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12. Minor Politics

 

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It is a commonplace in social science to seek the source of political practice in collective identity – the identity of a people, nation, class, or minority – as it comes to articulate itself, or its grievances, in the social realm. This commonplace is upended in Nicholas Thoburn’s concept of ‘minor politics’, which posits that politics arises in cramped spaces and impossible positions among those who lack or refuse coherent identity, those who affirm the condition, as Deleuze describes it, where ‘the people are missing’. If Deleuze and Guattari are one source of this concept, Marx is another, for Marx grasped that the critique of capitalist social relations cannot reside in an identity – least of all those associated with ‘work’ – for they are formed within, and are hence functional to, those relations. His class of the critique of capitalism is, then, also the critique of itself: ‘The proletariat … is compelled as proletariat to abolish itself and thereby its opposite, private property, which determines its existence, and which makes it proletariat’. Against the cliché that Marx is bound to nineteenth century class identities, this astonishing formulation of a politics without identity reveals him to be very much a thinker for the twenty-first century, for a time when the ‘major’ identities of modernity are in crisis.

‘Ours is an age of minorities’, as Deleuze and Guattari describe this crisis, where social relations no longer facilitate coherent identity, for they are experienced as riven with contradictory imperatives and constraints. It might appear to be the least collective experience, an experience of precarity and isolation, but the concept of minor politics proposes that it is in such cramped and impossible conditions that social or collective relations are most intensely felt and politicised, as society ceases to be merely a facilitating background for established identities and instead floods into every particular experience. Here, even the most personal concern is interlaced with determining social relations, such that, as Deleuze and Guattari have it, ‘the individual concern becomes all the more necessary, indispensable, magnified, because a whole other story is vibrating within it’.

Further reading

Deleuze, Marx and Politics (2003) by Nicholas Thoburn (London and New York, Routledge)

 

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