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What is Militant & Co-Research?

Kevin Van Meter | Team Colors

For the workshop:

Maps, Drifts, Interventions and Inquiries:
What (Else) Can Independent Media Do?
Julie Perini & Kevin Van Meter (of Team Colors Collective)

13 September 2008 as part of the Portland Grassroots Media Camp

1. Defining Inquiry, Militant & Co-Research
2. A Genealogy of Militant & Co-Research
3. What Does Militant & Co-Research Provide to Grassroots Media
4. In the Middle of a Whirlwind: An Example of Militant Research in the US
5. Additional Examples of Militant & Co-Research Projects

Defining Inquiry, Militant & Co-Research

“Militant research is that process of re-appropriation of our

own capacity of worlds-making, which (…) questions,
problematizes and pushes the real through a series of
concrete procedures.”
- Precarias a la Deriva (Madrid, Spain)

“What does knowledge become when it renounces the

comfort of “critical distance” with regards to the “object,”
when it refuses each and every “evenly balanced
evaluation” and adopts a point of view based in struggles?
How is the ability to research experienced when it becomes
part of the experience of life, when it becomes potential to
create? What happens when the discussion is no longer
about “who is who:” who is on the inside and who on the outside; who “thinks” and who
“acts;” who has the right to speak and who is better off letting others speak on their

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What is Militant Research? Kevin Van Meter

behalf? When the question who is who is no longer policed, a new possibility emerges:
that of producing together.”
- Situaciones - Colectivo de investigacion (Argentina)

Inquiry is simply the process of producing knowledge and addressing problems; and there
is a long history of political inquiry in radical and revolutionary movements. Any
substantive and engaged political campaign, organizing drive, and community processes
utilizes methods of inquiry to understand the conditions of life, politics and to create
initiatives. Within larger radical and community organizing traditions of inquiry, there is
militant and co-research.

Militant research refers to “research carried out with

the aim of producing knowledge useful for militant or
activist ends” as well as “research that is carried out in
a fashion that keeps with the aims and values of
radical militants.”

Co-research “is a practice of intellectual production

that does not accept a distinction between active
researcher and passive research subjects. At its best
co-research aims for a productive cooperation that transforms both into active
participants in producing knowledge and in transforming themselves.”

Team Colors, the collective of which I am part, refers to this as inquiring into the
encounter - inquiring into the in between.

Finally, practices of inquiry take place in radical movements and community organizing
initiatives that don’t fall under these concepts, and there are complementary and counter-
traditions of inquiry to these.

A Genealogy of Militant Research

While inquiry, militant and co-research have long and varied histories we can point to a
few interesting examples of their development.

Workers Inquiry: Karl Marx in 1880 developed a list of 100 questions (101 in other
translations) on the conditions of the working class in France, and his partner Friedrich
Engels thirty-six years earlier produced “The Conditions of the Working Class in
England”. These became points of reference for the Marxist and workers movements.

Situationist International: In looking to inquire into the conditions of everyday life, a

group of French artists and revolutionaries developed techniques, such as mapping,
dérive (drift) and détournment.
What is Militant Research? Kevin Van Meter

Operisti, Autonomia & Autonomist Marxism: During the factory struggles of the early
1960’s Italian Operisti (workerists) began to develop militant research techniques
(surveys, interviews, discussions with factory workers) to understand the struggles taking
place in factories and the university that were outside of the unions and political parties.
These techniques carried on as the site of struggle changed from factory struggles to the
social factory – that is the conditions of work and life in all of society – hence the
development of the Autonomia movement in Italy. As these techniques, concepts and
ideas spread beyond Italy they intersect with those of Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze
and Felix Guattari and American radicals such as Harry
Cleaver, who called this current of heterodox Marxism that
“begins with existing struggles” and the autonomy of the
working class (now broadly defined to include all those that
“revolt against work”), Autonomist Marxism. In the United
States initiatives such as Zerowork, the Wages for
Housework Campaign, Midnight Notes Collective and
Processed World carried on this current, often in concert
with older radicals like C.L.R. James, Marty Glaberman and
George Rawick.

Precarity: Carrying this tradition into the present - developing in the wake of the counter-
globalization movement and the cycle of protest that marked it - struggles around
precarity have emerged in Europe, South America and across the planet. Herein new
research projects have developed and pushed militant research in more participatory and
radical directions, hence seeking to break down the barrier
between researcher and the subject of research.
Additionally, these new projects have sough to “queer these
concepts” and bring them into contact with feminist, queer,
and anti-racist discourses.

What Does Militant & Co-Research Provide to

Grassroots Media

Militant and co-research provides a set of tools – that is

concepts, techniques and mechanisms – that contribute to
grassroots and independent media’s existing frameworks by
adding research components and by taking a direct role in
producing knowledge and strategies that resonate with movement campaigns,
organizations, and initiatives. Here militant and co-research provides “a focus on
struggle from the perspective of struggle”. Hence in seeking to identify the development
of new subjectivities and new emergences, as well as understand current class and
movement composition – these research tools produce strategies and insights for strategic
thinking. Additionally, militant and co-research provides opportunities for
communication, a widening of the field of struggle, and dialog around important
struggles in everyday life. Grassroots and independent media when they resonate with
What is Militant Research? Kevin Van Meter

militant and co-research practices and discourses begin to address the important project
of documenting movements and developing movement strategy.

