that forms the basis of political interaction because an activist field, as it is traditionally thought of, constitutes a collection of groups that mobilize on the basis of a stable identity. Porosity is produced by ongoing microsensorial and microsocial exchanges that individuate activist groups and their field into compositions that are set in motion or changed by staged events and by crises. Identity is only part of what pulls people in the same field of forces. I found out in Naples that what makes the activist field into an assemblage is how groups come into connection with each other (or not) through these microexchanges. Because each group constitutes an extension of the individual/activist (not just the sum of the preconstituted activists), the lines of differentiation in the activist field do not run directly between the individual activists and society but first among activist groups.2 I propose to think of the activist field, with its microexchanges, embodied awareness of time and space, and different degrees of porosity, as the social body of the activist, to which she relates through a system of values and beliefs that inform her relation to society as a whole.
It is March 17, 2001: Naples is hosting the Third Global Forum. There are government representatives from forty countries, multinationals, and other institutional bodies, like the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the World Bank, eager to discuss e-government and electronic security. At the Faculty of Architecture of Federico II University, the autonomous research lab on the third floor of Palazzo Gravina is bustling with students. Since a group of students claimed and upgraded these abandoned rooms in 1995, there has been space for meetings and to study in groups; there is a screening room, a small library, a sound archive, a dark room, and computer labs with video editing suites—something rather hard to come by for the many who cannot afford this expensive technology.3
All these years, the TerzoPiano Autogestito (Self-Run Third Floor) has been the training ground for many activists investigating the social and architectural transformations of Naples’s urban and industrial spaces. TerzoPiano has filmed hours of videos that document the inchieste metropolitane (metropolitan inquiries), barefoot research projects exploring the effects of the shift from industrial to postindustrial economies in Naples, spotting the abandoned spaces in the old industrial areas, and mapping the arrival of migrants who squat them. The results of the inquiries have contributed to the collective and autonomous organization of nonprofit political and cultural initiatives (debates, screening series, exhibitions, meetings) where not only students but also workers and the unemployed “can study and exchange knowledge autonomously from the official trajectory of education” (TerzoPiano n.d.).
TerzoPiano collaborates with social centers, collectives, environmental and housing rights movements, and independent media. On this day in March 2001, some of these students and many of their national and international compagni are running the Independent Media Center that covers the Third Global Forum. In previous years, they had experimented with different communication tools, and now they are wielding their cameras like weapons. In a few minutes, they will feed into the projector the footage collected during the clashes with the police that have taken place only three hours earlier. They will screen them in the baroque court of the building. In the audience are journalists from independent and mainstream media waiting to hear what the activists have to say.
Many in the audience have come to this press conference because they contacted the Global Forum authorities through cloned versions of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD; in Italian, Organizzazione per la Cooperazione e lo Sviluppo Economico [OCSE]) websites. In the spirit of tactical media, the sites look identical to the original but redirect visitors’ inquiries to activist groups impersonating the organization (Rete No Global and Network Campano per i Diritti Globali 2001). Aside from a few subtle subversions of the text that present the OECD as protecting the vested interests of multinationals at the expense of developing countries, the websites look legit.
Once discovered, the OECD prank will attract a lot of attention to the protest, while very little is known about the Global Forum event itself. The media activists’ mobilizations call out what they see as the Global Forum’s uncritical championing of technology and profit, the commodification of life through biotechnologies, and the colonization of the free internet, constantly threatened by multinational consolidation and by repressive measures in the name of security (Rete No Global and Network Campano per i Diritti Globali 2001). The journalists present are interested in what motivates the thirty thousand protesters once again flooding the streets. After Seattle, Prague, Davos, and other contested summits, people seek to understand this new wave of political dissent. As the images of police brutality appear on the giant screen, the journalists film them and transmit them live on the national and international news. The media exposure will force the government to start an investigation into police action—an unforgettable victory but one that will not be repeated at the next big protest.
