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Randy Martin: Mobilizing Dance
Mobilizing Dance
(p. 209 – 225)

Toward a Social Logic of the Derivative

Randy Martin

Mobilizing Dance
Toward a Social Logic of the Derivative

PDF, 17 pages

Dancing bodies are composite. Drawing upon varying kinaesthetic densities at multiple temporal-spatial scales, performance gives momentary embodiment to a social body whose scope and potentiality are difficult to valorize. At the same time, the choreographic process is an accomplishment of self-organization, an assemblage of the capacities needed to craft its world and occasion the encounter between those agencies that bring dance to performance and those that project beyond it. In this double trajectory through which dance is constituted is also detectable a restaging of an altogether too obdurate opposition in current political thought, that between network and organization. Surely, the efficacy of political mobilization is minimized in the gaps between open and closed, inside and outside, movement and fixity, lateral and hierarchical, participatory and command, that underpin the metaphysics of these two modalities. Recently, such concepts as organized networks, grounded in radical Internet practices have sought a productive mutuality. Insofar as dance is located within this mutuality, the conceptual and sentient resources it generates may prove vital to the ongoing elaboration of the political.

Politics today suffers a crisis of evaluation. Millions around the world have taken to the streets to depose governments, but the tendencies of those on the ground, the dispositions of those who assumed positions of authority, the conditions of the institutions have not been so easy to figure out. The political appears at once as a problem of too much and too little. No aspect of human endeavor or expression is beyond deliberate contestation and yet each spirited intervention can leave the sense that not enough was done. Movement everywhere, crescendos of volatility, vertiginous shifts in direction leave an impression of being out of time or adrift in space. The ensuing disequilibrium has proven disorienting to thought and made it difficult to discern direction amidst a thicket of practices moving this way and that.

But surely, moving through disequilibrium, divining ways through spaces made for infinite possibility is what dance knows best. Dance, at least in its Western modernist formulation, is conventionally considered as movement for itself.1 Yet such hard won autonomy has not always secured it a place in the world. Dancers too struggle to make a living; presentation venues strain against diminished support; audiences contend with escalating ticket prices. For dance to move the political beyond arrested development, its knowledge of how bodies are assembled, of how space and time are configured, of how interconnections are valued must be made legible beyond the ends of choreographic endeavor. For a politics that is abundant and undervalued, the question becomes, how can dance be mobilized to think through the present?2 No doubt the present itself is not one thing but many. Indeed politics is the pathway forged through possibility, the realization of purpose in a contentious field of movement. What moves us beyond existing conditions and constraints usually consists of finding a way between obdurate oppositions that threaten to subsume the imagination of generative socialities.

This dilemma pertains to the very language most familiar to thinking political mobilization. On the one hand stands the fluid, distributed, horizontal, decentralized figure of the network. On the other sits the structured, enclosed, vertical and centering institution known as organization.3 It can be observed that the financial crisis which has proven so disruptive to economy and disorienting to politics has positioned network and organization in a paradoxical light. Taking the case of the United States (which claimed authorship but not ownership of what quickly became a global matter), the proximate political response was staged as a kind of populist rage identified with the insurgent Tea Party which enlisted social media, suspected establishment organization, disbelieved government institutions, invoked network sovereignty – all to channel its energies quite instrumentally into a party organization that would elect state representatives. If the Tea Party targeted government in reaction to the appropriation of public funds for private corporations, those very banks and investment houses, in the face of a lapse of organization effectively distributed their risks of doing business through a network of homeowners who suffered foreclosure, school children who absorbed fewer teachers and greater accountability, and public workers whose pension plans were targeted for triage. Certainly this transposition of network and organization has complicated any sense of how to restore order through regulation, of how to recognize the tendency of political mobilizations, and of how to imagine a future under present conditions.4

There is a common figure that twins these crises of the economic and the political and that entangles the logics of network and organization. It is that of the derivative. A derivative is an attribute of some value that can be bundled together with like features that can be traded in their own right.5 In financial terms, derivatives are used as insurance policies to hedge against future transactions where interest rates, currency exchange rates, mortgage rates, can vary between the time a contract is made and when it comes to term. In this respect derivatives bring together things that are far apart and make the future actionable in the present. The traffic in derivatives can move in all directions while the bundle of goods to which they are tied stays put. The value of those goods being insured is called the face or notional value, whereas the derivatives comprise a kind of composite body that both particularizes certain risks and generalizes a condition of risk, which in financial terms is a measure of potential gain beyond what would be expected. These financial conditions have entered deeply into productive activity, not simply because companies like General Motors came to make most of their profits financing loans on cars they manufactured but also because industrial production in a global economy has come to rely on derivative contracts to commensurate all manner of difference in costs of labor, supplies, currency exchange and the like.

