Anarchy, Geography and Drift

Jeff Ferrell
Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, TX, USA; j.ferrell@tcu.edu

Abstract: The consumerist economies of the late modern city, in combination with contemporary models of urban policing, operate to close down the public spaces of social life. In response, social groups dedicated to democratic urbanism utilize anarchic tactics of “dis-organization” and direct action to reopen public space and to revitalize it with unregulated activity. Complicating and animating these spatial conflicts is the issue of drift. On the one hand, consumerist economies and contemporary policing strategies exacerbate urban drift, spawning the very sorts of spatial transgression they seek to control. On the other hand, many of the progressive movements that battle for open space and alternative economic arrangements themselves embrace a culture of drift, and explore drift for its anarchic and progressive potential. In this context drift can usefully be investigated as an emergent form of epistemology, community, and spatial politics. Resumo: O consumismo econˆ mico nas cidades da modernidade tardia, juntamente com o osmodelos contemporˆneos de policiamento urbano, operam no sentido de restringir a ´ ` os espacos publicos da vida social. Em reacao, grupos sociais dedicados a democracia ¸ ¸˜ urbana utilizam t´ ticas anarquistas de “des-organizacao” e acao direta e focam sua a ¸˜ ´ acao na reabertura e na revitalizacao do espaco publico atrav´ s de atividades n˜o ¸˜ ¸˜ ¸ e a ´ reguladas. Complicando e animando estes conflitos espaciais e o assunto de “drift” ou a deslocalizacao e movimento constante do sujeito. De um lado, o consumismo econˆ mico o e as estrat´ gias de policiamento contemporˆneo exacerbam estas deslocalizac˜ es urbanas, e a o contribuindo para a difus˜o dos tipos de transgress˜o que procuram controlar. Por a a outro lado, muitos movimentos progressistas que lutam pela abertura do espaco e por ¸ alternativas econˆ micas abracam uma cultura de deslocalizacao, explorando seu potencial o ¸ an´ rquico e progressista. Neste contexto, a deslocalizacao pode ser explorada como a formas emergentes de epistemologia, comunidade e pol´ticas espaciais. ı Keywords: anarchy, anarchism, Critical Mass, drift, precarity, public space

The open spaces of contemporary social life are, it seems, being suffocated. Increasingly, urban authorities in the United States, Europe and beyond see fit to privatize public space, to deed sidewalks and parks to developers, and to create under the guise of urban authenticity and urban regeneration new sorts of “consumption spaces” that reconstitute whole swaths of the existing city as exclusive, street-level consumer havens (Amster 2008; Ferrell 2001; MacLeod 2002; Mitchell 2003; Shepard and Smithsimon 2011; Zukin 1997, 2010). Meanwhile, legal and political authorities argue that, for the sake of safety, civility, and commerce, both private and public spaces must be subject to ever more elaborate forms of surveillance and control. Countless CCTV clusters and security cameras track the routes of pedestrians, the flow of automobiles, and the shopping or sitting habits of urbanites, in this way gridding social life within intersecting lines of panoptic observation. In Britain, authorities use anti-social behavior orders, dispersal orders, and curfews to push undesirables away from consumerist developments. Throughout the United States, legal and political authorities employ the principles of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) and related
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“place-based” approaches in an effort to build social control into the spatial environment. Uncomfortable park benches meant to inhibit long-term sitting or sleeping, prickly bushes planted to block public access, low walls interrupted by anti-skateboarding abutments, entryways and windows designed for maximum surveillance—these and other features accumulate into a spatial environment saturated with contemporary ideologies of containment and exclusion. In this way the “holes and gaps” that Peter Marin (in McDonogh 1993:14) argues are essential to tolerant urban life are plugged, the city’s “breathing spaces” closed and choked off, its marginal populations banished from public life (Beckett and Herbert 2009). Where De Certeau (1984:96, 105) saw and celebrated a “rich indetermination”, a “proliferating illegitimacy” amidst the collective movement of the city’s citizens—a “poetic geography” of free space—there now seems more a forced march of everyday life, a pre-arranged interplay of people, places, and products. Echoing De Certeau’s (1984:93) notion that urban walkers “follow the thicks and thins of an urban ‘text’ they write without being able to read it”, Massey (2006:40, 46) has likewise argued that “both space and landscape could be imagined as provisionally intertwined simultaneities of ongoing, unfinished stories”. The contemporary proliferation of privatized urban spaces, surveillance cameras, and spatial controls suggests an ongoing attempt to negate these very dynamics— to make the text of urban life all too visible and readable, to script the stories of social space from beginning to end. In this sense the foundations of an anarchist critique of such measures—that is, a critique of power and domination in whatever forms they may take—are already apparent. From an anarchist view, these developments undermine the viability of urban social life by encoding ever more restrictive controls in the spatial environment, and by containing the unpredictability and disorder essential to an emergent, democratic urbanism (Ferrell 2001). Finding the law’s “distinctive trait to be immobility, a tendency to crystallize that which should be modified and developed day to day”, Kropotkin (1975:30–31) proclaimed in 1886 that “in place of the cowardly phrase, ‘Obey the law,’ our cry is ‘Revolt against all laws!’” The enforced immobility of contemporary spatial arrangements suggests, if not anarchist revolt, then at least a parallel anarchist critique. A fuller anarchist analysis of these developments, though, requires a good bit more complexity. To begin with, this contemporary closure of open public space can be traced to the cultural and political economy of the late modern city. With the withering of urban industrial production in many American and European cities, and the global exportation of production to developing countries, these cities increasingly rely on economies organized around service work, entertainment, and consumption. Researchers like Markusen and Schrock (2009:345, 353) argue for this sort of “consumption-driven urban development”, noting that “superior local consumption-based offerings help to attract skilled workers, managers, entrepreneurs, and retirees”, and emphasizing that “economists and geographers have recently stressed the significance of lifestyle preferences of skilled workers as an important determinant of economic development”. Confirming this economic trajectory, if less enthusiastically, David Harvey (2008:31) concludes that “quality of urban life has become a commodity, as has the city itself, in a world where consumerism, tourism, cultural and knowledge-based industries have become major