One of the important successes of grassroots and independent media over the past two
decades is its focus on deprofessionalization and making its practices clear. Flourishing
zine culture, Independent Media Centers, events such as the Media Camp, and in
countless other settings – it is independent media producers themselves who are
providing the insight into how independent media functions. Militant and co-research
function very much the same way. Here in regards to research practices and intellectual
practice, militant and co-researchers seek to delink research and knowledge production
from the power relationships that define the academy, capital and the state-apparatus.

Here the forms of research I am describing seek to challenge the assumptions about what
we know and how we think; and it is this challenge that needs to move to the fore of our
community organizing and grassroots media initiatives.

In the Middle of a Whirlwind: An Example of Militant Research in the US

In the Middle of a Whirlwind: 2008 Convention

Protests, Movement and Movements (Whirlwinds) is a
one-off online journal coordinated by the Team Colors
Collective, of which I am part. Whirlwinds - initially
published on 25 May 2008 and updates since - inquires
into current organizing in the United States, and
through that process the collection aims to provide a
strategic analysis of current political composition as a
tool for building political power.

We begin and end the Whirlwinds collection with the

question: “Will you join us in the Middle of a

This question, which begins and ends the Whirlwinds

collection, is not circular nor is it reflective; it does not
seek to recruit the populace into a political
undertaking, nor does it seek to close off possible
answers within or in relation to our own. Rather, it is an invitation to encounter one

Encounters require affective and corporeal relationships: actual contact and

communication, as well as desire. To describe it another way, encounter requires the flow
of sweat, blood and activity and intensities of lust, care and anger among those in relation
with one another. Encounters are an expression of our silent and overt refusals and
struggles; of the mutual aid, self-activity and self-reproduction that become collective. At
What is Militant Research? Kevin Van Meter

the limits of this collective activity war inevitably breaks out in the confrontation with
capital and the state-apparatus.

The purpose of the Whirlwinds journal (and subsequent “Of Friends and Whirlwinds”
events, which we have held around the country) is to bring these winds into
communication with one another, to create space for encounter, to understand how these
winds are composed. Whirlwinds is a partial project: we cannot and should not attempt to
capture these winds. Whirlwinds seeks to intervene in discussing leading up to the
convention protests this summer as well as it seeks to amplify the struggles taking place
in everyday life.

The Whirlwinds collection suggests that the winds that are currently blowing are different
then those that have been circulating in struggles and protests over the past thirty years
and especially those leading up to and following the protests in Seattle. Here we are
attempting to map both the points of weakness and the new subjectivities and substantive
initiatives that are emerging.

Hence Whirlwinds is a process of “inquiry.” Inquiry is a basic community- organizing

strategy, just as “meeting people where they’re
at” is. This effort is intended to simply raise
questions about what builds power, what builds
movement and what is and is not working for
building a movement that transcends capital.
We want this inquiry to function as a public
space for “others” to hear “others.” And in
place of activism and transcendent moralism,
this project emphasizes strategic questions
about political power and composition.

Additional Examples of Militant & Co-Research Projects

Militant and co-research projects have begun to populate the field of struggle over the
past decade and often these are not framed within the larger theoretical tradition I am

Aids Coalition to Unleash Power (often known by its acronym Act Up) and the Coalition
of Immokalee Workers both utilize engaged and
substantive research in their campaigns to fight for
aids research and treatment, in the case of the
former, and for farm workers rights and better
working conditions, in the case of the latter.

Across the planet militant and co-research projects

have developed to inquire into the precarious
conditions of life under neo-liberalism – what
many movement participants refer to as
What is Militant Research? Kevin Van Meter

“precarity”. In Europe such research collectives are often tied to social centers (Precarias
a la Derive, ESC, Intermittent du Spectacle) and revolutionary organizations (Arranca!,
Derive Approdi, Otonom); where in South America and across the planet they are found
in community centers, free schools and accompanying movement organizations
(Colectivo Situaciones, La Lleca). Community based research initiatives (AREA
Chicago) have also developed in the United States, drawing on a history of such projects
(Processed World, Midnight Notes Collective, RETORT, Wages for Housework
Campaign, Zerowork Collective). Additionally, and increasingly, such projects are
taking place across the internet (The Commoner, Edu-Factory, Turbulence, Team Colors,
Ultra-red), as adjuncts to University departments (Counter-Cartographies Collective,
Ephemera Journal), and art communities (16 Beaver Group, An Atlas of Radical
Cartography, Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, Kleines Postfordistisches Drama).

During the activities section of this workshop we share examples of the work of these
research collectives; and will explore and perform specific practices - such as mapping,
inquiries (specifically today surveys) and drifts – that are utilized by militant and co-
researchers to produce knowledge and create dialog.

It is with art communities and movements that I concluded, and it is from this point that
Julie Perini will continue.

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