Months of information campaigns and debates on the Global Forum issues have preceded these events and they successfully brought people together because they used information as a weapon and as a channel for coalition building. Groups came for the info sessions and returned for the organizing assemblies.4 Now that the forum has ended, media tacticians are supporting those on the street with even more interventions, like a netstrike against the online trading company Fineco to block its financial transactions. The very long line outside the universities’ computer labs gives away the low-tech solution: for hours, the volunteers click manually on the browser reload button to bring down the servers hosting Fineco’s website. Media attention is directed onto many strategic sites in the rest of the city: in-fest-azione (in-fest-action) blocks traffic with allegorical floats about economic globalization down the streets. There is an invasion of a McDonald’s with living goats and chickens. The in-fest-action then concludes with an organic food feast outside the fast food store.
I can sense pride and excitement in my friends’ voices when, one after the other, they tell me a version of this story. All the members of insu^tv who were in Naples in March 2001 start narrating their media activist initiation story with this event, a moment in time when the sense of purpose and the strength of community were felt vividly. This Global Forum represents a particularly important point in the coagulation of Neapolitan activist groups, and in the growth of media activism. Like similar threshold points, it is a door into the present of social change in the area. The forum etched itself in activist memory for its successes but equally for its police brutality, which foreshadowed the events of Genoa. Neapolitan organizers call the protests at the Global Forum le quattro giornate (the four days), harkening back to the historical four days of uprising during World War II, when Neapolitans chased the German army out of the city before the American troops arrived (Rete No Global and Network Campano per i Diritti Globali 2001). In this sense, the Third Global Forum is also a door further into the past, because Naples’s activist memory folds in old and new worlds, the multiple histories, cultures, and social realities that make them, the hard struggles for bare survival of a unique part of the country with a history of exploitation, and a strong identity rooted in autonomy and informality.
A Minor Minor History of Struggle
The tales of struggle I hear take me way back into the past. They spin unexpected connections and remind me that Telestreet in Naples is even less about challenging Berlusconi’s media empire than it is in other cities hosting Telestreet channels. For Neapolitans, the Berlusconi regime is just the mediatized and spectacular upgrade of the same old story of the looting of public funds and relentless economic accumulation in the hands of the powerful, be they politicians or the Camorra. It is the same old story about those who maintain and even exploit the century-old, widening economic and infrastructural gap between the north and the south of the Italian peninsula. The history of this harbor city—one of the first European metropolises—goes back many centuries, to colonization and revolts, to provide a simple explanation of the structural problems that affect life here.
Despite the often-paralyzing hardships, the more than three million inhabitants densely populating Naples and its outskirts sit on a rich history of creative social and political struggle that informs the becoming of movements more than elsewhere (or at least more visibly). This is a history that does not have a unified narrative and subject but a patchwork of events, sites, and political residues; it is chaotic and peculiar, and it shapes political action in subtle ways. For most observers, the memory of this history is hidden behind the countless tales of crime, stereotypical laziness, criminal inclinations, and picturesque urchin folklore that dramatizes the representations of Naples. However, it is felt by many others as it haunts the old industrial sites and the port, the working-class areas, and the many pockets of informal and black economies. It is also present in what it produced: groups, housing, jobs, and so on. Among the most recent episodes, the networks and actions set up during the cholera epidemic in 1973 and after the devastating earthquake of 1980 not only stand out as exemplary moments but also pave the way for the Third Global Forum struggles and the Faculty of Architecture’s TerzoPiano media activist incubator. They are an integral part of insu^tv’s genesis.
In a city where no support ever comes from institutional politics, autonomy seems the only possible answer to instigate social change. The unemployed and underemployed—the so-called reserve proletariat—coordinated in the early seventies and eighties, forcing the government to create “socially useful jobs” (lavori socialmente utili) and legalize many grassroots interventions that dealt with the cholera and earthquake emergencies (from garbage removal and disinfection to reconstruction). So-called autonomous “lists of the unemployed” were created to bypass the patronage system supported by the Christian Democratic Party in power and were used to secure training programs and jobs, without having to go through political back doors (Festa 2003). The groups and committees that emerged in the seventies, especially the Movimento Disoccupati organizzati (MDo, Organized Unemployed Movement), had such strong footing in Naples’s various wards that in 1980, within three months of the earthquake, they were able to squat twenty thousand empty dwellings to house the victims, leaving a slow and disorganized government with little else to do than legalize the occupation. In 1986 the City of Naples officially allocated “The Ship Sails” (Le Vele) of Scampia and Secondigliano to the victims of the earthquake. These large brutalist housing projects inspired by Le Corbusier’s unitès d‘habitation in turn have now become the site of more struggles against housing precarity and criminality in an area of social and economic neglect (Festa 2003, 391).5 When I asked Raro from insu^tv how he first got into politics, he told me he had grown up playing at the housing weekly meetings, which he attended with his parents (interview with Raro, 2008).