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aspects of the urban political economy”. To paraphrase Marx, cities built the first time on the tragedy of industrial labor are rebuilt on the farce of image and impression; Monterrey, California’s Cannery Row now offers Steinbeck-themed shops and a world-class aquarium, and Ft Worth, Texas’s bloody stockyards and slaughterhouses now process only the kitsch recollections of cowboy boots and cattle. In such worlds urban authenticity, like urban quality of life, emerges as an upscale commodity (Zukin 2010). More to the point, where cities once took shape around the interests of industrial capitalists, late modern cities are now reshaped by developers who reconfigure relatively open urban environments into carefully integrated zones of high-end consumption. And to protect these privatized zones from those who might trespass on them or their intended meanings vis-` -vis a lifestyle preferences and urban authenticity—to protect, that is, the image-based commodity that is “quality of urban life”—policing in turn comes to focus as much on perception as on populations. An economic official in the USA argues during an urban revitalization campaign that panhandling is a problem precisely because “it’s part of an image issue for the city” (Ferrell 2001:45; see Amster 2008). An American legal scholar agrees, positing that “the most serious of the attendant problems of homelessness is its devastating effect on a city’s image” (Mitchell 2003:201). As Aspden (2008:13) concludes in regard to the recent transformation of a decaying British industrial city into a “corporate city of conspicuous consumption”: “There seems to be no place in the new Leeds for those who disturb the rhythms of the consumer-oriented society.” This control of panhandlers, homeless populations and other undesired groups in turn rests on an ascendant late modern model of risk-based urban policing. Developed and supported by major insurance companies—and in the case of programs like Neighborhood Watch, even funded by them (O’Malley 2010:26– 27)—this model emphasizes a rationalized, actuarial approach to crime prevention through systematic surveillance and “the collection of information in order to make predictions, and the formation of preventative interventions based on these” (O’Malley 2010:31). By this model’s logic—”the military and neo-liberal logic of security”, as Shukaitis (2009:157) calls it—surveillance cameras and tightly controlled public spaces function to prevent crime in the present, and to provide the sorts of calculable data on people and their movements that can be used to curtail crime in the future. By the same logic, the unregulated and the unpredictable—the city’s “holes and gaps” and “rich indetermination”—stand not as markers of urban vitality, but as open invitations to criminality and the breakdown of crime control. For conservative criminologists like Wilson and Kelling (1982) the presence of homeless panhandlers or the public paintings of graffiti writers are likewise defined only as signs of social disorder—as metaphorical “broken windows”—that serve to dispirit citizens and to invite more violent forms of criminality. What some might see as hallmarks of a democratically anarchic urbanism—open public space, unregulated occupation of it and interaction within it, unfettered movement through it—a new generation of politicians and police officials sees as unacceptable components of urban risk. Risk-based policing and consumer-based urban economies coalesce around a central consequence: intolerance toward open urban space and those who would occupy or traverse it inappropriately.
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Significantly, a variety of contemporary social groups and social movements are equally determined to keep urban spatial arrangements open, and to breathe life back into those spaces, those holes and gaps, that have been closed. While orbiting around various social and political issues, such groups see open public space as essential to a democratic society—that is, as the primary forum in which directly democratic processes and collective cultures can be invented and negotiated (Springer 2011). “The conceptual link that I operate from is trying to preserve spaces that are historically dedicated to the public”, says anarchist activist and scholar Randall Amster, “because it’s my belief that without public spaces, any kind of talk about democracy basically goes out the window” (in Ferrell 2001:52). Likewise, they conceptualize public space as an ongoing cultural accomplishment, and so an important public venue of contested symbolism and cultural progress (Amin 2008). Linking these concerns with issues of environmental sustainability and social justice, groups like Critical Mass and Reclaim the Streets engage particular public space issues—road building, automotive domination, spatial exclusion of the homeless, urban privatization—within a broader ethos of spatial justice. Chris Carlsson, one of the founders of Critical Mass—an anarchic, take-back-the-streets urban bicycling movement—argues for example that collectively abandoning the automobile to embrace public bicycling is not only an act of spatial democratization, but “an act of desertion from an entire web of exploitative and demeaning activities, behaviors that impoverish the human experience and degrade planetary ecology itself” (Carlsson 2002:82; see Carlsson and Manning 2010). Pushing back against the closure and containment of social space, then, are a host of groups and movements that valorize the sorts of direct, everyday democracy that can flourish in such space—and that employ DIY (do-it-yourself) activism, “direct action”, and other anarchist strategies both to liberate this space and to re-animate it with just such democratic activity. Over the past decade or so I and others have documented in some detail the distinctly anarchic ideologies and strategies of these groups and movements— the ways, for example, in which they utilize non-hierarchical social networks to “dis-organize” on-the-fly collective bicycle rides, road blockages, street carnivals, and sidewalk sit-ins—with these ephemeral public events meant to unravel the legal and spatial controls of city life (Amster 2008; Carlsson 2002; Ferrell 2001; McKay 1998; Shantz 2011; Shepard and Smithsimon 2011). These are indeed classic confrontations between order and authority on the one hand and anarchist politics on the other—confrontations that have defined many contemporary spatial conflicts, and that continue to do so. As already seen, economic and political authorities increasingly strive to keep public space under tight surveillance and control in the interest of risk management and late modern consumption, and work to encode ordered predictability into such space; anti-authoritarian activists in turn fight to keep such space open to fluid spatial relations, to preserve the spatial rights of the homeless and other marginalized groups, and to make room for spontaneity and creative urban disorder. The notion of “dis-organizing” and “dis-organization” exemplifies this anarchic orientation. As with Kropotkin, these groups see the immobility of rule and regulation as inhibiting human freedom and human progress—even if the rules and regulations are their own. As a result, they emphasize dis-organization—that
