The Multiplying of Alternative Spaces in Asia

Yoshitaka Mōri


We are witnessing the rise of alternative spaces everywhere in Asia.
How should we understand this phenomenon?
We may be able to see the increase of places and the construction of
their transnational network as practices following the spatial turn in social theory.
Let us consider the practices of places within an emerging political,
social and cultural context.
理 解できるのかもしれない。
場所の実践を、政 治や社会、文化の新しい文脈の中で考えてみよう!




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For the last two years, I have joined in the wood-block printing collaboration
project, A3BC(=Anti-War, Anti-Nuclear and Arts of Block-print Collective) and
co-produced printing works with my companions at an Info shop in Shinjuku,
IRA(=Irregular Rhythm Asylum). IRA is an alternative space where anarchist
independent zines, books, CDs and DVDs are sold, while talk events and art
exhibition are held. As it is known as a hub of global activist networks, many
overseas guests drop by.
I began to go to IRA regularly only after I had participated in the project,
though I have known Keisuke Narita, the IRA master, for a long time. Every
Thursday evening after work, about ten members gather to do wood block
engravings. The first engraving was for the anti-war and anti-nuclear exhibition.
After that, they also produced a large print work for the protest against the US
military base in Okinawa. It took about two months to complete the large print.
While most of the members are fixed, many, including overseas guests, temporarily
join us for only one evening. A3BC also often organize wood block print workshops
at other locations.
I have learned a lot from this project: the old technology of expression and
wood block printing is an important means of communication in the punk DIY
movement in Asia even today; an underground, mostly invisible, and transnational
cultural network has been established through the exchange of punk music and
wood block prints. The know-how of cultural practices of wood block printing is
shared among members of the movement through mutual visits as well as social
media and the Internet; these small, alternative spaces are hubs of both local and
transnational cultural politics.
The mainstream media rarely picks up on these kinds of underground
movements. The information about these spaces is mainly circulated through
a face-to-face human network in physical space. Although you may be able to
gather some information from a group’s website, they are often too partial and too
fragmented to really grasp what is going on at these spaces.
Although the mode of communication is quite traditional, these networks
have still only recently been established. The spread of information concerning
these spaces is only made possible through the contemporary social, economic and
technological conditions today; itself a by-product of globalization and the advances
in infrastructure, transportation and information technology that globalization has
enabled since the start of the twenty-first century.
Aside from anarchist/punk info-shops like IRA, various kinds of alternative
spaces have recently been appearing across the world. This is not only an urban

phenomenon: some spaces seek a self-suff icient DIY life style based on local
agriculture, some establish social entrepreneur centers that actively work with local
authorities, while others functions as a cultural center with a gallery, a library and
a theatre. Interestingly enough, while they enjoy autonomy in their unique ways,
they often overlap with each other and through this overlapping form different
layers of loose networks. Now these networks have become forms of alternative,
transnational infrastructure for travel, transportation and information exchange.
Then, how should we understand the multiplying of these alternative spaces?
In what kind of political, social, cultural and technological conditions have they
emerged and how will they change in the future?

From Spatial Turn to Politics of Space
The concept of space has played an important role in social movements over the
last three decades. One example of this would be the World Trade Organization
or W TO protest in Seattle in 1999. Activists gathered around the W TO
conference hall, preventing participants from entering and eventually closing
down the ministerial conference. The WTO was regarded as an evil organization
that promoted neo-liberalist globalization since the end of the Cold War and
was causing the widening gap between the rich and the poor and aggravating the
North-South problem.
It should be noted that the occupation of space was most visible throughout
the WTO protest. Some activists who actively stopped participants from entering
the conference hall severely clashed with the police who were attempting to evict
them. Under the slogan of ‘Non Violence Direct Action’, other activists successfully
broke off the conference by surrounding the venue with colorful banners, placards,
theatrical performance and music. It was not only an ideological protest, but also a
spatial practice organized using physical sensations and affect.
The Seattle protest, however, took place out of the blue. ACT UP (=AIDS
Coalition to Unleash Power) in the 1980s and Reclaim the Streets in the 1990s
could be seen as pioneering political movements involving spatial practices.
Following them, a variety of spatial practices developed in the 2000s. In 2008, a
protest against Tōyako G8 Summit in Hokkaido was organized as part of the antiglobalism movement, an event in which IRA also had a foothold. Other recent
spatial practices include the Arab Spring in the Middle East in 2010-2012, Occupy
Wall Street in New York in 2011, the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong and the