I discover more porosity between past and present. Many of those present at the Third Global Forum are tied to or inspired by the work of groups like Movimento Disoccupati organizzati to address these local systemic problems while they also oppose global economic forces. But before I circle back to the climax of the Global Forum, I want to explain how my interviewees try to make sense of the events leading up to it by talking about the trials and errors to foster porosity in the nineties. This is when issues of political subjectivity and social reproduction take center stage in our conversations. The student movements of La Pantera in 1990 and Sabotax in 1994 are two moments they mention because the energy and porosity generated needed to be spread, once the university occupations ended. The restructuring of the economy to immaterial and service-based production, with its changes to the social fabric, had dispersed the potential subjects of struggle, once concentrated in the factory. The new collective actors of the student movement took their work outside schools into the community, looking for the “eruption of subjectivities” of the “new forces” in the style of the seventies’ conricerca (Armano, Sacchetto, and Wright 2013).
Many felt the need to look once again at the social fabric, searching for points of continuity between different mechanisms and levels of socialization and diffusion of resistant movements (Alquati 1975, 225). Projects like TerzoPiano Autogestito sought to understand the new microconflictual level of everyday struggles, the new targets of such struggles, and the trajectories of communication among struggles in order to channel what had been generated. A new wave of occupations of the social centers provided a kind of an answer to continue building momentum, to articulate new social needs and solidify resistant traditions and behaviors. In these newly occupied spaces, minor histories and new insights flowed into processes of individual and collective self-valorization to sow the seeds for more critical mass in future struggles (Palano 2000).
The question of retaining porosity was, in essence, a question about how to compose a field of collective individuation that supported strong ties among groups. In the new CSOAs like Tien’A’ment (1989), Officina 99 (1991), and the Laboratorio Occupato SKA (1995), groups took up the issues of the redistribution of social wealth and the disengagement from the pressure of labor time through the concept of a guaranteed income. This return to older tools from autonomia was the direct outcome of a political analysis of the new territories of struggle in a city where precarity reigned more than in the rest of Italy. It was also an attempt to create new connective energy. For almost a decade, these CSOAs tried to build relationships among their constituents, among each other, and with the surrounding communities, with different degrees of success. In 1998 a three-day forum produced a long document (il documentone) mapping out groups in struggle, intervention points, and communities to work with, leading to a series of collaborations and actions in support of migrants, the unemployed, and people on the verge of homelessness, especially the elderly. The document aimed to “rebuild the political subject in relation to other subjects” (interview with Sara, 2008).
Piece by piece, and layer by layer, I assemble a collective narrative and an analysis of the ripening and difficulties of a movement (of movements) that, by 2001, not only counted thousands of sympathizers in the streets but also welcomed an unrivalled number of participants in the organization of events and activities—with coordination assemblies bringing up to one thousand people in one room at a time. In addition to the spread of the global justice movement, a diffused sense of disillusionment with the center-left government of the city contributed to this growth because the election of progressive mayor Antonio Bassolino in 1993 had slowly eroded what was left of the formal and informal models of welfare precariously sustaining much of the local population (Festa 2003, 394). The struggle against neoliberalism brought into conversation unlikely allies—from Catholic groups against debt to the Disobbedienti, from unions to fair trade associations—that were able to use consensus-based deliberation to organize large protests and campaigns (Andretta 2005).6
The impasse following the Third Global Forum and the G8 in Genoa became a new moment that called for a reflection and reorientation. As Alfio eloquently puts it: “When the connective energy dissipates, Naples discovers its own fragmentation, the deep-rooted social divisions. The city is described as porous due to its historical and urban characteristics but also, especially, when there is enough energy for processes of connection. Without that energy, all that is left are the different forms of geographical and social confinement” (interview with Alfio, 2008). New emphasis needed to be placed on coordinating different groups while preserving their autonomy and heterogeneity, something that had yet to prove sustainable outside sporadic moments of catalysis around specific events. Porosity is always messy and slippery because, at the microlevel, it is spurred by the energy that feeds collective individuations. How does one intervene in these complex, multilayered, tiny interactions? For some, porosity needed to be fostered by reshaping the relations and exchanges between groups. They went looking for ideas in unexpected places.