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is, just enough coordination to propel social activism forward, but not so much as to become a static end in itself. In this sense they seek not only to reintroduce indetermination and uncertainty into the spaces of urban life, but to do so by means that are themselves indeterminate and uncertain. Chris Carlsson has for example noted his pleasure at overhearing Critical Mass participants explaining the essential meaning of a Critical Mass ride, especially when their explanations differ from his own and those of others; the anonymous punk/anarchist author of Evasion, a chronicle of squatting and street living, has likewise written that, “I always secretly looked forward to nothing going as planned. That way, I wasn’t limited by my own imagination. That way anything can, and always did, happen” (in Ferrell 2001:107; Anonymous 2003:12). More pointedly, Reclaim the Streets, which describes itself as “as direct action network seeking the rediscovery and liberation of the city streets”, felt compelled at one point to issue a press release, “On Disorganization”, in response to media attempts to report on Reclaim the Streets “leaders”. Reclaim the Streets, they announced, “is a non-hierarchical, leaderless, openly organized public group. No individual ‘plans’ or ‘masterminds’ its actions and events. RTS activities are the result of voluntary, unpaid, co-operative efforts from numerous self-directed people attempting to work equally together.” A recent public event, they added, was put together in this way “in part previously, in part spontaneously on the day itself” (Reclaim the Streets 2000). As the Situationists, one of the precursors of Reclaim the Streets, said back in 1963: “We will only organize the detonation. The free explosion must escape us and any other control forever” (in Marcus 1989:179–180). Here a seemingly simple dualism—activist groups battling legal and economic authorities for control of urban space—can be seen to harbor a more subtle dynamic. To the extent that these groups found their spatial activism in anarchic traditions, their goal is not so much to retake control of urban space as it is to obliterate spatial domination and control itself in the interest of spontaneity and emergence. Recalling the old anarchist cry, the goal is not to seize power but to destroy it; as Ward (1973:38–39) says, the belief is in the “revolutionary” potential of “leaderless groups” to unravel, not replace, everyday arrangements of power and control. In this context, a too-sharply drawn duality between spatial control and resistance to it also omits from our observation and analysis a complementary trajectory, and a variety of groups and situations carried along by it. This trajectory, it seems to me, can deepen our understanding of contemporary urban space and conflicts over it, and our understanding of the interplay between anarchism and authority in the spatial realm. We can refer to this trajectory as drift, and those caught up in it as drifters, and we can anticipate two central ironies in this regard. The first involves the ways in which contemporary economic and legal developments promote the very sort of drift that contemporary spatial controls seek to contain. The second involves the ways in which activist and marginalized groups sometimes embrace drift for its dis-organizational possibilities.

Drift and Its Discontents
The contemporary social forces that cast people and populations adrift— that dislocate them and leave them without firm spatial orientation or
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destination—pervade contemporary political and economic developments. Broadly, these include widespread political expulsion on the part of repressive governmental regimes, mass migration forced by economic or political marginalization, and the creation of swelling refugee populations as the consequence of civil and transnational warfare. In more domestic domains, the ongoing destruction of lowcost housing as part of urban redevelopment schemes, the corporate criminality of the mortgage/foreclosure crisis of recent years, and the proliferation of part-time and low-wage service work all conspire to preclude for millions any certainty as to home or shelter. Moving from one temporary housing arrangement to another, sleeping in cars, haunting homeless shelters and wandering the streets when such shelters are closed, those cut loose from home or job find little in the way of spatial stability. Nor is this dislocation confined to any one region or country. While impoverished Central Americans hitch rides through Mexico atop US-bound freight trains and itinerant “gutter punks” hop US freight trains from city to city, rural migrants flood “arrival cities” (Saunders 2011) outside Rio de Janeiro and Mumbai, and Africans in search of work or political asylum crowd rickety boats to cross the Mediterranean toward the cities of southern Europe. Meanwhile, in southern Europe itself, a native-born generation finds that today, even advanced degrees leave them lost between dead-end jobs and unemployment—not unlike the young in Japan, left to piece together “irregular” jobs amidst a collapsing career structure, or the North American workers who discover that the current economic “recovery” is predicated mostly on “temp work” and day labor. Suggesting the scope of this contemporary drift, Bauman (2002:343) notes that refugees are “perhaps the most rapidly swelling of all the categories of world population” today, and Saunders (2010:1) estimates current worldwide rural-to-urban migration as involving “two or three billion humans, perhaps a third of the world’s population”. As these contemporary constellations of the dislocated drift amidst the predations of the late modern crisis, they are all but sure to catch the attention of security cameras, to trespass on newly privatized spaces, and to encamp in curfewed parks and closed off public squares—perhaps not with the same transgressive intentionality as anarchist spatial justice activists, but with their own desperate momentum nonetheless. Camping in the flood drains beneath the streets of Las Vegas, sleeping rough around London’s Westminster Cathedral, moving in and out of abandoned air-defense tunnels underneath Beijing, they are all but sure to reintroduce De Certeau’s “indetermination” and “illegitimacy” into the spaces of urban life, and so to transgress, both spatially and normatively, the ever more enforced boundaries of the contemporary social order (Butler 2011; Lichtblau 2009; Wong 2011). As a consequence, they seem certain to be caught up, increasingly, in contemporary conflicts over public space and social justice, and to become a focus of concern for those interested in spatial security. Writing about the dynamics of “liquid modernity”, and more particularly the increase in those who imagine that they are being stalked by strangers, Zygmunt Bauman (2000:93, emphasis in original) has noted that, as opposed to other historical forms of paranoia, “what is truly novel is that it is the stalkers (in company with prowlers and other loiterers, characters from outside the place through which they move) who carry the blame

