Aras Özgün: “A Common Word”

Özgün here echoes Hardt and Roggero in his analysis of capitalistic production as biopolitical and relying upon the capture of the commons. His most novel contribution to the conversation, however, lies in his articulation of the common with heterogeneity in linguistic communication. Post-Fordist production, unlike its predecessor form, is all about heterogeneity: it produces a commons that is itself heterogeneous, and this heterogeneity is the key to radical innovation by the commons. This is the primary tension between the commons and capitalism: capitalist production relies on the homogenizing money form (which reduces all relations to exchange value) in its translation of the commons into property (again both private and public), yet exploits the commons precisely as a heterogeneous force. Another way of putting it is: post-Fordist capitalism relies upon constant innovation, which requires the exploitation of potential difference; hence capital’s uneasy relationship with the radically innovative commons.

In relating the commons to communication, Özgün quotes Gregory Bateson to the effect that “information is a difference that makes a difference.” One can only communicate when confronted with a language (sign system) that one doesn’t yet know, and thus must learn. It is difference, a gap, that produces innovation, not ideal communication in the form of shared assumptions and characteristics. The common is not what we have in common, but the potentiality of difference. Özgün’s analogy is the “common word,” a word that is similar (but different!) in two different languages and thus prompts one to communicate that difference: “Oh, we say that too, what does it mean in your language?” This is where innovation begins.


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