Near Colonialism, Porosity, and Political Consciousness
Antonio Gramsci called the set of problems affecting the south of the Italian peninsula la questione meridionale (the southern question), referring to the striking economic and social disparity between north and south. Gramsci’s popular analysis has framed the political economic account of the impoverishment of the south in postunification Italy (Gramsci 1995). I grew up in Naples and am familiar with this reality and its description. Still, I was not quite surprised when, in more than one conversation, people told me that, instead of Gramsci, they read Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth to understand social problems in Naples. The struggle for social equality in this part of the country has resembled one of liberation from distant occupying powers that deplete the area of resources, exploit the labor force in sweatshops and in risky criminal activities, pollute the environment, and swap services for votes and favors.7 It is Fanon’s insights into the colonized mentality that attracted my friends’ attention.8
Fanon maintained that psychiatry is socially constructed and therefore plays a role in controlling populations. This position led him to denounce psychiatric institutions as part of a colonialist system that fosters a false sense of self, overdetermined by the experience of colonization. The Martiniquan psychiatrist studied how French colonial powers in Algeria shaped the value systems of the colonized and how this influence shaped in turn the very same strategies that resist colonization, especially in the cultural realm. For Fanon, the psychological blockages and dependency on the oppressor typical of the colonized complex produce either negative or positive identifications with the oppressor, and therefore, assimilation or self-isolation become the only two possible outcomes of the same kind of alienation (Fanon 2004, 15–17, 51). Ultimately, Fanon’s work not only underlines how colonial hegemonic forces inflect counterhegemonic practices but also emphasizes the need to escape this vicious circle through conscious efforts to retain or reshape the value systems and social models that affect the emergence of subjectivities.
Fanon was certainly not writing for white activists in a near-colonial context, but The Wretched of the Earth’s focus on the psychosocial dimension of resistance helps many Neapolitans understand how the relations among disadvantaged groups—from migrants to the unemployed in the southern regions—sustain the economic and cultural gaps between the two areas of the peninsula. The colonized complex Fanon identifies, where one internalizes the inferior and/or criminal image and identity molded for her by more powerful others, has its analogue in Naples, where the southerner’s genetic and cultural makeup—hot-bloodedness, laziness, and cultural backwardness—is flagged as the root cause for social problems in the country.9 Centuries of discrimination and stereotyping lead the exploited southern Italian to “suffer” from low self-esteem, which prevents many from working toward self-determination.
Under the neoliberal conditions of diffused precarity, the near-colonial mentality of the southern Italian doubles up at the intersection of old imposed identities and neoliberal individuation that trumps collective agency and depoliticizes the gap between the haves and have-nots. This double articulation of identity is not lost on those who are trying to make sense of a changing field of struggle: neoliberal discourses celebrate individualistic entrepreneurship and, in case of crisis, reroute the causes of failure onto the individual: they fragment the social fabric. In one of our conversations at insu^tv, Alfio reminded me that, for example, the 2008 financial crash was often blamed on the greed of buyers rather than on the banking and financial systems that financed their debts. At the same time, the institutional and governmental classifications regulating migrants and refugees worked in tandem with the mainstream media panics, spreading fear about ethnic, racial, and social others to seed isolation (interview with Alfio, 2008). Migrants and southerners (migrants themselves in the north of the country) easily become the scapegoats of both politicians and fellow Italians at times of high unemployment and austerity programs. At these times, when groups are pitched against each other, the intersection of the near-colonial and neoliberal vectors of individuation intensifies the isolation and fragmentation.