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now . . . ” Yet as Bauman goes on to note, this paranoia resides not only in the mind, but in the spatial politics of contemporary society—in the fact that “public money has already been set aside in quantities that rise year after year for the purpose of tracing and chasing the stalkers, the prowlers and other updated editions of that modern scare, the mobile vulgus—the inferior kind of people on the move, dribbling or gushing into places where only the right kind of people should have the right to be . . . . ” For public officials, private developers, and affluent citizens invested in regulated urban space, drifters of all sorts constitute a ready target for paranoia and moral panic. As above, it is not only that homeless drifters are alleged to create image issues for contemporary urban economies; it is that they are, in the words of a Seattle economic official, “feral”, and in the language of two Phoenix/Tempe economic officials, “all on some kind of substance . . . all kind of extreme”, and “horrific . . . human carnage” (in Beckett and Herbert 2009:181; Ferrell 2001: 49, 54). Ironically, all of the individuals just quoted are directly involved in promoting the contemporary trend toward “consumption-driven urban development”— a form of economic development that spawns the very sorts of drifters they condemn. Invoking the ghosts of those displaced by Haussmann’s sweeping reconfiguration of nineteenth century Paris, and by the “brutal modernism” that Robert Moses applied to twentieth century New York City, David Harvey (2008:28, 34) emphasizes that this sort of contemporary urban development is likewise predicated on “the capture of valuable land from low-income populations that may have lived there for years”. For Harvey, this dispossession constitutes a sort of spatial imperialism, and an abrogation of “the right to the city”—and this is certainly so. Yet complementing this are the ongoing spatial consequences for those dispossessed—put bluntly, the likelihood that many of them will remain cut loose and cast adrift in ways that they were not before. Noticing a high-end condominium complex where once there was an historic working-class neighborhood, we see the physical evidence of the revanchist city (Smith 1997); less easily seen, less in focus, are the neighborhood’s former residents, many now scattered throughout the city, moving perhaps between one short-term abode and another. The boutique hotel put up in place of the old SRO flop stands still for observation; the SRO’s one time residents, now homeless on the streets, do not. As Thrush (in Beckett and Herbert 2009:27) says of Seattle’s sharp decline in SRO housing due to high-end development, “As the [SROs] closed, the people who remained downtown tended to be poorer, sicker, more often homeless and unemployed, and less likely to be white.” Just as the development of a late modern consumerist economy promotes drift, so does the risk-based policing model that accompanies it. CPTED programs that undertake to reduce crime by building social control into the spatial environment— and so to discourage the presence of transient populations by, for example, installing uncomfortable public benches or closing public toilets—may succeed in forcing such populations from parks or town squares, but in doing so they undermine the fragile spatial communities that emerge there, and put these populations back on the move in search of even minimal comfort or convenience (Ferrell 2001). Likewise, the proliferation of banishment orders and exclusion zones in New York,

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Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, and other US cities is such that homeless individuals are often forced into perpetual movement between them; as one homeless Seattle resident complained, “No, you know I don’t understand these zones . . . they’re everywhere. They try to tell you that you can’t walk around, can’t be in them, but where can I go, I’m homeless, I got no place to go. They’re everywhere” (in Beckett and Herbert 2009:130). Similarly, the contemporary criminal justice emphasis on the “broken windows” policing model and “place-based” crime prevention produces approaches like that utilized in Santa Ana, California, where according to an official’s memo, the policy is that “vagrants are no longer welcome in the city of Santa Ana . . . the mission of this program is to move all vagrants and their paraphernalia out . . . by continually removing them from the places that they are frequenting in the City” (in Mitchell 2003:197). Programs like the Los Angeles Safer Cities Initiative (SCI) institutionalize this approach further. This “placebased policing intervention” deploys police officers who move through Skid Row areas with entrenched homeless populations, “breaking up homeless encampments, issuing citations, and making arrests for violations of the law” (Berk and McDonald 2010:813, 817) for the purpose of dispersal. As Culhane (2010:853) notes, such initiatives are not designed to address the root problems of homelessness, but only the (alleged) problem of “spatial concentration” among the homeless—with such initiatives to be complemented by the “dispersal of homeless facilities” and support services throughout urban areas as well. Vitale (2010:868, 870) argues that, due to aggressive fines and arrests, such initiatives only further entrap those targeted in homelessness; to this we can add that such initiatives also force the homeless into ever more dislocated ways of living. Interestingly, Vitale wonders also if “the primary goal of the SCI [is] really to reduce crime and homelessness or instead to remove a large concentration of poor people forcibly from Skid Row in hope of encouraging the subsequent gentrification of the area . . . . A major effort to gentrify Skid Row has been underway for years . . .”1 If one meaning of drift is to be carried along by forces outside one’s control, these then are the forces today: the predatory political economy of global capitalism and the exclusionary urban economies of consumption, the revanchist spatial politics of urban environments and the policing strategies that support them, and the privatization and privations of urban space that result. In all of this the iatrogenic effects of law and economy—the “ironies of social control” (Marx 1981) by which the doctor can be seen to create the disease—are evident. The spatial controls meant to contain urban space, to protect it from the feared dribble and gush of transitory populations, only serve to make such populations more transient; put simply, the closure of urban space to drifters exacerbates urban drift. Likewise, the reconstitution of urban economies around managed meaning and conspicuous consumption casts adrift the very sorts of citizens whose peripatetic presence threatens those preferred patterns of meaning and consumption. And speaking of ironies and contradictions, there is one more: various social groups and social movements that battle these forces—that fight for open public space and alternative urban economies—sometimes engender drift themselves, and explore it for its subversive potential.