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Sunflower Movement in Taipei in 2014.
The foregrounding of space can be seen in the transformation of social theory, too.
The concept of space became increasingly important when considering post-Cold
War cultural politics; the introduction of post-Marxist and postmodern theories
in Geography, the rereading of French theorists such as Michel Foucault, Gilles
Deleuze, and Félix Guattari and the re-discovery of the philosophers of space:
Walter Benjamin, Henri Lefebvre and Guy Debord who brought about a ‘spatial
turn’ in critical theory.
Needless to say, the spatial turn is not only a concern of social theory
but is also part of a social transformation. Since the end of the Cold War, as
globalization developed in relation to advances in media technology; space seemed
to be homogenized and radically compressed whilst also cut into pieces along the
borders of class, race, gender and culture. These separations inevitably contained
contradictory unevenness. Space is not a sliced cross section of linear time, but it
should be understood as heterotopic mélange that holds different time lines. The
end of History, which Francis Fukuyama provocatively proposed at the time of the
end of the Cold War, not only ended the ideological struggle between the east and
the west, but also caused much more complicated conflicts over space.
The focus on space in the social movements should be understood as a political
practice in the process of a spatial turn. As globalization has proceeded, society has
become more complicated and multifarious, the limits of representative democracy
have become clearer. Protests such as anti-WTO in Seattle to Occupy Wall Streets
were objections to the fact that global elites, who were not chosen through a proper
democratic election system, were making rules of global capitalism beyond national
boundaries. Direct action was a strategy of counter-spectacle that would make
visible criticisms of the global military-industry complex, which Michael Hardt
and Antonio Negri would call ‘Empire’.
These new social movements did not aim at revolution in a traditional sense:
revolution is to over-turn an authority or power, by cutting off a time line and
controlling the after-time. On the contrary, spatial practices freeze power and
time to reorganize spatial formations and to protect democracy. Here the relations
between change and protection, between the progressive and the conservative are
reversed. It is not us but global capitalism that is attempting to change the world.
Though capitalism moves so rapidly that we cannot either control or recognize it,
spatial practices can delay its development.
Mobility and Place


From Space to Place

We should not limit our discussion to spatial practices as a political movement. It is
also important to look at the practice of place, as it has developed as well as political
spatial practice in the process of globalization. Practice of place does not connect
explicitly to politics but also to everyday life.
What is ‘place’ then? David Harvey, who explored the transformation of
space in terms of compression of time-space under the post-Fordist economy in his
book, The Condition of Postmodernity, discussed the importance of place in his own
reflections on the book (Harvey 1993).
Harvey examined Heidegger’s arguments concerning place. From a Marxist
perspective, space is reformulated through the development of capitalism, but
at the same time, this enables proletariats to share a class consciousness and to
organize loose associations. The reformulation of space is seen as political potential.
Heidegger argues that in capitalist space ‘the humanness of man and the thingness
of things dissolve into the calculated market value’. For Heidegger, place maintains
a strong relation with the idea of dwelling. ‘Dwelling’ is to be rooted in the earth
and therefore guarantees authenticity to fight against capitalist space that eradicates
our roots. This argument may be interesting, but it has often been criticized as it
sometimes leads to narrow-minded communitarianism, or even to chauvinistic
nationalism (in the case of Heidegger, to Nazism).
Harvey attempts to articulate this argument on space within the Marxist
tradition with the place-bound politics Heidegger discussed, because, to him, space
is not given authentically as Heidegger believed, but socially constructed. For this
argument, he focuses on Daniel Bell’s “the cultural mass” that is; “those working in
higher education, publishing, magazines, broadcast media, theater, and museums,
who process and influence the reception of serious cultural products” (Bell, 1971:
20) “The cultural mass” are essential actors in postmodern/post-Fordist capitalism.
They share a lot of characteristic features as a class with the working class in
modernist society, but they are not spatially enclosed, and therefore, in most cases,
are unable to organize their own associations as the working class did. However,
representation, symbolic forms and images the cultural mass create have initiated
place-bounded politics. Of course, the politics of place may sometimes cause
exclusionist sentiments. For instance, consider the nationalist tendencies in some
recent Japanese right wing media output. At the same time however, the politics
of place can also lead people to establish solidarity and mobilize politics. This is
why, Harvey suggests that it is necessary to make a bridge between Heidegger’s


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argument on place and Marxist spatial practices.