When taken as a broader social logic, and not just as activities that take place within one sector or domain called the economy, these dynamics of the derivative can be seen across all manner of human activity in ways that engender mutual indebtedness, interdependencies across different times and places, and a swelling socialization of what people take to be and expect from life, history, and their future. Rather than a moral compromise to be avoided, the social entailments of indebtedness are the basis of political engagement.6 What we call identity is certainly an attribute of self that gets bundled, valued and circulates beyond the wholeness of an individual person. The understanding of social problems as risks to be managed by mathematical models of outcomes applies to weather variations, military interventions, student and employee performance, health care allocations. Populations are cleaved between those who master these arts of risk management and those who fail to do so, the at-risk.7 The consequence of a world suffused with derivative logics is that it becomes a riskier place than it once was. When all are acting based upon risks they anticipate, the environment that they inhabit becomes all the more volatile and the impossibility of forecasting outcomes when forecasts collide and cancel one another enhances the likelihood of unlikely and catastrophic events.

Contrary to the notion that finance is separate from the real world, that it is ethereal, ephemeral, epiphenomenal, immaterial the omnipotence of derivative logics that suffuse the flows and structures of our activity compel a rethinking of where to turn in the face of crisis. Across the ideological spectrum the moralizing calls to return the economy to fundamental values, to punish the excessive few and regulate the normal course of affairs assumes that this chimera called finance can be neatly extracted and banished from the world as we know it.8 For dancers, it is hard to miss that these epithets of sylph-like presence have been applied to dance itself at great cost to the ways in which it has been valued and supported. At the same time, dancers are valued for their creativity, flexibility, absence of material needs. Their love of art subsidizes their pursuit of perfection – making them the ideal laborers in an idealized creative economy.9 Rather than accepting this nefarious dichotomy between the real and the fictitious, dance might be taken as a key site in which bodies in movement make value; where circulation is fully inside of production in ways that yield insights into what sociality can be.

Dance might, at first blush, be embarrassed to take on the mantle of the derivative. Modernist pride would dictate embrace of originality, innovation, autonomy as what makes dance capable of ruling its roost and securing its treasures. If, however, that confidence belongs to conditions of dance-making that no longer prevail, other principles of sovereignty will need to be divined if dance is to realize its aesthetic and political value. The point of departure here is that the derivative, when treated as a social logic and not only a financial instrument, discloses what these altered conditions of sovereignty entail. The derivative brings to notice what potential impact issues from seemingly minor variations, and of how agency is incorporated and dispersed such that what appeared scarce is reappraised as a kind of abun-dance. Seeing how a derivative logic operates in dance holds the double promise of giving notice to what dance generalizes as social life beyond itself, and what sustainable principles may already lie to hand in what otherwise appears as a world in ruins.

Derivative Doubles

Derivatives are being asked to do some heavy lifting, both practically and conceptually. Some unpacking is in order to see how the derivative moves from finance through the political quandary posed by network and organization to dance. In finance, they are to be everywhere, rendering things very different in substance and purpose from matters of local to global interest. A table might be made to serve a simple meal. But when the interest rates on loans to the factory, a futures contract on the price of wood, and the currency exchange rate variations are blended together with similar factors of production in all manner of other goods and services, then upon the humble table can be placed a global feast. Derivatives, in the very manner in which they come to be, reference a double life, as re-inventions of things for themselves into matters of interest to others, of local capacities viewed from the perspective of global attentions, of future prospects seen as present opportunities.

The imperialist order that was to replace the colonial regimes after WWII traded the direct political administration of one territory over another for an invitation – albeit always backed by threat or delivery of military force – which in turn rested upon a financial authority that choreographed the world’s exchanges.10 This monetary architecture, often referred to as Bretton Woods (after the agreements that founded the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank), came to ruin in the early 1970s and provided the basis for the arrangements in which the derivative has figured so prominently. In effect, global finance morphed from the rule or sovereignty of one currency, the dollar – a standard by which other currencies could be equilibrated and a store of value in which their worth would be measured – to a schema where derivatives would allow the exchange of goods to be rendered directly into a global monetary identification through which they could be rendered intercommensurable, or subject to a common measure. This process entailed displacing banks as the sole intermediaries of financial exchange (what is called disintermediation) and facilitating the transposition of industrial firms (like General Motors or General Electric) into manufacturers of financial activities and services. On the eve of the financial meltdown in 2007, the combined face-value for derivatives contracts traded publicly in financial markets and privately and directly between firms (what is called Over-the-Counter) exceed one quadrillion dollars – nearly twenty times the world’s gross domestic product.11 What appeared as evidence that finance had become unmoored from industry was in actuality an expression of the pr found imbrications of production and circulation, of creating and realizing value.