Francesco, an activist at the CSOA SKA, also uses Fanon to explain the degree of resistance against cultural enslavement and the level of opposition to the value system that is imposed by what he describes as colonial powers (Festa 2008). Whether one agrees with the accuracy of its framing, the analysis leads to calls for sustained attention to the “porousness of political conscience” (Festa 2008) that can cut across sclerotic forms of resistant subjectivities to engender autonomous practices of self-determination for groups that include the unemployed and underemployed, the migrants (who often come from former, real colonies), but also others. A porous political conscience for Francesco means that it is subject to constant reshaping along external cultural, symbolic, and social, as much as economic, forces. So, when it comes to scaling up against old and new forms of control, some activist groups in Naples not only consider the relations between the powerful and the oppressed but also and especially how subjectivity shapes the relations among dissenting groups. For many migrant and local activists, including those at insu^tv, social cohesion must be rooted in the agency that comes out of self-awareness, and in the porosity between groups. Fanon in Naples reveals attempts to update autonomist theories about self-valorization and subjectification that are still too focused on labor and the factory in a new reality where the vectors of oppression are much more intersectional. The Neapolitan readings of Fanon also reveal the almost invisible strategic importance of transindividuation that gives shapes to the political fabric of society.
In connection with this thinking and its attendant experiments, the capillary work of unemployment lists, grassroots committees, and social centers is not merely a strategy to organize on the territory but is also the outcome of the mobilization of different social meanings through embodied practices that attempt to gain agency by developing and sharing resources and knowledge that speak to a collective porous conscience. Moreover, if protests and convergences are moments of eruption around which groups temporarily can come together in consensus (Andretta 2005), it is the social-therapeutic experiments of activist camping holidays and other cultural events like the yearly movement festival Adunata Sediziosa that strive to retain a diffused porosity by attending to friendship and intimacy.10 This is by no means always successful but it is an ongoing effort that takes different forms at different times. Around these readings, collaborations, inquiries, friendships, and conflicts, the activist field constantly recomposes its shapes through microexchanges that forge and retain connections.
Local Media and Psychosocial Therapy in the Gray Zone
To say that organizing among groups always ran smoothly even during the planning of the Global Forum and other events would not only be false but would also be counterproductive for anyone who sees self-critique as a necessary political practice. As is often the case, contentious elements in the discussion and organization of the event included the divergent attitudes toward direct action and ritualized violence, which required considerable negotiations (Andretta 2005). In Naples, the conflict was encapsulated in the debate over the communication strategies and the logo of the social forum: Pulcinella, a traditional Neapolitan commedia dell’arte character wearing a gas mask and wielding a baton. For many civic associations and independent trade unions, the aggressive connotation of the image did not reflect the attitudes and strategies they were about to take to the streets. Conversely, the choice of a spokesperson for the unified movement to convey its message to the mainstream clashed with radical principles of horizontality and self-representation at the basis of many organizations involved (Festa 2003, 399).11
The coordination of large events was successful enough to offer a considerable degree of shared understanding and contamination among diverse groups, which was hard to retain when translating an ephemeral collective identity into more localized strategic directions. Between 2001 and 2003, much of the porosity holding the Neapolitan movement together started dissipating. The events of 9/11 unleashed a wave of repression that exacerbated the burnout that many already felt after the Third Global Forum, the G8 in Genoa, and the demonstrations against the Iraq war. The distance among groups that had been bridged grew again. With the connective energy gone, the illusion of having come closer to creating functional internal and network dynamics for collective struggle also disappeared. Even the more radical, autonomist groups distanced themselves from each other as the “area antagonista” revealed old fractures and opened new cracks.
