Over the last few years, we have seen attacks on citizens in some EU member states, deportations in others, and difficulties for citizens to access the rights they are entitled. Brexit has highlighted in many ways the difficulties EU citizens can face, but should not be seen in isolation, with citizens facing problems in realising their right to move, and to move with their families, in many countries, from Belgium to Sweden, Germany to Romania. Rosi Braidotti has spent a life in transit, moving between cultures and languages. She has explored the notion of “nomadism”, which has become the key concept for the development of an extremely rich and original research, varying from poststructuralism, to the history of feminism, to ethics. In this conversation with Sara Saleri, PhD at the University of Bologna, they talked about ethical gestures, feminism and the possibilities of a nomadic political practice.
Sara Saleri: The idea of the nomadic subject was born as a philosophical concept, as an existential condition, as a (non structured) form of one’s own identity. In recent years you have especially reflected on this concept in an ethical dimension, as what should be the basis of political action. We especially think about Transpositions, where you maintain that “a nomadic and not unitary vision of the subject, instead of impeding ethically relevant positions, constitutes a necessary precondition for the formulation of an ethics which measures up to the complexities of our time”. Which are the concrete practices you think of, when you talk about politics of location, of multiple becoming, of the necessity of going through differences and belongings that can also be contradictory? Which could be the figures and everyday experiences of nomadism?
Rosi Braidotti: The project on nomadic subjects emerges from feminist philosophies, post-colonial philosophies and anti-racist philosophies, critical theory, social theory. And then it develops into an analytical tool to look at three classes of problems. First of all, the cultural mutations, which I call “the cultural cartography”: what is happening to bodies, identities, belongings, in a world that is technologically mediated, ethnically mixed and changing very fast in all sort of ways. Secondly, there is a clearly political project: can we think other ways of being globalized, of becoming planetary, or are we stuck with this neoliberal model? Is there another way in which we can rethink at our interconnections? And then, finally, the ethical issue: what are the values of subjects who are not unitary but are split, complex, nomadic?
These three dimensions are reflected in my trilogy of books: Nomadic Subjects (1994, Columbia University Press) is the starting social statement, Metamorphoses (2002, Polity Press) deals with the cultural part, while Transpositions (2006, Polity Press) focuses on ethics.
Our European citizenship allows us to recombine nationality and ethnic origins in very unprecedented ways: in fact, we can delink citizenship from ethnicity and connect it to participation, belonging.
In terms of practical implications, there are two clear areas in which nomadic subjectivity can be seen. First, the actual practice of flexible citizenship, which I explored in my work on Europe: a temporary, interim citizenship based on delinking ethnic origin from nationality and citizenship and then recombining them in different ways. Our European citizenship allows us to recombine nationality and ethnic origins in very unprecedented ways: in fact, we can delink citizenship from ethnicity and connect it to participation, belonging. And I think that this model of nomadic citizenship, that would be pragmatic and grounded, instead of abstract and based on nationality, is what we have to focus on.
Second, connected to this, the idea of nomadic subject allows us to have a different take on immigration: we have to stop looking at immigration as a problem and see immigration as simply the fact of globalization. We have to start from the fact that the world will never be culturally and ethnically homogenous again: that world is over. Then, we have to think about the multiple forms of belonging of subjects and map out different configurations of nomadism, different ways in which a subject can have multiple belongings, multiple ways in which ethnicity, nationality and citizenship can actually be combined, even within the same nation state.
A model of nomadic post-colonial theory would allow you to de-criminalize, depenalize, de-pathologize the problem, and also not to discuss post-colonial theory only in terms of other possible identities. The crucial thing about nomadic subject is that it is post-identitarian: nomadic is a verb, a process by which we map out multiple transformations and multiple ways of belonging, each depending on where our particular location is and how we grow. So we have to map out the alternative cartographies of the non-unitary subjects that we are, so that we can get rid of any idea that there are subjects that are completely unitary, belonging entirely to one location.
SS: This concept of “flexible citizenship” seems to recall the idea by Hannah Arendt of reversed human rights, which would guarantee the right to citizenship at an international level. A political citizenship in a political space, wider than the one possible within the nation state. Arendt saw a possibility of this kind of citizenship in the project of federal Europe: do you think this notion could be realised in the Europe we have, increasingly more constructed as a fortress, opposed to those who try to enter its borders? Instead, how can we imagine and how can we build a different Europe, really post-national, which would open to this kind of citizenship?