The world in which derivatives ripened came to be one more oriented to consequences than causes, to the capacity to achieve results rather than the integrity of first principles. Certainly this was true for the quantitative models for managing risk. If they worked in measuring outcomes of events so that actions could be taken or prices assigned, then the models must be working. This tautology, which has come to be called performativity by those who study the effects on economists discursive and mathematical representations on the object they refer to as the market (a trope that elides the question of labor and production altogether) was meant to translate the uncertainties of why into the actionability of what.12 Accordingly, risk would move from an unwanted outcome that compromised the security of certainty to an opportunity for gain whose avoidance would assure certain loss. If we are to gain any purchase on the social significance of derivative logics it is vital to focus not only on the ways of knowing risk but of being risky. The kind of being who embraces risk, the types of policies that punish those unable to undertake risk to their self-betterment (the at-risk populations), the confidence that every performance of self can be translated into models that measure outcomes display myriad incarnations of the derivative logic.

Thought from the perspective of the ways derivatives double in network and organization, the terms of this conjuncture are rendered more specific (and with dance, more particular still). Identity can certainly be understood as a bundling together of attributes of personhood (through hierarchically ordered classifiers of value such as race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, etc) and placing these in circulation. That identity is made through some kind of affiliation with an (imagined) community points to all manner of organizational forms – employment, cultural and legal rights or citizenship, market participation or consumption – that array and are differentiated by these myriad yet simultaneous classifications of self. So too, identity does not sit still in its place, but has become a domain of increasing volatility, negotiation, flow and dispersal – precisely what network would seem to name. That the networks in turn order value, as is evident in the rankings of preference and judgment, of aggregations of like and dislike through which the Internet becomes an object of commerce suggests the insinuation of a derivative logic. Further, the focus on the ways in which small movements can be leveraged to larger gains, the practice of arbitrage is specifically the key subject position of the derivatives trader. By aggregating these bits of attention, the idea is not to capture the whole person but to set identity in motion, to deliver what will momentarily stand as a public interest in which so many small hits add up to a hit with significant impact.

Hopefully, this account of the derivative is beginning to get a bit more physical, to inscribe the ephemeral in some tangible corporeal animation. Finance is indeed all about compulsory movement, the obligation to keep going at all costs, to go forward into the future unencumbered by historical claims. But if finance spreads movement everywhere, it generates no language of movement, no sensibility regarding how we are disposed to go one way and not another, no logic by which we might grasp how the imperative to move rules us, how we are oriented by it, through it, against it toward some realization of how else we might be moved and by what we might rule together. This silence and stillness at the heart of finance stages the turn to dance, a jubilee of practices that sing the praises of bodily indebtedness and provide flight patterns by which friendly skies might be known. In dance terms, we can expose the derivative logics that course between network and organization through the concepts of mobilization and the social kinesthetic. Mobilization pertains to the medium generating consequences of movement that render tangible the otherwise ephemeral entailments of time and space. Dancing mobilizes time and space making capacities in one place that draw from wider sensibilities and are dispersed through aspects of many movement practices by which bodies move together. To inquire into what dance is made of and what it makes besides itself references questions of context or conjuncture – a sensibility that slices through as it conjoins or cleaves bodily attentions and orientations.

Like the ideas of a structure of feeling, a pre-political disposition, tacit or virtual socialities, it is possible to imagine the material surround of corporal activity before it crystallizes as a specific practical expression. A social kinesthetic can be understood as the orientation, sensibility, or predisposition that informs approaches to movement, the historically specific microphysics that generates and governs motional force fields.13 From within mobilization all is networked and from the perspective of a social kinesthetic an organizational rule or logic is discernable. Neither term is originary, both are derivative. Mobilizations coalesce in one place from what has been made and will wind up elsewhere. Social kinesthetics do not impose a genealogy of influence but a series of lateral connections where disparate practices are joined through some (but not all) of what organizes them. Surely this vocabulary is as abstract as that of financial derivatives. It needs to be grounded in a few practices that will make tangible the operation of a derivative logic in dance, and that allow us to see the ways in which dance fleshes out what a derivative might do.