Mobility and Place

We may replace Bell’s idea of cultural mass with the more recent term cognitariat,
which means those who are involved with immaterial production in a broader
sense. The term cognitariat was coined by Franco Berardy (Bifo) and other Italian
Autonomists. They are workers in the age of cognitive capitalism in post-Fordist
production where immaterial production is dominant. They produce immaterial
commodities from communication, networking, the service industry, culture,
information and the media, all of which are characteristic of late capitalism. The
“cultural mass” may be included as part of the cognitariat. The cognitariat work
mainly in more flexible and mobile workplaces, not in a factory or an office as once
modern workers did.
More importantly, the practice of ‘dwelling’, which Heidegger focused on, has
radically changed over the last three decades. In particular for young contemporary
cognitariats, dwelling is essentially ‘living temporarily’ and not setting ‘root’ in a
specific place. Dwelling becomes a transitional practice between a previous place
and the next place.
In other words, the relation between moving and dwelling is reversed. When
society was relatively stable in the modern period dwelling was a dominant mode
of life, while moving was an exceptional experience. However, in postmodern
contemporary society, the experience of moving, invading everyday life, becomes
an essential practice. This means not only that we sometimes travel, often move
and always commute, but also that we travel in a virtual space through mobile
terminals even at home and in the streets. For most of cognitariats, the distinction
between workplace and home has been almost completely dissolved. Cognitariats
work in many ways as long as they have an internet connection. The digital media
environment today offers working conditions through which you can move virtually
even when you are physically fixed.
Place does not, however, disappear. As long as we have a physical body, place
plays a crucial role, because face-to-face communication is a basis for our lives.
As Harvey suggests, place is, contrary to Heidegger’s understanding, socially
The multiplying of alternative spaces across the world could be a response
to the construction of a new place. Those who are involved with these spaces
Mobility and Place


always exchange ideas or know-how through social media or the Internet and
establish real human connections. The recent increase in tourism, often based on
increasingly cheap air tickets (LCC), makes travel around the world much easier.
Most alternative spaces function as a hub for transnational networks as well as
an important place for local cultural and political practices. Cognitive workers
(including university students among them), whose life is more flexible, fluid and
fragmented with unsecured jobs, are major supporters of these places.
Marx and Engels once said ‘Workers of the world, unite!’ They believed that
the transnational class consciousness of the proletariat would emerge through
global spatial reformulation. Their prolatarian class consciousness grew by sharing
spaces such as a factory or a coal mine shaft and imagining those who were
experiencing the same conditions as they were in the world. Today cognitariats may
be too divided and individualized to establish class consciousness in a Marxist
sense. We can feel, however, that a transnational collective unconsciousness may be
about to appear in these alternative spaces and their place-bounded politics.

Bell, D. (1979) The Cultural Contradiction of Capitalism: New York,
Harper & Row
Harvey, D (1993) ‘From space to place and back again: Reflections on
the Condition of Postmodernity’, in Bird J. et al.: Mapping the Futures:
Local Culture, Global Changes, Routledge, New York, pp.3-29



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 2 年ほど前から新宿のインフォショップ IR A(=Irregular Rhythm Asylum)の版画プロジェク
ト A3BC(=Anti-War, Anti-Nuclear and Arts of Block-print Collective)に参加し、友人たちと版
画を彫っている。IRA は、主として国内外のアナキスト系のインディペンデント雑誌や書籍、そ
 IRA の中心人物、成田圭祐は以前からよく知っていたが、定期的に IRA に来るようになった
参加する飛び入りも多い。面白がって参加する海外のゲストもいる。A3BC は、いろいろな場に
が、今でもアジアにおけるパンクDIY シーンで重要な役割を果たしているということ。パンクミュー
ワークが形成されていること。人の往来や YouTube などインターネットのソーシャルメディアを通
的な条件が生み出した新しいあり方なのである。具体的には、21 世紀に入って交通と情報のテ
 IRA はアナキスト系パンク文化のインフォショップだが、これ以外にもさまざまな特徴を持っ
Mobility and Place