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Precarity, Dis-organization and Drift
As already noted, any number of groups battling for open urban space draw on anarchist and anti-authoritarian orientations in developing a politics of direct action and creative disruption. Confronting an Arizona plan to privatize public sidewalks and criminalize the public presence of the homeless, for example, Randall Amster and the Project S.I.T. movement that he helped (dis)organize called on traditions of “anarchist direct action, the I.W.W . . . . the civil rights movement . . . the philosophies of Gandhi and King . . . passive resistance, civil disobedience . . . [and] the burgeoning WTO, World Bank anti-globalization movement” to stage sidewalk sit-ins and create “a kind of space for spontaneity” and resistance (in Ferrell 2001:51–52; see Amster 2008). Over the past couple of decades, Reclaim the Streets activists in the United States and Europe have likewise blocked urban automotive traffic, held illegal street parties, and otherwise launched “ephemeral festivals of resistance”—all while referencing and reinventing the Paris Commune’s 1871 “festival of the oppressed”, the Situationist interventions of Paris 1968, and other moments in anti-authoritarian history (Jordan 1998:139). During the 1996 Democratic National Convention in Chicago—itself preceded by homeless roundups and the destruction of low-income housing—the anarchist group Active Resistance (AR) likewise “highlighted the significance of the spatial dimensions of conflict and the territoriality of social struggle” by ignoring designated protest areas and staging an illegal “festival of the oppressed” in the streets around the convention (Shantz 2011:70). In New York City, Bike Lane Liberation Clowns attempt to “bridge the space between the joy of riding free and possibilities for public-space environmental activism” by playfully ticketing drivers parked in bicycle lanes (Shepard and Smithsimon 2011:188). And in New York City, Madrid, and other cities around the world, Jordan Seiler and members of the Public Ad Campaign undermine the commodification of public space by illicitly removing corporate advertising from public areas and replacing it with independent art, in this way striving to help “communities regain control of the spaces they occupy” (www.publicadcampaign.com). In this sense these and other groups work to uproot the conventional signposts that define and delimit urban space—legal statutes and police lines, automotive traffic, corporate advertising—and to institute instead spontaneously self-made encounters within public venues. Two groups in particular embrace the progressive possibilities of drift, disorientation, and disruption even more overtly—the first directly in the realm of public space, the second in the broader realm of cultural and political economy. Critical Mass—the anarchic bicycling movement whose participants now ride in cities around the world—disavows traditional models of leadership and organization in favor of the sort of decentered, dis-organized dynamics that operate through direct action, do-it-yourself media, and loose affiliations among riders. This approach defines the preparation for a collective ride, with participants encouraged to create and distribute their own fliers promoting the ride. It also defines the ride itself. The route the ride will take is left open to discussion, or simply allowed to emerge in transit; if a map materializes, it is considered provisional, or designated as leading “to wherever” (in Ferrell 2001:106). During the course of the rides—”open-ended,

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leaderless and democratic free-for-alls”, as Shepard and Smithsimon (2011:171) describe them—the bicycles’ collective flow trumps the rigidity of traffic laws. As riders approach an intersection, a few will break off to temporarily “cork” the intersection—to block it from cross-traffic as the ride progresses through it, whether or not stop signs are present or traffic lights green or red—and then rejoin the ride; at the next intersection, other riders will voluntarily take on the corking (Ferrell 2011a). Unlike other forms of urban traffic—hurried, hyper-regulated, anxious—Critical Mass rides are meant to drift through urban space as organic, on-the-move collectivities. In their drifting uncertainty, they are in turn meant to embody the dis-organization that produced them, and to demonstrate that such fluid direct action can effectively replace the usual policing of public space. As Graeber (2007:378) argues, anarchist activists dedicated to direct action have understood “mass mobilizations not only as opportunities to expose the illegitimate, undemocratic nature of existing institutions, but as ways to do so in a form that itself demonstrated why such institutions were unnecessary, by providing a living example of genuine, direct democracy”. Critical Mass participants emphasize that this approach is not a form of protest, but rather a playful, celebratory enactment of alternative spatial community and reclaiming of public space (Ferrell 2001:105–121). Not surprisingly, this direct, collective liberation of urban space from automotive traffic and traffic law has led to countless encounters with city officials and police, innumerable arrests, and a number of violent incidents with motorists, including a recent Brazilian case in which an angry driver accelerated into a Critical Mass ride, injuring some 30 riders (Domit and Goodman 2011:A5). Among these, two cases in particular highlight the ways in which Critical Mass’s drifting uncertainty challenges conventional spatial controls. In 1997, with San Francisco Critical Mass rides drawing thousands of participants, then San Francisco mayor Willie Brown and his administration undertook to control the rides by negotiating designated routes and police escorts—but could find no Critical Mass leaders with whom to negotiate. As a result, San Francisco police were ordered to stop the next Critical Mass ride and arrest participants, and while many were arrested, the majority simply scattered and escaped along various spur-ofthe-moment routes. “It was not possible for the mayor to engineer what would happen with Critical Mass”, said Jennifer Granick, an attorney for some who were arrested. “How was he going to stop the ride? There just wasn’t any way. There’s no leadership . . . And what were they going to do, arrest everybody? There’s just too many people to arrest everybody . . . And I think the bicyclists realized that (in Ferrell 2001:108–109). A few years later in New York City, it did seem they were going to arrest everybody, and for similar reasons. Following numerous arrests of Critical Mass riders during the Republican National Convention, the New York City police department demanded (unsuccessfully) that Critical Mass obtain a permit for its rides, posting fliers claiming that it was “dangerous and illegal to ride a bicycle in a procession” without a permit (in Shepard and Smithsimon 2011:174). A second progressive group especially attuned to the collective politics of drift and disruption is southern Europe’s emerging “precarity” movement. Variously understood as “chainworkers” (www.chainworkers.org) or members of the new “precariat”, those engaged with this movement argue that the global economy of the late capitalist city leaves them with little but aborted careers, part-time service