Decentered Social Kinesthetics

The history of finance is that of a succession of sovereignties, or currency reigns, of one standard yielding to another as gold, then the dollar, and then derivatives edge each other out for primacy.14 The history of dance, at least of Western concert dance, might be told with a similar inflection. The sovereignty of one body over others or one technical way of dancing over others establishes not simply a sovereignty for dance, but discloses a conception of bodily sovereignty by which we can detect the contours of a social kinesthetic. The triptych of classical, modern and postmodern ways of knowing would more properly be rendered as a trivium, of three ways of moving that come together. Certainly we can spin the tales of origin of ballet in King Louis XIVth command to his vassals to join him in court, or of Martha Graham’s invention of a new technique that would provide the basis for her movement oeuvre. These two would then be superceded by a third, the postmodern, where composition would be drawn from pedestrian movement and collaborative creation. As a glance at the offerings at any major dance city would suggest, classical, modern and postmodern are contemporary with one another and in many ways convergent. If epistemes suggest some sort of progressive succession, kinesthemes demand a body to be many things at once.15

What is of greater interest here are the ways in which those demands afford a field in which bodies can be articulated. The classical would then stand for a condition when imitation of a sovereign, following his steps as he would follow those of god imagines a divine verticality that orients balletic movement. If the King’s authority is derived from god, the steps he takes are codifications of what the folk would be dancing. Rule would be embodied in this capacity to orient all movement along a vertical axis, to impose the space of the sovereign on his vassals, to partner with him in a manner that assures their subordination.

The world that extends from the body of Martha Graham is of a different order even if it shares the same vertical orientation. The modernist genius, of which she is the exemplary species in dance is marked by an extraordinary dimension of depth. From this unfathomable well of creativity will issue the self made by making art, a secular transcendence, couched as a universalism. In Graham technique this wellspring is the contraction, a mainline to the archetypes lodged in the unconscious strata of species or blood memory. Graham is also willing to admit that her movement derives from two great cultural sources, African and Native American dance. So far in dance, everything is on the up and up, as ascent is grounded in genealogical descent. The classical and the modern combine the age of discovery with that of empire. But the new financial order installed to break up these very sovereign claims to bodies the world round will spell the formal demise of this colonial reach to be displaced by a contest between neo-colonialism and decolonization. This rupture, self-interestedly dubbed Pax Americana, takes a course in dance from the pedestrian elaborations of Judson Church to the risk-taking pyrotechnics of contact improvisation.16

In terms of a social kinesthetic, this break figures a shift from the vertical to the horizontal, a promissory decolonization of the body that suddenly brings to notice troves of movement riches once consigned to the periphery. Certainly the desires for the innocence of nature, and the exoticism of the orient had been worthy fodder for the classical and modern kinesthemes. Now choreographic appropriation would have to contend with a cacophony of bodily practices that erupted in this dispersed and lateral topography. Just as third world liberation movements were delivering forms of national sovereignty that jostled against colonial claims to have the word, the bodily mobilizations that issued from the ruins of financial sovereignty bore their own demands of what debt should deliver. These practices turn out to be more generatively derivative in their expressions, more assertive about what can rise from the ruins of progress, able to deal with alacrity when confronted by indifference and enclosure.

The movement practices that help specify a decentered social kinesthetic where decolonized bodies assert other modalities of risk are themselves derivative forms that share, not so much aesthetic influence as attributes that are features of their self-production. In addition to post-modern dance, we can look at hip hop and boarding culture that share some kinesthetic attributes and principles of mobilization that enable us to grasp political potentialities that inhere in the social logic of the derivative. The fin that lies at the root of finance pertains to the process of bringing transactions to an end, but this closure refers to a process of life as well. Against the indifference to how movement is made and where it might lead us, the ruination that the compulsory drive of finance leaves in its wake, we can look carefully at those ruins that see what else arises from them.

What is now called financialization emerges from the ruins of the Bretton Woods agreements in which the post-war sovereignty of the dollar is undone. What begins to be ruined in this moment as well is the very dreamscape by which America can be imagined. Innovations like mortgage-backed-securities respond to a real estate market gone south. More broadly, the break-up of that enclosure around the privacy of the home pointed to what a house could no longer hold. What was released was taken to the streets. Such is the setting for the movement examples here, each figuring a capitalist promise of utopia that is subsequently abandoned. Liquidating these grounds is the basis for lateral mobility that suffuses a decentered social kinesthetic, and for derivative mobilizations that do not require unity to move together. While ruins in general, to say nothing of the pronouncement regarding the postmodern itself tend to emphasize disorienting fragmentation that results in political importunity, a closer look at the socialities borne through derivative forms opens the blockage between a seemingly anemic sphere of production and a hyperactive domain of circulation.

