Plebs, common goods and alternatives to capitalism

Curators: Katarzyna Czeczot, Łukasz Moll, Michał Pospiszyl

(February 2020)

Layabouts? Sluggards? Pathology? Groups assigned to the social margin – vagrants, beggars, the impoverished and the unemployed – are usually perceived as a “problem to be solved”. Even though various ways of facing it were proposed – from repression and deportation, to education and work at the grass roots, to empowerment and raising revolutionary awareness – what they all shared was the paternalism based on the fact that the excluded plebs have nothing to offer.

Today, thanks to various revisionist research, we are gaining a completely different perspective on those erased from the history and pushed into the grey zone. We are starting to notice quiet resistance tactics, informal support and solidarity networks, alternative circuits of the embodied knowledge or subversive ambitions toward autonomy from the state and capital. The history of the plebeian way of life is composed of the fates of women accused of witchcraft, mountain-dwelling runaways and thugs, radicals and heretics from pirate ships or illegal migrant networks. Its fundamental factors include defending old and manufacturing new commons which we want to see as laboratories experimenting with non-capitalist forms of life.

In the times of the ecological catastrophe, crisis of liberal democracy, collapse of social bonds and rise of various populisms, we want to ask the question about the perspectives of radically democratic, community-based and sustainable “plebeianism”. Leading researchers of the commons will help us look for an answer. In our seminar, we start from acknowledging that in English commoner can be someone common and someone using common sense, but at the same time dependant on access to the commons and oftentimes dreaming of a genuine commonwealth. We assume that plebeian narratives have the chance to radically expand our political imagination. The latter is precisely the objective of the series of eight two-day meetings that we organize (in the form of a lecture plus a 3 hour long seminar).

Plague, plebs and alternatives to capitalism

(April 2020)

Historically, epidemics fulfilled two functions. They served the consolidation of power, increasing oppression and control over the subservient classes, but sometimes they resulted in the periods of the hierarchy collapse, the breakdown of the previous law and order. Unlike any other events in the social history, plagues supported utopian thinking and fantasising about the world in which everything would be turned upside down: horses ride their riders, masters serve their slaves and animals hunt the hunters. During our lectures we will take a closer look at plagues as events in social history. We will ponder what are their causes and possible consequences, in what relation epidemic crises are to the crises of capital and the ecological catastrophe. We believe this is the time for infectious ideas.

The development of the disease situation prevents us from organising our meetings and our guests’ international travel. We hope that in several months we will be able to return to the intended formula, but in the meantime we propose a temporarily changed format of the seminar: a series of online lectures titles “Plague, plebs and alternatives to capitalism,” prepared by the curators for the broader audience. We trust that this formula will be interesting and that it will enable us to build a community in this temporary isolation, a community of hope for the return to the normalcy and not just to business as usual.


Online lectures:

28.04.2020 | 18:00 | Tuesday

Michał Pospiszyl

When did people begin to get ill? The state, monoculture and pathogens.

28.05.2020 | 18:00 | Thursday
Łukasz Moll
Sowers of the plague, reapers of the revolution. How to inoculate Europe against the post-pandemic racism?

18.06.2020 | 18:00 | Thursday
Katarzyna Czeczot
Plague and modernity. Do we need monstrous politics?