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work, unpredictable “flex scheduling” at the jobs they do find—and so a life defined by precarious prospects and constant uncertainty. Moreover, with the “infiltration of models of non-standard employment from low-wage service sectors” into middleclass and creative occupations, a “multi-class precariat” may now span conventional class divisions and so be emerging as “the post-Fordist successor to the proletariat” (Ross 2008:34–35). As Braverman (1974) has documented, the degradation of work in the twentieth century resulted from the systematic deskilling of physical labor and imposition of Taylorist models of scientifically managed efficiency; such is the degradation of work in the twenty-first century that “immaterial” labor is now also subject to measurement and regulation, without even the small compensations of Fordist security and social welfare that accompanied this earlier process (De Angelis and Harvie 2009). As a result, a new generation confronts a present and a future cut loose from the social contract—a present and future without conventional anchors of education, career, and identity. In this way the consumer-driven cultural economy of the contemporary capitalist city not only dislocates impoverished urban residents and closes public spaces; it also spawns a young, peripatetic army of lowwage service and retail workers who drift between part-time jobs and temporary housing, negotiate irregular work schedules, and find little hope for spatial or social permanence (Seligson 2011). In developing a critique of precarity’s economic and historical origins, those associated with the movement have also begun to explore its cultural and political possibilities. Christina Morini (in Galetto et al 2007:106), for example, argues that while precarity suggests the negativity of instability,
it is at the same time also connected with the idea of re-questioning, of becoming, of the future, of possibility, concepts which together contribute to creating the idea of the nomadic subject without fixed roots . . . . The precarious subject has no fixed points and does not want any. He/she is always forced to seek a new sense of direction, to construct new narratives and not to take anything for granted.

The new narratives of the precariat do indeed explore alternative ways of collective living and being—and the potential for turning precariousness back on those whose economic and political policies promote it. Many of these alternatives also point beyond traditional labor unions and political parties and towards forms of cultural activism that use “visual tools and images extensively” and employ “theatre, cinema, music and stunts to effect political change” (Gill and Pratt 2008:10), as developed from “an understanding that cultural production is not an adjunct or addition to the ‘real work’ of capitalist production but increasingly . . . is the work that is a key component of it” (Shukaitis 2009:170, emphasis in original). Members of the Italian Chainworkers movement, for example, have invented San Precario—the transgendered patron saint of disenfranchised workers and companion saint to Santa Graziella of the Milan Critical Mass—and have paraded San Precario though the sorts of retail spaces that employ such workers. Subsequently, they have used their digital and media skills to promote the imaginary fashion designer Serpica Naro (an anagram of San Precario), and used her to infiltrate a fashion show at Milan Fashion Week 2005. In the course of the show, “it was announced that Serpica Naro does not exist, [and] the whole prank was revealed to the media, which duly reported

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the entire story, thus highlighting the issues of casualized work behind the glitter of Milan fashion week” (Tari and Vanni 2005; see Shukaitis 2009:172–174).2 For Critical Mass riders as for members of the new precariat, then, drift is not simply the consequence of economic and political arrangements; it is also the foundation for what we might call an anarchic culture of drift, and for new styles of spatial activism and cultural resistance to those arrangements. These new styles are as fluid, ambivalent, and dis-organized as are the lives of those who create them. They drift across spaces, situations, and social categories as readily as do the young people whose lives they reflect, and draw on the sorts of portable skills that they carry with them from job to job—when a job is to be had. All the while, such approaches confront the spaces of law and commerce not head-on, but glancingly, subversively, playfully—much as drifters themselves move though urban space. Because of this, these approaches also hint at alternative orientations for knowing the world, for moving through it, and for living collectively in it—orientations that echo, at least, with anarchic possibility.

Drift, Space, and Anarchy: A Speculation
A number of scholars concerned with the precarious dynamics of contemporary occupational and social life have argued that such precariousness is not an aberration; rather, it was the period of Fordism—with its regulatory controls, relative stability, and social welfare state—that was the exception within capitalism’s long and chaotic history (Fantone 2007; Neilson and Rossiter 2008; Shukaitis 2009:165– 166, 179–180). From this view, a syndrome of itinerant laborers, unstable work opportunities, and enforced drift is not simply a symptom of “late capitalism” or “late modernity”, but as much so a return to the sort of endemic predatory uncertainty that was interrupted, briefly and partially, by the decades of Fordism in the United States and Europe. Widening this view, it might be argued that modernity itself, while at times producing bureaucratic stability and enduring regimes of power, has consistently produced profound and ongoing dislocation, and with it an endless stream of migrants, refugees, and wanderers. Taking this analysis further still, we might wonder whether the nature of human existence is not itself deeply precarious, beset at some fundamental level by longing, rootlessness, and wanderlust. Certainly there is plentiful, if sometimes contradictory, evidence for all these views—from small nomadic groups to waves of global immigrants, from Depression-era dustbowl drifters and Beat Generation roadtrips in the United States to lost populations shuttled between post-World War II Displaced Persons camps in Europe. But whatever the case—whether our analytic focus is economic, historical, or existential—it does seem that the spatial politics of drift exists before and beyond any one episode or group. In this light the project undertaken by Critical Mass riders and precarity activists can be widened as well: exploring the possibilities of drift as collective experience and collective political action. Put another way, we can consider how the contemporary trends already seen—the increasing closure and control of urban space, the dynamics by which new urban economies and the spatial policing that protects them spawn drift, and the uses of drift by anarchic groups in confrontation