It is probably easier to grasp the friction between social centers, associations, NGOs, and unions than the fractures among autonomist groups. Steve Wright (2007) wisely quipped that, although the different theoretical positions among autonomist Marxist frameworks may be reflected in the Italian movement itself, anyone with personal experience will find this only an imperfect explanation.12 Félix Guattari and Antonio Negri (1990, 91) have pointed out that any process of recomposition also carries dogmatic and sectarian elements from old stratifications, which threaten collaboration from inside and complicate the articulation between immediacy and mediation, tactics and strategies established through multilateral and practical relations.
In any dissenting formation, beyond political hard lines there are flows of energy that run deeper because the sense of belonging to a group is a dimension of an individual’s personality. This means that what makes up a group is an assemblage of individual tendencies, instincts, beliefs, meanings, and expressions—what I call here personality—and that affect the emergence of a group itself, much in the same way individual beings are engendered. If the sense of belonging is still tied to affects and discourses that cannot be recognized in the “new” group, a “crisis” of belonging ensues and conflict can grow. To tackle these blockages, Félix Guattari and Franco Berardi call for practices that set in motion new, unforeseen a-signifying chains that were previously hindered by established meanings, obsessions, social and linguistic norms, and “communicative double binds that generated neuroses and the pressure to repeat” (Berardi 2008, 131; see also Guattari 1995, 70–71). Enter media activism again.
Starting from the mid-1990s, debates on the use value of communication and experiments with media had been frequent and emboldened by the contribution of La Pantera and Sabotax. In Naples, various radio projects, magazines, and newspapers like the internationalist magazine Blue Line (1997) and the independent press sheet Infoaut—Agenzia di comunicazione antagonista (2000–2001) (Infoaut—Antagonistic communication agency) had appeared on the scene. If the Global Forum itself was not so important on the international map of global meetings, its successful use of electronic disturbance tactics and independent media reporting had indeed raised awareness about the city and its problems: “All in all we created the event, betting on this chance to give Naples and its contradictions the center of attention for a few days, as Seattle and the global justice movement had done elsewhere before us” (anonymous activist, qtd. in Festa 2003, 408).
Despite its successes, for the activists organizing the forum, media activism was a tool for information circulation rather than a mode of struggle per se. Radical movements often see cultural activism and even media activism as collateral activities that support more “serious” forms of organizing. For this reason, there was hardly any debate about how media activism could be a political practice in its own right; some even felt that it could be a trap for militants.13 As Indymedia Italia was set up in September 2001, in Naples, members of TerzoPiano and other media activist groups started a sustained reflection and coordination of media work in the city.
Many believed that it was critical for a project of social change that truly addresses the needs of the local groups to develop inclusive practices of participation because groups were scattered around the territory and only became visible during moments of contestation like the Global Forum. What’s more, the inclusive practices had to center around communication: “There was a desire to leave the extreme left discursive ghetto and set up a web of relations that could harness the heterogeneous groups emerging from the recomposed social tissue of the area” (interview with Alfio, 2008). In other words, the kind of social therapy required to retain porosity could build on more creative uses of media (interview with Sandro, 2008; interview with Wadada, 2008). Many of my compagni tell me about their conscious search for media tools and strategies to harness the energy generated during catalyst events and retain porosity. Each in their own way was captivated by the potential of grassroots media for new forms of political work.
When OrfeoTv in Bologna published the Telestreet manifesto and called for a meeting, a few from Naples drove up and came back inspired by an idea that upgraded the joyful experimentation of Radio Alice to contemporary means of mass communication—television and the internet.14 For Aurelia, also thrilling was the ability to use her work skills as a media maker for politics (interview with Aurelia, 2008). Pog too thrived on bringing his hacker skills to the repertoire of political practices when he joined insu^tv, initially to switch the transmission system to Linux (interview with Pog, 2008). It was not hard to find kindred spirits to start the experiment in Naples, though at the beginning it was harder to recruit women among them.