Dancing Derivatives

Treated heterotopically, postmodern dance, hip hop and boarding culture point toward a trivium of abandoned space turned to ground for distributed sovereignty. Consider Trisha Brown’s 1971 Roof Piece, or Man Walking Down the Side of a Building (1970).17 The buildings in question in Manhattan’s Soho have become surfaces for dance when the manufacturing businesses that had occupied these loft quarters left the city. This capital flight was no doubt a condition for the creation of a downtown dance scene (and the subsequent appropriation of Artist in Residence incentives back to commercial real estate and gentrification).18 It was also spatial and temporal material from which a pedestrian movement could be crafted from an urban fabric. In the context of then emergent environmental art, the minimalist descent of a harnessed walker down the side of a building to the dead-space between, or the long shot of dancers engaged in accumulation phrases across a series of water-towered roof tops might seem like a bit of a sight-gag in which the visually-emptied city is re-naturalized. More properly, these derivative forms of pedestrian movement will lay claim to the city, will invert its conventional coordinates, and render spaces of lost utility subject to another principle of speculation. The placement of dance in settings where the body is no longer a temple is not so many steps away from what will become (in Trisha Brown and others who develop contact improvisation from various release techniques) an embrace of risk where walking sidewise quickly becomes flying low.

A bit further uptown and farther into the scenes of what will become the epicenter of urban abjection, the public projects that were to house this sturdily mobile industrial proletariat were subject to what was politely called decay. As if broken down by auto-digestion and fermentation, the projects once treated as the utopian horizon for the urban poor, the confident affirmation of better living through design were being dismantled as their promise was abandoned. The epitome of this collapse was the demolition by explosion of the Pruitt-Igoe Housing complex in Saint Louis Missouri, 1972. When built in 1955, these dense blocks of residential warehouses were praised for their elegance in a new formalism claimed by their architect, Minoru Yamasaki. That same year that Pruitt-Igoe went down, work was completed on the north tower of the World Trade Center, another Yamasaki design. The twinned fates of these building was in some respects anticipated by the turn away from what came to be considered modernist hubris among architectural critics and the coining of the term postmodern in architecture.19

While public housing remains part of the cityscape in New York and a new tower rises where the old had fallen the time in between has been marked by the emergence of a quintessential movement form, hip hop.20 As with postmodern dance, it takes the streets and unsanctioned surfaces of the city, subway cars especially, as means of expressive self-production. As movement performed in the round, hip hop joins other practices derivative of slave expressions like the ring shout. Its own embrace of released pelvis, reversed polarities of hands and feet, flying low to the ground, risk as reward and the posse or ensemble that sustains it organizationally bear overtones of what will become contact improvisation in a parallel development over this same period.

That the projects would become but a partial reprieve from the sordid conditions of the tenement slum inspired the fantasy of the urban getaway like the waterfront pleasure zones of Coney Island and Rye Playland. The notion that a pastoral realm of leisure and consumption could become the organizing principle for laboring masses that left their workplaces behind was no small inspiration for the suburbs. With water diverted from agriculture, Southern California real estate developers of the 1950s wanted to make a strong run on this dreamscape. The seaside precincts of Santa Monica and Venice would be augmented by the fantastical Pacific Ocean Park or P.O.P (1958–1967) which perched atop the main pier could serve as a port of call for suburban bliss. Once again, the mysterious blight that descended on this paradise issued from a toxic mix of housing market collapse, drought, and job loss. As the pier itself fell into ruin, it drew the attentions of surfers, here too picking up what had been an indigenous Hawaiian practice and turning its attentions to the perils and conditions of extreme sport. Like amphibians emerging from the sea, the moves of sweeping low off-center, gathering lateral momentum and customizing equipment with neighborhood tags propelled ocean-going boards to landed planks on wheels. Backyard swimming pools, the icons of suburban success where left as fetid waters when residents fled in foreclosure. Teams of skateboarders, most notoriously the Zephyr Boys, drained the pools and rode the undulating surfaces of concrete. The migration to snowboards and bmx bicycles was not far behind.21