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with emerging economic and spatial arrangements—might intertwine as they continue to emerge. Shukaitis (2009:166–168) notes that, among progressive groups in 1970s Italy, the phrase precario bello—beautiful precarity—was regularly used to denote opposition to, and withdrawal from, the all too stable world of routinized industrial production. Now, he argues, an “inversion and transformation” has occurred whereby capitalism largely imposes precarity and flexibility as the conditions for new sorts of degraded labor. Building from the work of Critical Mass riders, precariat activists, and others, I speculate in what follows on the possibility that this contemporary, imposed precarity might be remade into, or at least infused with, precario bello—and so with some new sort of critical or progressive politics. If more and more people are forced adrift by emerging economic and spatial forces, might we find in this any hope of a deriva bella as well? At the outset, let me be clear: The experience of drift for many, perhaps for most—the political refugee, the impoverished migrant, the homeless family–is undoubtedly suffused not with political possibility, but with sorrow, anger, and a sense of irretrievable loss. In such cases alienation from home, career, or cultural history produces a degree of existential disempowerment and emotional pain that defines drift as anything but a beautiful adventure. Moreover, those who drift amidst precarious circumstances are fractured along lines of social capital, privilege, and intentionality; a poor family displaced by urban development or a homeless woman rousted by an LA police officer drifts differently than does a Critical Mass rider or wandering artist (see Cresswell 1997). Among all these groups, there is also the matter of present state versus preferred state. As Saunders (2011) has shown, many rural migrants who drift toward urban areas—or as commonly, drift back and forth repeatedly between rural village and urban area—do so driven by the firm hope of eventual and permanent settlement in the city. These closing remarks, then, are neither a comprehensive catalogue of drift’s experiential dimensions nor a celebration of drift as such, but rather a speculation on the complex politics of drift. Within that complexity, there are some commonalities. “The more insecure jobs are still and above all carried out by women” (Galetto et al 2007:106), for example, and “youth, women and immigrants are disproportionately represented in . . . the precariat” (Ross 2008:41; see Aubenas 2011). Moreover, these commonalities often intersect within particular groups or spatial situations—as in a recent illegal street blockade by Australian taxi drivers, many of whom were also international university students on limited visas. “The question thus arises”, write Neilson and Rossitor (2008:66), “as to whether the blockade should be read as taxi driver politics, migrant politics or student politics. We would suggest that one reason for the effectiveness of the strike . . . is the fact that it [was] all three of these at the same time.” Broadening this view, Ross (2008) and others wonder whether common cause can be found between relatively high-end “creative class” workers and lower class service workers, even with the shared precariousness of their work and lives. Perhaps not, in many cases; yet as the Serpico Naro episode shows, creativity and dislocation can at times come together to form powerful alliances across differences of occupation or status. One precariat manifesto suggests something of this, and reflects as well the profound uncertainty that now links many young people’s lives from Europe and
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the United States to North Africa and the Middle East: “We are all migrants looking for a better life” (in Tari and Vanni 2005). Among today’s late modern migrants, then, a social and cultural geography of drift might include also hobos, wanderers, and nomads traversing North America, Europe and beyond (Daniels 2008; Grant 2003); Gypsy Travelers moving across and against governmental boundaries (Shubin 2011; Ward 2000); economic and political refugees on the move from country to country in search of work, safety, or political renewal; migrant workers, regularly victimized by state and economic authorities, but also carrying with them the potential to “evade state scrutiny and capitalist discipline” (Ross 2008:37); those operating outside traditional work routines by way of urban scrounging and trash picking (Ferrell 2006), or “homeworking, piecework, and freelancing” (Gill and Pratt 2008:3); sex workers and migratory prostitutes who remain dislocated both from their home communities and their current communities of residence (O’Neill 2001; Oude Breuil 2009); and unknown others whose day-to-day lives are shaped by spatial and ontological uncertainty. Across this heterogeneity of people and approaches, various dynamics would suggest at least the potential for commonalities of experience. The first is the great likelihood that such groups will continue to breach increasingly rigid spatial and legal boundaries as they drift across cities, countries, and occupations. As already seen, this spatio-legal transgression is all but assured not only by the movement of drifters themselves, but by the contemporary reconfiguration of public space as a series of closures, boundaries, and obstacles designed to criminalize free movement. Because of this, the experience of drift will include, in many cases, the sequenced experience of exclusion and alienation. In these cases the drifter exists as an ongoing outsider—outside the boundaries of home country, conventional labour market, designated space, or legal citizenship. To the extent that this drifting continues, the exclusions accumulate, and in so doing reinforce the drifter’s identity as one outside the frame many times over. Here is the sorrow, loss and alienation of drift, the emptiness of dislocation as well—but here also is the impetus for living and learning outside the usual bounds of the social order. A serial transgressor by law or by choice, the drifter may acquire—may be forced to acquire—a sense of self and society unavailable to the sedentary. “On the back of the card . . . it says when you sign this card . . . you trespassed from all these places on the back of the card,” says a homeless urbanite caught up in a banishment/exclusion zone order. “That’s everywhere! You can’t go to Sorry’s, you can’t go to Feathers, you can’t go to Rainier Beach, you can’t go to Bank of America, you can’t go to the Moore place, you can’t go the Safeway, you can’t go nowhere!” (in Beckett and Herbert 2009:131). Richard Grant’s (2003:263) summary of his years wandering the United States with itinerant rodeo cowboys, freight train hobos, and peripatetic neo-hippies is similarly instructive. “They have a quintessentially nomadic attitude toward sedentary society”, he concludes.
They don’t pay taxes, they don’t vote, and they don’t consider themselves bound by the social contract. And thanks to vagrancy laws, begging laws, laws against sleeping in parks, laws against hitchhiking and riding freight trains—laws, in short, that make it illegal to be poor and nomadic—they are locked into conflict with the sedentary state and its coercive power.
