Subaltern Tactics and Spaces for Decommodification: Non-Institutionalized Political Practices in a Tokyo Working-Class Neighborhood

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 10:45 AM
Room: 315
Oral Presentation
Nicolas PINET , Institute of Social Science, Université Paris Diderot - Paris 7, France
This paper draws upon a 2-year ethnography (2012-2014) in a Tokyo working-class neighborhood, with a focus on subaltern political practices. Building upon the distinction between the two meanings of the “political” (Claude Lefort, Essais sur le politique; Manuel Castells, La Question urbaine) – one related to the institutionalized sphere of the ruling, the other to the social system of power relations and its transformation –, subaltern political practices can be defined as practices that allow their actors, collectively or individually, to free themselves from such-and-such subordinate positions in the net of power relations. Through this theoretical lens, one can observe an array of collective or individual political practices that contest, bypass or elude unfavorable power relations.

With the ever-increasing commodification of society, quite blatant in large cities like Tokyo, domination often make oneself felt as economic domination. In this context, subaltern political practices take notably the form of tactics (Michel de Certeau) aiming at getting loose from economic dependencies through the building of small and frequently temporary autonomous spaces.

Since these dependencies are experienced more strongly as we go down the social ladder, this paper will focus on tactics devised by homeless people living in the area I’m engaged in, before showing that practices that are most easily discernible in this radical life-situation can also be noted among working-class neighborhood inhabitants. Urban agricultural practices found among homeless groups and individuals as well as in working-class neighborhoods are an especially interesting case. Growing their own food allows the persons involved to build a small autonomous space, both real – one get a fair amount of “free” food – and symbolic, as they constitute de-commodified spaces in which other types of relations and non-monetary practices can take place (exchange of seedlings between homeless groups, fruits and vegetables’ gifts to visitors or neighbors…).