The Post-Autonomous Journey out of the Subcultural Lifestylism

Friday, June 24, 2016: 4:15 PM-5:45 PM
201 Moses (Moses Hall)
Bob Kurik, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic
During my long-term ethnographic research with left radical youth from Germany, I discovered that
militant youngsters entered into the times of post-autonomy articulated and embodied as ‘a way out
of subcultural lifestylism’. This shift takes place not only on the level of organization, imaginary
for progressive social change or consume practices but as well on the level of subjectivity, self
and style of life. Different selves, new customs and alternative lifestyles are formed in the post-
autonomous times among young anti-capitalists.

My research partners reconsidered the autonomous make-up entangled in the DIY ethics avoiding
big corporations in everyday life as much as possible – for example the choice in clothing, which I
trace in my paper, was stripped off its politically relevant dimension transformed into the level of
ethics as its subversive impotency towards capitalism was revealed. As one of my research partners
sums it up: ‘you won't destroy capitalism by cool eating or drinking... you consume alternatively
and support capitalism.’

In other words, the visual style of appearance is not anymore in the post-autonomous times a locus
where one is supposed to differ. It stops being a matter of a political-ethical choice through which
one prefigures and declares their affirmation to radical politics. It is no longer an extension of one's
political cosmology in practice as it is revealed as unimportant, misleading or even contradictory.
This is not to say that the capitalism built on for example apparel sweatshops with unbearable labor
conditions in Bangladesh is not anymore considered a political problem in the post-autonomous
understanding. To the contrary, critique of capitalism experiences a renaissance in the contemporary
times of radical left. Post-Autonomen only resign to tackle the problem of capitalism by ethical
consume and reorient the political effort in their interpretation beyond subcultural lifestylism.

Furthermore, I argue in my paper that this way out of subcultures keeps prefiguration as the crucial
strategy of change, but shifts its centre of gravity from a centripetal autonomous force to a
centrifugal post-autonomous force. This shift is not primarily contentual as it is tactical. Post-
autonomous rebels remain involved in prefiguring alternatives in their daily lives. These practices
are embedded in infrastructures established by the previous generations of activists from the New
Left to the autonomous movement – from living in various types of communes and collectives in
shared housings (WG) with different and more communal distribution of resources, care and labor,
via experiments with polyamory, to organizing structures and decision making processes in places
to gather, alternative parties, protest events like demonstrations, counter-summits, blockades, or
solidarity networks. But as another research partner says ‘This prefigurative infrastructure of our
lives and protests is something which is taken for granted and not our political goal an sich.’ In this
sense, whereas older generations of radical activists in Germany built up the centripetal
infrastructure for the movement, post-autonomous rebels now try to bounce off in centrifugal way
towards citizens and public institutions outside.

Using an example of a relationship to a Black bloc, I demonstrate in the paper the shift towards
centrifugal prefiguration. For wild autonomous punks, a Black bloc is an extension of their selves
and their lifestyles into a visible visage, corporeality as well as into a form of political actions. They
wear black all the time and combine it with a scandalous, provocative style of counter-culture life.
Therefore, Black bloc is rather an extension or a continuation of this kind of a self by more
confrontative means. Post-autonomous rebels criticize this attitude as lifestylism, resign on counter-
cultural looks, and instead, they acquire a different and alternative style of life where a Black bloc
appearance tends to be used as the tactic strictly separated from their casual, colorful and civil appearance.

The relationship towards clothing and appearance reorients its vector from the centripetal ethics of
Autonomen to the centrifugal tactics of Post-Autonomen. With this kind of a post-autonomous self-
reconfiguration, different kinds of skills and techniques become apprenticed and appreciated. One
of the crucial ones turns out to be the art of shaping or switching between a casual and a masked
modus operandi. As I document in my dissertation, this art takes place on four levels –
communication, body, (in)dividuality, appearance. It is the appearance level which I scrutinize in
my paper. When in casual dress, the rebels appear indistinguishable from fellow citizens. When
masked in a Black bloc, they try to be indistinguishable from fellow rioters. On the both poles,
rebels are shaped as invisible. The casual invisibility is an outcome of the post-autonomous
resignation on subcultural understanding of one's appearance as an extension and a locus of politics-
ethics. As seen on the relationship to a Black bloc, the style of the autonomous self is shifted to the
style of the post-autonomous self who, on their way towards the centrifugal prefiguration and out of
subcultural lifestylism, acquires the tactical skill to switch between casual and masked appearances.