Generative Risk

It has become common to narrate this migration as one of commercialization and even recuperation of resistant impulses.22 Surely these instances of upward mobility are evident in postmodern dance and hip hop, but the intriguing feature about derivative logics is what they leave behind – which turns out to be most of the networked and organized sociality crafted and created by the practitioners engaged in these forms. Claiming such narrows parameters of success or making it trades a selective outcome for a reductive account of intentionality that begs the question of why so many people spend so much time doing what they claim for themselves. A decentered social kinesthetic runs on sentience in a world marked by spectacle. Yet the very conception of a society of the spectacle rests on a chasm between performance and audience that is both violated and bridged in these movement practices. The iterative process of rehearsal, of taking turns doing movement for one another amounts to a continuous shuttling between viewer and actor so as to render the spectacular internal to performance. Watching does not substitute for but enables doing. Nor is the rest of the ensemble merely watching. They are securing the space, documenting the event (and documentation whether by newly available capture technologies such as super-8 or portable video cameras, or for that matter graffiti tagging on subway cars itself as a means of image capture and dissemination), serving as critics and publicists, showing, comparing, appropriating what others are doing. That all of these practices from the seventies and early eighties can be accessed now through short form, do-it-yourself video-sharing sites like youtube or vimeo only speaks to the deeply imbricated relations of production and circulation, networked dissemination and organization of productive capacities, leverage of small volatilities (of movement and space) and arbitrage of how and where to place one’s body in situations of generative risk.

The emphasis in these three movement practices on flying low, off-center release to gravity, reversing position and purpose of hands and feet (for mobility and balance) all serve to reorient the motional drive of the body from vertical lift to horizontal loft. These kinesthetic conditions do not form a stylistic unity but could be said to express the lateral mobility by which derivative logics themselves become so prominent a feature of movement. The underlying sources of pedestrian, slave, and indigenous bodily practices are decolonized from their initial terms and settings to refigure those who by tradition would be assigned to the populations at risk into crafting corporal economies where risk counts as its own reward. A risky move is granted immediate value by the creative ensemble, it need not await final delivery precisely in the manner that a derivative affords a price on a good or service that has not yet been made or come due. Derivatives promise continuous and real-time assessment of value that moves the constant calibration of the market into the hitherto hidden abode of production. The streets, pools, walls on which these decolonizing bodies move are exposed already to the prospects of evaluative surveillance (whether cops chasing out boarders and taggers from illicit grounds, or cameras capturing the deed itself for further distribution). The question of who owns a given move may certainly be an object of spirited contention but the insinuation of these lateral, risk-making maneuvers across so many ruinous sites eclipses the proprietary claims of possessive individualism by which celebrity may be measured with a distributed possession by which participation in these practices multiplies. The measure of these risks taken is to reappraise which attributes will get bundled together given excess capacity.

The capacity to collectively re-value lateral mobility that these movement practices evidence also speak to the very demographic shift away from opportunities for upward mobility that will characterize the prospects for so many young people that the risk-shifting seventies and eighties yield. The disinvestment in infrastructure and social services, the flattening of wages and mounting consumer debts, the repositioning of government from a guarantor of security through a bundle of defined benefits to an investor based citizenship based upon contribution – all converge in this conjuncture to darken the screen of the American dreamscape. Even the supposedly iconic figure of the yuppie, the hyper-affluent precocity of effective self-investment, effaces the much broader trend of diminished opportunities and rewards for those who would follow the post-war boomer generation.

While the ranks of the professional managerial class continued to swell, the autonomy by which these knowing selves would achieve sovereignty was increasingly diminished. While public funding for the arts might be under attack from the eighties forward, the notion that artists could serve as models for revitalization of what financial ascent had left in ruins led to a litany of privatizing public works by which creativity would raise all boats – be they depleted cities or de-plenished middle classes. Closer to the ground, however, and despite an industry-in-the-making focused on compensatory self-help (when governments, labour unions, professional associations and parties were not available to do so), youth culture was re-oriented around a do-it-yourself ethos (DIY).23

The moral panic directed by re-energized conservatives at idle (but really idled) youth would cast a broad net of guilt over errant culture – whether that is screen or stage, digital monomania or excessive streetlife.24 But we could see in these decentered movement practices derivative cousins of moshing, mashing and mixing, as well as in alternate artistic practices of collectives and collaboratories, images for self-production, self-representation and self-dissemination.25

The past forty years in which finance emerged from one ruined ground to plough through yet another have re-oriented some senses by which what can be done, what is available for doing, and what wealth exists for have been subject to particular regimes of evaluation. Derivatives came to stand for vast aggregates of wealth unmoored from any particular purpose. The imperial power which has historically underwritten financial sovereignty has also morphed into a kind of discretionary intervention, easy to enter but difficult to sustain justification for. Yet what is also clear is that among these imperatives to be driven by risk, other sensibilities of what it means to make more or other out of what we have are also to hand (and foot). Sensing dance from the perspective of the derivative, between the fluid ephemerality of networks that vanish without a trace and the static durability of organizations that lurch from crisis to crisis replicating their structures, opens approaches to embodied ensembles that assemble attributes to leverage further movement and value. If the polarity between network and organization has proven to be a trap that promised escape but leads back to the starting point, the derivative logic as presented here plays inside and outside of these dance practices allowing them to shuttle between the ground they inhabit and the world that they ripple through. Difference is realized immediately in the risk well taken, and deferred to other connections that remain promissory notes. The derivative logic might also help dance out of its own trap of ephemerality and location. Performances are, after all, derived from many other times, of rehearsal, of training, of touring; and they gather together movements from myriad locales, experiences, sources and recalibrate and recompose them for a given intervention. Seen from this expanded field, dance is already everywhere.