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Grant’s notion of a “nomadic attitude” hints at a second dynamic, this one perceptual—the dynamic by which drifting can create commonalities of alternative knowledge and perception for those caught up in it. Geographers have noted this tendency, both in their own studies of spatial mobility and attitude (Prince 1973), and in their invocation of the flaneur (Keith 1997). For cultural geographers as for literary scholars, the flaneur embodies a distinctive model of urban citizenship, not only by the flaneur’s ongoing and uncertain movement through the city, but by the particular sorts of knowledge that such movement produces. As an urban dawdler and drifter the flaneur builds a holistic, comparative understanding of the city’s spaces that has the potential to undermine the more settled understandings of the sedentary. Keith (1997:145) argues that, “spatially, the order of things is never more clearly revealed than through disruption, the striking juxtapositions of the street walk . . . ” De Certeau (1984:101) agrees: “The long poem of walking manipulates spatial organizations, no matter how panoptic they may be”, he says. “It creates shadows and ambiguities within them.” Perhaps the most provocative possibility in this regard is the Situationist practice of the d´ rive—a fluid drifting through urban space, a “rapid passage through varied e ambiances”, in order “to study a terrain or to emotionally disorient oneself” (Debord 1958). Graeber (2009:258, see 526–528; 2007:394) notes that the “situationist legacy is probably the single most important theoretical influence on contemporary anarchism is America”, and indeed the Situationist notion of creating a “revolution of everyday life” from moments that disrupt and reverse dominant arrangements can be seen in the performative spatial politics of Critical Mass, Reclaim the Streets, Project S.I.T., and other anarchist groups (Ferrell 2001). Essential to this sort of spontaneous, subversive politics is the d´ rive as Vaneigem (2001 [1967]:195) wrote, e the nature of the d´ rive is such that “in losing myself I find myself; forgetting that e I exist, I realize myself . . . . The traveler who is always thinking about the length of the road before him tires more easily than his companion who lets his imagination wander as he goes along.” Here we see a direct and intentional intertwining of anarchist politics, drift, and space, in the hope that drifting through spatial structures can create the sort of comparative, critical experiences necessary for individual and social liberation. Significantly, precariat activists have recently undertaken to link this politics of the d´ rive with the lives of those for whom drift has been not a choice but e an imposition. Seeking to highlight the overrepresentation of women in precarious work, the feminist collective Precarias a la Deriva has employed the d´ rive to “drift e through the circuits and spaces of feminized labor that constituted their everyday lives”. Drifting through the spaces of female domestic workers, telemarketers, food service workers, and others, the members of Precarias a la Deriva have been able to “find points for commonality and alliance”, and to “find ways to turn mobility and uncertainty into strategic points of intervention” through the defamiliarization of taken-for-granted environments, collective gatherings, workshops, and other contagious techniques (Shukaitis 2009:152–156; see Makeworlds 2003).3 All of this implies that drifting often produces a kind of critical, comparative exteriority by which drifters are able—or are forced—to see beyond the certainty of any one situation. Here perhaps the pain and potential of drift intertwine. The sorrows of a global migrant’s endless journey, the outrage of a homeless
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person caught between endless urban exclusion orders, the fluid insights derived from the long walking poem of the d´ rive or the flaneur—each is profoundly e different, yet each is built from the recurring experience of radical dislocation. In each case the experience of drift seems to produce an emerging intentionality, and with it a sense of the self as somehow separated from the more sedentary social order. Whether this ongoing normative and spatial alienation is imposed by contemporary arrangements or embraced for its liberatory possibilities, it does seem to create at least the potential for a progressive critique of the existing order of things. Given the complex experience of drift, this critique would seem to embody something of the sociologist’s critical eye for social arrangements, the anthropologist’s keen eye for comparison, and the geographer’s cartographic eye for spatialities of power (Ferrell 2011b). Further, the recurring, radical exteriority of drift would seem to promote the sort of anarchist epistemology that Feyerabend (1975) has outlined—an epistemology attuned to noticing the dimensions of power and authority embedded in otherwise taken-for-granted understandings and perceptions. Then again, for the desperate temp worker or the banished street person, all such insights may be overwhelmed by the task of simply surviving ever more exclusionary spatial, legal, and economic regimes. For them, some sense of a self-made deriva bella may or may not emerge amidst the inequities of contemporary drift. If the many contemporary trajectories that spawn drift continue, we will certainly be afforded the chance to find out. As with Precarias a la Deriva, Critical Mass, and others, the key to realizing drift’s progressive potential may well lie in the parallel potential for creating shared cultures and communities of drift. The work of Precarias a la Deriva suggests that drifters may be particularly well placed—or displaced—to discover the spaces of other drifters. If so, perhaps the pervasiveness of contemporary drift will lead to new sorts of communities—uncertain, unsettled, and anarchic in nature, yet provisionally connected by the common experiences and perceptions of drift. Perhaps drift will become a preferred form of dis-organization, a form that by its own dynamics guarantees loose alliances and evolving lines of direct action. Perhaps, in classic anarchist terms, drift carries the potential for new dynamics of mutual aid, for new fluidities of collective self-help (Kropotkin 1902). In the face of contemporary trajectories, perhaps the question is not whether we will drift, but only whether we will drift together or drift apart.

Endnotes
1

Ward (2000:49–57) notes similarly the contradiction by which English “travelers” are instructed to settle in one place and then denied the right to do so. 2 The recent Spanish Yomango movement—its name a play on a Spanish chain store and the Spanish slang for “I steal”—similarly embraced shoplifting from corporate retailers as an act of episodic civil disobedience and economic survival amidst the uncertainty of part-time, minimum wage retail work (see Ferrell, Hayward and Young 2008:110–112). 3 With their notion of the nomad and nomadology, Deleuze and Guattari (1987:380) likewise propose that “the life of the nomad is in the intermezzo”—that is, that the nomad’s knowledge of the world becomes “smooth”, uncontained, and comparative as it forms between and beyond particular places.

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