RB: We obviously have the Europe that we deserve. Europe is made through elections in which very few people vote. Clearly a political project that construct a post-national Europe is not there. And Daniel Cohen Bendit, the leader of my party, the European Greens, has been forever working within the institutions, to have the political Europe on the agenda. It’s a political decision if we do it or not: the institutional and legal means are in place. If you look at the work done at the European Institute in Florence by armies of lawyers who have worked out the structure of a possible European citizenship, it is absolutely feasible and easy to delink citizenship from ethnic origins or even nationalities.
So the entire infrastructure is in place, there’s no political will. And I think in the last ten years – I was talking with Luisa Passerini about this – the political project of Europe has regressed enormously, under the combined forces of the delirious nationalistic right and the equally delirious old fashioned left: I hold them both entirely responsible. A middle way that can allow us constructing a Europe where – as Spinelli, Schumann and Monnet were pointing out – the European framework would actually allow us to bypass nationalism, would be possible to postulate citizenship on participation, on belonging, on taxation, on being there… allowing people without countries, stateless people, to be citizens. To give everyone the right to have rights, using precisely the European legal framework as an unprecedented legal framework, that would allow us to transcend the nation state. This is the greatness of this project, but it is not highlighted in the public debate.
SS: A keyword in all your work is “responsibility”. In “Transposition”, you defined ethics as a whole of “intersected forms of situated responsibility”, linked to a politics of location: we have to become “other”, to take the responsibilities linked not only to the roles we act, but also to the roles we can keep in memory (a memory which is intergenerational and collective). How do you think this becoming-other, becoming-multiple can be translated in practice, beyond an increased awareness of oneself as a subject (or many subjects)? Is it a project which ends in the individuality of a subject, or do you think it also as a collective project?
The whole process of becoming is a process of abandoning identity and entering in the construction of subjectivity, subjectivity being per definition transversal, collective.
RB: I think we have to start from eliminating identities. We will never arrive anywhere if we identity as a starting point. In fact the whole process of becoming is a process of abandoning identity and entering in the construction of subjectivity, subjectivity being per definition transversal, collective. This is an enormous switch because even the political movements I have known in the 70s were identitarian movements: women’s movements would fight for women, gay movements would fight for gays… There is sometimes a sort of one-on-one equivalence between the grief and the remedy, what you are complaining against and what you propose as an alternative. This one-on-one equivalence has to switch, transcending the merely identitarian claim and look at the broader issue.
This point was already made back in the 80s by poststructuralists, when there was a critique of Hegelian and Marxist identity politics. It went for a large part unheard, but if you read early Foucault, middle Deleuze, Derrida, it is clear that the only possible ethics for the global world is collectively shared, because the scale of the problems is planetary, gigantic.
An example for this is what people continue to call “the environmental problem” – as if it were a problem, when it is in fact the possibility of the future. It is like immigration: these issues are not problems, they are either a fact or a condition of possibility for survival. You can’t address a problem today, whether it is water, or clean air, without having to take into account a common condition, planetary, almost global, and future generations. That is the clear example of the ethical shift that we need.
And of course our morality – Kantian or Judeo-Christian – is not only individualistic but it is like a contract between self and other, a negotiation: “I don’t do to you what you don’t do to me, etc.”. A kind of capitalist driven negotiation of boundaries. No matter what neo-Kantians of today – such as Martha Nussbaum – say, that model is simply inadequate to the scale and dimension of problems we have.
We need to be able to think for future generations who cannot do anything for us. The future per definition cannot be reciprocal, so we should exit the Kantian morality “I do that for you, you do that for me”… No! You do that for the love of humanity, because if we don’t do that, there is no going to be a humanity! So we have to give up the idea of reciprocity and we instead to know that we share a specificity of a certain condition. And we have to give up a certain notion which, by the year 2010, has lead to an assimilation of progress with further consumption: you will consume more than we did, we consume more than our parents did, our parents consumed more than their parents did… as a consequence of that, now we are at the verge of a catastrophe, financial, environmental, demographic.
The eco-philosophical problem highlights the size of the issues we look at. When we look at war and peace, development, problems in the third world, increasing poverty in the first world … I think either we understand we are in this together, or it’s not going to work. It’s not a matter of choice but of necessity, to think of collective responsibility in a non-reciprocal manner, covering humans and nonhumans. We need an ethics for our times, and not the application of moral rules that are based in an 18th century world – I’m sorry, but I don’t live in that world. I don’t even think we have to see it as a choice.
**The Campus of European Alternatives took part in Florence from July 19-22 with trainings on freedom of movement and countering the rise of far right and xenophobia. Discover more about the Campus here
This conversation is an excerpt of an interview published in May 2010 in Transeuropa Magazine. The full interview is available online.