Conversely, finance has touted vast abundance that leaves scarcity for others in its wake. But like the hands and feet of decentered movement practices, the polarities of value can readily be reversed and the extremes of movement possibility mined to point to what else we might be and do together. Lateral mobility lives with what it has. If capital has jettisoned its own utopian promises, emerging social logics of the derivative point us in different directions. Utopia as an ends we touch through our own means of intervention. The ruins left are not sources of poverty, depletion and shame but the very roots of what could make population assemble for its own sake, to value it ensemble capacities as creative choreographies. Population has a double and internally antagonistic etymology in the action of laying waste or ruin of the country and to people or inhabit a domain. Valuing the ways in which we are linked together without being one, that we share certain sensibilities of moving together without needing to model or imitate some one opens conceptions of sovereignty as self-production that just might serve as a momentary realization of the future in the present. The much vaunted and readily dismissed ephemerality of dance (and finance) would thereby assume a generative durability, an elaboration of times and spaces in which collectivity itself would gain and circulate its own currency.

1 Of course this tension between dance’s particularity and its universalism runs through the historical and ethnological impulses that had constituted the conventional approaches to the study of dance until dance studies undertook a more philosophical and theoretical turn. See, for example, John Martin, The Modern Dance (Brooklyn, Dance Horizons 1965 [1933]); Judith Lynne Hanna, To Dance Is Human: A Theory of Non-verbal Communication (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987); and for the text of the break in dance studies, Susan Leigh Foster, Reading Dancing: Bodies and Subjects in Contemporary American Dancing (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986).

2 This question has informed my previous work on dance. See, Randy Martin, Performance as Political Act: The Embodied Self (South Hadley, MA: Bergin and Garvey, 1998; and Critical Moves: Dance Studies in Theory and Politics (Durham: Duke University Press, 1998).

3 For a recent effort to examine the intersections between logics of networks and organizations see Ned Rossiter, Organized Networks: Media theory, Creative labour, New institutions (Rotterdam: NAi Press, 2006).

4 The literature on the financial crisis itself looks to be a genre out of control with new titles appearing daily. Yet the tropes of missed regulatory opportunity, of excess by a few outliers, or insufficient cash reserves often miss the normalization of disequilibration that continues after the fall. For some representative accounts see, Paul Mason, Meltdown: The End of the Age of Greed (London: Verso, 2010) or Gillian Tett, Fool’s Gold: The Inside Story of J.P. Morgan and How Wall Street Greed Corrupted its Bold Dream and Created A Financial Catastrophe (New York, London, Toronto, Sidney: Free Press, 2009) which contains a chapter entitled “Dancing Around the Regulators,” a hint at the kind of suspect politics associated with dance.

5 For accounts of derivatives beyond their technical financial aspect see, Dick Bryan and Mike Rafferty, Capitalism With Derivatives: A Political Economy of Financial Derivatives, Capital and Class (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006); Ben Lee and Edward Lipuma, Financial Derivatives and the Globalization of Risk (Durham: Duke University Press, 2006); Randy Martin, Financialization of Daily Life (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002).

6 For a conception of the political grounded in a nuanced understanding of mutual indebtedness see, Richard Dienst, The Bonds of Debt: Borrowing Against the Common Good (New York: Verso, 2011).

7 See, Randy Martin, An Empire of Indifference: American War and the Financial Logic of Risk Management (Durham: Duke University Press, 2007).

8 Curiously, the notion of fundamental value as opposed to its representations that lead to speculation hand over much of the discipline termed economics especially its neoliberal formulation, an antinomy that Philip Mirowski has effectively disclosed recently in his edited collection with Dieter Plehwe, The Road from Mont Pelerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009). The transposition between what Marx called fictitious capital (disintermediated financial transactions between firms) and a false realm of finance tout court is a temptation of some recent Marxist political economy. See, John Bellamy Foster and Fred Magdoff, The Great Financial Crisis: Causes and Consequences (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2009).

9 This affective subsidy of artistic labor is what Andrew Ross has called the “cultural discount.” See, Andrew Ross, “The Mental Labor Problem,” Social Text 63 (2000): pp. 1–32. For a trenchant critique of creative class appeals see, Matteo Pasquinelli, “Creative Sabotage in the Factory of Culture: Art, Gentrification and the Metropolis,” Animal Spirits: A Bestiary of the Commons (Rotterdam: NAi Press, 2009).