Soon after the initial success of Indymedia Italia, it became clear to many Neapolitan media activists that the internet was insufficient as a channel for independent communication to reach different strata of society, separated by a considerable digital divide, especially in the poorer south—online communication alone cannot foster porosity. Various newspapers, the IMC-affiliated pirate radio station Radiolina, and insu^tv were born in 2003, as attention moved to the needs of local groups.15 Both insu^tv and Radiolina shared the same antenna and workspace and were part of Media Indipendenti Napoletani (MINA, Independent Neapolitan Media)—a coalition of autonomous media collectives pushing for a more local approach to media activism, one that would be adopted by Indymedia Italia after its “reflection pause.” Local media could use more accessible language and technology to reach a wider audience that was not computer literate and was outside the restricted circle of activists.
Most members of insu^tv had been involved in the mobilizations for the Global Forum and Genoa in 2001 and had previously been part of other cultural production projects like the TerzoPiano, Blue Line, some free radios, and the IMC. For them, opening up communication to those who did not identify with the radical language or practices of the movement was one of the reasons they gravitated toward the Telestreet model. Some also described a “gray zone” of the movement where people decided “not to decide” whether to be part of one group or the other (interview with Sara, 2008; interview with Wadada, 2008). For them, it made no sense to go back to before the connective experiments of the Third Global Forum, which they considered successful. The soon-to-be members of insu^tv (insulini) were interested in the communicational and social therapeutic potential of media activism—one that had been present in projects like Radio Alice—that was encapsulated in the Telestreet model of proxy-vision and that had also been theorized by Guattari in his work on postmedia.16 This model offers the reference points for individuations and microexchanges that are less conducive to a crisis of belonging.
Compositionality and Collective Individuation
In the late eighties and early nineties, the introduction of new technologies, especially computers and the Minitel, had inspired Félix Guattari (2012) to imagine an era when the interactivity afforded by media could resubjectivize enslaved and docile mass media audiences. Guattari was interested in how the creative engagement with media multiplied processes of subjectification, which were otherwise fixed by capitalist media’s subjective modelization and by traditional psychoanalytic models.
Even though they never met, Fanon and Guattari shared a training in materialist psychiatry with Jacques Lacan, Jean Oury, and François Tosquelles. They both denounced the role of psychiatry as a tool for governmentality (Greedharry 2008, 112). Moreover, Guattari’s (1995) therapeutic practices reject the role of language, typical of traditional approaches to subjectivation, and focus on aesthetics and ethics instead.17 For Guattari, affect reaches into the interiority of the individual—the preindividual level constituted in life lived, social experience, and microexchanges—during esthetic encounters that can take place in connection with autonomous media experiments. The insights of Fanon and Guattari, and the autonomist tradition of media experimentations and antagonist social reproduction I discussed in previous chapters, inspire and inform the media production work of insu^tv. This work can be seen as part of a project of liberation first and foremost from subjugated subjectivities and fossilized political identities. It cuts through the diffused (and often unarticulated) memory and awareness of time and space in Naples; it is directed at images of inferiority and articulations of agency that connect isolated individual struggles but also at the expression of a porous collective subjectivity that finds strength in its ability to entangle groups. In general, art and other aesthetic practices are conducive for this kind of work (Guattari 1996, 106), but for insu^tv, it is the video cameras and transmission system and the environment they can shape that defuse the tension between bodies and produce the energy for collective individuations.
It is no coincidence that the first experiments with insu^tv were based in places with a strong history of struggle outside the social centers: the roofs of the Ship Sails of Scampia, with the support of the Coordinamento lotta per la casa (Committee for Housing Rights), and in the old historic district of Forcella. In these spaces, the camera guided territorial inquiries into “the needs of the neighborhood,” literally taking the camera and boom mic into the houses and small alleyways to ask how one lives in Forcella or how one wishes to improve Scampia (Wadada, qtd. in Stein 2016). In these places, cameras usually hide the face of a journalist scooping the drama of Camorra casualties—they swoop in and never return. Those at insu^tv quickly became familiar faces, trusted because they created events to bring neighbors together in laughter and dreams: “We went into the houses to do an interview and then tuned their TV to our channel, telling them when they would be on. . . . Through word of mouth we became quite popular. . . . People loved our shorts and spoof ads because they were funny” (Sandro, qtd. in Stein 2016).