10 The link between the rise of finance and the proliferation of imperialist war was made by Rudolf Hilferding in his seminal formulation, Finance Capital: A Study of the Latest Phase of Capitalist Development (London: Routledge, 1981 [1910]). The specificity of the U.S. turn is contextualized by Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power and the Origins of Our Times (London: Verso, 1994).

11 The notional value of exchange based and over-the-counter derivatives are tracked by the Bank for International Settlements. The quadrillion dollar figure comes from adding up the two kinds of derivatives for June, 2008 ($672 billion for OTC and $428 billion for exchange-based). See, “Statistics on Exchange Traded Derivatives”,; and “Semi-annual OTC derivatives statistics,”

12 See, Donald MacKenzie, An Engine, Not a Camera: How Financial Models Shape Markets (Cambridge: MIT, 2006).

13 Structure of feeling is a term from Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977); the pre-political describes the emergent sensibilities of the working-class in E.P. Thompson, The Making of the English Working Class (New York: Vintage, 1963); the idea of the virtual as tacit norms that govern activity is develop by Erving Goffman in Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity (Engelwood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1963).

14 For a representative recent account see, Robert Elson, Governing global finance: the evolution and reform of the international financial architecture (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).

15 The spatial and temporal multiplicity of the notion of kinestheme may go farther in realizing Michel Foucault’s own critique of continuous time and space as developed in his Archaeology of Knowledge (New York: Pantheon, 1972).

16 The dance accounts here are clearly telescopic. See, for elaboration, Mark Franko, Dance as Text: Ideologies of the Baroque (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993); Martha Graham, The Notebooks of Martha Graham (New York: Harcourt Brace Javanovich, 1973); Sally Banes, Democracy’s Body: Judson Dance Theater, 1962–1964 (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1983).

17 For video documentation of these dances see, Trisha Brown: Early Works, 1966–1979 (Artpix, 2004)

18 See Sharon Zukin, Loft Living: Culture and Capital in Urban Change (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1989), and Neil Smith, The New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City (New York: Taylor and Francis, 1996).

19 See, Charles Jencks, The Language of Post-Modern Architecture (New York: Rizzoli, 1977).

20 For audio-visual documentation of these forms see, Style Wars (Tony Silver, Public Art Films, 1983).

21 For documentation of these practices at their inception and a treatment of the cultural and geopolitical surround, captured on film by the participants, see, Dogtown and Z-Boys (Stacy Peralta, Columbia Tri-Star, 2001).

22 This is the argument in Iain Borden, Skateboarding, Space and the City: Architecture, the Body and Performative Critique (Oxford: Berg, 2001).

23 For a critical look at the advent of self-help, see, Micki McGee, Self-Help, Inc.: Makeover Culture in American Life (New York: Oxford, 2006).

24 The notion of moral panic was developed in British cultural studies of youth culture and crime, and has morphed into a generalized trope of war on domestic populations. The seminal study is Stuart Hall, Policing the Crisis: Mugging, The State and Law and Order (New York: Holmes and Meier, 1978) and the updated reflection in the U.S. context of generational abandonment is provided by Lawrence Grossberg, Caught in the Crossfire: Kids, Politics and America’s Future (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2005).

25 For an account of this elaborate but unseen and undervalued mass of creative labor that underwrites the art world see, Gregory Sholette, Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture (London: Pluto Press, 2010).

  • sociology
  • risk
  • financial crisis
  • performativity
  • politics
  • dancing
  • community

My language

Selected content

Randy Martin

is professor and chair of the department of art and public policy at the Tisch School of the Arts, New York University where he directs the graduate programme in arts politics.

Stefan Hölscher (ed.), Gerald Siegmund (ed.): Dance, Politics & Co-Immunity

This volume is dedicated to the question of how dance, both in its historical and in its contemporary manifestations, is intricately linked to conceptualisations of the political. Whereas in this context the term "policy" means the reproduction of hegemonic power relations within already existing institutional structures, politics refers to those practices which question the space of policy as such by inscribing that into its surface which has had no place before. The art of choreography consists in distributing bodies and their relations in space. It is a distribution of parts that within the field of the visible and the sayable allocates positions to specific bodies. Yet in the confrontation between bodies and their relations, a deframing and dislocating of positions may take place. The essays included in this book are aimed at the multiple connections between politics, community, dance, and globalisation from the perspective of e.g. Dance and Theatre Studies, History, Philosophy, and Sociology.