During its first couple of years of existence, insu^tv built methods and “momenti di condivisione,” moments of sharing—through making, finding each other on the TV screen, and watching together at open-air screenings—moments that foster collective individuation: becoming together by sharing.18 The fun aspect of it was not just a therapeutic and easily relatable way of communicating with an audience but also an important aspect of connecting with each other as media makers (interview with Aurelia, 2008; interview with Pog, 2008). The humor set this kind of work apart from that of militant organizing, which all too often is based on self-sacrifice, gravity, and inward-looking language. It was easy to see the impact of this kind of media making on the groups collaborating with insu^tv (interview with Pog, 2008). Humor, of course, but also joyful experimentation can be more successful ways of bringing groups together across social and political divides. They can be psychosocially therapeutic, and in this sense political. The extraparliamentary left of Naples recognized the value of the work of insu^tv, which ended up with its studios at the CSOA Officina 99, chronicling different events and struggles for years to come.
There are specific processes that undergird collective individuation that are somewhat counterintuitive but are key to understanding the formation of critical masses beyond allyship and coalition building (which of course are crucial in movements). Overall, individuals feel integrated in the social whenever their social individuation does not conflict with their personal individuation because an individual’s system of beliefs is not necessarily always structured, even if it underlies interaction. The system of beliefs is not structured as long as there is no need to consciously articulate a sense of belonging to the group. This means that, although it is one of the ways one tends to make sense of groups, the articulation of political beliefs and identities among activists is the manifestation of a moment of “crisis” rather than the basis of an activist group’s emergence and persistence. Crisis here is a neutral term that refers to a moment of intensity in which something begins to take place as a response to an event, in certain cases resulting in the feeling of not belonging. As a system of relations that mediates between the individual and the city at large, the Neapolitan activist field presupposes a passage through smaller groups of reference/identification, the different activist and community groups—NGOs, various autonomist projects based in social centers, local neighborhood and community associations, migrants coalescing around cultural cooperatives, organized workers and unemployed coordination committees, Cobas, unions, and so on.19 Porosity is present in situations where individual beliefs (opinions) and collective beliefs (myths) that characterize the group (and relate it to the outside) can circulate while the activist who has to structure and define her belonging to the group can do so in a way that is intelligible to the out-group (Simondon 2006, 171–75). In the case of internal conflict like the discussion of a diversity of tactics, the individual has to redraw the line between in- and out-group.
A psychosocial therapy model for porosity depends on the ability to restrict or extend the boundaries between the in-group and the out-group while still allowing productive encounters—for instance, it is about the ability to come into composition by repurposing media making. The individual tendencies, instincts, beliefs, meanings, and expressions (the personalities) that make up the group can come together through the desire to experiment with media more easily than when debating political positions. In this sense, as a psychosocial therapeutic experiment, insu^tv is not a solution to smooth protest organizing but a project that fosters a culture of porosity and socializes different kinds of social reproduction that preexist and support recomposition. This is not a totalizing process nor an all-encompassing solution but a way of tending to the activist field. At times, this kind of work offers an opportunity to support or accompany the valorization of subjectivities that happens in other activist spaces like the CSOAs.
From a strategic perspective, this model for porosity is about compositionality—the semi-intentional orientation of heterogeneous groups in an effort to scale up social struggle by emboldening intercommunication and co-individuation. Compositionality in the activist field deals not so much with an arrangement of established relations (as in the case of alliances between groups) but with the ability of different groups to come together in a porous way. Compositionality as a strategy is the conscious, social therapeutic practice of creating or retaining porosity among groups. To look at the process of becoming of groups and the exchanges that are enabled among them means to consider the individual and her group as in tension with the environment (not as terms in relation to each other), and to work from that tension through an ethico-aesthetic approach to media making.20
The work of Fanon and Guattari pointed to alternative approaches to therapy that experiment with processes of subjectification, away from hardened reference structures (which cause psychic impasses such as paranoid group subjectivity): “the invention of new analytic nuclei capable of bifurcating existence” (Guattari 1995, 18). As I joined the team, the ins and outs of this therapeutic model became visible and the contours of a practice of connective activism, not only among individuals but also among groups, more compelling.